Friday, September 26, 2008

God will provide, except when He doesn't

You may have heard about a Nebraska law that's making a lot of headlines. It concerns the "safe haven" law, intended to allow parents to deliver newborn babies and young children to any hospital and have them taken care of. I don't know, but it's probably designed to prevent unwanted babies from being found in the city's dumpsters.

For whatever reason, the provision in Nebraska has no upper age limit on what constitutes a "child", so the state definition of anyone under the age of 19 applies. Lawmakers hoped this law would only be used as intended.

Guess what?

Since the law took effect in July, 16 kids have been abandoned under the law, including teenagers. The latest (and most egregious) use of the law was a man who left nine of his ten children at a hospital. His five sons and four daughters range in age from 1 to 17. The eldest daughter (18) was not donated. That would just be silly, but 17 is just fine.

The man's wife died in 2007, shortly after giving birth to the last of the children. He hasn't worked since July and was being overwhelmed by "family responsibilities". In one sense, I'm glad he abandoned his children to the state. It's possible they will receive better nutrition and circumstances now. It's still a terrible tragedy for a family. It turns out that he never asked relatives for help. Those relations have now offered to take in the siblings, so they won't be shuffled off to a state home or adopted into a stranger's house.

I can't imagine what the conversations were like in that house prior to the big drop-off. I'm so torn, between being sympathetic for him wanting his kids to have access to a better life than he can provide, and just being plain angry at him for having too damn many kids. Maybe he should have worked out an agreement with that ultra-religious family with 17 kids. He could have gotten tips on how to work with his small family.

At any rate, he's down to just one 18-year-old now, so it should be a nice change of pace. Nebraska lawmakers are thinking about closing the loophole if "one more family" gets dropped off. To leave the window open, make sure to take your "old enough to drive" kids one at a time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I have too many degrees to get lost at a Taco Bell

Alternate post title: "Tricks shown in cartoons work on real bad guys, too."

It's now 10:20, and it's been a hell of an evening. There was horrendous weather, enough rain to start wondering how many pairs of animals the KC Zoo has, power outages and spoiled meat, a fast food restaurant designed to mess with people's heads, drivers who get violently irritated at the slightest provocation, and my years of watching movies and cartoons finally pays off.

Our story starts with the remains of tropical storm Lowell, from the Pacific, bringing a deluge of water and probable tornadoes to my vicinity. It rained all day, but by late afternoon the sirens were sounding and the local weatherman was busy telling kids how scary it was going to be. There were no tornado touchdowns in my neighborhood, but there was a stupid amount of rain. When I have white-out conditions, but there's no snow? That's a lot of rain.

After the storm passed, I started making dinner. The sausage I was cooking was going well up until power died, taking my electric stove with it. And as fun as "trichinosis" is to say out loud, I don't want it in my intestines. So away went dinner. The power came on in about a half an hour, but I decided to go pick up food.

I consulted the internet, and found a Taco Bell that might be closer than the only other one I knew of. It's in the parking lot of a local strip mall, and I managed to spot it when I arrived at the largest intersection of three roads in possibly the entire Midwest. It was literally about 1000 feet from me, but there were three stoplights between me and my destination. Strange.

I made my way into the parking lot, trying to avoid plowing through stop signs and medians in the wet darkness. After a storm in a mall lot, everything is reflective and I find it hard to sort out what to pay attention to, when everything is shiny and looks like headlights. The Taco Bell I'm approaching is apparently the grand poobah of Taco Bells, because not only does it contain the mexi-American franchise, but also Pizza Hut AND Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's practically a shrine to American values!

I see the "Enter Drive Thru" sign with the logo on it, so I get in line. At the advance menu (kindly provided before you get to the one with the speaker), I notice there aren't any Taco products. All the meals involve chicken, pizza, or combinations of chicken AND pizza. Where's the (ground and seasoned) beef?

I get out of line and circle around to the front door, trying to figure out if I need to go in to get it. Lo, there be another drive-up window and ordering line. This one also has a "Enter Drive Thru" sign, but it has the Taco Bell logo. The other (I now notice) has only the Colonel. This building is obviously a shrine to gluttony.

And what other sin follows gluttony? In this case, greed. As I pull up to the window, I notice there's a policeman in the kitchen. "How odd," I think to myself. Apparently, there was an armed robbery there last night. Shots were fired. Exciting!

When my food comes, the clerk hands it to me as a pile. Food under napkins under hot sauce. Is there a bag shortage? Just one more weird thing.

On the way back to my home, a car with a loud muffler passes me on the right and makes a mad dash to go through a traffic light, only to get caught. I pull up next to him and he revs his engine repeatedly while flipping me off. I don't know why he'd flip me off, other than that's one of the few signals you can give to another driver who can't hear you. It's clear he wants to race. That's laughable, since his car obviously has an altered engine system and I drive an aging '93 4-door Accord.

Trying to ignore him isn't doing anything, so I do something that I still don't quite understand. I make eye contact with him... and I laugh. Derisively.

In hindsight, it was a poor course to take. However, in my defense, after being flipped off and honked at, I didn't expect him to react to a simple laugh. But he did.

His door opened and he got out and started moving for my car. I realized I needed to go, and fate smiled on me, for the light turned green. I stepped on the gas and charged over the small hill, leaving him trying to get back into his car after closing the door.

Finally, the analytical part of my brain comes back on. I know his car can outrun mine, so I need to not try to race him anywhere. This is difficult, because the race has already started! So I do what any character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would do: I play dead. Having no idea how much time I have before he catches up to me, I make a turn into the next right-hand street. I come to a slightly crooked stop near the curb, slam my gearshift to park while turning off the lights, killing the engine, and ducking in my seat.

And I wait. Suddenly, my breathing is the loudest sound I've ever heard.

After maybe 10 seconds, the muffler (moving fast) tears by me on the main road. I wait another five minutes, turn the car back on, and take a roundabout way back through residential streets to get back to my place.

I enjoyed a victory "Volcano Taco" when I get there. They're pretty good, but maybe that's just the adrenaline wearing off.

And all this happened because it rained today.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Load of Tuesday Answers

I took this list from Tara's blog. In case you were wondering, I got interesting in filling this out when I saw the question about the "last text message received", and knew I could fit in a pointless anecdote.


Do you have any pets? I have no pets. I debated getting some kind of animal when I moved here for doctoral study, but since I didn’t know how many days of the year I’d be gone, I decided it would be better to avoid it. Once I land in a place with a proper job, I’ll end up with an animal.


What color shirt are you wearing? I’m currently wearing a white shirt.


Name three things that are physically close to you: My pocket watch lies silent on the coffee table, next to it lies two quarters left over from paying the Kansas Turnpike toll on my way to Topeka for a concert last Sunday, next to that lies “Introduction to Personality”, a previous college textbook.

What is the last book you read? I last read “The Summer of the Danes” by Ellis Peters. Coming up is “The Great Derangement: a terrifying true story of war, politics, and religion at the twilight of the American empire” by Matt Taibbi.


Are you or were you a good student? For the most part, I’m an excellent student, though not an exemplary one. My current doctoral GPA is 3.791, which I’m content with since I haven’t registered for the “easy A” ensembles in three years.


What's your favorite sport? I’ve come to appreciate football lately, though I’ll watch and cheer for anything when I’m being paid. On a completely unrelated note, yay basketball!


Do you enjoy sleeping late? Without a doubt. I’ve mentioned before that waking up early, looking at the clock, realizing I have lots more time to sleep, and vanishing under the covers again is one of the most wonderful feelings in my life.


What's the weather like right now? Trending towards fall, which has caused my friends to mock my improving moods (gentle mocking), considering my affection for cold and overcast days.


Who tells the best jokes? I don’t have any friends that really tell “jokes” anymore. I get a big kick out of the writers at “The Daily Show”, which may count. I think I’ve sort of transitioned out of “stand-up”, since it’s been years since I’ve really seen any that I found fun. It doesn’t help that George Carlin is dead.


What was the last thing you dreamed about? I had a dream that I was in a relationship (and a bed) with someone who’s only a friend now. It was strange in the dream, too, and most of the dream consisted of talking about how weird it was while playing with her hair. Whadda ya know: it’s weird to talk about it in real life, too!


Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed? I do drive, and I have never yet crashed. Other people certainly have tried, though!

Do you believe in karma? This is a complicated question that may deserve its own blog entry. Strictly speaking, I do not believe in karma as a universal balancing force. However, there is certainly karma among individuals (if I wrong someone, they’re less likely to help me). In general, when a person feels that they’re suffering under karma, it’s really just guilt.


Do you believe in luck? Luck is different than karma, since karma is “deserved”, meaning it’s effected by your actions. Luck is just a fortuitous streak of randomness in most cases, or the result of skill in others (a “lucky” throw in baseball).

Do you like your eggs scrambled or sunny side up? Scrambled, though I can’t remember the last time I had eggs for a meal.

Do you collect anything? If so, what? I don’t purposefully collect anything. I do *accumulate* some things, which isn’t quite the same thing. I have lots of CDs and I have a fair amount of unsolicited credit card offers waiting to be shredded.


Are you proud of yourself? In most situations, yes, I am. Those areas that I’m not are mostly as a result of fears or insecurities that I allow to overwhelm the course I know I should take.


Are you reliable? Very. It’s required for being any kind of performing musician.


Have you ever given money to a bum? Yes, when I lived in Chicago. It had a higher bum-to-non-bum ratio than any city I’ve lived in. There were even three bums who lived on the college campus, so you basically saw them every day.

What's your favorite food? I could really go for a Monte Cristo. I haven’t had one in years.

Have you ever had a secret admirer? I have. Two that I know of in high school and one from my undergrad days. In recent years, I’ve had more public admirers, which is a nice change.

Do you like the smell of gasoline? I do, though I know it’s bad for me.

Do like to draw? I would love to be able to draw, but I don’t really even doodle, unless I’m spectacularly bored.

What's your favorite invention? The ability for two people separated by some distance to communicate the range of human emotion and exchange information instantaneously has fundamentally changed the human race.

Is your room messy? How else would I know that it was my room?


What do you like better: oranges or apples? Well… hmmm… I like… gosh…. Who knew how hard it would be to compare them? I suppose apples, though really oranges are quite similar.

Do you give in easily? No. I don’t like giving in.

Are you a good guesser? I certainly don’t feel that way when taking unfamiliar multiple choice tests.

Can you read other people's expressions? Not only can I, I basically *have* to. Venues where I don’t have access to other people’s faces leave me with an incomplete conversation.

Are you a bully? No.

Do you have a job? Yes, though just barely.

What time did you wake up this morning? Eight AM, I think?

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? English muffin with jam.

When was the last time you showered? This morning.

What do you plan on doing tomorrow? Let’s see: tomorrow I teach, and there a newly-requested brass band rehearsal on the books. Yay, short notice!

What's your favorite day of the week and why? Friday. I like it for all the reasons everyone else likes it, I bet. To flip the question around, my least favorite day is Saturday. Often, Saturdays just seem to be filler between days that have more important things happening.

Do you have any nicknames? I suppose the appellation “Doctor” Andy is a nickname, since I’ve done nothing to merit that title yet. Getting close, though. Then I’ll be Doctor Schwartz (in academic settings), which is thrilling.

Have you ever been scuba diving? Nope. I’ve spent very little time at either bordering ocean. And paying to learn at a clinic in Missouri seems like a hollow experience.

What's your least favorite color? I’ve never thought about it… a sort of pale and sickly green, I guess.

Is there someone you have been constantly thinking about? If yes, who? I’ve been thinking a lot about Sarah Palin, but I don’t think I’ve been doing it for the reason this question implies.

Would you ever go skydiving? I dislike small heights, but I think I’d be interested in sky diving. The idea of doing something unnatural (flying) to facilitate something unnatural (falling towards earth at fatal speeds) is cool.

What toothpaste do you use? I don’t know without looking. It’s blue? I do know that it’s really hard to find toothpaste that DOESN’T whiten teeth. I generally need to avoid teeth whiteners, because of my false tooth (which doesn’t discolor like the others). However, the rest of my teeth are gradually staining, so I’ll need to use whiteners for just the right amount of time.

Do you enjoy challenges? That’s a pretty generic question, to which I’ll return the answer “maybe”.

What's the worst injury you have had? Had my front tooth knocked out by a baseball… or the sickness from this January was pretty bad (though not technically an injury)

What's the last movie you saw? I think the last DVD I sat and watched was “Ratatouille”.

What do you want to know about the future? Will I find a way to live, doing what I love?

What does your last text message say? Well, the last text message that was SENT to me says something like “I’ll be ten minutes late to dinner”. However, my phone is so old that it doesn’t understand the SMS messaging protocol that’s now universally used (I bought it in 2002). So, when Erin sent that message, I had no way of receiving it. We had a good laugh over it.

Who was the last person you spoke over the phone to? Yesterday, returned a call to Karen concerning how to get to the concert in Topeka. While looking at my previous calls list, I saw that the last call I was actually able to answer on my phone was on August 19th! Man, that makes me sound like a hermit, when in actuality I’m often not near my phone unless I’m expecting a call. Still, I’m surprised.

What's your favorite school subject? Other than various music classes? Hmm. I enjoy world history, and I’ve had a great time in my “B” career as a psychology student.

What's your least favorite school subject? Hmm… math?

Would you rather have money or love? Gee. My first inclination is to say “money”. Because if I already have money, I’ll enjoy the challenge of finding love. However, if the question means I only get one at the expense of the other, then I’ll have to say love.

What is your dream vacation? So many… I’d love to go to India, Japan, Hawaii, Europe, the Mediterranean, Jerusalem, Alaska, China, even just going on a cruise ship would be interesting and new.

What is your favorite animal? I like bears, lions, and crows. Basically, I’m interested in anything that looks like it has curiosity.

Do you miss anyone right now? I have no one to miss, which sounds sad, but isn’t.

What's the last sporting event you watched? I watched the Colts/Bears game on Sunday night.

Do you need to do laundry? I have some cold loads that need to go in. Those get put off the longest because they accumulate the slowest.

Do you listen to the radio? All the time.

Where were you when 9/11 happened? I was in my office at Mizzou, listening to the graduate woodwind quintet practice the overture from “Marriage of Figaro”, which I always associated with the Trade Center, thanks to “Trading Places” with Dan Ackroyd and Eddie Murphy.

What do you do when vending machines steal your money? I consider it a tax on wanting to eat junk food.

Have you ever caught a butterfly? Not for years.

What color are your bed sheets? The current ones are gray.

What's your ring tone? My phone’s approximation of an old rotary ring.

Who was the last person to make you laugh? Probably Jon Stewart.


Do you have any obsessions right now? I have a bottle of cologne in my bathroom that’s an imitation of “Obsession”. Does that count?

Do you like things that glow in the dark? Kind of a strange question, but YES.

What's your favorite fruity scent? Tough choice! I love lemon, but I’m also a fan of raspberry.

Do you watch cartoons? The kind that’s on in the evening, not the morning.


Have you ever sat on a roof? I have! It’s not possible at my current place, but my parents have a flat roof that’s very suitable. I’ve been out there on several New Year’s Eves to make my wishes and goals for the new year.

Have you ever been to a different country? I’ve been to England and Ireland.

Name three things in the world you dislike: oppression, black licorice, gastro-intestinal diseases.

Name three people in the world you dislike: Pat Robertson, Robert Mugabe, and Gene Simmons.

Has a rumor even been spread about you? I’m sure there have been many. One concerned me being confined to the hospital during my January sickness! I’m not sure where that came from.

Do you like sushi? It’s fine, though it’s generally a bit too watery for my taste, which I know is strange thing to say about sushi.

Do you believe in magic? I believe in the slight-of-hand kind, but not the “I have supernatural powers” kind.

Do you hold grudges? I certainly have in the past. Sometimes, I just can’t let things go. Especially if the person seems unrepentant.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What a piece of work is a friend.

The rise of internet social networking has introduced new versions of old social questions. Emily Post can't help us now, but perhaps stuff like this is covered at the Emily Post Institute, which "carries on her work".

The following examples happened to me recently:

HAVING ONCE LOOKED IN YOUR EYES DOES NOT MAKE US FRIENDS

I'll confess that I occasionally do something that would have frustrated me as a manager: I talk to paid employees during their shifts. I don't do it often, but it does happen. In my tenure as a St. Louis Bread Company manager, I let this sort of thing slide if the employee didn't make a habit AND if we weren't inundated with business.

So I don't hold it against the manager when, after spending at least an hour and a half chatting with friends, she gave me the hint to move along. They do have work to do and my talking was a definite distraction. Her passive-aggressive declaration ("Haa haa, wow, you have been standing here a LONG time.") didn't do anything to recommend her to me, however.

So, I was surprised when she sent me an invitation to be her friend on Facebook. You'd be shocked, too: those "shoo-fly" words were literally the first and only thing she's ever said to me in my entire life. We are in no stretch of the word "friends". In speaking to other employees about it, they said she really likes Facebook. I'm assuming this puts her and I on opposite sides of the "What is a Friend?" question.

I treat Facebook as a reflection of my everyday social network. Most of the people I'm friends with there are people I'm friends with in the everyday course of my life. I use it like a giant social calendar, where it helps me to keep track of what other friends are doing or thinking. It works especially well with friends I don't see or contact on a regular basis. Take Mary Beth, for example. She's one of my oldest friends (third grade?) , but we haven't been in regular communication since the end of high school. She's now married, living in California, and working for the Getty Museum. It's a far cry from her younger aspirations of being queen of her own private island, but she's yet young; there's plenty of time for that to happen.

It's fantastic to be in contact with people through Facebook that I otherwise wouldn't hear about. It makes me feel close to my friend in Chicago when she says, "Went to see a movie: it sucked but the popcorn was good." It's not the sort of thing that she'd bother to put into an occasional letter to me, but it makes me think of the times I went to see movies with her, or the times we had popcorn while waiting for things to happen.

That's my type of personality. I love reading blogs and updates about (or written by) my friends, because I *know* them and I'm interested in what they do and think. I have no interest in the Pokemon aspect of Facebook friends: gotta collect 'em all! I know some people just send out invitations to anyone they encounter, like a professional Rolodex gone wild. That's why I've ended up with invitations from several people in the groups I play in, even though we've never exchanged words (not even, "Hello").

Something just occurred to me, though. I usually end up as one of the most dominant personalities in a group, simply because I have no fear of talking to conductors, or even making fun of them. As such, maybe I'm in the position of being the "popular" person whom everyone feels like they know. And perhaps that's why they'd want to be *my* friend. Huh! I'll have to think about that; I never considered myself in the "minor celebrity" category.

At any rate, I want friends in Facebook, not acquaintances. Which is why I'll turn this lady down, unless we become friends in the next few months. In that case, I'll give her the power and ask HER to be friends.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

Facebook has a section devoted to "People You Might Know". It looks at how many friends you have in common with other people and suggests that you might know them, too. I don't know if there's some mathematical formulas at work here, though there probably should be. If I have 80 friends total and there's an individual I share 40 of them with, there's a good chance I know that person.

But lately, that section has been suggesting friends which are, well, long shots. Recently, it suggested a person who lived in Maine, who was friends with ONE of my friends. One? Seriously? At current count, I have 98 friends. Let's assume that, on average, each one of them has 100 friends (which is low-balling). Finally, my friend with whom I have the most mutual friends has 62 links with me. So, let's call an average of 35 shared, since many of my friends have only 1 or 2 mutual acquaintances.

In light of all these approximations, it means that for each of my friends, there are 35 people who would connect to me only through 1 person (that "first tier" friend of mine). 35 times 98 equals 3430, and it would get exponentially bigger as I add new friends. It just seems far-fetched to assume that I'm going to know someone that only one other person does, as long as there are still people that I might know that have 46 mutual acquaintances (as one did just now).

THE FRIEND WHO WASN'T THERE

In March, one of my Facebook friends temporarily vanished. It turned out she temporarily deactivated her account to allow herself time to focus on schoolwork. My concerns at the time about relationship problems were completely disproved. It's amazing how comprehensive that block turns out to be, since it removed her from ongoing conversations, unassociated her name from pictures other people had taken, and made it appear as though she'd never been on Facebook at all.

The current case also concerns a friend who disappeared from my friends list, but only MY friends list. Suspicious!

This started earlier in the summer, when an acquaintance from high school sent me a friend invitation out of the blue. I talked above about friends I really haven't talked to since high school, but this person I didn't really talk to that much IN high school. Part of it was that we went on a couple of "dates" that were unsatisfactory, probably because I had no idea what to do on dates (or even that I was actually ON a date). From that point on, we basically just smiled at each other in the hallway.

Anyway, she sent me an invitation in the middle of the summer. I thought about it a bit (is she *really* my friend?), but decided that we had been friends and that's about all I needed. After all, aren't I a more mature person than I was 14 years ago? Well, I'd like to think so, anyway.

I've picked up a handful of high school era friends on Facebook, and almost to a man (or woman), the act of becoming friends has not initiated any actual communication. Trying to catch up with people after 12 years of silence is not for the faint of heart, and it's a heck of a lot easier to just leave your Facebook profile open. I can wander over at my leisure and see where they went to school, their job history, their current photos of pets, lovers, or kids, all without needing to commit to hours spent writing a life story. It works well. It allows old friends to stay "familiar", even if they never actually interact. Similar to getting the yearly newsletter from your high school reunion class.

In case of this particular friend, I found out she's married, involved with military music-making, and living in the great vast Kansas plains somewhere. A nice little jaunt down memory lane. Over the next couple of weeks, I'd see her update her status message, which is a single-line comment on life that shows up chronologically (with all your other friends) on the main page.

Then, about three weeks ago, I went to show my parents a map indicating the links between my old high school friends, and I found that she wasn't where I thought she'd be. Weird. Was the utility on the fritz, leaving people out randomly? Not that I could tell. I wondered if she'd pulled out of the Facebook entirely, as others have done before her.

Not so. A quick search showed that she was still in the main directory, but that the link between us had been severed. We were no longer "friends". That means she specifically went in and intentionally disconnected us. To its credit, Facebook is very low-key when you are "un-friended". The service makes a big deal when you accept friendship requests, announcing them on your homepage for all your other friends to see. When a friendship dissolves, nothing is said. Facebook does not notify the user when someone has ceased to be friends with them. In fact, had I not looked for her specifically, I probably wouldn't have noticed she was gone for quite some time, since we weren't directly communicating.

Why did she decide to interrupt a non-interactive connection? She didn't say, and I can only guess. Maybe she got tired of seeing my face every time I updated my status? Maybe she had a good think and decided to refine the criteria of her friendship parameters, sometime after inviting me and before the uninviting. Maybe she came to this blog and didn't like the color scheme. Maybe she didn't like my political leaning. Maybe she disliked the fact that I *didn't* say anything to begin with, and she certainly wasn't going to speak first!

Who knows? If it were a long-time friend, I'd be moved to action. As it is, it's worth a shrug and some meandering thoughts after dinner.
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Literary Appeal

It's a nice feeling when I see visitors to my blog from Yale and Oxford, heading directly for my sonnet analysis. Of course, then I start to wonder if my analysis is being used for assignments at the highest academic circles. It probably isn't, but it's still a nice feeling while it lasts.

If only I could monetize that somehow...
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Friday, September 05, 2008

Word Balloons from Convention Season

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/09/04/us/politics/20080905_WORDS_GRAPHIC.html

The above link leads to an interesting New York Times graphic about the proportion of various words used during both the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Interesting to note that among the "top 4" speakers on each side, almost no Democrat mentioned "reforms", few Republicans mentioned "health care", and only Sarah Palin talked about "hockey moms": 3 times. McCain tied Biden for the most mentions of "God": 8. Nobody mentioned "terrorism" more than Giuliani.

Oh, and nobody really mentioned immigration. I guess we fixed that problem, right?
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Even nuns need to relax, I guess?

I was visiting a site that offers TV content on demand and it had a giant shifting board of little thumbnails of still captures from the shows. However, there was some serious programming problems: most of the stills had captions that were DEFINITELY not the show pictured.

I stumbled across a few that were hilarious. One showed a picture of the original "Transformers" animated show. There was Megatron, looking quite evil, captioned with "CSY: New York - Hostage". I confess I've never watched "CSI: New York", but I may have to if their is a giant evil robot in the cast.

There was the shot of Bob Denver, the titular character from "Gilligan's Island", captioned as "Exploring Mars". What a cruel twist of fate to have the castaways finally escape the island, only to have them end up (through navigation errors) on the Red Planet. Hang in there, guys! Oh, and bring sweaters.

The last one was the only one I could capture a screen shot of. It's a shot of a woman in a bikini, but she's in a documentary which explores just about the LAST place I'd expect to find a woman in a bikini. Perhaps you'll agree.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ebb tide

Nobody can be happy all the time. It's impossible to feel "up" at every moment. Right now, I'm off peak. No one need rush to hold my hand or feel compelled to include me in hasty picnic plans: I'm fine. I'm not depressed as much as ... frustrated. The backhand of that is that frustration IS depressing for me.

I'm well aware of the situational irony of this moment. Last night, I spent at least two hours hashing out life with a new friend. One of the questions she asked was, "Are you happy?" And I responded in the affirmative, talking about my own personal philosophies and outlooks that keep me optimistic and healthy.

The good news is that none of that has changed since last night. Life remains just as wonderful and invigorating as it ever was. I laugh when I think how fortunate I am in friends and family. All of that is fine.

So what else could I be preoccupied with? To start with, I'm frustrated with myself. It's a slow process, where negativity slowly accumulates, bit by bit. Eventually, it gets big enough that I must pay attention.

Part of it is that I've been working on a blog post about abortion for days. I've had no luck in any of my attempts at starting it; each attempt is either partisan or pointless. Really, though, it's about the frustration to bring the issue into resolution. It's no great surprise to say that abortion is a complicated issue that has deeply divided America. It's also no surprise to say that I couldn't find a solution after several days of thinking. My problem is that my inability (however typical) is frustrating. Things that don't "work" frustrate me.

No doubt this has something to do with a certain pride that covers all my thoughts. There will be much more on that whenever I reach pride in my set of "Seven Sins", but it's enough to say that it's certainly fuel for that fire.

Eventually, even I, the perennially insufferable intellectual, get to the point where I have to abandon analysis. Even for just a few moments, it's important to seek a balance. It's good to put the distance of objectivity between yourself and whatever captivates your mind, just to make sure that you're still holding fast to the right course. It's all fine to analyze and tear the psychology of individuals out, placing and rearranging the shapes on a matte, attempting to make familiar shapes.

But often enough, it's important to abandon the intellectual heavy lifting and toss the crystal goblets to the fire. That act allows me a bit of space to let go of the death grip I have on things "making sense", abandoning all those thoughts in exchange for the peace of acceptance and hard-sought irrelevancy.
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Monday, September 01, 2008

Sex and the Vice Presidency

It was only three-and-some days ago that John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, but it FEELS like a long time, based on how much coverage there's been. The McCain campaign was clearly in need of something to get people talking. Some conservative commentators (like Bill Krystal) now acknowledge they secretly though McCain would definitely lose, but now Everything Is Different. You might remember this phrase from the aftermath of September 11th, when it was used to describe the new world we woke up in, and also to justify the curtailing of some of our civil liberties.

One of the intangibles Palin injected into the race was sex. Remember sex, America? Sure you do. We Americans have a long and hard difficult history with the myriad applications of sex. Remember, this is a nation where we have naked celebrities on billboards for animal rights and lesbians having sex on the air (thanks, Howard Stern!) but still had punishments for what you do in your own bedroom at night IN THE 21ST CENTURY (until 2003, consensual anal sex in Idaho was punishable by up to life in prison).

As a nation, we have sex on the brain, but we also mix our sex with morality. Among evangelical teenagers, 80% say sex before marriage is wrong, but as high as 66% engage anyway. They even start earlier than non-evangelical teens. SOURCE And the biggest intersection with sex and morals on the political stage currently is the GOP VP pick.

The McCain vetting committee had to know what it was getting into when it picked a former beauty queen. A quick Google search for "VPilf Palin" (where "VPilf" means "Vice President I'd Like to ... ahem... "frisk") yields 18,700 hits. She certainly brings more sexual appeal to the Republican ticket than Cindy McCain, whom I can't see without thinking of a quote from "Frasier" about Frosty the Snow Wife. Not to worry, though. She's a moral conservative, which means she likes guns, thinks global warming is a hoax, and believes in abstinence-only sex education.

That last bit is the part I'd like to focus on. Palin's position on sex education in schools is that it should be restricted to so-called "abstinence only" content (SOURCE), a standard which is currently supported by the Federal government to the tune of a billion dollars over the last decade (for "Title V" programs). It comprises what you'd expect: abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and STDs. Such courses are prohibited from mentioning any forms of contraception, except when they emphasize failure rates. The Title V programs also emphasize that sex outside of marriage can is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, and also that "bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society". So keep the pickle in the pants, soldier!

I don't know if the high school where Palin's children attended taught contraception or abstinence sex ed, but I know that neither one discouraged Palin's eldest daughter. In a move to head off "despicable rumors from liberal blogs", Palin announced that her 17-year old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. Part of Gov. Palin's statement says: "Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family." [Emphasis added]

I can't help thinking that no matter what the situation was like yesterday, today those two kids WILL BE MARRIED. Also amusing is the leading sub-headline in the linked story above: "McCain Knew". It made me laugh to say it like a film noir thriller: "McCain knew..." The article goes on to state that the McCain campaign was briefed on the pregnancy, but that it "did not disqualify" Palin. Generous! Shades of it being OK for Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney to have lesbian family.

I oppose "abstinence only" sexual education. In my view, it produces kids who don't know anything about sex other than how bad, awful and icky a person they are for wanting to have it.

TEENS. WILL. HAVE. SEX.

Not all, maybe not even most. But it will eternally be a problem, and telling them how they shouldn't do it works REALLY well with teenagers. If we don't explain what sex is and how it works, we get confused kids without all the facts. Kids told to refrain from vaginal intercourse often perceive tacit approval for oral intercourse, which is perceived to be without risk (because of the inflated importance of pregnancy as the only consequence of sex). There's bound to be a reason why oral herpes is the most common form of the STD nowadays.

I don't oppose abstinence education. It IS the best way to avoid pregnancy and STDs. That can't be stated enough. But if sex is in the cards, not having protection won't lessen the shame. There's still the stigma that having a condom means you're planning to have sex. Various groups have tried to change that by wide-scale free distribution, but the stigma remains. Overall, America has done a good job convincing people that wanting sex before marriage is awful and means you're a bad person

One of my good friends is the product of an abstinence only sex ed class. Luckily, he's filled in the missing information over time, but the shame still burns. He's a fan of sex, but has a serious mental breakdown every time he tries to go buy protection. I ended up purchasing condoms for him in the past, because he's mortified at the thought of buying them and of his mother EVER finding a receipt. Other friends have criticized me for enabling him or preventing him from learning a lesson. I say, if the male population of Missouri and Kansas wanted to use me as a personal condom valet to prevent their mothers from finding out, I'd do it in a second. If I was the only thing standing between using or NOT using condoms, I'd form a delivery company that specialized in subtle deliveries of small unmarked boxes.

I'm Doctor Andy: Condom Proxy!

As an aside, Condom Proxy sounds like a great name for a small-label alternative band.
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