Sunday, February 26, 2012

How long will I live?

For some reason, I have thought for some time that I would die at 83. Today I took a test designed at the University of Pennsylvania (click here if you want to try it) that predicted my life expectancy, based on health and behavioral questions, to be within a range of 79 to 93, with a likely age of 85.9 at time of death.

Predictors are based on large populations with common circumstances and do not indicate what will happen to any individual within that population. After all, I could be hit by a truck tomorrow or get poisoned by the pork soft tacos I am making for dinner tonight.

Still, it is interesting to see that my intuitive guess correlates somewhat with this test, at least.

Tom, on the other hand, pointed out that they do not ask at what age parents and/or siblings died. His outcome has him living a decade longer than most people in his family did. On the other hand, if it turns out to be true, we have a couple of decades left together. Which will make me happier.

Other comments on this test include:
"Shoot, I already lived longer than I am supposed to!"
"Yipes! I passed away last Tuesday!"
"If I cut out all the things I would have to in order to live longer, I wouldn't live -- just exist."

At any rate, don't base your retirement planning on anything like this.

Why reporters need to do a little research

NB: This is NOT a political comment OR a complaint.

President Obama was recently in Milwaukee to address workers at a manufacturing plant. (The details don't matter to this blog.) At least one reporter wrote that the setting showed that the President is clearly on the side of unions, being flanked by the American flag and a union banner for Wisconsin Local 1848.

The problem? That is not a labor union banner. That is the flag of the State of Wisconsin, which entered the union that we call the United States in 1848.

Sorry about that!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Report from the No Complaining Zone

As regular readers know (both of you), I am endeavoring to give up complaining for Lent. Tom has already pointed out that this has just about killed our dinner conversations.

I hate to admit it is true. To be honest, it has just about killed all my conversations. Part of trying not to complain is trying not to get drawn into negative and critical conversations with others who -- as some of them have reminded me -- have not made any such Lenten resolution.

It has made me realize how much of ordinary conversation is complaining. Or, if not complaining strictly define perhaps, still how much of it is critical, negative and so on.

Not that I'm complaining about that!

Six weeks to go ...

Blatantly stolen from Tom's blog

Garbage Day Nocturne

I was taking out the garbage this morning and, walking back, struck by how pretty the new snow was in the half light.

The scene reminded me of the Christmas cards that show a lighted house in the woods on a winter night. A winter nocturne, if you will. No matter that it was early morning on garbage day, long after Christmas.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mystery of the missing DVDs

Back in November when we were doing shopping for the holidays, I noticed that seasons 3 and 4 of The Big Bang Theory were on sale at a great price. Although Tom had purchased my gift for Christmas -- a very nice leather jacket to replace my old one -- he wanted to get the DVDs for me, too. (I already own the first two seasons.) I suggested we buy them and then he could hang onto them and give them to me for my birthday in May. He agreed, the DVDs were ordered, shipped November 28, arrived safely and put on my bookcase temporarily.

While we were wrapping other gifts, I noticed that the DVDs had disappeared. Tom assured me he had gone ahead and wrapped them and stored them safely away. Not sure exactly where, but we would probably find them when we were cleaning up after the holiday visitors.

At any rate, we did not find them when cleaning up after the holiday visitors. We have looked high and low, in closets, under beds, in the basement, in the boxes where the Christmas things are stored, in the boxes where the autumn things are stored, in the boxes where ... Well, you get the idea.

I doubt anyone took them home by mistake. Tom says they were wrapped and they were certainly not unwrapped when we did the gift exchange. And I assume anyone arriving home with an unidentified package in wrapping paper would call to see if we knew what the story was. So it remains a mystery.

Of course, they can always be replaced, but you know the Frugal Twins. The DVDs have already been paid for once and it seems wasteful to order another set when we may still uncover the original ones. As my birthday gets closer, we will re-examine our options.

Meanwhile, do you think Tom has hidden them in the gun safe and is just jerking my chain? A classic Sheldon prank?


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lent is the Christian observance of the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, a bit over six weeks. Ash Wednesday is February 22 this year, so it is upon us.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer – through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial (based on admonitions in Matthew 6)– for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. Thus, Lent is described as being forty days long, though different denominations calculate the forty days differently.

This event, along with its pious customs, are observed by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans/Episcopalians. Lent is increasingly being observed by other denominations as well, even such groups that have historically ignored Lent, such as some Baptists and Mennonites.

During Lent, some people commit themselves to a form of fasting or temporarily give up certain types of luxury. Hence the common question, what are you giving up for Lent? After Vatican II, Catholics in particular were encouraged to think of adding positive changes during Lent, not just giving up luxuries or trying to break bad habits. After all, Lent is about fasting, not dieting so that you can fit into your Easter outfit.

I typically say that I am giving up lobster or that I am just giving up.

This year, however, I think I am going to try both the giving-up and the adding-on approaches. My plan is to give up complaining about people (and I have some individuals in mind) and trying to speak positively about people. In order to do this, I will have to be more conscious of what I am doing all the time, and living more mindfully is a good thing.

And don’t forget, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 21. Get some beads, eat some gumbo and laissez les bons temps rouler.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Poltics and money have come to this ...

Billionaire Romney donor uses threats to silence critics

Frank VanderSloot, left, and Mitt Romney (Credit: AP)

Frank VanderSloot is an Idaho billionaire and the CEO of Melaleuca, Inc., a controversial billion-dollar-a-year company which peddles dietary supplements and cleaning products; back in 2004, Forbes, echoing complaints to government agencies, described the company as “a pyramid selling organization, built along the lines of Herbalife and Amway.” VanderSloot has long used his wealth to advance numerous right-wing political causes. Currently, he is the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, and his company has become one of the largest donors ($1 million) to the ostensibly “independent” pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future. Melaleuca’s get-rich pitches have in the past caused Michigan regulators to take action, resulting in the company’s entering into a voluntary agreement to “not engage in the marketing and promotion of an illegal pyramid”‘; it entered into a separate voluntary agreement with the Idaho attorney general’s office, which found that “certain independent marketing executives of Melaleuca” had violated Idaho law; and the Food and Drug Administration previously accused Melaleuca of deceiving consumers about some of its supplements.

But it is VanderSloot’s chronic bullying threats to bring patently frivolous lawsuits against his political critics — magazines, journalists, and bloggers — that makes him particularly pernicious and worthy of more attention. In the last month alone, VanderSloot, using threats of expensive defamation actions, has successfully forced Forbes, Mother Jones and at least one local gay blogger in Idaho to remove articles that critically focused on his political and business practices (Mother Jones subsequently re-posted the article with revisions a week after first removing it). He has been using this abusive tactic in Idaho for years: suppressing legitimate political speech by threatening or even commencing lawsuits against even the most obscure critics (he has even sued local bloggers for “copyright infringement” after they published a threatening letter sent by his lawyers). This tactic almost always succeeds in silencing its targets, because even journalists and their employers who have done nothing wrong are afraid of the potentially ruinous costs they will incur when sued by a litigious billionaire.

Numerous journalists and bloggers in Idaho — who want to write critically about VanderSloot’s vast funding of right-wing political causes — are petrified even to mention his name for fear of these threats. As his work on the Romney campaign brings him national notoriety, he is now aiming these tactics beyond Idaho. To allow this scheme to continue — whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them — is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny.

Saturday jaunt

It was a sunny but brisk day this morning when we headed out to Madison. We had decided to visit the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art again. They have three shows running at the moment, one about Houdini, one about prints produced in Mexico following the revolution in the early 20th century and the other looking at paintings and photographs representative of the diverse communities, faiths and social groups that make up the United States. This last exhibit is titled E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one", the phrase on the Seal of the United States that has become the de facto motto of our country. It is something we need to be reminded of from time to time, especially in election years.

All three were interesting, each in its own distinctive way. Above is a picture of the museum, with the Capitol in the background. That's a sculpture of a horse in the lobby, by the way, not the real thing.

Afterward we went to a little Greek place and had gyros, something we used to have with some regularity in Hyde Park, but another thing we don't get too much in the Dells. The sandwiches and the fries were excellent, and the place had large screen monitors all around showing beautiful videos of Greek islands and such. (Made me want to book a cruise!) We got there just in time, because there were only a couple of others there when we came in, but the place filled rapidly after us and the line was out the door when we left. It was a treat, but I am still shocked that two sandwiches, fries and a couple of soft drinks cost $19.50.

Well, with gasoline projected to break $4.00 a gallon come summer, we won't be running off to Madison all that much anymore anyway.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Parental Guidance

This is an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times about the marriage equality debate. If the topic disturbs you, stop reading now.

I highlighted some parts because they struck me. They were not emphasized in the original article.

Why is gay marriage inevitable? First, the basic insight of the gay rights movement over the last four decades has proved powerfully correct: As more gays and lesbians have come out of the closet, the social environment has become more gay friendly. In turn, as the social environment has become more hospitable, more gays and lesbians have felt free to come out of the closet. This social dynamic is powerfully reinforcing and unlikely to be reversed.

One factor that most strongly predicts support for gay equality is knowing someone who is gay. As more gays and lesbians come out of the closet, more parents, children, siblings, friends, neighbors and co-workers know or love someone who is gay. Because few people favor discrimination against those they know and love, every gay person coming out of the closet creates more supporters of gay equality.

The number of Americans reporting that they know somebody who is openly gay tripled between 1985 and 2000, reaching 75%. One study in 2004 found that among those who reported knowing someone who is gay, 65% favored either gay marriage or civil unions, while only 35% of those who reported not knowing any gay people supported them.

A second reason that gay marriage seems inevitable is that young people so strongly support it. One study by political scientists found a gap of 44 percentage points between the oldest and youngest survey respondents in their attitudes toward gay marriage. A 2011 poll found that 70% of those age 18 to 34 supported gay marriage. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which young people's support for gay marriage dissipates as they grow older.

The trend in favor of gay marriage has accelerated dramatically in the last three years. Before 2009, the annual rate of increase in support for gay marriage was about 1.5 percentage points, but since then it has been closer to 4 percentage points. Statistical models predict that in another dozen years, every state will have a majority in favor of gay marriage.

In recent years, many conservatives have begun to acknowledge the inevitability of gay marriage, even as they continue to strongly oppose it. In March 2011, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on a Christian radio program that "it is clear that something like same-sex marriage … is going to become normalized, legalized and recognized in the culture."

"It's time," he continued, "for Christians to start thinking about how we're going to deal with that."

That a particular social change may be inevitable, given certain background conditions, does not mean that opponents will cease fighting it. White Southerners continued to massively resist Brown long after most of them came to believe that school desegregation was inevitable.

Similarly, those who believe that gay marriage contravenes God's will are not likely to stop fighting it simply because their prospects of success are diminishing. Moreover, because religious conservatives are both intensely opposed to gay marriage and highly mobilized politically, they are likely for the next several years to continue exerting significant influence over Republican politicians who need their support to win primary elections.

Although the ultimate outcome of the contest over gay marriage no longer seems in doubt, plenty of fighting remains until that battle is over.

And a happy ...

Happy birthday to Riley on the thirteenth and to Brooke on the fourteenth.
And a happy Valentine's Day to everyone!


As the American Catholic bishops draw themselves up in shocked horror over birth control -- something that a vast majority of American Catholics have used -- this story is making headlines here in Wisconsin:
Sealed documents filed in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee bankruptcy identify at least 8,000 instances of child sexual abuse and 100 alleged offenders - 75 of them priests - who have not previously been named by the archdiocese, a victims' attorney said Thursday.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Julie Wolf said she did not have enough information to respond to the assertion, made by attorney Jeffrey Anderson during a pivotal hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan V. Kelley. Anderson represents about 350 of the 570 victim-survivors who have filed claims in the case.

But Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests speculated that some are likely members of religious orders, such as Capuchins or Franciscans. Order officials do not typically make public the names of their accused members, and the archdiocese claims it is not responsible for them, though they have historically helped to staff its parishes and schools.

"This is a public safety crisis, a child safety crisis that needs to be investigated," Isely said at a news conference on the federal courthouse steps, surrounded by fellow survivors and reporters.

"We need to know who they are and where they are. How can there be 8,000 crimes committed by over 100 offenders and there be no accountability?" he said.

Kelley let stand, at least for now, two survivors' claims that the church had sought to bar, arguing they were beyond the statute of limitations.

In the split decision, Kelley also granted the church's motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing a third claim in which a victim had signed a prior settlement agreement with the church.

In an emotional preamble to her ruling, before a packed courtroom, Kelley expressed a reverence for the Catholic Church and compassion for the victims, saying she was "brought to tears more than once" reading the accounts of the men and women who allege they were sexually abused as children by priests, deacons, nuns, teachers and others over the past 60 years.

"But I cannot let compassion be the basis for my decision. It must be governed by law," Kelley said.

Archdiocese attorney Frank LoCoco acknowledged the gravity of the allegations at the outset of the hearing.

"This will be the most difficult professional decision you will ever make," LoCoco told Kelley.

Kelley made it clear that her rulings applied to the three individual cases at hand, not broad classes of claims they may represent. Allowing the two claims to stand doesn't guarantee they will be paid in the bankruptcy, only that the legal debate over when the statute of limitations begins ticking must be decided at trial.

The archdiocese had sought the dismissal of three claims involving two priests and a parish choir director who were accused of molesting boys in the 1970s and '80s. Church lawyers argued that the cases were beyond the statute of limitations and involved a victim who signed a previous settlement agreement and a perpetrator - the choir director - who was not a direct employee.

Victims' attorneys had characterized the church's objections as a test case that, if successful, would have eliminated 95% of the claims in the bankruptcy.

Kelly disallowed the claim involving the prior settlement because the victim didn't meet all of the criteria for voiding a signed agreement.

Much of the debate Thursday centered on how to apply the state's six-year statute of limitations on fraud allegations. LoCoco argued that the clock began ticking at the latest in 2004, when the archdiocese posted its online list of 44 priests with substantiated allegations of abuse.

Anderson said the victims didn't know they were defrauded until 2006 and 2009, when they learned, in some cases through documents released as part of a California settlement, that the archdiocese had lied to them about their abusers' histories.

"When a few did go forward and asked questions, what were they told? Lies," Anderson said.

Anderson raised the issue of the 100 additional accused offenders, culled from his own clients' claims, as part of his defense of the claims.

The archdiocese has said that it turns over all new claims of allegations involving living priests to the appropriate district attorney's office, though it is not clear whether that includes religious order priests and others it doesn't consider its employees.

The victims were not identified in court or in the documents filed on the issues raised Thursday. The claims of all but about 30 victim-survivors are filed under seal as part of a court order intended to protect the identities of any victim seeking anonymity.

Yes, the bishops are SUCH models in issues of sexual morality!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Thinking about ...

We're thinking about taking a train trip west. It looks like we could take the Empire Builder from the Dells to Glacier National Park (Essex, MT) and back on a long weekend. We could catch the train here after I get off work on Thursday, arrive Essex on Friday evening, spend the night at the Izaak Walton Inn, catch the train back Saturday morning and arrive back at the Dells on Sunday afternoon. Timed properly, this would be something I could do without even taking a vacation day.

The trick, of course, is that it is not likely to be something we can manage this year. I am planning (hoping) to go to Texas in April. Since the trip to Montana would mean spending two days looking out the window of a train, I want to go when the land won't be bare or snow-covered. And Tom has commitments that will likely keep him occupied on weekends all summer and fall. Also, the Inn, while reasonably priced, is probably booked up a year in advance.

We are still thinking. It may make more sense to go all the way into Washington State, stay over a day or two, and then come back, taking a week do it with no hurry.

We'll see. I have seen most of the southwest and California, but I have never seen any of the northwest. The train would be a fun and easy way to do it.

As a friend of mine says,

Little by slowly ...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On being Sheldonesque

The problem with being like Sheldon (Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons) -- if indeed it is a problem -- is that when one's head is full of information that one finds interesting, it is hard not to want to share that information with other people. Of course, other people often do not find it interesting or remotely relevant to the topic at hand.

Sheldon and I are perplexed by this. But we shall carry on.

Even so ...

Lots of people don't like Alcoholics Anonymous, and I can understand that. But I will say one thing for it -- AA's tradition is that it keeps its nose out of everything else. Individual members of AA may stick their nose into anything, but the group as group sticks to one thing and one thing only: trying to help alcoholics who want to quit drinking do just that. AA doesn't endorse any political issue, not even prohibition. Huh! Who would have thought? AA is not about changing the political system or the laws. It is about helping one person at a time quit drinking when and if that person wants to do it. It is not the only way you can quit. You may not need to quit. But if you want a way that has worked for some people and want to give it a try, AA members will be happy to offer their experience, strength and hope. If you don't find it helpful, they will wish you well and let you go your way.

I think of this when I see groups like the Komen folk get drawn into political controversy. One of their board members complained that they don't know what to do. If they move this way, they anger That Group. If they move the other way, they anger The Other Group. "What are we supposed to do?" she asked.

I suggest you do what AA does: Find the one thing you want to do -- in this case, work to fund research to cure cancer -- and then just do that. If people complain that the people working on cancer cures are also working on other things they don't like, tell them that is not your concern. You pay the bills associated with the cancer research. If people complain that you aren't saving babies, point out that there seem to be lots of people working on that project. What you are trying to do is save women who have babies, and maybe save some of those babies when they grow up and may get cancer themselves. If people complain that you aren't stopping violence in the Middle East, tell them that other people are working on that and you are paying for cancer research. If people tell you that you are funding crazy liberals or wingnut reactionaries, tell them that you do not fund people. You pay bills for cancer research. That is what you do. You do it well and you do it as equitably and responsibly as you can.

The way you win the race, including the Race for the Cure, is to keep your eyes on the finish line and don't worry about all those other roads people keep pointing to on the side. Those may be great roads with beautiful scenery and great destinations. But that is not your race. Keep running. Women and their families are counting on you.

I admit it ...

I ordered the t-shirt.

Time to pay the piper

Because Tom needs to be around the house most of the day for one of his telephone-heavy projects, we decided it might be a good day to do my taxes. Tom files his estimated taxes quarterly, which is why he is doing mine and not his today.

Fortunately this year my return is pretty simple. All he has to deal with for me is the W-2 and the interest earned at the bank on my CDs and checking account. In past years up here, there were often four or five documents to deal with: W-2 from the library, W-2 from the railroad, income report from the Carmelite Institute for distance learning teaching, income from the books when I was actively marketing them, bank report on interest, whatever. Now all these things did not add up to much in terms of dollars and cents, but it made filing a bit bulky and complicated. This year much less so on the complexity and better on the shekels. That's the way I like it. (Well, Tom does all the work on the filing, so that's the way he likes it, too.)

Of course, Wisconsin is one of over 40 states that have income tax, so he has to generate that report, too. But it is not too bad, since he has already had to figure out all the stuff for the federal. Since unlike most presidential candidates, I don't make enough to be able to profit from various and sundry deductions and nuances, it is pretty much click on standard stuff and total it up.

I know I complain about taxes, and I certainly complain about how some of the tax money is used. But on the whole, I am more than satisfied with my return on the investment. Due to my tax money, someone else gets up on cold days and plows my roads so I can get to work or to fun. Someone else goes out in the hot summer sun and patches the potholes in the roads. Someone else stays up all night keeping watch over my security, someone teaches the kids and takes care of the elderly, someone takes in foster children, someone makes sure the food I eat is safe and the drugs I take won't turn me into Mr. Hyde. Taxes helped make sure that Daddy got the health care he needed in his last months and that Mama got regular support as she cared for him. She has told me time and again that if it had not been for what Medicare helped provide, she thinks it would have killed her. So I am particularly happy that I helped make that possible in 2010, for Mama and Daddy and for countless others like them.

This year I will be getting a little bit back that I had paid in to the State of Wisconsin and the United States of America. Which makes for a nice feeling this time of year, too. Remember way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and McDonald's slogan was "Change back from your dollar"? It feels a little bit like that.

And thanks to Tom for taking care of this for me. The state form made trouble when he came to print it out, but eventually he resolved that and got everything done. He's a treasure.