"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007

"For straight up monster-stomping goodness, nothing makes smoke shoot out my ears like Brilliant@Breakfast" -- Tata

"...the best bleacher bum since Pete Axthelm" -- Randy K.

"I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015), They Live
Saturday, January 02, 2016

Au revoir, y'all....
Posted by Jill | 6:15 PM
I see that my good friend jurassicpork has already spilled the beans, so what I'm about to write is not exactly news.

I've been toying with the idea of retiring B@B for over a year now, and now that I am starting to settle into my new life as a middle-aged widow in Durham, NC, it seems like a good time to pull the plug.

My life seems to be divided into neat and tidy thirds.  The first third was getting through my childhood and young adulthood, coming to fruition the day that the Handsome Devil Later To Be Known as Mr. Brilliant came into my life and started thirty years of joint weirdness.  The second third was our years together.  And since I have ridiculously good genetics, this last third is going to be starting to live a more meaningful life at a slower pace here in North Carolina.

I remember when I realized that writing movie reviews was no longer satisfying.  It was after I'd seen Jet Li's Fearless, and it was like pulling teeth to find something to say.  It was hard to say goodbye to that, just as it's hard to say goodbye to B@B.  But the truth is that I haven't written anything here in about a year, and what little ranting I have done has been on Facebook.

It was easy to rant during the Parade of Horrors that was the Bush Years.  It was less easy to rant during the last eight years, partly because it was our own team selling us out.  As we start 2016, the possibility of an even worse parade of horrors lies in front of us, and its magnitude defies the energy I have to devote to it.

The last three years have been all about loss.  First there was my mother in December 2012.  Then Mr. B's cancer diagnosis in March 2013.  Then we had to let Miss Jenny go in July 2013 due to either a brain tumor or stroke -- an event that in utterly horrifying prescience, caused Mr. B. to say, "I wish someone could do for me what we were just able to do for Jenny."

Then on October 5, 2015, two weeks after Valley Hospital allowed Mr. B's brain to seize for thirty-six hours straight while they dickered with meds instead of sedating/intubating him (which is standard of care for status epilepticus), and a week and a half after we had him transferred out of there, I actually DID have to do for him what we did for Jenny, allowing withdrawal of the breathing tube and palliative sedation.  He was gone 20 minutes later.

In December 2013, my beloved Maggie-cat took sick and I had to say goodbye to her on January 28, 2014.

Then in November this year, my father passed away from recurrent aggressive diffuse B-cell lymphoma at age 90 only 53 days after it came back for the third time.  He'd beaten it back twice.

I had already closed on my new house, I was purging 19 yearsof stuff and packing to move, largely alone.  And now dealing with yet another loss.  I would call my sister and say, "Please tell me you're not sick."

Everyone tells me they don't know how I'm still standing.  I'd love to believe that I'm stronger than most people, but the truth is that I'm no different from anyone else.  When life keeps hitting you, you bounce back because you don't have a choice.  If you don't think you could, it's because you haven't been hit hard enough yet.

I'm lucky.  I've been able to keep my job and work remotely.  A year ago I received a promotion and transfer to a new group where my manager is in Germany, where they don't believe in working 80 hour weeks.  So my work/life balance has been somewhat better, and now will be even better because I won't be sitting in northern NJ traffic every day.  My two little boy kitties, Eli and Sam, were great in the car and have adjusted beautifully to their new home.  My sister has welcomed me into her circle and I am signing up for Meetup groups.  It is the fresh start that just could not have happened in New Jersey, in a house too full of memories, too many of them about sadness and depression.  Mr. B is now free of the emotional burdens that plagued him here and it is time for a young family to move into that house, now dressed up all pretty with a new kitchen, a nice deck, and a completely remodeled upstairs, and make better memories there.

My weekdays will be spent in my home office that gets the morning sun through the trees in my front yard.  When the weather gets nice, I can sit and drink iced tea on my screened porch, or take my laptop outside onto the patio.  I am about 20 minutes or less from anything I might want to do.  My neighbors are friendly, and I have no doubts that I'll be happy here.

It's different here from New Jersey, in just the ways I wanted it to be. New Jersey has become the "You got a problem with that?" state.  There seems to be a giant chip on everyone's shoulder there.  There is a reason that state elected Chris Christie.  Now I'm not under any illusions about what is going on in Raleigh.  It's a product of Democrats deciding to stay home in 2010, and it now has one of the most retrograde statehouses in the country.  Maybe I can help with efforts to change that.

I am 60 years old now, and while I'll still be fighting the good fight, I've become more contemplative.  I'll be starting up a new blog soon -- a chronicle of this new life.  Yes, there'll be politics.  There will also be the occasional TV or movie review, recipe, anecdote, or anything else that inspires me.  I hope you'll join me there and occasionally find something that moves you to participate.  Watch this space for the link, it will be posted here.

Thanks to you all for your support during these last few years and indeed, for the last decade.

See y'all on the flip.

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So Long and Thanks for All the Gefilte Fish
     When you get right down to it, bloggers are really just glorified bleacher bums. Some of us have louder voices than most, others ruder and more profane and some even have megaphones. Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast was once described as "the best bleacher bum since Pete Axthelm." Those are some pretty big shoes to fill since the late New York Herald Times sportswriter was pretty much the best at his game.
     I just got an email from Jill, our server at Brilliant at Breakfast, and while I won't quote the letter in full, I can certainly paraphrase the abstracts:
     Jill's shutting down B@B and two weeks ago had moved from her native New Jersey for warmer, palmier climes. If you were a fan of Jill's blog, you'll remember that she'd suffered some catastrophic losses over the last couple of years, starting with the death of a beloved feline then the even greater loss of her husband. She dove into work, frequently putting in 80 hours a week for her company and pretty much put B@B in mothballs.
     As with many other blogs, she had invited others to contribute, including yours truly. But they were erstwhile, at best, and with the death of Bob Rixon, the likely gradually morphed into the inevitable. Even I could not crosspost much over the last year due to my various fiction projects and other matters to attend to, although I'd recently tried to make a game effort to freshen the place up once I'd put my latest title to bed with my publisher.
     Jill could kvetch with the best of us and on many occasions, as good writers are wont to make other writers do, I'd find myself muttering, "Damn, I wish I'd thought of that!" As with Pottersville, B@B was a catch-as-catch-can type of blog and when you surfed in during its heyday, you never knew what you'd get or how you'd get it. The title of the blog was a quote from Oscar Wilde, who'd once written, "Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast."
     Yet, despite the self-deprecating title, Jill was never Oliver Wendell Holmes' "The autocrat of the breakfast table". Quite the contrary. The sub masthead was also a not so sly dig at Arianna Huffington's plantation at the HuffPo: "Where noone cashes in on unpaid writers." Indeed, Mrs. JP and I had benefited countless times from Jill's largesse over the years, often handing over whatever meager income B@B had accrued in the way of ad revenue.
     And, like a true liberal blogger, Jill has a quasi socialist sensibility and special affection for the B, C and even good Z list blogger that was famously championed by the late Jon Swift. During a time in which many of the A listers also left for palmier climes through MSM and book deals, Jill stayed true to her roots and those who shared that root network, often with an eloquence and passion of which the likes of the late Steve Gilliard would be proud. I don't know if she will take down the blog or merely restrict access to the other contributors. I hope it will only be the latter.
     So this is your server's New Year's resolution: To seek happiness in the hideous rictus of devastating loss and heartbreak, which, after all, is what distinguishes us as a species: That stubborn insistence of putting one foot before the other regardless of how arduous and adversity-riddled the journey.
     Godspeed, Jill, or Whoever and whatever puts wings on your heels. I will keep the campfires burning as long as I can from here and will keep a candle in the window for you, old friend.
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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Like White on Rice
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
     Just over 24 hours ago, as the grand jury in the Tamir Rice shooting was approaching its long-delayed but inevitable non-verdict that removed Officer Timothy Loehmann from the sphere of exaction, the US Marshall's Service was gingerly approaching escaped fugitive Ethan Couch in Mexico.
     These two stories were perhaps fated by the News Gods to break within 24 hours of each other as they seem to readily offer themselves up for comparison. The comparison, of course, is how we treat rich white criminals and innocent African American youth.
     Couch, I'm sure you remember, was the Texas 16 year-old who'd gotten high and intoxicated, stole his father's car and killed four innocent people on a joyride. The Couch family attorney then infamously called to the stand a psychologist who claimed young Ethan should not be treated too harshly because of "Affluenza". This meant his ability to distinguish right from wrong was impaired because of his parents' coddling and refusal to set boundaries.
     In Cleveland, Rice, a 12 year-old child, was gunned down last year literally less than two seconds after Loehmann and another officer arrived after a scared old white man called 911. He thought he saw a scary black man with a gun (which he qualified by saying "it's probably fake").
     Essentially, it took over a year for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office to explain away how and why a black child was gunned down with no chance of preventing his shooting and with impunity. Couch, and his mother, decided two years of probation that had hardly impinged on his life or freedom was more than enough of a price to pay.
     Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, it's a crowning irony that one of the two people harmlessly blamed for impairing young Ethan's ability to tell right from wrong led him on this merry escapade to the Mexican resort town (of course) of Porto Vallarta.
     Here's the catch: Couch is no longer a wayward, badly-disciplined lad of 16 but a young man of 18. If you don't know right from wrong by that age, then you're officially a sociopath and deserve to have the book thrown at you.

Justice For All But the Book is Lighter For Some Than Others
     Here's the second catch: Despite his age, Couch's original conviction is still technically in the juvenile criminal justice system. Not only does this mean his juvenile records will be sealed should he commit more offenses as a legal adult (And he will. Just think of Couch as George Zimmerman with lots of unearned money), he might very well get off relatively lightly... again. Because, according to Texas state law, "The maximum sentence that a juvenile judge can dish out for a violation of his juvenile probation is imprisonment in a juvenile facility until Couch turns 19, which is April 11, 2016."
      And if a rich white kid can get four months in jail for skipping not just the state but the country because reporting to a PO for a few minutes a week is too onerous an inconvenience, he could conceivably get out even earlier than that with good behavior (That is, considering this shark-eyed little psycho is even capable of good behavior).
     Tamir Rice had no high-priced lawyer to blame his parents for raising him so waywardly he was playing with a toy gun at a playground. That is because Tamir Rice was mercilessly gunned down after a stupendously flawed and hasty threat assessment and was killed before he even had the chance to explain why he was holding a toy gun. If he actually reached into his waistband on their arrival as the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor kept insisting, perhaps the boy was merely attempting to show them it was indeed a toy gun.
     It's unclear whether or not this secretive grand jury even knew that Loehmann was so mentally unbalanced he was pressured out of his last department after having an emotional meltdown on a gun range in the wake of his girlfriend leaving him. Or that the Cleveland Police Department hired this emotionally unstable man without even vetting him.
     As a nice icing on the cake, it has been reported that Couch had been given a nice little going away party before being rescued by Mommy.
     I'm pretty sure Tamir Rice never had a going away party before he was viciously gunned down by Timothy Loehmann any more than Couch's four victims had time to assess their lives were in danger.
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Why Did Hillary Clinton Hire a Monsanto Lobbyist to be Her Campaign Director?
     Good question, if you know nothing about Hillary's cerulean canine roots. But one fact that remains glaringly obvious to those of us paying attention to these things and those Hillary supporters who are just as strenuously ignoring those pesky facts is Hillary officially hired Monsanto fuck stick Jerry Crawford to manage her presidential campaign.
     Of course, the so-called liberals who back Hillary can be excused for not knowing their facts about their girl since the MSM is largely worthless in bringing up those inconvenient facts, as evidenced in this breezy puff piece in the WaPo's Style section. Yeah, I know Style pieces in any paper are supposed to be ultimately worthless, breezy eye candy. Yet, since it contained hard political data (such as Crawford failing to deliver even a place much less a win for Hillary in Iowa in 2008), you'd think Monsanto's good name would've merited at least a fleeting mention.
     And to anyone who pays even a scintilla of attention to anything Clinton says, it's screamingly obvious this woman has been pimping for Monsanto to the point of practically gargling Roundup after sucking various cock at the Biotech Industry Conference in San Diego last year. How anyone, especially a self-styled Democrat, can publicly and frequently advocate for Genetically Modified Organisms is beyond me except when one considers benefits of such a whoring for an evil empire such as Monsanto (even when her campaign manager no longer works for them).
     Let's take Crawford's track record: He's long been considered a kingmaker for Democrats in his native Iowa, especially those who are friendly to Monsanto (which alone ought to show you of the alarming number of supine so-called Democrats that Crawford's helped over the years). But even when it meant costing a "fellow" Democrat a job, Crawford supported the Republican running against him and, well, just keep reading.
Jerry Crawford also played a big hand in the 2010 Agriculture Secretary election, which was an election that showed Monsanto does not care about a person’s party allegiance as long as said person doesn’t oppose them. The reason why is because the election’s Democratic nominee Francis Thicke was a critic of Monsanto. Ergo, Monsanto showed major support for the Republican nominee Bill Northey. Crawford would then endorse Northey, touting his backing as evidence of “strong bipartisan support.” Crawford even said he was a “veteran Democratic political insider” to help push Northey. As a result, Northey won the election with a landslide 67 percent of the vote.
     That kind of Tonya Harding-style kneecapping verges on Karl Rove territory yet the WaPo would have us believe Jerry boy's a simple ole Midwestern lawyer with a love for fast horses and slow candidates.
     I had Hillary pegged eight years ago when she ran a campaign that was, predictably, more rotten with lobbyists than even John McCain's (which is saying something). But you'd have to be a complete fucking idiot on a par with a Trump supporter to be duped by Hillary's easy populism about taking on the 1% of which she's a part and from whom she's vacuuming up enormous amounts of bribe money to spout their lines.
     Yeah, tell me again about how Bernie's not electable, at how he's not viable. But one fact remains clear: When Bernie veers into populist rhetoric, his populism is merely incidental because he means what he says.
     Oh, by voting for Bernie in the primary I'd be "splitting the party?" Perhaps. If that's what I'd be doing, then that's because this Crawford learned that trick from another Crawford.
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Monday, November 16, 2015

Virtual Book Sale
     At the risk of this sounding like whining, there's nothing more disspiriting than spending upwards of two and a half years on a single book then seeing it sell less than two dozen copies, hardly any of them to strangers, over a period of six months despite my ruthlessly pimping it on social media. Add to that a troll who constantly chimes in with one star reviews on Amazon and skewing the rating because it can't seem to attract more than four legitimate reviews. Then add to that it being ignored and disrespected by virtually every single fiction-repping literary agency in the English-speaking world.
     And Tatterdemalion, despite those dismal numbers and facts, is a success story even if only by dint of conspicuous relief. My previous four titles have sold in single digits even when I discounted the prices for the Kindle titles to as little as .99¢. And writers being the way they are on social media, they scream past each other and refuse to publicize anyone else's book while only paying services pimp their own.
     It's a sad situation, that democratic self-publication also entails we become Fuller Brush salesmen and that the constant push for sales for apathetic twats who'd literally rather die than actually click on the retweet button leaves us little time for actually interacting with our disinterested followers.
     But it is what it is. "The only true failure is giving up," say industry professionals sotto voce as they count what should be our money, considering we're the ones who make a publishing industry possible. So, in illustration of Einstein's definition of insanity, I'm plugging away on another pair of novels and hope they get me an agent and/or a publishing contract.
     However, money's getting scarce and we're going to be losing our only income as of this April. And I'm getting tired of begging money of random strangers and online friends sick and tired of our constant financial problems. So I'm having an online book sale to try to get some revenue in this house the old fashioned way- by earning it.
     And I think it would be a good idea to remind you of the previous titles I've self-published over the years and to put out the links from years past.

     In the nearly three years since it's been out, American Zen (Kindle title), written by my alter ago Mike Flannigan, has attracted just five reviews and a handful of sales. But the average rating is five stars. It remains, IMHO, as my best sustained effort and is a must-read novel for anyone that enjoys politically-oriented fiction by a liberal with a wicked sense of humor. Here's a sample paragraph from the prologue:
"As with water, failure, tragedy and loss seek the path of least resistance. And it’s perhaps no coincidence that the words “trailer” and “failure” are almost perfect rhymes. In the American mind, the two are synonymous. That’s because we tend not to look beyond end results and aftermaths. We see trailer parks, tent cities, people living under bridges and think not “refugees” or “victims” but 'failure.' Assumptions are dangerous but those of us who are more fortunate can live with that kind of danger."
     The Createspace paperback edition can be found here for $7.99, not a bad price for a 150,000 word epic taking place in the first days after Barack Obama was elected President.

     The Toy Cop (Kindle) is an odd bird in that it took me the longest to write. While solidly within my usual thriller/suspense genre, I'd begun it in November 1998 before social media was even a reality (requiring some fast updates to reflect this reality).
     Next to Tatterdemalion, it's my longest novel at nearly 175,000 words. Here's the product description:
      Four years ago 10 canisters of VX were stolen near the Dugway Proving Grounds, leading to the most disastrous hostage scenario in FBI history. Special Agent Michael Brodie, head of the elite FBI crisis negotiating corps, had lost his chance to get IRA terrorist Seamus Hannigan, the man who killed his FBI daughter, destroying Brodie ‘s credibility when he blew up himself and three others.
      During a freak nor’easter in Eastbridge, Massachusetts four years later, former Navy Seal Jack Gallagher and three accomplices take a US Senator and 12 others hostage, holing them up in an armory. The 13 were to witness the federal execution of Edd Corn, the most notorious child killer in US history. Three years ago, Corn nearly killed Gallagher’s daughter Deirdre. Determined to mete out justice personally, he’s determined to end his life to that end while his ex wife, rookie patrol officer Penny Gallagher, helplessly watches outside.
      Seeing she’s out of her depth, and remembering his slain FBI daughter Leighann, Brodie calls in every favor to get involved in the negotiations while trying to avoid the resistance put up by his skeptical superiors, Gallagher and Ray Cardoza, the first FBI agent onscene and his one-time future son in law.
      Then Brodie hears Hannigan’s voice from the grave. Is the hostage scenario a mere coverup? Is Gallagher involved with the IRA plot to appropriate and use ten canisters of VX? Or has Jack unwittingly invited one of the world’s most lethal terrorists in his midst?
     Since I'd begun reworking it earlier this year after finishing Tatterdemalion,  the paperback's been pulled from the market. But the Kindle version is available for just $4.99.

     The Misanthrope's Manual (paperback) may seem like a departure for me but it isn't. Along with poetry, satire is one of my literary roots. I'd begun writing this more liberal version of Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary all during the 90's while I was still in my 30's. The Kindle version can be found here for just .99¢. Here's a sample:
Doom, n- The infinitely patient beneficiary of all human endeavor.
Success, n- Material gain without material witnesses.
Harmless, adj- Dead.


     The Kid (paperback edition), you may remember, is a short story followup to Tatterdemalion, with Scott Carson telling the tale of his first adventure in 1873 when he was but a lad of six and a half. It's more than just a short story. Originally a promotion I was giving away free earlier in the year to anyone who bought the larger Carson story, The Kid (Kindle) also offers valuable context and background that goes a ways toward explaining Carson's character and one of the most important relationships in his life.
     As expected, it's only sold a handful of copies and has not inspired even one person to write a review. If you buy it, please consider doing so so it'll have something approximating a rating.

     Finally, there's Tatterdemalion (Kindle version), which, as previously stated, took me almost two and a half years to research, draft and revise. This has the distinction of having the best sales of my other titles (but only in a very relative sense) while being rejected and/or ignored by literally over 320 different literary agents. I have a major acquisitions editor at Penguin/Random House who'd requested the full ms a couple of months ago.
     Originally weighing in at over 250,000 words, at a much trimmer and tighter 193,000, it's still the largest novel I've ever written. It was inspired by Caleb Carr's Alienist duology and is the next best thing, I think, to a third Alienist book. In many ways, I'm proudest of this literary achievement because it's the culmination of my lifelong ambition to write a truly epic historical thriller. Tatterdemalion can also be bought here in paperback. Don't let the $15.50 cover price scare you. Remember, it's nearly 200,000 words long and is a good, solid and, I think, very thrilling read.
     If you actually buy any of these titles, again, please be considerate enough to write a review. It takes but a few minutes and makes all the difference to a struggling, self published novelist.
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Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Man Who Poisoned America
     The man who supposedly apologized to the relatives of some of the nine victims of his tainted peanuts seemed at stark odds with the executive who'd fired off an email to a manager alerting him to salmonella contamination, "Just ship it."
     Unmoved, Federal Judge W. Louis Sands, a Clinton appointee, sentenced Stewart Parnell to 28 years in prison for knowingly sending out tainted food products, obstructing the investigation and falsifying evidence (conspiracy). In other words, this sentencing, which was 775 fewer years than the judge who'd found him guilty wanted, was nonetheless the toughest one ever handed down to a major executive in a food borne illness and death case.
     Stewart's poison would kill at least nine people, sicken 714 others (half of them children), which doesn't include how many pets were killed or sickened, across 46 states. His peanut butter paste was sold by his brother to Kellogg's, which used it in snack crackers and his product even found its way on airplanes, meaning his salmonella could've been exported to countless other countries, which could've theoretically produced a pandemic. Indeed, when the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has to calculate the human carnage of your greed, you know you've taken a wrong turn around the bend.
     What's getting less press is his former QA manager, Mary Wilkerson, who got a surprisingly light sentence of just five years for obstruction.
     Let's focus on that for a minute, shall we?
     As some of you may recall from my prior comments and posts from time to time, just prior to and after 9/11 I used to be a QC inspector for an automotive/aerospace/aeronautics firm. We made silicon rubber gaskets, seals, hoses and all kinds of applications for silicon rubber. My job as the only non-dedicated QC inspector in the lab was to do all the day-to-day inspections that didn't require specialized and certified expertise (such as GE's aircraft engine parts, which required DSQR certification and a week's worth of classes).
     This required I know the rudiments of good quality control, which is a whole 'nuther animal from Quality Assurance (but more on that later). Part of a good skill set from a QC inspector is knowing when to ignore executive management when they pressure you to rubber stamp CoCs (Certificates of Compliance). This usually comes toward the end of the month (the last Friday). The sooner we ship something out, the sooner they can invoice it. The sooner they invoice it, the sooner they can grab their commissions and bonuses.
     Each CoC is supposed to be validated by the inspector's name or initials as well as their inspector number. Assuming the Peanut Corporation of America was ISO-certified, this would've been mandated. No one likes to fall on their own sword but this is nonetheless an unspoken rule in quality control/assurance. Sometimes, when you're given an order by a President and CEO of a corporation that's a leader in the field, you have to defy orders when human lives are at stake.
     Now, I'm going to get a bit into the difference between QA and QC. QC is the art of saying, "You didn't do this right." QA is the art of saying, "You're not doing this right." The difference is something called SPC, or Statistical Process Control. I'm not going to bore you with the science and mathematics involved in SPC but let's just say QA is a much safer and cost-effective way to inspect your product because it requires you remove at least one person in your lab and put them on the production line.
     From a purely cost-effective standpoint, QA makes sense because if the inspector, during a spot inspection, finds a grievous flaw in the process, s/he has the power to stop the presses. Manpower hours and the cost of raw materials is saved and the inspector doesn't sit on their ass in the lab waiting for the entire order to be filled.
     And with both QA and QC, at times scientific tests and lab results are crucial to making a determination if a product is fit to be shipped. What Mary Wilkerson did probably was either fudge, falsify, switch out or outright bury a lab result that one of her subordinates would've needed to make a wise and informed decision.
     There are several possible reasons why she would've done this. She could've acted to protect her boss or herself or both. Either way the last thing either she or Parnell wanted was for the material to get RMA'd back then have to explain at an executive MRB (Material Review Board) why the initials and inspector number of one of her subordinates got sent out with her blessings along with a ton of tainted food. The MRB is often months after the fact and the fastest way to lose one's job when asked how this could've happened is to point to the CEO and say, "Ask that asshole."
     See how long that CEO and the shareholders will let you stick around after that.
     Now, I could make a case as to how this got by Kellogg's and the other food companies that had bought Parnell's poisoned product but that'll be a post for another day. (I will say, however, that every ISO-certified company is mandated to have incoming QC inspectors whose job it is to test the standards and viability of any product that comes through their shipping bay. Why this was never questioned is a mystery).
     Parnell made his standpoint clear when he sent that terse email to his manager who'd voiced concerns about potential salmonella contamination. When he said, "Just ship it," he'd encapsulated a universe of meaning within those three little words and ten letters. "...or you're fired." It's the kind of unambiguous directive from on high that every QC person understands and dreads, especially when their name and number goes on the bottom of that cert.
     And the fact that PCA had a QA setup makes the sanitary conditions of the plants especially unforgivable. A good QA manager or inspector should be almost preternaturally aware of their work environment, especially in plants where food is produced and/or processed and cleanliness is paramount. Inspectors found evidence of vermin, roaches, bird droppings, mold and a leaky ceiling. In other words, Parnell's plants were the perfect breeding ground for the vigorous cultivation of salmonella.
     That's another fact I'd like to address: From having worked in manufacturing plants much of my life, those of you who also have know that regulatory agencies such as OSHA, FDA, Board of Health etc always, for some perverse reason, announce their inspections ahead of time. It always struck me like telling a batter what pitch you're about to throw him and how fast it'll be. But in advance of such visits, nervous managers always hand out the goggles and any other form of PPE, appropriate and mandatory signage and anything else that'll make the inspector happy.
     We're getting no indication of that. Even if only to pass a health inspection, you'd think PCA would've cleaned the place but they didn't think that was important. Maybe Parnell had thought hiring a roofer for a day or two to fix a leaky roof or devoting a person to do janitor duty (I get the impression they didn't have a janitor, since they were a company employing just 90 people) was a drain on the bottom line.
     In the end, Mary Wilkerson set herself the impossible task of trying to shield herself and/or her boss from scrutiny and prosecution. The product was tainted with salmonella. At that point, when your lab results confirm that, the QA game gets real simple, much simpler than mine ever was. Whereas we had the option of scrapping or reworking a certain defective product or arriving at some sort of other corrective action, their choices were simpler: Throw out the batch and clean the shit up off the floor that had caused it. But she did not think to do this. If she had fallen on her sword or at least made some attempt to report Parnell to the proper agencies, nine people wouldn't be rotting in their coffins right now.
     But corporate profits will always win out over human lives.
     We need to fund the programs that are geared toward strengthening food regulatory agencies. We need to invest the FDA and the USDA with recall powers instead of making recalls a purely voluntary function.
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Friday, June 26, 2015

We are privileged to be alive today
Posted by Jill | 8:57 PM
In our all-too-short lives, we are lucky if we have the privilege to be present for a moment in our history that shows us at our best. There aren't many of them, but today is one. Oh, there is ugliness, to be sure, and there will be more in the coming days. But today we get to enjoy an America where for hopefully more than one brief and shining moment, love is truly in the air.

I was too young to remember the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  Most of the Momentous Moments during my lifespan have been tragedies:  The Kennedy assassinations.  The murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Various indelible photographs from the Vietnam War.  The resignation of Richard M. Nixon.  9/11.  I can only recall three Momentous Moments in our nation during my life when I really felt, to quote Michelle Obama, proud of my country.  And Barack Hussein Obama was part of all three of them.  They are the day he was nominated by his party for the presidency, the day I woke up and this country had actually elected a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama, and today.

In fairness, there's another guy who was part of all three of them, and as tweeted by his wife, was running around today, just a few weeks after burying his son, wearing a rainbow flag like a cape and high-fiving everyone:

I mention Joe Biden because back in 2012, he threw down the gauntlet about gay marriage, which hastened Obama's own "evolution" on the subject, thus laying the groundwork for a united White House advocacy of civil rights for ALL Americans.  I'm not mentioning Biden to try to get a white guy into this, but let's give credit where it's due.

For six years, Barack Obama has been the Cautious president -- too willing to try to "reach across the aisle", to compromise with people who loathe his very existence, old Confederates and Christofascists for whom the idea of a black man living in the White House whips them into a rage.  And I'm just talking about Congress, never mind people like Dylann Roof, who apparently decided that a girl he liked deciding to date a black man meant he should start a race war, going into a church and killing nine people in cold blood who were guilty of nothing more than inviting him to pray with them.

In the last few weeks, we've seen the President Badass that many of us wished for for the last six years finally come out.  He's spoken eloquently about the human right to affordable health care, with which six members of the Supreme Court agreed yesterday.  He's spoken eloquently about the right to marry, with which five members of the Court agreed today.  And he capped off this incredible week with a eulogy for State Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney that was loving, admiring, respectful, but yes, also angry -- angry at a country that has people -- and politicians in a major party --  in it who still believe that people should be eliminated because of the color of their skin.  Angry at a country in which 150 years after the Civil War ended, vast swaths of the south (and some people who should know better) still don't see the Confederate flag as the symbol of bigotry and racism that is is.  Some still believe in the secessonist dream, of a world in which black people can be owned by white people and treated as chattel (or worse).  He couched this anger in terms of grace -- the grace that brought black and white together today in Charleston, South Carolina to mourn the loss of nine people who just wanted to worship together in praise of their deity by a young man who spent his adolescence awash in the wingnut noise machine that legitimized the hate that glowed inside him until it erupted because he thought he had the right to "own" a girl he liked because of white privilege.

We've known for years that Obama does some damn fine speechifyin'.  We've also know that his eloquence is often followed by disappointment, as he continues to try mightily to straddle the two worlds in which he has spent his life, as parts of this nation underwent a kind of collective emotional breakdown around him as a result of his election.  But not today.

It's been quite a week in this country -- one which began in mourning and ended in celebration.  It began in mourning for the nine people who followed in the footprints of the four young girls who died in September 1963 simply because they were black -- casualties of bigotry and small-mindedness.  It ended with an affirmation that the best part of us is the part that loves; that loves so deeply that we simply cannot imagine our lives without the other person who joins with us to form a unit called "us" that lives in conjunction with the units called "me" and "you".  It ended with an affirmation -- and a shot across the bow to the bigots and the closet cases who hide from themselves behind a cloak of religion -- that they no longer run things; that their days are numbered.  This is OUR time -- time for those of us who strive to embrace our better selves, not our worst.  

I join with my LGBT brothers and sisters today -- with Gabriel and Dennis and Jay and  "S." and Billy and Maggie and Margot and Bob and Dominick and so many others -- to celebrate and to say "Mazel Tov!"

And to say thanks to America for electing Barack Hussein Obama, who appointed Justices named Kagan and Sotomayor to join with Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer to confirm what should always have been obvious to everyone.  And to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who somehow managed to find his own better nature.

It is truly a wondrous day.  Some might call what we experienced today "grace."

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history.  But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act.  It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress.  (Applause.)  An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion.  An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.  (Applause.)  God has different ideas.  (Applause.)  
He didn’t know he was being used by God.  (Applause.)  Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.  (Applause.)  
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- (applause) -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.
Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood -- the power of God’s grace.  (Applause.)  
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.)  The grace of the families who lost loved ones.  The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons.  The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals -- the one we all know:  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  (Applause.)  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)  
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned.  Grace is not merited.  It’s not something we deserve.  Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God -- (applause) -- as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.  Grace.  
As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  (Applause.)  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  (Applause.)  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other -- but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway.  He’s once more given us grace.  But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Prodigal Blogger Stops By
Posted by Jill | 7:58 PM
Hello, Seekers!

It's been quite a long time since Your Humble Hostess has written on this here blog.  If the truth be told, I have had little inclination to write about the things I used to.  Grief is exhausting, and leaves little room in the soul for ranting about politics.  It's not that I don't care anymore, it's that I ranted into the wilderness for the better part of a decade, and where did it get us?

Those of you who are my Facebook friends know that I haven't been silent.  But between the Job That Ate My Life, a bad case of Widow Brain that has left me virtually unable to concentrate on the impossible project I've been handed at my job, and the emotional struggle of feeling neither here nor there as I prepare to take a leap of faith, ditch it all, buy health insurance on whatever is left of the health care exchanges after the GOP and Supreme Court get through with them, sell my house, pack up the cats and head south to North Carolina, where frankly, they need my vote desperately.

Shortly after Mr. Brilliant died, I had set up a new blog called Don't Call Me a Widow.  Oh, I was fine, yes indeedy I was.  None of that grief stuff that my mother had done for twelve years for me, nosirree.  I had dinner with friends at restaurants that Mr. B. didn't like.  I cooked things he would never eat.  To be honest, it was a relief for a short time to have it all over with and to not have to be the recipient of someone's frustrated rage at being ill and disappointed.

That lasted about six months.

Two weeks after Mr. B's death, I joined a Meetup for widows and widowers.  I met several very cool women, and professed my I'm-just-fineness.  The woman who runs the group, who lost her husband at 42 from lung cancer, patted me on the back and said, "Oh, honey, you're still numb.  It hasn't hit you yet."

But at about six months, it did.

For lo these twenty months now, I've been going nonstop.  Until recently, when my job role changed and I began reporting to someone in Germany, where they have a workers council and take their 40 hour weeks very seriously, I continued to work 50, 60, 70 hours a week.  I went out.  I had a lot of remodeling done in the house.  I went to Italy with friends.  This spring I went to Prague for work.  I got rid of a ton of stuff, donating and freecycling as much as I could.  Now I'm prepping the house to sell so I can head south.  If I've been given this blank slate on which to write a new start, it can't be in a place where a mere trip to the dentist is full of "We used to buy crumb cake here" and "Remember when we lived here and had parties?" and "Remember how good the chow fun was here?" and just too damn many memories.  I moved to Bergen County, NJ to be with Mr. Brilliant and even though I've been here 32 years, it just doesn't feel like I belong here anymore.

It's not that life is so bad.  It's not even that I'm lonely.  I've always been able to enjoy my own company.  It's just that I've become an impostor in my own life.

I don't know what the future holds.  I'm toying with the idea of writing a book about this whole experience.  I might start a blog about being a Tarheel transplant.  I might finish my Great Sweeping Novel.  Or something else.

I don't know if anyone even still reads this blog, which is kind of sad after all these years.  But things change.  Life changes.  And then we're gone.  The question for me now, not to get all Gandalf on you, is to decide what to do with the time that has been given to me.


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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Good Times at Pottersville, 3/14/15
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