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August 21, 2014

Presidential Debate

As I now live outside of the country, I have easier access to non-American news media and outlets. All this week, the BBC and CBC have had reports talking about how one of ISIS's goals is to compel America into attacking them, returning to the region with "boots on the ground," because they know how bad that will look to radical Islamists and jihadists in the region (and around the world) and will give legitimacy to the group's goals, swelling their membership and funding to allow more terrorism.

The non-American media is praising the American administration for its restraint in handling this current regional crisis; by staying mostly out of it, we are not inciting the terrorists and swelling their ranks and coffers. Food drops to the dispossessed and the occasional drone strike aren't enough for ISIS to wave its flag and gather support.

What I find incongruent is switching to and watching some American news media. Fox News, of course, is continuing its never-ending crusade to lambast the President. The talking heads, both the pundits and their interviews, were talking about how "weak" the President is for his handling of the situation, about how America needs to go right back in there and "take care of business," and about how we should have no fixed timetable so we can "get the job done right." How is it that other news agencies in the world see America's "non-action" in the region as a triumph and the right move, and yet Fox News labels it weak and improper?

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the same thing happened; Fox News lambasted our "weak" President for his lack of action in the region. The CBC, BBC, and other non-American media had Russian experts on who cautioned to stay out of it, as it was a desperate ploy by Putin to stay in power; a weakening leader trying to shore up his far right allies with what would look like a strong move but really was simply an appeasement. Putin's people are now hungry, a lot of their money is devalued or unavailable, and unrest appears to be growing quickly due to the economic sanctions other nations, including the US, put in place to protest his actions. Yet Fox News continues to claim the American President is a weak and ineffectual leader in the world arena. They exemplify what Putin did as showing strength and leadership.

There is a great line within a great speech in the movie The American President: "He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections." This, in a nutshell is what both the American media and American politicians in this election cycle are trying to do: It is the President's fault the world is the way it is; it is his fault you don't have a job; it is his fault for X, Y, and Z. Facts be damned!

Guess what, folks? No, it's not. I'm not trying to claim that President Obama is a great or even good President. However, I can tell you fairly confidently that he is not a bad President. I think history will look back on this era and, similar to Jimmy Carter, realize there were challenges that no President could have successfully navigated. His biggest failure, perhaps, is his inability to get the Republicans to buy in to the direction he has set and the goals and tasks he sees as important. However, those same Republicans also said from day one that they were going to block everything this President proposed, so THEY never gave HIM a chance to succeed. Hell, reports now indicate a small but growing number of Republicans in Congress want to help, want to work on bipartisan efforts, and agree with some of what Obama has proposed. They simply fear the backlash from actually voting their conscience and doing their job.

Until I was exposed to a broader swath of media, I did not realize quite how biased the American news media was, or how contentious the politics had become. Now, seeing reports about what goes on inside (and outside) America from a news media with no real dog in the fight, I get a less biased view of the situation, see experts who are not paid to sway viewers/voters in a particular direction, and see just how politically motivated much of what I was given before actually is.

In the end, I think that historians will improve President Obama's rating as we get more time between his presidency and current issues, especially if current Republicans get their wish and make world matters worse with their overly militant stance. I think that those same historians will downgrade this Congress even more harshly over time. And, if sanity is to be restored, I think the American people need to vote OUT every elected official who has been in office more than two terms. Lastly, I think that Congress needs term limits to stop this sort of partisan infighting and gridlock in the future.

(As an aside: I once proudly was a member of the Republican party. But, even as a youth voting for the first time, I voted my conscience and not party if I felt a different leader more closely aligned with my needs. I still feel I lean mostly Conservative on most issues, but I find that I rarely align with the Republican party's goals or stated objectives. I think that is true of many Republicans today; I think you will see the ranks of a third party, possibly the Libertarians, who more closely align with conservative but not Republican views, swell in ranks in the coming years. And I shudder to think what state America would be in today if current Republicans were in complete power -- many of the issues I outlined above would probably have led to military conflict, another Cold War with Russia (or maybe even a hot war, in Ukraine), and an unending presence in the Middle East, leading to further acts of terrorism.)

August 13, 2014

Sewer Flood Follow-Up

A year ago we had a sewer flood into our basement. It took us a while to clean up from that issue. We also felt that finishing the bathroom in the basement would help close off many of the open holes and pipes that helped allow the sewage to back up into our house. One of the outstanding issues involved was the "belly" in the sewage line that they found when they scoped our line after the flood.

We finally saved enough money and found someone to dig up our yard and go looking for the belly to repair. They started on Monday. After two days of digging, they found the line nearly 12 feet below the surface of our front lawn. However, after exposing nearly 30 feet of sewer line, they could not find the belly described. We came up with a plan to have the same company come back out and review the line again and pinpoint where the dip in the line actually was. Unfortunately, it was found to be underneath our porch, below and behind the asphalt walkway, and underneath some very large, decorative rocks in our yard, rather than farther out in the lawn area as we were originally led to believe.

In the end, we decided it would be fairly major construction to try to fix the belly where it is located. So, the plumbers and diggers came up with a new plan: we installed a backflow device with a pipe that will lead to the surface of the yard. That pipe can be opened and a plumber/sewer specialist can use it to look at the sewer pipe and clean it out as needed. They also recommended that filling and draining the bath every now and then would likely provide enough flow and weight to clear out the belly of any build up and debris.

The good thing is that the plumbers saw very little build up in the year since the flood. So our "best practices," and the fact that I often take a bath already, seem to be keeping the belly clear. As we are on the end (lowest point) of a sewer line with our house's location, I feel much more confident having a "whole home" backflow installed, too.

Will it look nice, having that pipe in the middle of our yard? No. But I'm thinking we can plant some small bushes around it and make a decorative central point to look at that will both hide it from casual view and keep it accessible. In the meantime, the digging has decimated our front yard and we'll probably have to pay hundreds of dollars to repair it when they are finished with the project.

Ain't being a homeowner grand?

Abuse of Women Must Stop

The NFL had a chance to do something wonderful, and show its female viewers just how seriously it takes abuse. Instead, it laid an egg.

Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was indicted for punching his wife (girlfriend at the time of the incident) so hard he knocked her unconscious. For this egregious behavior, Rice is suspended two games and docked a little over two paychecks (equally over $500,000).

When there was a hint of allegations (but no arrests, charges, or convictions) of Ben Roethlisberger sexually assaulting a woman at a party, he was given a six game ban that was reduced to four games. Rice, on the other hand, was indicted for his assault. This means that a person or group reviewed the evidence and found there was enough to warrant a criminal charge, arrest, and possibly a trial.

There are two videos of the Ray Rice incident. The first was released to the public and shows Rice dragging the already unconscious woman out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes. The second, which has not been released to the public (at least, officially), is from the interior of the elevator and shows what happened between them and his knocking her unconscious.

Ray Rice is listed as 5'8" and 206 lbs. Most of that is muscle and he is in peak conditioning. His wife is a little shorter and probably at least 50 lbs lighter than he is. I don't care if that elevator video shows her wailing away on him, the chances of her hurting him is slim while all it is claimed it took was one punch from him.

It's a simple fact of biology and evolution that the average man is physically more powerful than the average woman. Unless a woman is in great shape, has a weapon, or has specific training, the average man can overpower and do a great deal of damage to the average woman. When that man is a physical specimen and in great shape, the odds become even more lopsided.

In giving Rice a two game ban, the Commissioner Goodell cited Rice's stellar personal conduct record, and the fact that Rice's wife had forgiven him and lobbied Goodell for leniency. However, it must be noted that each time Rice's wife was with Rice during these conversations. So it is hard to know what her real thoughts on the matter might be, since her attacker was in the room and present.

It also seems telling how, at his press conference "apologizing" for his public humiliation, Rice apologized to just about everyone except his wife. She, once again, sat right next to her attacker, stone-faced, while he apologized to everyone but her.

If the Commissioner gave Roethlisberger six games with a chance to reduce it due to adherence to a program for the allegation of sexual assault, with no firm supporting evidence, then it seems consistent that Rice should get more games for being indicted of assault, with video corroboration. I think a minimum of eight games, possibly 10, with a chance to reduce it to 6-8 games by adhering to a strict code, entering rehab, and doing a bunch of community service would be fair.

Instead, Rice got a measly two games. Two games!

The NFL, and Commissioner Goodell in particular, dropped the ball on this one.