The Afternoon Magpie


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It’s been awhile since I’ve been active here, and to be honest my first instinct is to abandon this interweb outpost and start up again somewhere else. But, I am determined to stick it out and get the ball rolling again (I said for the 1,000,000th time). So let’s start with the stuff that interests me the most on the internet today:

I welcome our new, delicious when grilled, fish overlords: Clever Trout Match Chimps in a Cognitive Challenge

Who’s Buried in the Largest Greek Tomb? Watching this unfold has been extremely exciting for an archaeology geek like me – you can read more about the excavation here at Zeguma After the Flood.

I’ve become very fascinated with the work of Karl Polanyi – this merits a longer post but there’s a decent look at his seminal work The Great Transformation at The Amerian Prospect.

A Connecticut Yankee in Rick Perry’s Court


So, my family moved to Texas.

The move was pretty intense; two adults, two kids, two cats and two fish crammed into a mid-sized SUV careening across the countryside hoping to find a hotel that allowed cats and was near enough to an eating establishment that catered to a hodgepodge of dietary needs made every day exhausting. It would take a catastrophic event to make me move cross-country again. This was my third such move, and I like the number three. It has cosmic implications, and I’d like to leave it at that!

So what made me, a serious progressive and avowed agnostic move to the alleged Republican utopia and religious fairyland of Texas? With most of my family out of the picture and a physical exam that lead to some serious tests, I began to wonder if Connecticut would be the right place to raise our kids. Since budget cutbacks had stripped the Department of Developmental Services of any usefulness to us, I couldn’t count on respite money to assist us with care of our Autistic child if anything happened to either my spouse or I. CT’s economic climate made it very difficult to justify staying as well; rental properties in the range we could afford were tight and very competitive, and I was beginning to have to consider cramming us in a two bedroom apartment. Adding in utilities on top of rent made left us with no wiggle room for emergencies or vacations or anything but the basic necessities. That includes the $20 an hour to pay a special needs babysitter if my husband and I ever wanted to leave the house.

After adding up all these variables, we decided it would be a good idea to get out of Dodge. And while I am sure I will be infuriated by Texas politics and confounded by my new senator Ted Cruz (oh, I miss you Chris Murphy!) I have to say that it’s pretty good here so far. The spacious and light house we rented would be at least $3000 a month back in CT; our electric bill is a third of what it was; and I never have to worry about saving for heating oil again. The schools are good and while I have yet to have my official IEP meeting with my son’s new staff, I feel pretty good about it. My husband and I went on our first date in years, and the kids love that they now have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to spend time with.

But then again, check back in August after a few weeks of 100+ degree heat and what I am sure will be a brutal gubernatorial election on the horizon. For now, however, I’m just going to go with it.

So, about the Sandy Hook shooting…


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Disclaimer, I live in the next town over from Sandy Hook. The shooting took place maybe 8 miles from my home. We almost moved to Newtown when we were looking for a place here in the armpit of Connecticut, but we had concerns about the schools (which were about special education and not the general quality). I know lots of people from Newtown, and a few of my friends went to Sandy Hook Elementary. I am incredibly lucky in that I am removed by one degree form people who were affected. I know people who know people, in other words.

The day of the shooting, I was at home. My kids, the same ages and in the same grades as the victims, spent the day on lockdown. I spent the day alternately crying and staring in mute horror at the television. My spouse came home early so we could greet the children as they got off the bus. We turned off the news and tried to decide how to talk to our kids about what just happened, as there was no way to actually shelter them from this. The shooting happened on Friday, and on Monday they would be back at school and out of our influence, and other kids would surely have tales of what went down.

My older son, who is autistic, was largely unaffected except for picking up on a general vibe at school and home that unsettled him a bit. My younger son, however, has not fared so well. While he went back to school without much of a problem, he has been plagued by nightmares and has an air of sadness about him that is proving hard to crack. We did have a tough year here, with the death of a close relative, major surgery, Hurricane Sandy and an uneasy housing situation, so the Newtown shooting was the icing on a mud pie of a year for us, him especially.

I think one thing that is bothering my son is a feeling of being…ineffective. My spouse’s company donated a bunch of supplies to the temporary school in Monroe, and my PTO organization has been working to see if the school needs any specialized equipment for their special ed classrooms, and I share these activities with him. These things don’t really contribute to a feeling of safety for him, nor do they help us to understand what we can do to stop something like this from happening again.

I’ve had lots of discussions in the wake of the shooting about what caused the shooter to go down this horrible path. These talks revolve around two subjects: gun control and mental health. My stance on guns is pretty simple: the 2nd amendment clearly delineates our right to bear arms, however, just as I can’t yell fire in a crowded theater for fear of hurting innocent bystanders with my freedom of speech, there should be limits imposed on gun owners for the same reason. I don’t support bans, as they are largely ineffective in my opinion, but I do support having to register your firearm. To obtain registration, you must complete a safety course and prove at measured intervals you are maintaining safe practices. In order to purchase ammunition for your registered weapon, you must produce this registration at the store. No more gun show loophole, stolen guns must be reported, and the Tihart amendment must be repealed. Mandatory background checks for every gun purchase. And seriously, if you’re one of those people who thinks this will make it easier for government to quell a revolt against whatever your discontent is, the government has flying killer robots. Not to mention an incredibly effective propaganda machine that will quickly make you look like deluded fools. So, by my reckoning making sure you know how to use a gun safely, giving law enforcement the tools it needs to trace and secure illegal guns and making sure “lawful” gun owners are the ones buying guns are all reasonable requests when you are using a machine that was designed to kill humans.

The mental health piece is difficult. There’s a pretty easy Venn diagram to draw that would show large overlap between gun rights activists who call for more attention to mental health that believe a single payer system, let alone the ACA is tantamount to treason. As a mother of an Autistic child who has been tossed around between state agencies and mocked in pediatricians’ offices, I can say with authority that the level of support for mental health is lower than the average person can imagine. Children like the Newtown shooter need a wide range of social and emotional support, something I know the Newtown schools struggle with. And sometimes parents of these kids need assistance in overcoming their reluctance to pursue help when mental health is the forefront of their child’s issues. There also has to be parity in the ACA between mental and physical health. I have a friend whom I’ve watched descend into paranoia and depression who will not go to a therapist for fear their insurance premium will go up. Doctors have to stop prescribing psychiatric medicine that is not coupled with a therapist’s guidance.

In the end, we as Americans need to look at what we value as a society. We denigrate teachers, call them freeloaders and lazy (oh, summers off they must be slackers) yet we expect them to put their lives on the line when our kids are in danger. We think the schools should do a stellar job in shaping our children into good citizens, but allow corporate intrusion into the classroom via standardized testing that sucks time away from building those skills. We give the military massive amounts of money while 22% of our children live in poverty. We let banking giants like AIG break the law and no one actually goes to jail. We praise violence in our media as art and make sexuality, something that involves a loving connection between humans, a secret shame. We cheer for the death of our ill, and we push the needs of the most vulnerable aside in the pursuit of profit. Frankly, I would rather have a national conversation about any of these points than debate a ban on Bushmasters.

And those are my thoughts on the Newtown shooting. I still cringe when I hear it mentioned in the media. It sounds…wrong. I only hope that something, any of the points I made above change because of the heartbreak and outrage of our community.

Wow, cliched post about time flying ahead

I can’t believe how long it has been since I’ve posted to my little corner of the internet. We got a little sidelined here by illness and an event that shook up my entire family. I truly mean for this to be a regular gig, to keep in practice with my writing and to have a place to exorcise whatever bee is in my bonnet. So without further ado, let’s talk about the freak illness that is still plaguing me to some degree, and then I’ll get to the event in another post.

In November, the Cassandra was sidelined by hand, foot and mouth disease, or the Coxsackie A virus. It’s an enterovirus, a single-strand RNA virus in the same family as polio. It mutates constantly, and there’s been some pretty severe outbreaks lately. I am no epidemiologist but if I had to guess I’d say I got the A16 strain which was going around the US earlier this year, with a reported cluster in my home state. I know exactly how I caught it: my son had come down with what I would say a mild case, and was mostly over it when Sandy hit and we lost power for 72 hours. We had no hot water and no light and he had a potty accident that resulted in a less-than-stellar cleanup, and since Coxsackie can live in the stomach for awhile and I was the frontline of hazmat cleanup, I managed to catch it.

And holy cats, did I ever catch it. This particular strain is noted for its sore clusters and for sores appearing in places other than the hand, foot and mouth. For people playing at home, it started with a bad headache that lasted two days. Then came the sore throat and lethargy, followed by the characteristic blisters on my hands, face, arms, feet and especially my scalp. At the height of the blisters I couldn’t open bottles or jars, pick up anything that requires a strong grip or walk much further than my kitchen. At first, looking up anything on the internet about the virus led me to articles about how to help your toddler or newborn make it through; but what about me, the 43 year-old?

Even after the blisters passed I had areas of skin that continued to present as blistered on my hands and feet. While my hands have finally returned to normal (as normal as hands can be here in the frigid northeast winter) my feet still look like I wore new shoes on a day-long city trek. I am still generally exhausted as well, but that may have to do with other areas of my life being less-than-optimal at this point.

This whole experience generally freaked me out a little. I don’t think I have ever gotten a virus that actually changed my body, like this did with the blisters. I’ve gotten colds before, stomach viruses, sinus infections and two summers ago I had a staph infection in my leg. This just seemed more obvious; I had contracted a living organism that was using me, another living organism, to propagate itself.

The Culture of Lying Facts


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I’m not going to try and hide my political leanings here at The Cassandra – I’d hardly live up to the Cassandra name if I did. I’m essentially a bleeding-heart pinko commie liberal, only I understand what all those words mean! I believe that government should work for its citizens, which includes a soundly constructed safety net, disaster assistance, free public education, access to health care, regulations that protect our air, environment, food supply and financial markets, wise military intervention in the interest of national security or humanitarian crisis, and construction and maintenance of our nation’s infrastructure and power supply.

I wouldn’t really call myself a Democrat. I’m more of a Social Democrat like Bernie Sanders. Usually these beliefs are in stark contrast to the Republican candidate for whatever office. Yet this election I’ve found that on some days my views seem to echo those of Mitt Romney (or his views are echoing mine) and some days not so much. If there hadn’t been a press blackout by his campaign for the past twenty or so days, I might know exactly what he thinks, but probably not. In fact, the prospect of the uncertainty of Romney as a candidate has led the Republican in our state’s senate race to throw her lot in with Obama. But for me, the most stunning thing in this election season hasn’t been the insincere weathervane-like gyrations of the Romney camp; it’s that the polls consistently show the race is close. Seriously, about one half of Americans apparently want a candidate with no position at all!

It’s possible that half of the country, or at least those who participate in conservative politics and media, have been primed to disbelief for years. In The Long Con: Mail Order Conservatism Rick Perlstein looks at how Republicans have been primed for years in accepting lies as truth. The sideshow of the conservative machine has been a breeding ground for multi-level marketing and fear theologians since the 1960’s and to them, it’s possible that Romney’s mixed relationship with the truth is a “feature, not a bug”. Says Perlstein:

Dishonesty is demanded by the alarmist fundraising appeal because the real world doesn’t work anything like this. The distance from observable reality is rhetorically required; indeed, that you haven’t quite seen anything resembling any of this in your everyday life is a kind of evidence all by itself. It just goes to show how diabolical the enemy has become. He is unseen; but the redeemer, the hero who tells you the tale, can see the innermost details of the most baleful conspiracies. Trust him. Send him your money.

As an example of Perlstein’s alarmist fundraisers, let’s look at Focus on the Family (FOF). FOF is a Christian conservative group that actively works to promote their version of Christianity in government, including denying marriage rights to same sex couples, repealing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and closing Planned Parenthood, among others. In 2008 they wrote a letter to their supporters that predicted the horros of an Obama presidency that turned out to be completely wrong. By now we should be experiencing rolling blackouts, a dearth of boy scouts, mandatory abortions, Osama Bin Laden pouring your morning coffee and PORNOGRAPHY EVERYWHERE. Admittedly FOF has hit a fundraising bump as of late, but I would attribute that to the changing attitude  about same sex couples deserving equal protection under the law rather than the erosion of belief that Obama will bring about the apocalypse. I mean, if that SAVE AMERICA DON’T VOTE OMABA sign down the street is any measure.

So you may want to chalk up all the dishonest priming success to a gullible segment of the population, right? This is a trap many people fall into; the other side is stupid and wrong and so deluded. It is easy to be deluded when you live in an echo chamber of the same ideas, and the people you associate with are receiving similar disinformation. Delusion slips in, beginning to masquerade as every day life. An example: we are toilet readers, so there’s always books and magazines in our bathroom. (Really, I am going somewhere with this!) At one point I had been reading an Autism magazine that featured an article on helping someone on the spectrum deal with death. This magazine stayed in our bathroom for a few months, with just the headline about Autism and grief sticking out. During this time I started to develop an obsession about what will happen to our son after we die. I became extremely depressed had several bad reactions to programs where intellectually disabled people were abused or bullied. One day I looked down at that grief headline and realized that I had been looking at it every day, several times a day for about three months. Even though I wasn’t reading the article I was reminded, almost subconsciously every day that one day I would die and my child would be on his own because every day I read that headline over and over. Once I moved the magazine to the recycle bin my fears began to lessen; and while the prospect still frightens me I am no longer paralyzed by anxiety over the issue.

So imagine that every day you receive emails, magazines, newsletters, listen to radio shows and television that sell you three things; a miracle cure, an easy way to make money, or fear of the unknown. Maybe your views already skew a little conservative, after all, you’ve subscribed to these things looking for like minds. And lo and behold, here is your candidate, a man who tells people what they want to hear regardless of facts and promises that he will fix things for you, often in a way that must involve magic. So while half the country rubs their eyes with disbelief at Romney and at your belief in his platform, Romney is a natural for you. He’s a human echo chamber combined with the slimy suaveness of a snake-oil salesman. Just what conservatives haven’t realized they’ve been looking for all along.

The Morning Magpie

The Magpie has a backlog from hurricane recovery, so here’s what caught my eye the past few days!

How are they getting the water out of the myriad of tunnels that connect Manhattan to the mainland? With big, very specialized equipment, some of which was used during Katrina. Ingenuity at it’s best.

When cars keep crashing into buildings in your town…well, I have no idea. They claim the number is not statistically significant but we have no where near that number of building-car incidents by a longshot. Put down the phone? Take your heart medicine? Put away that three-course lunch?

Not a math fan? People with math anxiety light up the area of the brain that perceives bodily threat in MRI’s. I’m okay at math. When I was in college I was taking a basic maths class along with Latin and I did notice that the work in each class involved the same way of thinking…it felt like I was starting a generator, or flexing different muscles.  I figured that the patterns involved in each were similar, as math can be used to describe phenomena the same way language can.

A man in England was renovating his chimney when he found the remains of a carrier pigeon, complete with WW II coded message. Unfortunately, we may never know what it says as it probably used a one-time pad encryption, and they’re almost impossible to crack unless you have the key.

Finally, the unlikely heartwarming story of a boy and his flying killer robot. Er, Predator drone. Whatever helps you sleep at night!

Sandy Aftermath

Hey, we made it through Sandy relatively unscathed! We lost one tree and were without power for almost 72 hours exactly. Once connected with the world again I was amazed at the damage. Crazy stuff. Our limited news through the radio really could not capture how devastated certain areas are. In fact, I’d say the radio was pretty useless throughout the storm and its aftermath; only one station really had any coverage and that tended to be all call-in stories. We live in a weird radio zone that doesn’t allow reception for most of the NYC stations and limits reception of CT stations along the coast.

So what did we learn on this third edition of “Freak Storm of the Century”?

  • If you have three of these storms in a one-year span, you need different qualifiers in your descriptions.
  • Fine, Connecticut Light and Power, I’ll start saving to buy a freaking generator AND agitating to have you taken over by the state and all profits reinvested back into the company. You laid off linemen this year and then whistled all the way to the bank, jerks.
  • We really need a TV band radio if we are going to hear news in a crisis. And a hand crank generator for our cell phones.
  • Triscuits are New England’s hurricane food of choice, as they were totally sold out at out local grocery before the storm. And no one likes natural peanut butter, which was the lone hold-out in a run on peanut butter supplies.

Now back to your regularly scheduled Cassandra!


The Morning Magpie (Sandy Edition)

We’re battening down the hatches here in preparation for Hurricane Sandy! We’ve all showered and the dishes are done, the laundry’s been tackled and we’ve secured our lawn furniture, including bringing our political signs inside. Right now I’m cooking the last of the freezer food for lunch, and we’re all crossing our fingers for no power outage. To anyone who may be reading, stay safe, if you’ve been told to evacuate better safe than sorry! We’ll see you when this is over!  Meanwhile:

  • A 12 year-old girl who loves cares so much she’s restoring her own Fiero! I wish my 12 year-old self had hobbies with such productive yields.
  • If the Battle of Hastings took place on this hill, where are all the bodies? Turns out it probably was the next hill over.
  • No link for this, but I was extremely pleased to hear the jerk mayor of the town next door fending off partisan goading by a local AM DJ. Yes, everyone should take in their political lawn signs, not just Democrats, and no, the response to this storm is not less than previous ones. He’s still a wiener and I’m glad I’m not in his town, but it’s nice to not have possible death and maiming politicised for cheap hits.

The Morning Magpie

The Magpie is all over the place this morning, in true magpie form!

  • I have more than a passing interest in the history and science of cooking. Recreating recipes from the past is time travel for your palate, and Pass the Garum, a new blog devoted to cooking Roman recipes is off to a great start. The fig-braised honeyed ham in pastry looks fantastic! Just think how long people have been wrapping things in pastry!
  • There’s been a disturbing trend this election, where journalists in the mainstream media and the “alternative” press have been dismissing concerns over electronic voting machines. Doing this exhibits either a complete failure to understand the security issues surrounding e-voting or a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the lack of security. The ease of access to the machines’ programming is concern enough, but when you add serious conflicts of interest to the mix, e-voting frankly stinks. Why the press can’t see the inherent danger in the person running for office essentially owning by proxy the machines used to tabulate votes is a question every citizen should be asking.
  • Finally – get bent, concern trolls. How I feel about myself is not your problem, and stop dressing up bullying as “worry” for my health. Smugness is not a virtue, and shame is not a “tool”. Now excuse me while I fart in your general direction!

No bones, no votes

So the last presidential debate happened. I was fairly impressed with Obama, and pretty appalled by Romney, which is exactly what I expected. One of the things that especially impressed me about the handling of the Libya incident and that the Republican machine ignores, is that Obama respected the sovereignty of the country, and didn’t add to the chaos of the prime minister being ousted in a no-confidence vote. I am certainly no diplomat, hey just ask my spouse, wacka-wacka, but I can imagine the fragility of the situation must be extremely high. I’m pleased that there’s not a one-kickass-fits-all and please get Israel a cushion gestalt in American diplomacy at the moment! On the other hand, we have always been at war with Eurasia, so there is the continual greedy eye of the military industrial complex to contend with. I’m sure there’s some guys sitting in a room somewhere right now drawing up the plans for the next assault on the Middle East, and whichever way the wind blows this election will depend on whether they can bring their plans to fruition.

Meanwhile, another debate, another Autism dis. Since dealing with my child’s I/DD and my experience before I got my bionic hip last spring, I’ve learned the Establishment in this country considers the disabled just flotsam and jetsam. I’ll say it again, 1 in 88 boys in the US are born with Autism. That’s a lot of kids coming into the public school system that largely have nowhere else to turn, and even worse, there’s a crisis that faces our aging I/DD population. Massive housing shortages, looming Medicaid cuts, and lack of vocational or occupational programs are par for the course. Eventually the system will collapse under the weight of all the people who need help. The thing that keeps me up at night isn’t peak oil or the situation in the middle east – it’s how my child will fare after he loses the only advocates truly in his corner: me and my spouse. I just wanted a bone, to let me know that someone in politics understands this crisis. Maybe next time.  In the meantime my vote in this deep blue state is going to Jill Stein, who cites Autism as one of the reason she got into politics. Don’t be fooled, pols. We’re listening, and we vote.