So I turned 47 on Monday…

awkward-moment-breathing-stairs… and I had every intention of blogging about it then, but I didn’t ever actually get around to it. That seems to happen a lot lately. Not that I have anything profound to say about turning 47 other than it’s weird being so close to 50. Forty wasn’t that big a deal for me, but fifty is freaking me out a little bit. Probably because I’ll be due for my first prostrate exam which I’m not looking forward to. For years I hoped they’d have developed an alternative to the traditional method by the time I reached that age, but three years out and no proper alternative is in sight. I’m also a little disturbed by how much my doctor is looking forward to that day.

I got some nice gifts for my birthday. My wife, ever enabling of my video game habits, bought me a Corsair Vengeance K70 mechanical gaming keyboard, a copy of The Last of Us Remastered for the PS4, and another volume of Red Dwarf on DVD (I’m slowly, but surely finishing that collection). Dave Hill of ***Dave Does the Blog sent me the Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy on Blu-ray and I’ve got a few gifts from my in-laws that I’ll receive when I see them this coming weekend.

I’m still struggling with getting into the habit of walking. I’ve not managed to do a full week in some time now and it’s been over a week since I last got out and do it. I intend to do so tomorrow, but then I intended to blog on my birthday so we’ll see how it goes. My weight is fluctuating around the 290 to 293 range right now, but my physical last month was an improvement over the previous one. Being this close to fifty I feel like I should really have my shit together by now, but I’m just as disorganized as ever.

One annoying new development I’ve been experiencing is biting the inside of my own mouth. This is something that I almost never did in my youth, but now hardly a week goes by that I don’t manage to draw blood from the inside of my cheek or the area just under my nose while eating a meal. Just this evening I managed to bite the inside of my own mouth four fucking times. What the hell is up with that? Is this an age thing that no one ever talks about? It like I’ve forgotten how to chew properly. It’s damned annoying.

So, 47. Not sure I feel about it yet. I’ll keep you updated.

On Sunday I will turn 46 years old…

… and, for the first time in my life, I finally feel like an adult. At least partially.

I’ve written many times about the various ways in which I don’t feel like a real adult. Be it because of my lack of artsy home decor or finding myself in various situations I have no knowledge of how to handle because life doesn’t come with a How-To manual, there’s plenty of times that I’ve been left wondering when the adult switch in my head would flip and everything would change. I’m slowly realizing it doesn’t work like that.

imagespeople-personOddly enough, the one thing that has made me feel like an adult for the first time in my life is tied to the ongoing rift in the atheist/skeptic community over feminism and sexual harassment. I stopped paying much attention to the atheist/skeptic community quite some time ago in part because I felt that people on both sides of the ‘debate’ were acting like assholes, but there are still a few people that I follow on Google+/Twitter and as a result I occasionally allow myself to get sucked back in when the next big drama flares up like a virtual hemorrhoid. The latest controversy has arisen from a blog post by PZ Myers in which he accuses prominent professional skeptic Michael Shermer of raping a woman at a conference at some unspecified point in the past based on an email he got from the alleged victim who neither wants to be named nor to press charges (supposedly because it was long enough ago that it’s no longer possible).

That’s a pretty major accusation to be tossing around and Shermer has already threatened to sue PZ for defamation if he doesn’t take the blog post down and apologize. PZ (obviously) has not complied and has added in further statements from other anonymous women that seem to bolster the claims made by the first anonymous woman. That’s about as far as I’m going to bother describing the situation because it’s really not the point of this entry, but rather the catalyst that led me to realize that I’m an adult in at least one fundamental way. As for my opinion on it: Fuck if I know if Michael Shermer is guilty of rape. I don’t know the man personally and have only read a couple of his books on skepticism and how the brain works. His books are pretty good reading. He may very well be a sexual harasser for all I know, but until someone has the gumption to come forward with some evidence beyond anonymous emails sent to a prominent blogger, I’ll continue to give him the benefit of doubt as I don’t know him, or the other people involved in this mess, to make any value judgements about their character or honesty.

That said, what there is no doubt in my mind is that there is a huge problem with men — in a number of communities I care about — that can’t seem to grow the fuck up and treat women with a modicum of respect. While I’m unwilling to commit to the idea that specifically Michael Shermer is a rapist (or even a harasser) without more to go on, I don’t doubt that women at skepticism/atheism/video game/anime/business/underwater basket weaving conferences are routinely sexually assaulted/harassed. It’s been years since I last attended a con of any kind, but even back when I did it wasn’t uncommon to see women being harassed by idiots who somehow thought that being in the presence of a breathing woman was an open invitation to cop a feel. So I know this shit does happen because I’ve seen it. It seems to become more prevalent with alcohol consumption, but I’ve seen plenty of sober dickheads who couldn’t keep their hands off of someone else too.

Still, I always thought (believed?) that these guys were the exception to the rule and were limited in number. These days with the Internet giving all of them a means of voicing their ‘opinions’ worldwide it’s become clear to me that they are not the small minority I thought they were. In perusing the various blog posts about Myer’s bombshell I eventually stumbled across one that linked to a YouTube video by Ashley Paramore wherein she describes a recent sexual assault she was victim to at a conference. It’s lengthy, but worth a watch:

Some guys seem stuck in this line of thinking.

Some guys seem stuck in this line of thinking.

As I listened to Ashley describe how someone she considered a good friend repeatedly assaulted her in an attempt to get her to sleep with him all I could think to myself was how the fuck does anyone think that’s an appropriate approach to take. It’s like Jim-Bob, her friend, was somehow stuck in the first grade where the height of romantic thinking was that pulling a girl’s hair somehow indicated that you liked her. Except instead of pulling her hair he was grabbing her ass and reaching for other personal areas.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m your typical white, middle-aged, heterosexual male who occasionally looks at attractive, naked women on the Internet because, hey, it’s attractive, naked women. And there have been plenty of women over the years as I grew up — that I’ve known personally and that I’ve never met — whom I have fantasised about and whom I would have given my left arm to bump uglies with. That right there probably rules me out of being considered a feminist,  but not once did I think the right way to try and make my dreams come true involved just assuming she wanted me and going for it. Maybe I’m exceptional in that way.

I can clearly remember an event in Junior High when most of the boys had noticed that most of the girls were suddenly developing new and interesting shapes on their figures and there was a rash of uninvited gropings that prompted the principal to haul all of us guys down to the gym one afternoon to tell us not to touch the girls without permission. A few days later he had to haul us all down to the gym again to revise his statement to just don’t touch the girls because apparently all of the idiots who had been groping them were now endlessly pestering them for permission to grope them. I remember being amazed that anyone had that much chutzpah to begin with, despite desperately wanting to touch a boob myself.

Not that I was a paragon of virtue. In high school I’d often remark to my male friends about a passing female that I would love to “bend over a table” because I thought it was a funny thing to say and I was a stupid teenager, but there was always the unsaid coda of “but only with her enthusiastic permission.” There were many times I tried my hardest to convince someone that fooling around with me was something they’d regret missing out on… and I got really good at handling rejection. All without deciding that I should just go ahead and show them what they’d be missing.

Perhaps it’s because I was bullied so much as a kid. I am well aware of the helplessness that comes from someone forcing their will upon you. Though in my case it was an ass kicking instead of a groping. Still, a lot of the power dynamics behind it seem similar to me and that’s enough to keep me from doing it to someone else.

I’ve grown up and I don’t worry about being bullied anymore, but lots of women — too many women — still wake up every day wondering where the next sexual assault will be coming from. Too many men haven’t grown the fuck up. They’re still acting like the selfish, entitled, spoiled brats they were as kids thinking they have the right to do what they want with the opposite sex. I just don’t understand it. I also don’t understand what it is they hope to accomplish when they respond to a woman speaking up about feminism or rape and sexual assault by threatening to rape and/or kill her.

wtfcat

How the fuck is that supposed to change her mind? I know, I know. It’s not supposed to change her mind. It’s supposed to intimidate her into shutting the fuck up. I guess I just answered my own question.

I’m far from being an example of the perfect male, but I’ve always tried to keep my baser instincts in check. I’ve also spoken out when I witnessed someone being harassed. I can recall one example from my early 20’s late at night at a Denny’s where my best friend and I had stopped for a late supper. A couple of drunk rednecks wandered in and took a seat at the table next to a pair of women and started to “flirt” with them. The women clearly weren’t interested and said as much to the men in no uncertain terms. The men didn’t take the rejection well and redoubled their efforts by physically touching the women on their hair and clothes and asking how much for a lap dance. My friend and I looked at each other and then spoke up. The dunks told us to mind our fucking business and we suggested they take their own advice. The sized us up as they threatened to kick our asses and then opted to leave deciding that us being sober probably gave us the advantage. We weren’t trying to be white knights, we just thought it was the right thing to do.

So, yeah, watching that video and trying to understand how anyone above the age of 10 could think it was the proper approach to wooing a woman made me feel like an adult for one of the first times in my life. I may not have completely grown up in many other ways, but as I approach my birthday I feel that I’ve grown up in one of the more important ones. Now if only more of us could do the same.

My mother turns 78 years old today.

Momma-1-31-13I need to take a moment to wish my mother a very Happy 78th Birthday. If there is one person in this world who deserves much of the blame credit for the wonderful person I turned out to be, it’s her.

She’s been an endless source of both inspiration and wisdom not only my myself and my siblings, but for friends and extended family. If you have a spare moment, drop by her blog and say hi.

Love you so very much, Mom. Happy Birthday.

Happy 49th birthday Doctor Who!

On this day back in 1963 The Doctor first graced television screens. It would be years before I’d first see him, but fortunately he hung around for quite awhile. He disappeared for a bit in 1989, but he’s back now and better than ever.

What’s really amazing is that he doesn’t look a day over 30*:

*Current actor Matt Smith is 30.

I, literally, grew up with video games.

I can remember Pong and the early days of the arcade where you indicated you were next in line by lining up a quarter on the machine. I remember the Magnavox Odyssey and Odyssey II. I remember PacMan and Donkey Kong and Missile Command. The very first console I ever owned was the Atari 2600 and I played the living hell out of it. I remember the great video game market crash in ’83 and the resurgence in ’85 (via Nintendo’s NES). I remember the following rise in dominance of the Japanese consoles and how in the arcade the future was thought to be Vector Graphics games. Then I remember when the future of arcades was going to be LaserDisc based games. I remember the first CD-ROM titles, the first 3D First Person Shooter, the first 3D graphics cards, and so on.

I was only five years old when the first video games were born. I’ve had a life-long passion for them and my interest led me into computers which has given me a halfway decent career. I’m part of the generation that made the video game industry of today possible. And, boy, has it ever developed in ways we never saw coming. If I could go back and show my ten-year-old self the sort of games that I’m enjoying today he’d flip his lid. Can’t wait to see what the decades to come will bring. #seb #videogames #Birthdays

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How the Video Game Was Born [Design]
This year, the video game turns 40. Let’s call it an occasion to spend a few more hours in front of our TVs, the place where it all started.
In 1951, some 12 million television sets were in existence and Ralph Baer, a television engineer at Loral Electronics, wondered what extracurricular tricks TV sets could do. The company was pushing television tech forward, and Baer mentioned to his bosses that wouldn’t it be fun to incorporate an interactive game element into the experience? Dude was ont…

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Happy 175th Birthday, Michigan!

"If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

Today is my home state’s 175th birthday and she doesn’t look a day over 130. Interestingly enough, the founding of the state wasn’t without conflict:

Neighboring Ohio attained statehood in 1803 and engaged in a running dispute with Michigan over ownership of land known as “the Toledo Strip” along the Maumee River. Tensions ran so high in the mid-1830s that both states sent militia units into the region, but no shots were ever fired or prisoners taken.

[…] In 1835, the territory formally applied for admission to the union as a free state, where slavery was outlawed. At the time, federal law required admission of a free state to be offset by the entry of a slave state, in this case Arkansas, which also had applied.

In June 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill admitting Arkansas but, with Ohio kicking up a fuss, told Congress to settle the border issue before he’d approve statehood for Michigan. The resulting compromise awarded the Toledo Strip to Ohio but gave the Upper Peninsula to Michigan.

This looks like a great deal now, but back then, Michigan initially rejected the offer. It took two conventions before the deal was sealed in December 1836. Congress then passed a Michigan statehood bill that Jackson signed on Jan. 26, 1837.

via Ron Dzwonkowski: Michigan is 175 years old and vital as ever | Detroit Free Press | freep.com.

The dispute with Ohio was known as the Toledo War and/or the Michigan-Ohio War:

Originating from conflicting state and federal legislation passed between 1787 and 1805, the dispute resulted from poor understanding of geographical features of the Great Lakes at the time. Varying interpretations of the law caused the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim sovereignty over a 468-square-mile (1,210 km2) region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip. When Michigan sought statehood in the early 1830s, it sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries; Ohio’s Congressional delegation was in turn able to halt Michigan’s admission to the Union.

Beginning in 1835, both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side’s capitulation. Ohio’s governor Robert Lucas and Michigan’s 24-year-old “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason were both unwilling to cede jurisdiction of the Strip, so they raised militias and helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other’s authority. The militias were mobilized and sent to positions on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo, but besides mutual taunting there was little interaction between the two forces. The single military confrontation of the “war” ended with a report of shots being fired into the air, incurring no casualties.

During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and approximately three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan at the time, nearly all of it was still Indian territory, and voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected it.

In December 1836, the Michigan territorial government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention (called the “Frost-bitten Convention”) which accepted the compromise which resolved the Toledo War.

It’s hard to imagine Michigan without the Upper Peninsula, especially when the other result would’ve been a much smaller strip of land and would’ve stuck us with Toledo.

Another interesting historical note, for me anyway, is that the first convention that rejected the proposed compromise took place right here in Ann Arbor, but in the end it was money (natch) that prompted Michigan to acquiesce:

As the year wore on, Michigan found itself deep in a financial crisis and was nearly bankrupt, because of the high militia expenses. The government was spurred to action by the realization that a $400,000 surplus in the United States Treasury was about to be distributed to the states, but not to territorial governments. Michigan would have been ineligible to receive the money.

The “war” unofficially ended on December 14, 1836, at a second convention in Ann Arbor. Delegates passed a resolution to accept the terms set forth by the Congress. However, the calling of the convention was itself not without controversy. It had only come about because of an upswelling of private summonses, petitions, and public meetings. Since the legislature did not approve a call to convention, some said the convention was illegal. Whigs boycotted the convention. As a consequence, the resolution was rejected and ridiculed by many Michigan residents. Congress questioned the legality of the convention, but accepted the results of the convention regardless of its concerns. Because of these factors, as well as because of the notable cold spell at the time, the event later became known as the “Frostbitten Convention.”

Turns out the only state that actually lost anything in “the war” was Wisconsin:

At the time of the Frostbitten Convention, it appeared that Ohio had won the conflict. The Upper Peninsula was considered a worthless wilderness by almost all familiar with the area. The vast mineral riches of the land were unknown until the discovery of copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula and iron in the Western Upper Peninsula; this discovery led to a mining boom that lasted long into the 20th century. Given the current value of the port of Toledo to Ohio, it can be reasonably suggested that both sides benefitted from the conflict.

Consequently, the only state that definitively lost was not even involved in the conflict. The mineral-rich land of the western Upper Peninsula would have most likely remained part of Wisconsin had Michigan not lost the Toledo Strip.

Suck it Wisconsin!

If you have lived in Michigan or Ohio for any amount of time you’ll be aware of the intense rivalry between the two states that most often comes up in the arena of collegiate sports, particularly college football. If you’re not aware of the history you might think it’s just a result of school spirit, but it’s clear that it stretches way back in time. These days it’s a much more friendly rivalry that’s generally limited to making disparaging remarks about how much the other state sucks, again particularly it’s collegiate football teams. Ultimately we can’t be too upset with them because the U.P. ended up being a much better deal than we had expected.

If you’re interested you can learn a lot of other interesting facts about Michigan in its Wikipedia entry. Stuff like the fact that we have the second longest shoreline of any state in the Union. Or the fact that you’re never more than 6 miles from an inland lake when you’re here.

Today I am 44 years old.

I’ve mentioned before that as a kid I used to think there would be a point in time at which I would truly feel like an adult and that I knew what I was doing in this thing called life. That day has yet to come and today is not that day. That said, I do recognize that I am a bit wiser than I was in days gone by. I may not always know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m at least wise enough to realize when I’m about to do something stupid. At least most of the time. So there’s that.

Forty-four isn’t a particularly momentous year, I’ve already had the Over The Hill birthday (40) and I’m not quite half-way to 50 yet, so I suppose it’ll pass like most any other day. One difference comes from living in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Before I left the house this morning I had already had nearly a dozen Happy Birthdays to answer on Facebook thanks to the fact that the service tells all your friends that you’re having a birthday today. I’m not a huge Facebook fan, but that is pretty nifty. While Twitter doesn’t broadcast your birthday to all who follow you, the mere mention of it in a tweet provokes a cavalcade of good wishes from persons known and unknown that’s sure to make you feel at least a little special on your special day. But I must say that Google’s new attempt at social networking — Google+ — has both of those social networks beat with this:

My very own Google doodle! Click to embiggen!

You will probably have to click on it for the full-size version to see it, but the tool-tip on the doodle says “Happy Birthday Les!” and when I click on it it takes me to my Google+ profile page. Granted, this doodle shows to anyone on their birthday so long as they’ve input their birth date into their Google profile page, but it threw me for a loop when I first noticed it. “Huh,” I thought, “Google’s doing something about birthdays today. What a coincidence.” It wasn’t until I moused over it and it showed the salutation addressed to me that my mind was blown. Apparently if you don’t have a Google+ account, but do still have a Google Profile then that page will be dressed up with animated party streamers and a Happy Birthday message. Still, it’s pretty cool to pretend Google thinks I’m important enough to make a doodle for.

Which just goes to show that one thing I haven’t lost with age is my ability to be easily impressed.

Momma’s celebrating her 76th birthday!

Pic of my mother.The woman most directly responsible for my very existence turns 76 years-old today. It’s hard to think of what to say that doesn’t sound trite and cliched. For all the writing I do I find that words often fail me when I’m trying to express the gratitude and sense of good fortune to have had a mother like mine. This is especially true when reading about some other mothers that end up in the news for something very un-mother-like that they’ve done.

They say that you should immediately be skeptical of anyone claiming to be acting in your best interests unless it’s your mother. This is certainly true of mine. Over the years she sacrificed many of her own wants and needs to make sure that us kids had what we needed, if not always what we wanted. And often enough she managed to get us what we wanted as well. More importantly she managed to provide us with what we didn’t know we wanted at the time. Whether that be a sense of responsibility or the strength to do the right thing. The most important thing my mother gave me was the courage to be who I am and not what others think I should be.

She’s not perfect, no mother is, but she gave it her best effort which is more than many seem to do these days. If my daughter looks back on her time with me someday and thinks I was half as good a dad to her as my mother was to me, I’ll consider that quite the accomplishment. Especially now that I know kids don’t come with instructions manuals.  If you’re interested in knowing more about her you can visit her blog at Momma’s Corner or listen to the SEB Podcast she participated in.

So here’s a wish for a very Happy Birthday to my Mom and a hope that she has many more to come!

With all my love. Your son,

Les

Today I am 43 years old.

Pic of a Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday to me, dammit!

Yep, it’s another birthday in what has been a long line of them so far. It seems as I get older I become more and more introspective as the next birthday gets closer. I feel like when the day arrives I should have some insight into life, or at least into my life, and yet it always arrives without any great revelations. I feel no wiser today then I did a year ago even though simple logic would suggest that I must have learned a thing or two along the way and, by pure chance if nothing else, there has to be something of some significance in the past year I’ve picked up.

If there was it fails to come to mind now, though I suspect that one of the aspects of wisdom is you don’t often recognize it until you have to apply it to something. It’s a good bet I’ve learned a number of profound lessons in the past year alone, but until I have some occasion in which to put them to good use I’ll probably remain ignorant of my new knowledge. Which is an interesting concept: To be ignorant of knowledge one has gained until it is needed. I know it’s an accurate description because I’m often surprised by what I know about a subject when it comes up. Especially stuff I don’t have any good reason to know much about beyond simple curiosity. Which isn’t to say I don’t have my moments of stunning ignorance as well, but those aren’t as fun to think about.

So today will be celebrated by heading off to Lansing, Michigan to do another day’s work in my current two-month or so long contract job. Once I get home tonight my buddy Bob will come over to take me out for dinner. Anne is hoping to get out of work early to join us if at all possible. Then I’ll come home, go to bed, get up tomorrow and carry on with the job. No birthday cakes or presents this year, just business as usual with a dinner out with a long time friend afterward.

Which isn’t to suggest that I haven’t been the recipient of massive generosity. Many of you were gracious enough to donate when I put my hat out and asked and I cannot begin to express my gratitude in words. Thanks to you surviving until my first full paycheck from this job arrives on Friday will not be a problem as the deficit we were running is just about taken care of. Thank you, again, for the help. I hope that I will soon be in a position where I won’t have to ask for it again.

As far as birthdays go, all things considered, this one is shaping up to be pretty good. I am still breathing, we still have a roof over our heads, and there is the promise of better things tomorrow. Everything else is, if you’ll pardon the pun, icing on the cake.

Happy 75th Birthday to my Mother.

Technically Momma turns 75 tomorrow, but we’re celebrating a day early because it’s the one day everyone has off and can gather at her place. I can never put into words just how lucky I was to have her for a mother. Especially compared to some of my friend’s mothers or just some of the ones you read about in the newspaper. She taught me well over the years and has always been there to lend an ear when I was troubled, and often times more than that when a car needed fixin’ or an unexpected emergency put us in a bind. She often went without so that us kids had what we needed. She is the reason I do not have a troubled past checkered with various criminal offenses.

So a very happy birthday to my mother, without whom I wouldn’t be here today (quite literally). I hope she has many more yet to come. If you’d like to give her some well wishes you can do so here or on her blog.