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The Crap Tree, 2016 December 4, 2016

Posted by geoff in News.
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[Note by Michael (2013): It has become a tradition at Innocent Bystanders to annually republish the first-ever blog post by Dave in Texas during the Christmas season. Dave’s story has become a classic tale of Christmas cheer and the endurance of traditions. This is the original version, which actually predates the founding of Innocent Bystanders in 2006. Except I have greatly improved it by centering the pictures.]

Several years ago my wife conceived a plan to take over Christmas decorations in our home. She’s been very patient, moving so carefully that I only realized the scope of her plan this year. This fight isn’t over, not by a long shot. But I’ve lost a lot of ground.

I am what you would call a ‘Christmas kind of guy’. I love Christmas. I love the lights and the pretty packages, the wreaths, the greenery hanging everywhere. I like Christmas plates and coffee cups. Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas towels in the bathrooms, Christmas napkins, Christmas movies and books, if they had Christmas toilet paper I would buy two cases (does anybody know if they make that?). I think Christmas lights on pickup trucks look terrific.

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I really dig Christmas.

As soon as the clutter is cleaned away from the Thanksgiving feast, I’m up in the attic getting boxes down. I know where every one of them is, and I pretty much know what’s inside of them. Not because I pack them up every January (that always makes me sad). I suppose it’s just that we tend to use the same boxes for things. You could sum up my taste in Christmas decorations in one phrase. Colored lights. Yes, like the late Michael Kelly wrote on the topic of Christmas lights, there are white light people, and colored light people. I’m in the second group. Years ago I conceded the inevitability of teeny lights taking over. I gave up trying to find strings of lights with those big painted bulbs that burned your fingers. I miss them, but I understand. Technology changes things. But even if they’re teeny, I have to have colored lights. This theme extends to other decorations.

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I have an affinity for Christmas-schlock. The cheesier the better. A dancing Santa Claus with an electric guitar and sunglasses? Oh yes. Strings of lights that look like jalapenos? Lovely. Elves laid out in a winter North Pole Office Party display, holding little cans of Bud Light while singing drunken Christmas tunes? I am so there. And you have guessed the dark secret of Christmas in our home. My wife is not a colored lights kind of person. She is a white lights gal. I don’t blame her, taste is subjective, right? Eye of the beholder and all that. We can coexist. We can cooperate, compromise, a little give here, a little take there. We’ll find a way to get along. You know, the Russkies and the Americans. Detente baby.

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limited edition strat and twin reverb amp ornament

Well, I was wrong so I didn’t see it coming. It started with a new Christmas tree. She brought it home a few years ago. It’s bigger than our old tree. 10 feet. It’s frickin ginormous! Me, I’m all excited. What could be better than one Christmas tree? Two trees! Oh yeah, two sets of lights and ornaments and glitter, extra room for more presents. This will be so cool! I set the new tree up first. In the formal dining room, right there in the front window where everyone can see it. We decided the older tree would be just fine in the family room, we moved some things around and set it up there. Looked just fine. I didn’t even notice when my wife pulled the strings of white lights out that something was amiss. ‘Sure’, I thought, ‘woo… fan-cee’. What the heck. White lights on the new tree.

Then I noticed we had packages (really nice packages, you know, the kind of shopping bags you keep cause they’re so pretty?) with more ornaments in them. Impressive looking ornaments too, glass and crystal and gold. Wow. But hey, 10 foot tree, sure, we’ll need more stuff to put on it. It was when I reached into a box to pull out my favorite lights, the string of little Fender Telecasters, and headed for the new tree, that the plan in its entirety was revealed to me. She said ‘STOP right there!’ evenly spacing her words using a tone of voice that said I should seriously consider stopping right there. ‘There will be none of that on this tree’, she said. Same tone. I said what most husbands say when they are confronted with possible wrongdoing. ‘Wh-a-a-at?’ Real slowly, dumb-like. ‘No guitar lights. No old pictures. No jalapenos’ she said.

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And she was deadly serious. She looked right at me and announced ‘this is the ‘nice tree’’.

The Nice Tree™. In the front room, prominently displayed in the big window. I looked around. The other decorations in the room began to make sense to me. The special Christmas china was set on the formal table. The expensive candle holders on the table by the entry, with long tapered white candles in them, you know, the kind you can’t get at Wal-Mart (10 for .55 cents). And then I understood. This room, was going to be ‘pretty’. Like a Christmas display at some expensive store on 5th Avenue, the ones whose names I can’t pronounce correctly. I looked at what was now my tree. Guitar lights. Ornaments from Fender. The decorations my kids made in Sunday school with funny shaped noodles and gold spray paint. Popsicle sticks and yarn and pictures. Hidden in the family room where no eye shall be offended. No one can see it.

I began calling my tree the “Crap Tree”.

The Nice Tree has gold swirly things on it, and a special tree skirt thingy made of silk and shiny stuff. It’s really pretty. It looks like something you would find in one of those stores in Salado. The Crap Tree has an old skirt made of something that looks like shag carpet. It has a pattern that sort of resembles a Christmas tree, at least, the way a Christmas tree looks to a myopic drunk. In a moment of weakness my brother in law crocheted it for us. It’s been more than 15 years and I still kick his ass about that.

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easy to spot boxes

I am not allowed to put my special guitar ornaments on the Nice Tree. Who am I kidding? I’m not allowed to put anything on the Nice Tree. Every now and then, I sneak one on it when no one is looking. It doesn’t matter. My oldest daughter finds it and moves it back. At lease I’m not completely alone in my fight, my youngest daughter will take one of my ornaments and sneak it back on the nice tree. Occasionally sibling rivalry will overcome their natural tendency to gang up on you because of gender affiliation. Which is nice.

The Crap Tree has lights on it from The Hard Rock Café. I think those are my favorite, although the lights that look like jalapenos are a close second. Ever since my wife debuted the Nice Tree, Christmas in our house has been looking a little different. The living room is starting to spread out. Our old Frosty the Snowman and Christmas tree hand towels we used to put in the guest bathroom have been replaced with much prettier hand towels. None of us is allowed to touch them. You wash your hands in this bathroom, you better wipe them off on your blue jeans. My ‘singing Santa’ with the electric guitar and the sunglasses is now back in my bedroom on the dresser. The battery has been removed.

This year I couldn’t find the Drunken Office Party Elves. My wife says she has no idea what happened to them. She says it in a way that makes me think she knows exactly what happened to them, and I will never see them again.

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Olive, the other reindeer

So I know what I’m up against. Soon, next year, or maybe the one after that, I will find myself engaged in a desperate battle, a last stand in front of my dearest Christmas decoration, the Crap Tree.

She may relent. The Crap Tree has ornaments that have all our Christmas memories on it, 22 years worth. Decorations we bought when we spent our first Christmas together. Things our friends gave to us. Decorations that her students gave to her. Special ornaments with years on them from Christmases past that go back before our kids were born. Pictures of the girls when they were little in red and white Christmas dresses, hugging Santa and telling him how good they had been this year. So long ago, before cars and boys and college. Every now and then I find a little bit of attic insulation in one of the branches, from a Christmas years ago when I slipped in the overhead and put my foot through the ceiling, right over the tree. The youngest looked up and said ‘Mommy, it’s Santa’! I think she was 4.

I love the Crap Tree. It is an old friend. It’s the decoration in our house that says “Christmas” to me, and I hope it always will.

Hey guess where this is?

A gift from the Geoffs. Proudly displayed.

“Crap Tree” Post Tomorrow? December 3, 2016

Posted by geoff in News.
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Too soon?

Manufacturing Jobs Continue to Drop and Josh Earnest is a Tool December 3, 2016

Posted by geoff in News.
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Under the watchful, caring eye of the Obama administration, how could anything do other than flourish? Here’s how:

manufjobsdecember2016Yeah, that promise to add a million manufacturing jobs within 4 years was thoroughly and tragically broken a couple of months ago, and we’ve lost another 9000 manufacturing jobs since then.

lauraw mentioned this ridiculous quote from White House Spokesman Josh Earnest, who was talking about the 1000 jobs saved by Trump’s negotiations with Carrier:

“if [Trump] is successful in doing that 804 more times, then he will meet the record number of manufacturing jobs” created during Obama’s eight years in office.
Earnest went further, saying that the roughly 800,000 jobs he cited were new jobs created under Obama’s watch.

You can see that Earnest doesn’t mention the failed promise of President Obama to add a million jobs, which would have been 1.5 million total (500K manufacturing jobs were added before he promised the additional million). 1.5 million jobs promised vs. 0.8 million jobs “added” ==> I guess that equals success in Josh Earnest’s mind.

You also don’t see him mentioning this:

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President Obama hasn’t even managed to “create” enough manufacturing jobs to get back to  where we were when he was first inaugurated. In reality, an honest person would have to say that his administration lost 300K jobs.

You can only say that 800K jobs were created if you cherrypick the data by starting from the low point in February-March of 2010. And you can only call them “new jobs” if you ignore the fact that we lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2006.

Bragging about this pitiful rebound is ridiculous and a terrible injustice to the manufacturing sector. Josh Earnest’s statement was misleading and insensitive.

Ah, the hell with it – let’s just call it what it is: Josh Earnest lied point blank to the press, and not one of them called him on it.

Par for the course for the past 8 years.

Job Recovery Has Stagnated in 2016 December 3, 2016

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Didn’t have time to post on yesterday’s humdrum Employment Situation Report, but I’m here for you today. Most articles written by Obama-fawners emphasized that nearly 180K jobs were created, while most articles written by his foes emphasized the large number of people leaving the workforce. Here’s my take:

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I think it’s easy to see that this year has not been a particularly good one for full-time job recovery. We may have reached a new normal, at least normal under this administration.

Hopefully the incoming administration can light a fire under the employment situation.

Air-Drying Wine Glasses and the Hilarity That Ensues November 29, 2016

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So Lifehacker had a post on how you can dry wine glasses by turning them upside-down on a rack of chopsticks to hold them up so air can get in:

Make a Wine Glass-Drying Rack Out of Chopsticks

The following comments ensued:

wineglasschopstickconvo

Cowboy Is As Cowboy Does November 29, 2016

Posted by geoff in News.
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I’m sure you’ll see this everywhere in the dextrosphere over the next couple of days, but here’s an excerpt from a WaPo review of James E. Mitchell’s new memoir (James E. Mitchell developed enhanced interrogation techniques for the CIA):

Far from trying to draw us in, KSM said that al-Qaeda expected the United States to respond to 9/11 as we had the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut — when, KSM told Mitchell, the United States ‘turned tail and ran.’

‘Then he looked at me and said, ‘How was I supposed to know that cowboy George Bush would announce he wanted us ‘dead or alive’ and then invade Afghanistan to hunt us down?’’ Mitchell writes. ‘KSM explained that if the United States had treated 9/11 like a law enforcement matter, he would have had time to launch a second wave of attacks.’ He was not able to do so because al-Qaeda was stunned ‘by the ferocity and swiftness of George W. Bush’s response.’

Via The Federalist (read the whole thing).

What a Difference an Election Makes November 29, 2016

Posted by geoff in News.
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I’m not sure it’s warranted, but look at consumer confidence since the election:

They say it’s the highest since July 2007.

Venezuela Reaps What it Sowed November 28, 2016

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Ten years ago we were shaking our heads over Hugo Chavez’s rampant nationalization of various industries. Today we see the result:

It’s very sad to think of the plight of Venezuelan citizens, forced to scrounge for food, medicine and basic necessities. On the other hand, ten years ago they were pretty happy to spend the short-term gains acquired by stealing businesses and facilities from their owners.

Kind of like Bernie Sanders supporters in our country, who are, I guess thankfully, still limiting themselves to tax mechanisms in their theft.

In Case You’re Feeling a Little Too Complacent About Defense & Foreign Policy… November 27, 2016

Posted by geoff in News.
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…I present you this video of Putin “joking” about the borders of Russia (starts at about :30s)

That untranslated comment he makes as he stands up was something to the effect of “I’m joking.”

Heh. Heh heh.

We Won’t Be Kicking Sand in Computers’ Faces For Much Longer November 27, 2016

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Ray Kurzweil, in his famous book The Singularity is Near, noted that the human brain can perform the equivalent of 10^18 floating point operations per second (= 1 exaflop). That was one of the benchmarks computers needed to reach in order support his thesis that humans and computers would interact/merge in interesting ways by 2050.  But it looks like this particular benchmark will be reached by 2020:

Japan is reportedly planning to build a 130-petaflops supercomputer costing $173 million (£131 million) that is due for completion next year.

Satoshi Sekiguchi, a director-general at Japan’s ‎National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, where the computer will be built, told Reuters: “As far as we know, there is nothing out there that is as fast.”

According to the Top 500 site listing the world’s fastest computers, the current number-crunching champ is China’s 93-petaflops Sunway TaihuLight, followed by its Tianhe-2, coming in at 34 petaflops. Japan’s most powerful system at the moment is a 13.5 petaflops machine. Overall, Japan has the fourth-largest number of supercomputers in the Top 500 listing, after the US, China, and Germany.

The UK comes in sixth; the most powerful system in the country is housed at the Met Office, and has a max performance of 6.8 petaflops.

That’s 0.13 exaflops, or 13% of the way to the exaflop goal. Of course it would need to be affordable and commonplace for it to really impact society, and there’s still plenty of work to do in other areas (algorithms, storage, throughput, brain science, etc.).

But it’s damn impressive.

How Are Things? November 26, 2016

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All Izz Well:

Have a Rip-Roaring T-giving!! November 24, 2016

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Welcome to Thanksgiving 2016!! I hope your chowing and shopping are rampant and excessive, and that your gatherings of friends and family are apolitical and congenial.

In fun Thanksgiving Day news we have:

Maybe she had really bad acne:  Massachusetts police say woman tried to use pizza as ID to enter bar

I like to think this was an IB party: Woman arrested for ‘shooting at house guests for being too loud’