Fixing Congress, or: Throw the Bums Out


            Here are two of the main causes of problems with government in this country:

            First, there are those people who say there’s no point voting because it doesn’t make a difference, then complain about the politicians other people vote in.

            Second is the fact that the public’s approval rating of Congress is 10%; yet in the 2012 election, 84% of the Senate incumbents and 85% of House incumbents held onto their seats.

            The first is a product of not only frustration, but laziness. We don’t want to take the time to research the candidates and choose the best one – or the least worst one. We don’t want to support and encourage good candidates, and we don’t want to go through the meat grinder of being candidates ourselves.

            The second is more revealing, and is a variation of the “not in my back yard” argument: “Every member of Congress is worthless and criminal – except my Congressman.”

            This is where I usually start harassing you, dear reader, in an attempt to get out the vote. If just six more of you had come out last election, I might still be a member of the Town Council and enjoy franking privileges, the town car, the private office and assistant, the Council swimming pool and skeet shooting range …

            Well. I got a key to the municipal building, anyway.

            The town is in good hands without me, but the same can’t be said of Washington, D.C. Much as we love to criticize the President, Congress has been outrageously, stunningly awful. Part of this is due to partisan politics; part is due to a remarkable lack of common sense, which many times causes partisan politics. We call for moderation and compromise, which is fine – but if someone on one side wants to do the worst possible thing for the country, should that second person give in for the sake of compromise? Sometimes people are just plain wrong, which I’ll grant you doesn’t solve the problem of gridlock.

            You the voter need to vote, because the fewer people who vote, the less Congressmen worry about voters. The less they worry about voters, the more they can throw money at what few voters there are and not worry about anything else. There is no money, so that’s a problem.

            You the voter, if you don’t like how things are going in Congress, need to go to the polls and vote the incumbents out. All of them. Republican, Democrat, Martian, whatever, vote them out each and every time until they get the idea and work for the people again. If you don’t, we’ll continue to be stuck with people nobody likes, doing things nobody likes, with results nobody likes.

            Did you know that the Senate is required by law to pass a budget by April 15 every single year? The problem is, they haven’t. For over three years. By definition, our lawmakers are lawbreakers. Budget resolutions can pass with a simple majority, so filibusters are no excuse.

            And yet, despite having no budget, the government manages to keep on spending money. As of the moment I write this, the outstanding public debt is $16,198,734,633,000, give or take a few bucks.

            (I just checked again, before sending this in. The amount is now $16,200,034,782.837.)

            That’s sixteen trillion dollars. TRILLION.

            Congress does nothing about this outrage, and why? Because we do nothing about them. And why? Because too many of the people who bother to vote do it on the basis of, “The rest of Congress is horrible, but my congressman managed to bring in a bunch of money to our district!”

            Money that doesn’t exist. It just isn’t there. It’s a phantom, and the longer we refuse to accept that, the worse the chickens are going to bite us when they come home to roost. Or maybe they’ll lay eggs on us, whatever.

            We’re complacent in this, not only by not kicking them out but by actually approving the status quo. How many times have you heard, “Well, the program to save pregnant albino Appalachian tree frogs only costs $17 million. That’s hardly a drop in the bucket of the federal budget.”

            Good point. Now, what happens when we add up all the other $17 million dollar payouts? Suddenly we’ve got a budget.

            Seventeen million dollars is nothing? Not even worth talking about? Have we come to this? Let me do some quick calculations: Okay, at my present pay rate it would take me 4,857 years to make 17 million bucks. How is that nothing?

            In the immortal words of that drunken guy on Independence Day, “We have to stop them!” (He also said “Up yours!” which might also be appropriate.)

            Okay, I went off on a monetary tangent. My point is that the power of the President is out of control, largely because one of the other branches of government has ceded much of their power to him (or her – this is not a one-time problem).

            How do-nothing is our current Congress? What are they doing to stop our race toward the fiscal cliff, deal with various crises here and in other countries, and generally do their job? Well, on October 9th, a lawmaker gaveled the Senate into session … then gaveled it out, 25 seconds later. It was done just to make things official – most of our elected officials were off running for another election.

            So, what do we do?

            Well, we’re the employers of Congress. What do you do if your employee doesn’t show up for 
work, takes long breaks when he does, doesn’t accomplish the job when he is there, and to top it all off takes your money and spends it recklessly?

            Oh, I don’t know … fire them?
            Vote, people. It’s our only chance to show them who’s supposed to be in charge, and we have to start somewhere.


I've gone through my flist and heard from a lot of my east coast friends about their experiences with Sandy the FrankenStorm ... it sounds like everyone's hanging in there, but a whole eastern third of the country is getting whacked hard. We're getting snow and wind here, all the way in Indiana, although certainly nothing like that's happening closer to the coast.

It's not over yet -- everybody stay safe! On a more selfish note, please, please don't let this delay the election ... I can't stand much more of the mudslinging.

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Cat

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Cat: 7:35 AM. Waking up. No trace of the staff. Will have to wake her up post haste. I expect my breakfast promptly at my convenience, and...

Debating Debates, and Who Will Win


            I didn’t watch the first Presidential debate, or the Vice-Presidential debate, for the same reason why I don’t watch most talk shows: I don’t like people talking past each other without actually considering what the other is saying. It’s like the late stages of a drunken family reunion.

            (In the second Presidential debate, Romney did a credible job against the tag-team of Obama and “moderator” Candy Crowley.)

            After spending four years studying the President’s performance and six months studying his opponent, I’ve pretty much decided. Besides, I follow politics, but not voluntarily. Studying the issues and candidates is simply a civic responsibility, like voting in the election, or for America’s Next Top Chef Shooter Model Idol (coming next season on Fox).

            But after seeing so much argument over who won between Biden and Ryan, I went back and watched the whole debate instead of catching up on The Walking Dead marathon, which frankly would have been both more fun and more believable. Now I’ll tell you not only who won the debate, but who’s going to win the election, and why.

            I was impressed that Joe Biden didn’t make any of his famous flubs, and he gets points just for not giving us a viral quote. Maybe he’d prefer that he did, since his current reputation as a dunce keeps us from remembering his former reputation as a plagiarist, but he held his own.

            Through the course of the debate Biden smirked, laughed, interrupted, bullied, and grinned like a gorilla on laughing gas. While Ryan plodded through his points and appeared calm and reasoned, Biden waved his arms and mocked like a b-movie villain, and looked thoroughly un-Vice-Presidential.

            Biden won.

             Look, Biden’s not dumb. Well, okay, he’s not all that smart, but if there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s campaign. It occurs to me that maybe, with this debate, he was giving people exactly what they want:

            Reality television.

            I’m talking the Jerry Springer style reality TV, the stuff that gives the rest of it a bad name. The kind where awful behavior is not only tolerated, but expected and celebrated. Who’s the most memorable and popular contestant on, say, “Survivor”, or “The Bachelor”, or “The Real World”, or “Surviving the Real 
World Big Brother Bachelor” (coming next season on NBC)?

            It’s the bad guy. The one who imbibes too much, gets into fights, rattles cages just for fun, and stabs any back that happens to present itself. You don’t turn your back on these people, because they’re devious, plotting, and willing to do whatever it takes to win.

            I prefer the hero to the anti-hero: The guy who’s straightforward, reasoned, calm, and always does the right thing. The boring guy, the one who hasn’t existed in politics since Lincoln. And if you ask somebody in Atlanta, maybe not then.

            I’m thinking Biden figured to win the debate just by being the biggest blowhard, and isn’t that the way most national elections get won? Love him or hate him, the man knows how to win elections.

            Read a transcript of the debate, as I did, and you realize from a straight word standpoint it was close to a draw. There it all boils down to who you believe, and what the fact checkers come up with – but taken at face value, you can’t see a huge advantage just from the words. The only other thing I noticed is that the moderator seemed to throw more hardballs at Ryan. (President Obama was a guest at her wedding, but that was way back when he was Mr. Obama.)

            For some reason this makes me think of all those nature shows, where the bird with the biggest plumage and the fanciest dance gets the lady bird. Sometimes that works for the guy with the nicest hair and the fanciest car, too.

            Which brings us to President Obama, who once drove a 2005 Chrysler 300C, very nice. Hey, I drive a 2005! Of course, he’s traded up.

            Okay, I see no reason to keep you in suspense: Regardless of who “won” the debate, the next President of the United States is going to be …

            Wait for it …

            Barrack Obama.

            Who would also be the present POTUS, so hopefully we’ll save some money by not replacing the White House drapes.

            Look, I can give you reasons to not vote for Obama, and reasons to vote for Romney, but it all boils down to presentation. In the last election, Obama had the advantage of having no record to defend (or almost none, considering his brief Congressional career). Four years later he’s successfully convinced his supporters that he’s still trying to correct everyone else’s mistakes. That makes being President an advantage: He can be seen doing official business, travel on the taxpayer’s dime, and just look darned Presidential.

            Add that to the mainstream media’s belief that he’s the beloved big brother they never had, who lets them borrow the car and shares his favorite albums. Add that to the fact that people hate hearing bad news, and love hearing that the government’s going to give them stuff – free stuff! It sounds too good to be true, but surely it is. I mean, surely it is true.

            Debate the record and our problems all you want, but when you add fawning journalists, voters who don’t want to face reality, and the fact that the guy’s just plain charming, and you got everything you need for a Presidential win – no matter how many chads hang in Florida.

            So, we’re looking at four more years of praying for the President’s continued good health. And, whichever side you fall on, at least Joe Biden will continue to be entertaining.

The finalists

Congrats to the 28 So You Think You Can Write finalists:

SYTYCW: Adding Sugar

            It became clear to me a few days ago that I didn’t make the cut in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest, but I wanted to wait until the judging period was officially over before commenting about it.

            Anyone who wants to make a living as a writer must learn to live with rejection, develop a thick skin, be prepared to rebound, and have a day job. There are thousands of deserving writers out there; I know some of the top 28 finalists, and they’re both good writers and good people. Congratulations to them, and I wish them the best of luck as they go on to the next round.

            There is also, of course, the fact that this sucks.

            We all want to win – not necessarily to beat other people, but to succeed. Like many writers I want to someday write full time, and doing that requires people paying for your writing. That requires getting the interest of a publisher, or winning contests, or self-publishing and selling, or in the worst case scenario being a b-list celebrity. No matter how deserving the winners are, I wouldn’t have entered if I hadn’t wanted to be one of them. Recognizing that writers get rejected doesn’t make the rejection hurt less.

            But that’s okay, because suck happens and people need to deal with it. One of the real problems with this world is that people don’t want to face suckage. Face it, people.

            Face it, then conquer it. I didn’t win SYTYCW, but I have a completed, polished manuscript ready to go to its next destination. I have some deciding to do: My next target was Harlequin American, but my understanding is that Harlequin’s editors were all involved in the contest, so it can be assumed American’s editors have already seen it. Would it be a waste to send it to them the regular way? I’ll have to think on it.

            But think on it I will. Then I’ll take action, and send Coming Attractions out the way I did Storm Chaser, and the way I will many future manuscripts. Someday I’ll get The Call again, and a year or so after that you’ll be ordering your autographed copies, and giving it five stars on Amazon.
            Because when life sucks lemons, you scoop in a few spoonfuls of sugar and make friggin’ lemonade, people. And lemonade’s good stuff.

Taking Lumps In Lawn Care


            Perhaps the most interesting thing about this story is that it happened the day before my 6 year old nephew had heart surgery.

            That’s not a play for sympathy so much as an explanation of why I rarely make fun of people who suffer misfortunes, unless it’s a comedy on TV or they clearly deserve it. If I saw a video of Adolf Hitler accidentally scorch his mustache I’d laugh my butt off; for anyone else I’d have to wonder if they just got diagnosed with a fatal illness, or recently lost their job, or married Hillary Clinton. Bad stuff.

            It’s why I never much liked those funny home video shows – very few men deserve to take a rake handle to the groin.

            There is one person I’m willing to poke fun at in cases like this, and the ability to make fun of myself has kept me in columns for twenty years now. The fact that I was distracted at the time is secondary to one simple fact: If what happened to me had been on a Three Stooges movie, the whole audience would have howled.

            Later, when my attention was focused, I realized it’s not uncommon for me to brush against things when I mow the lawn: the clothesline, lilac branches, low hanging squirrels, and so on. It’s also not uncommon for me to come inside with scratches and scrapes. Since lawn mowing qualifies as home maintenance duties, that comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

            Most of the things I run into are in the back yard. The front yard needs more caution, because the low hanging branches there are at about head level, and thick as my thigh. Encountering them is not a matter of annoyance, but of hospitalization.

            What keeps those close calls from becoming calls is that I mow the lawn the same way, every time. I am, as I have a habit of telling people, a creature of habit. I realize now that, over the years, I’ve unconsciously learned just how close I can get to the various obstacles in my yard without actually getting impaled.

            Then, earlier this month, I decided to do it differently.

            Lawn care enthusiasts say you should change up the pattern in which you mow your lawn. Otherwise you could accidentally create a permanent race track pattern, or something – I don’t know, I never much cared about lawn care.

            Still, while I’d rather play in the grass than medicate it and sing to it, it is kind of nice to have a nice looking lawn. So I thought, what the heck: Instead of my normal square pattern, I’d do a bit of a slanted zigzag thing. Where’s the harm?

            And so, while looking down, thoughts on other matters, I approached the tree from a different –


            Some people say moments like this are a blur, or that they remember only the pain, or nothing at all. I remember every instant of it. First of all, let me say how very grateful I am for whoever invented that safety device that shuts off the lawn mower whenever you let go of the handle, because frankly I have no idea what happened to the mower; I found it later about six feet away, making no noise except a low snicker.

            But everything else I remember all too well. The branch stopped my head cold, even as my feet kept going for a couple of steps; this had the effect of throwing me backward head over heels. Which is a dumb expression, because it was really heels over head. My upper torso crashed to the ground and I cartwheeled over, not unlike Charlie Brown failing to kick Lucy’s football.

            It was on the edge of a steep (but not high) hill, and by rights should have rolled all the way down, across the sidewalk, and onto the street. Instead, in a way that would have been cat and/or ninja like if done on purpose, I rolled over and right onto my feet. Instead of seeing birds and stars, I saw flashes of light and heard a low ringing; my skull was a bell that got rung.

            It was seriously unpleasant.

            One of the odd things about me is that when something like this happens, I often worry more about how it looks than about whether I’m injured. Even in the midst of my gymnastics move, I took note that there was no one visible in the parking lot across the street, but a red pickup truck was just starting to pass by on the highway. There’s no way the occupants couldn’t have seen it, and I’m sure they got a big laugh and wished they had a video camera. Since they didn’t bother stopping to see if I was okay, I’m petty enough to hope a mile further on they laughed themselves right into a utility pole.

            Maybe they just couldn’t catch me: The moment I gained my footing I stumbled directly into the house and away from any witnesses. Emily was in the office and I plopped into the office chair beside her, waiting for the nausea to pass. It took her maybe two seconds to figure out I wasn’t having a good day.

            It was the place to be, because Emily knew enough first aid to handle the minor problems, and (if it had been necessary) enough common sense to call 911 even if I told her not to. She discovered I had:

            A bruise, gash, goose egg, and scrape. All of them, right on the top of my head, toward the front. I can show you the scar.

            My conclusion from this experience, you ask? Pay more attention? Be trained in first aid? Hire someone else to mow? Well, yeah. But my big conclusion is that, more than anything else, the best way to learn your lesson is very simple:

            Pour alcohol on it.
            That’s when the experience became truly unforgettable.