Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Latest

Me and my bubs
1. Work around the house.  Dorine and I have done a few things around the house, like putting up a new Rubbermaid shed in our back yard, installing galvanized-steel turbine attic-ventilation units on our roof (in lieu of the busted-up plastic vents that were there previously), and putting in a retaining wall (of bricks) around our shade tree in the back yard in order to plant a flower garden there.  However, the biggest thing we've done is to sign a contract to have vinyl soffits and aluminum fascia installed all around the house, and to have the stucco repaired/re-done.  The trim on our house has been a weather-beaten disgrace for the last ten years, so the new, maintenance-free soffits and fascia will do a lot for our home's appearance.  And the stucco has been flaking off for some time, necessitating repairs (consisting of a power-spray followed by patching and the application of a sealant/adhesive, followed by a new layer of a sprayed-on stucco-like plastic coating with a lifetime guarantee).  After we did quite a few things to the inside of the house, it's nice to be able to turn to the outside, although the final step would be to landscape our (comparatively large) back yard.  We need to re-rock much of it, re-surface my basketball court (even though I don't use it anymore), and possibly even take down the old junipers along the power-line easement at the back wall (assuming we could also raise the wall by 2-3 rows of cinder blocks).

[Update 9/14/14: All of the work is done now that we contracted for, and it all looks great. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that the deal to put up white aluminum fascia didn't include replacing the silver-colored, galvanized-steel "drip edge" coming out from under the roof shingles. So we still have work to do, and, as of today, I plan to replace the drip edge myself, assuming we can find "white white" materials for it,]

2. The mid-term elections.  The 2014 mid-term elections will be interesting for me, simply to see whether the Republicans can re-take control of the Senate.  It's been almost a foregone conclusion for the last year that the 'Pubs will gain enough Senate seats to do that, although the media are sowing a few seeds of doubt now that it's coming down to it.  In a way, a Senate majority doesn't really matter, since the House of Representatives will almost certainly remain under Republican control, and there's virtually no way the GOP will gain enough Senate seats to be able to over-ride a presidential veto -- all of which means there won't be any more partisan legislation getting through Congress before Barack Obama leaves office.  Still, Republican control of both houses of Congress would mean no more appointments of radical judges, and it would presumably discourage President Obama somewhat from ignoring the separation of powers and imposing by executive fiat that which his party cannot get through Congress -- especially concerning illegal immigration.

3. Another new job for brain-fogged me.  I have changed jobs again now at Sandia National Laboratories, finally going back to Procurement and handling Just-In-Time (JIT) contracts and transitioning into the role of buyer for inter-agency agreements (IAAs) where "other" government agencies (i.e., not the DOE/NNSA) do work for Sandia.  (The latter have to be done using the DOA/NNSA as an intermediary, meaning the process is almost infinitely more complex than the old "Federal Agency Order" process that was still in place when I left Procurement in 2005.)  I don't know what to say about the fact that I've changed jobs three times in four years, except that it's obviously a pretty good indicator of my overall health and the cognitive funk in which my mal de debarquement has situated me since the life-altering cruise that Dorine and I took with Mike and Judy in January 2010.

4. Another guitar, another amplifier.  I recently acquired both a new guitar and a new amplifier.  I bought a Mexican Fender Telecaster from my nephew Aaron, a 1996 model made before the Fender factory in Mexico started including the traditional "through the body" string-routing feature on the Telecasters that it made.  It needs some wiring work, as both the volume pot and the tone pot cut in and out, but otherwise I like it.  The amplifier I bought was an Acoustic G100FX combo amp that I picked up at Guitar Center during its recent Labor Day sale.  In no way did I need a new amplifier, but sometimes a bargain is just too hard to pass up -- in this case, a $250 amp that was selling for $120.  The G100FX is not a "modeling" amplifier like my others; although it still has a lot of features -- and, boy, is it loud!  With the "gain" all the way up, the master volume only barely has to be "on" to produce an ear-splitting decibel level.  I'm constantly amazed by how inexpensively one can pick up a very good guitar and a very good, powerful amplifier these days.  I paid roughly the same nominal amount, $120, in 1978 for a small Peavey practice amp (which, coincidentally, was one of the first amplifiers on the market with a "gain" knob).  It was the first decent amplifier I owned, but it was under-powered for live performances and had no on-board effects outside of reverb.  Now, in 2014, I've paid $120 (or about $33 when adjusted for inflation since 1978) for something that's overwhelmingly better.  Remarkable!

5. Darren and Cait in California.  Darren and Cait are now out in the Los Angeles area in southern California, although they've had major difficulties getting into a rental home.  (Not only are the rents high, but owners can afford to be extremely choosy about their tenants.)  They've now been "accepted" to rent a home in Hawthorne, but it wasn't available right away.  I hope they like it out there once they get settled in; obviously, there's a lot more to do in California than in New Mexico or Utah, but the downsides are the huge crush of people and the high cost of living.  (L.A. probably would have overwhelmed me had I ever taken a job out there.)

6. Our home, my refuge.  Sometimes I think about our home and how much it means to me; I love being here more than anywhere else.  It isn't the newest, the biggest, or the nicest home -- not by a long shot -- but it is my refuge from the world and everything in it.  All the things we've done to the interior of the home since we bought it in 1991 have made it much more livable.  I think it's interesting that when we moved in, the entire house was covered with carpet outside of the entry-way, the kitchen, and the bathrooms.  Now we only have carpet in the bedrooms, and we'll soon be laying down laminate flooring there, too.

7. The Middle East.  President Obama's record in office, especially with regard to foreign affairs, speaks for itself, but his biggest legacy of failure will likely be found in the Middle East.  His phrase "leading from behind" basically has meant "letting the Middle East go to hell in a hand basket while lolling around on the golf course."  And still the president's minions have the bald-faced temerity to blame it all on George W. Bush -- six years after the latter left office.  Obama is finally making noises about attacking ISIS, the worst of the Islamist would-be governments (which recently published videos of the beheadings of two American journalists), but I wonder if it isn't just a ploy calculated to blunt the outcome of the mid-term elections.

8. Race relations and the use of "disproportionate" force.  The recent killing of an African-American, Michael Brown, by a policeman in Ferguson, MO has started to bring a few things into focus for me.  I think I understand the frustration young black men feel when they are stopped by cops, or otherwise fall under suspicion, due to their skin color.  On one hand, if one goes by crime rates and conviction rates, young black men commit a much-greater percentage of crimes, compared to their representation in the greater population of the U.S., than do other demographic segments.  On the other hand, does the justice system unfairly target African-American males, and does such a bias explain the disparity in prosecutions and incarcerations?  I don't pretend to know the answer to that question, but I have two observations to make.  First, there is evidence that Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, violently attacked the person "profiling" him before taking gunfire.  Being unfairly targeted, even on the basis of race, doesn't (and shouldn't) entitle one to inflict serious bodily harm on the person doing the profiling.  (Martin could simply have returned to his father's girlfriend's house, and Brown could simply have gotten out of the middle of the street and onto the sidewalk.)  And, second, it is true that both Martin and Brown were unarmed when they were killed, and it may be true that they had both been wrongfully profiled on the basis of race -- but does that definitively preclude the "profilers" from using "disproportionately" deadly force in self-defense?  That seems to be the position of the people who advocate punishment for the non-African-Americans who killed Martin and Brown.  It reminds me of the common "progressive" criticism of Israel when it responds to rocket attacks from Gaza.  Israel, which apparently doesn't have the right to exist (and it wouldn't exist, if it granted the so-called "right of return" to all the Arabs who claim to have been displaced by the creation of a Jewish state after WWII) -- much less to maintain control of the West Bank and the Golan Heights as defensive positions or the spoils of past wars that it didn't initiate -- is perpetually in the wrong.  Therefore, when attacked, it has no right to respond with greater force than that with which it was attacked.  And, after the last round of Hamas rocket attacks, some "progressives" went so far as to assert that Israel should share its "Iron Dome" missile-defense system with its enemies.

The thing that bothers me most about recent reports of police shootings is the cops' strong propensity to empty an entire clip of bullets into the people they shoot, which can only come from their training.  We've all heard the old saws "If you're going to shoot, shoot to kill," "Dead men don't testify," etc.; however, it shouldn't be the cops' job to kill in potentially life-threatening situations, but merely to halt the threat.  It seems like there's an increasingly large number of situations in which one bullet, or even a warning shot, could have accomplished the latter.

9. "If You Could Hie to Kolob".  I've read various news stories lately about the near-certainty that planets revolving around distant stars are sufficiently Earth-like to support life.  Of course, the contention of the LDS Church has always been that there is practically an infinite number of such worlds.  As the Mormon hymn goes: 
The works of God continue, And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression Have one eternal round.
There is no end to matter; There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit; There is no end to race.