June 10, 2006 - There's another CSI recap up in the TV Show Recaps section.
I was at the grocery store recently when I noticed a container of parmesan cheese that said "Suggested Retail Price: $3.49." The price on the shelf was $4.29, but if you were a member of the grocery chain's "Gather Data on Your Shopping Habits to Sell to Advertisers" club, your cost was only $3.89. I don't know all the ins and outs of the grocery business, and I'm sure it's challenging to make a profit on some items, but I've always had a sneaking suspicion that the 'special' member price was the real price, and the 'regular' price was a jacked-up price to gouge the people who didn't enroll in their little data-mining program. I'm pretty damn sure the store didn't pay $3.49 to buy the damn thing, and if the manufacturer bothers to put something like that on a package, odds are fair they're already leaving in a reasonable markup for the retailer. It's only a can of cheese, and it's only a 40 cent difference (of course I'm a member of their club, because I don't want to pay the sucker price for my groceries), but it still steamed me. I pointed it out to a manager, because I was in that kind of mood, and all he could say was "Gee, the manufacturers aren't supposed to put that kind of label on there, sorry for the confusion." The most irritating part of their whole club scheme is that now most of the grocery chains in the area do something similar, and I'm sure they follow the sucker price/regular price plan too.
June 9, 2006 - No less a personage than Jon Stewart responded to my last entry; he didn't actually write to me, and it's probably fair to assume that he didn't actually read the entry either, but he did address the topic on The Daily Show this week during his interview with Bill Bennett. Bennett was there to push his new book about some stupid neocon thing, and he was also apparently there as a spokesman for the administration's stance on the Federal Marriage Amendment. I guess that, as the gambling-addicted author of a book on values, he was the least morally-debased and hypocritical person the Republicans could find to send out to the talk shows. As Jon went through the conservative argument with Bennett and tore him a new lie hole at every step (it really was pleasant to watch), he mentioned something that really resonated with me. It's also something Anastasia and I have discussed in the past, which is the fact that all of the advances in freedoms - slavery, women's suffrage, lowering the voting age, civil rights and so on - have met with fierce and forceful resistance from the conservative or change-averse portion of the citizens. Despite their best efforts, despite the prophecies of doom and woe that would destroy us all if X freedom were granted, the freedom was always granted in the end. Social progress is inevitable, he said, and even Bennett conceded that this was a battle they'd basically already lost. Now, it can get tiresome at times to hear people complain about how far there is left to go in the struggle for whatever rights they're on about, as if they've forgotten how far the struggle has come; even I am guilty of that. History shows progress, and sometimes it's necessary to step back and remind ourselves of that so we don't collapse under the illusory weight of futility. So thanks, Jon, both for the reality check and for smacking down the religious right's baseless arguments against gay marriage with wit and style.
June 6, 2006 - This week we Americans are in for a special treat: our fearless leader, in the best tradition of doublespeak, explains to us and to the lawmakers under his heel why hate is good and inequality makes us all safer from terrorism and a vengeful God. It’s the Federal Marriage Amendment, and it’s something God surely told Bush to do in one of their regular afternoon chats. We will leave aside, for the moment, the notion that “marriage” has only changed from “ownership of a female by a male” to “somewhat equal partnership” in the last 150 years or so (or more recently, like the 1970s, if you count the US court decisions saying a wife couldn’t possibly be raped by her husband), and also leave aside the notion that the “God” Bush talks to could be shut off with a thorazine drip. We’re still left with the problem of amending the US Constitution with an article designed specifically to deny freedoms to a specific group inspired solely by a subjective and entirely Church-based (the one thing that’s not supposed to get to poke around in our government) evaluation of their worth as individuals; it also defies Christian philosophy by placing arbitrary limits on what should be a fundamental and immutable right of all humans everywhere: the right of two consenting adults to cherish and care for one another. Perhaps most sinister of all, it obliquely codifies the function of marriage as a production house for our young, which in turn categorizes women as breeding stock. It’s a nakedly political move, pandering of the lowest order - by which I mean pandering that doesn’t include me as a target; I don’t like feeling left out. If Bush wants to shore up his falling poll numbers, he should bite the bullet and do something to make the lives of ordinary citizens better for once, instead of just his corporate sponsors. The amendment has no hope of passing, and as many other writers and observers have noted, we have much, much, much bigger fish to fry than this right now.
The people who fall into the category of Bush’s die-hard right-wing base are kind of hard for me to describe without resorting to invective, but I’ll try. These folks are conservative, obviously, which naturally means they’re averse to change. The majority of them self-identify as Christian, and I don’t doubt that some of them are sincerely spiritual in their religiosity, but the rest are a puzzle. They espouse and appreciate values that are essentially alien to me, and I’m a person with a strong Christian upbringing and a slightly-more-than-passing familiarity with the Bible and matters of the soul. While I don’t self-identify as a member of any specific religious group these days, I have a general affinity for people of positive faith; I understand the need and desire to draw comfort from a benevolent higher power, and to seek out the hidden order in an apparently chaotic universe. (I recognize that not everyone has a Christian upbringing or worldview, and I hope you’ll understand and respect the need to address this issue within the framework of the Christian faith.) In Christianity, the local manifestation of that higher power is Jesus Christ, who walked among us for over 30 years as a scholar, carpenter, and teacher. Jesus’s teachings are pretty simple (simple to say, at least; harder to live up to). Be kind to your fellow humans. Care for the poor. Care for the sick. Keep an open mind. Learn all you can. Accept people as your brothers and sisters, warts and all. Improve yourself. Practice humility. Embrace joy. Share what you have when you can. Immerse yourself in hope. Every single one of these general concepts could be included in a recipe for a better society, regardless of who said them or which religion’s tome carries the original quotes. When I consider the fervent throng who rally around Bush at times like this, though, I don’t see much of what really counts toward true Christianity. I don’t doubt their faith, but I’m nearly certain that the target of that faith is not the man known as the Prince of Peace.
Let’s look at the common threads: first and strongest in the weave is meanness, a bitter and sustained desire to do (or at least watch) harm to their fellow humans if they differ in any way. This is the opposite of kindness. There’s a constant effort to create the “Other,” the sub-human and sub-Christian enemy upon whom the blame for all of their woes can be placed. Gays, Jews, progressives, Muslims, blacks, feminists, and even casual dissenters interested in a more open discussion - they have all been propped up as the Other at some point in the uncomfortably-close past. This is the opposite of unity. We’ve seen many times throughout history that the effort to create an enemy is fractal; it spawns more and more copies of itself, with smaller and smaller variances in the criteria, until eventually each person is the enemy of the other. There’s hatred, a blinded and irrational codependence with the constructed Other which draws these people, like star stuff to a black hole, into a tightly focused downward spiral that can only end in annihilation. This is the opposite of love. It consumes the soul like rust consumes iron, slowly but inevitably destroying the strength and utility of the human spirit. There’s fear, a shrieking nightmare of unnamable ills waiting to be unleashed by an old-testament God (or his earthly suit-and-tie proxy) upon anyone who doesn’t fall into line. This is the opposite of hope. It is a numbing poison that short-circuits logic and rational thought, and leaves the victim vulnerable to manipulation.
These people, our fellow humans who can’t drink from their own chosen fountain of salvation, are frustrating to watch as they march blindly in an army whose true purpose is hidden from them. The individual, the man or woman, the husband or grandmother who submits to the will of their selected leaders and abandons the fundamental moral code common to the core of most theologies, is certainly accountable for their own actions; it’s the leaders, however, who are the true jackals, the fomenters of so much misery and rage. These men (and women, but for any number of reasons most are men) employ deception, misinformation, and outright lies to keep their chattel in a constant state of agitated fear; they use misdirection to point that fear away from the real and needful issues our society should work on, and toward the conjured issues which they can control and which are designed to defy peaceful resolution. I will not reprint the many hate-filled and repellent quotes from James Dobson, Jimmy Swaggart, Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, William Donahue, and other religious and civic leaders I’ve come across because I believe in the power of the word, and I do not want to give any more attention to these people and their hatred than I have to. Here’s an excellent diary from DailyKOS on hate speech and the Us vs. Them mentality which contains many of their quotes if you’d like a reminder of just how repugnant they can be. These men and women sow chaos and divisiveness, and they use their positions as religious leaders to feed their own insatiable greed for wealth and power. They are quick to punish, slow to forgive, and brutal in their treatment of anyone who dissents from their stated world view. Today’s Other is homosexuals in particular, but tomorrow it will be someone else, and it will almost certainly include you or your loved ones at some point.
What I find most chilling about these leaders is that they cloak themselves in Christian beliefs and values, while their words and actions reveal plainly that they serve another master entirely. They use religion as a business plan, a means to advance themselves and exert control and dominance over the people under their influence. Do they care for the poor by addressing issues of poverty and engaging in discussions at the highest levels of government and business, or do they prey upon the poor by feeding them false hope and demanding a tithe? Do they care for the sick by pressing the issue of better and more inclusive healthcare, or do they dismiss the sick as deserving victims of God’s punishments? Do they embrace joy, or do they embrace sadistic glee at the suffering of the Other? Do they demand justice for all humans equally, or do they demand punishment for their enemies alone? Do they encourage hope, or do they encourage fear? Do they promote acceptance and tolerance, or do they divide and alienate? There’s a pattern here, and it’s most decidedly un-Christian. I don’t say this lightly or to be divisive, but if the Christian concept of Satan, the Prince of Lies, has any manifestation in the real world, it is here. The Bible says that lies and deception and hatred and cruelty are Satan’s stock-in-trade. If you’re willing to accept the notion of evil at all, by any name, these traits must be included in the description. The anti-Christians who rally around Bush’s call for hatred, who support all wars and the slaughter of our manufactured enemies, who wait eagerly for an unwarranted vindication in the Rapture…these people are truly fallen. Satanism, it’s said, is a Christian religion; it can’t exist outside the framework of the Christian faith. The Christian concept of satanic blood rites and demon worship is a false flag; the subtlety of a hateful nemesis with thousands of years of experience and knowledge is hardly likely to manifest itself in such a vulgar and obvious expression. Evil plays a very deep game. It knows that the best and most satisfying way to destroy something of beauty is to convince the believers in that beauty to destroy it themselves. So goes Christianity, and any positive faith, in the hands of the religious extremist.
The solution is both simple and exceedingly difficult: we must negate the hatred with love, and disperse the clouds of ignorance with the light of knowledge and education. We must firmly insist on the sanctity of the boundary between religion and government; this is already the law of the land in America, and there are plenty of enforceable laws governing hate speech as well. We must neuter fear by showering hope far and wide. We must restore faith to its proper place as a positive influence in the lives of those who choose to embrace it. When we engage them on their level, they have already won the battle; we must withdraw from their war altogether in order to save them and ourselves.
June 5, 2006 - Anastasia and I had a further discussion about the election fraud thing and voting in general, and we came to some additional conclusions. We started talking about voter turnout in the US versus other countries, because voter turnout here has always been fairly low especially in off-years. We were both surprised to learn, after some research, that voter turnout for the most recent election was higher than we thought (or higher than we remembered, anyway). The US Census Bureau reported that 64 percent of 18+ citizens voted in 2004. The Federal Elections Commission reported (secondary source here) that 55.3 percent voted; I'll leave it to you to ponder the peculiarity of that discrepancy, but it's clearly more than non-Presidential federal election years, when the average for Congressional elections seems to hover around 38 percent. Odd-numbered years generally have a much lower turnout because (in part, at least) only local issues or offices are at stake; so goes conventional wisdom, anyway, but comprehensive statistics on this have proven hard to find. We both noted that, while 64 percent is better than we thought, it's still pretty low for a Presidential election.
Consider this: the US ranks 139th on a list of 172 nations for average voter turnout for federal elections (with 48.3 percent) since 1945. I took their chart and parsed it out myself, and eliminated the countries with less than 5 elections since 1945, because the shiny newness of voting does affect turnout somewhat, but it didn't help much. There were 86 countries left on the revised chart, and the US still ranked only 71st. We are number one in something, though - we had the most elections (26) on the chart. So we give everyone plenty of opportunities to get involved in choosing their government, but The People (half of them, anyway) have cried out with one voice: "Meh." There are countries, such as Australia and Belgium, that have compulsory voting requirements - maybe it's time we considered that here. I'm hesitant to have anything government-related be compulsory, but participatory government doesn't work too well if only half of the eligible citizens participate. If people had to vote, maybe at least some of them would be stirred to get off their butts and do some actual research on the candidates and issues, instead of just voting for the name in whichever ad they saw last. In fact, this was one of the ideas included in a presentation to the US Commission on Election Reform last June. As interesting and thorough as that report was, I'm sure most of it was ignored by the Commission. Belgium and Australia, for what it's worth, had an average of 84.9 and 84.4 percent turnout respectively in the chart I mentioned above.
Anastasia and I also talked about the recent American Idol voting turnout, and the related notion (which I found repeated by a number of different newspaper columnists) that more people had voted on American Idol than had voted in the Presidential election. It's one of those things that sounds like a shocking indictment of both our democracy and our culture, and as a general rule I love those (in the horrified-fascination sort of way), but the problem is that it's not true. Not as it's phrased, anyway. Over 63 million votes were counted for the latest American Idol finale (although there's no way to ensure that those were 63+ million unique voters), compared to 118 million votes cast in the 2004 Presidential election. Why the House Archives' numbers differ from the Census Bureau numbers or the FEC numbers by several million is a mystery, but we'll put that aside for now. So it's true that American Idol generated more votes by telephone or text message than any one specific US President has received by actual voting-booth voting, but that still doesn't compare apples to apples, because the American Idol winner didn't receive the full 63 million votes. I don't know how many the winner got, and I don't care to know; I poked around on the official website for a while, but I couldn't find the breakout of votes. I could feel my ranking on the Lowest Common Denominator Index slowly sliding downward, and I was afraid I'd click on something that would register me with their email list, so I left the site and purged my cache, then reinstalled Windows just in case. An interesting ("interesting") side note is that there were complaints of problems, bias, and even fraud in the last few Idol voting sessions, and these got about as much play in the regular media as did the complaints of election fraud in the 2004 election.
So, to summarize: any given culture will always have its populist bubblegum crap, especially a culture that specializes in producing populist bubblegum crap. If 63 million people want to vote for their favorite Idol, that's their business and none of mine. The story of Idol getting more votes than the Presidential election is apocryphal (as it's usually framed by pundits, anyway), but the notion that Americans care more about cultural cotton candy than they do about the inner workings of their government is a supportable one nonetheless. We live in an age that the Founding Fathers couldn't have dreamed of, with technology and opportunities for corruption that are unprecedented in scale and scope. Maybe it's time we re-engineered our election system from top to bottom, to ensure that those who want to vote can, that their votes get counted each and every time, and that the people they're electing are not bought and paid for by corporations and lobbyists. Easy voter registration, fully auditable voting systems and equipment, and federally-funded campaigns would make it much harder to game the system, and might even help our elected public servants recall just who that "public" really is. That's why it won't happen, but it's pleasant to think about.
June 3, 2006 - Holy crap, it's June already. The last few weeks have been kind of busy, which is mostly good. I've decided to continue recapping the most recent season of CSI - it's a fair amount of work, but it's fun and it's a good way to exercise my writing bone. I didn't record the rerun the week before last, but I did record the one on June 1, so I'll have a recap up for that in a few days.
I read an interesting and very well-documented article recently on election fraud in the 2004 presidential election. Considering that more and more evidence of mischief is coming to light as time goes by - largely mischief that favored Bush - I'm almost surprised that it's not a hot topic in the regular media. Almost, but not quite. I think the idea of something as massively corrupt as the systematic dismantling of our electoral system actually happening, instead of just being a plot in a summer thriller, is simply too much for the average person to fit in their brain. It's one of those fundamental essences of America, like class mobility or equal treatment under the law, that people are determined to take for granted no matter how much evidence you provide to the contrary, because if you pull on one of those particular threads, you'll end up unravelling most people's worldview. Psychology 101 tells us that most humans, no matter where or when, would violently resist having their basic assumptions about the world around them challenged, however goofy their assumptions are. It's a coping mechanism, and an entirely understandable one, but in a way it makes enormous crimes much easier to carry out, whether it's done by one person, a group working together, or even people working independently toward the same goal.
I mentioned the article to Anastasia, and her take on the matter is that there may well have been voter fraud, but in the end a large chunk of America really was stupid enough to vote for Bush - not once, but twice - and so the existence of any fraud really becomes a secondary concern. I have to ask: are you really that dumb, America? Have the schools and the media failed to provide you with even the most basic critical thinking skills and the full spectrum of information to make rational choices? Have you really become the poster nation for Fall of Rome II: The Dumbening? Should the other half of us, the ones who still want to move forward as a society instead of squatting in our own filth and humming tunelessly to ourselves until we collapse under the crushing weight of our own fat and ignorance, move to Canada or Europe? Have we become a couple fighting over who gets to keep the rent-controlled apartment? Oh, shit...that was a movie that just came out, wasn't it? Well, there you go. I don't even need to see the movie to know how our little saga will end: everyone walks out of the theater feeling vaguely entertained; they blink at the sun, find their car, and drive back to suburbia where they can squat in their filth in peace. Or...wait, what was I talking about again? I think I lost control of the metaphor. Anyway, America: stop it right now. Learn to think critically, read the last 30 years of Doonesbury to catch up, and report back to me when you're done.
May 30, 2006 - I've finally finished and posted the recap for the CSI season finale. Sorry for the delay...we'll blame it on my tooth woes of last week, as I'm not quite ready to acknowledge the consequences of my own personal laziness. I'm told by my editor that it's my best recap yet, so if you're only going to read one, that's the one you should read.
May 23, 2006 - This weekend I lost a crown. It just popped out while I was eating, and as you might imagine it was kind of alarming. It didn't hurt, but I didn't like the feel of having a hole where my tooth used to be, because I'm not 7 and I don't live in West Virginia. I went to the dentist today (this was the earliest he could get me in) to have it looked at, and his answer was that the underneath part of the tooth (the root, down in the gum) had decayed and couldn't hold a crown any more. He said I'd have to have it surgically extracted. I should mention at this point that I don't like the dentist. This particular dentist is fine, as dentists go, but as a matter of personal policy I don't trust any of them. My previous dentist evidently got her degree at Buchenwald, and I should have stopped going to her much sooner than I did, but I figured my experience would likely be the same no matter where I went. I'm one of those unfortunate people with a genetic tendency toward tooth decay and super-intelligence. One is good; the other I'm not so thrilled about. I don't trust dentists because, aside from the fact that many of them are over-priced gleeful sadists, I'm firmly convinced that (a) they have access to much better methods and materials for tooth repair and protection than they share with the general public, and (b) they plant cavity seeds in my teeth whenever I go in for a "cleaning," just like a mechanic will secretly tinker with parts of your car that are working just fine when you take it in, but which will then mysteriously break down a few weeks later. On the plus side, I'm pretty sure the lost tooth is one of the two with listening devices in it, so now they'll only be able to hear me in mono, which is hopefully annoying.
Paranoia aside, when he told me I'd need oral surgery I was...we'll say 'apprehensive,' for lack of a better word that doesn't involve vicious cursing and soiling of the dental chair. I assumed that it would be very expensive, and I'm not exactly rolling around in dental money (not any more, anyway). He didn't want to perform the extraction himself because that's not his area of expertise, but he just happened to know some people who were in on the racket--I mean, to whom he could refer me. I called all three of the people he listed and got prices, and I was surprised to find that having a tooth dug out of your skull isn't as expensive as I'd expected. I picked the doctor whose price was lowest - and who, conveniently, also had the lowest number of dental deaths on his record. Both may be attributable to the fact that his was the newest practice, but I'll take it. I think I'm going to have them put a cyanide-filled hollow tooth in its place, just in case I find myself in a tight spot someday (such as not being able to afford the huge bill for constructing and installing a cyanide-filled tooth). Apparently the price of the surgery goes up considerably if you want to be anaesthetized, so I'll just get a local shot (or 5) and hope that does the trick. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll also get to try some of this Vicodin I've been hearing so much about.
May 22, 2006 - I filled up my car today (11 out of 13 gallons), and it cost me 33 bucks. I'm sure every obscenity-laced tirade against the greedy oil companies that could be spouted by random bloggers or street-corner prophets has already been thusly spouted, so I'll spare you mine (for now). I don't have the most fuel-efficient car - it gets between 20 and 25 mpg most of the time, which isn't great - but I've definitely driven worse. I do my best to consolidate trips, and since I live downtown I walk a fair bit as well, although downtown SLC isn't the most pedestrian-friendly place. There are malls and plazas and open-space areas, but as with most well-intended and poorly-conceived city projects, none of them are near where people actually live, so you have to drive to get to them. Salt Lake City, like most places in the US (except for some East Coast cities), is pretty spread out, and even with a decent mass-transit system there's just no time-effective way to get from A to B to C by taking the bus. Some people have said, well, if you live downtown (where parking is also a problem), you should just get rid of your car. If I worked at a company that was near a bus or light-rail stop, that'd be fine for getting to work and back, but I work for myself, and it's hard enough to get new clients without screening out the ones who aren't conveniently located. Plus all the other things most people want to be able to do with their cars that they can't do on the bus, and I'm not just talking about picking up hookers. So that argument doesn't really wash, and it won't until urban planning is done around the idea of a pedestrian environment. That will happen someday, I'm sure. Some cities are further ahead than others, especially in other countries, but here in the US we're pretty deeply entrenched in car culture. You can't really tell people to get rid of their cars and wait for the rest of the culture to catch up to them - it has to start from the top down. Car culture isn't necessarily the problem anyway, or not the whole of it; having a car provides a certain mobility and freedom that's very hard for anyone to give up, and it's harder still if there's no reasonable replacement available. One might argue that we Americans surrendered a whole lot of our basic freedoms pretty damn quickly in the last five years or so, and they'd be right, but that makes the remaining (perceived) freedoms that much more difficult to negotiate over, regardless of whether this time it's actually in our best long-term interest or not.
We've been pretty spoiled in the US as far as gas prices go, and we still are: even today, people in most other industrialized countries pay way more than $3 per gallon of gas, and they have for many years. Those countries also don't have nearly as many huge behemoth cars roaring around as we do. I'm sure that's due in part to the high cost of gas but it's also certainly due in part to a collective acceptance of the need for smaller vehicles in places where the population density is much higher and the roads are smaller - which describes both Europe and the older East Coast cities. So while I'd be one of the first to shout til my voice was raw about the high price of gas (and have done), I'd also point out that our expansive frontier mentality that tells us we have all the room and all the resources we'll ever need is now a little dated. The hybrid cars on the market are a step in the right direction, but I'm a little skeptical that over 100 years of automotive design and refinements have only brought us up to 65 mpg. It's time to give car makers (who have traditionally had to be dragged at gunpoint toward making any safety or efficiency improvements to their products) a serious incentive. Ideally that should come from consumers who would refuse to buy fuel-inefficient vehicles, but we all know how stupid consumers are, so that leaves it to the government...but we all know how stupid that thing's become lately too. It's a pickle. I would recommend that, after the neocons have forced us into WWIII and we rebuild from the rubble of our shattered society, fuel-efficient cars should be on the new government's to-do list. Maybe not at the top, what with the rubble and all, but on the list somewhere. Finding and publicly eating the remaining neocons should be at the top, then rebuilding our monarchy, then the car thing.
May 18, 2006 - Another CSI recap is up, just in time to read before tonight's season finale. Read it quick!
May 15, 2006 - If you're bored or have chewed all the flavor out of the usual government outrages, here's something else you can work on: Net Neutrality. As you've probably read here and elsewhere, the free and open internet is at risk of being gobbled up by telephone companies. This site has a petition you can sign and some tools to contact your legislator, and it also has a rundown of the spin and agitprop being put out by the phone companies to cloud the issue. That's the part I find interesting - there's really nothing good that can come from allowing large corporations to exert control over the internet's content and availability, but the same tactics of distract/mislead/frighten that caused so many people to vote against their own best interests in the last several elections are at work again here. For example, there's a website/group (which doesn't get a link from me) called Hands Off the Internet, which wants you to "Say NO to government regulation of the internet." The government regulation it's talking about, of course, is the proposed bill that would enforce network neutrality and prevent companies from giving preferential treatment to websites that pay them money - and give anti-preferential treatment to the 99% of the sites that couldn't afford it, including yours truly. That site is sponsored by a number of phone companies and industry groups, not least of which are AT&T and BellSouth. It's frustrating to have self-serving groups like this spinning bullshit to confuse the (easily-confused) masses, but I suppose that, without them, fighting the good fight would get kind of dull after a while. Not that I'd mind a break.
The sponsor of SaveTheInternet.com is FreePress.net, which promotes media reform. By 'reform,' they're talking about fixing our broken government watchdog (can a watchdog be broken? sick, maybe, from eating a dead skunk), and any regular reader of this site knows that the increasingly lazy and complicit media is one of my crazy frothy hot-button issues. There's some interesting stuff on the FreePress site about Video News Releases as well. VNRs are usually created by PR firms (for corporations or the government) and handed to television stations, which those stations have increasingly been running as if they're a straight news segment. They are to journalism what McDonald's is to healthy eating. It's one of those practices that's so shamelessly unethical it borders on hilarious, or it would be if it were just a fabrication of some political satirist.
I think the single most important function of the internet is its role in New Journalism (well, it's a tie with Access to High-Quality Erotica). There will always be people who are willing to dig deep to find out the truth of things, and share it with the rest of us. We used to call them journalists, but then they got bought by News Corp (the most Orwellian company name ever) and they turned into mindless zombies. The new journalists are out in the wilderness, posting or blogging or podcasting what they find and hoping someone hears it - it's not exactly tidy, but hunting down the truth never is. As we've seen lately, the more consolidated that pursuit becomes, the more susceptible it becomes to co-opting. There are plenty of crap-spewing sites on the internet too, but there are lots of good and informative sites that pick up the news the regular media won't touch or won't properly dissect. If I were only slightly more cynical, I would propose that shutting down the New Journalists was one of the big corporations' goals in tiering up the internet. If nothing else, it would be a nice bonus for them, and certainly for the people who want to own 'news.' If you want some reliable alternate sources of real news, try these sites:
They all have their pet issues, just like me, and they would probably all be called "liberal" by the people who've turned "open-minded and forward-thinking" into anti-American traits. Some of these sites gather news from other places, and some even do actual research on their own (I know! It's crazy!) to produce more detailed pieces on specific topics. If you're nostalgic for old-fashioned journalism like Mom used to watch, check them out.
May 13, 2006 - I've added a new section to The Inner Crab: TV Show Recaps. Anastasia and I are both fans of Jammer and TWOP, and she encouraged me to write some recaps of my own to try it out. We were both a little saddened when TWOP stopped recapping CSI, so that's where I decided to start. There are currently two recaps up, both from recent episodes, and more will follow. I hope you like them. I also made my email address more prominent on the page, for those of you who've wanted to send me some fawning fan mail but were intimidated by the prospect of scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page to find my address. We at Inner Crab Communications are sensitive to your needs!
May 10, 2006 - [Editor's Warning: Ranty] The recently-released Survey of Consumer Finances, which is regularly conducted by the Federal Reserve, shows that Americans are deeper in debt than ever. From 2001 to 2004, the average family's debt increased by a whopping 33 percent. In three years. The root of all this debt, says the study, is not luxuries but basics: housing, healthcare, food and education, all of which have increased by an average of 11 percent in the last five years. This is happening at a time when our national economy is allegedly booming. Clearly it's booming for the people at the top of the supply chain for all of these things, but there's only so far you can stretch $45,000 a year (the income level used for comparison in the study). After that, you can either starve, stay sick, or go into debt. Of course, if the large but ultimately finite amount of money in our economic system stays mostly at the top like it's prone to do, the masses don't have a very realistic chance of getting out of debt. What's worse, although their income remainings relatively static, their buying power actually decreases substantially due to the high interest being charged on their debt which eats up any extra money they might have spent on paying down the principal (or buying the things they went into debt for in the first place).
In related news, mortgage bankers in California have announced a 50-year mortgage product (I love it when they call their financial traps 'products'), designed to help people afford houses in the current real-estate market. Japan, as I understand it, has had 60-year mortgages for a while now. We've long accepted that owning a home is a birthright, not just part of the American Dream but part of the American Reality. The further out your mortgage goes, though, the more interest you end up paying even though your monthly payments are lower. Consider this example: For a 50-year mortgage, $150,000 at an interest rate of 7.5% will cost you $576,000 by the time it's paid off. $426,000 of that is interest. That's interest on a secured debt which the lender could seize at any time if you fall far enough behind. It makes a lot of sense to the lender that you should pay over half a million dollars for a $150,000 house when the risk to the lender is close to zero, but it doesn't make any sense at all to me.
One of the most disturbing trends of the last 60 years or so is the tendency toward financial enslavement by the masses. I'm sure there's a clinical-sounding economics term for the practice to make it seem benign, just a part of the way the world works, but that doesn't make it any more ethical, at least in my book. Of all the atrocities committed by man upon man, this ranks right up there as one of the most filthy and immoral - it may be slow and insidious rather than quick and violent, but the number of people whose lives are collectively dimmed tallies in the hundreds of millions. Wages and income have remained relatively flat for the bottom 90 percent of American workers for the past 30 year - in fact, our income over that timespan dropped by 7 percent on average when adjusted for inflation. Just about every other economic factor that affects us has risen. Banks charge more and higher fees, but pay lower interest on your savings or checking account - if they pay interest at all. Housing prices have gone up across the board, which is great if you want to play the buy low, sell high real estate game, but most people just want an affordable place to live. Service providers of all kinds (insurance, cable, credit cards, phone, and on and on) have raised their interest rates and come up with clever new fees that are fairly small by themselves but collectively take a huge new bite out of our same old pocketbook. I don't subscribe to the tinfoil hat theories about an elite cabal of ultra-rich people purposely manipulating markets and prices on a global scale to slowly screw the average citizen into the ground, but only because I'm too cynical to think that such a cabal could stand to cooperate with each other for very long. When I try to put a metaphor to our predicament, though, the only one that comes to mind is the Matrix, except that we're in our little pods to generate money instead of electricity.
Complaining about things like this will quickly get you accused of waging "class warfare," which ironically only comes from the class with the upper hand. It's probably the single oldest and most common source of friction between people or groups of people, too - the haves and the have-nots. Capitalism, a relatively new invention, clearly isn't the problem. Human nature and greed are the problems. In a civil society, we put laws in place to justly govern the exchanges between the rich and the poor, and we create safety mechanisms to help the poor when things get too bad. Those laws and mechanisms have been systematically dismantled in our society, eroded in an incremental way so as to keep the outrage level below critical. When John Edwards talks about "two Americas," he's talking specifically about this divide. When Bill Moyers talks about "taking back America," he means restoring the laws and protections which keep the rich from preying on the poor, and which ensure the poor and middle class that they will have access to the means to improve their station.
None of this is a call to abandon capitalism or the profit motive, but capitalism is only a way of handling economics, not a religion or a law. It can and should be modulated to keep the people who get ahead in the race from throwing tire spikes in the road behind them, or from packing up the road and putting it in their trunk. We can either solve the problem with reason and compassion today, or with torches and guillotines tomorrow. Well, not literally tomorrow, because I've got a thing. But tomorrowish.
May 5, 2006 - Happy Cinco de Mayo to all my readers who celebrate it. I'm always up for a festive holiday, but with all the artificially-inflated immigration tension lately, I'm going to play it cool on the ethnic celebrations for a while. Instead, I invite you to join me in celebrating a new American holiday I just invented. I call it The Fifth of May! This holiday celebrates the defeat of French forces by the American Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Festivities include flat bread and warm bean paste, frosty Margarets to drink, and plenty of clog dancing. Also there are wiener dogs for everyone.
May 2, 2006 - As the internet became more popular in the mid-90s, so did hoax emails making the rounds. Bill Gates would send you money if you helped him 'test' some email thingy by forwarding this email to everyone you knew. Gang initiates were prowling the streets at night with their car headlights off, waiting to pop a cap in the ass of anyone who gave them a courtesy 'turn on your headlights' flash. AOL (or Prodigy or Delphi or whoever) was planning to intiate an email tax. Not surprisingly, the last one ended up being true, if a little late in coming. After desensitizing the net-using public by means of their cleverly-crafted hoax, the big telecom companies whose equipment and services keep portions of the internet operational are now trying to turn the internet into their own personal money garden.
The internet as we know it today operates on the principle of Net Neutrality, which means that the entire internet is open and available to everyone without prejudice. My crappy site gets just as much preference and bandwidth as your crappy site or Microsoft's crappy site. The telecom companies, by which I mean AT&T and the like, are very interested in creating a 'tiered' internet, where web sites and content providers who pay them money get preferred treatment, more bandwidth for people going to that site, and so on. Those who don't pay, well..."It would be unfortunate if somethin' was to happen to your fine web establishment heres." It's not an unexpected move, and from a short-term greed-based perspective it makes perfect sense. After all, things that benefit people but can't be profited from are a little suspicious, maybe even a teeny bit un-American, wouldn't you agree? Apparently that was a good enough argument for the FCC, who relaxed the safeguards protecting the internet itself from online [corporate] predators in August of 2005. Since then, CEOs at BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T have been salivating and rubbing themselves in a most unseemly way at the prospect of just how much money they were going to make by replacing the internet's neutral, democratic model with a more...well, I suppose we could say a more American model in which money talks and everyone else can go to hell.
Earlier today, Massachusetts Representative Ed Markey brought out a bill called the Network Neutrality Act of 2006, and you can read about it here. Markey is a democrat, so this isn't one of those ironically-named bills that ends up doing the exact opposite of what its title implies. If you haven't done so already, you should let your congresspeople know that you support the concept and practice of net neutrality, and they should too. If you, like me, have a completely useless bag of moldy wind for a Congressperson, you can always call someone else's instead - I don't think they care either way. If you're not sure how to get in touch with them, try here.
May 1, 2006 - Happy Uno de Mayo! Today a nationwide walkout is planned by members of the Latino community. They want to demonstrate just how much positive impact they have on businesses and the economy (when they're working there, not when they leave), and I say more power to them. I'm a second-generation American, at least on my mother's side. She was born in Canada but moved here with her family when she was young. She got her US citizenship before marrying my father, thank you very much. So I feel some solidarity with those who want to live and work in the US even though they weren't born here. In the grand scheme of things, it seems pretty silly to say a person can't live and work in a particular place just because they were born on the wrong side of an arbitrary line on a map. And for the record, all the lines on the map are arbitrary.
What bothers me about having this debate right now, though, is the timing. The US faces many imminent dangers, but the presence of immigrants isn't chief among them. The poor folks who came here from other countries looking for work (usually because US foreign or trade policy trashed the economies in their own country) should not be used as political targets of convenience by politicians sweating to distract the public from their own complicity with the current administration's crimes. It's just rude. I think someone should start a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all the groups who've been abused by this administration and its many idiots of convenience in order to keep the public from noticing the jack-booted man behind the jack-booted curtain. Gays, the poor, immigrants, followers of Islam, patriotic dissenters...you get the idea. What they'd sue for, I have no idea. Can you sue someone for killing the American dream?
April 28, 2006 - Business has been very slow these past few Bush administrations, but today I had a full day of Things To Do that even included a goodly amount of computer work. I was happy to have some real work, so I dressed in full nerd regalia: comfortable slacks with deep pockets, a short-sleeved shirt with a front pocket (as all shirts should have), and sensible socks and rubber-soled shoes (a coincidence, but we'll say it's for avoiding electric shocks). I had a floppy disk in my shirt pocket with drivers on it for the job I had to do; a small screwdriver (with a pen clip) in the same pocket, for screwing or stabbing things; a pen, for writing or stabbing things; a cell phone in my pants pocket; a portable Zip drive in the car. If I had money to throw around, I might consider getting a BlackBerry, but they're a bit out of my price range at the moment, so I'll have to settle for a cheap crappy cell phone and a box of Scrabble tiles.
(I used to own an actual pocket protector, but I only bought it as part of a costume - when I was in my early 20s, I did some modeling and acting, and one of my shticks was "Nerd." I had an ugly velour suit jacket from a thrift store, dark orange pants, a purple clip-on tie, and glasses with tape around the middle. I actually got some acting work with that character, but mostly it ended up being a Halloween costume.)
It felt good to put in a full day's work, not only for the money but for the self-esteem. When I don't have a lot of work coming in, I end up spending a lot of time reading news and dissent on the web, which can be pretty depressing what with the imminent collapse of civilization and all that. So it was nice to have something productive to do to distract me from thinking about the doom that awaits us all.
In completely unrelated news, Warner Bros. has finally set a release date for The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. on DVD. This one-season show from 1993-94 was one of the best Western-Comedy-Adventure-Steampunk-BruceCampbell shows ever to die an ignoble death on Fox. It will be out in July, and you should buy it.
April 22, 2006 - Earth Day - Not just for smelly hippies any more! Earth has been in the news a lot lately, and even when the story isn't directly about Earth, you can usually see her in the background, mugging for the camera. It's interesting that the country which contributes the most to long-term climatic damage and has the most to lose if the world we exploit so vigorously were to end, has done the least to curb or fix any of the damage. As recently as the 1990s, the word environmentalist might as well have been synonymous with smelly hippies, for all the credence anyone gave either of them. Seems like we (Americans, humans, whichever) are always quick to pick up a new bad habit but amazingly slow to drop an old one. Being an environmentalist in the 90s or earlier must've been like being an anti-smoking advocate in the 1970s. No one was listening except the nine other people on the planet who had the same bug up their butts about the issue that you did. Now that the hard science about the effects of global warming is getting harder and harder to explain away (plus all the crazy hurricanes and shit), even Americans are starting to pay attention - but it's still pretty slow going. I think there's this unspoken notion somewhere in our collective American psyche that if climate change gets too out of hand, we'll roll up our sleeves and do what we do best - call global warming out into the street, and then kick its ass.
My own senator, the Hon. (or Id.) Orrin Hatch, recently announced that he doesn't believe global warming is a serious problem...but he's keeping an "open mind," whatever that phrase means in his bizarre world. He also believes, at least according to letters he's sent me, that Samuel Alito was the best possible choice for the Supreme Court, and that the President needs to be able to perform illegal wiretaps on all of us, starting with me, in order to protect America from the terrorists we created in the 1980s. Well, okay, he may not have mentioned the 1980s.
Anyway, Earth Day. Today I celebrated by spinning on my axis, having an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, and using magnetic fields to shield my residents from harmful cosmic rays. Also I took the dogs to the park.
April 21, 2006 - I finally got around to seeing Brokeback Mountain yesterday with my friend Carrie. It was good. Sad, very sad, but good. Finally, someone had the courage to tell the world just how much life in Wyoming sucks. I’m glad I saw it, and I will probably watch it again on DVD because the sound quality in the theater was pretty poor and I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the captions.
A few months ago, a local theater owned by Larry H. Miller unceremoniously yanked Brokeback Mountain off the screen, citing everyone's favorite myth, "family values." I think we even made the national news for a few minutes on that one. Hooray for us. Mr. Miller is a local business magnate, currently in competition with the LDS Church to see who can own more of Utah. He owns the Utah Jazz, about a zillion car dealerships, and a few local movie theaters. One of the previews before our movie was for Hostel, which basically advertises itself as the most violent and disturbing film you'll ever see. I don't plan to see it - does that make me a hypocrite? Oh well.
Carrie made a good point then, observing that Miller hadn't pulled that movie from his theaters despite his apparent concerns about family values. It kind of made me wonder...if Jesus were to come down to Earth right now and join an average Christian family at the local Megaplex for a show, which of the two movies would they be more uncomfortable sitting through with him? On the one hand, there's a show about people being enslaved and tortured in the most intimate and brutal manner imaginable (I did read up on the movie a bit, and it sounds like they really went all-out to live up to their own gore-hype in the thing)...or a love story that happened to involve two adult men? I realize that most Christian families probably aren't going to narrow down their list of what to see to these two films, but you get the idea. It resonates nicely with one of my recurring themes, that Americans have a fetish for violence. We love our guns, we love our wife-beaters (the shirt or the husbands, take your pick), but by God there better not be no homos loving each other on our block!
Mr. Miller actually recanted recently...sort of. He met with a group of students and faculty at the University of Utah last week to discuss the topic of gayness, or something along those lines, and apparently the folks he met with actually managed to get through to him a little. He didn't apologize for pulling the film, at least not that I read about, but here's a after-meeting quote from him that I stole from the Salt Lake Tribune (which, one could argue, they stole from him first, so nyeah, but that's another matter): "Now, I understand how something I said inadvertently made them feel demeaned as individuals...maybe their well-being trumps my beliefs, my rights to express myself." So...sort of good for him, I guess. Can't change everyone's mind completely and overnight, so I'd call any progress on this charged topic a win. Now if he could just make the Jazz stop sucking...at basketball, pervert.
April 20, 2006 - One of the more frustrating things about the hot water heater problems we had last fall was the fact that it kept seeming like the problem had been fixed, and things would be fine for a few days or a week, and then KABLOOEY! The hot water would go out again. Even more frustrating than that, at least for me, was that I'd tell all the other owners (who were naturally very interested in just getting the damn thing fixed for good) that the damn thing had been fixed for good, and then it wasn't fixed after all, and I'd look like a lying idiot. At least that's how it felt to me. The problem with that is, for some reason - some deep dark part of my psyche or upbringing at play that I may never fully understand - I don't like feeling like a lying idiot, and it made me sad. What we needed, clearly, was a press secretary. I hear that Scott McClellan's out of work, and here's a man who's made a very effective, if short-lived, career of being a lying idiot. Like my grandmother always said, some things are best left to the professionals. Maybe I'll recommend that the board should hire him on to handle any future crises, like the next time our roof starts leaking and the workmen find all those corpses someone stashed in the attic crawlspace.
April 19, 2006 - Today I saw V for Vendetta with my friend Dale. I'm an easy sell when it comes to movies about dissent, especially if they have Natalie Portman in them, so I liked it. Not saying "Loved it," but I did like it. I understand that the movie is based on a British comic book series from the mid-1980s, although I'm not familiar with the series. The movie was most interesting for its social commentary, about just how far people are willing to be pushed toward totalitarianismism in the name of "security" before they push back. The media's dual role in the totalitarian regime was notable, at once the shrill mouthpiece of the government and the whisperer of the inevitable rebellion. It gave me some ideas for short stories, but they're still a little too fuzzy to go into right now.
The previews included Mission Impossible 3, with Tom Cruise, and A Scanner Darkly, with Keanu Reeves. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing the first one, but the second one is based on a Philip K. Dick story, and his stuff is great, so I'm looking forward to seeing that. How sad is it that I'd go see a Keanu Reeves movie before I'd see a Tom Cruise movie? I'd go off on what a self-absorbed wanker Cruise has become (and maybe always was, who knows), but then he'd probably sue me, and while the publicity might be good for my site, it would also mean I'd have to start updating more often. That would be a minor inconvenience, but I'd also have to interact with lawyers, showbiz people, and Scientologists, and that's like having to eat a triple-chocolate fudge cake. Where chocolate means rancid pus.
April 18, 2006 - One of the frustrating things about holding a public office of any sort is that you have to be nice to people. I realize that you catch more flies with honey than with acid, but who wants to get flies in their honey? There was a time when I considered running for public office - nothing big, maybe city council or the like - but I've learned over the years that I don't have the intestinal fortitude to absorb all the crazywaves that people start beaming at you once you're in a position of public service, at least not of the magnitude that would come with representing more than a few dozen people. I'm not particularly interested in having power, aside from the personal power to control my own destiny and TiVo recording choices. I guess I should say I'm not interested in power as an end unto itself, but rather as a means to get positive things done for the world around me. If I heard someone else say that, I'd immediately be suspicious of their motives, but in my case it's true. Don't make that face.
When I first moved into my condo building, it had just been re-developed (by a developer, no less) from a crackflophouse into a cozy habitat for homo urbanis. Our developer, like all real estate developers everywhere ever, was crooked. Corners were cut, second-rate work was done, promises were made and broken...the usual. The developer just happened to own a property management company, at which his horrible, horrible stepdaughter and wife "worked," and he hired that company to squander--er, be in charge of--the money that he'd been required to set aside to give to the owners' association (as startup funds) once there was one. Their solution to heating the building, for example, was to turn the thermostat up to 90 degrees so that the heat (and the natural gas meter) was essentially running 24 hours a day. They might just as well have heated the building with bonfires of our money. The pipes banged constantly with the force of the heat being slammed through them, and made my unit (and others, I'm sure) hot, noisy, and unbearable.
When the last unit was sold and the owners' association was officially formed, I stood up at the meeting and volunteered (along with two other people) to be a trustee. I had never planned on being a trustee, hadn't spent years building a network of supporters and backers and secret-society buddies to help catapult me into office, didn't fall asleep at night dreaming of the cool, crisp, rarefied air of power at the head of a condo association. I did it because someone had to, and because I felt a sense of obligation to take care of the place I called home. When neither of the other two trustees wanted to be the President, I accepted that role too. The first thing we did was to give the developer's mismanagement company the boot. I admit, being able to do that gave me some pleasure. We found a competent property management company and fixed up the things the developer hadn't bothered to do properly. Other trustees came and went, as people moved out and in. I kept on volunteering, and the other owners kept on electing me as a trustee, and between myself and the other people who gave their time to manage our community, we got some good stuff done over the years, and the building is now in much better shape.
Going back to my original thought, I found over the years that there were basically three types of people who lived in the building, and that the building was a microcosm of the larger world in many ways (well, in the ways that are convenient to this rant). There were people like me, who recognized that managing the place would take some work and were willing to help with that work. There were also people who were aware that the work needed to be done but didn't have the time and/or energy and/or desire to do the work themselves, so they delegated it - this was the majority. For the most part, these people were very nice and at least occasionally expressed their appreciation to the trustees, and when they had a problem or a suggestion they worked with us like adults to get it taken care of. And then there were the crazies. There's no other way to describe them. There are some in every crowd, no matter how you slice up society: people who are just batshit crazy, who end up taking away more than they contribute to the community. Those are the ones who made the job stressful for me, because it's contrary to my nature to suffer fools gladly. I know there are lots of people out there - especially, but not exclusively, in public office - who do exactly that, day in and day out, and do it with grace. I have a lot more respect for them now (in that regard) than I once did.
I'm not a psychologist, so when I apply the label "crazy" to someone it's done as a layperson would do: I can't tell you specifically how they're crazy, can't tell you why they're crazy, but as Justice Potter Stewart famously said, "I know it when I see it." He was talking about porn, but it's a good quote. Some examples of crazy behavior: owners who've rented their unit to drug dealers, and then refuse to believe the half-dozen other owners in the building who tell them that their tenants are dealing drugs. Owners who demand to know why we chose to paint the building instead of fixing the hot water heater, when the painting plans have been in the works for a solid year and the hot water heater started acting up the week before the actual painting began - and as if the two things were somehow mutually exclusive. Owners who refuse to understand why an increase in the association's expenses (such as natural gas) results in an increase in their monthly dues. Owners who blame the trustees for bats getting in the building. You could say that stupidity is a factor here, or that it's the factor, but having taught classes for many years I can tell you with confidence that low intelligence does not make someone unteachable. There's some other element, some fundamental refusal to even try to grasp reality, that puts people like this in the crazy pile, at least in my book.
I suppose if I were in public office I'd have a staff to weed out the crazies for me. I didn't have that luxury here, or in any of the other grassroots leadership positions I've held in the community. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a correlation between how much or how little time one had to spend listening to crazy people and how quickly one burned out on serving in a public office.
Anyway, in summary, crazy people make me tired.
April 7, 2006 - I was going to tell some tales about life as the President of my condo association, but after reading about some recent developments in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action suit against AT&T, I'm a little nervous about using the P word in proximity to the other things I'd have to say (explosions, treachery, doom, and so forth). The suit, if you're not familiar, is about AT&T blithely handing over the keys to the entire US telecom system to the NSA. The EFF believes that the current administration isn't being entirely truthful in describing the scope and targets of its warrantless surveillance programs, and that AT&T has illegally complied with these programs and violated the law and its customers' privacy.
The most recent development is that a former AT&T engineer came forward to help the EFF by providing detailed testimony about incredibly powerful data-mining computers and software being installed by the NSA in AT&T's own facilities, and tapping directly into the backbone of the internet. Yes, this internet - just about all internet and US phone transmissions get routed through parts of AT&T's network at some point. The short of it is, the NSA has the capacity to monitor 10 billion bits per second (per installation) of telecom traffic. This isn't just voice communication, either, but anything flying around on the internet that isn't heavily encrypted (and even then, in most cases, it's just a slowdown). Sounds like its Foil Hat Friday at The Inner Crab, no? Except that it's all verifiable. The data-mining software looks for specific words and phrases in context with other words and phrases, flags the interesting ones and - I assume - automatically dispatches a 'cleaner' to your home if you win.
So...you can understand why I might be a little wary about using the P word, and perhaps feeling a little paranoid in general. I'm sure that, once I've watched a few hours of TV, the FCC's Consume-And-Don't-Think-Too-Much ray will soothe my poor thought-prone brain. Just in case, though, for future entries, let's say that my proper condo title was Dark Overlord.
Oh...and the main Dark Overlord (not me) was apparently the one who authorized the leaking of cherry-picked classified info (the intel that didn't support his plans didn't get leaked, for some reason) in order to support the case for war and to backhand Joe Wilson (husband of Valerie Plame), according to statements given by Scooter Libby recently. You remember...the leaking that Bush promised to fire the leakers over, if they were ever found? I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that if we're at war like Bush tells us we are, then leaking classified info is treason. Leaking classified info as a smear tactic against one's political enemies or to make a phony-baloney case for more war, I believe, qualifies as high jerkwad treason. But again...not a lawyer. And as Anastasia pointed out, the emperor can't commit treason against himself.
I should have done this a while ago, but I'm adding a link to the EFF on the left side there. They do good work, and they're a non-profit organization, so drop by their site from time to time and read up on who's trying to screw you electronically now, and maybe make a donation.
April 2, 2006 - I set aside an hour this weekend to clean and vacuum my house, but then I had to move the clocks forward, and wouldn't you know it - the hour I lost was the very same hour I'd planned to use for cleaning! What rotten luck. I did actually use my vacuum cleaner, though, since I went to all the trouble of buying it, and it kicks ass. My previous vacuum cleaner was apparently designed by someone who didn't realize that it would be used for vacuuming things. This one (the Eureka 4874b) actually picks things up and doesn't spew a plume of dust into the air, two features I look for (or will, from now on) when choosing a vacuum. I know what you're thinking...enough with the vacuum already. I'm planning out some much-needed home improvements for later this year, so I guess I'm just in a domestic mood lately.
April 1, 2006 - Starting today, I'm a private citizen again. After 10 years as a trustee for my condo building, you can bet I have some stories to tell - which I will, in due course. But first there's something I need to let you know about. For some time now, and with the help of certain of my resources in the government and media, I've made it appear that the US was falling into an abyss of grossly criminal leadership, ruthless corporate gluttony, and ultra-conservative thought control collectively aimed toward crushing the struggling lower and middle classes. The illegal wiretapping, the rapidly increasing flow of wealth and power upward, the detention centers being built on US soil by Halliburton, the new bankruptcy law written by credit card companies, the new Medicare law written by pharmaceutical companies, the subversion of journalistic watchdoggery from the top down by corporate interests, and the ongoing "faith"-based assault on public discourse and women's rights...APRIL FOOLS!! Gotcha! I sure had you going for a few years there, didn't I? Took a lot of work, let me tell you. None of that crazy un-American stuff is really happening here! Take a few minutes and chuckle about it, maybe have a good cry and a nap. We should have everything back to normal by early next week, Wednesday at the latest.
March 30, 2006 - Housekeeping Day - I moved more entries to the Archive section. I also bought a new vacuum cleaner, to replace the Hoover bagless and pricey piece of crap I had before. I got tired of it not vacuuming while I was vacuuming, so I decided to get a new one, and I gave the old one to a local charity thrift store. It's not the most charitable donation I've ever made, being a piece of crap and all, but it still turns on, and maybe they'll fix it up. Before I bought the Hoover, I had a trusty and inexpensive Regina for about 10 years until the handle snapped off. The new vacuum cleaner has a washable HEPA filter, a sealed system to prevent dust clouds while vacuuming, and a lot of nice ergonomic touches. I'm cautiously optimistic that it will help keep my allergies in check, as long as I don't go outdoors. Which reminds me...I need to apply a fresh coat of sealant to the dogs. I realize that vacuum cleaners aren't even slightly interesting, but that's true of everything about Housekeeping Day.
March 24, 2006 - I've been thinking about making an RSS feed for this site, so people can see whether I've updated recently without going to the bother of finding their mouse, clicking on their browser, then clicking on the bookmark to my site. Lazy bastards. You make me sick. Anyway, it's not going too well so far. My first attempt knocked me offline for about three hours, and my second attempt blew my left thumb completely off. I have an appointment with my doctor on Thursday to get it reattached. There are plenty of tutorials and whatnot on the web, but they all seem to be missing some crucial details if you're not already familiar with how to make an RSS feed. It's like having a sex manual that reads: "First, the male's member becomes engorged. Do not be alarmed, as this is normal. Second, there are a variety of positions to choose from. Third, have sex. Nine months later, a baby arrives." So I'm still working on it, but in the meantime I've devised a workaround for you:
1. Right-click on your desktop
2. Choose New, then Text File or Text Document
3. Name this new file as follows: "There may or may not be a new entry on The Inner Crab.txt"
4. Refer to the new file as needed for guidance
For those of you without a right mouse button (Mac users, homeless people using the beat-up computers at the library, etc.), you can perform step 3 upon a Post-it instead, and then place the Post-it in the center of your monitor.
March 23, 2006 - I saw a quote on another weblog the other day that I really liked:
"I would rather someone was wrapped in the Constitution burning the flag than wrapped in the flag burning the Constitution."
It's always amazing to me how easily people confuse an idea with one of its tangible representations. Whenever officials foment fake furor over flag flaming (sorry, got on a roll), it's always done to distract from some other issue or horror they're trying to dodge. It's an old trick with lots of different variations, but it keeps on working. People come boiling out of the woodwork to defend the sacred piece of cloth, because it's something they can see and touch and don't have to use the dusty, anemic part of their brain that processes abstracts. Trample on the good things that symbol represents, though, and the same defenders of the symbol are silent. In the 1960s and 1970s, American troops were vilified for participating in the Vietnam War, as if most of them had a choice, because atrocities were committed by some soldiers (and arguably upon many of them). To attack an individual soldier then was to attack the thing he was perceived to represent: a costly, brutal, and morally ambiguous war. Unresolved public shame over that war has been neatly played upon by politicians in the last decade, once again using the men and women of the military as pawns, but this time the directionality of the symbol has been changed: the troops are honorable men and women, hard-working and vigilant, and to attack the policies and leaders who sent them to war is to attack the men and women themselves. Black and white, support our troops or support our enemies. Of course, in the real world it's grey most of the time, but the average citizen doesn't have much patience for grey, nor much experience in critical thinking. So it works, and people buy the car magnets or the sound bytes or the convoluted logic that makes them feel good.
I realize as I write this that some people might read the preceding paragraph and assume I lack patriotism (or worse), and that makes me sigh, then it makes me thump my head on my desk a few times, then it makes me go get some coffee. Last I checked, soldiers were human beings like the rest of us (except for the top-secret super soldiers, but they have their own troubles), just as capable of heroism or depredations as anyone else. People thrust into extreme circumstances, no matter how thorough their training or how strict the code of laws they serve under, can respond in extremes, and not always in the direction you'd hope. I don't want our soldiers to die - but more importantly, I especially don't want them to die needlessly. I'm sure it's been said many times by now, more eloquently than this, but it seems like a fundamental component of Supporting the Troops is to not toss them recklessly into harm's way. It's like lighting your own house on fire, then asking someone to risk their life by going into your burning house to save your accordion. Except the accordion is Iraq. Or something.
A nearly identical tactic has been used recently by Republican groups to smear Sen. Feingold for his efforts to censure Bush over illegal wiretaps. GOP.com (visit the site at your own risk - it installs a cookie that tracks wicked thoughts) is running attack ads saying "Democrats want to censure Bush for fighting the war on terror." And they're right, because apparently when the President wants to suspend civil liberties indefinitely to fight a vague and endless war on an unspecified enemy, it's not illegal and you should just keep your big yap shut if you know what's good for you.
The larger point here is that fake patriotism, used as a marketing ploy to distract an already-easily-distracted public from the systematic dismantling of everything that was ever worth feeling patriotism for in the first place, is lame. Sorry, but I ran out of...um...good word things.
March 22, 2006 - As a resident of a big, conservative, and...let's say "sparsely populated" state, I can empathize with the folks of South Dakota who probably aren't thrilled about getting so much national attention over their state government doing something stupid. The recently-signed law that outlaws pretty much all abortions is probably already packing its bags and checking out D.C. hotel rates on Priceline for its inevitable Supreme Court battle. There aren't many silver linings to be found in a cloud like this, especially when it's accompanied by news of states and corporations de-funding birth control programs for poor women and the ongoing battle over whether pharmacists should be able to save your soul by refusing to fill your naughty naughty birth control prescriptions. One positive possibility is that, by re-igniting the fight over who controls a woman's body on a national scale, many otherwise apathetic or unmotivated people will take a strong stand against a state-sanctioned 'baby factory' role for women. It's a cold comfort, but it's better than nothing. Another bright spot is this quote by Cecilia Fire Thunder (what an awesome name), the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe:
“To me, it is now a question of sovereignty. I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Reservation where the State of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction.”
Good for her! It's encouraging to see people not only speaking truth to apparently deaf power, but also giving a specific plan for reversing an injustice. Of course, it helps if you're the president of something. I'm no longer the president of my condo association (as of Tuesday - more later), but I'm still the president of my condo, even if I'm only a figurehead and the wiener dogs run the show. So consider this my official press release: "My condo unit and all of its citizens formally rebuke the legislature and governor of South Dakota for their cruel affront to reproductive rights. We further issue an embargo against South Dakota until this law is repealed."
I realize that my condo unit will probably be roasted alive in the media for making such a bold statement, but there comes a time when a sovereign condo and its people simply must do what's right, and damn the consequences.
March 20, 2006 - Today is my birthday. Like most people, I've found that birthdays tend to lose their savor as the years go by. There aren't many age-related landmarks left to go: driver's license, voting, getting drafted, being tried as an adult, buying alcohol, renting a car, not getting drafted, and collecting Social Security. I'm in that sweet spot between 'not getting drafted' and 'collecting Social Security,' although I have no illusions about the latter. I fully expect that by the time I'm old enough to collect it, the government will have instituted a mandatory bio-compound extraction program to harvest chemicals from senior citizens for industrial use. I'm mildly disappointed about turning older, only because I expected to have more ex-wives and more things named after me by this point in my life.
I survived the Ides of March without any knives in my back from condo citizens mounting a coup (I wear a Kevlar t-shirt at all times), and I survived St. Patrick's Day without dying of alcohol poisoning. I've never been a big drinker, which is uncommon considering my German-Irish-Scots heritage. That's like the triple word score of drinking lineage...and rage lineage too. There's also some Canadian in there somewhere, which tempers the others. It probably also explains my periodic fits of reasonableness, distaste for guns, and sexual hockey fetish.
Today is also the first day of Spring, Mr. Rogers' birthday, and the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Ordinarily I would go off on a long rant about Mr. Rogers, but today I'm giving myself permission to not care about things that don't involve cake. Cake for me.
March 10, 2006 - Today's entry is sponsored by The SciFi Channel's Sci Fi Friday. Sci Fi Friday is the nerd equivalent of Date Night, when nerds around the globe order a pizza, curl up on the couch, and take detailed notes about all the technical or canonical inaccuracies in each show so they can grouse about them on message boards the following day. It's more fun than you can shake a science stick at! It also helps distract us, collectively, from spinning evil-genius revenge fantasies against all those who spurned us in the past and left us alone and watching TV every Friday night in the first place. Distracts us for a few hours, anyway. Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica all had their season finales tonight, which means three cliffhangers I'll have to wait for months to get closure on. I don't get the point of cliffhangers - it's not like, if a show we liked ended its season on an up note, we'd forget to start watching it again next season. TiVo's got that covered. It's a gimmick, obviously, but it seems like one that we should maybe think about retiring soon. When I'm elected Dark Overlord of the Universe, cliffhangers are 47th on my List of Things to Eliminate, Replace, or Concubinize. What else is on the list, you ask? Don't worry...you'll find out soon enough.
Speaking of things on TV...I'm getting very, very tired of all the commercials on late-night television for Girls Gone Wild videos. I like boobies as much as anyone, but there's just something so...schlocky about it. The commercials (and the premise, for that matter) are insulting to me, and I can only imagine how insulting they must be to women. It's said that sex sells, but it seems like sex is mostly used to sell to men. I don't like that. Speaking of which, I saw another commercial recently advertising an exchange-text-messages-with-attractive-women service. That's just plain bizarre. I'm reasonably certain that none of the pretty, vacant-looking women in the commercial are waiting around somewhere to have a sexy text-based conversation with random men. If anything, it's probably a Turing program that sends back random responses with lots of typos and LOLs. If so, then it's hilarious and I applaud the proprietor's audacity.
March 6, 2006 - After getting some feedback on the most recent entry in the Surrealism list, I've decided to take out the link my friend Valerie sent me. (Val, if you're reading this, please feel free to submit something else. Something non-poo-oriented, if possible.) In its place is a new link I think you'll like.
March 5, 2006 - I'm not a big fan of reality TV. The concept reminds me of that scene in the '60s movie version of Fahrenheit 451 where the television program is designed to encourage at-home-viewer participation - one of the program's actors turns to the camera during a conversation and says "And what do you think about that, Linda?" In 1966, the idea of custom-programmed TV that knows your name was pretty futuristic, I suppose, although anyone familiar with Nostradamus or the Book of Revelations would have known that TiVo was coming. Anyway, the TV programs within the movie were vapid and synonym-for-vapid, and were meant to suggest that the human brain had become soft and squishy.
Fast forward 40 years, and we're not much better off. Real reality television (yes, I know, as opposed to the artificial reality television in the movie, or artificial-reality television such as VR5) squirms around in nakedly shameless delight over just how HUGE the lowest common denominator demographic has become. I know that some people watch reality TV ironically, to savor the wretchedness of it all - kind of like tasting something you know is going to be really gross, just to see how gross it really is - and I have no quarrel with them. Whatever gives you your schadenjollies, I suppose. Anastasia is one such person. In her own words: "I like watching people's dreams get crushed." She's encouraged me to watch several different reality shows, just to try them out. If I don't like a given show after giving it a fair shot, she doesn't badger me further (about that). Survivor? Didn't care for it. Too confrontational. The Apprentice? Too Trumpy. America's Next Top Model? I felt that it recklessly reinforced the objectification of women as objects of sexual desire. Also models don't generally sleep with people like me, and I find that offensive.
The Amazing Race is different. It's a competition, which is sort of true of Survivor as well, but the difference between the two is like the difference between "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Lord of the Flies." Anastasia and I have both watched TAR for the last several seasons, with the exception of the unfortunate 'Family Version' they did last season and will hopefully never ever do again ever. The race rewards cleverness and resourcefulness, two character traits I can personally identify with, and instead of being filmed entirely on one island or bog, it takes you literally around the world and shows you many interesting places and things. Of course there's drama and friction, because there are humans involved, but the drama and friction are incidental to the competition instead of central. Anastasia and I have talked about how we'd fare if we were a team on TAR, and I think it would be a lot of fun. I know for certain, in the same way I know that my dogs love me or I know that our civilization is doomed, that she and I would kill each other before the race was over...but it would be fun prior to, and possibly including, that. One thing is certain: it would make for really good television.
A few weeks ago, while playing World of Warcraft together, she and I had a very lengthy conversation about the concept of "East," in which I tried to explain to her that the actual direction of East didn't change just because you or your character happened to turn this way or that. She tried to explain to me that the opposite was true, and that East was a relative thing which moved around as you did, and sometimes on its own depending on whether there were monsters nearby. I suppose Stephen Colbert would call that "Eastiness." In summary, when we go on The Amazing Race, I'll be the navigator and she's not allowed near the maps. There's a lot of driving in the show, and usually one team member drives while the other one navigates and/or yells at them. From listening to her descriptions of past driving experiences, though, it sounds like either assignment would be risky. I still can't see how someone could manage to drive sideways on the interstate for 10 miles. Spatial and automotive challenges aside, though, she's got mad l33t skillz in the clever-and-resourceful department (which was merged due to downsizing), and I think we'd do well in the competition. She also speaks several languages, which would be extraordinarily handy if the race took us to Russia or Poland or Vegetaria.
On the opposite side of the TV spectrum - let's call it Insular TV - is the Oscars. Movie stars preening and fawning over each other like they're competing to see who's got the best cure for cancer is kind of irritating, or it would be if I let it intrude on my consciousness much. I will be watching the Oscars tonight, but only the parts that feature Jon Stewart.
February 27, 2006 - So many things to grouse about, so little time. Well, okay...it's not a shortage of time that's the problem, it's the shortage of attention span. For those of you who also have a...hey! Where are you going? Here's a collection of random bite-sized snippets - think of them as crab-flavored donut holes.
Questar, the local gas company, raised their rates by 38 percent at the end of last year, and the state's Public Service Commission is powerless to give a damn. In fact, the PSC gave them the go-ahead to raise the rates and then updated the FAQ page of their website to list all the reasons why the poor beleaguered gas company deserves to make record profits. The record profits were posted by a different division than the one that the PSC regulates, you see, and the fact that Questar produces and overbills itself for much of its own natural gas is really none of our business, so clearly the people who complain about the crushing rate hike are unpatriotic. Our condo building uses a lot of natural gas to produce steam heat and hot water, so it's hitting us pretty hard. When I called Questar to complain, though, they told me - true story - that they had just lowered rates by 8 percent (for a net increase of only 30 percent) at the start of February because they love us so much! Feh.
Speaking of the condo building, my time as Defender of the Faith is winding down. When it's over and I'm a regular citizen again, I'll have many interesting anecdotes to share, but until then I'm playing it cool because one never knows whether the few...let's say reality-challenged...folks who live here might take personal affront over the gross abuse of the public trust that posting my thoughts on a personal weblog represents. Hi crazies! <wave>
My friend Valerie sent me a link the other day, for entry into the Surrealism section. It's gross. I don't want to speculate how she came across such a site, so I'm going to assume that she made some sort of typo.
The proposed corporate management of several US ports by a United Arab Emirates company has been in the news lately. It's caused a lot of controversy, as one might expect, but what I find interesting is how the crux of the controversy has been neatly diverted from what should be one of the bigger complaints about the proposal. On one side, people point out that the UAE was home to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers, and that money to fund the plot was funneled through banks in Dubai. On the other side, people argue that any questions about security raised by having an Arab-owned company in charge of a US port facility are inherently racist, that the company would not be in charge of actual security operations, and that it's irrational to dismiss the best bid for services because the company in question happens to be in a pretty tumultuous part of the world. What's rarely mentioned except on alternative-media websites is that the US was negotiating a free-trade deal with the UAE at the same time the port management deal was proposed - a little hors d'oeuvre to whet the UAE's appetite for buying more of our consumer crap.
Lastly, for now...I gave my place a rigorous deep-cleaning this weekend, and even got some help from a local maid service with the dusting and scrubbing. It's so clean now that I've decided to live in the hallway outside so I don't crud it all up again.
February 14, 2006 - Happy Bleargh Day. Today I decided to vary my usual February 14th tradition of lying on the floor next to my bed curled up in a ball with my arms around my knees while rocking back and forth and muttering quietly. Instead, I moved to the couch. My dogs are unaware that today is a holiday, made up or not - to them, every day is Ground Dog Day. We celebrated together by ordering a pizza from Domino's. Domino's doesn't have the greatest pizza, but it also doesn't have the worst pizza, and since it's "2x Tuesday" I got a second one for free. Nothing says "I love you" like a free B+ pizza, except for an hour-long face washing from my wiener dogs, or maybe someone saying "I love you."
Spike TV is promoting a show called "Pros vs. Joes," in which professional football players pretend to be slightly challenged (in a game of football, I suppose) by some of their stupider viewers. I can imagine how that would go if I were one of the Joes: "Hike! <Squish>" If I cared even the teeniest bit about football or anything even remotely related to football, I might watch, but I don't. Speaking of which, I read about an informal study done during the last Superbowl which said that incidents of domestic abuse spiked sharply during that game, and during other football games as well. Not in the actual game, of course, but among the viewers at home - and among all gender combinations. This is a good example of Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" - there aren't many (if any) formal, conclusive studies showing a causal link between the two things...but it sounds right. What's interesting, according to a blurb I found on a 2003 study, is that while domestic violence appeared to go up slightly on Super Bowl Sundays, it didn't go up as much as on holidays like Christmas or Memorial Day. I strongly disapprove of domestic violence, by the way, which you'd think would be a given, but I don't want to appear soft on the subject for fear of invoking Anastasia's wrath. She beats me with her mind - please help. :(
February 13, 2006 - A friend recently loaned me the Battlestar Galactica Season 1 DVD set (the new one on the SciFi channel, not the old cheesy one). I didn't really watch the original, although I'm sure I saw a few episodes here and there while growing up. I didn't think I'd care for the new one, either, so I didn't bother to watch it when it first started airing. Now I'm hooked. At the start of the new series, there was apparently heavy resistance from the die-hard fans of the original series, and a sense of mewling nerdly outrage over someone daring to tromp on their beloved memories of the 70s and the many many wonderful and timeless things that decade gave us, but an impartial observer might observe (impartially) that the original show was kind of lame. The new one is...dark. Delightfully, joy-curdlingly dark. The fact that the new (female!) Starbuck is thoroughly succulent (and crazy and self-destructive, which happens to suit my taste) is an added bonus. None of this 'humanity at its best' crap - even the heroes are conflicted, flawed, and full of flawish conflictedness-ism. It's a sweeping story set against a tragic backdrop with no clear way out, and no neat and tidy lines separating "Good" from "Evil." I haven't met many people who were all one or all the other, except maybe Anastasia, so it's nice to see science fiction written for adults that understands just how much grey there is in the world. It's also nice to see the underrated octagon finally getting its due. My God, but those people love octagons.
Now I need to find someone I can mooch the Season 2 DVD set from.
February 9, 2006 - The 2006 Winter Olympics will start in a few days, and all I can say is: Thank God they're somewhere else this time.
When Salt Lake City first announced it was trying to get the Olympics here, I was all for it, mainly because I thought it would be a new and interesting experience for our sheltered little city. A lot of people were against it, fearing that the development needed to support the Olympics would tear up the mountains, cause environmental problems, saddle the city with debt, or fill the city with overpriced hookers. It turns out that the naysayers were all correct, and I was half-right. It was a new experience, but it was only interesting for the lucky (and wealthy) few who could afford tickets to any of the events or ceremonies. Whole sections of the city were fenced off for days at a time, some for the duration, and the corporate-sponsor presence was so overwhelming they might as well have had burly thugs on each corner punching passers-by in the face with logoed gloves. And then there were the extremely...thorough...security precautions. I had a personal run-in with the Secret Service while trying to get up to the fenced-off University of Utah one day (a few days before the Opening Ceremony at the U's stadium), and while I escaped un-body-cavity-searched, it left a sour taste in my mouth and prevented me from making a rendezvous with an attractive young woman who might otherwise have led me on for at least two or three more dates.
Maybe the heavily-armed guards and security checkpoints and metal detectors and pervasive distrust were necessary - I don't know. But I do know that the folks who live here didn't get much lasting benefit out of the Olympics, aside from some new Olympic manhole covers (seriously) and other irrelevant monuments. The Snack-Industrial Complex moved in and took over the dispensing of overpriced food, leaving our local merchants with no one to gouge. The Kiosk Kabal brought in foreign kiosks (which they forgot to remove afterward), while our local kiosk artisans were shoved roughly aside. Even the security was handled by people from out of town, leaving the local militia which lives in the hills outside SLC - and which had submitted what most considered to be a very reasonable bid for their services - with nothing to do but guard the old gypsum mine they call home.
In summary, the Olympics will eat your town. Think carefully before you bribe them into coming. I'm talking to you, Dubuque.
February 8, 2006 - In January I started watching The Book of Daniel (which should probably get quotes or italics or something, but I can't remember which, and I'm too lazy to look it up) on NBC. For simplicity's sake, you may assume that whenever I mention watching a new TV show, it's because Anastasia commanded me to do so. If I enjoy a show she "recommends" for me, she takes one piece of my soul as a finder's fee. Also she gloats. Anyway, I did enjoy the show, and I watched the rest of the episodes each Friday night until the show got cancelled. More on that in a minute. The last episode I watched had some peculiar jump cuts in it, as if it had been edited poorly, and out of curiosity I called Anastasia and asked her whether she'd noticed the same thing. It turned out that there were at least two scenes which had been cut from the show - a first-run airing, not a show in syndication where the shows are often shortened to make room for more commercials. The scenes in question dealt with sex, although they weren't especially racy or offensive from her description. I called my local NBC affiliate (which, as it happens, is owned by the Mormon church) and got no response. I tried to call NBC directly, and found that they really prefer that you don't call them. I even emailed the TV critic for the local paper, to see if he knew anything about it or knew whether a local affiliate was allowed to edit a first-run episode like that, but I got no response from him either. It doesn't really matter now, because NBC has cancelled the show due to lack of viewers - or, according to the American Family Wingnut Association, due to their strident outrage over the mildly irreverent nature of the show. Which brings me to today's rant.
As I've previously mentioned, the Parents Television Council was solely responsible for the dramatic increase in complaints to the FCC starting in 2002. The American Family Association claims the credit for sinking The Book of Daniel, and they're not big fans of Will & Grace or any other show that deals with topics they don't like. I'm a firm believer in freedom of choice, and I fully support anyone's right to not watch what they don't want to watch, but wasting this much time and energy to prevent anyone else from watching things you don't want to watch is beyond ridiculous. However, this rant isn't about that. These fringe groups, and others like them, are a perfect example of the tactic of distraction that's so well employed by our elected officials (Republicans especially, but certainly not exclusively). For any group, especially a group that claims to be faith-based, to waste its time and resources on destructive, divisive mind-control bullshit like this is so deeply contrary to the core tenets of [name any faith] that I'm perpetually amazed these groups don't die of irony poisoning. There are so many more important and constructive social projects out there to work on...eliminating poverty, for example, or working for major healthcare reforms, or making education at all levels more affordable and more effective. If these groups were to take their energy and fervor and focus it on curing society's actual problems, instead of pissing away their efforts on fixing the (perceived) symptoms that result from those problems, then I would applaud their effort and support their claims on faith-based advocacy. What we have instead, however, is control-based advocacy, which likes people to be poor and under-educated because such people are easily swayed or frightened. It's the same game Big Religion and its acolytes have played for centuries. We believe ourselves to be so much more advanced and enlightened, as a society, than those silly folks who burned witches at the stake or cured migraines with trepanning or called natural disasters proof of God’s wrath against some vague form of sinning--what? We still do that last one? Well…let’s try not to do that so much.
Anyway, history has shown us many times that even a small group of determined people can force society to improve itself. Coretta Scott King’s life, and the eloquent memorials she received at her recent funeral, are proof enough of that. Unfortunately, we also know from bitter and recent experience that a small group can swing a society the other way – toward fear, intolerance, hate, and destruction. The simplest phrase in the bible, to which an analogue can be found in most other religious texts, is that God is love. Love is expansive, all-encompassing, forgiving and kind. You don’t need to be religious in any sense to understand this concept, but the people who immerse themselves so deeply and completely in their faith should understand it best. When such a person’s or group’s actions are so radically opposed to the gentle and generous nature of love or God or Mohammed or the Universe, my sense is that they’ve lost the privilege to make any claims of faith. Censoring television shows is trivial at best in the grand scheme of things, but it speaks to a broader siege mentality that continues to poison our society at all levels. “They” are out to get us. “They” want to take what we have. “They” seek to destroy us. “They” must be destroyed. It’s an old tactic but an effective one, if your goal is to incite fearful unity and if your audience isn’t very good at thinking. The more vague and unrealistic "they" are, the better - a battle against name-able, defeatable enemies runs the risk of being won someday. It's not victory that these groups are looking for, but the control, money, and power that come from waging a never-ending war.
I’m not naïve enough to suggest a flowers-in-the-gun-barrel approach to our problems, global or local – as the Simpsons has shown us, this will only get you shot in the head with a flower. What I do advocate, though, is light. Fear tactics work best when the light of truth is absent, when facts are hidden, when reasonable alternatives are derided or suppressed. Changing the world may seem like a big project, with our busy modern lifestyle and so many things to watch on TV, but as someone wise once said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with hauling your ass off the couch. The most basic and personal tactics we can employ are to keep our own minds open and sharp, keep the batteries in our own Flashlight of Truth fully charged, and to share what we know with others. Badgering is badgering, no matter what side you’re on, but you don’t have to badger someone to plant a seed of enlightenment in their brain. A garden trowel works just fine.
February 2, 2006 - It's Groundhog Day, and to celebrate I'm hibernating. Groundhog Day makes me think of two things: the movie with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, and an old Peanuts strip in which Lucy wanted to do something nice for Snoopy because she thought it was Ground Dog Day. My two ground dogs have cabin fever today, and they're currently on the ground, natch, playing Bitey Steamroller. It's been pretty warm this week, which would have been nice last week when I was standing outside for hours at a time, but whaddaya gonna do. Complain about it, that's what.
It's too soggy to take the dogs to the park, which they could sorely use because they're both getting a bit pudgy. I've learned that playing Chase the Balls in the mud isn't a good idea, though: the balls become essentially invisible after the first two throws, and the dogs get covered in mud and grass which quickly dries to form a thick adobe shell. The dirtier they are when we get home, the greater the odds that they will immediately hop up on my bed and roll around in the sheets to clean themselves off. So we'll wait for better weather or a dog-safe form of Scotchguard to hit the market, whichever comes first.
February 1, 2006 - Today's entry is brought to you by Anastasia, and by the letters W, T, and F. Anastasia occasionally sends me emails titled "Today's Surrealism," which contain links to random sites she's found while browsing the web. I have accused her of having access to a different internet than I do, so bizarre and unlikely are some of the things she dredges up. I've created a new section to host these links, which replaces the "Dear Crabby" section on the left there because - let's be honest here - I'm never going to do anything with that section. So read it and enjoy, or don't. I will be updating this section with new links periodically, which means whenever I bloody well feel like it and probably not all that often, but you never know...it depends partly on Anastasia and her bizarro-web findings.
January 28, 2006 - For the last week, I've been volunteering at the Sundance Film Festival, which I had done once before in 2002. While the bulk of the festival takes place up in Park City, there are a few theaters downtown as well. I thought about signing up for a post in Park City, but the long drive, expensive or unavailable parking, and hordes of self-important, condescending, cater-to-my-whims film people and out-of-towners more than offset the chance of catching a brief glimpse of a few movie stars. While I approve of movie stars in general and in theory (with some notable exceptions), seeing them live and in person isn't all that exciting: you're not likely to actually meet them, probably won't have a conversation with them, and almost certainly won't convince Natalie Portman to give up her lavish Hollywood lifestyle and settle down with me in my tiny one-bedroom condo in Salt Lake City. Although I'd be willing to move somewhere else as long as pets were allowed. I'm just saying.
I ended up at a theater within walking distance of my house, which worked out fine. My title was Crowd Liaison. I stood outside the theater directing people to the proper lines (we had three screens going), answering questions about the films and local amenities, watching for bigwigs to make sure they were let right in, and otherwise being friendly and cheerful and not punching anyone. It was draining. On the other hand, it gave me an opportunity to practice being glib and gregarious, which I can actually do quite well but usually don't feel like.
My shifts were all in the late afternoon and evening, and it's the middle of winter here, so it was cold. Very cold. Using a urinal with frozen hands is a bracing experience. I wore five layers of clothing, which kept most of me fairly warm, but I was breathing in cold, smoggy, people-cootied air all night for a week. I have a cough and sniffles today, which will likely turn to pneumonia by tomorrow, and I'll probably be dead by Monday. For the most part, though, the experience was fun. It's kind of energizing to work a crowd, answering questions and making jokes with friendly strangers. Nearly all of the people who came to the theater were happy to be there, and they were polite and compliant. There were a number of people, especially later in the week when the festival was winding down, who showed up without tickets and without any idea what they wanted to see, and they wanted us to tell them which movie they should go to. Keep in mind that we had three screens, two films per screen each night, and every night was different. That's 30+ films (and 120 films at the festival overall) to keep track of, and I hadn't seen any of them. In such cases, I usually just sent them to the other half of the theater (which was still showing regular films) to see "Brokeback Mountain."
It wasn't all wonderful, of course - as the week went by, the questions got dumber on average, and more rude people started showing up. I actually had a few people completely ignore me when I was talking directly to them, as they marched up and stood very confidently in the wrong line. Other folks would occasionally brush past when I asked them if they already had tickets - apparently they thought I was a scalper, despite the fact that I had a large volunteer ID badge and a bright orange button that said "Sundance Information" pinned to my coat. By my last shift, I was relieved to have some brochure-spammers to vent my wrath upon. My boss had seen them handing out their junk on the sidewalk and had encouraged me to keep them away from the theater, but I would have done that anyway. I'm not one of those people who gets off on abusing their petty authority (any more), so I tried to just be friendly and not bossy to the folks attending the films, but after a week of herding crowds I found myself biting my tongue fairly often. I'm definitely not cut out for working in retail, where the people are generally much less cheerful and where getting fired for punching them would have more significance.
Lots of people had ID badges: orange for volunteers, red for express passes, blue for filmmakers and their hangers-on, yellow for Sundance staff, green for something else (vegetarians?). I thought about making my badge stand out a little more by making it glow in the dark or something, but I wanted it to glow really bright and the only material I could find to do that was highly radioactive and the lead smock was just too bulky to fit under my coat, so I gave up. Some people, film purists mostly, have argued that the festival has become too big or too commercial. None of that prevents people from seeing the films, of course, and that is the nature of a capitalist society after all. The big sponsors' logos were prominent on every single perk item we received as volunteers: an aluminum travel coffee mug that tips over unless it's filled with something, a neck gator (like a scarf that's sewn together at the ends), a winter hat that was apparently made to fit a grapefruit (and not a large grapefruit either), and even the lanyard from which our ID was to hang. My favorite, though, was a "coat" with no sleeves by Kenneth Cole Reaction, whatever or whoever the hell that is, which was utterly useless because there was no point in wearing it indoors and and if you wore it outdoors you'd die of hypothermia. The main reason I volunteered again was to get another nice baseball cap like they gave out in 2002, but they weren't doing that this year.
One of the other perks of being a volunteer, and probably the most coveted, is that you get free movie passes. You can't use them while you're working, and since I was working most evenings this week and the shows downtown were only playing in the evening, I didn't get a chance to use my passes until Friday night. I got into a screening of a film called "Stay," which was only playing once in Salt Lake. The film was written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, and the theater was completely crammed with people. If it hadn't been for my volunteer pass (and the fact that I'd worked earlier that evening and was right on time to get a ticket), I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten in. I won't tell you what the film was about, except to say that it was a romantic comedy of sorts, but it was very, very funny. Mr. Goldthwait was on hand (common for Sundance directors) to introduce the film and answer questions afterward. He was also very funny, and the crowd got a big kick out of it. That's one of the treats that makes the Sundance films special, I think - the chance to interact with the people who made it and/or starred in it. The fairly lovely Melinda Page Hamilton, who played the lead character, was also there.
I had previously considered going to a film today, either a documentary about Ralph Nader or a documentary about the conspiracy against electric cars, but when the time came I decided that I was perfectly comfortable in my computer chair, and besides, it looked like there might be some sort of weather outside. On Friday night, I debated whether to stick around for the movie after my shift was over - my feet and back were sore, I was cold and tired, and I prefer to see films in a less crowded, more couchlike environment. I'm really glad I did, though, because it was a great way to end a long, cold, feet-abusing week. Mr Goldthwait announced at the screening that his film had been picked up for distribution to theaters, so when it comes I encourage you to go see it.
January 19, 2006 - I was walking the dogs the other day when a woman stopped to pet them. She asked me their names and ages, which is a fairly common question, and then she asked me whether they were obedient. This was the first time anyone had asked that, and I was a little surprised. I gave her the short answer, which was that they weren't particularly obedient. She petted them some more and went on her way, but it got me to thinking. It's true that they don't always come when I call, or stop eating whatever moldy rodent carcass they've found on the ground when I tell them to, and their enthusiasm when meeting people can be a little excessive, but those are fairly minor things. On the things that really matter, they obey me completely. For example, I've trained both of them to never solicit or accept campaign donations from the company supplying them with electronic voting machines. I've also taught them not to allow their personal religious beliefs to interfere with their pursuit or reporting of scientific discovery, or to allow industry lobbyists to write their legislation for them. Most importantly, I've trained them to never, ever engage in illegal wiretaps or surveillance against their citizens. In all of these things, I can claim a 100 percent success rate. I would be willing, if asked, to visit the White House with a rolled-up newspaper and a bag of Snausages and conduct similar training there as needed. I'm just putting that out there. I think you would find that my rates are quite reasonable.
January 17, 2006 - Sometimes I have ideas for stories or humor that would be better presented visually, as in a drawing or a film. Sadly, I can't draw at all, and even with the aid of a computer the best I can hope for is heavily-medicated-right-handed-tree-sloth-forced-to-draw-with-its-left-hand quality. The crab logo you see above, for example, took 57 hours of work. I mentioned my camera previously, which lets me make short videos, but so far my only experience is in filming wiener dogs, and then only because they're non-union and work for cheap. One might argue that it's a test of a writer's talent to express a complex visual idea elegantly through language, but that arguer should just shut up. If it weren't for my debilitating lack of drawing skill, I'd probably publish a brilliant web comic and become famous and covered in webchicks and money like all webcomic artists. Also I'm lazy, so I suppose I should factor that in.
I occasionally have trouble sleeping due to stress or odd wiener-dog-shaped lumps in my bed, so after seeing several of those commercials with the butterfly in them, I asked my doctor about Lunesta™ and she gave me some samples to try. While it didn't do much about the lumps in my bed, it did seem to quiet the mind and let me get to sleep more readily. On the down side, you can really taste the ground-up butterfly in the things - the package warns that one of the possible side effects is an "unpleasant taste," but they failed to mention that the unpleasant taste would be reminiscent of ass and would linger for three days. Even if I wrapped the pill in cheese or gummy bears or beer and swallowed it that way, the taste would crawl its way back up my throat and park next to my tonsils. As side effects go, it's not as bad as anal leakage, but not as good as spontaneous orgasms.
My friend Anastasia also tried some Lunesta™ to help her sleep, but it doesn't seem to work for her. She also hasn't noticed any unpleasant taste, so I can only conclude that either she's taking them wrong or her doctor gave her placebos. I suppose it's also possible that the pills simply don't work if you're more evil than the company that made them. In any case, I sincerely hope she gets some relief from her current bout of insomnia soon, because her coping method generally involves calling me at 4 am Florida time to complain. Well, that's not entirely accurate; she does give me a choice. I can listen to her complain about her insomnia, or I can help power-level her Warcraft characters while I listen to her complain about her insomnia. For her, that's generous.
Speaking of pills that alter your brain, I've been wondering just how long it will be before pharmaceutical companies figure out how to chemically encode advertisements into their products. For all anyone knows, they may already be able to do that. Every night that I've taken a Lunesta™, I had vivid dreams about shopping at Dress Barn or buying a new Chrysler Sebring, two things that I've never done. In one dream, I drove to Dress Barn in my new Chrysler Sebring, and then refinanced my home with Ditech.com. I think there's a bitingly-satirical short story in there somewhere, but unfortunately one of the other side-effects of Lunesta™ is that it suppresses one's ability to write or say negative things about the pharmaCEUTICAL INDUSTRY LOVES US VERY MUCH AND WANTS ONLY TO IMPROVE OUR QUALITY OF LIFE WHILE MAKING JUST A TEENSY WEENSY LITTLE PROFIT, HARDLY A BURDEN AT ALL WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT, TO HELP THEM MAKE ENDS MEET. Dammit dammit dammit dammit dammit.
January 16, 2006 - It's Martin Luther King Day today. I got a notice from the city a while back that they were planning to vote on renaming a section of street near me after Rosa Parks. The renaming would be honorary, which means that the street would retain its original name for postal purposes and people would be free to not use the new name if they chose, for example if they were racist or sexist or hated the non-Republican portion of America. There are several other streets in SLC named after famous people, including Dr. King, but they're all honorary renamings, which means that after the first few weeks only the people at the city's sign shop will remember the honorary namings. I suppose it's better than nothing, and at least we're ahead of Arizona, which refused to recognize MLK Day until 1993.
January 15, 2006 - At the start of the year, I made a personal pledge - I was resolute, you might say - to update this site every day. I have since amended that pledge so that I will update this site every day that I feel like it. The truth is, some days I just don't feel like I have anything interesting or funny to say. On those days, I update the site. The rest of the time, when my wit is crackling and my insights are sharp and well-reasoned and make all the Nobel Prize winners together look like bouncers at Hooters, I update my other weblog. Unfortunately for you, the other weblog only exists in my mind at the moment because the URL I wanted (www.robscracklingwitandsharpwell-reasonedinsightsthatmakeallthenobelprizewinnerstogetherlooklikebouncersathooters.com) was too long, and there are some things I'm just not willing to compromise on. It's too bad, too, because that site is way better than this piece of crap.
I have a digital camera which also makes movies, and I've made a few short films of the dogs at play recently. They're too big to post here, and they're also kind of grainy and jerky and of no interest to anyone but me, but I think it's neat to be able to do that without a bunch of specialized equipment or talent. It's my understanding (from reading sugar packets at a local film-and-coffee house) that both Federico Fellini and Anthony Spinelli got their starts as directors by filming their wiener dogs at play, so I'm in good company.
December 31, 2005 - Today is the one-year anniversary of Jasper's arrival. To celebrate, I made both Oscar and Jasper a special dinner: big bowls of chopped steak, rice, and dog food mixed together. They ate until their bellies were round(er), and then they both took a long nap. I was planning on having a party at Chuck E. Cheese's, but there was a mixup with the room reservation so we stayed here. I realize that when I speak so fondly of my little tubes, I might come across as one of those weird single guys who likes his dogs just a little too much. While I agree that it would also be nice to have a girlfriend, I would point out that dogs are much cheaper to keep happy; and really, who in their right mind would turn down adorable furry unconditional love? Besides, I've never bought them any little outfits, which is the generally-accepted boundary between dog-lover and dog-looooooooover.
Tonight is also New Year's Eve, and I plan on going to the First Night festivities. By "going to," I mean that the festivities will be held downtown and I will also be downtown, since that's where I live, so by proximity I will be attending them even if I don't go outside. Which I won't. New Year's Eve 1999 was exciting because I was hoping that the Y2K bug would wipe out all computerized and paper records of my existence and I could start over fresh, maybe as a stand-up comic or a Canadian this time, but obviously things didn't work out that way. Aside from that, New Year's Eve gets kind of dull after a while: you don't get presents, and once you've seen that ball descend a few dozen times and read enough old Doonesbury cartoons to know that nothing of consequence really changes over the years, the act of hanging up a new calendar loses some of its significance. You may say that's somewhat cynical, but watch this: I resolve to be even more cynical in 2006. So there.
December 29, 2005 - This week Spike TV has been showing James Bond movies, presumably because the Cold War and Christmas go well together (better than The Godfather (which they also play a lot) and Christmas, although both are about family). I've been watching them because I like James Bond - I've often reflected that if my life had gone just slightly differently, that's probably where I'd be right now, fighting commies and bedding lovely dangerous women in the name of the Queen. Unfortunately, the life of a spy isn't conducive to wiener dog ownership, and I'm not sure I'd trust those dangerous women around my dogs, so maybe it's for the best.
It's interesting to watch some of the older Bond films, before computer-generated imagery became the norm for special effects, and see how the effects were handled back then. While I like CGI effects in principle, I can't help but think that the older films which didn't depend on them are more representative of the filmmaker's art - it's more impressive to see a cleverly-done effect and know that it was done with models and clay and camera finesse than to see an effect that was created entirely on a computer. If I were a filmmaker, which I'm not, I think I'd be a little sad over the loss of that aspect of my art.
The same is true of photography - if you've ever looked at older photographs in magazines or photography books, there are a lot of incredible images out there that are the result of the photographer's cleverness in their craft, and not their skill with Photoshop. This is something where I do have a tiny bit of experience, or at least perspective - my dad's a professional photographer, and so has a lot of photography books, and when I was young I used to browse through them looking for nude--er, looking for interesting images. His profession has changed dramatically over the years - he used to be the king of multi-image, or multiple-projector slide shows - but with the rising dominance of video and CGI effects, the market for multi-image has dropped off sharply. I remember watching some of his shows, which could call for as many as 24 slide projectors working in concert, and it was pretty damn impressive what he and others could do with the technology of the day. Now, again, that form of craftsmanship and artistry is in decline. None of this is to say that there's not artistry in creating video at an editing bay or generating images and effects with a computer, because there certainly can be...but I still can't help feel that something irreplaceable has been lost along the way.
Speaking of commies, Anastasia and I have discussed popular fiction like James Bond and Tom Clancy's novels at some length. As a Russian, she takes exception to the pro-American and anti-Russian propaganda element of these texts. I can see her point, especially with Clancy's novels, because the propaganda is laid on with a big trowel. I've noticed in the Bond movies, though, that while there are crazy Russians and evil Russians, there are also crazy and evil Americans. There are also good Russians ("good" in this context meaning honorable and reliable, not pro-American), men or women who are just doing their job and protecting their country's interests without trying to slaughter innocents or grow rich from it. So there's a balance, of sorts, which I find preferable to the "we're good, they're evil" baloney in most propaganda.
Throughout the Cold War, Washington DC and Moscow both churned out their own forms of propaganda. Soviets were told that Americans were greedy, selfish, decadent, and imperialistic. Americans were told that Soviets were godless, militant, socio-economic deviants. It's funny, in a sad way, how much of the Soviets' propaganda about us ended up being right. What I find interesting about the Cold War is that neither Communism nor hard-core Socialism by themselves posed any kind of threat to the United States or its citizens. The Soviet military may have, but that's a different matter. The only two things that were really threatened by Communism were Big Religion (opiate of the masses, and still opiating us today) and Big Business. In an economic system where the welfare of the public (theoretically) took precedence over profit, the corporations that flourish in America would not wither and die - people will always need at least some goods and services - but their profits would be lower. The idea of raking in fewer dollars in order to benefit the stinky old masses is terrifying to the dollar-rakers, and so Communism was seen as their greatest nemesis. I'm just talking off the top of my head here, but I'm sure there's a close connection between the interests of big corporations and the enemies that Washington chose to create or focus on in its foreign policy.
Between the US and the USSR sits Europe, both geographically and socio-economically. Most of the European nations learned a long time ago that nothing good comes from letting religion stick its fingers in the public-policy pot, and most of these nations also have some form of social welfare controls in place to keep corporations from preying too fiercely on the public. Maybe it's because we're still a young nation, brash and swaggering like a cocky teenager, that we aren't able to make more enlightened decisions about how we treat our people or how we treat other nations. It could be said that we've got "Chosen One" syndrome, in which we believe that we're called by God or the midichlorians to be the savior of the world, but by virtue of knowing or believing that, we decide that there's no point in any further introspection or growth because our destiny is plain, and we inevitably bungle things up along the way because we believe ourselves to be infallible. In the movies, at least, the Chosen One who gets too cocky either becomes evil without realizing it or gets a large and unpleasant dose of humility. I'm one of those believers in the great potential of America, and I'd rather see us get spanked and learn a lesson than watch us turn evil. Although the evil uniforms are usually pretty cool.
I'm not sure what the point of all of that was, aside from draining my blog sac - it was pretty full from a couple weeks of no entries. If the NSA is reading this, please make sure someone looks after my dogs if you decide to disappear me for having unAmerican thoughts.
December 16, 2005 - I'm fascinated by people who are missing a sense of humor. I've met people like this in many different places over the years, and they can be found in all walks of life: important people, unimportant people, smart and dumb, old and young, and everything in between. The only two commonalities I've found are that most humor-deficient folks aren't aware that they have no sense of humor, and that a disproportionate number of them seem to end up in low-level civil service positions. After thirty-odd years of feedback, I can safely say I'm blessed with a healthy sense of humor. My wide variety of experiences growing up lets me adapt my humor to fit the crowd I'm with, if I feel like it, which sometimes I do. Not having a sense of humor is kind of like not having a sense of smell - you can function without it, and maybe most people would never notice, but there's so much you'll miss out on that just can't be conveyed in any other way. In troubled or difficult times, being able to laugh at the absurdity of a situation may mean the difference between perseverance and despair.
It's been said that laughter is the best medicine, and I believe it. I also believe that the second-best medicine is a drink I concocted, which I call a DayQuil Smoothie. The court jester in Shakespeare's plays was the only one who could speak the truth to the king or queen without (much) fear of reprisal, and in that we see the best example of humor's power. Not all humor is a truth-delivery vector, but humor has a way of slipping new ideas into an otherwise closed mind that very few methods can match. What's considered humorous may vary from age to age and culture to culture, but the ability to laugh is one of the few things that separates humans from the other animals. Also we can use cutlery.
Humor is an excellent social lubricant, and not just for impressing the opposite sex. I've helped resolve many disputes with neighbors, clients, friends and others with carefully-applied humor. Shared laughter has a tendency to break down social barriers and entrenched points-of-view, and it's much cheaper than alcohol. It's not always easy to find the right balance of humor and seriousness, or even to maintain one's sense of humor in a stressful or frustrating situation. Sometimes humor doesn't work very well, and sometimes it backfires completely and results in many deaths...so very many deaths...but when it does work the results can be quite gratifying.
I consider myself a satirist, at least in some of my writing, and although I'm open to debating the quality of my satire, I'm absolutely certain that it's a vital function - especially in a society like ours that has a tendency to take itself just a little too seriously. No matter what philosophy or ideals you're pursuing, if you can't take a step back every now and then and get some perspective on what you're doing, you're destined to become a zealot. Which would be fine except for the fact that, historically, zealots have a pretty poor track record in making the world a better place, plus they're annoying as hell. Humor isn't the only means of acquiring perspective, but it's a damn good one. So take some time today to go out and laugh at something, even if it's just laughing at someone who slips on an icy sidewalk in front of you. You'll feel better, unless that person comes over and punches you in the nose, in which case you'll probably provide some much-needed laughter for the people behind you.
December 12, 2005 - Richard Pryor passed away on Saturday. I'm sure that the many news articles about him this weekend sum up his life and impact much better than I could without plagiarizing, but the thing I admire most about him is that he was a pioneer. Successful people of color are much more common in the entertainment industry today than when I was growing up, and a lot of them owe their careers - or the availability of such a career - to groundbreakers like Pryor, Bill Cosby, or Nichelle Nichols. There's still much to do, and I would never (hardly ever) presume to speak on behalf of another race or group regarding something as serious as equality, but I do take pleasure in progress, no matter how small the steps.
Even though I moved around a lot as a kid, and lived in a lot of different parts of the country, I was fortunate not to know very many people who were racist. As a white person, it's entirely probable that some of the folks I knew were racist and I wouldn't have known it, but I rarely met anyone who was overtly so, and I consider that a small but positive thing. I know the problem is still out there, and large, but I think one of the important aspects of any progressive equality-oriented movement (racial, gender, nerd) is the act of pausing and looking back to see that progress has been made. Richard Pryor was a part of that progress, and he did it in the most intimate way possible (well, the second-most) - by stripping down and laughing at his own frailties as a human and inviting us to share in the experience. Race was a necessary element of that process, but Pryor's comedy went beyond race to remind us that we are all capable of the ridiculous and the sublime. On the rare days when my convictions about humanity in general sucking waver, it's usually due to a reminder like this - that the place beyond race, beyond gender, beyond hate might be attainable after all.
December 10, 2005 - This has been a big year for the book serieses I'm reading. The latest Harry Potter book came out in the summer, and the spoiler - for those of you who haven't read it yet - is that Harry's actually a chick. The movie based on the fourth book also came out, and it was kind of like watching the Cliffs Notes version of the book. It's hard to cram 700+ pages of novel into one movie, but they sure did try - with the result that they had to gloss over a lot of the details that make the books so interesting, at least to me. There was speculation on the interweb thingy a while back that they might make 2 movies out of the fourth book, and after seeing the movie, I can say with conviction that they definitely should have done that. Oh well.
As an aside, I know that none of the books I mention here would be considered "literature" by the snotty, over-educated folks who make a living explaining why their book of poems about tumbleweeds and angst is superior in every way to my book of poems about tumbleweeds and angst (which it isn't), but I take a dim view of people who think the art of storytelling is best practiced by writing unreadably dull texts that no one but English professors will like. Call me a populist if you wish - I do my best to make that a rare opportunity. And now back to the program.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a new book by Stephen R. Donaldson, one of my favorite authors, in the bookstore a little while back. It's a continuation of a story he'd already written two trilogies on (The Chronicles and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant). It turns out that this book, The Runes of the Earth, is the first of a four-part series called The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - so at least I know there'll probably be some closure eventually. The book was enjoyable, as is everything I've ever read by Donaldson, but it kind of felt like a precursor to the larger story he apparently has in mind. The next book isn't due out until late 2007, which will be just long enough for me to forget what the first book was about.
Speaking of which, the other latest-installment book I picked up was the eleventh book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I made the mistake of starting this series a few years ago, not realizing when I did that the series wasn't finished and that the author was planning to milk it until the day he died. It's an enjoyable read with some very creative concepts and interesting details (Jordan knows his military-history stuff pretty well), but the downside of its length is that there are no less than four hundred characters and roughly sixty-five trillion plotlines to follow, and not all of them get equal treatment. One thing that Donaldson did at the beginning of his newest book was to write a succinct "What has gone before" section, so new readers could get up to speed quickly without necessarily having to read (or re-read) the previous six books. Apparently that's not Jordan's thing. I started reading the new book last night, and within the first 50 pages I was ready to set the damn thing aside and start re-reading the series from the beginning, just to be able to figure out what was going on. As a devout practitioner of Lazy, though, I'll probably just look on a fan site for some synopses.
December 9, 2005 - What a long couple of weeks. Last Saturday I took a standardized test for grad school, and I spent the week prior practicing with a book I bought. I'm not allowed to reveal any info about the test, which test I took, or who isn't allowing me to reveal that, but I can say that the test may or may not have involved questions. Although I've always been a good test-taker, this was one of those tests where the creators had apparently gone well out of their way to make it as stressful and pointless an experience as possible, so I figured it couldn't hurt to practice beforehand. I hired a rodeo clown to wear bacon-flavored slacks and run around my condo with the vacuum cleaner, which whipped the dogs into a frenzy and made it nearly impossible to concentrate. My assumption was that if I could take the practice tests under those conditions, taking the real test would be a breeze.
The day before the test, I put the practice book away and relaxed as much as possible. I made a nice dinner for myself, watched a movie I liked, and went to bed early. The next day, I awoke at the crack of dawn (which is not my custom), ate and got ready, and went up to the undisclosed location where the test was being administered.
This was one of those tests that can - and probably will - decide your fate in some very significant ways. I'll spare you the rant about the fundamental impracticality of trying to sum up a person's net scholastic worth with a single multiple-choice test administered under an arbitrary time constraint, but let me assure you it's quite witty. Anyway, because the test is so very very important to the people who make money from administering the test, there were a number of security precautions in effect. Some of these, in my view, were more reasonable than others. We had to print out our admission ticket and bring it with us - reasonable. We had to put our thumbprint on the admission ticket when we got there - silly. We had to show photo ID - reasonable. We weren't allowed to bring cell phones, PDAs, that sort of thing - reasonable, and something we were informed about in advance. When the proctor asked the people in our room if anyone had any cell phones, over a dozen phones got collected and passed forward. We had to write out a statement from a sheet which said that we were who we said we were, wouldn't cheat, etc., and then sign it - a little overboard. Before being admitted to the room, each test-taker had to step behind a curtain and submit to a thorough body cavity search - overboard, but now I know where the term 'proctor' comes from. The proctor in our room, as it happened, was evidently an undergrad student from the Econ department, and he couldn't recite the printed instructions correctly to save his life despite the fact that English appeared to be his native tongue. I'm sure that was all a carefully-scripted part of the test, though, just to screw with our heads some more.
So how did I do? Any answer would be pure speculation. I was awake and alert, read the questions carefully, filled in all of the circles for each section, and statistically at least some of them have to be right. Oh, yes...this was a paper-and-pencil test, because apparently a lot of Amish folks seek entrance to grad school, and no one wants to be accused of discrimination. I'll find out in a few weeks, and then I'll know whether I'll be spending the next few years as a grad student or a gigolo. Or both.
November 27, 2005 - I just finished watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, something that's become a holiday tradition for me. It's not just the incredible scenery, the visually stunning effects, or even the powerful and moving storyline that fascinates me the most - it's the effect that these few books, published only 50 years ago, have had on our culture. Stories by the thousands, films by the score, Dungeons & Dragons and its many tabletop and video game progeny and imitators all owe their genesis to one unassuming scholar from the English midlands. While Tolkien was undoubtedly influenced by great writers and great books from ages past, his own stories were so different and vivid and compelling that they created and encouraged an entirely new literary tradition. His fans are beyond legion, his impact immeasurable. As a writer, it's an example I find both inspiring and thoroughly daunting. Nonetheless, I remain determined to follow in his footsteps. After all, if Tolkien could change the terrain of modern literature so profoundly with only a typewriter and some leather elbow patches, surely I stand at least an equal chance of having a similar impact with my computer and wiener dogs. I've already started on a story, which I have titled "Billy and the Genre-Redefining Epic Thing." Actually the title is all I've got so far, but I'm confident that more will come.
November 23, 2005 - Today is Labor Gratitude Day in Japan. It doesn't seem like a holiday we in the US can really share in, except ironically, as our jobs continue to get packed up and moved overseas. I had an insightful and witty essay in the works on labor and manufacturing practices in the 21st Century, but my ghost writer Tibor, after doing some of the initial research, started demanding more than 8 cents a day for his work (and come on, that's already like a million dollars a day in his country), so I had to let him go. So we see that, while globalization is certainly beneficial in some ways to growing or emerging markets, it can have a negative impact on the US-based blog economy. In related news, though, the Financial Times recently reported that US emissions of greenhouse gases fell by a small amount in the past two years, due largely to the shift of heavy manufacturing from the US to other nations where labor is cheaper and greenhouse gases are in short supply. The White House's response, naturally, was to hail it as a victory for their environmental policies.
Speaking of politics, we had one of our monthly condo board meetings on Monday, and a surprising number of people showed up to participate. Normally, anything more than zero would be a surprise, because the meetings are pretty dry and getting people jazzed up about getting involved in their Homeowners Association has always been a hard sell. At this meeting, we had about 8 people show up, and - most surprising - they were all interested in the proceedings (or feigned interest like me) and cordial in their inquiries. I suspect that some of them had seen the grumpy emails flying back and forth of late, or heard the bizarre murmurings in the hallways from random folks, and came hoping to see some pageantry. I didn't want them to leave disappointed, so I tried to think of a way to get everyone to spontaneously break into the "Jet Song" dance routine from West Side Story, but I couldn't remember all the lyrics myself, so I let it go. I hope the high level of interest continues once they realize that the most exciting thing we usually do is sign checks and talk about maintenance issues.
November 20, 2005 - I got a hilarious email today from one of the little people in my building (we'll call her "Drama Queen # 3") - she somehow found this site, and then got all ranty about how I'd violated the public trust by mentioning the condo complex in these pages. Her rant skills need some work, to be sure, but it was a solid effort for a newbie. I have been thinking of hiring a censor for the site, so I'll put her on the Maybe pile.
November 17, 2005 - Another busy week here at The Inner Crab's vast chrome-and-steel-and-wiener-dog-hair corporate headquarters. I'm glad to be busy with programming work, because I really need the money, but at least half of the stuff that's kept me tied up this week has been condo-related or other tedious crap that I haven't figured out a way to bill anyone for yet. Tonight I went to a movie with my friend Dale and his daughter Amanda - we've been going to movies on Thursday nights for the past three weeks. Or, to be more accurate, we've been trying to go to movies. The first Thursday, the movie wasn't playing because the theater was having a sneak preview of something else. The second Thursday, we were able to see MirrorMask, which I thought was really good. Artsy, but good. Tonight we went to a different theater, and the movie we planned to see was pre-empted by a sneak preview of something else. We tried going to another theater in a nearby mall, but the only thing age-appropriate was Pride and Prejudice, and...meh. I like Keira Knightley - a lot - but...meh. So we wandered around the mall for a while, stopping at Brookstone and The Sharper Image (who will get links as soon as they send me a nice gift certificate). Each store had an abundance of things I suddenly realized I desperately needed but couldn't afford, and I'm not just talking about the lovely and business-flirty sales clerks. Massagers, telescopes, animatronic monkeys, Tempur-pedic mattresses and pillows and slippers, Roombas, electronic gadgets of every conceivable size and purpose, and did I mention the sales clerks? (I can never tell the difference between business-flirty and the regular kind, so I'm sure that both of them were coming on to me. Maybe I'll go back tomorrow and buy something expensive and completely useless in order to impress them. I bet the dogs would like an animatronic monkey.) It's good to know that gross conspicuous consumption is alive and well in these troubled economic times. We didn't end up buying anything and I still came out down 50 bucks (Amanda apparently has some sort of system for the miniature roulette wheel).
Speaking of malls, there's a mall right downtown in Salt Lake called Crossroads. It was the first mall I went to when I moved out to Utah, and I spent many hours wandering around in it, sometimes even buying things, in my youth. It's within walking distance of my condo, so it's a convenient place to go get clothes or DVDs or Cinnabons. I've always thought of it as "my" mall. Last year, the LDS Church - as part of its ongoing quest to own every square inch of Utah - bought the mall. Since then, they've terminated leases left and right, and now over half the shops are closed or closing soon. The church plans to...well, I'm not sure what they plan to do with it, really, but I bet it will be sanctimonious and annoying. It's a shame, because all the people who live (and work) downtown have a vested interest in a healthy local economy. Whatever replaces the shops will probably not do much to contribute to the economy, unless you count the caramel-covered Bible-on-a-stick kiosk, but frankly they've never been a major player. There, I said it. Anyway, I would have preferred that the church buy and destroy one of the loser malls in the south or west part of town.
November 10, 2005 - This has been an eventful week. I enjoyed a small but significant victory over USBank: I found out last Friday that they've been charging me monthly fees for my tiny business account when a no-fee business account has been available for over three years - and after I specifically asked them, two years ago, to switch me over to the lowest-fee account they had. Their phone monkey switched my account for real this time and refunded a month's worth of fees ($10), and this week I went down and had words with the branch manager to get the rest of the fees refunded. He passed the buck to his regional manager, but they ended up refunding a year's worth of fees ($120). To dig even that much money out of a bank is a pretty amazing accomplishment, I think, and it's going straight onto my resume. Score one for the little guy.
In other news...where to start? The US has secret torture prisons abroad, according to the Washington Post, and now the CIA wants to launch a probe into who leaked this info to the press...which seems like a silly thing to do if you plan to deny they exist.
The United States Army (that's ours) has been accused of using white phosphorus as a chemical attack agent in its raid on Fallujah last year. White phosphorus, which is very bad for the skin in that it melts it off, is banned by the United Nations for use on civilians. The Army says it only used a few phosphorus shells over the city to provide illumination, but this documentary seems to bring that statement into question. I can't really think of anything funny to say about a chemical attack by US forces on unarmed civilians, so let's all just meditate for a minute and then move on to the next paragraph.
The White House is retroactively editing its press conference transcripts (video vs. text) to change Scott McClellan's responses - in this case, Scott's Oct. 31 response to an assertion that Rove and Libby were involved in leaking Valerie Plame's name to the press was changed from "That's accurate" to "I don't think that's accurate." They just forgot to edit the video to match.
Election Day was pretty dull, this being an off year, but the Dover, PA school board was purged of the board members who'd forced the insertion of an intelligent design statement into junior-high biology classes. Good for them. The voters, I mean, not the ex-board members. I'm sure they'll find work at the Parents Television Council or Ignoramuses for Inquisitions or some other fine throwback refuge.
Speaking of refuges, Congress decided to hold off drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for now. Look for this proposal to resurface around basketball playoff time when everyone's busy watching sports instead of the news.
And again on the intelligent design topic, Cardinal Schoenborn has recently reasserted the Catholic Church's stance that the theory of evolution and the theory of a divine creator are not incompatible, with the caveat that science shouldn't try to use evolution as proof that there is no divine creator (which hasn't happened anyway, to my knowledge, at least not by any reputable scientists). Catholic church officials have also warned against a too-literal interpretation of the Bible, saying that taking the stories and allegories of the Bible as literal, scientific fact leads to dangerous fundamentalism. Or words to that effect. Now if they'd just take care of the rampant buggering, I'd be content with them.
November 5, 2005 - After giving it a lot of thought, I've decided to step down as a trustee for my condo building. I've been doing it for ten years this December, and the joy has long since been sucked out of it. The short explanation I'll give people is that I figure ten years is long enough, and I'm stepping aside to encourage others to get more involved. The long answer is that I'm tired of dealing with disinterested, lazy, critical morons who treat me and the other trustees like we're the building's janitors and don't lift a damned finger to help maintain their own property.
There are and always have been folks who are kind and appreciative, but there are just as many (more, really) who complain about the things we spend money on (even though our budget and the monthly meetings are always open to all), and then bitch about their condo dues as though the trustees were pocketing the money instead of using it for water, gas, sewer, repairs, maintenance, janitorial supplies, landscaping, cleaning, management services, and all the other things it takes to keep a building operational. They write snippy jabs on the notices and reminders we put up, wonder why we can't have an infinite number of recycle bins (hauled to the curb by the trustees) or turn the steam heat on 24 hours a day (as natural gas prices continue to go up up up), rent their units to the worst possible sleazebags they can dig up, and refuse to understand the most basic principles of economics that govern what we can afford to do/improve/buy and what we can't. Worst of all is the fact that, whenever we lose a trustee (we're required to have 3), I have to beg and plead and arm-twist people into volunteering for the position, as if helping to maintain your own home and its environs is just too burdensome for people to waste their time on.
On the up side, I've gathered enough material through my experiences as Condo King to write a book about it, and I plan to do exactly that. It will be fiction, with embellishments for humor's sake, and probably the format will be a collection of related short stories. I've already got a title: "The Hollywood." Look for it on Amazon.com within the next ten years.
November 4, 2005 - This has been a very busy week. I finally got some programming work in, and since I've had a long dry spell (what economic recovery?) and was in danger of having to eat one or both of the wiener dogs (or they me), I worked hard all week to get the thing done so I could send the client a bill. I (and the other two trustees) also wrestled with the building's @!%$&#@! hot water heater every day because it started malfunctioning again last weekend. The plumbers came out on Monday and Friday, and finally got it working right Friday afternoon. If it goes out again, I think I'll just tell people this is now a non-hot-water building...you know, for the environment.
I got DirecTV installed last Monday, and although the installer (an independent contractor) tried to gouge me for $75 to perform the free installation I'd signed up for, and then didn't finish the installation properly when I refused to pay, I'm pretty happy with the change. Because I ordered it from the DirecTV website, I got a free TiVo (I will be selling my other one for cheap once I finish watching the stuff on it), free installation, all the same channels I was getting with Comcast plus a few extra, and I'll be saving $25 per month to boot. Now I can record two programs at the same time, which is pretty sweet. Another installer came out later in the week to finish the installation, and he didn't try to gouge me - plus he liked my dogs, which I always consider a significant measure of character. The best part is that I got to go down to Comcast and tell them to go screw themselves (although I was slightly more diplomatic than that, since there were children present).
Last week I saw Corpse Bride with my friend Dale and his daughter Amanda. It was very well done, as is just about everything Tim Burton does. He sure does like Johnny Depp a lot...it seems like almost every movie he's made in the last several years has featured Depp. I guess if you find someone you work well with, it makes sense to keep working with them. Now that Johnny isn't stealing Winona Ryder's affections from me any more, I like him much better too.
October 29, 2005 - Today we celebrate National Miscellany Day, and in that spirit I present you with some miscellaneous musings.
I heard back from the detectives who were investigating our serial window wanker. They said they'd found out his name and talked to him, and his excuse for hopping our building's fence and masturbating at a young woman's window on several different occasions was that he was "looking for his cat." I suspect that the police misinterpreted him on that one.
My friend Anastasia has been without power for nearly a week now, since Hurricane Wilma went prancing through Florida last weekend. She's got no internet, no computer games, no Daily Show, no AC, no refrigeration, and no light after the sun goes down except candles. Fortunately, her cats are all the fancy self-recharging kind. The local power company says it might be as long as November 22 before her area gets its power back. To say that she's unhappy would be a colossal understatement. I tried to comfort her by pointing out that her next month's power bill will be quite low, but she just swore at me in Polish. I mailed her a box of electricity and ice cubes this morning (wrapped separately, of course), so hopefully that will take the edge off a little bit.
I made pizza this afternoon (Freschetta = very good), and when I was done eating I tore up some pieces of the crust and set the plate on the floor for Oscar and Jasper. Whenever I give them a plate of something to share, they wolf it down as fast as possible...they are technically animals, after all...but Jasper usually gets the short end of the stick if it's something that takes some chewing (like the pizza crusts), because Oscar is a Grand Master Chewer. Today Jasper tried a new tactic. As soon as the plate hit the ground, he gobbled up as many pieces as he could fit in his mouth, went a few steps away, spat them all out, and started eating them one at a time while Oscar worked on the plate. Call me biased, but I thought it was pretty clever of him.
Last year at this time, I learned an important lesson about Daylight Savings Time: don't set your clocks back an hour while you've got a cake in the oven. This year, to make sure there are no problems, I'm setting all my clocks back in increments of five minutes over the next 12 days.
Within the last week, George Takei (if you don't know who he is, please leave now and don't come back) and some basketball lady both announced that they're gay. My question, when I saw these articles, was this: So? I mean, I understand the purpose of coming out, as a self-acceptance and personal honesty ritual, but I wondered why we still care about a person's sexuality as if it had any bearing on their worth or abilities (although I suppose a straight Liberace wouldn't have been quite the same). Then I remembered that I live in one of the dozen or so states that amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage last fall. I guess the struggle needs to continue for a while, but I'll be glad when it stops being an issue and we can start hassling people for being stupid and narrow-minded instead.
The major oil companies have posted record profits this year - with two of them (ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell) taking in nearly $19 billion profit between them in the third quarter alone. I think it's safe to say that George W. Bush's oil tycoon buddies have recouped their investment in his long string of badly botched oil ventures, and now I'd like to propose that they take their winnings and leave the table. You know that when even Republican senators (e.g. Bill Frist) are tossing around the idea of new laws to prevent oil companies from gouging quite so much, things have gotten way out of hand. Yes, we need renewable energy - badly and soon. Yes, we are as much to blame as anyone if we don't buy (or at least pick up a brochure for) more fuel-efficient cars. Yes, oil is finite and the price will always gravitate upwards. I accept all of these things, but the level of greed among the oil folks has pegged the meter. I think the word 'greed' needs to be souped up a bit to accommodate this short-sighted, deeply unethical, global-economy-pillaging, how- much-effin'-money-do-you-people-NEED behavior. It's like watching a developmentally-challenged four-year-old snatch up all the cupcakes at a birthday party and try to eat them all at once, shiny foil paper and all. There we go...I think the new word should be 'greetarded.' I'll register it with the dictionary people on Monday.
The newest installment of Sid Meier's Civilization computer game is out, and I've been playing it. It's better than ever, which is saying something - completely redone, amazing graphics, new features galore, cumbersome features removed, immensely playable. Now that I have my copy, I think the rest of you should stampede down to your local software store, buy up every copy, and rough up the clerk a little.
October 23, 2005 - I'm getting bored of capitalism. Don't get me wrong; I like earning money for my work, and I like having a good variety of products and services to choose from, and I like the technological innovation that's fueled by a competitive economy. What wearies me is the greed, the constant drive to have more and more and more, especially by those who already have more than they know what to do with. Capitalism as the driving force for a startup society (e.g. America many years ago) is reasonable; capitalism as the driving force for an established society is not. A nascent society needs market forces to help provide the means for developing an infrastructure, transportation and communications systems, and other vital fixtures that allow continued economic stability. A mature society, on the other hand, is one that turns its attentions to the growth and stability of its citizens. Neoconservative pundits and power-whores would argue that the government shouldn't be responsible for...well, anything, really. In their view, every social institution or mechanism that can be privatized should be privatized, in the name of efficiency. Market forces are the supreme arbiter of good and bad, they would say, and an inefficient company will soon be replaced by an efficient company as long as whatever they provide is needed. When a social mechanism (such as education, police services, or health care) gets privatized, though, the intended function of that mechanism is lost. The myth is that it's possible to serve the public good just as effectively, if not more so, when you have profit as your motivator. The reality is that profit has only one thing on its mind: more profit.
The American Dream, the idea that anyone can rise through the social and economic ranks to the top - no matter how humble or mean their beginnings - is one of the bedrock legends of our society. Like all legends, it has some truth and a lot of exaggeration woven into it. The disparity between rich and poor in our country has fluctuated widely in the 200 years since we were founded, and in the last century we saw a narrowing of the gap with the help of the New Deal programs and the cohesiveness brought on by World War II. There was a lot of narrowing to be done; from the mid-1800s up through the 1920s (which was termed the "Gilded Age" by Mark Twain because of the outward flash and inner corruption that marked this period of industrial expansion), the distance between rich and poor was vast, and the middle class as we know it today (or knew it 30 years ago, anyway) barely existed. From the 1930s to the mid-70s, the gap decreased and the possibility of improving your station in life increased dramatically. Unfortunately, that trend has reversed itself in the last 30 years or so as supply-side economics and the "Greed is good" crowd found clever ways of selling their devastating social pillaging to the American public. From the mid-70s on, economists and the Congressional Budget Office have shown that the average real income of all but the top 10 percent of American taxpayers (that's most of us, for those of you who aren't mathematically-inclined) dropped by 7 percent. The income of the top 1 percent increased by just under 150 percent. The further up the scale of richness you go, the more their income has increased over time. I wish I was making these statistics up, but I'm not. I drew them from an article by Paul Krugman in The Nation magazine, who in turn drew from CBO statistics and studies by Business Week magazine, among others. Here's the link if you don't believe me, you untrusting bastard.
Other successful (and more seasoned) nations are able to balance the needs and wants of commerce with the needs and wants of its citizens. Healthcare, education, and other public services that a reasonable person might argue are the reason for having a government in the first place are placed firmly at or near the top of these countries' national priority lists. Religion and theo-commerce, a separate set of topics entirely, are kept well out of the way of public policy-making. I would not go so far as to suggest that America should emulate England or the Netherlands in every social respect; we are our own country, and we must find our own way. But we have been led off the path of social and philosophical progress by slick shysters at the very highest levels of our government and our economic base, in order to return us to another "Gilded Age" in which the wealthy stay that way, and the poor do too. I believe and appreciate that the wheels of progress turn slowly, but when they begin to turn backward, they grind the majority of us into the dust.
October 22, 2005 - I'm a big fan of science fiction. It's not just the cool imaginary gadgets or the thought of exploring new worlds, nor even the idea that hot alien women need lovin' in a way that only humans - nerdy humans in particular - can truly provide. I like the basic premise of plotting the potential course of our race and societies in the future. There is schlocky sci fi as there is in any genre, but well-written sci fi focuses on the human factor, how people will or won't evolve over time. Some science fiction, such as the Ster Trak series (that's intentionally misspelled so I don't get sued by Paramound), believes that humans can achieve a near-utopia once we overcome our greedy, violent nature. Other science fiction takes a more...let's say conservative...view of our future potential, and some of these projections, even from stories written half a century ago, are eerily prescient. Now, I have great faith in particular individuals in our society, either people I know or people I've learned about, but for humans in general...not so much. Based on the overall trend, I think it's a safe bet that we're headed for the kind of society that would make George Orwell curl up in a ball on the floor and sob uncontrollably. So what do we do about it, you ask? Well, I think we as a nation should start a betting pool on which horrible dystopia we're going to end up with. If we know in advance that we're going to end up with the nightmare future we so richly deserve, we might as well have some fun guessing at the particulars.
Will we someday live in a society that monitors our every move, including what we buy, what we read, who we love and when we're allowed to die? Will the poor exist solely - body, soul, sweat and harvestable organs - for the benefit of the rich? Will the powerful elite use ultra-advanced marketing techniques to keep us confused, unfocused, consumery and complacent? Will we become a heavily-armed nation of thugs, ready and empowered to shoot anyone who threatens our property or preconceptions?
The answer to all of these questions, of course, is yes. You can see plenty of examples in just one day's headlines, but here's one that doesn't get much mention. It's more than a little spooky to think about, too. You may have wondered why it is that conservatives - usually people on the top side of the class scale - are so very opposed to most reasonable methods of population control, especially among the poor. I will tell you. Aside from the obviously sinister element of having a large pool of cheap, renewable, poorly-educated and easily-oppressed labor, I believe that they (the rich) also intend to eat us. Think soylent green or Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal." A little far-fetched, you say? Consider this: Tom DeLay is one of the most powerful and corrupt members of the reigning elite. He has a strongly pro-life voting record: no abortions, no funding for family planning efforts, and no cloning of humans (presumably because clones don't taste as good as the real thing). Is it a coincidence that the Frito-DeLay corporation (based in Texas, naturally) has recently improved the taste of its Doritos™ Brand Tortilla Chips, as I noted in a previous entry? What if, instead of removing the goat dust from the manufacturing process, they're now adding ground humans to the mix? Humans have that tangy, salty taste that goes very well with nacho cheese. And who buys Doritos? Rich people. So Tom DeLay uses his power and influence to assure a steady supply of fresh humans for his insidious chip-improving scheme, and - in the classic DeLay style that we're all now familiar with - he's so bold as to boast about it right on the bag. Remember that the next time you see a product that claims to be better tasting, more refreshing, or longer-lasting than before: it probably contains humans. If you're not quite ready to give up and accept your fate as a snack enhancer yet, be sure to complain about the products in question to the store manager the next time you go shopping. You have my permission to cite this article to support your argument.
October 17, 2005 - I was in the grocery store this weekend when a country song came on over the sound system (the store regularly plays music for its customers, presumably with subliminal messages to Consume buried in them). I don't know who the song was by, but it was one of those "USA is great no matter what" songs. It reminded me of the bumper stickers I've seen that said "My country, right or wrong," which always make me want to shake the car's occupants until their jingoism falls out. I'll spare you the caveat about how much I love my country before savaging the people who undermine its very essence through willful ignorance. I have to wonder if the people who sing these songs or buy these stickers are willing to accept blame and punishment in the event that "wrong" turns out to be legally actionable. I'm sure some folks just don't want to think about the possibility that a country with as much promise and potential as ours could screw things up broadly, badly, and for the basest of reasons. Trying to preserve one's innocence in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is kind of sweet, in a way - or it would be if it weren't so horribly destructive.
The American educational system has never been too good at teaching critical thinking skills - the kind of vital ability that protects people from being too easily snowed by slick, hollow marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, our government knows this and uses it to their advantage. I don't just mean the current administration, but they've certainly pushed the envelope more than most. I've heard it said that one of Karl Rove's favorite gags is to turn an opponent's strength into a weakness - e.g. John Kerry's war record. We can see the same thing happening to America in general, where our optimism and willingness to step up to a good and just fight has been turned against us for the administration's personal gain.
On May 22, 2003, President Bush issued the following Executive Order:
I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, find that the threat of attachment or other judicial process against the Development Fund for Iraq, Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein, and proceeds, obligations, or any financial instruments of any nature whatsoever arising from or related to the sale or marketing thereof, and interests therein, obstructs the orderly reconstruction of Iraq, the restoration and maintenance of peace and security in the country, and the development of political, administrative, and economic institutions in Iraq. This situation constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.
I hereby order: Unless licensed or otherwise authorized pursuant to this order, any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void.
On the (very thin) surface, this seems to give protection to Iraq's development fund, derived from their oil money and managed by the USA. In fact, and as we have seen many times since the war began, it gives blanket coverage to those companies doing business in Iraq to plunder this fund without fear of any sort of legal reprisal. You don't even have to make a complicated chart to track how these companies are connected to the very highest level of our government: Halliburton = Cheney, Oil Cronies = Bush. So, to tie this clumsily to my original thing, I wonder if the "right or wrong" crowd would be willing to go to jail for treason, fraud, gross abuse of power, war crimes, and excessive vacationing in their president's stead.
October 12, 2005 - Last night I went to a literary reading at the university, sponsored by the undergrad magazine that published my story Inconsolable. I was invited to give a reading, along with a number of other authors. I wasn't sure what to expect; despite having a degree in English, I'd never been to a literary reading before. I was pleasantly surprised by the fairly large turnout. There was even a printed program listing all the presenters, and I was somewhere in the middle, which was good because I didn't want to go first. I read my piece (which I'd practiced reading aloud several times beforehand) and got plenty of laughs and applause at the end, which made me feel good. I'd been told that we only had 5 or 6 minutes each, so I picked a chunk from the middle, but after watching another author (an elderly fellow who'd come in a suit and tie) read a number of poems - and introductions for each one - that just seemed to go on and on and on and on and on, I figured I probably could have gotten away with reading the whole story. At least mine was funny. It was interesting to see what people consider "appropriate" attire for presenting at something like this; I didn't go the suit-and-tie route, since I hate ties, but I did bathe and put on clean slacks and a nice shirt. Some of the authors had that college grunge look going, the kind that says "I got dressed by rolling around in the laundry pile in my fraternity's basement." Which is fine if you're going to a keg party, but surely they would have known that Utah law expressly prohibits beer kegs at literary functions.
Anyway, the reading went well as far as I was concerned, and I'm glad I went. They're having some other readings in the next few months too, and they invited me back, so maybe I'll use that as an incentive to write some new stuff. Or I can just bring along a software user's guide I wrote a while back and read that.
October 10, 2005 - Salt Lake City Corp. has been reinstated on my shitlist. Last weekend I noticed that two of the curb-ends in front of our building had been painted red. I fought with the city for years to get about 10 parking meters removed from in front of our building, and this particular spot (about 25 feet long, between 2 driveways) could comfortably handle 2 cars once its meter was removed. Now there's only room for one car there. Parking downtown is already at a premium, and yet the city seems to get its jollies from making it harder and harder to park here - especially if you live here. I called the city and tracked down the person who'd issued the work order, and his only response (which he repeated to me over and over and over again) was that only one car could legally park in that space, because a vehicle has to be at least X feet away from a curb-end (such as a driveway). We have had 2 cars parking there at a time for nearly 2 years, since the meters were removed, with no logistical problems of any kind that I've ever seen. To support his claim that there had been complaints about the spot, he actually cited parking enforcement officers who'd complained that they didn't know whether to give tickets to the two cars parked in the spot. He also said he'd gotten complaints from other people in the neighborhood, but refused to tell me who they were or what they complained about. I plan to badger some other people I know in the city's Transportation Department about it, but I suspect that the resolution to the problem will involve the cover of darkness and lots of paint thinner.
The building next door to mine has started harboring some pretty slimy folks in the last few months. Several people who live in my building have told me they suspected (or had actually witnessed) drug transactions taking place in or around the building in recent weeks. This weekend I found out about another problem. Apparently, one of the people who lives there has been hopping our fence and peeping in the ground floor windows and wanking. Not a grizzled old guy, either - a young kid, in his teens or early 20s. There are a number of single women who live in the building, and this guy's behavior is a threat to all of them - especially when you consider that window-peeping and wanking is often a precursor to more violent and predatory behavior. Anastasia tells me that FBI profiles of serial rapists show that many of them worked up the nerve to attack people by peeping and wanking first. I've called the police about both of these problems, and I don't doubt the police's competence, but I'm not entirely confident that the city's overworked and under-staffed police force will be able to do anything. It's disappointing and a little scary to me that the city has the resources to screw around with one stretch of curb that isn't causing any hazards so they can write more parking tickets, while actually keeping people safe in their neighborhoods and homes is a constant challenge. I know that the two things aren't directly related, but in the grand scheme of things, they kind of are.
October 9, 2005 - I saw Serenity with a friend earlier this week. Serenity is the movie based on Joss Whedon's short-lived TV series Firefly. The movie, like the TV show, was well-written and well-acted. It answered a lot of the leftover questions from the TV series, but I was disappointed by the treatment of some of the characters in the movie. I don't want to go into too much detail, because I don't want to give out spoilers. If you're a fan of the TV show (or good fiction in general), I'd definitely recommend the movie.
I'm looking forward to the Special Director's Cut of Into the Blue, the underwater-treasure-and-peril movie starring Jessica Alba and some other people. As I understand it (from a dream I had), the Special Director's Cut will feature only the scenes with Ms. Alba in them, and no dialogue.
October 5, 2005 - Fall is my favorite time of the year. I don't know if it's because the cooler temperatures give some relief to my poor melting brain, or because the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter's aligned with Mars, but Fall always invigorates me. Not in the sense that I actually accomplish anything, but definitely in the sense that I feel like I could accomplish something if I wanted to. I like coming in to a warm house after being out in the cool, crisp air. I like turning on the dog magnet by my computer so the wiener dogs can curl up next to it. I like the changing colors and the leaves crunching underfoot. I like the anticipation and savoring of the holidays, with the food and friends and general sense of comfort. In fact, the only thing that I don't like about the arrival of fall is that the building's steam heat comes on, which makes loud clanking noises in the pipes (from thermal expansion of the metal) early every damn morning for about an hour. I suppose the upside of that is it gets me up early, which gives me more time to enjoy the fall.
October 4, 2005 - Before my trip, I went to the bookstore to get myself a book to read on the plane. I was thrilled to find a new book by one of my favorite authors, Stephen R. Donaldson. Donaldson is a master storyteller, someone whose style and attention to language and character development has had a significant impact on my own writing. The new book is the first in a four-part series called "The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant." I highly recommend the first two Covenant trilogies (and everything else he's written). I've read a whole lot of books in my lifetime, but there aren't that many of them that I went back and read again and again. Charlotte's Web, the Harry Potter books, a few good short-story collections, and Playboy's Women of the Online Gaming Community come to mind...and the Covenant trilogies. I'm only partway through this new book so far, but I'm already eager for the next one.
Speaking of milking a series for all it's worth, the newest installment in the Wheel of Time zillogy is coming out next week. That's a series that I might start reading again from the beginning, because I'm sure there's a lot I missed the first time through. There are also so many characters and plots and subplots and counter-sub-plots to keep track of that I'd probably spend the first 300 pages of the new book wondering what the hell is going on.
October 3, 2005 - I'm back from Seattle. My sister's wedding was a success, in the sense that everyone who was going to get married did so. I saw relatives and step-relatives I hadn't seen in a long time, got a chance to hang out and talk with Alicia and my younger brother Aaron, and tooled around Seattle for a while. I rented a car and drove up to Bellingham on Thursday to check out Western Washington University, and visited Seattle University and the University of Washington on Friday. Seattle is a pretty cool city, and I was pleased to rediscover my interest in exploring new places. I'm fortunate to have an excellent sense of direction and spatial orientation, which I can guarantee is not genetically inherited, at least in my case - I assume it came from playing video games. Navigating around town was a little challenging at times, but it was fun.
The night before the wedding, a group of us (my family and my new brother-in-law's family) went to a restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. I'd never met any of Mike's relatives before, but they were all very nice and welcomed me as part of the family right away. The restaurant was Italian and served their dinners family-style, which meant that there was way, way, way too much food. Mike and Alicia went home with several large containers of leftovers, which I would have been happy to give a good home to if I'd thought I could get them past airport security. Some people don't like leftovers, but I do - it makes me feel like I'm being frugal, getting more than my money's worth out of a meal. I like to cook, so leftovers can always be spruced up with a little effort.
On Friday afternoon, I got dressed up and went to the restaurant (Salty's on Alki) where the wedding was being held. I've been to Seattle once before, several years ago to visit a friend, and she took me to the same restaurant. Sadly, we didn't get married, but that's another tale. I didn't realize that it was the same place until I got there, and then I had one of those small-world moments. The wedding wasn't due to start for two hours or so, but Alicia wanted me to come early for pictures. My dad is a photographer, and most of the people he knows also seem to be photographers, so there was a whole lot of photography going on. Alicia had asked him to find someone else to photograph the wedding for her, so he could focus on being Dad during the wedding. Alicia, Aaron, and I had discussed the arrangement the previous night, and we all expected that Dad would be following the photographer around, giving him unneeded advice and generally being a pain, so I promised to run interference if necessary. As it turned out, he'd brought a video camera and mostly kept himself busy with that, and the wedding photographer was able to go about his business.
The wedding ceremony itself was quite short - less than a half-hour - and then the dinner and dancing started. I milled about and talked with folks for a few hours, then my Aunt Cindy (my stepmother's sister, on whom I had a massive crush in my early teen years) pulled me out onto the dance floor. I've always had strong legs thanks to years of biking, and being in an oxygen-rich environment (sea level vs. the mountains) made a huge difference. I danced and danced and danced and collapsed on a chair and danced and danced some more. Most everyone at the wedding was white, and the DJ was black. I'm pretty sure that he went home afterward and laughed himself silly about our rhythm-less flopping about.
The next morning I flew home, and the dogs were very happy to see me. My dad and I spent a little time together the morning of my flight, but otherwise he was too busy with wedding stuff to drive me too crazy. I learned that many of the things that irritate the hell out of me about my relationship with him are also frustrating for Aaron and Alicia, which made me feel much better - it's good to know I'm not the only family member who has challenges in dealing with him. The flights up and back were uneventful, and I was able to set aside my innate resistance to rules and overbearing authority figures at the airports, thus avoiding time in the airport jail. The only disappointing part of the wedding and reception was that Alicia didn't have any bridesmaids, foxy or otherwise.
September 28, 2005 - Tomorrow and Friday I'll be out of town. I'm going to Seattle, where my little sister Alicia is getting married. All of my siblings are halves, and I spent only a few years total with any of them when growing up and playing Musical Parents (which is like Musical Chairs, but with more Christmas presents and a pervasive sense of abandonment). I remember babysitting her and changing her diapers, and it's kind of a shock to see her now as a full-grown woman, with...you know...woman parts and everything. Mike, the guy she's marrying, seems very nice, and I think they're a good match. While I'm up there, I'm also going to visit a few local colleges, partly to check them out for possible grad-school applications, and partly to avoid spending too much time with my family. Alicia is a sweetheart and I love her dearly, but my dad and I have what might best be described as a 'strained' relationship. I've got mixed feelings about the trip, which will only be 2.5 days long. Of course I want to see my sister get married, but I'm not quite as excited about the rest of it. I'll be leaving the dogs here and neighbors will be walking and feeding them for me, but this is the first time I'll have left Jasper alone for this long. I'm sure they'll both be fine, but I'm entitled to some separation anxiety. I'm taking them to the p a r k this afternoon for some togetherness before I go. I'm also flying (to Seattle, not to the p a r k), which I have done many dozens of times but only once or twice since 2001, and I'm not thrilled about the inevitable body cavity searches and the general assumption that I'm up to no good unless I can prove otherwise. There won't be any updates to the site for the next few days, but upon my return I expect to have many stories about TSA incompetence, familial stress, and/or the foxy bridesmaid who made the trip extremely worthwhile.
September 25, 2005 - For those of you who like wiener dogs, here's a recent picture of Oscar and Jasper together.
For those of you who don't like wiener dogs, get out. Now.
I opened a bag of Nacho Cheese-flavored Doritos™ Brand Tortilla Chips today, and noticed that it said "Now Better Tasting!" on the front. Whenever a product says something like that, I always wonder why they were giving us the crappier version beforehand. Was there some accident at the Doritos factory where the machine that sprinkles the chips with goat dust was broken, and some overworked manager said "We've got to meet our numbers! Go ahead and make a batch anyway," and the happy accident turned out to improve the product? Or did the team of nacho-cheese-particle physicists working in the high-tech underground Doritos lab make some Nobel-worthy breakthrough? Or maybe, like most other marketing, it's a vague lie that can't be sued over, so they added it to the bag to boost sales? I like Doritos, but personally I'm betting it's the goat dust thing.
September 23, 2005 - Get yourself some popcorn and a drink, because I'm on one. Ready? Here goes.
Late Wednesday night, I sat down to watch the season premiere of Lost on my TiVo. The first twenty minutes of the recording were a live broadcast of the JetBlue flight that was trying to land with jammed front landing gear. The broadcast went on and on and on and on, just watching the plane circle around while commentators made the usual imminent-disaster commentary. Finally the plane landed safely, and the local ABC affiliate aired the show in its entirety. TiVo clipped off the last 20 minutes of the show, and I was irritated. I sat down at my computer and wrote a short, cranky, snarky email to the news director at Channel 4, venting my spleen about what I called 'ghoulish disaster-ogling.' The next day, I got an email back from the station's General Manager, who very politely pointed out that most other stations had chosen to cover this same event live, and that they stood by their decision but respected my right to disagree. The fact that he took the time to read my email and respond was impressive, and he was much more reasonable in his reply than my grumpy email warranted.
My friend Anastasia, always up for a chance to rub my nose in my own messes, was quick to tell me that I had, in video gamer parlance, been 'owned' by the station's GM. With the (unintentional) aid of her wise and annoying counsel, I was able to get to the root of my dissatisfaction with the pre-empt, which really wasn't about missing a few minutes of a TV show. For those readers who may not know it, I'm a trained journalist. My first Bachelor's degree is in Mass Communication, and at one point in my life I wanted to be a TV news reporter. The lost Lost was a trivial thing in comparison with a potential tragedy, of course, and I would never claim otherwise, but the fact that it made live national news underscores what I feel is the primary flaw with the news media - TV especially. The news desk's mantra is, and always has been, "If it bleeds, it leads," meaning that tragedy of a sudden and violent nature trumps almost every other story. Any event that can be described that way is almost certainly newsworthy, and deserves thorough coverage, but it should not be the mainstay of the media. We can't do anything about a specific plane crash, even if we have all the facts. We can and must work very hard to correct the problems in our government or society, but we can only do that if we have all the facts. Some of those facts may not come to light willingly or be heard willingly, but that doesn't diminish the need for it to happen.
The fact that we give constitutional privilege to the press to operate freely - an incredible power at the time the US was created - inherently carries a responsibility to act as a vanguard of truth and a check against the power of the establishment, whoever that may be at the moment. The term 'the fourth estate' means exactly that - the media are, for all intents and purposes, a fourth branch of governance. Their role is to provide us with thorough and accurate information about the actions and intentions of our elected leaders, because it's in the very nature of power to cloud some of those actions and intentions from the public view.
There will always be people who would prefer not to hear the harsh or complex truth, especially if it violates their carefully woven worldview. For any one individual to make this choice, I say fine - bury your head in the sand if you feel that's best. But that shouldn't be the criteria by which the news media decides what to report on. For a media outlet to say that this or that story is what the people want to hear about (or, more to the point, what they don't want to hear about) is directly antithetical to the very purpose of journalism. Most of us would prefer not to hear that our democracy is eroding or that the fundamental precepts our nation was founded upon (aside from the bit about slavery and gender bias) have been neatly circumvented, but in the grand scheme of things, this is the news. If journalists have to cram the truth down our pie-holes because we're all too busy and scattered and freaked out by the state of modern life to pay more than passing attention to the vital affairs of our nation, so be it.
In the last decade, independent and respectable media outlets have been gobbled up by a small handful of corporations, and the journalists themselves have become little more than stenographers for an increasingly closed and secretive government. The words 'profit' and 'journalism' - which should never be uttered in the same building, let alone the same sentence - have joined together in a Thurberesque marriage in which journalism is the neutered spouse and the loud, overbearing Chief Financial Officer calls all the shots. Journalistic activism still exists, but its main outlets are now internet-based and print publications, which are easy to miss in an ever-expanding sea of infotainment and clutter. Journalistic activism can be carried to unhealthy extremes, and in fact we can see that in the very existence of Fox News and other deeply biased news outlets, but the principle of journalistic activism remains vital. In my (admittedly limited) experience, real stories rarely fall into your lap - you have to go out and dig hard for them. Edward R. Murrow put a real face on World War II, the Korean War, and stripped away the veneer of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Unamerican Activities Committee. Walter Cronkite showed us the depth of tragedy in Vietnam. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein helped expose the iceberg of corruption whose tip was Watergate. These journalists showed us what a free press is capable of: delivering, to the very best of frail human ability, the raw, unfiltered truth and then placing it into an understandable context. This is the standard to which all journalism should aspire, because everything else is just fluff and propaganda. This is the time when we need it most, because...well, take your pick: illegal war, voter fraud, emergency unpreparedness, evangelical greed, corporate hegemony, rising poverty, uninsured millions, vicious profiteering, environmental pillaging, lingering racism, Karl Rove. These are the stories that deserve to pre-empt every single damn TV show every single day, except Star Trek. A free press must expose and analyze and make sure everyone understands the slow-moving tragedies, because they deserve every bit as much attention as the fast-moving ones.
I was going to write all of the above back to the station's GM, but I have a feeling I'd be shouting into the wind. Which I'm used to, but I also have the hots for one of their field reporters and I don't want her to think I'm some crazy guy who sits at his computer venting his spleen all...you know what? I'm just going to stop now.
September 22, 2005 - I've finally gotten around to cleaning up the front page again, so if you're looking for anything older than May 2005, it's in the Archives section.
September 14, 2005 - Anastasia has mostly finished moving into her new house, and upon finding that all of her furniture fits after all, she's decided that the new house isn't so bad. Her cats spent a few hours cowering, sulking, and otherwise protesting the move, but then dinnertime arrived and they were happy again. Her new house is a prefab, like her old house, but the new one meets higher hurricane-related standards. This means that a hurricane which would have flipped her old house completely upside down will only be able to flip this house on its side. So that's good.
September 12, 2005 - In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan famously said that the 10 scariest words in the English language were "I'm with the government, and I'm here to help you." He offered this in defense of his desire to reduce the size of the federal government, and one can only assume that he meant for us to be scared of those 10 words in that order, because "The you to government I'm I'm and with help here" doesn't make much sense. Anyway, assuming that Reagan and his progeny are correct and the federal government is not your friend, here are some curious things to consider: this year, the US Congress introduced two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, related to weather modification and control. The House bill proposes to establish a Weather Modification and Operations Research Board, and the Senate bill essentially does the same. It also includes some guidelines for technology transfer related to weather modification.
I've heard of some crazy theories regarding weather modification, especially after Hurricane Katrina (caused by the Russian Mafia and their weather machines, don'tcha know). Mostly these theories are good for a laugh, but obviously the government is taking the idea seriously. In 1996, the Air Force released a report titled "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025." The Boston Globe printed an article earlier this summer describing the history of weather modification efforts, much of it snake-oil science but some of it legitimate.
The point is this: Technology (cloud seeding, extremely-low-frequency (ELF) generators, and so on) already allows us to tinker with the weather in a ham-fisted sort of way. It's not inconceivable that we'll get better at it someday. If that happens...is it reasonable to think that Reagan's 'scary' federal government is going to make nothing but gentle spring rains for needy farmers?
And yes, I was wearing a tinfoil hat when I wrote this, but it was strictly for comfort.
September 11, 2005 - On the fourth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, here are some ironies to consider:
- The Department of Defense sponsored a Freedom March in Washington DC on Saturday the 10th. The march was closed to anyone who didn't pre-register, completely walled off with barricades, and patrolled by hundreds of heavily-armed police. Protesters were not permitted.
- The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon has recently revised its nuclear tactics document to include the ability, upon approval of the President, to pre-emptively launch a nuclear strike on a nation or group believed to possess weapons of mass destruction. This also includes the ability to target known enemy stockpiles of chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons.
- Blackwater Security, a US-based mercenary-for-hire company which provides security services for senior officials in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now deployed in New Orleans. When interviewed by the press, these men say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security, and have been given the authority to use deadly force.
- President Bush has suspended minimum-wage laws for federal contractors (the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931) in some of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, saying that the suspension "will result in greater assistance to these devastated communities and will permit the employment of thousands of additional individuals."
Well, I think we've managed to peg the Irony Meter. I usually like to savor a good irony, but for some reason these leave an odd taste in my mouth.
September 9, 2005 - Today my friend Anastasia is moving. Although she lives in a hurricane-prone area, this time weather is not responsible for the relocation. She's been forced out of a house she really likes by a devoper who somehow tricked the city or the county into letting him raze several hundred houses, presumably by twirling his hypnotic moustache or something - I wasn't really paying attention to that part. Anyway, the developer plans to replace the existing serviceable housing with newer, bigger, more expensive housing, or a mall or a munitions factory or something...again, not paying attention, although the story does a good job of illustrating Point # 78 in my Rant Against Unrestrained Commercial Development That Will Someday Devour Us All. She dragged her feet, both of them sprained now due to genetic klutziuness (another story entirely), on the forced move, but the day of packening has arrived. Her mother, a strong-willed (and perpetually exasperated, I suspect) woman, has been helping her get ready for a few weeks now, sometimes at gunpoint.
The new house, a few miles away, is smaller and significantly less adorable, but it's the best she could find in the middle of a mad rush to find housing for the few hundred dislocated folks. She and I both realize that this is a trifle compared to the tragic dishomening in the Gulf Coast, but this is when it's happening. I may be insensitive, but at least I'm topical. She and her furniture and her army of cats are probably all strapped to a big flatbed truck even as I type this, and I wish her well. I also wish I could get some photos of her strapped to that truck, purely for documentation purposes, and not at all as part of a long-distance B&D-related fantasy.
September 8, 2005 - I'm a dissent junkie. Speaking truth to power gives me a woody, and I don't just mean figuratively. I'm sure Masters & Johnson would have a lot to say about that, but that's another topic for another time. I have always bristled at censorship, ever since I was a kid. Knowing that there were books I'd read which were no longer allowed in the school library or the classroom filled me with anger and dread. To my way of thinking, the free exchange of ideas - however loopy or unpopular those ideas may be - is the single most vital element of a healthy society. You may have noticed that most of the Interesting Places links are to dissent- or satire-oriented sites. That's not a coincidence.
I've been immersing myself in the dissent stream on the web for the past several days, taking in the national outrage and exulting in it - not because I wish for chaos, but because I wish for sanity. The newfound spine that American journalists and citizens have shown in ripping apart the administration's spin and bungling is the first encouraging sign I've seen in a long time, encouraging in the sense that - despite the many problems we're facing as a nation - we may just have the cojones to get through them with our democracy intact after all. Hurricane Katrina is not something I would wish on anyone, anywhere, ever, but it happened - and if we truly are the great nation we claim to be, then the lessons we learn from such a tragedy should be equally great. We can't afford to sit on our well-cushioned bottoms while our country is dismantled and given to campaign donors and corporations, mollifying ourselves with empty pabulum about "family values" or ironically-cited morality. When we do that, our people die.
Next time: Details of my fantasy with Halle Berry, in which she lectures Bush on racial and gender equality - perhaps while wearing some sort of skimpy leather feline suit. The irony is not lost on me, but...ohhhhh baby.
September 7, 2005 - Howard Dean, former Presidential candidate until he made the foolish mistake of threatening Big Corporate Media with reforms before he was elected, is now the head of the Democratic National Committee. He has been loud and harsh in his criticism of the Bush administration's failings in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit - loud and harsh in a wonderful, it's-about-damn-time sort of way. He has vigorously promoted emergency housing efforts through HurricaneHousing.org. More than that, he has temporarily suspended DNC fundraising efforts and asked that donations be sent to aid the hurricane victims instead; he also postponed the DNC's fall meeting that was scheduled for this week, and has granted leave to any staff member who wants to go down to the Gulf and help. Even more than that, he hasn't done this with the usual politicians' self-congratulatory smugness - he's trying to help people other than himself and other than his rich influential buddies, plain and simple. What a complete lunatic. No, wait. What's the phrase I'm looking for? Oh yeah...effective leader. Wow. Haven't had to use that one in a loooong time.
This is not a paid (or unpaid) plug for Dean for President - just an observation that maybe leaderly behavior looks different than we've come to think it does.
September 6, 2005 - I donated to the Red Cross today. I am not saying this to win anyone's approval or make myself sound generous - in truth, I'm ashamed of my donation, because it wasn't very large and it was only money and not the actual items needed by the people suffering in New Orleans and elsewhere. I cleaned out my closets a few months ago and gave heaps of clothing and whatnot to a local charity, so I don't have much left to give besides some cash (on Visa, no less) - who knew Bush's plan for Social Security meant saving canned goods and blankets for the next massive disaster the federal government fails to foresee or help with. I know the Red Cross will put the money to good use, but it just doesn't seem like enough. I'm sure a lot of other people feel the same way - when I read the news or see the images on TV or the web, I have this awful feeling that I should be doing something more, but I honestly don't know what that something is.
The amazing, selfless, get-the-job-done efforts put forth by the rescuers and ordinary citizens in the hours and days and weeks after September 11, 2001, are already starting to repeat themselves down in the bayou. The people are leading, to paraphrase a bumper sticker, but unfortunately the leaders aren't following yet. Karl "Why Haven't I Been Jailed For Treason Yet?" Rove has launched one of his delightful smear campaigns, trying to pin the Bush administration's collossal, tragic, preventable failure on the state and local leaders. The record shows pretty plainly that the local leaders did everything in their power to protect and rescue and intervene on their citizens' behalf, but of course when the local leaders or the handful of semi-courageous Democrats who've spoken out use these facts to reverse the White House's spin, they're engaging in "partisan bickering." If I were less emotionally affected by human suffering on a catastrophic scale, I might observe that the President and his staff are engaged in a fascinating absurdist farce, where bad is good and Orwell wrote the Bible. As it is, though, I'm starting to wonder if some neo-conservative think tank is keeping notes: "Just how pissed off can we make people before they start fighting back? Make a chalk mark at that spot, and we'll keep our zany nation-pillaging antics just under it."
September 2, 2005 - Most of the reports coming out of New Orleans indicate that the majority of the people who stayed behind did so not out of a wild-eyed desire to face down the evil hurricane (as I implied in an earlier post), but because they simply didn't have the means to leave or the means to sustain themselves once they got out. That makes the tragedy doubly-sad - the notion that poverty (and the policies that allow it to fester freely) really can kill has been brought into sharp, horrible focus.
If you want to read an astonishingly profane and gutsy critique of the current administration's behavior in this matter, go here. The lead-in photograph alone speaks volumes.
September 1, 2005 - During the gas crisis of the 1970s, I was busy watching cartoons. I had an excuse, being only 5 or so at the time. The older Americans who were (or should have been) paying attention at the time had a great opportunity to push for decreasing our national and social dependence on petroleum, but not much happened. I do remember when gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and I also remember how people reacted when it breached that $1 mark - and again when it hit $2. In both cases, people reminisced about how great life was when gas was only ($X-1) per gallon. Now that it's up to $3 in many places around the country, not counting the poor bastards in the South getting gouged for $6 a gallon, I expect the public's reaction to be about the same: some news stories, a lot of complaining and hand-wringing from average citizens, but eventually the new prices will be accepted and life will go on. Except that eventually the high price of gas in a car-loving (and geographically large) country like ours will start to cripple us financially.
You may look around yourself and say "Well, it's only $2.79 a gallon here for regular, Mister Negative," and it's true that news stories usually focus on the lowest grade of gasoline when comparing prices, but the cheap gas is cheap (or "cheap" as we'll say from now on) for a reason, and it isn't because Chevron loves you. The price for non-crappy, non-engine-clogging, slightly-less-environment-hostile gas is over $3 in most places. There's a fundamental law of economics that's being ignored like the proverbial elephant in the room: prices on a vital, finite, non-renewable resource will only go up. Having a supreme leader whose family made its vast fortune from buying and selling that resource doesn't help.
Maybe the silver lining in all of this is that people will finally demand fuel-efficient cars and give serious thought to conservation and energy policy reform. I'd be the last person to ever advocate going backward technologically - I don't want to give up my comforts any more than anyone else, but I recognize that something in the equation has to change. I may not have much faith in our current administration, but I have faith in science and in the universe - other sources of energy are out there, and in abundance. We just need to get off the oil teat and start seriously trying to find them.
August 31, 2005 - Hurricane Katrina has devastated a large chunk of the South. Historic New Orleans will never be the same, and many thousands of people will be homeless or without power (electrical, not political...they didn't have much of that to begin with) for weeks or months to come. Being out of harm's way gives me the luxury of pondering some of the larger questions raised by this event, unlike the folks in Mississippi or Louisiana who are faced with more immediate questions such as "How will I live?" or "Where is my family?" For once, I don't mean any disrespect to the people I'm discussing here, and I offer these questions for general consideration in the spirit of societal growth. It's entirely possible that there are rational answers to all of these questions, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't get asked.
It would be unfair and unreasonable to blame the hurricane on the Bush administration, although I'm sure there are some folks out there who very much want to. They didn't cause the hurricane - the government's capability to do that is still at least three or four years away. A critical thinker might bring up a few related questions, though, such as why the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for levee repair and reinforcement around New Orleans was reduced by 40 percent several months ago, or why there aren't enough National Guard members and equipment (helicopters, high-water vehicles, generators, and so on) available to perform rescue operations. While it's true that a lot of oil production and refining goes on along the coast in that area, we also import a great deal of our oil from abroad, including Halliburton's newest subsidiary of Iraq - so why are gas prices allowed to climb to over $6.00 per gallon in some places? Why have they climbed nationwide by over 50 cents a gallon in the last week?
Why did the Bush administration gut the rules that prevented developers from mowing down the protective wetlands around New Orleans, wetlands that Presidents Clinton and Bush Sr. promised to preserve? Why has the Bush administration refused to address or even acknowledge global warming in any meaningful way, when there is plenty of good science to show that (a) it exists, and (b) it can lead to things just like Katrina?
Why are people who've been rendered homeless by nature deserving of our support and sympathy, but not people who've been rendered homeless by an ongoing economic policy designed to fatten the rich and financially enslave the rest of us?
In the interest of fairness, someone should probably ask the people who were ordered to evacuate, but didn't, what the hell they were thinking. I'm sure some people simply had no means to get out or nowhere to go. For the others who could have gotten out safely, standing up to a Category 5 hurricane is not the same as standing up to the corner drug pusher or an armed intruder in your home. If those things are a bad idea, standing in the way of a hurricane is way, way worse. I would never suggest that the folks who stayed behind got what they deserved, because I don't believe that - that isn't my point. Staying in a place where your life is in imminent danger, with inadequate protection, no hope of negotiation, and an exceedingly slim chance of survival, let alone victory, doesn't seem very wise to me. That's one of those things some Americans seem to have a mental block about, but I'm sure it won't have any broader ramifications.
August 29, 2005 - I've just learned something very disturbing. According to XMission, the company that hosts this site, someone or something has actually been visiting The Inner Crab for the past year or more on a regular basis. Their stats, which only go back a year, show that the site has had just under 30,000 hits since last September. Subtracting the number of times that I visited the site to re-re-re-read my own witty, self-indulgent blatherings, that still leaves over 10,000 hits unaccounted for. It's possible that some of that traffic is from government spybots looking for terror, or spammer spybots looking for hot man-on-mortgage action to promote, but at least some of it has to be real, right? Assuming that it is, the next logical question is this: why aren't these people sending me money? Seriously. If just 5,000 people sent me $1,000 each, I'd be able to afford to pontificate here full-time, or maybe even farm it out to some deserving subcontractor in India. Here's a sample of how that might look:
"Today a very bad thing was happening to me which made me very irritable and indignant. Another thing also happened which created more unpleasantness, nearly to the point of absurd exaggeration. Somehow, through sheer force of making things up, I managed to triumph over adversity. I destroyed my foes with my brain and wry, cynical observations. Many lessons were learned. Also there were wiener dogs involved."
Wow, is that really what I sound like? Well, I suppose it's natural for some of the flavor to get lost in the translation. Anyway, now that I know there are actual people reading The Inner Crab, I'll have to start updating more frequently, or less frequently, or something.
August 28, 2005 - This last weekend was one of those non-restful weekends where, when it was over, my first thought was "My God, I can't wait til the weekend." The hot water heater (which supplies the entire building) was on the fritz, and my own hamfisted efforts to repair it were only partly effective. It would come on for a while, heat up some water, then shut off again until I noticed there wasn't any more hot water and went back down to screw with it again. It's a gas heater, so there's always the risk of a massive natural gas explosion, which is why I always make sure to wear my asbestos t-shirt when I go down to tinker with it.
I took the dogs to the park on Saturday for a nice long walk (we went to the walking park rather than the ball-chasing park), and followed up on Sunday with another walk in the same park. Sunday was Idiot Day, it seems, as there were oodles of other people with their large unleashed dogs bounding around, uprooting trees and snapping the necks of passing children. One such doofus actually asked me, while his large unleashed dog was tasting Oscar, why my small dogs were still on their leashes. We had just entered the off-leash area, and I was waiting til we got a ways into the woods (and away from the other dogs) before letting them go, but the blunt dumbness of his question left me speechless, so I just gave him a crusty look and walked on. In that moment I vowed to dismember everyone who annoyed me from then on, but frankly I'm really too lazy to carry through on that.
August 22, 2005 - Yesterday President Bush visited Salt Lake City for two hours, to give a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. There was also a fairly large protest rally held at a nearby park. I didn't attend this rally, but I did spend a few hours studying a blueprint of the convention center to see if I could send one of the wiener dogs in to bite Bush in the crotch. Apparently the building's architects had anticipated such a tactic, though, because there were several key entry points blocked by something called a 'Snausage trap.' In the end I settled for watching the news coverage of the event with my back to the TV and my arms folded defiantly across my chest, which is one of the lesser-known methods of civil disobedience promoted by Henry David Thoreau.
August 18, 2005 - Last night I attended a candlelight vigil for Cindy Sheehan, the woman who's camped outside President Bush's Texas ranch waiting for him to explain the whole illegal invasion of a sovereign nation thing and why it's good. Similar vigils took place all across the country, and about 100 people showed up to this particular vigil. I went partly in the interest of journalistic curiosity, as I've never attended a vigil before (although I once read a play by Virgil), and partly to lend my support to someone whose personal courage impresses me. I know that there are probably skeletons in Ms. Sheehan's closet, or some things she believes that might differ from what I believe (kind of like, you know, everyone else one might ever meet), but the conservative pundits' attempts to diminish the substance of her cause by pointing these things out ad nauseam hasn't worked on me. If I had been sent over to die in Iraq for the sake of a neocon-military-industrial-oil-company-bad-thing wet dream, I would hope fervently that my mother would do the same thing.
I took the dogs with me, since the vigil was held at the City/County building a few blocks away, and they were both excited at the prospect of appearing on the news while humping the leg of someone giving a stirring personal tale of grief. There were several news crews on hand, filming faces and conducting interviews. I speculated with some of the people I knew at the vigil about which of the cameramen might be working for the FBI to catalog dissenters, but I suppose we won't know until martial law is declared early next year.
The people at the vigil were far from unanimous in their beliefs; some simply wanted to help urge Bush to meet with Sheehan, while others wanted him impeached and tried as a war criminal. They were all polite about it, though, and there were as many eloquent pleas for answers to the Iraq questions as there were less-eloquent rants about all topics at once, plus some topics that only the speaker's fillings truly understood. That's the beauty of democracy: everyone is entitled to a voice, even if they and their fillings disagree with the ruling elite. Now that I've attended a vigil, I wonder if that makes me a vigilante. I'm going to assume that it does, and go out and buy myself some vigilante-appropriate outfits this weekend, because Mervyn's is having a sale.
I went home after the vigil and TiVo'd the nightly news from two of the stations I'd seen at the gathering. One was a local Fox affiliate, and the other was a CBS affiliate. I was curious about how and whether their coverage would differ. After the programs were recorded, I went back to watch them, starting with Fox. When I pulled up the program, the title screen said "Fox News" and the subheading (which usually gives details about the program) said "No information available." Ah, TiVo...your subtle ironic musings are not lost on me!
The Fox broadcast was surprisingly neutral (well, for Fox), although the reporter attending the vigil did manage to paint the gathering as an "anti-Bush rally" a couple of times. They also devoted roughly the same amount of air time to a story about a mountain goat that had gotten trapped in some local person's garage. Fie on anyone who says they're not fair and balanced. The CBS broadcast was pretty straightforward. I did notice that neither the dogs nor I showed up in any of the filler footage on either program, which was a little disappointing since I'd put on a nice clean t-shirt for the event. Don't get me started on the media's bias against dachshunds (or "Liberty Hounds" as they were forcibly re-named during WW I - really). I'm glad I went, and I really hope that this sudden surge of finally-paying-attention by the American people continues at least until the fall television season starts.
August 17, 2005 - Yesterday was my friend Anastasia's birthday, and I missed it. I felt badly about that, as I usually send her something nice and/or cheap, but the date zoomed up on me before I realized it. On behalf of everyone here at Inner Crab Productions, I would like to wish her a Happy Belated Birthday. On a personal note, I would like to thank her profusely for the several hours of joy she's inadvertently brought to my life. She sent me a link to an item she wanted for her birthday: it's a Roboraptor. I was so impressed by the advertising copy and still photographs of this mechanical beast that I ordered five of them. Unfortunately, that maxed out my Robotic Dinosaur budget for the month, so I'll have to wait til next month to get one for her. In the meantime, I will be sending her a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Misanthropic Russian Wiccan Vegetarian's 'Soul'" and a signed copy of this entry.
August 16, 2005 - The wise City Fathers have recently taken steps to improve parking for residents in the downtown area by raising the rates at all parking meters from 75 cents an hour to a dollar an hour. This approach is modeled on the federal government's approach to healthcare, in that if they allow it to get expensive enough, people will finally stop getting sick all the damn time. I'm told by a source at the Mayor's Office that this is the first of a three-phase improvement scenario. In the second phase, to be implemented in May of next year, parking meters will spray carbolic acid in a 10-foot radius at random intervals. Phase three, which is scheduled to start in November of next year, will allow parking enforcement officers to address traffic congestion by booting any vehicle that comes to a complete stop anywhere in the city limits. Emergency vehicles and licensed pizza-delivery vehicles, of course, will be exempt.
August 15, 2005 - Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Mexican Freetail bats have returned to the Hollywood Condominiums. Except that in our case it happens in the fall instead of the spring, and the Capistranians probably don't run around screaming that the swallows are trying to fly into their hair or suck out their thyroid glands. Earlier this week, a resident pointed out to me that one of these little fruit bats was flying around the hallway. To her immeasurable credit, she wasn't freaked out by the poor little guy, and wondered how we could get him out of the building safely. We ended up leaving a couple of upper-balcony doors open so the bat could fly out (and more bats could fly in), and since I haven't heard anyone yelling "DEAR GOD THERE'S A BAT TRYING TO EAT MY BRAIN!" recently, I guess he probably escaped.
August 4, 2005 - Anastasia and I got into a debate after my last entry, which she felt might give people who don't know me the impression that I was a little soft on the swastika issue. She contends that using a swastika as a visual metaphor negates the dissent value of that metaphor, as swastikas are always considered a form of hate speech. I agree with her in part - there's not much positive to be said about using a swastika in any context, given its not-too-distant history, but I'm leery of making blanket statements about things always being this or that. I'm also at a loss to think of another effective (and swastika-free) way to visually and viscerally depict the sentiment I think the graffiti author was going for, although I'm sure there must be a way. In the end, she won the debate on a technicality, namely that I got bored of discussing it and fell asleep while we were on the phone. It's all moot anyway, since the city's graffiti cleanup crew came and painted over the offending swastiphants that very same day.
I have to wonder...we're planning on painting our entire building in September, but since the city seems willing to cover up any graffiti we report at no charge...what if I were to piss off the Taggers Union (Local 362) enough that they tagged our entire building? Would the city paint the whole thing for us for free?
In the event that this page now comes up in Google (what with all the swastika references recently) when searching for sites of Nazi interest, whether neo- or classic, I'd like to state for the record that folks who are into that sort of thing are not welcome here. They are, however, invited to visit our sister site, www.SetYourNadsOnFire.com.
August 2, 2005 - Today I'm conflicted. Late last night, someone spray-painted graffiti on the side of the condo building where I live, and I can't decide whether to get rid of it or not. Normally I hate graffiti and the little scumlets that tag buildings with ads for their gang or youth organization, but this graffiti is different. Instead of saying "Our gang is swell and we invite you to regard us with fear and awe" in gutterspeak, this time someone stenciled five Republican-logo elephants with swastikas inside them. I don't like Nazi references (or Republican references either, for that matter), and I think it's pushing the limits of credibility to say that Republicans are even remotely comparable to Nazis...but I can understand how an angry and frustrated person might use such an image to try to shock people into realizing that their current leadership is just really not very good. This is political dissent, however poorly drawn or chosen, and I hate to be in the position of having to censor something like that.
The poor swastika, which started out as a good-luck symbol before the Nazis got ahold of it, has become an easy icon for evil. I think you could argue that the Republican elephant might serve the same iconic purpose nowadays all by itself, but that would require some cynicism. What's needed, I think, is to establish a neutral evil icon for all of us, one that doesn't have any extra baggage associated with it. People still remember the Nazi atrocities, but very few people remember, say, the Spanish Inquisition or Pauly Shore's film career. A cartoony, easy-to-render icon of one of those things would make a good candidate. I'm just saying.
Anyway, I did call the city's graffiti cleanup hotline, but there's a small rebellious part of me that thinks there are worse things than having some political dissent stenciled on their building.
July 28, 2005 - Last Sunday, the 24th of July, was Pioneer Day. This Utah state holiday celebrates the pioneers coming over on the Mayflower, or something. It's treated with the same regard as the Fourth of July, and there are always parades and fireworks displays and all sorts of other annoying events clogging up the downtown area where I live. Since the 24th fell on a Sunday this year, the parades were scheduled for Saturday and Monday. I was informed by a mailer a few weeks ago that one of the parade routes would pass within a block of my house. Sunday morning when I left to have brunch with friends, there were already people lined up on the grass and sidewalk next to the parade street to watch the parade the following day. They had coolers, blankets, camp chairs, and apparently 75,000 roasted chickens, based on the number of chicken bones I've since had to toss into the street so my dogs wouldn't eat them and die. The parade itself was just a typical holiday parade, nothing extraordinary, but people around here sure do love a good parade - especially if it gives them a chance to camp on the lawn for a night. It's the Utah version of trying to get Rolling Stones tickets, I guess.
Anyway, the parade came and went, and my favorite part was when it was over and everyone went home. I know chicken bones are biodegradable, and they'll be gone in forty years or less, but until then I'll have to avoid that block when walking the dogs. They can (and will) find a single chicken bone in an area the size of Kansas, so finding a veritable chicken mass graveyard is like a tasty crunchy pointy chokey deathy bonanza. Thanks, pioneers. Thanks a lot.
July 21, 2005 - Summer is here. Although it officially started a month ago, it was rainy and coolish for the first several weeks of the season. Not any more. Now it is hot. Very hot. Not just hot like being in an oven; it's more like being in an oven that's inside of a larger oven that's in a very warm kitchen that's 8 feet from the surface of the sun. As I've stated previously, I don't care for the heat. I was born in Michigan and weaned on polar bear milk, so cold is not a problem. When you're cold, at least you can put on a sweater or cuddle with someone or something to keep warm. You can only take off so many clothes to get cool, and even the best air conditioner will lose its effectiveness when the outside temperature is approaching the melting point of lead.
I've been tempted to try blood doping (or induced erythrocythemia), which is a process where you take out some of your blood, filter out the plasma and return that to the body, freeze the remaining red blood cells for a few months while your body makes more of them, then put the frozen cells back into yourself so you have more red blood cells than normal. (I imagine that you're supposed to thaw them before injecting them, but injecting frozen blood cells would definitely make you cooler.) Athletes use this technique sometimes, and the Army has experimented with it as well - it increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the bloodstream and helps the body regulate heat better. My doctor wasn't very interested in helping me out, and my own blood centrifuge is in the shop, so I decided to buy some steaks and rub them all over myself, with the intent that some of the red blood cells would burrow into my skin and get busy making me cooler. So far the results are inconclusive, but I have noticed that my dogs are extra-affectionate lately.
July 20, 2005 - James Doohan passed away today. Known to everyone who doesn't live in a cave under the sea as "Scotty" from Star Trek, Mr. Doohan joins DeForrest Kelley and Gene Roddenberry in that great starbase in the sky. Thank you, Scotty, for your memorable contributions to the world of Trek.
July 8, 2005 - It's comforting to me that there are other people on the internet even more bizarre than I am. Witness Alien Loves Predator, something I just discovered recently. It's probably not for
anyone everyone, but it had me rolling around on the floor, partly with laughing and partly because it punctured my liver. I've added it to the Other Interesting Places section, so click on one of these two links or you're making a mockery of all the time I spent creating links for you, you lazy bastards. Sorry...that was out of bounds. I don't really think you're lazy.
July 7, 2005 - Today is a very sad day. As you've probably already seen on the news, several bombs went off in London, killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds more. Prime Minister Blair left the G8 conference briefly to address his people, and then returned to the conference later in the evening. While I'd be among the first to snipe at the G8 nations (and the US in particular) for not doing as much as they could to combat global warming, poverty, and disease, Blair has made aid to Africa a priority and put a huge amount of work into the cause. In addition to sending out my sincerest sympathies to the people of London, I also hope that Blair and the other leaders don't let this derail whatever progress they've made, and that Blair keeps kicking butt on the issue of aid to Africa.
In my thoroughly uneducated opinion, one of the key problems in Africa is the way in which external financing of development has been handled. Unfortunately, many multinational corporations (and even allegedly helpful organizations such as the World Bank) have treated Africa with all the care and regard of an urban check-cashing outfit. Interest rates and payment terms have been set with profit, not assistance, in mind. While I think profit is swell in principle, taking it from those who can least afford it isn't smart business or even enlightened self-interest - it's just plain greed. Another critical problem for many African nations, of course, is their own governments. In the countries where a military dictator or other despot is in charge, precious little of the aid money actually makes it to the people or projects that truly need it.
If I'd been able to attend the G8 (and I was invited, but I had a thing), I would propose forgiveness of some of the major debts and no-interest loans for infrastructure development, contingent upon the country having held democratic elections within the past five years. That doesn't mean I'd require America™-brand democracy, but definitely free and open elections for the highest positions in government, just like the kind we used to have. There would also have to be some oversight into how the funds were spent, but I don't know the best way to handle that without seeming nosy, so I'd let someone else figure that part out.
When I was a kid living in Michigan, the neighbors helped each other out. We'd bring over food when the family's mom or dad was sick or out of work, and we donated our own toys and games to families who had terminally-ill children. When people fell on hard times, which isn't hard to do in Michigan, the people around them were there to help out as much as they could. People helped us when we needed it, and we helped others when they needed it. I see no reason why it shouldn't work like that on a global scale. The conservative American notion (applied here in the US as well as abroad) of self-reliance and social Darwinism is only valid up to a certain point - sometimes the right thing to do is to let someone learn from their mistakes and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but for people who don't even have any damn bootstraps, the ethically and morally correct thing to do is to pitch in and help them out. As long as we're on the subject of ethics and morals, it's also the Christian thing to do, unless I've missed some passage in the Bible about kicking your neighbor repeatedly in the kidneys when they're down.
July 6, 2005 - I've received several hundred emails from readers asking about the current tagline, which advertises this site as the internet's third-crabbiest. I got my data from Zogby's, who tells me that the first- and second-crabbiest sites are www.crabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrabcrab.com and www.dickcheneyshappyfunpage.gov. I haven't visited either of these sites myself, because I don't want to risk tainting the pure and original crabbiness of this site, but I am pleased to be included in the list.
July 1, 2005 - Last weekend, I watched Batman Begins with my friend Dale. Although there were some parts that deviated from what I know of the Batman-origin mythos, it was well-written and well-acted. I hate to give out spoilers, but I think this one's pretty safe: partway through the movie, no one turns into Darth Vader.
If I were asked to pick a superhero to emulate, I would most likely pick Batman. There is a man who's in touch with his Inner Crab. We're kindred spirits, Batman and I: we both have extensive experience with bats, we both get a lot of our best work done late at night, we both have a certain disregard for the traditional rules of society, and we both have a secret cave filled with costumes and gadgets and super-villain trophies, except in my case it's the boiler room.
Wonder Woman would be a reasonable second choice; that Golden Lariat of hers just screams 'erotic adventures.'
June 30, 2005 - This month marks the one-year anniversary of The Inner Crab. In the past year, I have written literally dozens of entries and received nearly seven visitors. Exit polling indicates that three of them were people I know personally, and the others were people who were looking for information on sexually-transmitted diseases. It's been a wild ride, being in the public eye like this; it took some getting used to, but I've come to enjoy the fame and esteem accorded to ranty weblog publishers. I'm humbled to think that I live in a time where any citizen can empower themselves by spewing random thoughts into the digital void without regard for traditional definitions of 'sane,' and I pledge to use this power only for good and/or personal amusement.
In celebration of this hallmark, and as a gift to my readers, I've compiled a montage of excerpts from some of the more popular entries. Enjoy!
August spoon disenfranchised gank sanctimony 12 ago Oscar arguably salacious range morning plans kindly video stones must Natalie Portman. Under moss filigree 2004 Jasper future sums chow against bland carrot disco Nostradamus. Tomorrow zap grey monstrous melancholy 23 standing place my the I have windy. Gored standard printed Wyoming poop winky alimony zen. Wuthering Heights saddles neatly Marxism round advantage maple Chuckit.
June 21, 2005 - A few weeks ago, I bought a Chuckit™® for Oscar and Jasper, to enhance our games of Chase the Balls. It's like a plastic ice cream scoop with an extended handle, and it's designed for throwing tennis balls a longish ways. I usually buy a can or two of tennis balls at the local sporting goods store every few months, when the old ones get worn out and start to blend in too well with the grass. Our ball of choice is the Penn Championship Extra-Duty, but they'll generally chase just about any tennis ball you throw. Except the one that came with the Chuckit©. That ball, a garish orange-and-blue wannabe tennis ball with the Chuckit¥ logo on it, just doesn't appeal to them. I couldn't figure out why, until I took a sniff of it one day. [I did this in the interest of science, so I don't want any taunting emails about being a ball-sniffer, thank you all the same.] It had a strong chemical odor that hadn't dissipated even after weeks of airing out.
I had a vision then, possibly brought on by the fumes from the thing, of a day at the Chuckit¶ Corporation. I saw Billy, the well-meaning but useless brother-in-law of the CEO, who had been appointed VP of Balls to keep him out of the way. He is in a board meeting, presenting his part of the company's new product roll-out. As the ball gets passed around the room, he encourages everyone to take a deep whiff. They do, hesitantly, and they all react the same way - recoiling from the ball in disgust. Billy obliviously and enthusiastically describes the scent: "It's cyclohexanone," he says. "Dogs like cyclohexanone, I bet. We can put that right on the box!" Everyone looks to the head of the table, where the CEO puts his face between his hands, his shoulders shaking just a little. I don't know what happened next, because suddenly I was lying on the grass with two wiener dogs standing on my chest, wagging their tails and staring at me expectantly. Needless to say, we don't use that ball any more.
June 20, 2005 - I just learned that Sandra Bullock is engaged to someone who isn't me, with a wedding planned for this fall. So much for the life-changing powers of the SaberSpoon. :(
June 14, 2005 - My life is finally complete. As you can see from the grainy photo to the left, I am now the proud owner of a SaberSpoon, courtesy of a Star Wars-themed box of Apple Jacks. This spoon, which glows red when lit, represents the pinnacle of mankind's spoon-engineering efforts, the only minor flaw being that you can't get it wet.
In his landmark books The Complete History of the Spoon, Vol. I and II, historian Jack Whelan tells us that early societies had a vastly different concept of scooping than our own. People would slap the surface of their bowls of soup or breakfast cereal with their hands or a bundle of sticks, and attempt to catch whatever splashed out in their mouths. In the year 802 AD, the second-nephew of Charlemagne was blinded while attempting to eat a bowl of lye in this fashion. Charlemagne commanded his wise men to investigate new options for scooping and shoveling food. Seven short years later, his wise men returned with a prototype of the device they'd created. When it was demonstrated that a person wearing all-white could eat a bowl of tomato bisque without getting a single stain, the king praised his wise men and clapped excitedly. "In memory of my blind beloved second-nephew," he reportedly said, "who has recently died of some horrible bowel disorder, I proclaim this device to be the best thing ever. Let it forever carry his name, Spoonius Ladlestein." An interesting side-note, according to Whelan, is that the nephew Charlemagne referred to was still alive - the nephew who had been blinded and later died was named Spork.
Next on my list: a SaberButterknife from a Star Wars-themed bag of Roman Meal bread (note the interesting historical parallels there), and a SaberFork from a box of Uncle Ben Kenobi's Rice..."May the Forks Be With You!" (Hey, don't blame me - I'm just quoting the box.)
June 7, 2005 - I've started writing a song parody, in hopes of selling it to Weird Al Yankovic for a million dollars. If you promise not to steal it, you can read it. Do you promise? For reals? Okay then, here it is. (To the tune of Gary Numan's "Cars"):
Here in my house / There are two wiener dogs / One is black and one's brown / They are crazy and long / They're dogs dee doot / Dee doot dee doot / Doot dee doot dee doodle doot dee doo dee dwee / Doot dee doot dee deedle doodootdoot doodle dwee
It's a work in progress.
June 5, 2005 - When I first got Oscar, I took him to Puppy School to learn how to be a puppy more effectively. We studied under the gentle tutelage of Summer, whose grace and beauty were matched only by her keen insight into the mind of the canine. Also she had an awesome rack.
Last week it was Jasper's turn. We attended our first class on Wednesday, and despite the fact that the old pet place with Summer in it is gone now, class went fairly well. He was the only dog to successfully poop on the floor, and although they may not have said so out loud, I'm certain everyone agreed that he was the cutest dog there. The class is an intensive 8-week course which will cover obedience training, house training, care and handling, and Puppy Theory. Generally, modern Puppy Theorists regard the 'puppy' as a purely social construct which is intended as an extension of man's will or ego. This construct places man in direct opposition to his own desire for order and pursuit of Damenschaunfrulichten, or For-the-love-of-God-don't-chew-on-that-ness. The reading list for this section is pretty extensive, and a little daunting: Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, Manfred Stassen's Clifford the Big Red Dog Meets Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud's Instincts and Their Vicissitudes, and of course Jean-Paul Sartre's Peeing and Nothingness.
Next week we will be learning "sit" and "recognizing the concept of the 'I' as an idealized image of the self."
May 25, 2005 - Now that Spring has sproinged, I'm walking Jasper and Oscar more regularly. There's a coffee shop and a massage school - sorry, massage college - in our immediate neighborhood. That means there's a surplus of hot slacker chicks and semi-hot, soon-to-be-greatly-disappointed-by-their-more-limited-than-they-were-led-to-believe-career-options chicks milling about. Two cute dogs means double the babe magnetism (yes, I know, it's technically 2.2645 times, so I don't want any irate emails from babemagnetodynamic physicists again). Spring means shorts and halter tops, and more than a few thong-revealing or navel-from-the-top-down moments as women bend over to pet the dogs. They often flirt with me as well, which was encouraging at first and made me think I might get some belly-rubs of my own this year, but when I see them again without the dogs, they usually don't recognize me at all. Clearly, I will need to devise some sort of lure which will convince a selected babe that the dogs need her to come down to my condo and take off all her clothes.
May 22, 2005 - I watched Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith this afternoon with some friends. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet, but I will say this: partway through the movie, someone turns into Darth Vader.
Jasper's leg is doing much better, and I took both dogs to the park yesterday. I'm going to take them again today since the weather's so nice. If it could stay like this all summer long - upper 70s to low 80s - I'd be a happy camper.
May 19, 2005 - I like TV. The casual reader may note that I mention it frequently in these pages, and may then conclude that all I do is sit around and watch TV. Actually, I watch less than 7 hours of TV a week most weeks, and hardly any during the summer. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I like good storytelling, whether in video format or in print. If I were to travel back in time a thousand years or so, I would probably become a traveling storyteller, partly because I wouldn't be able to perform any of the other types of work available at the time, but also partly because I like to think of myself as a participant in the storyteller tradition. I suspect that my fantasy version of such an adventure (comely village lasses bringing me tankards of mead while I entertained them with ribald tales) probably wouldn't quite match up with the reality version (nothing, since time travel hasn't been invented yet, or--if it gets invented soon--catching some virulent pus-producing disease within 5 minutes of my arrival, and spending the next week shivering in a ditch until the rats finally gnawed me to death).
Anyway, TV. Not much good TV out there, percentage-wise, but there are a few shows I highly recommend: Lost, CSI (the original, not the bastard stepchildren), The Daily Show, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy (watch it so it doesn't get cancelled again, dammit!), The Amazing Race, Arrested Development, The Hollow Men, Reno 911!, and America's Next Top Model. Okay, I'm totally kidding about the last one. I just wanted to see if you were still reading. Do not watch America's Next Top Model, unless you do so ironically.
May 12, 2005 - The long drought in Utah is over. I am unfortunately not talking about the end of my own personal sexual drought, but rather the end of a water-related drought, which I suppose is also good. Thanks to a very wet Spring, our reservoirs are full again and the mountains are jam-packed with snow. Soon the snow will melt, sending massive mudslides down into the valley and causing millions of dollars in property damage, but at least the waterskiing will be good this summer. The wet weather has also been great for allergy-prone folks such as myself, and by great, I mean really really horribly bad. The air is clogged with every type of pollen known to man, plus a few new ones recently developed by the Army's Allergy Tactics Division. The last pollen count I saw placed the concentration of allergens at 2.75 billion parts per million. I'm doped to the gills on allergy meds 24 hours a day, and I feel sluggish and drowsy all the time. I look forward to summer, when all I'll have to worry about from an environmental standpoint is heat stroke, mosquito clouds, and good old-fashioned smog.
May 11, 2005 - Late Monday night, Oscar and Jasper were sitting near the kitchen door, waiting for food to magically rain down on them as I puttered around in the kitchen. Oscar was on the couch, and Jasper was on the floor in front of it. I finished off the roll of paper towels in the holder, and took the empty tube out for the dogs to play with. A paper towel tube is as good as food to them, except with fewer calories and more glue. As I came out of the kitchen, Oscar leapt down off the couch and landed square on Jasper's front left leg.
Oscar weighs about 24 pounds, and if I remember my physics right, a 24-pound weight concentrated in a 2-inch-square area equals approximately 250,000 foot-pounds of pressure. I may have imagined it, but I could swear I heard something go crunch. Jasper yelped several times and went limping off to hide under a chair. I coaxed him out, picked him up, and carefully felt his leg to see if anything was broken. It didn't seem to be, so I held him and made what I hope were soothing noises for a long while. Oscar spent most of the night looking contrite - he may not have known that he hurt Jasper, but I'm sure he could tell that Jasper was hurt.
My dogs (and most dogs, I think) are pretty resilient, but Jasper didn't seem to be shaking it off, so I figured some fairly severe damage had happened to his leg. I stayed up most of the night with him, and called the vet's office as soon as they opened the next morning. They said to bring him in, and I carried him down the block to their office. The vet herself wasn't due in for a while, so I left him with the vet tech and went home. They called me a few hours later to say that there didn't appear to be a break or a sprain, and that he had most likely sustained some soft-tissue damage. I went back and picked him up, and the vet gave me some pain meds for him. He slept most of the day (and so did I), and he was back to rough-housing with Oscar by that evening. He still limps a bit when walking around, but he's in good spirits otherwise. I had planned on taking him to the Strut Your Mutt event (a fundraiser for No More Homeless Pets in Utah) this weekend, but I don't think that would be a good idea now.
May 9, 2005 - A neighbor asked me to watch his cat while he was out of town this weekend, and I agreed. I like cats - not as much as my friend Anastasia, who has forty-seven - but well enough. My neighbor neglected to give me the key to both door locks before he left, though, so I ended up having to hire a locksmith to open the bottom door lock so I could get in and take care of the cat. She's a nice cat, calico and Siamese-ish, and she's pretty calm around dogs. She had seen Oscar and Jasper before, so I brought them down a couple times when I went to check in on her. They are completely enthralled by this odd-looking dog. Before this weekend, every time I let them out to run around in the hall, they would both make a beeline for this neighbor's door to sniff at it. Now that they know I have access, they keep looking at me expectantly when they get to the door. Whenever they see the cat up close, they both turn very shy, slinking up to her and sniffing, then retreating, then slinking up again. She ignores them unless they get too friendly with the sniffing, and then she usually bops them on the nose. The cat-watching part was uneventful, and when her owner got back, I returned his key and casually mentioned the locksmith. He immediately wrote me a check without me having to prompt or ask, which was nice.
May 8, 2005 - We at Inner Crab Productions would like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers who visit our site!
It was a nice spring day today, so I took the dogs to the park. Jasper is getting better at playing Chase the Balls, and Oscar is already very good. For such short dogs (vertically), they can really haul ass when they try. If we ever find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where student loan payments are made with pelts and we have to hunt small round fuzzy yellow animals for food, we'll be all set.
May 6, 2005 - I've added a new story to the Fiction section. It's titled Indigo, and while I'm not 100% sure that it's finished, I am pretty pleased with how it's shaping up. I also have a new story in development, which will be dark and humorous and dark. I'll post it when I think it's far enough along.
Today I'm going back to the U to pick up copies of the undergrad journal in which Inconsolable appears. I ordered 2,000 copies, and plan to spend the weekend signing them. They will be available for purchase at our online store as soon as we have one.
I'm pleased to pre-announce a new attraction at The Inner Crab: The Daily Show Reading List. This new section, which has not yet been actually created by my friend Anastasia, will catalog the real books that get pimped on Comedy Central's fake news program The Daily Show. There will also be links to reviews, an espresso bar, and several shaggy underemployed history majors working the counters. I'm excited about this, and I think it will make an fine, erudite addition to an otherwise lowbrow weblog.
May 5, 2005 - Happy Cinco De Mayo! This traditional Mexican holiday celebrates the number 5 and the letter O, both of which are important to the rich culture and history of that country in some way, probably. Today is also Bevrijdingsdag in the Netherlands, which I would look up on the internet and describe for you if I could spell it more than once.
I rushed through my last assignment as planned over the weekend, and handed it in on Monday. I am now done with school forever, until I decide to go back for another useless degree. It was a lot of work - well, not so much this semester, but sometimes it was a lot of work - and even so I'm going to miss it a little. I enjoyed the free (plus tuition and books) exchange of ideas, the opportunity to practice my writing, and the abundance of nubile and impressionable young college women. Unfortunately, I forgot to do anything about that last bit, and I guess it's too late now. Until I re-up for a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy, anyway. Actually, I could probably get into the grad program for that pretty easily, since I already have a goatee.
April 29, 2005 - Today is Arbor Day. To celebrate, Jasper, Oscar, and I went for a walk around the block and peed on every tree we could find. Because they like that.
Also, I am done with school, save for one assignment which I will rush my way through sometime this weekend. Next week I graduate, and although I won't be going through the ceremony this time around, I did buy a graduation gown for wearing around town.
As usual, my friend Anastasia was displeased with my blog entry of April 22 because I didn't mention her enough. She is a vegetarian, but she also thinks vegans are just plain wacky. While I acknowledge that it would have been appropriate to mention this then, I stand by my drunken ramblings at the time.
April 27, 2005 - A few days ago, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal made one of the more intelligent statements I've heard on the events of September 11, 2001. She said that the event was "an occasion to be brave enough to ask some serious questions about America's role in the world. Because it is always useful as individuals or nations to ask how we may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to this conflict...Not to have the courage to ask these questions of ourselves is to betray the victims of 9/11." She also indicated in an interview last week that the US should consider whether it is responsible in some way for the attacks. Naturally, the public response to these comments has been overwhelming outrage, and a fan website devoted to her was so slammed with critical commentary and messages that it had to be temporarily shut down. Critical as in mean, not critical as in Derridean neo-post-deconstructionism.
I guess the public will have to get pissed at me too, now, because I agree with her 100 percent. The people who died or lost loved ones in the attacks of September 11 did not bring these events on themselves - I don't think any rational person would argue otherwise. Our government, on the other hand, has been actively meddling in the affairs of other nations for many years, usually in short-sighted and ham-fisted ways. This isn't a matter of black-helicopter conspiracy theory - it's well-documented, well-publicized, and well-known.
Apparently, it's just inconceivable to most Americans that this would come back to bite us in the ass one day, but here we are. Until we're willing to accept the fact, personally and federally, that our boneheaded actions will have bad results somewhere down the road, and to try to think of ways to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen again, we'll always have a sword of our own forging hanging over our heads. I don't know Ms. Gyllenhaal, obviously, and she's not on my short list of actresses to fawn over when I get the time, but I sympathize with her sentiments, and I apologize on behalf of my dumb country for the public chewing-out she's taken.
If this site goes un-updated for more than a week, you can safely assume that either the government disappeared me, or I was busy playing World of Warcraft.
April 22, 2005 - Today is Earth Day. Inhabitants aside, I'm a fairly big fan of the Earth, having lived here most of my life. I don't think anyone would mistake me for a tree-hugger type, but I believe in renewable energy and reducing the number of toxins belched into the air by factories and vehicles. I recycle and conserve resources such as power, water, and toner whenever it's convenient. I've thought about the environment a lot recently (and by recently I mean the last ten minutes), and I've come to the conclusion that the single most effective way of making people take environmental issues seriously is to get rid of all the vegans.
Vegans are the kwazy klowns of the environmentalist movement. Besides being very difficult to cook for, their bland-utopian-hellscape vision of what we should eat and wear is impossible to listen to without laughing. Yes, we should be less cruel to animals, including the tasty ones. No, we shouldn't waste money on fur coats when there are so many cool electronic devices to buy nowadays. And yes, we should all eat more vegetables, even though they're gross. The problem is that their smug self-righteousness is a huge turn-off for most people who could otherwise be convinced to make small, incremental, meaningful changes in their lifestyles. Maybe the time will come, hopefully a long time after I'm dead, when we will no longer use animals for food or clothing. In principle, I wouldn't object to this at all. In practice, there are so very many more serious and urgent issues our screwed-up society has to address first, that trying to advocate a vegan lifestyle is like trying to put icing on the cake while it's still in the Duncan Hines box.
In conclusion, do your part for Mother Earth today by feeding a vegan some meat. I don't mean that in the way you probably read it, but...whatever gets the job done.
April 19, 2005 - This week, Congress is debating the Family Movie Act, which would legalize technology and services to remove or skip "objectionable" scenes in DVDs. Not surprisingly, most of the companies that provide this kind of service are based here in Utah. Even less surprisingly, the term "objectionable" is generally a euphemism for sex or swearing, not for violence or aberrant religious zealotry. I can't help but think that if seeing boobies on film is going to warp your kid, you probably did something to get them 99% of the way there beforehand.
I'm not a big fan of corporate ownership of art, but this is one case where I'd have to side with the producers and directors. Censorship of literature, whatever form that literature may take, is just really, really, really offensive to me. The belief that particular ideas or images (again, sex and swearing) can corrupt or permanently damage a person may have some tiny grain of psychological validity, but if we're going to use that as a measure, we should at least be consistent about it. Gory, gratuitous, and consequence-free violence is much more pervasive in our media (and arguably much more damaging) than candid sexuality or harsh language. I don't necessarily advocate removing that either, although it would be kind of neat to live in a culture that didn't fetishize violence so much. It would also be neat to live in a culture that wasn't trying to carpet the whole Earth instead of putting on some damn shoes, if you know what I mean. Because carpet is expensive.
April 18, 2005 - Last week, Congress finally overhauled our outdated bankruptcy system. The new law will allow credit card companies to extract more money from bankrupt debtors and attach more of their property, increases the fees associated with filing for bankruptcy, increases minimum payments on many items in bankruptcy repayment plans, and makes the bankruptcy process prohibitively difficult for the average person to get through. It does not, however, remove any of the loopholes that allow rich people to hide their money in special exemptions or trust funds. Congress also plans to permanently repeal the estate tax, which is preventing the heirs of of rich dead folks from inheriting quite as much money as they should.
I say it's about damn time. In our nation, with its unique blend of capitalism, nationalism, and pietyism, personal wealth is the most easily measureable indicator of a person's morality. For too long, we have forced the nation's wealthy people (patriots) to pick up a percentage of the tab, while the nation's poor (terrorists) continue to loaf around, wasting their time and energy on minimum-wage work, luxuriating in fancy low-income housing, and feasting on yummy scraps from their social betters. Credit card companies and health care providers are constitutionally entitled to make as much money as they possibly can from the masses, while the masses are always free to choose whether or not to get sick or buy food with their Visa card. These refinements to our bankruptcy laws will ensure that no one can unfairly escape their crushing debt just because they're too lazy, sick, or not in a rich person's will.
Also, today is Opposite Day. Or is it??
April 8, 2005 - Despite my generally antisocial and crusty outlook on life, I'm one of those people who likes to think "What if..." about the world around me. For example, what if our politicians actually gave a damn about this country, instead of seeing it as a great way to make themselves rich and powerful? What if we as a people were able to look beyond the needs of next week and start building, saving, and inventing a better long-term future for everyone? What if I disguised myself as a woman and joined a sorority, then filmed the sexy escapades that ensued?
I recently received an email from one of the liberal (or "America-hating," depending on your point of view) news lists to which I subscribe. The email was calling for the resignation of deeply corrupt Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX, of course). DeLay's rap sheet of scandals and misbehavior is way too long to rehash here, but considering how many times he's been accused of ethics violations (and presented with evidence to support them), I'd have to say that where there's fire, there's fire. My friend Anastasia believes, and I've come to agree with her (because it's just easier, trust me) that DeLay should stay right where he is, because he's the best thing that could happen to the Democrats. He's a perfect example of the sort of greedy, short-sighted, power-grabbing sellouts that are now in charge of the country. As much as it galls me to think of someone like him staying in power, it galls me even more to think of a nation where politicians' main goal is to keep their antics just a hair under the "pissed off enough to do something about it" threshold.
Certainly there are and have been corrupt Democrats too, and corrupt politicians may be as inevitable as skin cancer for a day laborer. We may not be able to completely root out some of the more fundamental problems in our political system (or any political system) until humans evolve quite a bit more, but I don't think that means we should give any politician a free pass. Nothing that a politician does to serve his or her country justifies backstabbing the country when it's not looking.
April 5, 2005 - I have some disheartening news: I have heard back from the two grad schools I applied to--er, to which I applied--and I didn't get into either of them. I mean, I didn't into either of them get. At first I was filled with rage and recrimination and a determination to become the next Dr. No, except with Creative Writing involved somehow, but I have now achieved a zenlike state of acceptance. Assuming, that is, that there's some flavor of zen that still allows for simmering murderous hatred to bubble just below the surface like a pool of grouchy lava. I will apply again next fall, and I will apply to more schools this time, since apparently grad school is harder to get into than I first imagined. Kind of like the girl I took to prom in 12th grade. What's most irritating is that one of the two schools was my own school, and I learned after the fact that they very rarely accept their own undergrad students for the graduate program. I think this is the sort of thing that should have been disclosed in their brochure: "An English degree from our prestigious institution will carry a great deal of weight, except for with us, because frankly we don't care much for our undergrad program."
April 4, 2005 - The change from Daylight Wasting Time to Daylight Savings Time always makes me feel a little cheated. I realize that we get an extra hour in the fall, and we're not really losing anything, and that time is an irrational human concept designed to distinguish us from the lowly animals who get to sleep all day, but still. I deserve that extra hour in the fall, and I don't like having my presents taken away by some uppity bureaucratic process. 'If I could put time in a bottle'...I'd bottle all the time I would otherwise waste on personal hygiene and interacting with people, and use it to take secret naps in the middle of the day. That would be a nice present to myself - go to bed at noon, get up four hours later, and it's still noon.
My dogs are currently playing a game they've invented, in which they take turns biting each other on the face. I'm not sure I understand all the nuances, as there's no color commentator for this game, but so far Jasper seems to be winning.
April 2, 2005 - Today was a beautiful spring day, so I took my various dogs to the park. There were some little kids and an adult flying kites there, and they all fawned over Jasper when we arrived. We went off to a private corner of the park to play Chase the Balls, but eventually Jasper got bored and ran over to the kids. I finally caught up to him as the two youngest boys started to play with him, and I let them play for a little bit. While Jasper was lying on his back waiting to be petted, one of the kids asked, "What's that pink thing?" Without thinking it through first, I replied, "That's his penis." The next question, naturally, was "What's a penis?" I didn't like the direction this was headed, so I said that they'd have to ask their father about that, excused myself and Jasper, and headed back to our corner of the park where Oscar was waiting. I half expected the adult to come stomping over shortly thereafter, angry that I'd polluted his children by using the "P" word in front of them. That didn't happen, and we left without incident, but I wouldn't be surprised if the cops start hanging out at the park from now on - Utah law makes it a felony to use the proper name for any reproductive organ in the presence of a child under 25.
April 1, 2005 - Happy April Fools Day, or - as the French call it - Poisson d'Avril. I believe that translates as "Poison Anvil." I know that doesn't make much sense, but it probably does if you're French. I did not pull any pranks on anyone today, because I was grouchy and didn't really have the time or energy for it. I may take Anastasia's suggestion and do something to someone(s) on April 3 or 4, because by then they'll have let their guard down. Thankfully, no one pulled any pranks on me today either, or I would have probably killed them with a poisoned anvil.
March 29, 2005 - I recently learned that one of my stories, "Inconsolable," has been accepted for publication by a magazine. This is very encouraging news, offset only slightly by the fact that the magazine is an undergraduate literary journal with a circulation of nine. Still, that's double the readership of this site. Payment is in the form of two free copies of the free magazine, which hopefully won't impact my taxes too much. The magazine has already gone to press, and should be available in a few weeks. I'm thinking of putting a signed copy up on eBay, so watch for that.
March 24, 2005 - Today is Maundy Thursday. This Roman Catholic holiday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist. It does not, as I originally believed, celebrate actors Maundy Moore or Maundy Patinkin. I wish I had done some more thorough research before I sent cards to both of them.
I forgot to mention the results of my earlier appointment to jury duty. I asked to be excused until May or later because I was in school, and I got a letter back a few weeks later that said no. Show up and take it like a man, I was told. So I did. I joined a group of 15 other people and waited and sat and waited and sat, and then watched a video on the importance of jury duty, and then went to a different room and waited and sat some more, and finally the judge and some lawyers came in and asked us all a bunch of questions to weed out the troublemakers and free-thinkers. The case was a DUI suit for a guy who allegedly got drunk and drove his car into a building. I had been up most of the previous night after hurting my back, so I was dead tired and praying that they wouldn't pick me to be on the four-person jury, even though I was curious about what it would be like. Three and a half hours after we arrived, the jury got picked, and I wasn't on it. I collected my $18.50 prize (cash!) for showing up, went home, and took a nap. Not exactly something to base a Grisham novel on, although he has been kind of reaching lately.
March 17, 2005 - Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Because I am part Irish, I spent the day in the traditional Irish fashion: belligerent and not entirely sober. I still have the flu, so instead of having green beer, I whipped up something celebratory and therapeutic - a drink I've dubbed Bailey's and Robitussin. Maybe a more clever name will come to me tomorrow.
March 15, 2005 - I've been sick for the last five days. Cold, achey, coughy sick. My research on WebMD suggests that it's either the flu or kuru, the New Guinean neurodegenerative disease which is contracted through mortuary cannibalism. My skin hurts when exposed to light over 13 candlepower, and my eyebrows no longer function properly. I spend most of my time sleeping or being gnawed on by two wild animals, too weak to defend myself. I've marshalled the last of my strength to make this blog entry for posterity, and to play some video games, also for posterity. I only hope that future generations will be able to find my saved games and continue my important work.
March 11, 2005 - Sometimes I sit and reflect on how tranquil my life was when I only had one crazy wiener dog in the house. Jasper is growing rapidly - he's over eight feet long now, fully stretched out, but only 7 inches high. I just hope he doesn't get as big as Oscar, who can stretch to 26 feet. One of the things I'd forgotten about from the last two times I had puppies is just how much puppy-proofing you have to do. When Sam was a puppy, she loved to gnaw on the corners of all the baseboards. I tried spraying them with Doggy-B-Gone spray (or whatever it was called) and cayenne pepper, but she just licked them off and went back to rounding all my baseboard corners.
With Oscar, who liked to chew on cables, I poured maple syrup on all my cables. At the time, I was operating on the theory that dogs don't like maple syrup. It turns out that they do. I ended up disassembling a spare build-it-yourself desk and using the boards to cover all the cables along the walls. Jasper chewed on cables for a while too, but he hasn't lately - I suspect he got zapped a few times. His favorite thing to chew on (aside from Oscar) is my shoes, so I had to get one of those closet-door hanging shoe bags to keep them out of reach.
Jasper got neutered earlier this week, which calmed him down for about a day. He's healing up very quickly, and is gradually learning about where it's appropriate to pee and where it isn't.
February 14, 2005 - St. Valentine's Day: that clever marketing scheme which tricked a nation into falling in love all over again. You have to admire the sheer audacity of creating an artificial holiday for the sole purpose of selling more consumer crap. It's truly a magical day for chocolatiers, jewelers, and purveyors of edible panties everywhere. Well, everywhere Valentine's Day is celebrated. In Russia, for example, it's just called "day," and you really, really don't want to know what the edible panties are made of.
I have to admit that, if I had a girlfriend or someone I was stalking more than casually, I'd probably buy into the hokum as much as anyone; however, for those of us who are single, whether by choice or by cruel universal conspiracy, Valentine's Day is like a not-so-subtle knife in the eye. And not a butter knife, either - a big turkey-carving knife. A butter knife would be downright pleasurable after...but I digress. If you have someone to share this joyous made-up holiday with, I suggest you make the most of your time together, because odds are good that they're waiting until tomorrow to dump you.
Not that I'm bitter.
February 8, 2005 - Ah, television. Sometimes I wonder how many more brain cells I'd have if it weren't for the intoxicating pabulum of TV. That, in turn, leads me to wonder how many more brain cells I'd have if I hadn't gotten addicted to Dr. Zilmer's Brain Cell Eradication Tonic and Hair Restorer. What's frustrating about TV, aside from the whole lowest-common-denominator-minus-five thing, is that some good shows end up getting cancelled after only a few airings or a season, while other shows - especially those that lower one's IQ just by watching the promos, seem to thrive and flourish. Among the shows I've liked that have been cancelled in the past are, in no particular order: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., MANTIS, The Lone Gunmen, Family Guy, Futurama, Firefly, Strange Luck, Jake 2.0, The Phoenix, Star Trek: Erotic Adventures, Dark Angel, Wonderfalls, Aeon Flux, Batman Beyond, The Tick (animated and live), Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Birds of Prey, and Greg the Bunny. To be fair, some of these shows were kind of dumb, and I only watched them for eye-candy purposes, but many of them - especially Firefly and Andy Richter - were exceptionally well-written and acted, but the network lacked the patience to let the shows find an audience and pulled the plug too soon. Interestingly, most of these shows were on Fox - which continues to flog the dead "Simple Life" horse(s) and probably will until the two lead trollops die of a drug overdose. What's sad is that, by Fox's continually-decreasing standards, that set of shows will probably someday be regarded as some of their classier programs.
February 7, 2005 - I've been selected for jury dury. I should say, I've been potentially selected for jury duty, because I haven't been assigned to a specific trial yet. I've never served on jury duty before, and as a writer, I'm always interested in having new experiences so I can tell pointless boring stories about them later. When I filled out the jury questionnaire online, I asked them to let me wait until after the semester is over - we'll see whether they oblige. In any case, since I'm educated and articulate, the odds of me getting accepted onto any jury are pretty slim. The pay isn't great either, unless I get assigned to a juicy trial and get to publish a book about it afterwards. I suppose that's a pretty cynical assessment of the American judicial system, but if you're surprised by that from me, maybe you should re-read some of the other entries here and get up to speed.
January 29, 2005 - I took Oscar and Jasper to the park today, where we had a rousing game of Chase the Balls. The regular reader may recall that this game involves me throwing a tennis ball for Oscar, who runs after it, catches it, subdues it, and then waits next to it for me to throw another one. Jasper was only mildly interested in the tennis balls - I suspect that the game is a little sophisticated for him yet, or maybe he'll end up being more of a golf dog. Instead of chasing the balls, he entertained himself by chasing Oscar, stepping in as much dog poop as he could, and finding used condoms. This was disturbing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this particular park is actually a junior high school playground. In the interest of expedience and laziness, imagine that I included a clever, well-observed rant about how the media and disinterested parents are causing our children to grow up too fast. Boy, that's a real time-saver...I may have to start doing that with all of my entries.
January 25, 2005 - One of my many many many many many many pet peeves is cell phones. I realize that they're fully integrated into our culture now and that there's no going back, but their astonishing proliferation in the past 15 years makes me wonder how society ever managed to survive without them. It's as if we all had some deep pent-up need to hold loud, inane, embarrassingly public conversations with people who weren't physically present, and finally cell phones came along and said "I believe I can help with that." I have a cell phone, which I mainly use for work-related things, and although it's occasionally convenient to be able to make or receive a call when I'm out and about, mostly I resent it. I think there's something to be said for the peace of being unreachable for a while. I rarely get cell calls from my girlfriend insisting that I come over at once and service her sexually, partly because I don't have a girlfriend, but still. Most of the cell calls I get are from clients who - I think - enjoy having me at their beck and call whenever they need to be walked through flipping their mouse back over. So, in summary: cell phones: bad; acquiring a girlfriend who requires my sexual services at regular intervals: good.
January 18, 2005 - Well, after a longish break, I'm back. I wish I could say I had been out doing something noble, like helping tsunami victims or sticking it to the Man, but the truth is I've been playing a lot of World of Warcraft. Also, I started back to school for the semester. And also also, I still have a puppy who chews on me at 3 am every morning. I bought Jasper some of the high-end puppy food, which is supposed to contain some miracle enzyme or something that helps with brain development. Oscar has been sneaking it from Jasper's bowl when he thinks I'm not looking, which isn't all that good - he's already too clever. I decided that, if the puppy food is so great for brain development, maybe I should try some. Where's the harm, after all? So I put a handful of pellets in my coffee and guzzled it down, and it seems to work, because I learned something immediately - specifically, not to do that again. I also had a brief moment of astonishing clarity in which I fully understood the nature of the universe, but while I was looking for a working pen to write it down, it went away. Then it came back, but I still hadn't found a pen, and then it went away again. There was something about about brotherly love and aliens growing us for organ harvest, but it's all pretty fuzzy.
January 9, 2005 - As often happens, I was scornfully corrected by my friend Anastasia today over yesterday's entry. Apparently, President Bush (the horrible one, not the ineffectual one) did issue a command to lower all US flags to half-mast. She pointed out that this is the first time (she says, and I'm too lazy to fact-check) that the flag has been ordered to half-mast to mourn a non-American event, and that it could be considered a form of global-community progress for us. This is a surprisingly generous view from her; however, whenever Anastasia is less cynical than me about something, she's almost always doing so to jerk my chain. I suppose it makes sense that Bush would issue a decree to honor the victims of a huge natural disaster, as it fits so well with his ongoing War on Nature.
Oscar and Jasper are getting along better every day. Jasper discovered the dog magnet (space heater) today, and he and Oscar have been curled up by it for the last half-hour or so.
January 8, 2005 - In the last few days, I've noticed a lot of flags flying at half-mast. I assume that it's being done in memory of the Asian tsunami victims, which is an entirely worthwhile reason to mourn, and I make no case against it. What I wonder, though, is how people who own flags know to fly them at half-mast. I couldn't find a "national flag status" website anywhere, although due to a typo on my first try, I found several patriotic gay porn sites. What strikes me as kind of ironic is that - in general - we only seem to fly the flag at half-mast to mourn victims of God or nature, and not victims of other humans. I assume that flag-adjustment is not just an American thing, so when I say "we" I'm speaking globally here. Tsunami victims and aged dignitaries get flag respect, but genocide or war victims (Rwanda, Sudan, Iraq, and so on) don't. I suppose if we were to mourn the victims of our own atrocities, flags would be at half-mast all the time, and it would lose some of its meaning or impact. In that way, though, the flag could be considered a symbol of our own willingness to turn a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow human beings unless God is responsible for it. If you were into symbolism, that is. In any case, if you haven't done so already, might I suggest making a donation to help the tsunami victims, who should not be punished for my cynical flag-pondering.
January 7, 2005 - One of the personal projects I've been working on during winter break is a complete rewrite of the declarations and bylaws for my condo association. The original decs & bylaws were full of references to the evil developer, long since gone, as well as a lot of irrelevant corporate language that didn't apply to us. To say that it's been a dry project would be an understatement. I can write in legalese moderately well, but reading it for too long makes my brain hurt. I don't know how lawyers do it. Anyway, some of the provisions I'm adding are: the appointment of myself as Condo Association President for Life; the right of the President to store excess items in any unit he chooses; unrestricted access (for the President) to any unit and its occupants, if you know what I mean, and I think you do; and monthly virgin and reformed-virgin sacrifices. Under the new bylaws, Oscar and Jasper, respectively, are next in line to succeed me if I die or become incapacitated or drunk. The changes will have to be approved by a majority of the other unit owners, but I doubt they'll bother to read them. On the off chance that they do, I've put in the more...controversial...changes in a 3 point calligraphy font.
Oscar is slowly getting used to Jasper, and Jasper is learning his name and that he shouldn't chew on cables. He chewed through the phone cord to my fax machine the other day, which I discovered today when I tried to fax something. Jasper commandeered Oscar's bed, and Oscar would give me baleful looks whenever Jasper was in it, so I bought a new bed of the same size and a new blanket. Jasper still likes to sleep in whichever one Oscar was in last, but at least Oscar has stopped glaring at me so much. Right at the moment they're each asleep in a bed, curled up like little crescent rolls. Well, one big crescent roll and one little one.
Also, World of Warcraft is great. Go buy it.
January 3, 2005 - After a year of putting up notices in my condo building reminding people not to put glass in our big recycle bin (or fireplace logs, or small appliances, or food, all of which have shown up there, and none of which are allowed), and not to overfill the bin since the company that picks the bin up will skip it if it's overflowing, I finally got a bit stern. I put up copies of a notice late last week reminding people (again) not to do either of these things, on pain of having their skin eaten by the recycling elves. Since it isn't the first time, nor even the fifth time I've had to remind these folks to follow some pretty simple rules for using one object in the building, I figured I was entitled to be kind of snippy. Today I noticed that someone hand-wrote a snippy response on one of the notices, addressed directly to me, and saying, essentially, get more bins and stop bossing us around. The bin we have is a large curbside garbage can on wheels, and one of the trustees (myself or two others, unpaid volunteers all) has to haul it out to the curb and back every week. These are the same folks who don't comprehend why the homeowners association can't afford to run the steam heat 24 hours a day, or why the hot water for the building occasionally runs out briefly at about 8 am on weekdays, or why they shouldn't rent out their unit to the slimiest underworld troglodyte they can find. I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet, but odds are fair it will involve some combination of gasoline, matches, and a wood chipper.
In puppy news, I've settled on a name for the new puppy. His name is Jasper. I took him to the vet today for a checkup, and he got a clean bill of health aside from a case of the sniffles, which the vet said was mild and should go away in a few days. Oscar is still wary of the newcomer, and gives me reproachful looks whenever Jasper gets into Oscar's bed. I'm making sure to be very patient with Oscar, who was an only dog for three years. He'll come around eventually, but I don't want to force it.
January 2, 2005 - Life with the new puppy is going well. He's happy, lively, and very curious. He's adapted pretty quickly to his new home, and follows Oscar around like...well, like a puppy. Oscar is still getting used to the idea. I'd forgotten how much attention puppies need - he's already chewed through a phone cord, and prefers to sleep in Oscar's bed instead of his own. I've had to start walking in short, gliding steps, because the puppy is zealously dedicated to getting stomped on. He doesn't just follow me; he tries to anticipate my footfalls and place himself directly under them. It's like having a tiny, adorable Heaven's Gate cultist in the house.
I'm glad I have the next week off from school, because I need the rest. Having a new puppy in the house is a lot like having a newborn baby: getting little to no sleep, finding poops in random places, and getting your nose bitten a lot. Well worth it, though.
January 1, 2005 - I've been thinking about getting a companion for Oscar for a while, another dog or a cat or a cyborg to keep him company when I can't play with him or when I'm not home. Yesterday I did it. He's another miniature dachshund (hopefully for real this time), he's black and tan, and he's 8 weeks old. Oscar is less than thrilled so far, but I'm confident he'll adjust. Oscar's a gentle dog, and aside from some head-butting and barking, he hasn't done anything to hurt the new puppy. Normally he loves other dogs, at least when they're out on the street and not in his home getting comfy in his bed and stealing Daddy's attention. I want to make sure that he doesn't feel marginalized by the new puppy, so I've been giving him lots of petting and treats. Last night, I slept (briefly and carefully) with a dog curled up on either side of me. It was most satisfying.
I haven't settled on a name yet - I was thinking of naming him Felix, for that oh-so-satisfying Odd Couple reference, but he doesn't really seem like a Felix. I could maybe name him after half of a different 70s TV duo - maybe Starsky or Laverne. Or maybe I could get some corporate sponsorship if I named him Hill's Science Diet. I'll keep thinking about it. I know I should pick a name soon, or he's going to think his name is "No no, that's Oscar's."
December 30, 2004 - I recently did something to offend my friend Anastasia, and while the specifics aren't important, it is fair to say that I was in the wrong. You might think that admitting when you're wrong goes against the Crab lifestyle, but then you'd be the one who's wrong. There's no point in having a good defensive shield if it just turns you into a curmudgeonly asshole. So...I hereby offer my sincere apologies to Anastasia, who, in her wisdom, will hopefully rescind the global call for my head and viscera on a plate.
December 27, 2004 - One of the things I like most about the holidays is the abundance of good eats. I like to cook, so I make plenty of stuff for myself and friends, and my friends and relatives often do the same, bringing over boxes or bags of occasionally gross but generally tasty stuff to nosh on. Then there are the seasonal goodies at the grocery store, in the mall, and so forth. I blame all these things, and to a lesser extent my notable lack of restraint, for my recent gaining of approximately 1,200 pounds. I am no longer able to move from my computer chair, and although the chair has wheels, they've snagged on something - I can't see what, but I think it's part of me. I'm sure the weight will drop off naturally once the supply of food in the immediately reachable area runs out, and if it doesn't then I can always sue my friends and relatives and the good folks at Hillshire Farms for failing to advise me that eating nothing but cookies and cheeses for three weeks carried a risk of obesity. You might think that, being trapped at my computer desk, I'd have a lot more time to make entries here, but typing this has completely worn me out, and I'm going to take a two-day nap.
December 20, 2004 - Because I am a master baker, I made Christmas cookies for some of my friends and relatives this year. I spent nearly two full days baking, and in between I cleaned my house. Since I'm a firm believer in making at least a half-assed stab at hygiene, I washed my hands each time I went back to baking, which ended up being a lot of hand-washing. I don't know how the OCD folks do it, because my hands are raw now. I wonder if the pharmacy carries any extra-strength hand lotion for OCD people? When all the baking was done, I boxed everything up and went out to mail it. I decided to walk to the nearest post office, carrying four fairly large boxes. They weren't especially heavy, but they were awkward to hold and I had to carry them at an odd angle to get a grip on them. I discovered some new muscles in my arms - muscles that don't work very well. I had to stop and rest several times. It was also cold, windy, and foggy, and I was sweating from exertion by the time I got to the post office. I mailed them without incident, but now my arms are sore and I have tuberculosis and dermatitis. Ah well...at least I have the week off to bask in the healing glow of World of Warcraft.
December 16, 2004 - I drove to Ogden today to visit a client. Ogden smells. The road up there (and back) is almost always crawling with cops looking for speeders, and as a speeder, I resent this. I didn't get a ticket, but I did have to slow down several times, which is always annoying. Speaking of slowing down, today is apparently National Senior Citizens With Driver's Licenses Day, because there were a whole lot of our elder citizens out driving large cars at a languid pace, squinting through a cataracty fog. Frankly, I don't understand why older folks drive so slowly - you'd think that being old would bring a sense of urgency about getting wherever it is you're going, because who knows when you're going to flop over dead? Hell, that's my attitude already, and I'm only in my 30s.
December 14, 2004 - Yesterday I turned in my grad school application to one of the two schools I'm considering. The other isn't due until February, but the hard part (picking out short stories and critical papers to include, tricking professors into writing letters of recommendation for me, and drafting a personal statement) is over. I feel like a medium-sized weight has been lifted from my shoulders. The only fly in the ointment is this: two of the four professors haven't sent their letters in yet, and the deadline for the first school is tomorrow. I sent them each a polite reminder email, but there's not much else I can do, short of visiting them personally with cookies or hired goons.
December 11, 2004 - I like to think that I am all things to all people. One of those things that I am to people is a computer nerd. I don't consider this a slur; I wear my badge of nerdhood with pride. I've earned the right, having taken my badge from the chest of a higher-level nerd I defeated through cunning and determination. Computer nerds, after all, will someday control the fate of every living being on Earth, if various B movies on the SciFi channel are to be believed, and I see no reason why they shouldn't be.
Anyway, one of the many fascinating aspects of being a computer nerd is passionate dedication to the playing of video games. I've spent (some would say 'wasted') many many many many hours playing arcade games and PC games. In recent years, computer games moved online, allowing players from all over the world to team up with or against each other and slaughter their opponents in a pixellated bloodfest. A (slightly) more mature form of the online game is the MMORPG, the massively-multiplayer online roleplaying game, such as Ultima Online, EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and others. I played EverQuest for a long time, and although it might seem strange to say this about an online video game, a large part of what I enjoyed about it was the friends I made while playing, and the social interaction with people I'd never actually met in person.
EverQuest, like many other MMORPGs, was a huge time-sink. To make any progress in the game, you had to be willing to dedicate many hours a day, and most days a week, to playing in order to advance your character. There have been news stories about people who lost their jobs and families because they became addicted to the rush of online play. I know some of them personally. Like any pleasurable thing taken to excess, it's easy to blame the thing itself, but of course we know that the problem really lies with the individual. Computer games offer an escapist fantasy, where socially-awkward or physically-unimposing people such as myself can become masters of the sword or the elements, dealers of life and death. And then there's the loot, the goodies that enhance your character's skills or abilities and which drop from progressively more difficult monsters. All in all, it's a potent brew.
EverQuest wasn't without its problems: the aforementioned time-sink made it the kind of game where you had to dedicate a big chunk of your life to playing, or you might as well not bother. Sony, who eventually bought EQ from its developer Verant, decided to start charging players for nearly every improvement they made to the game. They released expansion pack after expansion pack, adding new types of characters to play, new dungeons and monsters, and of course newer, shinier loot. They also developed an attitude of open hostility toward their subscribers, cutting back on support services and finding new ways to make the game harder to play casually. When the game became too much like a job for me, I decided to make my exit, as did a lot of others.
Other game companies have stepped up to the plate since then. Mythic, which makes Dark Age of Camelot, brought a dedication to the happiness and general well-being of its players that seemed almost alien after Sony's abuse. I was privileged to participate in the final beta-test of DAoC, and as I watched the game take shape it seemed like nearly every day Mythic added or fixed something to make the game a little more enjoyable and less punitive toward the casual player. Although I don't play DAoC actively any more, it will always hold a special place in my heart, as will Mythic.
One of the more recent additions to the MMORPG market is World of Warcraft. I bought a copy recently, and although I'm only a week into it, I'm truly amazed by the depth of thought and care that went into its development. There are so many nice, player-friendly touches that at times I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. It hasn't yet, but that's not surprising. Blizzard consistently makes good, well-balanced games, and even if I don't end up playing WoW as feverishly as I once played EQ, I think it's fair to say that the bar has been raised again. Sony stole a lot of ideas from DAoC in the last few years and incorporated them into EverQuest, which ultimately benefitted the player community. I'm sure they'll end up doing the same with WoW, if not to improve EQ, then to improve its sister game EverQuest 2. You could say that this is a good example of the free market economy in action: when EQ was the only game of any note, they could abuse their players as much as they wanted. Now that the players have some truly impressive alternatives, EQ and Sony will be forced to re-evaluate their we-hate-you-give-us-money attitude. They may still hate their players in their black little hearts, but as long as the lash isn't at my fellow nerds' backs any more, we all have cause to rejoice.
December 10, 2004 - According to a recent news story, over 99 percent of the indecency complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the past few years have been lodged by one activist group, Parents Television Council (PTC). The PTC started out with a mission of informing parents about which shows they felt were inappropriate for children. They have moved to more vigorous activities, including organizing mass-complaint drives and boycotts of advertisers on shows they disapprove of. Their disapproval extends to shows that air on paid cable channels, not just free broadcast channels. This one group has decided that it speaks for our entire nation in determining what we should be allowed to watch on any TV channel.
Some hard numbers: in 2000 and 2001, the FCC received a combined total of less than 500 complaints. In 2002, complaints rose to nearly 14,000. In 2003, they received 202,000 complaints. So far in 2004, they have received over one million complaints - and again, over 99 percent of these come from PTC. When any extremist group decides that it alone knows what's best for the rest of a society - and especially when a simple and free alternative solution is readily available (in this case, changing the channel or monitoring your childrens' TV habits) - nothing good can come of it. Nearly every show on TV is rated, and TV ratings let parents know which shows to avoid (or in my case, which shows to watch). Providing information to parents is a good thing; deciding that no one can watch a given show because you're too lazy to parent properly is a bad thing.
A recent headline on the PTC's website reads "News Stories Try to Downplay Outrage over TV Indecency Even While FCC Complaints Soar" - ignoring the fact that they are responsible for the exaggerated 'outrage' and bloated complaint figures in the first place. The PTC claims that it only wants to make its members' voices heard by the FCC, but the not-so-subtle subtext of their message and approach is that the FCC, TV industry, and advertisers had better comply with their demands and only their demands, or things will get ugly. For a country whose incorporating documents take such pride in creating a free-thinker's paradise, it boggles my mind that we've allowed such narrow-minded fringe groups to play a significant role in determining what we can watch in the privacy of our own homes.
I have no quarrel with people who don't want their children to watch Will and Grace or listen to Howard Stern. They're your children; raise them as you see fit. Instill in them the values you hold. Do not try to instill those values in the rest of us by force or by bureaucratic trickery; it won't work. If you feel so strongly about what your fellow citizens are watching or thinking that you feel compelled to save them from themselves, consider this: participation in a free society inherently carries the risk that sometimes people will make the wrong choice, whatever that may be. God is not interested in, and does not sanction, your efforts to restrict anyone's freedom of choice. He told me so. He does, however, approve of you changing the channel as desired. Speaking of God, if you're interested in bizarre religion-based rants about the media, check out the ChildCare Action Project (CAP) for some fascinating movie reviews.
What grinds my crank the most about groups like PTC is the fact that their complaints about indecency are almost always related to sex or profanity, and almost never related to the incredibly pervasive amount of gratuitous and consequence-free violence on American TV. I know we Americans continue to struggle with our Puritan heritage, but come on. It's wrong for little Billy to see any depictions or suggestions of sexual intimacy between consenting adults, but it's just fine for him to learn that all of life's problems can be solved with a gun or a lawyer or a knife? Please. I would bet good money that a disproportionate number of PTC's members are also members of the NRA, which...well, that's a rant all of its own.
Don't even get me started on the fact that the FCC is content to knuckle under to conservative watchdog groups where vague and subjective 'standards of decency' are concerned, but is more than happy to let a handful of greedy multinational corporations gobble up the few remaining independent news and information outlets. That should count as a pretty enormous indecency, in my book, and I think the FCC should go fine itself.
December 9, 2004 - School is finally over for the semester. It's been a good term, but it's nice to have a break for a while. In other news, my insurance company is screwing me. And not in the good way. If it were in the good way, I would probably have said 'my insurance company is making love to me.' Anyway, I recently went down to their offices and had an oral swab taken, to prove that I didn't have any nicotine in my saliva. It's been over a year now since I quit smoking, but the underwriter decided that since I quit using the patch in August of this year, they're not going to lower my rates until August of next year. Hate. To his credit, my agent did argue with them in my favor, but it wasn't enough. It's not an enormous amount of money we're talking about here, but it is an enormous amount of self-serving, greedy, spiteful, stinky, questionably-ethical behavior. My first temptation was to throw an attorney at them, but after doing some research, I found that there are plenty of other insurance companies to choose from who won't hold the fact that I used to smoke against me. So I will vote with my pocketbook, as they say, and take my business elsewhere. I don't throw attorneys at things very often anyway, because I don't like getting attorney juice on my hands.
December 5, 2004 - I have been commanded by the Weblog Irritating Commentary and Critique Association (WICCA, also known as Anastasia) to tidy up the arrangement of entries in the Humor, Fiction, and Rants sections. I have done so, but only because she assured me there would be jail time involved if I failed to comply.
December 4, 2004 - I took the bus to school yesterday, as I usually do because parking on campus is such a huge pain in the butt. There were two elderly African-American women on the bus, and one of them was very animated. She was also wearing one of those shapeless winter hats that I generally associate with poor students or crazy homeless people. As we pulled up to a stoplight, she started pointing out the window to a minivan that was stopped next to us. She then opened the bus window and started shouting at the minivan, and it sounded at first like she was saying "Fool! You're a fool!" I admit that, at that moment, I thought to myself that she was maybe a little crazy. The minivan occupants opened their window, and she shouted more clearly, "Your food! It's on the roof!" Sure enough, there was a clamshell to-go box on the roof of the minivan. When the light turned green, the minivan pulled over to the curb to retrieve their food, and the woman and her friend chuckled to themselves about how frozen the food must be by now. There's a lesson here, I think, about making assumptions about people, and it's a little humbling. While I still believe firmly that it's safe to assume that everyone you meet is an idiot, sometimes they're also nice.
December 3, 2004 - This site is hosted by local ISP XMission. It's not hosted for free, unfortunately, but whaddaya gonna do. I'm mentioning them here because I've always been happy with their service and quality. You might observe that this site hardly qualifies as "quality," but really, that's not their fault. Let's not be petty. Anyway, if you're in Utah and need a good ISP or web host, they'd be an excellent choice. They're not paying me to say this, nor even giving me a free hat (ahem, ahem), but I believe in sharing good things I've found with others. Unless there's a limited supply, of course, in which case others can bugger off.
December 2, 2004 - I've polished the story "Inconsolable," and I'm very pleased with it. You can read the updated copy in the Fiction section.
In other news, I've grown tired of finding strange, unsettling objects or half-eaten food in and around my condo building, and I've decided to do something about it. I'm going to have the Homeowners Association create a DNA database of everyone who owns, lives in, visits, or walks by the building. Then, the next time a half-eaten hot dog or some used-up personal hygiene product gets left on the porch, we'll be able to find out who did it and publicly shame them.
December 1, 2004 - I have a goal for this site. I'd like to get 6 trillion hits by the end of the year. I think it's doable, with your help. If everyone who visits The Inner Crab will forward the URL (that's the web address) (www.innercrab.com) (try to keep up, please) to just 10,000 people they know, and ask them to each forward the URL (see previous) to only 5,000 more people they know, we just might do it. For efficiency's sake, please coordinate your emails amongst yourselves; there's no point in sending someone 2 or 3 copies of the same thing. In your email, be sure to make something up about how interesting and enriching this site is. Thanks!
November 30, 2004 - An Open Letter to Frito-Lay Corp: Your Monterey Pepper Jack-flavored Stax chips are so spicy they hurt my tongue and make me cry a little, but I can't quit eating them. Please send me the antidote to whatever addictant you've sprayed on these chips. Sincerely, Rob. P.S. You haven't responded to my previous letter in which I suggested several new chip flavors, including Pickled Beet, New Car, and Extreme Rhubarb. Maybe you didn't receive it--would you like me to send it again?
November 29, 2004 - I've added a link to the official Inner Crab message board, designed by my evil friend Anastasia and moderated by both her and myself. Please feel free to start or respond to a discussion. If you get cruelly and publicly humiliated by an admin, it was probably Anastasia, and not me. Don't feel awkward about appearing to be one of the first people to post; there was a server crash and we lost the first 250,000 messages.
November 28, 2004 - The local grocery store was having a sale on turkeys last week, so I decided to buy one. I got a 20-pounder for $7, which is a really good deal. I'd never cooked a turkey before, but I like to cook and I figured this was a good time to give it a try. I wish I could say that it led to some wacky adventure involving firemen or salmonella, but everything went pretty smoothly. My friend Dale, with whose family I had Thanksgiving dinner, recommended rubbing the turkey liberally with olive oil first, which I did. I basted it every half-hour or so, and it came out very moist. I neglected to take out the gizzard bag before putting it in the oven, because I didn't see that it was tucked away under some skin, but fortunately it didn't burst into flames or anything. Now I have enough turkey to last me for several months, or longer if I put some in the freezer and then throw it out next summer.
November 25, 2004 - As tradition dictates, I will now list some of the things I'm thankful for, in no particular order: Snoopy, Loopy, Sam and Oscar (my dogs, past and present), my friends and family who love, respect, or tolerate me, Dr. Pepper, mountains, Natalie Portman, the letter R, jazz (the music, not the basketball team), that thing that a woman does with a man (you know the one I mean), and my legions of readers who each plan to spontaneously send me a dollar. Happy Thanksgiving!
November 23, 2004 - I'd like to take a moment to abuse my vast influence and encourage you, my many throngs of readers, to go donate some food to your local food bank. Please donate something you would want to eat yourself - no one wants your old cans of Cream of Toenail Soup. Many stores have sales on Thanksgiving-related food this time of year, so you could maybe get a frozen turkey or ham for a good price and donate that. I have been very poor before, and I can say with authority that it sucks ass. Take a few minutes and a few bucks, and help some folks in need. When boasting about your largesse to friends afterwards, keep this in mind: according to the US Department of Poverty, for the 2004-2005 Poverty Season, each $14.37 donated to the less fortunate gets you one day of bragging rights. Bragging in excess of this guideline is not recommended, and may result in karmic and/or ironic comeuppance.
November 22, 2004 - Thank goodness for smart women. I’ve been fortunate to know quite a few bright women in my time, in classes or as friends or clients. Smart women turn me on, and I don’t just mean that sexually (although the brain is a significant erogenous zone, much more so than, say, the liver). I dig smart, snappy banter and challenges to my preconceptions about the universe. I think the threshold for ‘smart’ is a bit broader for women than for men, at least as far as it serves my selfish ends, because women also possess common sense, which augments their native intelligence nicely in most cases. I suppose the only caveat I have is intent: smart, generally benevolent women who are mildly fond of me (99% of the bright women I know) are preferable to smart, evil women who are trying to destroy me (Anastasia, Katie Couric).
November 21, 2004 - One year, four days, and thirteen hours ago I quit smoking. Not that I'm keeping track any more. It was around this time that I first became truly acquainted with my inner crab. When the gauzy veil of smoking was lifted and I was able to see everyone and everything as the festering hateful stinkpots that they are, I experienced an awakening (also known as a "psychotic break"). My inner crab introduced himself to me and kept me from killing anyone I knew personally, and no doubt saved my life. A month later, I came up with the idea of this weblog dedicated to his principles, and six months after that I actually got off my ass and did something about it. So it's an anniversary of sorts - mazel tov! There's punch and cake in the Fiction section.
November 19, 2004 - I have a draft of another short story available for you, gentle reader. It's called "Inconsolable," and it's in the Fiction section. It's kind of a dark comedy, and by kind of, I mean very very.
November 18, 2004 - I consider myself a fairly rational and extraordinarily intelligent person. Even so, I concede that I share some of the irrational fears you 'normals' have: The dentist is planting cavity seeds in my teeth. The government has pictures of me naked. New Zealand is out to get me. I have cancer of the hair. And so on. So, I imagine, if an extremely bright person like myself can have irrational fears, how much easier must it be for you mundanes to be swayed with fear-mongering tactics and illogical but emotionally compelling media campaigns designed to cow you into accepting a certain point of view - or, more specifically, being crazy-shit-yourself-scared of its opposite?
Liberal folks wonder at the ease with which the conservatives and ultra-conservatives and ultra-ultra-joy-is-sinful-conservatives manage to manipulate you great unwashed lot, but I think the answer is fairly simple. Change is scary. That's not an American point of view, or even a conservative point of view. It's biological programming. Once we've gotten ourselves moderately comfortable, we don't want things to change. Like it or not, conservatives are on the keep-things-the-same side of the equation. The problem for liberals is that they see a lot of things that need improving, and (I think) rightly so: labor laws, gender equality, race relations, education, health and social programs, and so forth. To make matters even more difficult, the idea that change is bad isn't entirely wrong. Sometimes, change is bad. Some social experiments fail horribly and cost zillions of dollars. Some of the social or cultural institutions we have actually work fairly well just the way they are. (I'm being generous here--don't ask me to name one.) The problem is that no one can tell you exactly what the end result of change will really look like, but they can usually tell you what staying the same will look like. For example: gay marriage is a fairly new concept. It's easy to imagine all sorts of nutty things that might happen if it becomes the norm, and the conservative side plays with those nutty things--and, to their credit, they're certainly creative about it. People surrender to their irrational fears, and voila--legitimized bigotry is encoded into a dozen state constitutions.
Now let's look on the other side of the equation: if liberals were to try to make a fear-based campaign against, say, increasing corporate control of the mainstream media, they're going to have a tough time of it. Aside from the fact that the mainstream media would probably come up with some lame excuse not to run their ads, corporate media control isn't new, so more of it isn't really a change. We already know what it's like to have a handful of huge multinational corporations control what we see and hear and think, so a little bit more couldn't be that bad, right? Most people won't bother to get too exercised about that, and the ones that do are shouting into the wind.
The point of all this is that maybe my friend Anastasia is onto something, misanthropic and twisted though her rationalization of it might be. Maybe letting go of the fear and the outrage is the first step toward something greater. If we've been tricked into living in react mode by the people who stand to profit the most from our poor, knee-jerk decisions, then maybe it's time to choose to stop living in react mode. It certainly sounds relaxing. I think I'll try it, just as soon as I take care of my New Zealand problem.
November 13, 2004 - So now there are claims, backed up by some fairly compelling mathematical evidence, of widespread vote fraud in the 2004 election. Now, I'm not saying the claims are true, but if they are, I wonder just how wide the gap will become between how incensed Americans should be, and how disinterested they really are. Have TV and Republican fear tactics really numbed us that much? If the news showed a film of Cheney eating buttered puppies (which he does, as I understand, regularly), would anyone but a few PETA freaks bother to even say anything?
If the Supreme Court's job is to interpret the Founding Fathers' intents for us, those nine old Justices should be out roaming the country in a fleet of souped-up Winnebagoes, bitch-slapping some sense into everyone they meet. Jefferson & Co. must be spinning in their various graves. I'm surprised that Ouija boards everywhere haven't exploded into flaming letters that spell out "Get off thine asses and take back your government!" If science ever figures out a way to harness the energy of spinning patriot corpses, at least we'd get something useful out of this administration. Why, they could probably harvest enough energy to...build a giant neo-conservative doomsday ray. So that might not be so great. Never mind.
Oh well...at least there's a new season of "The Amazing Race" staring soon.
November 11, 2004 - In March of 1945, just a few months before the end of World War II, my paternal grandfather's bomber plane was shot down somewhere over Belgium. My father was 11 months old at the time. He never knew his father, and I never knew my grandfather. Salt Lake City has a park called Memory Grove, which holds memorial statues and plaques for Utah soldiers (which my grandfather was not) who died in the various wars of the 20th century. There's a WWII memorial wall, listing names and dates of the people who died, and as I walked around the wall a few weeks ago, I wondered if any of them knew my grandfather. That, in turn, made me wonder if I knew any of these lost soldiers' kin. If we can set aside for a moment the arguments about when & why it's necessary to go to war, I'd like to offer my thoughts on peace. Even a sixty-year-old war still has the ability to affect us - who knows how my life, or the lives of the millions of other descendents of fallen warriors, would have been different if they had survived? I hope that someday the thing they died pursuing - peace - will finally be achieved.
November 8, 2004 - The day after the election, someone spray-painted a number of anti-Bush sayings on walkways and walls at my university. I stopped to read one of them, which was a quote by Bush to the effect that one human life should never be exchanged for another, and underneath it said “10,000 Iraqis dead.” A little blonde gal who stopped next to me clucked her tongue sadly, saying “Can you believe someone would spray-paint on the school?” Yes, I thought, imagining what I’d do with a great big mallet, that’s the tragedy here.
November 7, 2004 - I saw a car with one of those white oval stickers today, the kind that have a few letters in them and are supposed to signify some country or geographical location. This one said “HMB,” and I can’t figure out what that’s supposed to be. Hamburg? The Homburas? Humbugylvania? I think if you’re going to put some sort of public sticker thing up like that, it only makes sense that it’s get-able by other people – otherwise, why not just put the sticker inside your brain? Personalized license plates that are too obscure irk me too; they make me want to confront the driver and demand that they explain what their license plate means, preferably in some sort of Mad Max/Road Warrior type of scenario where I shoot out their tires and bonk them off the road with my car. Like yesterday, I saw a license plate that said “274 JXB.” What the hell is that??
November 6, 2004 - After meditating on the concepts of yesterday's entry a while, I've come to the conclusion that the most patriotic thing I can do - both for myself and for my countrymen - is to find a way to profit obscenely from America's newfound dumbening. I'm still working out the details, but I'm thinking maybe something along the lines of a W. commemorative plate set, highlighting all the things that make us so proud of our leader: $5 trillion deficit (an awesome achievement), 10,000 Iraqis sent home to God, affirmation of ultraconservative Christianity as the government's official religion, and finally giving our hardworking thought police the tools they need to root out wrongthinkers everywhere. Four thingies, four plates, there's the set. I figure it will sell like crazy in the heartland, since crazy seems to sell so well there.
November 5, 2004 - My friend Anastasia and I are both liberal, socially progressive types. We were rooting for John Kerry, not because we believed that he was the end-all and be-all of enlightened ideals, but because George W. Bush is the avatar of some Cthulhu-like thing that’s much, much worse. Our responses to the election results were quite disparate: where I was mystified and saddened by the way the election turned out, Anastasia described more of a popping sensation in which her (tiny) bubble of faith-in-humanity burst, and she threw up her hands in disgust. Anastasia has more time on her hands than I do, being a spoiled princess. Nevertheless, she is bright and articulate, and she reasoned her way back to peace much faster than I did.
The essence of her argument goes something like this: We (she and I) had set ourselves in opposition to all things Bush in part because we believed that the Republicans were simply more adept at spinning lies than the Democrats and did not truly have the populace on their side. If we assume, in the absence of any substantial fraud, that the election represents the will of the people, then we have to conclude that the Republicans truly do have the populace on their side. She and I were rooting for Kerry and against Bush because we both believed in, and wanted to live in, an America that doesn’t exist. The people have made their decision about what kind of country we are, and the decision they’ve made is that we’re a greedy, misogynistic, short-sighted, intolerant, sexually repressive, swaggering bullyboy nation. We are divinely anointed to find and punish the heathens of the world, wherever they may be, and particularly if they're silly enough not to be white. The definition of ‘heathen,’ naturally, will change from time to time in classic Orwellian style.
Arguing that America has been hoodwinked into making this choice simply doesn't work. The necessary information is out there, lazy corporate media aside. Books and the internet and public radio and magazines and newspapers, with a tiny bit of personal effort, will give anyone the info they need to make their choice. This America made its choice, appalling as it may be to anyone of my sensibilities.
This America’s morals are black and white, its ethics are grey, and its blood is a jingoistic red, white, and blue. Mind-bogglingly massive corporate fraud and systematic rapine of our environment, our schools, and our pension plans are forgivable as long as they don’t involve gays or abortion or stem cells. The blind hatred for our troops during the Vietnam war has been replaced with a blind adoration, conveniently avoiding the mess of figuring out whether our leaders are employing them in a just and honorable way. Modern-day bread and circuses will keep us happy, or at least distract us from our fundamental citizenly duties so the Powers That Be can go about the business of dismantling our freedoms in peace.
Her conclusion, in considering all of this, is that the best way to survive is to accept it and enjoy the ride to hell. TiVo still works, The Daily Show will still be funny, and dogs and cats will still be soft and cuddly. If we, and the other enlightened or forward-thinking people we know, are truly a minority, then perhaps the enlightened thing to do is to stand aside while the majority eats itself. She plans to pull up a comfy chair and munch on a big bucket of popcorn while the spectacle plays itself out. “I’m tired of having outrage fatigue. If this is what the majority of the country wants, then they got what they deserve. They brought this on themselves. As long as it doesn’t affect me or my family and friends, then Bush can run the country into the ground while I sit on the sidelines and play my fiddle,” she said. I should probably point out that Anastasia isn’t really much of a people person.
So she no longer cares, and that gives her peace. I’m trying my best not to care either, but I suspect that the quality and quantity of my blog entries would suffer if I stopped caring completely. There’s my paradox. I'm sort of a people person, and I want to care, to shake my good friend America by the shoulders until it snaps out of its self-absorbed and destructive reverie. I know from bitter personal experience, though, that sometimes all you can do for an ailing friend is walk away. Especially if they have a lot of guns.
Tomorrow: how I cured my blues with a quart of rum and a life-sized Jenna Bush doll.
November 3, 2004 - Oh, you better believe I'm building to something. In the meantime, go look at Spamusement.
November 2, 2004 - For the love of God, go vote! Right now! Stop reading this blog and go! "But I already voted," you say? Well, go do it again - the first one probably didn't get counted. Go!
November 1, 2004 - Like all of the other good things in my life, or so she tells me, I am indebted to my friend Anastasia for introducing me to TiVo. She was understandably disappointed and enraged when I neglected to mention this fact in my October 30 entry. Let the record show that I publicly and humbly acknowledge both the many pointy rays of sunshine she beams into my life and the fact that I would still be wallowing in TiVo-less despair if she hadn't lovingly shamed me into getting it.
In other news, tomorrow is Election Day. As a break from the usual doom-and-gloom urgings to vote that you've probably been bombarded with lately, I recommend the following site: Votergasm.org. This site fuses sex and voting together, just the way the Founding Fathers probably intended. Take the Votergasm pledge today, and vow to only have sex with people who've voted. Starting with me.
October 31, 2004 - Happy Halloween! Or, to all the Wiccans out there (and you'd be surprised how many Wiccans visit this site): Happy New Year! It's also the day after we turn our clocks back for that blissful extra stolen hour of sleep or OCD hand-washing. Since Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, most places in Utah had their trick-or-treating yesterday. Feel free to roll your eyes here - I always do. I didn't have any candy to give out last night, so I planned to give out wiener dogs, but I didn't get any visitors. [Update] I know why I didn't get any visitors last night...I'm such a dingbat. I forgot to board up the spike-pit trap in front of my door. Well, now I have candy, anyway.
October 30, 2004 - My life can be cleanly divided into two sections: TiVo and notTiVo. notTiVo is kind of hazy, but what little I remember is grey, sweaty-feverish, and crushingly dull. The TiVo section of my life, however, is clear and sharp, filled with butterflies and cherubs and the occasional Swedish Bikini Team cameo. My breath is fresher, my eyes are twinklier, and food just plain tastes better. TiVo is like all of my technological TV-related fantasies put together. I can pause live TV at any time, rewind if I missed something, and record an enormous number of programs for future viewing without using a single video tape. I can watch a show once and throw it away, or keep it forever if I want. I can access any previously-recorded program at once from a menu, instead of having to find it in linear, or "caveman," style. With the Deluxe package, which I have, I can watch TV from the future before it airs, to see if it will suck or not. I can choose to watch any show in either "Clothed" or "Unclothed" modes. Special captioning lets me see not only what the characters are saying, but also what they're thinking, feeling, and how they smell.
I occasionally have to interact with people who don't have TiVo, and it's always a little sad and awkward - kind of like how a born-again Christian must feel around heathens, except meaningful. I recommend TiVo unreservedly, especially if you plan to mention my name when you buy, since I get points for referring people. I'm saving up my points to get the add-on that lets me watch the people who are watching TiVo. That will be awesome.
October 27, 2004 - I've updated the story titled "Naked" in the Humor section. I workshopped it last week with my fiction writing class, and I'm very pleased with the improvements.
Some other thought-provoking things to read:
A well-written review of Jon Stewart's visit to Crossfire last week
The New Yorker's recent endorsement of John Kerry
October 24.1, 2004 - There's an Episcopal church across the street from my house. This morning, the church was picketed by protesters carrying signs which said, among other things, "Fags are lawless", "Thank God for Sept. 11", "Fag Troops", "Repent or Perish", "Dyke Nuns", "Fag Church", and "Fags Dominate the Clergy". Now, it's possible that they were being ironic (like the group that put up signs on a local overpass recently which said "Love thy neighbor, unless he's brown" in protest of the Iraq war), but I doubt it. Insert lengthy rant about intolerance and hate masquerading as "Christian" values here, because I'm tapped out from my earlier entry today.
October 24, 2004 - Worth repeating: This is from an article in the Nov. 8, 2004 issue of The New Conservative magazine, written by Scott McConnell. Yes, it's an article from the future; unfortunately, it doesn't say who won the election or the World Series. Anyway:
"Bush has behaved like a caricature of what a right-wing president is supposed to be, and his continuation in office will discredit any sort of conservatism for generations. The launching of an invasion against a country that posed no threat to the U.S., the doling out of war profits and concessions to politically favored corporations, the financing of the war by ballooning the deficit to be passed on to the nation’s children, the ceaseless drive to cut taxes for those outside the middle class and working poor: it is as if Bush sought to resurrect every false 1960s-era left-wing cliché about predatory imperialism and turn it into administration policy. Add to this his nation-breaking immigration proposal - Bush has laid out a mad scheme to import immigrants to fill any job where the wage is so low that an American can’t be found to do it - and you have a presidency that combines imperialist Right and open-borders Left in a uniquely noxious cocktail."
I think that sums up my feelings pretty succinctly, but there's more:
"Bush has accomplished this by giving the U.S. a novel foreign-policy doctrine under which it arrogates to itself the right to invade any country it wants if it feels threatened. It is an American version of the Brezhnev Doctrine, but the latter was at least confined to Eastern Europe. If the analogy seems extreme, what is an appropriate comparison when a country manufactures falsehoods about a foreign government, disseminates them widely, and invades the country on the basis of those falsehoods? It is not an action that any American president has ever taken before. It is not something that “good” countries do. It is the main reason that people all over the world who used to consider the United States a reliable and necessary bulwark of world stability now see us as a menace to their own peace and security."
The people who still argue in favor of the Iraq war can generally be placed into one of two camps at this point - the igorant and the greedy. The ignorant don't want to acknowledge the fact (fact, Fact, FACT) that the reasons for going to war with Iraq were fabricated by the president and his administration. They want to absolve themselves of blame by claiming that they support their president because that's what 'patriotic' Americans do. They sit back and accept their brainwashing with a truly un-American lack of resolve. The greedy, on the other hand, have taken a much more active role. They are the ones profiting from this war, either directly or indirectly. The cronies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are very clearly war profiteers - and I'm pretty sure there was a time in our history when we still considered this a bad thing. The greedy want to control and dominate. They don't want to abide by the United Nations' rules because they believe that corporate interests take precedence over the rest of the world's interests. They are not trying to create a better future for anyone other than themselves, and even then they are willing to make catastrophic long-term blunders to provide short-term gains. They are not patriots in any sense I am familiar with - they are interested solely in advancing their own power and control, and they are obviously willing to sell out their own country to do so. They have taken their greedy and hostile intent and wrapped it in a cloak of rabid, jingoistic pseudopatriotism to market it to any American who doesn't bother to look too close or think too hard about it: "We're Americans - we're number one. Therefore, whatever we do to the world is justified by virtue of our number-one-ness, and anyone who disagrees with us is clearly our enemy."
I am encouraged by the thought that more and more Americans are starting to awaken from their slumber of judgement, starting to demand answers from their leaders and to think about the long term. I just hope we wake up in time.
October 23, 2004 - I'm not a web programmer. You may look at this site and think "No kidding," but I learned a new trick today. The Interesting Places links on the left will now open in a new window when you click on them, instead of navigating away from this site. "Big deal," you might say, to which I might reply, "I've had just about enough of your attitude, pal." But let's not fight. The sites on the left don't know I've linked to them yet - I suppose I should mention it to them, to see if maybe they'll reciprocate. On the other hand, if they do reciprocate, then maybe people will start reading this thing, and then I'll feel pressured to update it more regularly ("And to start being funny," you may mutter under your breath, to which I might respond "Screw you"), and who wants that kind of pressure? Anyway, the sites at the left are all much more interesting than this site, so go look at them now and stop badgering me.
October 19, 2004 - Fall is here. It's blissfully cool today, which means I can start wearing my cool-weather clothes without sweating to death. I'm not a big fan of the heat, and summers in Utah are very hot. You'd think that I'd move out of the desert if I don't like the heat. Well, I'm working on that. I don't like mind control either, but here I am in a theocracy. In a way, it's a tribute to man's ability to adapt to the harshest and most irritating of surroundings in order to avoid the bother of packing up all his crap.
October 15, 2004 - I was visiting a client this morning when I noticed that she had been working on a pro-marriage-amendment flyer on her computer. Utah, like some other states with too much time on its hands, is proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage, and ban recognition (via insurance, benefits, etc) of any other form of domestic partnership aside from man-married-to-woman. The amendment is so harshly and restrictively worded that even people who disagree with gay marriage agree that it goes too far. That, in fact, is what it says on the opposition's campaign buttons and lawn signs. So anyway, this woman I know, whom I consider otherwise reasonably intelligent, is apparently adamant in her opposition to something that will never, ever affect her in any material way whatsoever. I was tempted at first to say something about it, to walk out in a huff, or to point out that there are much more important local issues that could benefit from her time and energy. Utah women, for example, are statistically at much greater than average risk from domestic violence. There's a cause that could affect her directly - even if she didn't get beaten by her husband, odds are good someone she knows has been. Seems more compelling than getting worked up over who your neighbor chooses to call "Snookums." In the end, I didn't say anything about it at all, but the fact that I didn't has been nagging me all day. On one hand, it's not my issue. I'm not gay (so far, despite my friend Anastasia's best efforts), so why should I get too worked up about gay issues? I have enough on my plate with trying to fight Rob-intolerance as it is. On the other hand, bigotry and intolerance of any sort have a way of warping and polluting the soul, in my experience - intolerance of idiots notwithstanding, because that just makes sense. So what's a socially-conscious person to do? I'm going to have to keep thinking about that one. In the meantime, my meager contribution to the issue is this entry - and maybe, in the end, it all comes down to that. Which would be amazingly convenient, I think.
October 11, 2004 - Happy Columbus Day! Or, as it's known to Native Americans, Smallpox and Slavery Day. I've added another story to the Humor section. It's about sex. Well, the sexes. I'm taking a writing workshop this semester, and I handed this story in today. I wonder what would happen if I wrote a piece of erotica and handed that in? I don't mean some artsy form of erotica, either - I'm talking "Dear Penthouse Forum: I never though this would happen to me...." I suppose as long as it was well-written, I'd probably get a decent grade...but I bet the workshopping sessions would be very interesting.
October 10, 2004 - Superman is dead. I realize that Christopher Reeve shouldn't be defined by that one role, but it sure is hard to think of Superman and not see Christopher Reeve. I think there's something especially sad about losing someone who represented heroism in the unique way he did, because we desperately need heroes more now than at any time in our history. Godspeed, Man of Steel. You will be missed.
Sep--Er, October 4, 2004 - I have recently read two books which I strongly recommend to the world at large. They are America: The Book, by the cast and writers and key grips of The Daily Show, and the completely different The New Pearl Harbor, by David Ray Griffin. The first book is a very funny look at our country (America), written in the manner of a high school civics textbook but without the patronizing/crushing boredom thing. The second book is a very funny look at all the many reasons that the evidence and official story about the September 11 tragedy should be given much deeper scrutiny--it would be very funny, that is, if it weren't so horribly sobering. I recommend buying and reading both books at once, alternating chapters as you go - that way, the laughter will balance out the dread. Also, some beer wouldn't hurt.
September 30, 2004 - Every fall the Mexican Freetail bat migrates south or north or something for the winter. My building is old, which means it's full of holes and the bats just love it. They pile into the attic, eat all the bugs in the area, and then head off to colder or warmer climes, or whichever. Every year also a few bats will get inside the building proper, and at least one of the residents will have a complete, full-body spaz-conniption about how the five-ounce, nectar-and-bug-eating bat was trying to fly into their hair, suck their blood, or poison the town's well. Early in my tenure as trustee, I found some great bat cutouts at the Halloween store, and I put them up by the mailboxes. When Christmas came, my friend Kimberly (who is a skilled artist) cut out some little antlers and Santa hats for them, so I put the bats up again as Christmas bats. I don't think everyone else found it as side-splittingly funny as I did, but that's what they get for re-electing me. Every year I put up helpful notices on our bulletin board during bat season, to remind the residents that bats are their friends, more scared of you than you are of them, stop flailing around and screaming like an idiot if you see one so it can echo-navigate away from you properly, etc etc etc. This year, I think I'm going to try a different approach. I'm going to put up a notice that the bats migrating through this year are genetically-engineered radioactive superbats which escaped from a government lab and which feed exclusively on eyeballs. At least that will tell me whether anyone bothers to read my notices.
September 29, 2004 - Today's winner of our Unclear on the Concept Award is Mr. Kay Anderson, of somewhere around Orem, Utah. Mr. Anderson, and many others of Utah County's staunchly conservative residents, were upset recently when student leaders at Utah Valley State College decided to invite Michael Moore (yes, that one) to speak at the also-staunchly-conservative school on October 20. At a packed meeting held to discuss the issue yesterday, Mr. Anderson was quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune as follows: "A balanced education does not require we teach our children to be so open-minded that their brains fall out." Mr. Anderson then held up a $25,000 cashier's check as...let's call it an 'enticement'...to the school's student leaders to cancel Moore's speaking engagement (which cost them $40k). Congratulations, Kay Anderson - your prize package includes a week-long, all-expenses-paid visit to a Soviet-style gulag for political dissidents, to remind you just how neat-o it is to live in a country where people are allowed to have thoughts - even out-loud ones - that differ from your own. You will also receive a free cranio-rectal-otomy from our friends at Orem Metro Clinic, where their motto is "You stuck what where??"
September 28, 2004 - Even though I'm older than I used to be, I still learn new things on a semi-regular basis. For example, I recently learned that too much liquid fabric softener can wear out your clothes prematurely, and that parboiled rice is vastly superior to instant rice in both taste and texture, and that cigarettes are poisonous. When I think of all the years I wasted eating that instant crap, I just want to cry. You'd think someone would be out there shouting these tidbits from the street corners or something.
September 27, 2004 - I've added a new story to the Fiction section. It's a dog story. Speaking of dogs, I've been wondering about something. If the area under your arm is your armpit, and the area under your legs is your crotch, do dogs have two crotches? Or would we call the area under the front legs their armpits, even though they don't have arms? Or maybe we could compromise and call them legpits. This occurred to me the other day as I was trying to put underarm deodorant on Oscar and got stymied. Ultimately I just hosed him down with Lysol and Binaca, but the question lingers.
September 24, 2004 - Despite my advice against it, Anastasia is having another hurricane this weekend. It just goes to show that you can't talk about weather with some people. She found out that - naturally - her insurance doesn't cover hurricanes, so we scrapped our plans to have her send me her computer and say the hurricane stole it. This newest hurricane, Jeanne, has already killed every single person in Haiti, and flipped the entire island of Mayaguana upside down. There have been articles in various news magazines lately about all sorts of crackpot ideas for stopping hurricanes, including seeding them with highly-absorbent powder to draw out the moisture, using many giant fans to blow them away, and using nuclear explosions to snuff them out. I'm thinking at this point they ought to try some of these - it's not like they could make things any worse. Well, the nuclear thing might - if there's one thing worse than a hurricane, it's a radioactive hurricane.
September 11, 2004 - The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article today about loan shark organizations and how one local religious group thinks they might not be so great. This group, which is actually a non-profit coalition of religious groups that deals with poverty issues, conducted its own study of short-term, ultra-high-interest "payday lenders" and their practices, and found - surprise! - that the payday lenders in Utah regularly violate state laws regarding fair disclosure of lending rates and loan practices, such as allowing the borrower to rescind the loan within 24 hours of taking it out. Someone cynical but sharp once noted that you'll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator; however, preying on the poor and the desperate (the main clientele of these predators) is several steps over the line, in my opinion. The state, naturally, refuses to set an upper limit on the rate these organizations can charge, preferring to let the borrower decide whether the rate is in their best interest or not (no pun intended...by the state, anyway). Which is good, because poor desperate people are the most likely to be well-informed about their rights and the effects of daily compounded interest, and to make calm, rational decisions with an eye to the long term. Or, no, wait. The opposite of that. So that's bad, then. Oh well...at least it's a Golden Age for loan sharks.
September 10, 2004 - One of my pet peeves is racism. As a white male, I haven't really experienced any racism of my own, but its existence bugs me. I was driving down the street in Salt Lake City a few days ago when I noticed a billboard advertising a group called the National Alliance. This billboard said that the National Alliance was "Securing the future for European Americans", and that seemed kind of odd to me, so I went home and looked up their website (which was listed on the billboard as www.utahna.com). The organization, as it turns out, is a white supremacist group. They even have a photo of the billboard on their site, trumpeting their advertising efforts. I was a little stunned, because I didn't think groups like that were allowed to advertise so blatantly - or at least wouldn't have the gall to do so. I am reprinting their web address here not because I want to give them any free publicity, but because I believe in a person's right to make up their own mind about things - go check out the site yourself if you feel that's best. I sent a few emails to different people at the local newspaper about it, because I didn't know what else to do. They haven't responded, perhaps because they don't know what to do about it either, or because it's not "news" in the sense of being something they can exploit to sell more papers. Freedom of speech is paramount, of course, and this group has as much right to spew their hateful venom as I have to spew mine, but groups like this generally thrive under rocks and wither in the light of public scrutiny. It seems like the appropriate thing to do about it would be to make sure a very bright light is shone on it instead of letting it quietly fester.
September 4, 2004 - As the regular reader of this site may recall, my friend Anastasia lives in Florida--the very same Florida that's been spanked by hurricanes lately. Although Charley hit on the opposite side of the state, Frances was aimed directly for her house (and, more generally, at the part of the state in which she lives). She packed up her four cats, two kittens, brother, and computer, and moved in with her folks (who live nearby)...along with her other brother, sister-in-law, nephew, cat-in-law, and parents' wiener dog Annie. To ease the stress of the situation, I suggested that she think of it as having a sleep-over while her house was being fumigated...with hand grenades. [Update] I received an email from her letting me know that she was fine, her families' various houses are fine, and Annie and one of the cats are now married. Governor Jeb Bush has declared the state a war zone, calling the hurricane an "enemy of freedom," and he and Cheney's brother Dweezil have started profiteering and pre-tampering with ballots. Nice to know we're in such good hands.
August 17-19, 2004 - Anyone who has not had the opportunity to drive through southern Wyoming is missing out on a spectacular experience, particularly if you happen to like wind and nothing. The tall turbines of the Wyoming wind machines are quite impressive, and the vast nothing farms seem to stretch on to the horizon. The Wyoming State Departments of Wind and Nothing, respectively, are held up as models of efficiency and expertise. You may not realize it, but many of your favorite things have Wyoming nothing in them. Fox Broadcasting, for example, relies heavily on nothing imported from Wyoming, especially in its news division. Many politicians enjoy the Wind-and-Nothing package for use in their speeches and policies. In fact, a large percentage of all recent American pop culture contains genuine Wyoming nothing - except Paris and Nicole, of course, who import theirs from France. This highly-sought commodity has enriched the state to the point that they do not have a state income tax - seriously. If you ever get the chance to tour southern Wyoming, let nothing stop you.
After driving through Wyoming (very, very fast), I dropped down to Fort Collins, Colorado, home of Colorado State University. I had been warned by a friend that Fort Collins was kind of gritty, but they've apparently cleaned up their act in the last few years. I got a good vibe from the place, and the school seemed very nice - larger than I expected, which is good. I brought Oscar with me, and we spent the first night in a Days Inn in town. I reserved a room online, which saved me about 60 bucks. The next morning, I took Oscar to a vet (also researched in advance) to be baby-sat while I visited the school. The lady who met with me was very helpful in answering my questions about the school and Fort Collins in general. Part of me is sad to think about moving away from Salt Lake City, which has been my home for so long, and part of me is giddy beyond description.
After finishing up in Fort Collins, I headed south to Boulder, to visit Naropa University. Naropa is a private school, founded by Buddhists and attended mostly by privileged white kids. There's some irony in there somewhere. The school itself is fairly small (which isn't a bad thing), and the approach to learning and to the degree in general is much more holistic in its approach than most traditional schools - more attention is paid to the individual needs and experiences of the student, which I found very appealing. Again I met with a very helpful lady who filled me in on the school and Boulder in general. The courtyard of the school was filled with students having lunch and talking, and there were a surprising number of very attractive Robchicks (short-haired, slender, often petite and elfin - coined by my friend Kimberly some years ago). The ratio of women to men, I was told, was 60/40. Score one for Naropa. On the down side, Naropa - being an alternative sort of school - also draws people of alternative lifestyles, which is not a bad thing by itself, but it means that the likelihood of any woman I might meet there being a vegetarian is substantially higher than normal - and I have a phobia of vegetarians. (As an aside, there was a fellow there wearing a kilt - I wonder if he bought it from Utilikilts?) Boulder is also a very well-to-do town in general, largely because everyone there receives residual checks for reruns of "Mork & Mindy." This means not only that prices are quite high for everything, but also that the folks who live there are upper-middle-class or higher liberal types - liberal not because they have any particular sense of social responsibility, but because it's fashionable to be so. That would rankle me.
I had decided not to go to the University of Denver that day, because I couldn't get an appointment with anyone, and I didn't feel like fighting Denver traffic just to drive around the school's campus and gawk. It turned out to be a very good decision. As I was talking with the lady at Naropa, it started to rain heavily. It had been raining off and on that day, but I had left my umbrella in the car a block away. When we finished our conversation, I decided to wait in the library for the rain to slow down a little bit. I checked my email (137 spam, 2 valid) and sent a note to Anastasia, and by then the rain had slacked off enough that I wasn't likely to get completely soaked going back to my car.
Boulder has a lot of areas that are two-hour free parking, but the signs in these areas essentially say "Park here for two hours, then GET THE HELL OUT AND DON'T COME BACK." I parked in such a place, and because I was waiting for the rain to stop, I ended up going over the two-hour limit by about a half-hour. I expected to have a ticket when I got back, but instead I got a different kind of surprise. On my windshield, in a Glad sandwich baggie, was a handwritten note. The note said "2 hr parking, asshole not all afternoon, your lucky the parking services take for over to respond. Dont park here more than 2 hours again, you will regret it." I hope whoever wrote it was watching as I read it, laughed, and tossed it in the back seat.
I picked up Oscar from the Boulder vet (he cried a lot at both vets when I left, but both vets liked him and thought he was very sweet for some reason), and we headed southwest out of Boulder and toward home. This was the fortunate part (for me) - the heavy rain that we got in Boulder had turned into flash flooding in Denver. There was standing water over a foot deep in some places, and cars were stuck or stalled everywhere. If I had gone to Denver, I would have gotten there right at the peak of the flooding. Thank goodness for small miracles, I suppose.
I headed southwest, then west, then northwest (there were mountains to skirt) to Kremmling, where I decided to spend the night, because driving through the mountains in the rain and the dark and the falling rocks (of which Colorado has many) just seemed like a bad idea. Kremmling is a very small town with nothing to offer to anyone anywhere ever, but for some reason the first motel I went to was full. I'm still not sure how that happened, because I can't imagine who would go there. Other travelers like me, I suppose, who were trying to avoid the dark-rain-rocks thing. I found another motel nearby - a quaint little place that was built in 1906 as a sarsaparilla bottling works. They say that late at night you can sometimes see the ghost of Sarsaparilla Sam wandering the halls and complaining about his rheumatism.
I woke up early the next morning and headed west. I passed through Steamboat Springs and stopped to get some breakfast. Steamboat Springs is a resort town, and it was the only place on my entire trip that had speed limit signs posted in both miles and kilometers per hour. It's possible that they get a lot of European visitors, but it still seemed a little pretentious to me. I went to the Village Inn and had 4 decimeters of pancakes and 27 kiloliters of coffee, and then I headed home. There was a rainbow in the sky that morning, and the business end of the rainbow was pointed right at the road out of town. I took this as a good omen.
The rest of the trip was unsurprisingly uneventful - I say this because if anything eventful had happened anywhere in eastern Utah, that would have been very surprising indeed. I was impressed by the many fiberglass dinosaurs in Vernal, which is adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument. It made me ponder idly whether whichever species ascends after humanity destroys itself will put up cartoonish fiberglass humans in their towns, but aside from that it was a deeply mundane drive. Oscar and I were both glad to be back home. My car smells like dog now, and my dog smells like car, but all in all it was a very good trip.
August 17, 2004 - Today I'm leaving on a road trip to Colorado, to check out some grad schools there. When I return, I expect to have many fascinating stories to share, or at least some nice shot glasses.
August 11, 2004 - My friend Anastasia loves cats. She currently has somewhere between 4 and 97 cats, with several more due to arrive from Amazon.com next week. She feels that cat adoption is the cure for nearly all social and personal problems. With that in mind, she has been encouraging me to adopt a cat in order to give Oscar a playmate and to cure my allergy to cats. I remain skeptical. It's not that I don't like cats, because I do. When I was growing up in Michigan, we had a lot of cats. We started with one, but since cats can reproduce asexually when needed, we ended up with many more. We also had a goat named Heidi and a horse named Chester. We only had Chester for a little while, because he didn't really contribute like the other animals did. We didn't get to ride him, and he didn't pull a plow or a wagon (not that we had either plow or wagon to be pulled, but still...he could have offered). Mostly he pooped. I got to clean it up. I'm not bitter, though. He also stepped on my bare foot once. Stupid horse. Heidi was a good goat, though. I'd get another goat as a pet if I could. She was very smart and liked to play, and she helped keep the lawn trimmed - mainly the parts of the lawn she could reach while tethered to a tree. We had a lot of trees, and they all had flat spots about 15 feet out in all directions. Our dachshund Loopy didn't care for Heidi, because Heidi liked dog food. Whenever Heidi was loose and would come over to Loopy's doghouse, Loopy would run over to her bowl of food and start scarfing it down as fast as she could so Heidi couldn't get it. Loopy also warned us whenever the Pig Dog came by - we called it that because it looked like a pig. It also liked to eat Loopy's food and to get in our garbage. Loopy was also on call 24/7 in case we ever spilled anything edible on the kitchen floor. Your floor just isn't clean if it isn't Dachshund Clean! The cats also did their part, by helping to control the local rodent population. One year there was an accident at a government lab a few towns over, and the whole county was overrun with radioactive flesh-eating chipmunks. The cats really earned their keep that year. So anyway, I might get a cat for Oscar. Or a radioactive chipmunk.
August 3, 2004 - Last night I had a dream. I dreamed that the cast of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" all got wiener dogs. Captain Picard's wiener dog was named Anaximander, after some Greek astronomer, naturally. Riker's wiener dog was named Magnet, as in babe magnet. Worf's wiener dog was named QjA!, Klingon for "Demon which does nothing but poop and eat all day long, pausing only occasionally to rest or destroy another pair of shoes." Data's wiener dog was named Spot, like his cat. Counselor Troi's wiener dog was named Princess, in spite of the fact that he was a boy. Geordi's wiener dog was named Nacelle, and she kept stealing his visor while he slept. Doctor Crusher's wiener dog was named Wesley II. Wesley's wiener dog was named Wesley III. It was a very strange dream. Am I mad? Perhaps. Still, it wasn't as disturbing as the previous night's dream, in which the men from the government returned to experiment on my brain again.
July 22, 2004 - There are few things in this world that give me more pleasure than hating the phone company. It's not just the rapacious monthly charges or the lying-through-our-smiles commercials that bug me - it's the gross, wanton, belligerent and proactive incompetence of nearly every single person I've ever encountered at the phone company. It's like you have to fail an aptitude test (a really, really easy one) to get a job there. There have been one or two exceptions, but nobody's perfect. Today I received a piece of junk mail from Qwest (formerly USWest, formerly Evil Inc.) boasting that “Studies show that Qwest customer satisfaction ratings are going up.” Yes, from 3 percent to 5 percent. “Here’s why.” We reclassified some of our survey participants as ‘malcontents’ so their responses weren’t counted, and the rest left to find a less inept phone company, such as Rocky Mountain Can-on-a-String. I haven’t opened the envelope to read the actual Qwest text about "Here's why," because I don’t want to risk getting Qwestthrax all over myself. That stuff is nasty.
July 21, 2004 - Today I went to "I, Robot" with my friend Dale. The naughty robots in the film (which are unfortunately not sexy-naughty but rather killy-naughty) are made by US Robotics. Back in the day, there was a real company named US Robotics, and they made modems. When I got home, I fished my old USR modem out of a drawer and smashed it, just in case. There were also nanites in the film, and if you were unaware that nanites are microscopic robots designed for very-small-scale manufacturing and repair work, I would suggest that you park your ass in front of the TV and start watching Star Trek: The Next Generation until you catch up to the rest of us. Last night I decided to make some nanites of my own, because they seemed quite useful in the movie. I made two out of peanut butter and toothpicks, and one out of ham cubes and cheese cubes and toothpicks, and one out of the remnants of my smashed USR modem, which it turns out was a bad idea. That one escaped, and it's probably constructing some horrible tiny doomsday weapon in the bushes outside my house. The other nanites weren't as small as I'd like, but I've ordered some smaller ham cubes and some science toothpicks from Edmund Scientific for the next batch.
July 18, 2004 - I watched "The Butterfly Effect" this afternoon, and it gave me an idea for a story. Suppose someone were to travel back in time for some reason, and they changed something, and then things were different. I'm still working out some of the details, but I already have a title: Billy and the Cloneasaurus.
I went to PetSmart (or is it PetsMart? PetsmArt?) today and bought Oscar some new Nylabones and a Kong ball. Kongs are supposed to be indestructible, and I thought that this would be a good alternative to the tennis balls, something I could let him chew on without worrying about him destroying it, right? Well, Oscar is presently ripping great hunks out of his new ball. Why must you destroy the ball, Oscar? I asked. Why can't you just...cuddle with it or something? He just looked at me as if to say, "Because it's this or your flesh, Daddy." Creepy. Oh, well...there's six bucks down the drain.
July 14, 2004 - Last weekend I went to the sporting goods store and bought some tennis balls and a lacrosse ball for Oscar. We've gone to the park several times since then to play his favorite game, which is Chase the Balls. I throw a ball, then he runs after it, catches it, gnaws on it, and then looks at me expectantly, and then I throw another one. He doesn't bring them back to me, because that's not his department. There's a lot of walking involved in Chase the Balls. Whenever we get home from playing Chase the Balls, I put the balls away, because if he's left to his own devices, he'll shred them. It's just what he does. There's always a period of mourning that follows after I put the balls up - he'll sit in the kitchen, staring up at the counter and whining softly for about an hour or so.
Tonight I took him to the park again. As we were playing, I threw the solid rubber lacrosse ball and he dove right into its path, and it nailed him in the face. Hard. He yelped and yelped and yelped, and then ran over to me. I gathered him up and comforted him and told him I was sorry, and I felt horrible. For a minute, I was certain I'd broken his nose. After a few moments of being petted and fawned over, he started squirming around, and when I let him down, he took off after one of the nearby balls as if nothing bad had happened. He's a very resilient dog. We played for a good while longer, and then I still felt bad, so I took him out and bought him a steak.
July 9, 2004 - There's a guy in my summer class who spent the last two days ranting and complaining about the movie Spiderman 2. Now, I haven't seen the movie yet, although I plan to, and I liked the first one just fine. This fellow had no end of bad things to say about the plot, the characters, the minutiae, and so on, and for some reason I can't fathom, he kept the two young women sitting next to him in thrall with his polemics. Today I arrived at class early, and there was a copy of the school paper on the floor with a five-star review of the movie. I circled the five stars and dropped it on his desk before he arrived. When he got there, he picked up the paper and noticed the review, then proceeded to rant again about the movie, stopping only for a moment to ask who had put the paper on his desk. I didn't say anything, but I did giggle inside. A lot.
July 8, 2004 - As you may have noticed from the picture below, I have a wiener dog. His name is Oscar, and he's crazy. His predecessor, Sam, was also a wiener dog, and before her there was Loopy. I've always liked dachshunds, probably because Loopy was such a sweet dog. She followed a neighbor to our house one night, and we kept her. This was in Texas in 1975. She went with us when we moved to Michigan, and we had her for five years after that. When we moved away from Michigan, we gave her to the local animal shelter, and it broke my heart. I always hoped that someone nice took her in. I thought about getting another wiener dog for a long time, but I wasn't able to until 1996. I got Samarkand as a puppy on New Year's Day, and she was a gentle, loving, friendly dog. I even managed to litter-box train her. Whenever she would go in the box, she would come out all excited, dancing around until I came to verify her leavings and give her a treat. Sometimes she would try to score multiple treats from the same leavings, or when she hadn't done anything at all. She was a clever dog. When she passed away in February 2002 from complications related to an immune disorder, I was devastated. It's hard to find a companion who loves you unconditionally, who's happy to see you no matter what, and who poops in a box on command. A few months after Sam's passing, I decided it was time to find a new companion. Oscar was described by the pet store as a miniature dachshund, like Sam was, and although I'd planned on getting a girl, he was so nice and friendly that I knew I'd found the right dog for me. It took a while for me to realize that Oscar was a crazy mutant freak dog. At first I thought he was just energetic like all puppies, but when the puppy preschool teacher tried to have him exorcised, I started to get suspicious. He didn't stop growing when he should have, either - he just kept getting longer and longer. He's currently just under 9 feet long. I've been taking him for long walks in the evening lately, because the exercise is good for both of us, and because I'm trying to tire him out. Unfortunately, I think the walks have been building up his stamina. Don't get me wrong - Oscar is a good dog, and a good companion, but sometimes he wears me out. I may have to go back to feeding him a pound of bacon a day in hopes of fattening him up and weighing him down.
July 4, 2004 - I have a wristwatch with an American flag on the face. It was a gift from a friend, and I wore it today when I went to see Fahrenheit 911. I felt it was my patriotic duty - seeing the movie, not wearing the flag watch. I realize that Moore is not being objective with this film, and I watched it with that in mind. Even without this film, there is enough verified, well-documented and credible evidence that tells us the war was unjustified, that it was planned even before the attacks on New York and Washington, and that Bush, Cheney, their advisors and cronies stand to profit personally - and obscenely - from its aftermath. I wonder why we impeached a president for lying about having sex, but we haven't impeached a president for starting an illegal war and destroying our hard-won international credibility. Maybe it's one of those things that's just too big for people to wrap their brains around. Certainly, this is a case where people should be listening to their inner crab, because there's nothing more patriotic than a democracy of thoughtful, informed citizens who hold their elected leaders absolutely responsible for their words and deeds. Just thinking about such a thing makes me tingle. Sure would be neat if it happened here.
July 3, 2004 - My imaginary friend Anastasia has been insisting for some time that I introduce her to the world via this forum, so today I shall. Anastasia has taught me a great deal about my inner crab, partly by tormenting me in our regular phone conversations, and partly by rearranging my thoughts while I sleep. Anastasia lives in Florida, and we have never actually met in person. It's just as well, because although she's quite charming, she's also evil incarnate. She thinks even less of people in general than I do, which is saying something. She's currently working on her Masters degree in Forensic Psychology, and focusing on serial killers, because it gives her a legitimate excuse to look at gory crime scene photos. She has been experimenting upon me since we met several years ago, and her most recent experiment is an attempt to turn me gay through repeated suggestion. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The experiment is one of those things that would probably be funny if it were happening to someone else, but because it is happening to me, it isn't. So far her experiment has been partially successful in that it has given me a healthy distrust of women. Anastasia will show up again in these pages, because she's a treasure trove of crabbiness, and because she's using her mind powers to make me include her.
July 1, 2004 - I was going to update the site today, but then I didn't.
June 25, 2004 - I've added some more items to the Rants section. The link is over there.
I started my summer class today - a Shakespeare class. The book was $67, but I got a used one for only $50. What a bargain. It's one of those massive tomes that English professors like so much, and it weighs roughly 400 pounds. I don't know how paper can weigh so much - I swear there must be a lead bar in the spine of the thing. Carrying it in my backpack today, I could feel it pounding against my kidney. I should probably alternate sides with my backpack, to delay the inevitable blood in my tinkle.
June 23, 2004 - I had a disturbing experience today. I was on my way to visit a client, and I forgot to bring a drink with me (I get thirsty in the summertime for some unknown reason). I went in to the convenience store next door to the client's office and grabbed a 20-ounce bottle of Dr. Pepper. I then went to the client's and started working away on their computer. After I got going, I opened the DP and started drinking. It was cold, which is good, and I worked and drank for a bit before I noticed something odd. One side of the bottle had a regular-colored label (the burgundy color that Dr. Pepper uses), and the other side was white. I turned the bottle all the way around and realized that I was drinking a DIET Dr. Pepper! The burgundy side of the bottle was part of a Spiderman 2 ad/contest (which I didn't win, although they did permit me to try again). I had my sunglasses on in the store and I was rushing, so I must've grabbed the wrong bottle by mistake. I stopped drinking it immediately, but I felt so dirty and sad and thirsty that I was distracted for the rest of my stay there. The two things that disturb me the most are these: first, I'm a die-hard Dr. Pepper addict, and the people who say that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes essentially the same would probably also concede that mother's milk tastes essentially the same as moldy sewage. How is it that I didn't notice the difference in taste immediately? Was it because I was preoccupied? Probably - I was busy trying to fix a computer problem, and cold things tend to have a weaker taste than warm things. I certainly noticed it afterward, and that cloying NutraSweet taste is still in the back of my throat, like stink on a week-old corpse. Second, I can feel the aspartame starting to destroy my internal organs, and I'm worried that - like all people who consume NutraSweet - I have forfeited my place in heaven. Woe is me.
June 21, 2004 - I've added several pieces to the Humor and Fiction sections. Go read them now.
June 19, 2004 - Since last night, for some unknown reason, I've been unable to check the email for this site. The web host is looking into it, but they're baffled so far. All my other email works fine. This account has had email strangeness since the day I signed up for it, because apparently the prior owner of the account name was...an alternative-lifestyle person. Very alternative. People or things I've received email from include: UtiliKilts (kilts for everyday wear!), reminders to attend the next Gnostic Mass, and postings from the Scottish Vampyre Society. Seriously. [Update] Well, the host called back, and suggested I log in to their webmail client to see if anything is wedged in the inbox there. Sure enough, there were two emails reminding me to attend an upcoming Summer Solstice festival, and at least one of them had some funky attachment that was causing problems. I deleted them, and the problem went away. Now, you might wonder if I'm going to attend the Summer Solstice festival. The answer is no, because I wouldn't know anyone and it would be awkward, especially if the Scottish Vampyres are there. Besides, everyone knows that Winter is the money solstice.
June 18, 2004 - Some days I am haunted by the feeling that people suck. I call such days "weekdays." Also weekends. Because I work as a computer consultant, I get to see people at their most vulnerable - most people are just plain computer-phobic, in my experience. In some ways it's like being an angry bee salesman, going door to door selling my angry bees and knowing that, although people may want or even need what I'm selling, inside they're terrified of it. It's the same with computers. It brings up a chicken-and-egg question: do people do such breathtakingly stupid things to their computer because their fear makes them irrational, or are they idiots to begin with? If I could invent a pill or some sort of head clamp that would take away people's fear of computers, I would be rich as a troll...and I'd put most other computer consultants out of business, and then they would vindicate themselves upon me by crashing my blog. Bastards.