Sunday, November 22, 2009

Talking Points

And when justice is gone, there's always force...
--Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson was one of my favorite artists when I was a young man. She collaborated with with other interesting artists like William S. Burroughs, and she ended up marrying Lou Reed, of all people. I liked her vaguely absurdist lyrics on  albums that were avant garde but very listenable.

When I listen to people like Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, characterizing not waging another full blown insurgency suppression in Afghanistan as "walking away in defeat", I'm impressed by the absurdist nature of the republican party's talking points.

I'm being won over by Joe Biden's idea that we should get out of Afghanistan. We've become pretty good at killing high-level Al Quaeda leadership by raining down hellfire missiles on them, which is really to say that we are penetrating their organization and are able to get good intelligence on where the leadership are. At that point, hitting them with the missile is the easy part. We don't need a military presence in Afghanistan to kill Al Quaeda people there. And anyway, the problem is Pakistan not Afghanistan - I don't care if Al Quaeda do gain control of Afghanistan's weapons (rocks and sticks?) but Pakistan has nukes.

The republicans really don't seem to have anyone who is able to talk intelligently about this - because Pakistan is a nuanced and difficult problem. So, like a baited bear, republicans roar their talking points, and argue for more of the same mess the Iraq occupation turned into under Dick Cheney's leadership.

I admire their brazenness, though. Liz Cheney, clearly an educated, intelligent woman, but a consummate ideologue, republican talking point spouter, and not a deep thinker, was on This Week, George Stephenopoulis' show, and sat at the table where brilliant people like Paul Krugman are often found. Today the smart people were Robert Reich, Walter Isaacon, and George Will.  It's got to be daunting, knowing that your talking points could be deconstructed by people like that, and on live TV.

Daunting indeed. Not unlike the first time you get to wear long pants and sit at the grownup table for the Thanksgiving meal. You have to participate in the discussion with the grownups, and much of what they are talking about is complicated, hard to understand, and the grownups know a lot more than you about what it all means.

It's Thanksgiving week coming up. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baltimore, You Suck

No danger of repo'ing a car on this street, unless it's my Miata. McElderry.

I've had it with this city. I'm working downtown now, and the commute sucks. I work in a better neighbrhood, Canton, than the one in this picture, but the reality of this city is that to get from one pocket of unblighted neighborhood to another, you will have to travel through a dangerous mess like McElderry, or Harlem Park (or pick any of hundreds of other ruined neighborhoods). I spent some time repossessing cars in Baltimore, and it was always in the these same neighborhoods, Pimlico, Park Heights, Sinclair-Edison, all the shitholes. Baltimore is called the city of neighborhoods, and 250 of 300 of them suck.


The big problem, though, is my commute. I drive fifteen miles and it takes an hour, often longer. If I so far forget myself as to leave a safe distance between the car in front of me and my car, some asshole will honk, pass me in a frenzy on the right, and fill the gap. I get cut off, honked at, passed unsafely, and I'm starting to think that Baltimore and her suburbs are populated by an inordinate number of idiot assholes.

I need to maintain a sunny disposition and a sense of fellowship with my neighbors, fellow commuters included. The only solution is to leave, and go to a smaller city that's not blighted. Boise Idaho, Richmond, Virginia, a place like that. I'm working on it.

The Suburbs

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Range Time, 21 Feet

The Glock, the Umarex and extra rounds. There are bunches more weapons, ammunition and measures here, but that's what's next to me right now.

Defending our house against people who might break into it and hurt or kill us, and against crickets, are things we do. Home invasions are way up in the US. Defense is simple, but I don't want to engage in that defense - I'd rather we could just withdraw, and that's the plan. But if we're trapped and can't leave the house to the invaders, my strategy is to be armed and use all the advantages we have - surprise, subterfuge, weapons, and ruthlessness. 

Cricket invasions are up too.

If someone breaks down the front door and we can get out of the house before they get in, they are welcome to it - we'll be outside calling the police. With our guns. You want the TV? Take it. You want to come out into the back yard and try to harm us? Don't get within 21 feet.

The FBI did a study on attackers with edged weapons going after defenders with pistols, and they concluded that if an attacker gets within 21 feet of you, you can't draw and fire a pistol before they get you with the knife. This will be important if we do have to shoot someone. If they are within the 21 foot range, it's reasonable to defend oneself. Outside of that, not.

I had a discouraging moment the other day, shooting a camelback cricket that was in the house with the pellet gun. Ugh. We get one a day now, and I hope the house sells soon. They are one inch long targets that I shoot at from 5 to 10 feet. At 21 feet, they would be 4 inch targets. That's pretty small, so I don't feel too bad about taking 9 shots at one the other day before I killed it. Got one tonight at 8 feet with 2 shots, and it was a small one, so all is not lost. I can still shoot if I concentrate.

A human at twenty one feet is about 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide, and I can shoot a target that size and at that range very quickly and accurately. It's actually the only thing I am good at with the Glock - double tapping human sized targets at 21 feet. 

But taking 9 tries to get that cricket (sure, he was jumping and evading) means I'm going to start going to the range with the Glock more regularly - the cricket just pissed me off, but I need to be sure about hitting that human invader.

Monday, November 09, 2009

What's Bob Doing?

Off to work today to find an ad-hoc analysis problem waiting involving hopitalizations for mental health problems. Next had meetings with IT colleagues to request that they derive some info from data on provider locations (some health care providers have more than one location, and some don't, as you might imagine) and my guys need to know about that. Also working on raw provider data to see if we are somehow failing to import them correctly. It's all forensics. My IT folks and business analysts know these data well, and I don't yet, but I will.

Our customers are Medicare recipients. They get good care. I'll be blogging about that when I can.

Three weeks in, this is still very much a new job, in the sense that I bring no domain knowledge or industry (medicare) experience to it. Luckily, the data analysis work is uncomplicated enough so far that I can get it done.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lentil Soup

I had forgotten how much mental energy is required to work with data. I'm working with data that relate to the heath care people have received and whether or not the care was appropriate based on HEDIS measures. The HEDIS measures live in a four inch thick binder on my desk.

So at the end of the day I'm not usually in such great shape for blogging, but I'll get back to it with this easy entry on soup. I like to make a big pot of lentil soup on Sunday most weeks in the winter.

Lentil Soup

4 andouille sausages
1 polska kielbasa
4 carrots
2 large yellow onion
5 celery stalks
1 big parsnip
6 cups chicken stock
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 package of lentil beans
optional chopped garic

Rough chop all the vegetables. In a big soup pot, sweat them with a little vegetable oil, salt and pepper on high heat for about three minutes. Add the chicken stock and six or so cups of water. Season again with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then add the lentils, bay leaves, and some thyme if you want and the garlic if you want. Lately I've been leaving the garlic out. Simmer the soup until the lentils are tender and breaking down. Slice the andouille sausage and kielbasa and add to the soup. Put the heat off, and let the fat from the sausage melt and merge with the soup. You are done. As with most soups like this, it will be better tomorrow.