Monday, March 28, 2016

Sometimes punctuation can cost you $20...

The above picture is one that I took on Friday. I have seen this sign several times and read it a few times and never thought it would have an impact on my life… until Friday. You see, this past Friday, this sign came with a little, tiny envelope on my windshield holding a little, tiny parking violation. I find it funny that they make these so small; almost to point out that the fine is really small and insignificant so you really shouldn’t worry about it much.

Now back to the sign in question. I have parked under this sign at least 20 times in the past two years. It is around the corner from my favorite coffee joint downtown. It is actually a pretty popular parking spot! It’s not open very much and when it is, I always swoop in to take it. It is close to the coffee shop, has some shade and is off the main street (it is off of Main Street, actually) so I don’t have to deal with traffic zooming past. I would say this is a prime parking spot and I also think that I am not alone in the thought that it was safe to park there.

When I read the sign the first time, I thought to myself, “Well, I am not a commercial vehicle, I am only going to be about 15 minutes, and it is not a Sunday or Holiday… I’m Golden!” I also thought that it was strange that they would have to say that commercial vehicles were prohibited because this parking spot is on the side of a building with no door to unload anything. So I parked in this spot time and time again, not worrying at all. And then Friday happened.

Finding this little gem on my windshield set me off like you I can’t describe, but let me try. I was as pissed off as when somebody texts me and then doesn’t answer my phone call 3 seconds later… no that’s not it. I was a pissed off as when the automated phone lady tells you to press #3 to talk to a representative and it goes back to the start of the recording… nope. As pissed as when I am next to a driver who is OBVIOUSLY turning right, but has to swerve left into my lane first in order to make such a “complicated maneuver”. Close, but not really close enough for this exercise. Nutshell: PISSED OFF!

I read the ticket and it said that I was fined because I was NOT a commercial vehicle. WHAT?!?! The sign says “No Parking Commercial Vehicles. Only 30 mins. 8am to 6pm daily”!!! Hold on… does it say “No Parking. Commercial Vehicles Only. 30 mins. 8am to 6pm daily”? Not being the sharpest bulb in the Crayon box, I picked up the phone and called. When I called the automated phone lady told me to press #3 to talk to a representative and it went BACK TO THE RECORDING!!! ARGH!!! I pushed #3 again and somebody picked up.

I explained that I received a parking ticket and before I could explain my mental dilemma, I was told “Sir, it’s only a $20 and you can contest it if you want to go through all of that.” I told her that I was going to pay the fine but needed clarification about the sign. She made an audible “HRUMPH” and let me explain. She told me that what I didn’t understand was the “implied punctuation” in the sign due to space restrictions and that no parking means no parking and that the “international symbol of a picture that was circled and had a diagonal line through it was internationally known.” Really… THAT is where we are going to go with all of this?

Now it was Friday and late in the afternoon so I gave her as much slack as I could muster and told her that I didn’t understand why the punctuation had to be “implied” since there was a period after the after 30 mins to shorten it from minutes! Obviously some punctuation was able to be used on these signs!

Her reply was simple and may be the best customer service reply I have ever heard because I had no reply but so say thank you and hang up… “Sir, I don’t make the signs and I have worked here for 9 years and you are the first person to call and not understand the sign and we write a LOT of tickets under those signs. Do you have any other concerns? The instructions to mail in your fine are on the ticket. Have a great day!”

Got my money order today… dropped it in the mail. I hated to do it. I am really really ranty because of it. But punctuation got me! $20 at a time, punctuation is paying for our roadways and repairs and the like. I bet there are a lot of grumpy $20 money orders sent in!!

At least I didn’t misread this sign!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Maybe THIS is Why "We" Don't Stand With Ankara?

The world is now standing with Brussels.  We red, white and blued our profile pics for Paris.  We were Charlie.  Now someone is asking the question:

Where were “we” for Ankara?

To refresh our short term memories, on March 13 a suicide bomber detonated an explosion in the heart of Ankara, Turkey, killing 37 people.  The group taking responsibility for this reprehensible attack was the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been responsible for several attacks on Turkey in recent years.
Back to the question.  James Taylor, a British national asked the question above.  It’s been chronicled in many places and I’ve seen it shared over social media.  (You can check out his entire post here)

Reading commentary on several sites regarding his statement, everything from anti-Muslim sentiment in the west to outright racism was the reason why “we” weren’t standing with Turkey as aggressively as we did for other victims of terror.
Before I piss off the world – well, the 39 of you that consistently read us – let me state VERY clearly:

ATTACKS LIKE THESE ARE AN ABOMINATION.  They have no place in civilized society and need to be condemned whether it is the PKK, ISIS, the KKK or <insert terrorist group here>.
Now…my take on why the world can’t relate to the Ankara attacks in the same way it did to 9-11, Paris and now Brussels. 

ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, freaking loons…whatever you want to call them) are not fighting for a cause.  They are criminals.  They are part of the majority religion of the region where they operate and have taken that religion and twisted it and contorted it to the point of being unrecognizable.  They use this twisted vision of Islam to commit atrocities so vile that they are beyond defending.  I know we’re all pissy because they kill westerners and chant death to the west, but they have killed more Muslims than any one group since the Crusaders. 
Turkish Kurds (as well as Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi and Armenian Kurds) have been fighting for their own country for centuries.  According the BBC article “Who Are the Kurds?” the Kurds are:

"…one of the indigenous people of the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands in what are now south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia.  Today, they form a distinctive community, united through race, culture and language, even though they have no standard dialect. They also adhere to a number of different religions and creeds, although the majority are Sunni Muslims."

At the end of WWI the Kurds were promised a homeland but as the boundaries of Turkey were redrawn, the promised Kurdish state never materialized.  Instead they were spread between five countries – minorities in every one.  The Kurds have tried for nearly a century to create their own state but every attempt has been met with violence and reprisals. 

Though they were the earliest fighters against ISIS, when they found themselves pinned against the Turkish border in the Battle of Kobane, Turkey refused to assist, instead, seeing an opportunity to be rid of more Kurds, they let them flounder until the US stepped in with strong air support helping the Kurds retake Kobane.

If that sounds a little genocidal to you, let’s not pretend that Turkey has no history in genocide.  Ask the Armenians how life was under Ottoman rule.  In less than 10-years over 1.5 million ethnic Armenians were slaughtered.  My own people, the Greeks, were brutally oppressed for centuries until overthrowing the Ottoman yolk in the 1830s (Greek independence, coincidently, is celebrated annually on March 25, just a few days from now).  This time they tried to allow ISIS to do their dirty work.
In that context, and the context of decades of brutal oppression by the Turkish government, a segment of the Kurds have taken to violence.  To domestic terrorism.  Make no mistake, it is terrorism pure and simple.  It’s wrong and it is despicable.  Killing innocents in the name of a cause is to be condemned. But a comparison between a decades long struggle of a violently suppressed minority (40,000 killed and an estimated 100,000 resettled along with a crushing of their ethnic identity) and the altogether different monster that is ISIS is a comparison between apples and oranges.

Once again I condemn the actions taken by the PKK on March 13 and I pray that God (Allah, whatever you want to call the deity) embraces the innocent victims and can bring some measure of comfort to their families.  That said, don’t expect me to change my profile picture for Turkey.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Relaxing Day From Hell

Sunday is my true day of rest. This Sunday was going to be even more special… beard trim, pedicure and a massage. A real treat! I think more men should do these kinds of things, especially the pedicure. It feels good to be pampered and it is really relaxing. So needless to say I was really looking forward to my day.

It started off with a great beard trim. Every man should go to a professional barber at least once in your life to get a shave and/or trim. This time I just went to get my glorious beard a little attention, but I have been in the chair before, reclined back, warm towel on my face, straight razor on my neck… just waiting to get whacked just like in the movies. But in the end, it feels great and my face always feels amazing for days afterward.

Then it was off to the pedicure. This is something I enjoy wholeheartedly and fear immensely. I have heard a lot of jokes and comments about how the staff at places like this will talk in their native tongue (this particular place, most of them were speaking Vietnamese) about the client, maybe making fun of them or something like that. I don’t feel that way when I am there. I don’t think that the staff is just talking about me… I feel that the other clients are talking about me as well. To the point that they are speed learning Vietnamese to converse with their technician about the fat guy at the end with his feet dangling in the water and talking about if he even realizes how bad his feet really are and that he should be charged double. This has caused me so much stress in the past  that I have basically given myself a pedicure BEFORE I even go to the professionals and act like “my feet are always this taken care of”. It’s like vacuuming before the cleaning people come or making the bed in a hotel room… we just can’t be looked at like the slobs we are, can we?

I made it through both of those events and it was time for the massage. It was a new place, clean and cool. Check-in went well and there I sat waiting for 50 minutes of relaxation and rejuvenation. 50 minutes to lay there under my blanket and get lost in the oily hands of the a professional masseuse who’s only goal, in my mind, is to make me fall asleep for 49 of the 50 minutes because I am slowly turning into a marshmallow. Well, that was the plan! It was a plan that was paved in dreams and expectations and ended up being the road to hell in a greasy hand basket.

My masseuse walked me to the room and told me to get as “undressed as I feel comfortable” and lay down under the blanket face down. It started off pretty easy and normal and so I did and laid there waiting, not knowing what was to come next. Because of my face down, prone position I could not see her face when she walked in nor could I hear the grinding and gnashing of her teeth.

Let me make an assumption here before I start in order to define the perceived mood of my masseuse. I am pretty sure that moments before she strolled into that dim room that her boyfriend had called to let her know that he was leaving because of his herpes secret and that she needs to be checked and that her car was, at that very moment, being repossessed and the IRS had called to let her know that she was being audited AGAIN and that although she was at least 30, that her belief of the Easter Bunny was misguided because just like the Tooth Fairy (which she has believed in until 30 seconds before my massage), they weren’t real. I was in for it and had NOT A CLUE what I was in for.
So she walks in and starts the assault… I am massage. She starts by asking me if I had any injuries or areas that needed less pressure. As I told her about these areas the blood that was rushing through her veins so loudly that she could not even come close to hearing what I had to say. She just saw all of her fury lying on the table in the form of a fat guy with a totally breathtaking beard. NOW… As soon as her hands touch me, well her oiled up elbows actually, I knew I was in trouble. The sound of the all of the air escaping from my body was pretty loud. I am sure it was mixed with the sound of my soul exiting my living being. I will spare you the blow by blow of the mugging I endured and will give you the highlights:

 Five separate times I said a variation of “WOW THAT HURTS, A LOT”.Once I asked her to stop because I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. I had to tell her I was ticklish at one point so she would stop digging her elbows into my rib cage. She fucking sneezed on me! Not directly on me but I totally felt the wind on my back! She asked me if I needed a tissue. Not for my snot, but for my tears. When I did turn over I instinctively went into the fetal position and she had to tell me to lay flat on my back. A few times I almost blurted out my social security number and PIN number. I found myself hitting my hand against the table in a subliminal “tap out”.

When it was all said and done she said “That will teach you Mother-Fucker!” and stormed out. Well not really because I have NO IDEA what she said. I was laying there trembling. Thankful that the 50 hours, I mean minutes was over and I would never have to see her again.

It’s now 24 hours later and I have to tell you. I feel as if I was beaten with a sock full of silver dollars. I am in worse shape than I went into the massage! I feel mildly violated. I have thought about calling the company and complaining but I really don’t want to fuck over the next poor guy that sees this lady. I am somewhat companionate to other people!

The long and short of it is I was abused and left for dead… but my beard is breathtaking, so that’s not so bad of a day. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

You Have to Commit to Caucus

Participatory Democracy in MN

I live in Minnesota so last night I participated in the Super Tuesday caucus in my state.  I'm no stranger to caucusing.  My first ever bout of political activism when I was 18 and a college student in Maine was participating in the Democratic caucus there in 1984.  I caucused for Colorado Senator Gary Hart and was elected a delegate to the Maine state Democratic convention.  The convention was great and I got to meet Steven King, which was tremendous, but I also learned a lot too.

One thing is for certain, if you're going to caucus, you have to commit.

A primary is easy.  You walk in, pull a lever, and go home. 

In a caucus you sit with your neighbors and discuss.  You discuss the candidates.  You discuss the issues.  You elect your neighbors to the next stage of the process.  And, of course, you vote.

A primary takes about a half hour of your time - less if there is good parking and a short line.

A caucus?  Block off the evening.

Last night I caucused at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School with my fellow Democrats from Precincts 1 & 2 (and outlying areas) from the Z.

I arrived early and the check in line was relatively long and it grew exponentially whilst I was waiting.  We outgrew the library where we were going to caucus (after the driver's ed class got out, of course) so we moved to the auditorium. 

[As an aside, one of the driver's education students left the library, saw the crowd of people waiting and said "Wow, what is this about?".  Really?  You'll be driving shortly and in two years this will become your responsibility as a citizen.  But I digress...]

There are rules that govern the caucus set down by the state party.  Those rules were read to us and we were ready to begin.  EXCEPT...the rules say that we couldn't vote for delegates to the county convention in March until 7:30 and it was only 7:15.  Therefore it was time to take motions from the floor on resolutions.  At 7:30 we voted and then went back to the resolutions.

The resolution part of the evening, while long and dragged out, was the most interesting part of the night.  This is an opportunity for us to try and help shape our party platform.  Or at least be made to feel like we have some input.  Resolutions ranged from decrying the marginalization of certain segments of the population, to CEO pay, minimum wage, military spending, etc.  Some resolutions passed and others failed.  We had our time to speak and discuss each issue before the resolution was put to a vote.  The resolutions approved will be forwarded on to the Resolution Committee at the county level and will be discussed at the Goodhue County Democratic Convention at the end of March.

It was really quite a remarkable experience.  It may not matter, but for a brief time the major policy discussions weren't taking place in Washington D.C. in the corridors of power but in Zumbrota, MN (population a wee bit over 3000) in the corridors of a high school.  We mattered.  We discussed the issues with passion and reason.  Not once was anyone called low energy, ugly, boring or called out on their small hands.

Maybe at the end of the day none of it matters at lick.  But it did to us.  We got involved.  We made the commitment to become an active participant in the process.  Admittedly, there was attrition as the resolution part of our evening went on a bit longer than I think everyone would have liked - especially for the older lady two seats over who asked several times "How many more of those do you have?" and "I don't want to be here until 10!"  THAT is saying what everyone is thinking Mr. Trump!

By 8:45 I was on my way home newly minted as the Zumbrota Precinct 1 Democratic Chair (which I don't think is anywhere near as impressive as it sounds) and knowing that the 18-year old version of me would have been proud.