Old Chemical Weapons in Iraq, Government Secrets, and Errors

The New York Times has a great long article with lots of cool maps and videos about Iraq’s old chemical weapons. After 9/11, Americans soldiers did find chemical weapons, just not new chemical weapons. This annoying fact wasn’t really convenient, so it was covered up by the government. And a whole lot of American soldiers were exposed to chemical nastiness.

Worth the read.

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Over the weekend, I told Steve that I was very worried about Amanda Bynes. And Steve was all like, ‘who’s Amanda Bynes?” Because he reads books and shit and doesn’t watch Access Hollywood after dinner. Silly boy. I had to explain that Amanda Bynes was one of those Disney stars who is now insane. Here, you can catch up at TMZ.

She has been publically unravelling for a week or so. The gossip websites have been documenting the mess. Her parents basically had to trick her to get her to California where they get her involuntarily locked up for a few days until the anti-psychotic meds could take effect.

It’s really hard to lock up a person in a mental health facility without their consent. Do we need to rethink this policy?

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It’s a day off around here. The kids are home from school. Steve’s home. We’re using this bonus day to catch up with life. I’m chugging through my chore list by the side of the computer. Hell, I might even make it to the bottom of the list and actually schedule a doctor’s check-up for myself. It’s only been about six or seven years. No biggie, right?

So, what am I reading this morning?

I have to admit that I’m fascinated with Ebola.

I had a crappy landlord in Manhattan, but this is disgusting. I think that there should be more public humiliation of these assholes.

The demographics of cable news shows explains all those Cealis ads.

House and Home

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This is the year that we spent a ton of money doing really boring things to the house. Last week, we put a new roof on the house. This was one of the before shots. I haven’t taken an after shot yet, but imagine a darker roof without a leaky spot over Ian’s bedroom. While you’re at it, imagine that someone took the garbage cans in the garage and trimmed the plant over the garage, aka, The Eyebrow. Okay, then imagine that the diseased crab apple tree with five remaining leaves has been replaced with a smaller, healthier shrub.

Unhealthy Sports

When I was in high school, the track team gave me more than a cardboard box of medal and plaques in my basement. I gained confidence and grit that carried me into adulthood. I’ve always been a huge supporter of sports for kids for that reason. But, lately, there have been a series of disturbing stories about high school sports.

All those knocks to the brain in football makes me question whether or not that sport should exist. Soccer goalies may be getting cancer from the artificial turf.

And there’s all the weird and inappropriate behavior that happens in the locker room. A local football team was doing pretty awful things to the freshman on the team.

My oldest kid is on the high school cross country team. He’s a sophomore who is running on the varsity team. They do eight miles every day. His coach just chewed him out for skipping the Sunday practice. I thought that running seven days a week was excessive, so I told him to skip Sundays. The coach didn’t like that and cursed him out after practice this week.

People need to chill out.

The Brutality of Agism

As I reach the pinnacle of my 40s, my conversations with friends and family about jobs has shifted. For many years, it was all about how incredibly difficult it was to manage a new career and a new family. I hear less and less of those conversations.

People who stayed in the workforce are settling down. The professor friends are going to fewer conferences, writing less stuff, have stopped dreaming of better jobs. My friends who don’t have the tenure security blanket are more worried about keeping their jobs, but have also stopped striving for more. If it hasn’t happened yet, it ain’t gonna happen. There’s a brick wall in front of them. My friends who are in fields that are dominated by younger, flashier versions of themselves are actually frightened. Will the young boss fire them?

Then there are my friends, mostly women, but not all, who didn’t follow the traditional career paths. They became the flexible parent. The ones who went to the parent-teacher conferences and the after school music classes. They made sub-optimal career choices or stopped work entirely for a few years. Now, they want back into the wold of work, and their job applications are immediately dumped in a trash can. There’s a thread on my Facebook page about this right now.

I’ve had a terrible cold for the past couple of weeks. There’s nothing like a lingering cold to make you feel old. The kids shook it off in two days, and I’m still hacking up a lung and watching cable TV on the sofa in the evening.

One of things that I’ve been watching on the sofa wrapped in a blanket is the Shark Tank. Five venture capitalists listen to five minute presentations from wannabe millionaires who are looking for cash to fund their protein drink and purse businsesses. One of “sharks” is Barbara Corcoran, the real estate mogul from New York City. Barbara is smart, good looking, rich, and in her 60′s. Her age is a running joke on the show. It’s pretty distasteful.

Seems like such a waste to me. Whole groups of people being discounted and overlooked and insulted. Is 40 the new 65?

Does the Cool Girl Exist?

I dissed “Gone Girl” immediately after I read it, but it’s one of those books that stuck with me. I like more now, than I did when I read it a year ago. The book handles all sorts of cool topics, like the modern media and relationships. It also has a brief bit about Amy Donne’s self conscious construction of becoming “The Cool Girl.” In the book, Amy says,

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

“Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, co-workers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.”

Does the Cool Girl exist? Is she a feminist? There have been several good articles on this topic lately.

Distracted

In the peaks and the valleys of parenthood, we’re on a weird peak right now. Jonah is killing it in cross country without too much effort, which is driving the coach insane. He’s remembering homeworks and all. Nice friends. Trailed by adoring girls whom he ignores. The dramas of puberty have settled down, other than a zit on the bridge of his nose. I have to force him to sit down for a photography session, because he’s totally morphed into a different being since last Christmas.

Ian managed the transition to a regular public middle school. He was stressed out with the size of the school and all the change at first. He chewed through a dozen t-shirts. But that’s all stabilized. In fact, he’s been doing some freaky things. He started composing his own music. His math ability suddenly accelerated. His doing some impressive calculations in his head. We’re trying to keep our heads together on this, but Ian’s uneven skill set is rather remarkable.

What I’ve Learned From Estate Sales

On Friday mornings, I look up the local estate sales on a website, scratch down some addresses for my GPS, and put on some grubby clothes. Estate sales are dirty business.

I go to these estate sales to search for old books. It’s a little weekend hobby. I like vintage hardcovers with nostalgia value or in pretty colors for home decorators. It’s a nice nitch, because there’s little competition with other estate sale buyers. There are really three types of people who go to these sales — people who really need stuff, people who want to resell stuff on eBay, and people who are compulsive collectors. The “really need stuff” people take the boxes of salt and cereal from the kitchen. The resellers and the collectors tend to specialize in tools or costume jewelry or fine silver. The pros bring their own flashlights and venture down to scary basements. Nobody looks at the books, which is fine by me. I got a mid-1800′s Dickens book last week.

Last week, I went into an old Victorian home on a street with other Victorians that had been divided up for rentals. Multiple mailboxes up and down the block.

The house was in bad shape. The front porch had missing boards. The ceiling was buckled around the cheap brass lamp in the entrance way. Tiles had popped out of the bathroom. There was a disturbing sag to the steps on the staircase. Because I watch too many HGTV shows, I tried to estimate much it would cost to fix up this house for resale or rental. Maybe $100,000. It needed a new roof, new kitchen, new bathroom, new floors, new plumbing. Walls needed to be taken down. I looked up the cost on Zillow. They were trying to sell the house for $325K for months. They really needed to lower that price by a lot.

When you go to these estate sales, you can get absorbed in the hunt for treasure. You can calculate the resale potential. And I do that. But I’m not enough of a pro to really distract myself from the fact that someone lived in this house for decades. And someone died in this house. Their story is in those boxes. There are photographs of children from the 1970s still on their living room walls. Why didn’t anybody take that picture? Where are those children now? These people’s proudest moments — a WWII photograph, a commendation from a mayor, a baseball trophy — are being carelessly handled by distracted strangers looking for treasure.

These things tell the story of these people during their prime years. But they also tell the story of the people in their final years. The estate sale people put the old medical equipment into the bathrooms to be later tossed into a dumpster, along with all the unpurchased baseball trophies and framed 70s family photographs. Bed pans, walkers, and rubber gloves are piled in the tub.

And then there’s the dirt. It’s everywhere. The moldy air wafting from the basement. That old Victorian last week had nothing of value. I don’t think I actually touched anything in the house. But the air quality was so bad that I had to gulp down water after I left. Sometimes, I need to shower after I go on these visits, because the moldy, dusty smell sticks to my hair.

Somebody lived in that dirt, in that house with rotting porch, with the moldy smell of the basement. Nobody helped her sweep out the living room or clean out her recyclables. I felt sick after my ten minute stay in that house. How did someone live in that dirt for so long? Who’s fault is it?

I guess the woman could have sold the house ten years earlier, before she got really sick. She might have gotten $300K for the house and found a nice, clean apartment in a senior home. Maybe she was too attached to her stuff and her neighbors and her church to move. Or maybe she didn’t have help. Or maybe there aren’t enough nice, clean apartments in senior homes. I’m not sure.

We’ve got to figure out a way to care for old people in this country. If they want to die in their homes, then we have to help them live in tolerable conditions.