Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my blog’s beginning on LiveJournal. I don’t think I have a lot to say about this, as I’ve written about my influences in a previous anniversary post. I’ve certainly fallen off the wagon as far as a regular posting schedule goes. There has been more on my Twitter account than here for a couple of years. Twitter is pretty ephemeral, so I could’ve posted things here that went on Twitter and it wouldn’t have made a much better blog.

I will try harder, here, at least from time to time. My mental spaces have been largely taken up by politics, the world, and how horrible all of that is for a good two or three years. I’ve thought about writing a more current-events sort of blog, but that would probably mean doing it in a different space and promoting it in some way, because the goal would be to inform and persuade others. I don’t know much more than anyone else, and I don’t have connections no one else has, so I probably wouldn’t be able to do much more than “This is what I think.” To be honest, we might need less of that in the online world than we think. More facts, less opinions.

Then again, who wants to get the kind of abuse in comments and replies that partisans of any stripe get? I’d be better off acquiring a kitten and photographing it every day to make a cat-a-day blog. We don’t *need* another one of those, but they are undeniably cuter than current events.

Thanks for listening, er, reading. Even if you’re not really reading anymore because you don’t do the blog thing, or because I abandoned LJ, or whatever reason. You were there once, and I appreciated the audience, and still do appreciate anyone who reads this blog thingie.

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You can’t win if you don’t play

I bought a lottery ticket today for the Mega Millions multi-state draw. Since it has not been won for several weeks, the jackpot is up to a staggering $1.6 billion. If one individual wins it, they could probably pick up a small national park for that amount. I’ve never bought a ticket for a billion-dollar lottery prize before.

It’s what my father would’ve wanted. He spent a lot of years playing the lottery when Michigan started ours in 1972. It was probably his method to try to provide for his late-in-life family where all other options were pretty much nonexistent, and the lottery didn’t pay off, either.

He did win once, early on. This was so far back that there was only one game to be played. For fifty cents, you got two three-digit numbers of your choice, and in 1974 his numbers were pulled. On a wintry day we went to a facility in Allen Park, a hockey arena, maybe, where he played kind of a game show with five other players. Each player pulled an envelope that may or may not have been theirs, and then put it in a slot on a board. Then the host pulled each envelopes and announced the name and the prize. My dad’s envelope was the first one drawn and he won $5,000, the lowest prize on the board.

He was so disappointed. Five thousand dollars wasn’t bad, really, but it wasn’t the top prize, and it wasn’t going to be much of a long-term nest egg, either. I don’t even remember what the top prize was. It certainly was not $1.6 billion. It was probably $1 million. Dad kept playing after that, but never got anywhere close to a sizable prize again.

I don’t play often, though in this last year I’ve bought occasional Powerball tickets, just because. You can’t win if you don’t play, of course. But I only buy one ticket at a time, because a second ticket does not increase your chances by any sort of statistically significant amount. I’ll look forward to seeing the drawn numbers at around 11 p.m., and then I will be able to say that I, too, did not win over a billion dollars. Probably.

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Telephonic evil

Everything is a mess; this is common knowledge. Here is my Exhibit A … of Part 422, Section XVII, Subsection 3: Telephones.

A few months ago, I started getting more telemarketer phone calls than usual, most looking for a woman named Joann who it appears was on the verge of getting Medicare, thus needing Part B supplement insurance. (Non-Americans: Don’t ask. It’s really stupid, as is the rest of our health system.) I did a web search and found that at least one company that aggregates personal information had connected my cell phone number with a Joann someone-or-other. How, I do not know. Was there a way to correct this? I don’t think so. Maybe the website that showed this error had a correction feature, but how do you prove a negative? Especially, how do you prove a negative without getting sucked into the clutches of the data aggregators?

I don’t know how anyone trusts any of the data from these services, to be honest. For several years, I could find my half-sister and her husband in them, happily ensconced in their Romulus home with a phone and everything … until I did a search in and found them there, which meant they were DEAD. My half-sister passed in 1988, and her husband followed her in 1991. (We, um, had not been close.) I guess if you’re skip-tracing or whatever, you’ll take any leads you find, and resign yourself that most of the leads will be useless. But how do you have personal information in a database in the 21st century on people who didn’t make it out of the 20th? I know how, as a former database editor, and the answer is “incompetence.” Anyway.

Now we’re at the crux of the story, which I have titled “Why I picked up a call from a ‘Restricted’ number.”

Well, see, I know better than to do that, but I’m expecting a call from my CPAP supplier, and they have at least one person who calls from a number that comes up in Caller ID as restricted. I have no idea why, but there it is. Today, I got a call and Caller ID says “Restricted,” and I picked it up anyway, in case it was that person.

Unfortunately, I heard the usual telemarketer clicks and realized that I have made A Grave Mistake. It was a woman calling for “Joann.” I said they had the wrong number, but she goes on “Well maybe you can help me.” I said I was busy, She said she’d be brief. She went into a spiel about the Police Officers Association of Michigan, and how they want to send me a donation packet so they can continue their work to strengthen laws against criminals and support police.

At that point, annoyedly, I said, “I don’t want stronger laws. I want reform.”

She tried to say that this is what they’ll do, but I know their idea of reform is not my idea of reform, and I said so. Then I followed that angrily with “And I have to get back to my job” before I got into how I want black people to not be victimized by the police, and I want just drug laws, and so on. She pretty much said “whatever” and hung up.

Coworkers heard this. (Coworkers can hear you blink in this cubicle farm.) They were all supportive, if dismayed that I picked up a “restricted” number (until I explained why I did). They even overlooked the F-bomb I threw. I have great coworkers.

But now I’ve made the fatal error, because the paid solicitor who called knows this phone number will reach someone, and soon I will end up with calls from the Police Sergeants of Michigan and the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Dogs Beneficient Society and Donut Bakers For Michigan’s Officers and whatever other cockamamie outfit that tries to give a softer face to the creeping fascism planting its boot on our necks.

And I STILL haven’t gotten the call from the CPAP place that I need so I can get the new mask that I was going to get in JUNE. I am so, so very unhappy.

Telephone service in 2018 is just so stupid. I hate the people who think you can just grab any phone number and match it up with any person and call it good. I hate the specific private company that makes calls for the POAM. I hate that I can’t really use my phone for its purpose because so many companies around the world have decided telephones are for inconveniencing individuals if not outright ripping them off. It’s not the same category of evil as, say, looking the other way when a despot has a journalist killed and dismembered in an EMBASSY, of all places, but it’s a banal, everyday sort of evil that grinds one down nonetheless.

If I could go back in time, I would go visit Alexander Graham Bell as a youngster and convince him to go into painting and not telephone inventing.

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You know me, right? In the continuum of natural-to-unnatural, I’ll be the one with the binocs looking at birds and furry animules out in a relatively human-free landscape. Always have been bent that way, though I’m not outdoors enough to call myself a wilderness adventurer or anything. I’ve written stories and songs set in the outdoors, and have always enjoyed movies and books in that sort of setting. I’ve hiked and backpacked. I’ve dreamed of running away to the wilderness. I’ll even admit to having moments of interest in Furry fandom, mostly toward more realistic than ‘toony tropes.

Then on Monday, I read something on Twitter that a distant friend either liked or retweeted (probably liked) and it blew my fuzzy green mind. It was a middling-long series of tweets of a quick yet fairly well-done sci-fi story:
What if…
(note: Other tweets and retweets from that user may not be work-safe.)

Here’s the text from the first tweet:

What if. What if you lived in the flat above a cybernetics shop/clinic combo.

Going downstairs every day and seeing the most incredible cybernetics in the window. Seeing the heavily ‘borged hacker at the counter, chatting with clientele.

What if.

What if you went in one day.

That’s all you get here; you gotta go read it yourself if you want. Man, I got into the story. A good bit of it was how affecting the story was. Even with a couple of missing details, the style just pulled me in. (I say “missing details” only as if I were an editor advising the writer what he could add to make the story a skosh longer for publication. Just a skosh.) The other bit, maybe the bigger bit, was ME saying “What if I could do that?”

Well, we can’t do that yet, and won’t for quite a while. While scientists are working on a slice of what might eventually be the field of “replacement parts” for humans, they’re only working on vital things like the heart, really. I don’t think they’re really trying to make everything integrate with the human organism in the way a science fiction write would envision. At this point, it’s more important, and plenty challenging, to keep a person alive NOW. Get fancy later.

In a century or so … maybe we can get replacement eyes with adjustable colors and irises. (Oh, and perfect vision, of course.)

Anyway, I’ve spent the week sorting out a bunch of thoughts on this Eureka! moment, because cyborg-anything is so far from where my rich fantasy life has always been, and yet it really seems to fit, somehow. (This week, that is.) Not just for practical reasons, such as my current eyes being a mismatched pair of myopic and astigmatic balls of rods, cones, and humors. Maybe also for aesthetic reasons. Maybe just for fun.

By today, Friday, I think I figured out what the underlying thread is. The notion of changing myself or how I’m presenting myself is, um, really cool. From dressing up in a Ren Faire outfit or biker leathers, to occasional thoughts of more tattoos, to wondering what I’d look like with antlers or fur or even a spiffy robotic hand with a built-in multitool. Cuz, let’s face it, being a normal human living in a suburb of a metro area with a day job is kind of … mundane. Right?

It’s just that … how does all this fit in with the guy with the binoculars from the first paragraph who likes to watch birds?

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Music festival time

Last weekend I went to the 40th Hiawatha Music Festival, in Marquette, Michigan. I wish I remembered how many of them I’ve been to. The Ott Lake Rambler moved back to Marquette in 1997, so it’s no more than twenty festivals; it’s more like fifteen for me due to a few years where circumstances were beyond my control.

There are two components to this festival for me. There’s the festival itself, the acts going on the main stage and the workshop tents, the things I’m actually paying for when I buy the ticket. Then there’s the group of friends I see at the festival, most of whom are fellow campers or ones who live close enough to walk in. This second part is what I especially cherish about Hiawatha. I go there alone, but once I’m there I hang out with at least a dozen locals and more folks from other parts of Michigan and Wisconsin who I enjoy seeing very much. Most of us talk and catch up with each other, and we jam together a lot.

The jamming is almost always on old-timey music, fiddle tunes specifically. Hiawatha is where I coined the phrase “It’s a fiddle’s world, we only live in it.” As a guitar player, my job is accompaniment, but I’m very happy with that because while I contribute, I get to listen to one or more fiddles playing the melodies, sometimes slow, usually fast, often intricate. I love the sound of a fiddle. It’s sometimes hard for me, because I seem to have very few fast-twitch muscle fibers in my arms and the fiddlers can be speedy, but it’s fun.

It’s a lot different from what I play when I’m back home. Jams back home got disappointing for me because everyone I know plays guitar. I don’t care if you’re Eric Clapton, when there are more than five guitars no one stands out. It’s all one guitar sound blob. But if you have fiddles, banjos, mandolins, basses, and guitars, then things sound more interesting. Another thing is, focusing on instruments instead of voices is fun. I must confess singalongs don’t generally move me as much as playalongs do, sometimes. YMMV.

Then there’s the part where you’re playing along on an obscure tune uncovered by the master fiddler from Mt. Pleasant from some old recording he found, or your best friend plays one he learned from a legendary fiddler in West Virginia … instead of singing “Peaceful Easy Feeling” for the nine hundred and first time.

It’s sad when it ends, but I try to stretch it out by playing a lot of folk and fiddle CDs during the following week. This year, I’m intentionally limiting my news consumption as well, so I don’t harsh my remaining mellow too quickly. That all makes up for spending a week or more getting on the noxious task of getting the camping gear cleaned and stowed away again.

Let me add this, if you’re into bluegrass and get a chance to see or listen to Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, DO IT. They came up from southern Indiana to co-headline Hiawatha, and they blew me away. There’s a reason why they’re winning big awards.

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What’s wrong with the news today is us

I just got mad at a chyron. (Which I think was originally a minor Greek god who announced short summaries of things best listened to in full as pronounced by major Greek gods.) It was on CNN, the video was of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi speaking, and I have no idea what she actually said because the volume on the TV was low and I was actually busy paying for lunch. But the text under her face was something like “PELOSI DOWNPLAYS RESULT OF NEW YORK PRIMARY.”* I fake-screamed, “Why doesn’t she support ALL Democrats! She’s the leader, it’s her JOB!”

The woman taking my money just nodded and tried to stay out of it.

Mind, I have no idea what Pelosi was saying. All I know is what some video editor type at CNN thought was the main story. As I walked away, I realized what I had done, and I felt more than a bit sheepish though no one else seemed to care.

There are so many problems with the news business in America. I was about to add “today,” but the complaints I would make are the same as those that surfaced in the days of William Randolph Hearst in the late 1800s, and they probably were not new then. We think there was some halcyon time when the news sources could be trusted as not only impartial but unhyperbolic. If something serious happened, you could trust it was serious, because newspapers were not overplaying EVERYthing. And if they said some politician had a concern about something, you could rest assured that politician did, and that the news source was not trying to peddle a narrative that would bring them more eyeballs whether it was true or not. They have, in fact, never not peddled a narrative that would bring them more eyeballs.

Consumers, of course, eat this stuff up with a big spoon. We need our news fast, and we always want to be entertained. If the story was a party leader saying “We are happy for so-and-so and we look forward to helping her win and working with her in the next Congress,” that would probably be dull, even if that’s what a party leader should say on the day after a primary. And it would be impossible to hear all that when you’re standing in line at the company cafeteria paying for a tuna sandwich.

All I can do is remind myself to be a more careful consumer of news, and to perhaps ignore the news when I cannot be that more careful consumer, because in the latter case it’ll just distract and inflame me, and I need a lot less random distraction and inflaming over half-understood crap.
* if you want background.

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Need something new to do on Sunday afternoons

See, I know something about football. I never played it on any organized level, but I was a fan of the college and the pro game since childhood. A football game on TV is something I can watch in the background or really pay attention to. I know what’s going on, at least at a high level, know what the basic rules are, and can come to care about certain teams.

Except, I can’t care about any of them anymore. Football as it is played in the United States is about as corrupt an institution as any other, these days. I’ve barely watched any games in the last couple of years, no more than a couple of minutes worth at any one time. And no, it’s not because the hometown pro team has a 61-year streak (and counting) of missing the championship game.

At the moment, I’ll just stick to pro football, though I have as many objections to collegiate football.

Reasons to boycott the National Football League:

1. The new rule with the penalty for insufficient respect toward the national flag and anthem, which, why are they even part of football games?

2. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other chronic post-career conditions requiring extensive health care and shortening lives that the NFL doesn’t seem to care about.

3. Blacklisting of players such as Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow, and Michael Sam because they aren’t cookie-cutter traditional football players, and owners fear change….

4. … while turning a blind eye toward other football players who physically abuse the people in their life.

That doesn’t even count the usual reasons: the cost of attending games, owners robbing government treasuries for new stadiums while threatening to take the team elsewhere, and the attention they steal from other worthy interests and endeavors.

So don’t look for me at the Lions’ Super Bowl celebrations this year (ha).

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