Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Travelling in Texsucks

Ah, the airport life, so simple and plane. This morning I found myself here yet again, this time on my way to a conference in my favorite state, Texas (yee-haw!). Yes, Texsucks, home of that son of a Bush we Americans are forced to call our president, the sins of that Bush far too lengthy to enumerate. This is especially the case since I have been betrayed by my laptop battery and am scratching this down by hand. If ever I manage to make out this scribbly scram I will type it in later. This is bound to be a very short post.

A few moments ago on the plane the captain decided to narrate for a bit: “Good morning, welcome aboard, etc. etc. We just passed Lancaster Pennsylvania. To the right you’ll see blah, blah, blah and to the left etceterblah, etceterblah.” Funny how “near Lancaster Pennsylvania” looks exactly like any other town that is completely hidden under a thick layer of clouds to both the right and the left. Maybe he pulled one over on us. Perhaps we were really near Pittsburg and this could be a bit straight out of classic cockpittsburg comedy.

Forced by ol’ captain guy chattin’ to give up on reading over my conference documents, I shall report to you in simulpest: “Good news, folks, because lately the wind patterns have been different than usual, we will arrive on time despite our late departure.”

I will no doubt fondly remember this kind meteorological service rendered to me some day in the perhaps-not-so-distant future when my home is underwater and I am swimming to the Adirondacks. But the media will of course be pessimistically biased, as is currently the case with the war in Iraq and will likely soon be the case with the war in Iran as well. Just as now in their deplorably sensationalist zeal the media only report the bad news (the daily bombings and raging murderous sectarian violence) and never speak of any of the good news (like the Administration’s prediction that with no electricity to power televisions and the mortal danger of walking the streets and markets, large homebound sectors of the population will largely turn to books such that we will soon witness soaring literacy rates) they will no doubt focus on the aquatic exodus of drowning New Yorkers without even mentioning all of the delayed flights that had been able to reach their destinations on time thanks to the very same alterations in weather patterns and that have allowed me to so conveniently travel around Texsucks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

EPA Cries "hear, hear!" at Bush Administration

Hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency scientists signed a petition against the recent decision to send Ken Knot Perceval, a 30-year marine biologist at the agency, to represent the United States at an upcoming international environmental studies colloquium. The petition was anonymously signed by outraged members of the scientific community using randomly-generated numerical signatures. Though top EPA administrators insist that no political pressure was responsible for their decision to designate Perceval as their representative, signatures of such illustrious environmentalists as 63085, 39745, and 41759, whose work has been widely recognized for having saved hundreds of thousands of acres of rain forest in 1994, having directed the public’s attention to such problems as dangerously concentrated levels of mercury in fish in 1996 and the menacing effects of melting polar ice caps in 1998 respectively, strongly suggest otherwise.

18564, who has been researching the effects of increasing levels of dandelion growth in our national parks since funding for his urban air quality research was cut off in 2001 calls this last Friday’s appointment of Perceval “just the latest example of the Bush Administration’s seemingly endless number of attempts to muzzle scientists in order to protect large corporations from being forced to comply with health and safety regulations.” The White House responded that this was blatantly untrue, pointing to another gag order released just yesterday and the all-but-complete erosion of all health and safety regulations making it almost impossible for corporations to even potentially consider their violation. “Are we supposed to take seriously the word of ‘scientists’ who are incapable of getting even the simplest facts straight?” opined a Bush Administration spokesman.

Ken Knot Perceval’s name first made headlines in 1966 when a court ruling in his favor forced the EPA to rescind their rejection of his job candidacy following a discrimination suit. Perceval’s attorney eloquently and effectively argued that being a deaf-mute would not prevent his client, who held a PhD in marine biology, from making significant contributions to the agency’s environmental research. Administration officials point to his long and impressive list of publications in peer-reviewed journals and his 30-year tenure of his research lab position at the EPA as evidence that the decision to designate him as official spokesman to attend the international environmental colloquium was entirely merit-based. They accused the numerical petition signers of gross disrespect for the authority of the judicial system that had enforced Perceval’s engagement at the EPA over 30 years ago, stating that the choice to sign the petition numerically was proof that they themselves knew that their protest was discriminatory and unjust.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Parenting Trap

Yesterday I logged onto Amazon to place a book order. I wanted to read the Marquis de Sade, not because of any strange sexual perversions on my part or anything like that, nor for the sake of learning how to possibly develop some strange sexual perversions, but rather for cultural reasons. I know that you’re probably thinking, “yeah, in the same way that I buy Playboy for the articles,” but I swear (and I mean this as an explication, not as an expletive) that it’s true. That torture has been sanctioned by my government, that it has even been a subject for debate in the United States and that it has not provoked more of a public outcry has made me cry a little inside and given me Sade thoughts. I simply wondered if I might learn something about the social psychology of torture from the master, the Marquis.

When I logged onto Amazon, before even having entered any information whatsoever about what I had intended to order, it welcomed me by my name and proffered a list of product recommendations. The marketing selections were right on the money as it is their purpose to be; until, that is, I scrolled down. There at the bottom of the screen I found a list of books on parenting. On parenting!? How did Amazon know that I was a bad mom? I had never purchased a book on parenting before (which might be part of the problem, but still). I reflected back to my last purchase—Freud. Surely that wasn’t enough to tip them off was it?

Come on! I only give my kids ice cream for breakfast once, occasionally twice, a week—a good source of dairy protein. I only “let” them play before doing their homework so that I can skim their textbooks and be ready to help them with it. Surely even Mrs. Gruber never really expected me to be able to recall my times table over two decades later! Even then the ubiquitous calculator had long since vanquished the abacus. Hell, even my grandmother had one. And I challenge any and all sentient adults to spell “sentient” without the aid of their automatic spelling corrector. I had named my son Egburtus not because I hated him but because I dearly loved my late grandfather, Egburtus.

I could go on and on with such excuses but I really shouldn’t have to. I’ve always been disturbed by data mining precisely because I feel this data is mine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Cheney's Blood Clout

After last week’s failed attempt to assassinate Vice President Cheney in Afghanistan, Taliban in resurgents decided to try a new tactic. Working from the inside, they built a bloody terrorist cluster in Cheney’s leg—not just one cell, but a whole group of cells. Fortunately, they were caught in time by US counterintelligence.

Now that the shameful conditions at Walter Reed VA hospital have captured the attention of major news media, Americans are finally becoming aware that the death toll is only a small fraction of the human cost of war when the (physically and psychologically) wounded are also taken into account. What’s more, Democrats and other liberal, left-wing nut jobs insist that by all accounts, the Administration is falsifying its counts—to take but one of their traitorous examples, if a soldier who sustains injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan dies en route to or at a medical facility in another location he or she is not counted in the Iraq/Afghanistan death toll.

An anonymous White House source (“Scooter” Libby) reveals that war amputees whose limbs are thought to be infiltrated by terrorist cells, like the ones found in Cheney’s leg, are counted by the Administration as “victories,” as terrorists caught and captured, rather than as casualties, and that counting them twice would be dishonest. When reporters tried to question the Vice President on this matter, he adamantly refused to respond, calling the question "ill-leg-i(n)timate."

Tony Snow defended the Vice President’s decision, explaining that the state of Cheney’s leg is part of an ongoing investigation and that the Administration would simply not aid the enemy by providing any tactical information about which of its cells had been caught. When reporters tried to contact Cheney’s leg directly, they were told to talk to the hand.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Let's Do Coffee!

The other day I ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. He had moved away and now he was back—or so he told me. My suspicion lies in the following remark he made after I suggested that we try to get together: “Yeah, we should do coffee.” Now, in and of themselves, I’ve always found such expressions a bit strange, “let’s do coffee,” “let’s do lunch.” Of course I know what they mean; but whenever I hear them I always wander off on a mental tangent wondering how it is that they came to mean what they mean in the first place. Unfortunately, once in a while this is mistaken for hesitation and I’m afraid that here and there this might have cost me a friendship or two. But really, the question is just too tantalizing. How can one not pause to try to imagine what exactly it was that the very first coiners of the phrase were actually doing to their meals and beverages at the time of the idiom’s inception? For example, no one in America says “let’s do tea,” but if they did, I could at least have invented a fictional etymology originating in colonial New England, pictured the Boston Tea Party, put the question to rest and moved on once and for all.

The suspicion about whether or not the real reason I hadn’t seen my friend in so long was that he had moved away had come from my end, not his. So let me come back to “yeah, we should do coffee” in its more interpersonal implications. First, why coffee, not lunch, or, if I even dare be so presumptuous as to think it, dinner? Now, from a pragmatic standpoint it is true that people who are really interested in catching up and in lively conversation with their interlocutors should favor coffee over a meal. It sure is a lot easier to quickly swallow your sip and jump in with your witty repartee than it is to swallow that huge bite of steak you had just crammed into your mouth—especially since the bites tend to get bigger and bigger as you get more and more frustrated with the seemingly endless and progressively rigorous sawing away at the beast. (How easy it is to mistake gluttony for sloth!) As a rule, it is always of course at the moment when your oral cavity has been packed to maximum capacity that you are asked news of your Aunt Millie or your Cousin Fred. (Those two have always had a knack for annoying you even from 800 miles away. It almost forces you to admire them for it which just makes them all the more annoying.) At any rate, you are now forced into a bovine comedy where you put your hand in front of your mouth and try to joyously imitate “happy chewing,” head lilting side to side with a little shrug of the shoulders as you try to speed chew, only to gulp down an insufficiently masticated lump that you will no doubt feel lodged in your chest for the rest of the day or night as the case may be.

Pragmatism aside, everyone knows that an invitation for coffee indicates a lesser desire for social engagement than dinner, lunch, brunch or “lunar,” for those who, like me, sleep in until ludicrously late hours on the weekend. I’ve always been curious about my friend’s East Asian heritage but too politically correct to ask. Too bad his beverage of choice was caffeinated rather than alcoholic since loose lips drink such sips and I might have mustered up the courage to ask. I wanted to imagine that he was inviting me to participate in some exotic dance ritual or martial art that I had never before heard of: “Yeah! We should do ka fi! ” But allowing myself to indulge in such delusions is only tai chi-ting myself, setting myself up for an even greater fall; and I’ve learned the hard way that judon’t want to do this because in the end, you only wind up feeling all the more kung fulish.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Letter Better Late than Never?

Today I received a letter from a friend, an actual handwritten letter! It was delivered by mail—you know the guys in the quaint little blue suits that you speed by all day. At first I felt nostalgic and kind of tickled. But about a nanosecond later I felt just plain old. I’m not sure anyone under 30 has ever written or received a handwritten letter. And for those 20 or younger, I should probably explain that a letter is a means of communication that your ancestors used to use to exchange greetings and information. It was kind of like an e-mail or an IM except that it was produced with a pen (these you might still recognize from high school multiple choice exams) and it was visually represented not on a computer, blackberry or other PDA screen but rather on paper. Paper, I assume, you probably still have a clear notion of thanks to unsolicited credit card balance transfer checks and, of course, Valpacks—will they never die? No, I don’t need coupons for laundry detergent! I have my laundry picked up, cleaned and dropped off by immigrants every week as do all civilized individuals; I’m not a Neanderthal!

I’m not sure how to respond to the letter. Do I “bite,” do I play along by writing one in response myself? This seems rather complicated. Can paper and pens be delivered 24/7 or are they a novelty item with a two (or more?!) day shipping delay? On what web site can I place the order? How will my speling and gramaticul mistakes be be corrected?

Once upon a time the major combat fronts against signs of aging were more or less limited to the world of cosmetics. Now, the danger of exposing yourself is everywhere. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve spent on botox, liposuction, chemical peels, plastic surgery, dye jobs… Once you’ve accidentally asked someone to hold on while you look for something in the other room (despite the fact that you are holding a cordless, portable phone in your hand) the game is over. And wouldn’t you know it, I was just getting over this horrifying gaffe when I received the handwritten letter! Damn! Now I’m probably going to need to schedule another web cam teleconference with my therapist for this week. Thanks a lot, Emily!

Your dear friend, Blue Genes