To be voted Crabbiest Remaining Website, First Annual Post-Apocalyptic Webbies, June 2013.
November 26, 2009 - Just had to do something (finally) to move that Iran entry off the top slot. Good effort this summer, Iran; sorry it didn't work out.
As I have done in years past, I'd like to list a few of the things I'm thankful for. Like most people (I suspect), I do this partly as an homage to tradition and partly to remind myself that somewhere under the ever-thickening defensive crust of cynicism, mistrust, abstract rage, and profound disappointment in humanity as a whole, I still retain enough basic decency to distinguish myself from the soulless gibbering masses. No offense there, masses.
I'm thankful for my dogs as I always am. They may be little poop machines (especially the day after Thanksgiving), but they're loyal and loving and ever happy to see me. I'm thankful for the majority of my relatives, insane though most of them are--at least I know where I get it from. I'm thankful for my friend Anastasia, who is purely and deliberately evil but who still provides me with wisdom, support, and a different point of view when it's convenient. I'm thankful for the professors and visiting writers at WSU who've helped me a ton with my thesis (coming along nicely) and my applications to more grad school (in progress, and a giant pain in the ass) and my general understanding of literature and theory. I won't sully their names by posting them here, but they know who they are. I'm still thankful for Natalie Portman, even though I found out recently that she's a vegetarian. Clearly I'm willing to sully her name, but I'd imagine that she's not going to lose any sleep over it. Lastly, I'm thankful for The Venture Brothers, Fark.com, Baileys Irish Cream, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, World of Warcraft, and all of the little distractions that please or amuse me and take my mind off my troubles.
June 16, 2009 - Iran. Wow. If you've only been watching the TV news, you've missed a lot of the story. Visit here or here (look for one of the Iran threads - there are several) for more info. Much of the information coming from inside the country is being delivered via Twitter, which is officially no longer the dumbest invention ever.
August 29, 2008 - School has started again, and I'm teaching the next level of English classes this semester. The material is a lot more challenging than last year's stuff, so I expect to see a lot of broken brains. The two classes of students seem fairly willing to dig into the material, though, so it should be enjoyable to teach. I'm also taking two fiction workshop classes this semester, so I suppose I'll need to write something for those eventually. I planned to write over the summer, but then I didn't. Don't judge me.
I had a fairly good summer - my dad came out to visit for a few days in May, and we got along fairly well (which we don't always). Back in mid-June, I went on a road trip up to Michigan to visit various relatives for a few weeks. I brought the dogs with me, because I didn't want to leave them here for that long. They like to ride in the car, and they especially like to poop in new places, so they enjoyed the trip.
I have yet to go on a road trip where there wasn't some section of the highway under construction. Several of the states I drove through had signs up in work zones warning that the penalty for hitting a worker was X thousand dollars and Y years in jail. I disapprove of hitting road workers with one's car, and I think people should be encouraged to pay attention when they're driving. Having said that, I would like to propose that maybe we—the American driving public—would be willing to run over fewer workers in exchange for the workers hurrying the hell up and finishing the road work already.
My stay in Lansing was pleasantly uneventful, except for a few visits to a local vet to have Jasper's paw looked at. He had stepped on one of those pointy, barbed grass seeds somewhere and it got stuck between his toes, causing a big blister. The vet was able to get the seed out, and he healed up nicely.
After that, I drove up to Charlevoix and took a ferry to Beaver Island in the northern end of Lake Michigan. I brought the car and the dogs on the ferry, and we stayed with another set of relatives in a nice lakefront cabin for several days. The island is beautiful: surrounded by water, as islands frequently are, and very woodsy. All of Michigan is heavily forested, for that matter. A few weeks before I got there, they got a lot of rain, so the mosquitoes were out in force in Lansing. Or so I thought. It turns out that the mosquitoes in Lansing are to the mosquitoes on Beaver Island as a lawn sprinkler is to a hailstorm. They were everywhere. Whenever we left the house, they would swarm us. At night you could hear them clattering against the windows like a shower of pebbles, miniature vampire bats crazed with lust for our sweet neck blood; in the morning there we would find little dents in the siding and mixed metaphors scattered all over the dewy grass. Two days after I left, or so I heard, a segment of the swarm achieved sentience. They broke off from the body and flew to California, where they auditioned for a role in the upcoming sequel to Mansquito. Production begins in October.
Pestilence of Biblical magnitude aside, it was a nice visit. We (the dogs and I and whatever blood-borne pathogens we now enjoy) took the ferry back to Charlevoix, and Jasper successfully pooped on the boat en route. Readers should note that I am not going to make a lame joke about the poop deck here, although I would be within my rights to do so.
I joined a gym after I got back, and I've been going five times a week since then. There's no correlation between that and my trip to Michigan (unless the pathogens see me as a "fixer-upper"); transitions are overrated. Try to keep up. I also stopped eating at fast food restaurants at about that time, more out of gradually-increasing irritation with them and a desire to save some money than out of any healthy-eating motivation. I'm not planning to abstain forever, but I was kind of hoping that the exercise and less-unhealthy eating would lead to me losing a few extra pounds. That hasn't happened so far; in fact, I've actually gained a few pounds since I started working out, but I choose to believe that it's mostly muscle. If my stomach won't flatten out completely on its own, then I will simply have to build my upper body so much that it makes my belly look tiny by comparison. Also I might try steroids.
May 31, 2008 - It's been almost a year since I moved to the fine rectangular state of Kansas. I'm gradually getting used to the humidity here, in the same way that one might get used to being punched in the face with a hot soggy towel ten times a day, but on the plus side my apartment manager installed a shiny new air conditioner a few weeks ago that keeps the inside of my place nice and frosty. I still miss my friends and the mountains, but it's good to be in a new place having new experiences and new allergy symptoms.
Spring semester was a lot more work than the previous semester, and it wore me out. It's over now, though, and my brain is slowly recovering. I got to present my first conference paper this March in Colorado Springs, and that was fun. Well, not fun so much as boring, but fun to brag about. Okay, boring to brag about too. But it's more than you did. The paper, the presentation, and the subsequent publication in the conference's annual journal are the kind of things that won't affect my life in any way, but they will look good on an application for a job or more schooling.
I wrote a whole lot of stuff for school this semester, which is part of the reason I haven't updated this site in a while. I'm going to polish up two of my assignments and try to get them published in some dry journal somewhere, in order to boost my grad student street cred. I have a new short story which I'll post soon, and I got started on the novel which will become my thesis project. I intend to keep working on it this summer, at least a little, so I'll have a stockpile of stuff to hand in next fall. I also intend, at least for now, to make more regular updates to this site. Or not.
February 12, 2008 - I've lived in a number of places that had snow, and up until now they have all followed a pretty standard model for snow removal. Wichita, however, is different. Their method is remarkably progressive because, as near as I can tell, it is entirely organic. Although you will occasionally see some Luddites out shoveling their walks manually or spreading salt on their driveways, most of the city's snow and ice removal is managed by solar power and wind power. The wind blows the snow into piles, and the sun breaks it down into its constituent components, which are mainly water and mud. Granted, it doesn't work very well at night, or when it's cloudy, or when the wind isn't blowing, or when it's cold, but the environmental impact is very low and I'm sure future technological breakthroughs will overcome these problems. There are some recent studies which suggest a possible correlation between snowy weather and the massive jump in incidents of broken bones and cracked skulls, but the results are not conclusive. I've learned that the city of Wichita does own one snow plow, but it is used exclusively for ceremonial functions. I was starting to think that Kansas was entirely populated by people from the 1950s, but it's refreshing to be proven wrong occasionally.
January 5, 2008 - It occurred to me the other day that it's 2008 already. What I want to know is, where are all the amazing technological advances that movies and comic books have been promising for so long? Where are the flying cars and the sexy sex robots and the soylent green? TiVo is a good start, but what has science done for us lately? Why can I not yet watch TV or browse the internet directly inside my brain? It's going to take us forever to reach the technological singularity at this rate, and I'm losing patience. Perhaps some form of spray-can patience (without CFCs, if you don't mind) would be a good stopgap, but I'm still waiting for science to make all dentists obsolete and homeless.
My friend Valerie recently launched a bog (stupid spell checker - "bog" is a perfectly valid word. Gah!), which you can visit here. Please note that Inner Crab Industries accepts no responsibility for first-party, second-party, or third-party content.
In honor of the new year, I have made some resolutions. I hereby resolve to be lazier, meaner, and fatter in 2008. I also resolve to do whatever Anastasia and the voices in my hair tell me to do, provided that those commands don't conflict with the previous set of resolutions. All of these things are inevitable, so I finally decided to get with the winning team. I will be teaching again this semester, but I have my quizzes and handouts and jokes already created from last time, so that should make things go more smoothly. My classes will all be on Tuesday and Thursday this semester, which will be very nice - last semester I had to go up to campus every weekday, which used a lot of gas and shampoo. I'm also going to use the same grades from last semester, and assign them randomly to the new set of students. That will save a ton of time.
December 29, 2007 - I don't mean to brag, but in the last few days I have received emails from former Vice President Al Gore, General Wesley Clark, Amazon.com, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Finally I am getting the recognition I deserve. I haven't read them entirely yet because I'm on vacation, but I can only assume that they want my advice on political strategy and affairs of state. I'll get back to them after the first of the year. Speaking of recognition, I have apparently hit the big time as a college English teacher: I now have an entry on RateMyProfessor.com. There are two comments posted so far: "When it comes to papers, he likes to be intertained and it has to be perfect grammer" and "He required us to have perfect grammer in our papers, which no one was able to do, the class average on all papers was around 70%. If at all posible, you should not be in this man's class." I've been getting feedback on my teaching for 15 years now, so I've got a pretty thick hide when it comes to student comments; these two are just hilarious. They're right, though - I do like to be intertained, and I am a stickler for grammer. English teachers, huh? Go figure. I don't actually recall saying anything about entertainment, at least as far as the paper requirements were concerned, but maybe I'll add that to the syllabus next semester. Being called a "man" in this context makes me feel old for some reason, but technically I kind of am, so I guess that's okay.
As near as I can tell, there are two main types of comments for professors on this site: bitching and crushes. I'm not likely to get any crushes, so I'll have to settle for inarticulate mewlings about how mean I am. I'm in kind of an odd position as a grad student, in that I'm both teaching classes and taking them. I've had my share of bad or spacey or disinterested professors over the years, but I've also had some kick-ass, whip-smart, assumption-challenging professors who have reminded me that a teacher really can make a difference in someone's life. I've also been a lazy, resentful, or obnoxious student at times, and of course there's very little a professor can do about a student like that other than to keep doing what they're there to do. In my teaching prior to this point I've always tried to be what I consider a "good" instructor: patient, mildly entertaining, and informative. I know I can't reach everyone; not everyone wants to be reached. The school forces all undergrad students to take this class, so there are going to be a lot of students who resent being there at all (even though they're probably the ones who most desperately need help with their writing). Since I'm not allowed to adjust their attitudes with a 2x4, the best I can do is focus on the ones who want to be there (or are at least willing to hide their resentment). I do plan on being a lot meaner next semester, though.
This has been a pretty good year for me. There were the usual frustrations and setbacks and weird occurrences of the kind that only seem to happen to me, but overall I made good progress. I paid off a lot of bills, got my house in Salt Lake fixed up, finally packed up my rut and moved it to a new state, and started graduate school. I've already been accepted to present a paper at a conference next year, which makes me feel all academic 'n' shit. The dogs are well, my new place is spacious, and coffee is still plentiful. At the end of any given year I've often found myself cringing in anticipation of what horrible crap the next year has in store for me, but this time I'm cringing with 65% less force than usual. As portents go it's not much, but I'll take it.
December 7, 2007 - Today is the last day of classes for the semester. I have 40 essays to grade, 80 written exams to grade after that, a short story revision to hand in, and then I'm done for the year. I'm teaching the same class next semester (possibly to some of the same students), and I think it will go a lot easier now that I've beta-tested the material on this batch of kids. I wrote and submitted a letter to the editor as an assignment for one of my grad classes (it was either that or write a research paper), and last Tuesday my letter about the need for dog parks in Wichita was published in the Wichita Eagle. I was also accepted to present a paper at a conference in Colorado Springs next March, and as part of that application I wrote my very first abstract. I feel like a real grad student now. I'll be presenting my paper as a member of a 4-person panel. Panels are apparently easier to get approved than applying solo, so I grouped up with three other grad students. We had a practice reading last Monday, and everyone was very boring except me. Conference presentations are one of those things which don't have any practical value but which look very good on a resume--and there are a whole lot of things in that category in grad school, I'm finding. In any case, it will be nice to see the mountains again. If time and funds permit, I may go skiing while I'm there.
October 18, 2007 - This will come as a surprise to no one: I am a Cool Nerd King. The graph you see below is my score on the Nerd Test 2.0. Also, I have moved some more stuff to the Archives section.
October 17, 2007 - Here are three webcomics I've discovered and enjoyed within the past few months: Dresden Codak, Treading Ground, and The Perry Bible Fellowship. Some are safer for work than others. Find out which!
October 16, 2007 - This week is Fall Break, which is analogous to Spring Break except that the drunken orgies take place under different lighting. I'm very glad to have some time off, but unfortunately for me that means time to spend doing all the reading I should have been doing previously. I will also get caught up on my sleep, and if time permits I might attend one of the drunken orgies I've been invited to. In my mind. That's actually not a bad venue, despite the pathetic-and-lonely overtones, because many more things are legal there than you might suppose. My young padawans are about to learn to think critically, and I predict that there will be more than one traumatic brain injury as a result. For their homework over the break, I told them to practice thinking in the abstract. I wonder how many irate calls I'll get next week from parents complaining that their little Johnny deconstructed Mommy's codependent enabling of Daddy's alcoholism or started to question the existence of God while at the dinner table. That would actually be a little surprising, because I don't think I have any students named Johnny.
Sometimes I watch reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine while I'm working on the computer (yes, nerd, I know) because it makes for a soothing background. Spike and G4 both show reruns, and both channels have done what most channels do when showing reruns: they chop out bits of the show in order to make more room for commercials. I've noticed recently that they've started chopping out even more content to make room for even more commercials. I suspect that it won't be long before they just have an announcer come on and say "This is the one where Worf struggles with his Klingon heritage," and then fifty-eight minutes of commercials, and then the closing credits. I would buy the DVDs if they weren't so unreasonably expensive, and if I weren't still pissed at Paramount for killing off Data in the last Star Trek movie. Oh...spoiler alert. Sorry.
September 29, 2007 - I've got a stack of papers to grade this weekend. My poor hapless munchkins turned in their first essay last week, and I read through most of them this week but I've been putting off grading them because they make me sad. Not sad because they all wrote on sad topics; more like sad for America's future. I don't blame the students, really - most of these kids are victims of No Child Left Behind, which has naturally left them all behind. If I were a cynic, I might wonder whether a systematic dumbening of the public school system was part of some grander plan, like making sure the masses who couldn't afford private school lacked the ability to read critically, think analytically, or reason logically. Teaching kids how to take a standardized test may be an easy way to go, but creating an educated human isn't an easy task - nor is it a desirable result, I guess, depending on what you have planned for those humans later on. Worker units who can reason tend to rise up eventually if they're mistreated enough, no matter how many shiny distractions you place in front of them.
I have no problem doing a half-assed job of things when I'm the only one affected, but I want to do a full-assed job in the classroom. I know I'm only there to teach them to write, but there's a direct correlation between a person's ability to write well and their ability to read and comprehend well, and I consider both of those things to be highly valuable traits. Maybe I'm just old-school, who knows. I feel like I have a lot of lost time to make up for with these students, and it's kind of frustrating. That's not to say that I won't try, but I already know that I won't be able to reach all of them, and that's what makes me kind of sad. When I was teaching programming classes to adults, at least I knew that their success or failure in the class would have a pretty limited impact on their lives.
The other thing that makes it hard is that this is the first time I've taught this type of material - and I didn't even see the material until a few days before school started. On the plus side, I'll probably be teaching the same course next semester (possibly to some of the same students), so I'll know better how to handle some issues when they come up. Anastasia regularly encourages me to be meaner in my daily life - usually because she hopes to see me create some horrible problem for myself which she can then laugh at, but sometimes because she sees it as the best means of resolving a situation where my natural niceness isn't cutting it, so maybe I'll take her advice and start out that way next semester. If my goal is to whip a pile of unmotivated and disinterested students into shape, fear is probably a better approach than kindness. Plus - and you can't tell Anastasia I said this - it is kind of fun.
September 27, 2007 - Fall is officially here: the new TV season has started. I don't have as much time for watching TV as I'd like, but there are a few shows I try not to miss. TiVo, which loves me and would probably marry me if it could, helps me shift shows around so I can watch them whenever I please - and I will never have to watch another commercial again as long as I live, unless I want to. If you haven't gotten yourself a DVR of some sort yet, I highly recommend it. House is back, as are My Name is Earl, Heroes, and CSI:(Las Vegas, dammit). I haven't watched the Heroes season premiere yet, so don't spoil it for me. I haven't watched the CSI: season opener yet either, but you can spoil that one for me; I'm gonna guess that Sara survives. Eureka (on SciFi) is ending its short season soon, but the first season is out on DVD already. It's a good show. Psych (on USA) is also good, and also out on DVD. I liked the campy Flash Gordon movie from the '80s and was kind of looking forward to the series on SciFi. I watched the pilot, and I was surprised by just how much it sucked. Considering the high caliber of some of SciFi's shows (Giant Snake Movies 1-4 and 6-12 notwithstanding), I thought the writer's and director's choice of "crappy" as an overall theme was brave, if not particularly wise.
Anastasia and I both agree (!) that Countdown with Keith Olbermann (on MSNBC) is probably the best news program out there these days, for more reasons than I have space to write - and I have unlimited space, so that should tell you something (other than that I'm lazy). The same is true of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (and despite being news-parody shows, both present more actual news than you'd ever find on, say, Fox), both of which are on Comedy Central and both of which you should have already been watching for some time unless you're a humorless and cable-less caveperson of some sort (which I respect as a lifestyle choice but reserve the right to lampoon vigorously). Upon review, I realize that the previous sentence is kind of long and awkward, and if it were written by one of my students I'd make them rewrite it, but you're not the boss of me and I'm keeping it.
I discovered something wonderful this summer, while watching Adult Swim (on the Cartoon Network) in a motel room late one night on my way out to Kansas: The Venture Bros. It's like the old Jonny Quest cartoons, if everyone in the series were a complete loser or thoroughly insane. It's got some over-the-top crudity (and some under-the-top crudity as well), but overall it's remarkably well done. Snappy writing, strong continuity, well-developed main and secondary characters, and lots of surprises. Patrick Warburton (Puddy from Seinfeld, The Tick from The Tick) provides the voice of one of the main characters. The first two seasons are out on DVD, and I'm looking forward to the start of the third season later this year.
September 18, 2007 - It's probably best to assume - until I say otherwise - that I'm still really busy. A couple of early projects are done, though, so that takes some pressure off. I'm now officially a Kansonian: I got Kansas license plates for my car last week. I guess it's more accurate to say that my car is officially a Kansonian. I'll be getting a Kansas driver's license in the next few weeks too; there's no turning back after that. License plates are called 'tags' here for some colloquial reason, even by the DMV, but a driver's license is still a driver's license. I was expecting a big hairy rigamarole when I went in to get my new license plates, but it was surprisingly easy. Not cheap, but easy. Insert opposite-sex joke here.
I have some triumph-oriented news to report: I took my previous potential future landlord to small claims court recently, and I won! This was Apartment A, described in the August 12 entry, who kept my $100 rental application deposit despite my warnings that they would rue the day. The judge ruled that their pet policy (which allowed them to give me 1 day written notice and then confiscate my dogs for essentially any reason they cared to make up) violated Kansas landlord/tenant law. He ordered them to give me back my $100 deposit plus $35 in court costs. They had 10 days to file an appeal (which would have cost them $150), but I just found out from the court today that they decided not to appeal. Duh. They also mailed their payment to the court, who will send me a check later this month.
I've only been to small claims once before, way back in the '90s, and that was also to give a landlord a spanking. I was kind of nervous about this appearance, because even though I believed justice was on my side, I didn't know if there was an actual violation of Kansas law. Some states aren't very progressive in their landlord/tenant laws. I showed up early, just to be safe, and I even wore a tie. I never wear ties. I hate ties. I know it's petty to say, but that alone should have guaranteed my success - unless the other side also wore a tie, of course. There were several other people waiting in the courtroom when I got there, including the manager from Apartment A. She was not wearing a tie, which I took as a good omen of my chances for victory. I took a seat across the room from her and tried to look nonchalant. When the judge arrived, he paired us all up by case and sent us into private rooms to try to settle our disputes like responsible adults first. Craaaazy. I went into a room with the manager, and told her I wanted my deposit back because they'd been dishonest with me about the conditions I'd be living under if I moved in there. She just kept saying that the deposit was non-refundable, over and over again like it was some sort of mantra or the only talking point from their corporate attorneys that had stuck in her walnut brain. I tried explaining the concept of good faith as it relates to contract law, at least as I understood it from dealing with various legal crap over the years, but her only response was "It's non-refundable."
We went back out and told the judge we hadn't been able to come to an agreement, which he didn't seem pleased about. We took our seats and he called us up to the bench a few minutes later. I explained the reason we were there, and at first he seemed unimpressed. I had a prepared speech ready to go, detailing my claim and all the factors around it (my trip out to Kansas in May, my arrangement of service people based on my move-in date at Apartment A, and all of that), but I didn't get to give it. He started reading through the documents I gave him, continuing to appear unimpressed until he got to the page detailing their pet policy. When he read through that, he got out a law book and looked something up, and then explained to the manager that the pet policy was in violation of Section something-something of Kansas law, which deals with tenant privacy and a landlord's rights to enter. She countered that their actual practices were more lenient, and that she didn't have any control over the content of the lease because it was created by their corporate office in Texas or someplace. "You may not be able to change the lease, but I can," the judge said, and added that their actual practices were irrelevant because the lease was the binding contract. Since the contract was illegal (and contract law generally holds that if part of a contract is illegal, the whole thing is voided), I couldn't be forced to sign it by threat of losing my $100 deposit. The non-refundable clause of the rental application was voided as well, he said. "But it's non-refundable," she said, reaching over his desk to point to that line in the rental application. The judge - to his credit - did not rap her on the head with his judge mallet, but instead explained again why he had ruled the way he had. It took a whole lot of effort on my part to keep from bursting into a crazy end-zone touchdown dance right there in the courtroom, but I maintained my composure. I was wearing a tie, after all. There was various paperwork to do after that, but I was happy to do it.
I felt vindicated, even though the judge didn't award me the $400 in damages I'd claimed for the huge pain in the butt the whole thing had caused for me. I wasn't really expecting to get that anyway, so I wasn't too disappointed when the judge said the law didn't have any provisions for whiny damages in this case. I was a little disappointed to learn from the court that they'd received the check, because I was looking forward to putting a freeze on Apartment A's bank account. Oh well. When I get the check from the court, I'm going to spend it on beer and rawhide bones, with a little left over for postage so I can inform the ASPCA, Better Business Bureau, Humane Society, and Kansas Attorney General of Apartment A's errant ways. Rue that, jerkwads!
September 2, 2007 - Still crazy busy. On the very first day of school, I made the mistake of signing up for a workshop session (for my fiction class) early in the semester, not realizing just how much other crap I was going to have going on by the time the story was due. I didn't have any stories ready to go, so I had to come up with one from scratch - which, I know, is the whole point of the fiction class, but the timing wasn't great. The story is coming along, although it probably won't be as pretty or polished as I'd like by Wednesday, the day I have to hand it in. It's been giving me stress, but once it's in I won't have another short story due until late November. I'll post it here once I'm satisfied with it.
I've been able to find most of the goods and services I need in Wichita so far, but there are a few products that continue to elude me. None of the things I've been looking for are all that exotic, and it's all national-brand stuff. I can't find the flavor of Coffee-Mate I like, for example, or the kind of hair gel (Dep) I've been using for the past year, which I'm hesitant to switch from because I know this stuff doesn't turn all sticky and gross in high humidity. I'm not blessed with what you'd call "good" or "cooperative" hair, so some sort of gunk to give it the stern guidance it needs is kind of a must. I had to drive to a SuperTarget clear on the other side of town to find Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream ice cream, and for some reason I can't find Hostess fruit pies anywhere (except for the lemon ones, which don't count because they're gross). It wasn't a big deal at all until I had a hankering for a Hostess apple pie and couldn't find any, and now it's become kind of a mini-quest. My latest theory is that Hostess is attempting to manipulate the global fruit-pie market like deBeers does with the diamond market, but I don't have any evidence of that unless idle drunken speculation counts as evidence, in which case I do.
Someone recently described Wichita to me as an overgrown cow town, but I don't think they meant it in a completely pejorative way - cows gotta live somewhere, after all. Even though Wichita is the largest city in the state, with over 350k people, there's a whole lot of undeveloped land within and around the city. Not that undeveloped farmland or grassland is bad, of course, just surprising. Smoking is still allowed in many of the restaurants, and there's not a single dog park anywhere in the entire city. There are lots and lots and lots of churches around here, but unlike in Utah they're from many different denominations and no one denomination has a stranglehold on the local government or culture. There seems to be a lot of shooting going on, at least according to the local news, but the only thing I've ever (and I mean ever) seen the cops do around here is give out speeding tickets. Oh, how they love their speeding tickets. And yes, I got one (on my first visit here back in May, because I missed a temporary sign dropping the speed by half on a busy turnpike, and I zoomed right into a nest of cop cars who were picking people off left and right), so I'm a little bitter, but seriously...that's all I've ever seen them do. Maybe the city should take some of that ticket money and hire some of those crime-stopping people, whatever they're called. My overall sense of Wichita so far (and subject to change without notice) is that it's a decent town with decent folks, but it needs to catch up with the rest of the world in a few places. If you're further behind the times than Salt Lake City, for hell's sake, that's a little embarrassing. The rent is cheap, though, and that's a big plus.
August 23, 2007 - Last week I started grad school. It's still kind of weird, in a good way, to think that I'm a grad student. I'd always kind of envied grad students in the past, with their academic-bohemian lifestyle and an apparently laid-back schedule, but so far my schedule isn't looking nearly as laid-back or hyphenated as I'd hoped it would be. I'm teaching two classes (English 101, mostly freshpersons) and taking three, and by the time I get home I'm generally exhausted. I know it'll get easier as I get used to having to think and do stuff again, but for right now it's pretty chaotic.
Wichita is pretty nice so far, with friendly people and very friendly mosquitoes, but the humidity is taking some getting used to. You might not think it would be humid in the midwest (I didn't), but it is, at least compared to Utah. It makes the heat much worse, but thankfully everyplace I've gone so far (school, home, car, stores, etc.) has air conditioning. No tornadoes yet; those come around in the spring. My new place is much more roomy than my condo, and it's nice to have so much extra space. Now I feel kind of obligated to go out and buy more crap to fill it up. It would probably be cheapest to just buy a couple truckloads of styrofoam packing peanuts and dump them in, but I don't think those are good for dogs. Speaking of, Oscar and Jasper are getting along just fine in the new place. They've even made a few friends, including another black-and-tan dachshund. I'm going to bed now due to the aforementioned exhaustion, but you're welcome to keep reading as long as you scroll quietly.
August 12, 2007 - I've been on vacation for the last month or so, resting up from the crazy stress of scraping the barnacles off of my life, packing it in cardboard and moving it to a new state. Considering the infinite number of things that could have gone wrong, very few things actually did go wrong, and I was able to roll with them and keep going. When I went to Wichita in May to find a new place to live, I'd put down a small good-faith deposit at a place we'll call Apartment A. It hadn't been my first choice, but the other places I'd visited didn't have any vacancies and this place did. My move-in date was July 1st, so when I got back to Salt Lake City I started making calls to coordinate all the service people who'd need to work on my condo so I could get it ready to sell. I somehow managed to schedule the movers, cleaners, fixers, painters and carpet guys pretty tightly together over the last week in June, which was a minor miracle.
The following week, Apartment A faxed me a copy of the lease (which I hadn't seen or signed yet), and because I'm kind of anal and suspicious by nature, I read over the entire 18-page (!) document. Red flag #1: the lease was 18 pages long. I don't think the mortgage agreement for my condo was that long, for hell's sake. Red flag #2: in order to put up a satellite dish (I had DirecTV in Salt Lake and liked it), I would have to carry a million dollars in liability coverage. Aside from being much higher than I was expecting ($100k is what I'd been told while touring Apt A, and by several other apartments I'd called previously while researching, and that amount is included in most homeowners or renters policies anyway), it probably violates the FCC's rules on antenna and dish placement. Red flag #3 was by far the worst, though: their pet policy allowed them to enter my apartment and confiscate my dogs at any time, and for essentially any reason. I know that I've exaggerated many times in these pages, but this one's for real. I had to read over the thing several times to be sure I wasn't imagining it. I wasn't. I called them back and said I wouldn't sign such a thing, and that I'd like my deposit back. They refused, so I told them (in traditional angry-underdog style) that they hadn't heard the last of me, and I hung up. I called some of the other places on my list and managed to find a place that now had a vacancy coming up on the 10th of July, so I asked them to fax me a copy of their pet policy. It was normal, so I called them back and said I'd like to live there.
So now I had 10 extra days to kill, but there was no way in hell I'd be able to pull off such a tight grouping of service people if I tried to move them all (plus the first week in July had a holiday right in the middle). I decided I'd drive up to Michigan and visit my aunt & uncle, who I hadn't seen in a long time. Some friends of mine had graciously offered to let me stay in the vacant half of the duplex they own, so I had a command post to work from while my place was emptied out, scoured down, fixed up, painted and carpeted. The movers came on Monday and carted all my stuff away. The repair guys came on Tuesday and fixed various little things, and the cleaners came later that same day and hosed the place down. When I called the carpet store to confirm their appointment and make sure they were going to send guys who were capable of being careful (because of the new paint), they expressed alarm that the paint wouldn't have had a chance to cure for at least 3 days. After some haggling, we agreed to reschedule them from Friday to Tuesday of the following week - the day before the 4th of July. I had planned to leave the Sunday before that, but now that was out so I re-planned to leave on the 4th. The painters came on Wednesday and got started, but Thursday morning they called to tell me that someone had chucked a rock through my front window. I spent about ten minutes stomping back and forth and cursing the ugly miscreant punks in my neighborhood, then found my pants and went over to see what had happened. I was expecting to find glass all over the floor, but fortunately the fist-sized rock (which was - and probably is - still in the window well) had bounced off the screen instead of going inside. It had shattered the window, but the painters had taped paper to the window the previous day and it was still there, holding the broken glass in place. I found a glass place that was able to come out the next day, although they weren't sure they could simply replace the glass on a very old wooden-framed window like mine, so I spent the rest of the day fretting about having to spend thousands of dollars replacing the whole bay window. The glass guy came by the next day and was able to replace the glass after all, so it only ("only") cost me a hundred bucks.
The following Tuesday the carpet guys came, and they did a surprisingly good job. The painting was done, the place was clean, the window was fixed, and it looked very nice. It was ready to sell. That afternoon, I got a call from the realtor I'd lined up. I had talked with her several times about the market and how much I expected to get out of the sale, and she was due to come over that afternoon and see the finished product and sign the realtor contract with me. She told me then, one day before I was set to move out of state, that she didn't think she could represent me because I was asking for more than previous units in the building had sold for. Of course I was - you never start a negotiation by asking for only what you want and no more. She pretended to be all apologetic about it, claiming that she just didn't think she could do a good job selling my place at my starting price (because she'd never heard of bargaining or salesmanship, apparently), and offered to give me a referral to some other weasel she knew, but I wasn't interested.
So now I had to push back my trip even further, because there was no way I could find a decent realtor before the 4th. I decided to bag the visit to Michigan altogether, because I would only have one or two days there before turning around and heading down to Kansas. The movers were due to show up with my stuff sometime between the 10th and the 26th, but if I wasn't there on the 10th then that's when they'd almost certainly come. I managed to find another realtor later that week, and I left for Kansas on the following Sunday. By then it was almost anticlimactic, but it was nice to get closure on the whole "living in Utah" thing. I have a prepared rant on realtors and how every single one of them (except my current one, I hope) is an evil moronic parasite, but that's a treat for another day.
July 7, 2007 - Today marks the end of an era. Twenty-three years ago, I came to Utah for the first time. I moved around a lot within the US during the first 15 years of my life, and for the first several years I was here I marveled at the unlikelihood that I would end up in Utah, of all places. I finished high school here, went to college here (twice), made many friends and a few girlfriends, and had a whole lot of zany and/or irritating adventures. All in all, Utah has been pretty good to me, but now it's time to move on. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, Jasper and Oscar and I will pile into the car and head to Kansas.
I've spent the last few months preparing for this (longer than that, really, if you count thinking about moving and applying to grad schools), and everything is finally lined up just right. I have a spot at a grad school and a teaching assistantship waiting for me; I found a decent apartment right next to a park; my stuff has been packed up and hauled off by the movers; and my condo has been cleaned, painted, carpeted and handed over to a realtor for sale (hopefully at a huge profit). There's a small part of me that's sad to go, and I will definitely miss my friends and the mountains, but I have the rare opportunity to start fresh in a new place with new people and new adventures, and I intend to take full advantage of it.
Part of the reason this page has lain dormant for the last few months is that the details of transplanting my life to a new city and state have kept me pretty busy (and of course laziness was a factor), but most of that craziness is finally behind me (or so I think! Dun dun dunnnnnn!) I'll try to update more regularly in the future, assuming that: A) I feel like it, and B) I'm not too busy playing Warcraft or the new Civ 4 expansion...or with school, I suppose.
April 5, 2007 - What the hell happened to March? It kind of whizzed by, at least for me. I turned a year older and inched ever closer to the untimely and undignified death predicted by an old Gypsy woman I met at a yard sale. I got closure on a legal dispute with a party I'm forbidden to name. I took the dogs to the p-a-r-k many times. I started working on a novel, the subject of which I'm not ready to reveal yet because I know John Grisham trolls this site looking for story ideas to steal. I got rejected by three grad schools, all of which will pay someday for their insolence, and accepted by one. And of course I played World of Warcraft.
I'm actually really excited about the grad school thing; I'm going to Kansas! Well, the Kansas part is less exciting than the rest of it, but I've lived in Utah for the last 20 years where Bland is one of the flavors sold by local Baskin-Robbinses, so it can't be that bad. Wichita State University, in their infinite wisdom, gave me a spot in their graduate program (I'll be working on an MFA in Creative Writing, in case you don't want to be bothered to dig through the rest of my entries here to figure out what's going on). They also awarded me a teaching assistantship, which comes with a full tuition waiver and the prospect--nay, obligation--of crushing the souls of dozens of wide-eyed young freshpersons each semester. I've been researching my new home (Wichita, Kansas) online, and it looks like housing costs are quite a bit lower than they are here, so I should be able to afford a decent place for me and the dogs.
Whatever inherent cynicism I may express in the future about this opportunity, let me express now (and only now, so write it down) that I really am grateful for the opportunity. I've been humping the status quo for a long time now, and I've come to the conclusion that the status quo doesn't like me very much. My business has atrophied, many of my friends have paired up and moved on, and I'm eager to start a new life in a place where every restaurant or attraction doesn't harbor bitter memories of failed love or sexual ineptitude. Ahem. Also, all my stale old jokes will be brand new again, at least for the first three months (six months if people in Kansas don't watch The Simpsons). Thinking about the upcoming transition has given me an idea for a sitcom: it features a fresh-faced young grad student, his irascible and crusty mentor, a sexy and neurotic co-student with whom he occasionally falls in love, a janitor who hates him for no apparent reason, and many wacky and tender adventures. I'm thinking of calling it Scribes.
February 24, 2007 - Last month I worked for a week at the Sundance Film Festival, and while I intend no disrespect to Robert Redford or the many fine filmmakers and their sycophantic hangers-on in attendance, it was an enormous pain in the ass. I decided to volunteer in Park City this year instead of downtown by my house like last year, because I'd never done it up there before and that's where the celebrities usually go. I'm not a big celebrity-chaser, and with a few exceptions there aren't many celebrities I'd get overly excited about meeting, but it's always nice to have some new stories to tell ad nauseam. I should have known from the beginning that this year would be troublesome; the signup process was convoluted and horribly disorganized, and the people in charge of it seemed to have studied hard to come up with the most efficient means of executing the process so they could do the exact opposite.
For example, the Park City volunteers had to drive up to Park City one night to sign up for shifts at their chosen venue. We stood in line in the library building outside an empty auditorium for nearly an hour (at least we were inside the building) before the people in charge let us into the auditorium itself. We filed in slowly as they checked our names off their lists, and sat down in the order we'd arrived to wait some more for them to finish letting everyone else in. There were a dozen sign-up sheets for different venues on tables at the front of the auditorium, but of course most people would only be signing one of those sheets, so the logical thing to do would have been to divide us into groups by where we were going to volunteer and then have us go up and choose our shifts in the order we'd arrived. Instead, the people in charge decided to send up blocks of volunteers in no particular order aside from arrival time, so people were clustered around some signup sheets while other sheets were vacant. The woman seated next to me started kvetching about the situation, and I egged her on until she went up to one of the people in charge and suggested the group-us-by-venue thing. She was told by the young lady in charge that such a crazy scheme would have required too much time and effort (such as telling us to go to a particular seat when we came in, or letting us in and sorting us as we arrived instead of making us sit in the hallway for an hour beforehand), and that she should just go back to her seat and shut the hell up. She didn't say the last part aloud, but she said it with her eyes. This young woman, belly full of petty authority, then waited extra-long to send up our block of people in order to drive home the point that she was in charge and we'd better not cross her again. I finally got signed up (three hours spent, including travel time, to do something that could have been accomplished over the internet in five minutes) and went home, but I had to go back up to Park City twice more before the festival even started to get training on my particular theatre (more info that could have easily been posted on the web) and to pick up my package of volunteer treats (which could have been given out at the initial signup session, or at the training session, or on the first day of my shift). Over four hours spent just in travel time, plus four hours of standing around, and that's before the actual volunteering started - and of course that time spent didn't count toward anyone's credit for movie vouchers.
I signed up for my shifts at the Egyptian Theatre, which had only one screen (a good thing, since it gave us all some time between films to rest or take care of administrative stuff). My duties were varied, and included taking tickets, counting people with a clicker, cleaning the theatre after a show (I made 47 cents doing that) and holding out ballot boxes to collect ballots after the shows that were up for voting. The ballot boxes were wooden and seemed intentionally designed to give off the maximum number of splinters possible without actually falling apart, so kudos to whoever engineered those; I foresee a bright future working on the DoD's Tactical Splinter Project. The ballots themselves, which had printed instructions on them, served as an important reminder to never underestimate peoples' inability to follow simple written instructions.
I had two brushes with celebrity worth noting (well, sort of): I saw Leonard Maltin the film cricket in our lobby, and Crispin Glover shook my hand. Mr. Glover was there to promote his new film (titled "It's Fine! Everything is Fine!" about a man with cerebral palsy who fantasizes about murdering the women who won't have anything to do with him), and he was shaking everyone's hand so it's not like he singled me out for comradeship and bonding or anything. He was shorter than I expected, and didn't do anything particularly crazy, but he did seem a little wound up (which is understandable; I'd be wound up too, not to mention kind of surprised, if I were there to promote a film I'd directed). On the one day of the week that I wasn't there, Winona Ryder came to our theatre. Ms. Ryder, also known as Robchick Prime, is one of the few celebrities I'd get overly excited about seeing, so I was kind of disappointed to learn that I'd missed her through sheer happenstance of signing up for Wednesday instead of Tuesday. See my previous entry on strange luck. I think I'd have been willing to trade Crispin Glover for Winona Ryder; no, I'm fairly certain I would have.
Parking was another major issue for volunteers; there just weren't many places we could park for free, although there were plenty of places we could pay $20/day to park. Even at the free-parking places, which were way off in the hinterlands, there was always the lingering worry that our cars would be towed or booted by the time we got back. The bus service in Park City is free, so at least we could get around without too much walking, but it was still a lot of time spent waiting or hiking around in the cold. Parking vouchers for volunteers which would allow them to park somewhere near their chosen venue would have made a lot of sense, but as I mentioned above, that would have apparently violated the unwritten theme of the festival this year. I got sick partway through the festival, probably due to wandering around in the cold and mingling with cootie-laden patrons, and I called in sick on one of my shifts because I felt lousy. That didn't color my perception of the festival this year, though, because I was already annoyed by that point. The volunteer office person who took my call snidely remarked that the theatre supervisors already knew I wasn't going to show up, since the morning shift had already started - except that I was signed up for the afternoon shift, and had hauled myself out of bed early to give them a courtesy call rather than just ditch the shift for the day. They said they'd call the theatre supervisor and let them know, so naturally when I came in the next day my supervisor asked where I'd been the previous day because he hadn't heard squat from the volunteer office.
Even if I were going to be here next year, I doubt I'd volunteer again; you don't win the loyalty of your volunteers by crapping all over them or making things difficult for them, and they certainly lost mine. Poor organization, hasslesome parking, grossly inefficient and time-wasting pre-festival processes...and they didn't even bother to have food for the volunteers at the theatres this year (except for stale bagels left over from the morning shift). For an event that relies on volunteers as heavily as Sundance does, you'd think it would be in their best interest to bend over backwards to make them happy, or at the very least to not actively seek out ways to piss them off. There didn't even appear to be a post-festival volunteer survey this year, hence my venting here instead of where it might do some good.
On the plus side, I did get a free hat (which I wanted) in my volunteer gift bag this time, but I plan to wear it ironically.
February 22, 2007 - Happy George Washington's birthday! I celebrated by placing a dollar bill and a quarter side by side on my desk and staring at them for an hour and a half. A little while ago I got a letter from one of the grad schools on my list, saying they'd read the stories I'd submitted and found them tolerably acceptable, and were considering thinking about letting me in once the general grad office finished processing my DNA sample and credit report. This particular school is my safety school, not my first choice but better than my last choice (which is Bob Jones University), so I choose to perceive it as good news. The downside is that the school is in Kansas, which is very flat according to my atlas, and I'll miss the mountains but I will enjoy the abundance of corn.
For as long as I can remember, I've had a very strange sort of luck in general. Odd things happen to me that don't seem to happen to anyone else I know, and unfortunately they're not usually good things. They're not always bad either, but overall that's the trend. The purchase of my condo, for example, is a Homeric epic tale of murder and betrayal and mortgage brokers. It's good for me as a writer, but not good for me as a person who doesn't like headaches and irritation. I mention this because I found out last week that my accountant of several years is going to jail. Depending on which version of the story one listens to, he was either cooking peoples' books for them or targeted by the IRS for standing up to them in his clients' defense. I suppose they can both be true. Obviously this isn't something that's happening to me so much as it's happening to him, and fortunately (for me) his legal troubles don't involve me in any way, but it's still one of those weird things in my life that reinforces my completely paranoid and irrational belief that the universe enjoys messing with my head.
January 20, 2007 - It has been very, very cold here lately. I'm originally from Michigan, where we eat cold for breakfast, but this cold is coupled with an inversion in the Salt Lake valley in which a high-pressure blob parks over the valley and squashes all the smog down to the first 20 feet off the ground. It's nasty and hazy, plus bitter cold, and the concentrated smog clings to everything. I can wash my car's windows on Monday, and by Tuesday it's like driving around inside a big cataract again. The biggest problem with the extreme cold is that it's expensive, because the building is heated by steam heat and the boiler runs on natural gas. Questar, the local gas company, raised its rates by roughly 40 percent after Katrina, in anticipation of the chance to gouge us all (and you can't libel a corporation, Questar, so suck it). They then bragged about lowering the rates by 8 percent the following February, as if they were doing us a huge tender favor because they love us sooooo much! I have a sneaking suspicion that Questar is responsible for the recent extreme cold, but the state's Attorney General refused to help me prove it, which left me with only one recourse. Whenever I can, I take my dogs over to Questar's lawn to poop. I would do so myself if I thought I could get away with it (and if it weren't so cold). Earlier this month I was on their lawn with the dogs, who were pooping as instructed, when a man coming out of the Questar building walked by. He asked if I planned to clean it up, and I replied that it was a gift for Questar. He said thanks, a bit dryly I thought, and then commented that I was a very responsible dog owner (which I am, and I clean up after my dogs everywhere except there) and wanted to know where I lived. I had a prepared rant about Questar for just such an occasion, but the laminated card it was on was in my wallet and I'd left my wallet at home, so I just walked away. The man looked like a mid- to upper-mid-level manager (don't ask me how I know; he just had that look about him), and judging from the number of other dog deposits on their lawn I'm clearly not the only one who protests Questar in this way. It occurred to me that I should suggest to him a new bar graph for Questar's annual report, which tracks the number of protest poops on their lawn as an indicator of public opinion. I put that on a sticky note on the back of the laminated card for the next time I see him.
January 19, 2007 - Another long hiatus, for which I would apologize profusely if I felt like it. It's been a busy few months, what with the holidays and some actual work coming in. Plus and also, the World of Warcraft expansion is finally out, so I've been obligated to play that as much as possible.
My friend Anastasia had a very difficult holiday: her cat Damian escaped from the house and was lost somewhere in her neighborhood for three weeks. She didn't sleep much, we didn't talk much, and she was worried sick (literally) the entire time. She and her brother put up hundreds of flyers, set out feral cat traps every night, and went out hunting for him regularly. I was worried right along with her, because I know what it's like to lose a beloved pet and I know how I'd feel if Jasper or Oscar were lost - I'd quickly go crazy, and not in the good way. She got calls from people who'd seen him (or cats that looked like him), had a run-in with some local punks who stole one of the cat traps and tossed it in a nearby canal, and received a complaint from one lady who felt that her privacy (and possibly federal postal regulations) had been violated by the flyer in her mailbox. Anastasia replied that she felt the life of an animal was more important than the imaginary privacy of a mailbox that the mailman opened every single day anyway, and hung up on her. That was pretty tame for Anastasia, who as you may recall strikes terror in the heart of Bell South whenever she calls them. After catching several non-Damian cats and an opossum they named Stupid because he got caught several times, they finally caught Damian and brought him home. She was relieved, I was relieved, Damian was relieved, and her brother (who'd left the door open which allowed Damian to escape in the first place) was especially relieved that he would be allowed to keep living there (and to keep living) and could start sleeping at night again. Damian is now pretty well recovered from his experience, a little older and wiser but none the worse for wear.
Now that things are back to normal for her, she's free to enjoy the many expensive electronic presents she got for Christmas. I felt almost guilty about enjoying my Christmas presents, which included a candle, a wall calendar, a box of corn bread mix, and a bag of sand. My favorite present, though, was the DVD set of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. I've mentioned it here before, but it bears repeating that it was a great show that ended too soon thanks to the show-killing maniac execs over at Fox.
About a month ago, several water mains around the city burst due to the cold, including a big one about a half-block away from here. We were without water for roughly 12 hours, and since the building is steam heated, we were also without heat. The city crews worked hard to get it fixed quickly, and I don't fault them for the break, although I do question their preventative solution of wrapping the repaired pipes in hundreds of old sweaters to keep them from freezing again. I mention the pipes because, had I still been a trustee for my condo building, I would have almost certainly been flooded with angry calls and knocks at the door about the water and heat, even though it's completely out of our hands. In the last six months or so, the three most difficult (and, let's be honest: crazy) people in the building have sold their units and moved away. I was immensely pleased to have vanquished my enemies in this way. The new folks who've moved in, and the remaining people who are still here, are generally pleasant and mellow. Since I'm a private citizen, I decided to turn the tables and become the new building crank, just to see what it was like. I bought 43 disposable cell phones and called our property management company once with each phone, using a different accent each time and complaining bitterly and irrationally about the lack of water. I blamed it variously on the property managers, the trustees, the Democrats, the Republicans, the terrorists, the Shriners, and the Greys. I finally managed to make one of the office gals cry, and that made me feel bad, so I stopped. I guess I'm not cut out for being a professional angry jerk; I'll have to settle for being an amateur.
The annual meeting, where all the homeowners are supposed to gather to learn about the budget and give their input and ideas for the coming year, was held a few weeks ago. Last year, when we were having all those problems with our @$!%*^%$@#!^!*@(^*%@!#|+% hot water heater, people showed up with flaming pitchforks and disposable lawyers. One person came in tar and feathers as a protest. I never said they were all smart. This year we only had a handful of people show up, which is par for the course when things are going smoothly. The new president mentioned that he'd been nervous about conducting this meeting after seeing last year's meeting, but he did a fine job and everyone who showed up learned a valuable lesson about how boring condo meetings usually are.
I finished sending out my applications to grad school last month, and now I get to try to not think about it for five months while they decide whether to let me in or not. I don't want to jinx it by mentioning which schools I applied to, but I sent out more apps this time around than I did last time in order to increase my chances and to get rid of some of that pesky extra money I had lying around. If I don't get accepted to any of them, I may just give up and pursue my backup dream of being an aimless slacker.
December 31, 2006 - I figured I should make one last entry before 2006 ends, so here it is. All in all this hasn't been a bad year for me personally, although large chunks of the world would probably disagree. I'm looking forward to a new Congress in 2007 - if nothing else gets done, hopefully they'll at least vote to give me the Congressional Medal of Crabbiness (I submitted my application two weeks ago). I'm volunteering again at Sundance in January, and I'll be up in Park City this time so I may have some mildly interesting anonymous-brushes-with-celebrity stories to tell. Happy New Year, everyone!
November 10, 2006 - Regular readers (both of us) may recall that one of my favorite things to do is yell at the phone company. My friend Anastasia shares my passion; she's gotten so good at it that when she calls her phone company about a problem and they pull up her file, 9 times out of 10 the tech will start crying before she even says anything. From what I understand, she's the only person mentioned specifically by name in the lobbyist-written telecommunications bill that's now before the Florida state legislature.
I have two phone lines, one for my home and one for my business, although the business number is a market expansion line that's just permanently forwarded to my home number. There is no physical "line" for that number; it just floats around in phonespace waiting for calls. Because I get two bills from Qwest, I have double the opportunity to get screwed by them. Earlier this week I noticed on my business bill that I was being charged for "Extended Area Calling," which only applies to outgoing calls. So I called Qwest to complain, all excited about the prospect of tearing one of their poorly-trained phone monkeys a new banana hole, but the bastards fixed the problem and credited my bill for the entire time they'd been billing for that charge. They didn't even have the decency to try to jerk me around! I was happy to have the $90 (!) credit, but I still wanted to yell at someone, so I went over to the gas company and stood in their lobby shouting invectives for a half hour until one of the security guards woke up and asked me to leave.
Last night one of the local TV stations did a consumer-watch story on phone bills. They mentioned a company I've dealt with before, a skeevy operation called Discount Telecom Services, that sticks their third-party charges on peoples' phone bills for "monthly svcs." Discount Telecom claims that the charges are for some sort of enhanced directory assistance, except that Discount Telecom doesn't actually provide any directory assistance services as near as anyone can tell. They stuck a $8.50 charge on my business bill a couple of times earlier this summer, and when I called them to complain, they blamed it on a "computer glitch." Uh-huh. The charges got credited back, and they're not billing me any more, but if you're a Qwest customer you should keep an eye out for these snakes. The story from last night featured a consumer watchdog lady who's got a website you should also check out, as it has some tips for checking your bill for fraudulent charges.
Also, tomorrow is Veterans Day. Hug a veteran!! If you don't know any veterans, hug a veterinarian; they do good work too.
November 9, 2006 - I spent most of the day yesterday lying on the floor, holding on to the carpet and waiting for the world to stop spinning. I stayed up late on the 7th, well into the morning of the 8th, clicking the Refresh button on CNN and DailyKos and watching the election results come in. I told myself that I'd be content with whatever change happened, that Democrats taking control of the House would be good enough and taking the Senate was a long shot, but as the odds of that long shot dropped I started getting anxious, nervous and excited all at once. Now that the Democrats have taken over both chambers, I feel like I've been zapped with a Pleasure Taser. I'm stunned, deliriously happy and relieved but still a little fuzzy-headed.
I feel like I've spent the past six years or so living in perpetual night. Dim starlight and the phases of the moon, the voices of those underground people who felt as I did that our beloved nation was headed in a terrible direction, provided the only useful illumination. Every time my vision adjusted to the dark and I felt like I could see again, the state's klieg lights of fear would flash on just long enough to blind me. Dim shapes rustled in the dark, brushing against the bed where I lay or murmuring just out of earshot. Because terror and fight-or-flight are short-term sensations, intense but unsustainable, I spent much of my time dazed and trying to recover, to muster my strength and make sense of it all. Every time I rallied, every time the grey shapes around me started to resolve themselves, the sirens of agitprop and the blinding lies would screech on again. I have lived in better times, more productive and joyful times, but the longer I spent in the dark the further the memories of how it was to simply be able to live faded until they seemed mere memories of memories, faint stories I'd read once long ago.
Today I stand in a golden room warmed by sunlight, comfort and release slowly working their way into my weary and abraded muscles. The vague fearful shapes around me are cast in bright relief, rendered for what they are and not what fevered imagination made them out to be. The ghoul in the corner is just a coat tree, the shoggoth near the bed just a chair with a shirt draped over it. I know that I'm not looking at a perfect world; there are real challenges to contend with here, and real dangers. But there is also light, and hope, and a battalion of fresh and vital champions newly christened and gearing up for the good fight in the field outside. There is still much work to be done, many demons to put back in their boxes, but hope and light give strength to the people. Today is a good day.
November 7, 2006 - Election Day 2006 is finally here! I hope you're all as excited about participating in democracy as I am! "Participating," in this context, meaning "getting it the hell over with so we can get back to our mindless consumerism." Mmmm...consumerism. Like 50% of Americans and 98% of the rest of the world, I'm hoping we'll get a new crop of elected officials to breathe some life back into our democratic process with fresh new ideas and innovative scandals. I love my country, but I'm getting a little bored of the same old gibbering fear, wastefully wasteful waste, secret gay shame, and corporate Roman Orgies. It might not be so bad if we all got to participate in said orgies, but I doubt that's likely to happen. I propose the following new scandalous activities for the government to engage in over next few years: secretly funnel billions of dollars to education and student loan programs; clandestine wiretapping that counts as a per-minute credit on your phone bill; hush-hush government detention centers for telemarketers and predatory lenders; and a new electronic-voting system that requires you to solve complex differential equations before you can vote Republican.
Oh yes, one other thing...GO VOTE!
November 4, 2006 - By now you may have read the news reports about a US government website, created earlier this year, which hosted thousands of documents taken from Iraq. The documents, most of which are in Arabic, contain information about Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear research program. The site was taken down just yesterday, after the story broke. The logic behind the creation of the site was essentially this: Republican Congressman Hoekstra and Senator Santorum, as well as President Bush, thought the captured documents would lend some credence to the administration's claims about Iraq's WMD program, even though most of the documents were a decade old and had already been given to IAEA inspectors years before; they overrode intelligence chief Negroponte's objections and tossed the documents up on the web in the hope that the web community might help comb through the documents to find links between Saddam and Osama, and evidence of any other weapons programs they didn't know about or couldn't find other evidence of. As it turned out, the documents did contain some pretty useful info, if you're a disgruntled nation with nuclear ambitions: they contained detailed instructions, calculations, test results and other data for building a nuclear weapon. Not much use to you and me, but probably helpful to countries where Arabic translators aren't in desparately short supply due to firings over sexual orientation.
It's long been rumored that you could find instructions for building a nuke on the internet, but nuclear inspectors say the most you'd find would be discussions about the physics and logistics involved, not the actual instructions themselves. If that's true, then I have a scoop for you: I've discovered this document, which provides detailed instructions for creating a one-milliton device.
Please do not follow these instructions! You have been warned!
October 31, 2006 - Happy Halloween! Tonight I will be testing out my new invention, a candy magnet, on neighborhood trick-or-treaters. It's a prototype, patent application pending, which sucks the candy out of any nearby container and shunts it to a hopper for sorting. During the sort phase, which I modeled after recycle-sorting devices that separate different types of recyclable plastics, good candy is divided up into various categories while bad candy (such as black licorice and anything organic) is diverted to a mulch pod. The whole thing is about the size of a VW bug, but the production model will be significantly smaller if I can find a better housing unit than my neighbor's VW bug. It's powered by a small fusion generator, 723 D batteries, and an extension cord, although the extension cord is mostly a backup. I've hoisted it over my front door and set out several Halloween decorations as lures. Early results are promising: this morning it snagged a candy bar from the pocket of a FedEx delivery guy.
Some other spoooooooooooky news you might be interested in: the US has announced that it owns all of outer space, and nobody else better come up there without two forms of ID and a million-dollar check for the RNC. Add this to the recent gutting of the Posse Comitatus Act (Section 1076 of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act allows the president to commandeer any state's National Guard, ignore the state governor's objections, and send the Guard anywhere in the US (not just overseas) to act as a police force (as opposed to their more traditional disaster relief role) for up to one year), and add the recent disposal of habeas corpus (real Americans don't need any of that Latin crap anyway) with the Military Commissions Law, and the picture becomes very clear indeed. Sometime between now and January 2009, I believe the Bush administration is planning to eject all registered Democrats into space, where we'll be housed in Halliburton's orbiting detention centers. The Indiana National Guard will be sent up there to make sure we don't stir up trouble or give aid and comfort to space terrorists.
And finally, to cheer us all up a little, some kitten-related news. My friend Anastasia has adopted yet another cat, whom she has named Sammy. Her cover story is that she's providing foster care for a neighbor's down-on-her-luck sister's cat while said neighbor-sister gets back on her feet, because the neighbor-sister's 12 rescued dachshunds don't get along with the cat in their new environment and he was forced to live outside but spent most of his time on Anastasia's porch, so Anastasia took him in because she didn't have an orange one, plus, you know, free kitten, and it may end up being a semi-permanent thing because the neighbor-sister apparently isn't rescuing the dachshunds so much as collecting them. I know, the story makes my head hurt too.
October 23, 2006 - Another CSI recap is up! End communication.
October 18, 2006 - Today I turned in my absentee ballot to the County Clerk's office. When I handed it in, the subclerk looked it over and said "Boy, did you guess wrong!" Not sure what to think about that.
The Republican House candidate running for office in Utah's 2nd Congressional District is LaVar Christensen. He's got billboards up around town, and the short, pithy message he's decided to go with is this: "America Needs Utah." I know many, many, many, many people who would politely disagree with this sentiment, but in the interest of exploring all sides of an argument for once, I humbly offer the following:
Top 10 Reasons America Needs Utah
10. Need a place to store all those polygamists
9. Safe haven for people fleeing the wicked liberals of the Bible Belt
8. Keeps Colorado and Nevada from fighting
7. Required by Constitution to have at least one state that starts with ‘U’
6. Prevents me and my wiener dogs from falling to the center of the earth
5. Many dinosaur dig sites keep our nation’s paleontologists too busy to stir up trouble
4. Bridge from Idaho to Arizona would cost billions
3. Our Mormons are much like the compassionate Amish, except with electricity and greed
2. The Great Salt Lake provides our nation – and, indeed, the world – with Sea Monkeys
1. Greatest snow on earth, baby!
October 16, 2006 - Since my entry on October 7, I've received roughly 12,500 emails asking for closure on the Anastasia/Foley anecdote. Today I'm pleased to provide you all with such closure. Last Friday afternoon, Anastasia returned to the business plaza where former Congressman Mark Foley maintained his district office and pleasuredome. Foley's signboard strip was still in the building directory, hidden from the casual viewer by the clever method of flipping it over. She waited patiently until the coast was clear, engaged her personal cloaking device, and pounced upon the unsuspecting directory. Employing a combination of skill and fingernails, she pried the reluctant signboard out of its slot, stuffed it down her shirt, and casually fled the scene. The picture you see here is a double-treasure; not only is it an historic piece of Foleyana, it may also be the only item of Foley's that's been inside a woman's shirt. Keep an eye out for this item on eBay!
October 12, 2006 - A couple of presents for you today, dear reader(s?). Now that the new TV season has started, I've been working on more recaps of CSI. The first one is available in the Recaps section. There will be more to come. My friend Anastasia has been helping me with the recaps by proofreading them and returning them to me. She highlights the parts she likes in blue (mostly wherever I mention Warrick), and the parts she doesn't like are highlighted in red (such as anywhere I go more than two paragraphs without mentioning Warrick). She has also made some useful suggestions, and for that I thank her. Writing in a vacuum is hard, and not just because of the explosive decompression; it's good to have another set of eyes going over your stuff, if only to reinforce your own conceit that you're funny. Plus helping polish the craft and all that crap.
The second present is this: if you haven't been doing so already, I strongly encourage you to start watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. His special comments (editorials) are especially good, and most of them are available on YouTube and/or Crooks and Liars. It's like finding an oasis in the desert to watch a journalist actually doing his job, asking tough questions and pushing aside the talking points and spin to get to the facts behind the issue. Olbermann was a sports journalist for a long time, and one thing you just can't do in sports reporting is spin. The facts are the facts, the viewers know all the stats by heart, and your reporting has to be accurate and precise. I'm willing to suspend my general disinterest in sports and sports reporting in favor of this benefit; Olbermann researches his stuff thoroughly and reports it clearly and eloquently, which is a blessing for all of us who despaired of ever hearing the truth from the broadcast media ever again ever. Plus you've gotta love a newscaster who tosses in the occasional Simpsons or Monty Python reference to remind us of the relative absurdity of it all.
October 7, 2006 - I've refrained from writing much about the Foley scandal because so many others have said what I would so much better, but now I have an interesting story to share courtesy of my friend Anastasia.
Anastasia lives in Florida. Over the past year or so, she's worked part-time for a local psychologist (my guess is that she gives people psychological problems and then refers them to him, but she denies referring them to anyone). Late this week, she dropped by his office to chat, and noticed that one of the elevators had that temporary padding the maintenance guys usually put up when they're moving furniture and such. It came up in their conversation, and he said "You've never read the building's directory, have you?" It turns out that the same building was home to Mark Foley's office. They both speculated how many times they might have walked right past him without knowing who he was. She tried to convince her psychologist friend to help her haul out some free furniture, but he declined. He did say, though, that - due to the nature of his practice - he'd been asked by some local papers to give some commentary on the subject. He turned them down, which is a wise move in my opinion...there's really no way to get involved in a story like this without getting at least some shit spattered on you.
Here's the really interesting part: on her way out, she stopped to take a look at the building directory she'd walked past so many times. It was the kind with plastic sign-strips listing the name and office number of each occupant, and the spot where Foley's name would have been had been replaced with what looked like a blank strip. On closer inspection, she realized that the strip had been flipped over, and Foley's name was still on the back. The directory case was open...no one was around...what to do? Well, duh...she reached in to grab it. Just at that moment, one of the maintenance guys came around the corner and yelled at her, so she scampered off. Talk about missed opportunities; I'm sure that thing would have fetched a handsome price on eBay someday. She told me this story on the phone, and then tried to recruit her brother the doctor (who had heard the whole story as she relayed it to me) to help her go back and get it. He just stared at her and then wandered off. I think she gets that a lot. She shouted after him that, if he wasn't willing to drive her over there, would he go get it himself? He didn't reply, so he was either ignoring her or getting into his ninja outfit. If there's further news on this story, I'll let you know.
October 5, 2006 - I'm heading down to the World Can't Wait protest/rally (against the new Military Commissions Law, torture in general, and torture of me in particular - all politics is local, they say, and I'm as local as I get) at the City/County building in a few minutes. I'll post an update if I come back. With over 225 rallies going on nationwide today, I doubt there's enough manpower to round us all up at once, so I should still have a few days to blog and take my dogs to the park before I'm extraordinarily rendited (rendoitered? renditionated?).
[Update] - I just got back from the downtown Salt Lake World Can't Wait rally. There were about 2 dozen people there at any given time, which is bigger than some protest rallies I've seen here but not as big as I'd hoped it would be. People did cycle a bit though, so all told there were probably 40 people in attendance. We were right on the corner of a major intersection, and we got a lot of honks and waves. We also got a lesser number of people giving us a thumbs-down or shouting at us to "Get a job." One guy mooned us. Another guy shouted "9/11 was an inside job!" as he drove by. Some people walking by on the sidewalk thanked us or shook our hands. One car full of four young women gave us two thumbs up and two thumbs down while stopped at a red light, and then we watched them get into a jabbering match among themselves. No one, thankfully, assaulted us in person. The signs we held up were a mixed bag, as they usually are: "Impeach Bush" and "Commander in Thief" mixed in with "Who would Jesus torture?" and "Fuck the police."
I'm a people watcher, so I was paying close attention to the people who drove by to gauge their reactions. The waves and honks of support were encouraging and the few loudmouths were amusing, but the rest of the people were the most telling: shakes of the head, clucks of the tongue, aversion of the eyes, or gunning the motor to get past us as quickly as possible lest we assault their fragile worldview. One of the protesters commented on that, saying the people who drove by in a daze were zombies with no political awareness nor interest in getting any. It's a sad fact of life here in Utah, though, that many people seek out an authoritarian system to tell them what to think and do and say.
When the LDS Church (or insert some other church name here, but that's what we've got in Utah) makes a pronouncement on a particular issue, one can usually expect the members to fall obediently into line. I was raised Mormon, so I can (presume to) speak on this with some authority: these are people who like being told what to do. They're raised that way from birth. They don't want controversy, they don't want "issues," and they definitely don't want to rock the boat. They enjoy and appreciate simple answers, even if those answers fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. They like order and hierarchy, where their place is known and understood and someone else will do the hard work of interpreting the complex world around them. This isn't inherently a bad thing; people naturally seek out some level of order and stability, or we wouldn't have nations or cities or religions at all. Some level of collective agreement is necessary to a cohesive society: we are all Americans; we agree to operate under the rule of law; we all drive on the right-hand side of the road when sober. The problem (as I see it) is balance. Too much order leads to intellectual sterility (which is a long scary topic all its own), and not enough order makes it very hard to get anything substantial or enduring done.
It's an abdication of personal responsibility, as it plays out here, to say "I support my leaders no matter what." You can call it craven or cowardly, but I think it's a matter of laziness. Thinking is hard, and coming to grips with a complicated issue takes dedication and research. Public schools don't give you the tools to think critically any more, so those often have to be developed from scratch. More than that, it takes a strong moral center, which many people who hide behind God's robes don't take the time to develop for themselves because their church has handed them a ready-made facsimile. I'm generalizing here, of course; I've known many Mormons who were liberals (more or less) and critical thinkers, but they were generally shunned or looked down upon (or occasionally excommunicated) by the other members and the church itself.
It's hard to get a message of dissent out to the public at large because groupthink kicks in so readily and the crowd reinforces its own beliefs to shield itself from the ripples of chaos. It's entirely possible, though, and I've seen it happen, to reach an individual person with your message. Dismantling a loud, powerful, self-reinforcing hivemindset is long, slow work; the hive isn't going to flip over en masse. You have to chip away at it one person at a time, and that's where dissenters come in. I'm not calling myself a hero for protesting, because I'm just doing what I think is right and necessary. I do think it's ironic, though, that we were told to get a job by passers-by; in my mind sending out those ripples of chaos to help restore balance to our society is one of the most critical and fundamental jobs in any democracy. I just wish it came with better health insurance.
October 3, 2006 - Wow, what a week. Multiple school shootings, deceitful posturing over a torture bill, the related deaths of habeas corpus and dissent and civil liberties, more revelations about the current administration's failures in Iraq and the prevention of September 11, and the Mark Foley sex scandal. It's kind of a lot to take in all at once, but I feel obligated to try to wrap my brain around it all.
The school shootings are disturbing and tragic, as they always are, but more so with these past few because (a) young females were specifically targeted, and (b) the Amish were targeted (mainly out of convenience, it appears, but still). Item A speaks to a lingering misogyny that I don't have a solution for and am certainly not qualified to analyze in any great depth, but it's long been my sense that we as a people still have a lot of baggage to unpack in terms of gender relations. Item B pisses me off even more than Item A - you don't mess with the Amish. I might not understand or embrace their choice of lifestyle, but I respect it, and I admire and even occasionally envy their relative innocence. Targeting women is very bad, and targeting women who are members of a sect dedicated to peace and nonviolence is even worse, if it's possible to rank the two. Targeting humans, of course, isn't good no matter who does it or where.
The Mark Foley scandal has generated so much debate, denial, outrageous spin and political fallout that I'd have to exceed my monthly bandwidth to cover it all here. Foley resigned in disgrace, and anyone associated with him (such as House Speaker Dennis Hastert) is now so radioactive that they don't dare appear at fundraisers or give endorsements to any other candidates for fear of tanking them. I think that Foley, if he's really interested in atoning for his sins, should actively go around campaigning for and endorsing the Republican officials who covered up for him over the past five years, thus poisoning them all come November 7. If he's not willing to do that, maybe someone can put on a Foley mask and do the same. I bet that's something The Yes Men would be up for.
Bob Woodward's new book gives us the unsurprising news that Iraq is a deadly toxic quagmire with no plan for victory and no real regard for long-term stability or rebuilding. It also tells us that CIA director Tenet gave specific warnings to Rice, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft about an immediate threat of attack in July of 2001, warnings which all three have since denied receiving and which didn't appear in the 9/11 Commission's official report. Many people in the various 9/11 conspiracy theory circles have argued that the US government Let It Happen On Purpose (LIHOP), because, they say, the neo-conservative elements in the government hoped to benefit from the fallout of such an attack by launching a new wave of global imperialism. You don't have to be a member of that camp to think that there's still a lot we don't know about what happened on and before that fateful day, but this new revelation gives a large amount of credibility to the notion that the government was at least grossly negligent in stopping it. I don't think we'll ever get closure on this painful topic until we're willing to do what Deep Throat most famously said on Watergate, and "follow the money." An honest, impartial, and thorough official examination of the facts hasn't happened yet.
This is a topic that fascinates me (as it does many others) because there are still so many unanswered questions and so many inconsistencies in the official story. I'm not advocating any particular conspiracy theory here (and there are a lot of them, many of which are too incredulous even for me to swallow), but if you want to watch a well-made documentary on the subject, I'd suggest 9/11 Press for Truth. It's a timeline of events based entirely on items that were reported in the mainstream media before, during, and after the attacks. It doesn't dwell on the far-out conspiracy theories you might find elsewhere, but it will still scare the hell out of you.
Speaking of hell-scaring...the hollow display of "dissent" by Republican leaders over torture might have been tolerable if it had had a different result, but last Friday - with little fanfare and even less media coverage - the Senate passed a law that didn't just take a weak stance on the subject; the new law (and that's a word that can only be used ironically here) eliminates the single most important element of any civilized society, the right of the accused to face their accuser in court (also known as habeas corpus). Even worse than that, the new Military Commissions Law gives the president (or people he designates) the power to declare anyone - anyone - an "enemy combatant" and imprison them indefinitely with no recourse of any kind. It also allows them to be tried and convicted based on secret evidence and coerced testimony. US citizens can now be rounded up and sent to internment camps at home or abroad for any reason or no reason at all. Dissent of any kind could easily fall under the extremely vague conditions of the law. I have to say, there have been many times over the span of my political awareness that I've been annoyed, frustrated, nervous or angry with my government, but this is the first time I've ever felt truly terrified. It's true enough to say, well, they probably won't come for you, at least not right away, but that's absolutely no comfort and it makes a pale mockery of the very soul of our nation. We have moved, slowly but steadily over the past 6 years, toward a totalitarian state, and this bill puts the capital T on the word. Any other shoes that drop from this point forward will be unsurprising in the context of the reality we live in now.
The great complacency that defines most Americans at any given time is a contributing factor to all of the erosions we've seen in our liberties and our way of life; the ongoing economic squeeze of the middle and lower classes from all possible sides in order to funnel more money into the hands of a greed-depraved few, the continuing degradation of our public school system, the cancerous corruption of corporate money in our electoral and legislative systems, and the steady apocalyptic drumbeat of war for war's sake...all of these are fundamentally domestic issues that could be resolved, with hard work and moxie, if we were to engage them as a nation. People can play on an unlevel playing field and still win, if the cause is just and the citizens are actively involved in the game. Now, however, the playing field has been abandoned entirely. Any person, at any time, can be removed from the game based solely on the president's discretion. This isn't about protecting us from terrorists any more; the terrorists have achieved their horrible purpose with the aid of our own elected leaders. The complacent or compliant among us will undoubtedly say "If you haven't done anything wrong...." Answer them with this: "Who will speak out when they come for you?" It has happened before, many many times in the course of history, and we are not so special or beloved by God that we're immune from human evil. It doesn't even matter if this new power never gets used (although it certainly will) - it's too much power for anyone to have, too brutal and vicious by far for a civilization to tolerate.
I'm one of those who can't keep quiet, even if I don't know exactly what to do or how do fix a problem I see. I'm a dissenter, a rabble-rouser even, and it doesn't really matter whether anyone listens to me or not because my inborn sense of what's ethical and right compels me to speak out against injustice even if I don't have a huge audience or resources at hand to apply to the problem. Every once in a while I win one, either alone or along with others, and it feels good. The penalty for failure was simply failure, and there was always a chance to try again. The penalty now for failure is oblivion. If my writings here, or my attendance at a peace rally, or some other act of honest defiance were to get me arrested and detained under the new law, my life would be ruined. I wouldn't be able to pay my bills, and I'd lose my house. Every single scrap of possession I own would be handed over to the bank or the state. My sweet, beloved dogs would be sent to an animal shelter (unless something worse happened to them), and I would never see them again. My place in the world would be forfeit, and even if I were released at some point in the future, I would have nothing to return to and no place to go. Heaven only knows whether the same would happen to anyone related to or even acquainted with me. If that's too self-absorbed for you, imagine yourself as the 'I' in the previous sentences. Is that hyperbole? I pray fervently that it is, but I've read too much history and too much current news to be able to convince myself of that. We are a nation engulfed in shadow, mistaking the dim twinkles of celebrity or consumer goods for daylight. It's not too late to pull back from this, but the amount of human power and dedication (not to mention the level of potential casualties) that will be required to win the fight has been dramatically increased. We cannot let this story get trumped by more recent news that happens to be more lurid or sensational. This story is permanently timely. We are past the "let's see what happens" stage; we need to shout the truth of this from every single rooftop and enlist everyone who's still breathing in this cause. The penalty for failure is the doom of us all.
September 19, 2006 - If you've been paying any attention at all to your democracy lately, you know it's having a rough time. People of good conscience may disagree amicably on how to handle some issues, not that that happens any more, but the one vital portal to a democracy that allows such potential discussions to take place is free, open, and clean elections. More and more counties and states around the country are switching to electronic voting machines, and those machines have proven extremely easy to hack. I was surprised that this story actually made the mainstream news: a computer science research crew from Princeton University conducted a test on a Diebold e-voting machine and were able to hack it to alter its results - to change the votes tallied to favor a chosen candidate - in under a minute. Neat. An under-reported addendum to that story is this: the same researchers found that the machines could be unlocked (allowing access to the hardware inside) with a standard key commonly used for filing cabinets and hotel minibars. That's not a joke, although I sure wish it were. If you're a fan of horror stories, you might want to check out the additional research that's been done at BlackBoxVoting.org.
Here's my perspective, as a computer nerd: anything that can be locked, can be unlocked. Any piece of electronic hardware or software (especially software) can be hacked. All it takes is time and some skill. It's also extremely easy to write a piece of software with backdoors or other tools built in that intentionally allow tampering from outside. All of the software that runs the current batch of e-voting machines, whether from Diebold or others, is closed-source software, meaning that no one but Diebold (or whoever) knows what's really going on inside. Think about that: a private, for-profit company has written the software which will measure the outcome of our local, state, and national elections without any oversight whatsoever, and we're expected to take it on faith that they'll never ever use that power for anything but the good of the republic.
Many of the machines produce no paper trail of any kind. The software contains tools to perform a recount, but that recount only re-tallies the votes that it itself already recorded. Computers are great at amplifying our productivity and storing, manipulating, and retrieving vast amounts of information; the converse is that they also dramatically amplify our ability to corrupt that information. Given the machines' lack of security (both the ease of changing the software to give a desired result, as shown by the Princeton experiment, and the physical security or lack thereof, also demonstrated by the Princeton crew), it means that the outcome of our most important democratic ritual can be changed by a handful of determined people. Even if we assume that no one would ever actually attempt to do something so underhanded, it's just plain foolhardy to leave it to chance. It's like securing the door to the lion's cage with a sandwich baggie twist-tie and hoping that nothing bad will happen. All of this stuff aside, there's still the matter of the plain fallibility of the machines themselves; e-voting machines that wouldn't turn on, or that listed the wrong candidates for the district, or reset themselves at random, were widely reported during the 2004 election. Not widely reported enough, it seems.
The only two viable options for clean and accurate elections are these: open-source hardware and software for the e-voting machines (which could be reviewed but not changed by any citizen at any time) so any potential security holes can be spotted and corrected before an election, or hand-marked (a stencil still counts as hand-marking) and hand-counted paper ballots that any citizen can watch being counted. These are not all my ideas; I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said before by other concerned people, but I am the first one to say it on this particular website, so there we are.
Salt Lake County has recently switched to touchscreen voting machines from Diebold, and they'll be up and running for the November elections. The County Clerk office worker I spoke with on the phone about the new voting machines was a little miffed at my question about their research on how susceptible the machines were to fraud (I'm guessing because they didn't do any), and she then denied that such a thing was even possible. Just a dysfunctional cog in the dysfunctional machine, you might say, but it's the machine that pumps our blood, so in my mind it's fairly important that all the pieces work properly. To their credit, however, Salt Lake County does provide a low-hassle process to allow any registered voter to sign up for voting by mail (absentee ballots) for any reason. So that's what I did today. I printed out the form on their website, then hand-delivered it to the Clerk's office. I have no way of knowing whether they'll just back the mail truck up to an incinerator (or drive it straight in) once the ballots start coming in, but given that Diebold's CEO announced in a 2004 fundraising letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year," I'm confident that the paper absentee ballot couldn't turn out any worse than using Diebold's machines.
September 18, 2006 - Tainted spinach! A massive outbreak of e. coli has affected spinach consumers in nearly two dozen states, leading to one death so far and at least 94 people getting sick. I've been warning people about spinach for years; maybe now the public will start to take notice of the excesses of the Spinach-Industrial Complex. Don't think you're off the hook yet, lima beans - I'm watching you.
I got a letter from Chase Bank last week telling me that they were summarily raising the interest rate on my Amazon card to 32.24 percent - over double its current rate, and damn close to usury in my book. I've never missed a payment or gone over my balance, so I was a little perplexed and enraged. I called them and was told I had the option to "opt out" of the rate increase, but they couldn't tell me exactly what opting out would entail (e.g. would I have to pay off the card in full, or stop using it, or give back my Firefly DVDs?) Instead, they said, they would send me another letter explaining the ramifications of opting out (which I told them I wanted to do, because it was apparently the only way to get a more detailed explanation). I got the second letter on Saturday, and it was conspicuously vague: "As noted in the disclosure [the first letter], you have the right to decline certain proposed changes. [The first letter didn't specify what they were.] The remaining required changes cannot be declined.... Your account will not be subject to the changes that you have the option to decline." So I called them again, and they confirmed that my interest rate would not change after all. They also said there weren't any other changes taking effect on my account in particular; it was boilerplate text that could apply to others they sent the letter to, but apparently (we'll see) didn't apply to me. So the nut of it is, Chase sent out a fishing letter raising people's interest rates to an astonishing level, and all I had to do was call and tell them "don't." I wonder how many people didn't bother to read it or to call and opt out? Their excuse for the rate increase was changes in the cardholders' credit reports, but that seems like a pretty flimsy premise to me. I'm guessing it's more along the lines of "because we can."
September 17, 2006 - On Friday, September 15, a bomb exploded at the Salt Lake City library downtown. You may be relieved to know that no books were damaged in the incident, nor people either. The homemade device apparently had the firepower of a large firecracker, and aside from cracking a window and singeing some carpet and furniture, no significant damage was done. I watched a brief snippet of TV news coverage Friday afternoon, in which the local TV reporter asked his interviewee (a law enforcement guy, either SLPD or FBI, I forget which) whether the explosion could have been the work of terrorists. He actually used that word. Keep in mind that the news folks knew the limited extent of the damage at the time. I remarked to friends at brunch today on the reporter's question, and wondered whether - at the height of the Cold War - the reporter would have asked if the incident could have been the work of Communists. Of course it's a logical question in some circumstances (not the Communists version, the other one), but in this case it kind of underscored, at least to me, just how complicit the media has become in poking the Fear Node in our collective brains. One dumb reporter is not representative of all reporters everywhere, and one dumb question is not a pattern of behavior, but a thousand dumb reporters and ten thousand dumb questions starts looking like a pattern. I've already ranted extensively on the lazy and uncurious nature of today's journalists, willing to probe deeply into the outrages of Local Property Tax Board # 473 but strangely silent on issues of greater significance, such as Iraq, Darfur, torture and secret trials, or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I'll spare you another such rant today, mainly because I'm coming down with a cold, but in exchange I'd like you to visit some of the alternative journalism sites listed on the left (a double meaning??) and read up on some of the news you may not normally get. Tom Paine and truthout are good places to start.
August 30, 2006 - Today our Emperor-in-Chief will be visiting Salt Lake City and doing what he does best: preaching to the faithful. Rumsfeld and Rice were here yesterday, and gave stirring speeches to the American Legion about how American citizens who question or oppose the war in Iraq are analogous to pre-WWII Nazi appeasers. Rumsfeld, in a surprisingly tactical move, actually used the word 'fascism' in his speech to describe the opponents that loyal Americans face - the subtext, of course, being that those opponents could just as easily be people who live here as people who live in the angry Middle East countries and hate the freedoms we used to have. What I like about that is the co-opting, trying to plant a flag in the word that more and more people are saying applies most aptly to the US's potential destination. Now anyone who publicly decries the Bush administration's steady movement toward a fear-based totalitarian or police state can easily be swept aside as juvenile players of the "I know you are, but what am I?" game.
Last year when Bush visited, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson held a protest rally. This year another such rally is planned, and it's apparently going to be a lot bigger and louder. I saw quite a bit of preparation going on this last week at the City-County building where part of the rally will be held, so it looks like they're planning on a very big crowd. Cindy Sheehan was scheduled to give a speech, but she had to cancel due to illness. The Mayor's Office has gotten so many phone calls protesting his protesting that the office's phones have been completely jammed for the past several days. Loyal citizens all, these folks know the value of keeping their heads down and their mouths shut in the name of blind fervent nationalism. A recent poll conducted by the Salt Lake Tribune showed that 45 percent of Utahns think dissent aids America's enemies, which wouldn't surprise me much coming out of the mouth of someone under age 12, but for adults it's a pretty damning indictment of our collective critical-thinking ability. The existence of the protest rally in this very red state is encouraging, but that still leaves us stuck with a whole lot of dumb, dumb people. And they vote.
I'm sure the entire downtown will be a horrible mess today, so I'm glad I don't have anywhere to go, but I'm also glad to have something like this going on locally. For the record, there is also a "Death to Israel" rally going on downtown today...win some, lose some, I suppose. Hopefully it will be very poorly attended.
August 29, 2006 - I think I'm in love. I just read an article about a man who masqueraded as an official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and gave a speech at the Gulf Coast Reconstruction and Hurricane Preparedness Summit in Louisiana. In his speech, delivered this Monday, he made the following statements: HUD was reversing its decision to demolish 5,000 units of useable low-income housing in New Orleans; Wal-Mart had agreed to withdraw its stores near low-income housing areas and donate a substantial amount to local business development; a partnership between local health agencies and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would provide at least one well-equipped public health clinic for each public housing development; and Exxon and Shell had agreed to donate nearly $9 billion dollars out of their $60 billion dollars in 2006 profit to fund the rebuilding of the protective wetlands along the gulf coast.
It was all a lie, of course, and actual HUD spokeswoman Donna White called the hoax "sick." The hoaxers were a group called The Yes Men, and they specialize in hoaxes designed to draw attention to gross negligence or criminal behavior at the highest levels of the corporate or political world. The speech I describe above is sheer brilliance: razor-toothed satire slipped in at a vulnerable and public weak spot, relying not on outrageous claims or hyperbole (that's my gig) but on plainly common-sense ideas delivered as a snappy counterpoint to the cruel and illogical policies and procedures in place. I'm envious of the cojones it must take to pull something like this off - and this isn't the first such hoax they've put forth. Among my many fantasies there lies a recurring dream of being able to de-pants the mega-evildoers of the world in full view of their many victims, either through my writing or through the use of an elaborate wiener dog-powered Engine of Karmic Reapportionment. The latter is still in development; as soon as I solve the Snausage Matrix problem, I'll have a prototype ready for testing. So hats off to you, Yes Men, for classic dissent on a grand scale.
August 16, 2006 - Today is my friend Anastasia's birthday - her second 29th - and I've written a recap of a Stargate: Atlantis episode as a birthday present. Her tastes are too expensive for me to afford anything else. I'm in good company, though; writers through the ages have given their writing as gifts, to family, friends, lovers, patrons, AA sponsors. In the late 1400s, Shakespeare wrote a hilarious recap of Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur" for his first girlfriend, Prunella. So enjoy, because I'm sure someday history will recognize the brilliance of my lunatic rantings and canonize the hell out of me. In fact, you might want to print out a copy of the Atlantis recap with a time stamp, then get it notarized and seal it in a plastic bag.
August 15, 2006 - Wow, it's been a while, huh? Some items I've noticed in the news recently:
Utah State Senator Chris Buttars (R-LDS Church) wants to give the state legislature the power to remove judges at all levels of the state judiciary system from office if they make what he calls "bad decisions." Buttars has previously advocated for religious instruction in the classroom, vigorously supported Utah's amendment banning gay marriages, and advocates banning gay and lesbian clubs from high schools. He's not talking about judges who mess up the proceedings or don't apply a relevant law to a case; he's referring specifically to judges who make decisions that don't fit into his (or like-minded others') odd little cubbyhole of morality, or what conservatives like to mislabel as "activist judges." It's a gross violation of the US Constitution, of course, which designed the judiciary to be free from political pressure, but a man doing God's work through legislation can't be trifled with fluff like that. What's funny is that many Christian folks - especially among the LDS - believe that the Constitution was divinely inspired, so what does that say about their efforts to subvert one of its fundamental precepts? God does work in mysterious ways, but I think He's got more class than to work through bigoted, small-minded idiots.
The dirty little secret that Republicans have skirted around for years is making national news, most prominently with (but certainly not limited to) Virginia Senator George Allen. Allen was addressing a crowd of white folks during a stump speech last week, and a cameraman from his Democratic opponent James Webb's campaign was there with a video camera. It's not an uncommon practice nowadays, from what I understand. Allen gave his white attendees a sly wink-and-nod by calling the cameraman - an American citizen of Indian descent - "Macaca" several times. The word is not only the name of a genus of monkeys, it's also a very dirty slang term for people of African or other non-white lineage. While it's not commonly used here (unless you hang out in "white power" circles), it is used in French-speaking Tunisia, where Allen's mother was raised. So much for his excuse that he had no idea what the word connoted. Allen is widely known to have had a fetish for Dixieland memorabilia, so it's not surprising that the veneer would start to flake off after a while. What will be surprising, in a good way, is if Allen's blatant courting of the bubba vote gets him canned.
The former head of Oregon's Christian Coalition, Lou Beres, has admitted that the accusations some of his female family members made against him - that he sexually molested them - are true. He originally blamed the accusations on his personal and political enemies. Apparently he only confessed because he thought the statute of limitations for the crimes had passed. Like Chris Buttars above, he's been a long-time and very vocal opponent of gay marriages and civil unions. I think someone should compile a list of all the prominent "Moral Majority" types who've ended up behind bars or otherwise confessing to depravities far worse than whatever it was they so fervently opposed in public. I bet it would be pretty long. Advocating a specific lifestyle or morality is fine; ramming it down other people's throats because you're driven to cover up your own appalling demons is not.
July 28, 2006 - After quite a few months of very little work coming in, the karmic Dutch boy whose finger had been plugging up the dike of abundance finally decided to go take a nap. I've been busy. I'm definitely not complaining, since the feast/famine thing is kind of the nature of self-employment and I'm more or less used to it now; mostly I'm just surprised that the universe hasn't gotten bored of playing its yoyo game with me and gotten itself an XBox or something. I've also been working on my house on the weekends. I painted the bathroom and the kitchen successfully, and by successfully I mean that it doesn't look worse than it did before, and none of the dogs got stuck to the paint. I also took down the miniblinds in the kitchen and tried to clean them. I learned two things about miniblinds this last weekend: one, they're a pain in the butt to clean, and it's much simpler to just paint them; two, you can make them shorter fairly easily, but you can't really make them longer.
I've put my CSI recapping project on hold for a little while so I can store up more acorns for the winter, and judging from the large number of emails I haven't received about the stoppage, my many devoted readers are content to re-read the six I've already posted over and over and over again. I will be putting up a recap of an episode of Stargate: Atlantis for Anastasia, the one where Connor Trinneer of Enterprise fame makes his recurring-guest debut. She's adopted him as one of her TV boyfriends, so the recap is a birthday present of sorts. She already knows about it because she asked me to write it, so don't worry about spoiling the surprise. Just don't tell her what she's really getting: a sweater, half a gallon of semi-gloss latex paint, and a bundle of miniblind slats.
July 21, 2006 - Summer in the desert isn't a lot of fun, unless you enjoy sleeping in a 2-inch pool of your own sweat and having to duct-tape your shorts bottoms to your legs so the bag of crushed ice you poured down them to keep you from getting heat stroke doesn't fall out. Which I don't. Enjoy, I mean; the duct tape rips the hair off my legs but the ice is very refreshing. It was 173 degrees in Salt Lake City today, which is only 4 degrees shy of the record set back in 4,502,973 B.C. Many homes in Utah have evaporative coolers, which are a nice and fairly inexpensive way to keep cool if it's warm out, but they lose their effectiveness when it's so hot that they're venting steam into your house. I bought a window-mounted air conditioner a few years ago, and it's made a huge difference. It's not especially powerful, but it does the job in a smaller place like mine.
I don't like to take the dogs out for too long when it's this hot, because I'm concerned that they'll just plump right up on the sidewalk. I've also found that it's very difficult to care about things such as the various wars in the Middle East, or the ongoing erosion of our fundamental freedoms at the hands of a tiny group of power-lusting wankers, or even things that happen out of arm's reach from the couch. So I've been watching summertime TV, which traditionally has sucked but has gotten substantially better in recent years with the emergence of cable networks that could afford to make their own shows and weren't bound by whatever Eisenhower-era law forced broadcast networks to follow the public schoolyear. Stargate: SG1 and Stargate: Atlantis (on the SciFi channel) are back for new seasons and in fine form so far, and the new show Eureka looks promising. Reno 911!'s new season has started on Comedy Central, where The Daily Show and The Colbert Report continue to run. Anastasia recently discovered Stargate: Atlantis and has started watching it regularly, not that we needed even more nerdly things to discuss (yesterday we spent a good while talking on the phone about which Star Trek character pairings would make good teams on The Amazing Race). She recommended a new show called Psych, which runs on the USA network, and after the first episode I made a season pass for it.
In the fall, when going outside isn't like licking a blowtorch, I'll probably start to care about world and national events again, but for now I'm content to spend my off hours sprawled on the couch exfoliating my brain with the TV.
July 13, 2006 - A couple days ago I put an ad in a local paper for a piece of exercise equipment that's taking up space in my living room. I've used it a fair bit, actually, probably more than most people who buy an exercise machine with good intentions and poor discipline, but I haven't been using it much lately and it takes up a chunk of room. A day later, I get an email from a woman who wants to buy the thing to sell in her shop in England. Now, I underpriced it intentionally so I could get rid of it quickly, and if she wants to take my item off my hands for my asking price and then sell it for a profit, I don't really have a problem with that, as long as that's the extent of the chutzpah. This woman, however, was apparently trying to break some sort of record. First she wanted to have some unspecified person in the US pay me the money they owed her, and then I'd take my cut from that and wire the rest to her shop in England. That sounded a little fishy to me, so I told her (and this is all taking place via emails back and forth) that I didn't want to get involved in any financial shenanigans, and that a check or Paypal would be best. She didn't want to send a check by mail, because she wanted to complete the transaction RIGHT NOW for some reason, so she proposed emailing me a check instead, which I would then print out and take to the bank and cash. It turns out there really is a service like that, called QChex, and it's all secure and shit, but the catch is that US banking regulations require checks to be printed with magnetic ink (or at least the routing number and account number, for the high-speed check reading equipment).
Naturally I don't have any friggin' magnetic toner, so I looked online and it costs $150 for a cartridge for my printer, plus I'd have to buy a ream of check paper to print the thing on. She said she'd arrange for a shipping company to pick up the exercise equipment, and promised to reimburse me for my out-of-pocket expenses for the toner and check paper and whatnot, but since I'm not a complete idiot, I declined to go along with that scheme. We went back and forth half a dozen times, and each time I'd propose a way to simplify things, she'd ignore what I'd said and propose something even more complicated and ass-pain-inducing than the last thing she'd suggested. After the last email from her (in which she tried to refute my claim that the magnetic toner cartridge would cost $150), I'd had enough. If she wasn't trying to scam me somehow, she at least was very bad at thinking things through, and I wouldn't want to do business with either type of person if I could avoid it. I was tempted to tell her off for wasting my time and turning a simple transaction into a huge Rube Goldberg-esque runaround, but in the end I just told her that someone else had bought the damn thing, and I haven't heard from her since. Of course, no one has bought it yet, and odds are good that she's jinxed me somehow, but if I don't sell it I'll probably just haul it up to the roof of the condo building and tell people that's our new workout room.
July 12, 2006 - This past weekend, I painted my bathroom. It was the first step in my plan to have one of my relatives (the ones who've been encouraging me in my home-improvement efforts) come out to Utah and paint the rest of the place for me, but unfortunately the paint job turned out quite well. I got a little carried away and forgot to do a half-assed job of it. I did the whole routine: I washed the walls and ceiling thoroughly, spackled and sanded and taped and primed, then took off all the wall hardware and put two coats on most of it. It looks a lot nicer than it did, but the bad news is now I'll have to paint the rest of the damn place myself. The dogs were a little put out by having their routine messed with, since I had painting stuff and bathroom stuff strewn all around the rest of the house, but they got over it. Jasper came in periodically to check on my progress, and ended up with so much paint spatter on him that he looked like a reverse Dalmatian, but it sanded off pretty easily.
I was led by my relatives to believe that the painting would be pretty simple: "With today's modern superpaints, you barely have to do any work at all! Just set the open can on the floor, close the door, and go see a movie - the paint will do the rest!" That's not an actual quote, it turns out, and I was a little pissed when I came back from the movie and the paint was still just sitting in the can. So I did it the caveman way, with a brush and a roller and a bear pelt around my waist. I was pleased with the results and glad to have saved some money, but it was hot and sore-making. I'm not afraid of hard work, at least in the abstract, but when we studied Hard Work Theory in English, we didn't focus much on the practical applications. So anyway, sometime soonish I'll start on another room, probably the kitchen. I'm also going to redo the floor with those press & place wood tiles, because the faux-linoleum that's in there now looks like it lost a fight with a roto-tiller. It'll be a little while, though, because working the brush in the bathroom made my hand really sore, and I need that hand for, um, typing.
July 4, 2006 - This afternoon I went to see the new X-Men movie. It was good, not great, but the parts with Halle Berry in them were superb. I think if I were a mutant I'd want to be telekinetic, because it's a pretty versatile ability. I'd probably use it mostly for good, once I'd taken care of a few things. Second on the list would be the ability to control wiener dogs - that would come in very handy, but I'd most likely use that one for evil; I'd build a massive wiener dog army and take over the world, or at least the first two feet off the ground of the world.
It's the Fourth of July today, and here in Salt Lake City it's storming. It rolled in pretty quick, and so it may be gone by the time the fireworks are ready to start. Right now, though, it's way too windy and the professional shows will probably get cancelled. I'm sure that won't stop any number of drunken idiots from setting off their own bootleg fireworks and lighting their neighborhoods on fire. I like a good fireworks show, but I kind of hope this years's gets called off. Maybe then the disappointed masses will spend the evening at home in quiet meditation on the subjects of liberty and democracy, and realize just how precious they are and how close we're brushing up against the edge of the abyss these days. I know the X-Men movie is fiction, but sometimes I wonder if there aren't mutants walking among us all the same; every time I go to the Albertson's grocery store near me I'm more and more convinced of that. Better proof might come from a close look at the news of the past six years or so: a president with the ability to fuzzy up the minds of half the country so that they cheer every time he takes away another protected freedom, congressional leaders with the ability to evade corruption charges for crimes that would have an ordinary citizen in shackles, and a vice president with the ability to shoot a man in the face and have that man apologize to him for the incident. Those are some pretty potent abilities, although the last one does seem kind of situation-specific. If there were some way to harness those powers for good, I'd be all for it, but I think it's probably best if we ask them politely but firmly to step down and let the non-mutants run the country again; this batch of mutants, while impressive in their way, don't seem to have the governing gene.
July 1, 2006 - On the advice and veiled taunting of some relatives who are good at this sort of thing, I've decided to start some home improvement projects. Nothing fancy to start, just some spackling and painting. I'm also finally going to fill in the rounded baseboard corners which were gnawed off by some sort of brown animal many years ago. I've put a lot of home improvement work off for some time, so it's good to get a start on it. It's not that I haven't done any of this before; I've put up drywall, painted, installed tile, done plenty of yardwork, and even laid bricks and sod (not like that; I don't care what anyone says, those photos were doctored). It's just not where my skills lie. I'm great in the kitchen, competent in the bedroom, a whiz in the computer room, and master of the TV room, but in the workshop I'm kind of all thumbs. So it will be an interesting experiment; my relatives are confident in my abilities for some reason, but I'm not going to be too surprised if I manage to knock out a load-bearing wall and cave in a section of the building by accident.
One thing I'm good at maintaining is my dogs. Although people on the street rarely comment on how calm and well-behaved they are, I do get a lot of comments about how healthy they look and how glossy their coats are. The key is regular exercise and high-quality dog food, and every two weeks I also give them both a double coat of baby seal oil. It's a little pricey these days, but my dogs are worth it.
June 30, 2006 - I shaved my head completely bald today, for several reasons. First, it's a good way to keep cool in the summer. When I did it last year, I discovered that the hair will grow back all on its own, so it's only temporary. Second, I wanted to show my solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world who aren't allowed to have hair. Third, the voices in my hair kept telling me to burn things, and since I was inclined to agree with them, it seemed best to rid myself of the temptation.
Speaking of summer, the honey locust trees (or whatever they are) outside my condo building are in bloom. I enjoy trees on the whole, but when these trees bloom, they spew grainy, sticky biomatter all over the sidewalk. I guess the extra rain we've had this year is making them extra productive; it was windy the other day, and the crap raining down from them looked like a yellow snowstorm. Naturally, the stuff sticks to everything - shoes, dogs, cars - and I'll be glad when they run out of stuff and I no longer have to wear a pair of shoes over my shoes when I go out.
A recent study by my own alma mater has made national news: driving while talking on a cell phone makes you as dangerous to others as driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol level. It doesn't matter, according to the study, whether you're holding the phone to your ear or talking on a headset or other hands-free setup. Now, I don't particularly care how people slaughter themselves when I'm not around, but when I'm driving, or especially when I'm crossing the street with my dogs, I'm downright intolerant of dangerous idiots zooming around. So be warned: if you're driving near me and talking on your cell phone, I may listen to the voices in my hair after all.
June 24, 2006 - Another CSI recap is up.
I saw An Inconvenient Truth last weekend, and aside from the pervasive sense of doom it left me with, I really liked it. Gore presents his case in a plainspoken and understandable way, and backs up everything he says with concrete scientific evidence. It's not that he's pessimistic about fixing the problem; he's not, and outlines several specific things that could be done to address the problem. I'm the pessimistic one, because the things he lists are all forward-thinking and proactive, which is the exact opposite of how our current administration works, so the odds of any of them happening anytime soon are slim at best. Gore comes across as bright, articulate, and very down-to-earth in the film, which is shot in a documentary style as he visits cities around the planet with his multimedia presentation about global warming. I know he's said he doesn't want to run for president again, and I don't blame him: why spend all that time and money again just to have the Supreme Court take your victory away at the very end? It's kind of sad, though, because there's no question that a thoughtful, inquisitive, concerned and intelligent person like him would make an excellent leader. So I give the film as many thumbs up as the law permits, and encourage you to go see it.
June 15, 2006 - Today's a great day to be an American! Some items of interest from the news, to swell you with nationalistic pride:
A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that the US government, under existing immigration laws, has the right and authority to detail non-citizens indefinitely and without explanation on the basis of national origin, race, or even religion.
The US Justice Department has sued the New Jersey Attorney General and other state officials to stop their suit against Verizon, AT&T, and other phone companies. The New Jersey AG's office is trying to force the phone companies to reveal whether they handed citizens' info over to the NSA in violation of state consumer protection laws. The DoJ's reasoning for the suit is that, if the New Jersey AG were successful, it would prove (or disprove, but come on) the existence of the "allegedly" illegal "alleged" wiretapping "alleged" program, and disclosing that proof would violate executive orders on the matter. Now, I'm no lawyer, but it seems kind of like a giveaway to file a suit to prevent people from finding out about a program that the administration claims doesn't exist.
The Diebold electronic voting machines used in last week's runoff election for Duke Cunningham's old seat (California's 50th) were stored in poll workers' cars, houses, and garages in the weeks leading up to the election. California's election laws make it pretty clear that this is a security breach, because the machines could easily have been tampered with in that time, but the county's registrar Mike Haas is not fazed by the security breach. In an interview with journalist Brad Friedman, Haas said that he thought hacking the unsecured machines was unlikely to have happened, because "you'd have to want to commit a felony, which knocks out most of our poll workers." The election, by the way, gave the seat (just barely) to Republican Brian Bilbray over Democrat Francine Busby.
The US Supreme Court has decided that, if police or other law enforcement personnel have a warrant to search your place, they don't have to knock and give you a chance to get dressed and come open the door like a civilized person. The case dealt specifically with a man whose home was entered by police in 1998; they had a warrant, his door was unlocked, and he had a gun and some crack on him when they got in, but they didn't knock first. The ruling is intended to prevent evidence from being tossed out simply because police didn't follow all the procedures they're supposed to. You know, the procedures enshrined in law (and the Constitution, for that matter) for years to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures. Of course no one wants a bad guy getting off on a technicality, but there's a huge, long, ugly list of reasons why we have all those technicalities in the first place. The 4-4 tie among Justices (following the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor) was broken by newly-appointed Samuel Alito.
So toss some burgers on the grill, America, and enjoy your freedoms! Tomorrow and each day thereafter, you'll have one less to celebrate.
June 14, 2006 - The winner of this week's Photo Caption Contest is Anastasia, with "Give pizza chance." Honorable mentions go to "It's a frozen pizza with a peace symbol made of pepperoni," "Why does this pizza have so little pepperoni on it?" and "Polychromatic Study in Teflon and Cheese # 4."
My dear mother, may she rest in peace, once told me when I was young that the peace symbol was actually a broken, upside-down cross - which symbolized, I guess, the peacenik commitment to destroying Christianity through tolerance and understanding. Where she heard that, I have no idea, but apparently that notion was passed around quite a bit by right-wing groups such as the John Birch Society. This was sometime in the 70s, well before the internet made finding out the truth about such things a pizza cake. In fact, the peace symbol originated as part of the nuclear disarmament movement in the late 1950s. It represents the semaphore positions for the letters N and D, and was commissioned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in England. I'll leave it to you to figure out what the N and D stood for. The circle, of course, stands for roundness, which everyone can agree is better than being square.
Even with the internet to help us research stuff, though, most people are too lazy to do their own debunking, so they still pass unreliable baloney around via word of mouth or Fox News. That's not to say that the internet is 100% reliable; not much is, but it's an essential part of our increasing ability to retrieve knowledge quickly. I read once that part of the measure of intelligence is a person's ability to go find out stuff they don't already know. Yes, I know, any measure of intelligence is inherently biased, the white test-making Man sucks, yada yada. Let's put that in the Loose Tangents bin for now, okay? The point is that, with a tool that lets us dig up facts and porn and statistics in minutes instead of hours, one could argue that the collective IQ has gone up considerably over the past several years. God knows it needed a boost. Smarter people, however, are harder to fool or keep compliant in the face of increasing corporate and government naughtiness - is it any wonder the two-tiered internet scheme is facing such weak opposition from our lawmakers? If the internet represents true, unbridled freedom of information, well, that's a problem for the people who rely on a constriction of information to keep their shady dealings nicely shaded. Even if the phone companies start implementing their two-tiered plan (in which the sites who pay a toll would get preference over the loser sites like this one), the cat's already out of the bag; some clever person or people would find a way around it eventually so information could be freely shared again. That's as close as I get to optimism these days; enjoy it.