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Things I Don’t Understand

Ha, that would actually make for a pretty long list, but in this case I’m referring specifically to two things I came across this weekend. Sometimes, while doing household-related things (laundry, so much laundry) I leave the TV on as background noise and a sort of faux companionship. Yeah, I know, but how else am I supposed to keep up with Law & Order if it isn’t continually running on the edges of my consciousness, I ask you?

Be that as it may, I had the TV on this weekend, some animal countdown program on Animal Planet (The Top 10 Blankiest Blanks), and I got distracted enough to completely lose track of what program was on until the horrifying reality of what Animal Planet was now broadcasting wormed its way into my attention span and snapped me into full awareness. I was no longer ignoring the top most power-hungry animal leaders, no, I was staring at the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, enthusiastically narrating his wife’s contractions as she was about to give birth to their first child. Which was bad enough but, it turns out, things were much worse than that. Because the child in question, the one whose birth was here being rebroadcast reality-TV style, was also the one telling the viewers in a chirpy voice over to the scene that her father, now deceased, must have been so very excited by her impending arrival.

Yes, Bindi Irwin, daughter of Steve Irwin, was presenting “My Daddy the Crocodile Hunter” here on Animal Planet for our enjoyment. How long since her father passed away? How old is this child? Apparently, old enough to host “her very first hour long television special” to quote the Animal Planet Web site, and to take “viewers on her own personal and private look at what is was like growing up with her famous dad” – except that it’s not all that private, is it? What with being marketed and broadcast by a large communications company and all. That 50-second bit was about all I could take before I lunged for the remote to change the channel. I spend my days behind a protective wrapping of worldly cynicism but I have my limits. I can’t deal with this 8-year-old child being marketed like that. Perhaps she can handle it, but I can’t. And I take the liberty to doubt that she really can either.

Her father only died, what, a bit more than a year ago? (A bad encounter with some sort of stingray, as the nice man at the zoo on Sunday mentioned while he was feeding the rays at the Amazonia exhibit.) And here Bindi is, narrating her own birth and making jokes about how her dad was so nervous he crashed the hospital wheelchair on the way to the delivery room. You can tell me this is therapeutic and a way to pay homage to her dad and remember him, and I will tell you that I will never understand this. Steve Irwin was an exhibitionist and clearly comfortable with sharing his life with the cameras, in the service of animal welfare as he understood it. But he also dragged his kids into that public glare, from the moment they were born apparently, and they did not have a choice in the matter. And now his wife, or rather, his widow, is continuing this family tradition.  So that we have his 8-year-old daughter meta-commenting on her dad’s exhibition of their family’s life and I find this excruciatingly sad and completely beyond my comprehension. I just don’t get it.

But then, I also fail to understand how having to make do with an “unsightly” communal cluster mailbox instead of your very own, personalized, traditional American stand-alone single family-home mailbox can mar your enjoyment of your new, large, many-roomed house, nay, mansion featuring a “gourmet kitchen with a center island and a double oven, twin fireplaces and a finished basement, as well as a whirlpool tub and dual shower heads in the master bathroom,” and every other luxurious amenity today’s housing market can offer. Or indeed, why this sorry state of affairs should merit a lengthy article in a major metropolitan newspaper. But it does give me something to mull, so I shouldn’t complain. It’s not as though I am forced to get my mail from an aesthetically displeasing communal, lockable mailbox – oh wait, yes I do. But, I live in a 1-bedroom condo in downtown DC, so at least I don’t have that onerous, long walk to the corner where the mailbox is located. I just have to go down 4 flights of stairs to get my mail.

Of course, I also don’t have a lovely garden and lawn, the beauty of which is sadly spoiled somewhat by the lack of my own personal mailbox at the end of my drive way. Well, I don’t have a drive way either, so that’s ok. When did mailboxes become status symbols of such import? Why are people referring to their lack of a personal mailbox as “discrimination” and saying that the post office has created a “separate class” of mailbox owners? The mind boggles. My understanding reels. I’m so glad I saw this story on Sunday – that way, I was able to go lie down on my couch when the utter inanity of all this made me feel faint. Imagine if I had been at work. Here are people who have, well, some might say that they have everything: the house of their dreams with all the bells and whistles, with things in it that I hadn’t even conceived of wishing for yet – and still there is a complaint. About a mailbox that isn’t where they want it to be. A mailbox that just isn’t pretty enough (but that is lockable, therefore being immediately more secure than those freestanding, unlockable personal mailboxes on the front lawn). Again, I don’t get it. But then, as I mentioned, I live in a tiny 1-bedroom condo with minuscule floorspace that can barely hold all of our books. Maybe I’m just bitter.

Cop-Out List Post (Thoughts before Bed)

Things I read about, think about and would like to comment on if I didn’t also need sleep so badly: Continue reading

So, Spiderman 3. Meh.

OK, let’s just get this out of the way: Spiderman 3 – meh. If I were writing this directly after seeing the movie on Friday, my reaction might be a lot stronger on the negative side but I’ve had the weekend to read a ton of other comments, reviews and reactions and I am thus bending to the middle. Because I am nothing if not easily swayed in my opinions of things that entertain like books, movies and TV shows. Continue reading

Dear Academy

My, how time flies. Although, not so much when you’re watching the Oscars. Every year, I tell myself that it’s really not necessary for me to actually watch the Academy Awards, that the show is boring, too long, not really that important, and half the time they get it wrong anyway. And every year, I find myself staggering bleary-eyed into work on Monday morning after a very late Sunday night spent groaning at the TV. This year, same thing. I am still tired and my eyes are like sandpaper, thanks to the endless, endless show. And my apparent compulsion to watch it, even when I totally disagree with the results and am bored by all those montages and songs. Those songs. Dear John. Continue reading

Red Line Woes

This week was not a good week for metro. First the 16-minute “minor” delay on the red line earlier in the week, then the shut down of Braddock Rd station for packages that sat around for hours (at least it wasn’t guerrilla advertising, see Boston), and today this unspecified “minor” delay on the red line in my direction, and only in my direction. I get to the station at 7:24 a.m. and see the train just disappearing into the tunnel. Oh well, there’ll be another one in a few minutes, right? Nope. 20 minutes later, I finally get a damn train. Is there an explanation? I don’t know, because every time the station manager made an announcement, the loudspeakers were so weak, I couldn’t hear a word. Naturally, he also made the announcements only when a train in the other direction was pulling in – just to be sure no one could understand anything. And there were many trains in the other direction. Say, every two minutes or so. While I stand there, reading the entire Express cover to cover and nearly finishing off my crossword.
Ah Metro, how I love thee.

Aaaand…it’s a New Year

Things to note for 2007:

  • Avoid encounters with unknown, big, mastiff-like dogs that want to play tug with my coat sleeve
  • If one such big dog nevertheless manages to get a hold on my coat sleeve with his slobbering mouth and large teeth, make sure to give the owner, who is pulling at the beast’s leash fruitlessly and shouting his name in vain, a true piece of my mind regarding his lack of dog-related control.
  • Most importantly, regarding such dog incidents, which are to be avoided in 2007, do not, under any circumstances, let the half-assed, sullenly mumbled, reluctant excuse for an apology coming from a dog owner already retreating far away from you slide. Do not accept it as adequate. Control your dog, sir!
  • Read more books like The Woman in White. Great story, gripping characters, Gothic touches, suspenseful 600 plus pages that read like a much thinner book (it’s done already?).
  • Stop emulating the Zoo’s capybaras in figure and habits (i.e. less lounging about munching on snacks – although straw does make good roughage – and less growing stout. Not that it doesn’t look good on the capys.).
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Ha. Ok, not really.
  • Lighten up more. Or be more cynical. Whichever works best at any given moment.
  • Write more. Because, practice, practice, practice.

The Way We Speak

Today it’s time to give some thought to language and the meaning of the words we use. I realize that this is becoming increasingly difficult, in a world where labels mean more than substance, facts are made to bow to ideology, and education, reasoning and logic are considered elitist. But it is necessary in order to remain sane and rooted to the real world where said facts can up and kill you if you’re not careful. Yelling that the mess in Iraq is just the negative and faulty reporting of the biased liberal media doesn’t help the soldiers and civilians being killed by IEDs every day.

It is important to understand the words you throw around so carelessly. Like “fascist” say, as in Islamo-fascist, a very popular designation these days among the right-wing politicians running for re-election for labelling all those faceless hordes of evil extremists Muslims who want to kill us all because they hate our freedom. Do these guys know the definition of fascism? We wonder.

And point you to this article in the LA Times (via Slacktivist) on the term “Islamo-fascists” by a linguist, who has the following to say:

[Quote] Time was when right-wingers called the ACLU a bunch of communist sympathizers. Now Bill O’Reilly labels the group and others as fascist, with a cavalier disregard for the word’s meaning that would have done Jerry Rubin proud. Of course, it’s the point of symbolic words such as “fascist” to ease the burden of thought — as Walter Lippmann observed, they “assemble emotions after they’ve been detached from their ideas.” And it may be that Americans are particularly vulnerable to using “fascism” sloppily, never having experienced the real thing close up.

But like “terror,” and “evil” before it, “Islamic fascism” has the effect of reducing a complex story to a simple fable. It effaces the differences among ex-Baathists, Al Qaeda and Shiite mullahs; Chechens and Kashmiris; Hezbollah, Hamas and British-born Asians allegedly making bombs in a London suburb. Yes, there are millions of people in the Muslim world who wish the U.S. ill, and some of them are pretty creepy about it. But that doesn’t mean they’re all of a single mind and purpose, or that a blow against any one of them is a blow against the others. As Tolstoy might have put it, every creep is creepy in his own way.

[End Quote]

Edited to add: Hm, perhaps I should have titled this post “Easing the Burden of Thought” because we spend an awful lot of time doing that in this society.  As Ganesha is fond of pointing out, we like things easy and simple and, given a choice for fixing a problem of  Difficult (but effective and good) v. Easy Quick-Fix (but not lasting or effective), we will choose Easy almost every time. Because we’re lazy easily distracted morons and/or we’re being manipulated by those who stand to profit from the quick-fix non-solutions.

I can’t quite decide which is worse. But by now I’m too frustrated to give this any more thought, so I’ll go off to You Are Dumb to read someone who’s rants are much better than mine and who reminds me that there are still some smart people left who are noticing the shit storm of idiocy we are being pelted with every day and who are making an effort to point this out to anyone who stumbles across their site. Plus, it’s entertaining.

The Nature of the World We Live In

So, The Washington Post reports that our esteemed president “strongly disagrees” with the federal judge’s surveillance ruling that says Bush’s disregard of FISA, warrants and the law is *gasp* unconstitutional. Aha, the federal judge, who’s job it is to study the law and know it well, must be wrong because our president, who is not a lawyer and not all that familiar with the law, disagrees with her ruling. Well then.

Bush also said, according to the Post article, that “those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live.” And he went on to mention the foiling of the liquid-explosives-on-airplanes-plot in London as an example of why we need unconstitutional, warrant-less wiretapping programs like his little secret power grab. Except that, in the case of that investigation, the authorities actually did obtain warrants from FISA, and were still able to do their job and foil the plot. So, contrary to this administration’s claims, FISA is not a block in the fight again terror plots, but actually helpful. But let’s not allow that reality to interfere with Bush’s reach for limitless power to use as he sees fit. Excuse me while I spit.

Since the dispicable behavior, the constant lies, evasions, twists and smears of this administration and the Republican Congress tend to leave me incoherent with rage, here are some people who express things that I’m thinking and do it clearly, concisely and sometimes even with humor.

First off, an argument that should be shouted from the roof tops, used by every Democrat and Independent running for office, and repeated Republicans are Bad on National Security. Or at least, the Republicans who have been in charge these last 5 years are bad on national security. The president who had a briefing entitled Bin Laden determined to strike in US and chose to ignore it in favor of clearing brush on his ranch? A Republican. The administration that has yet to successfully prosecute a major terrorist operative? Republican.

To be precise: a Republican president and a Republican Congress and a Supreme Court made yet more conservative, but they still claim they are victims of the evil liberals and that a government that is incapable of saving its own cities (New Orleans, anyone?) much less capturing bin Laden, eradicating the daily terror in Iraq, or even holding on to any potential progress made in Afghanistan (thought we’d forgotten about that country? Well, the administration has) is somehow not their fault. But they have to gall to announce that if Americans vote for Democrats, then the terrorists will attack.

This, as the Martini Republic so aptly terms it, is the tightrope of fear they want us to walk. As Bush said recently: “America is safer than it has been, yet it is not yet safe,” and this, as MR points out, is exactly the dilemma this administration finds itself in. It has claimed that only Bush and his Republicans can keep us safe from terrorist attacks, and that voting Democrat is a sure way of inviting attack once again. But enough time has passed by now that the fear of an attack has been slowly subsiding among American voters. So Bush must on the one hand claim he has made us safer but on the other hand keep us afraid and worried that we are not, in fact, safe. Because they could strike again, at any time, except when Bush and his limitless powers are there to keep us safe. What a crock.

Which leads directly to the question of fear. According to the administration and much of the media following their lead (FOX News, I’m looking at you), we should be afraid every time they mention another foiled plot, or rumors of a possible plot, or whispers on chat rooms about potential attacks somewhere. Because if we’re always afraid, we won’t think straight and they can so much more easily manipulate us. But what good does it do to be this afraid all the time? I’ve tried to argue that it is useless to live in fear, but Kung Fu Monkey has already done it and done an excellent job of it too. Read his Wait, Aren’t You Scared? entry and that’s almost exactly what I’ve been thinking.

In the end, the one who truly does not understand the nature of the world we live in is Bush himself, who chooses to avoid the challenging complexities of the world and instead insulates himself in a comfortable, self-serving ideology that makes him the agent of God, always in the right, never in doubt, and never accountable.

Arrgh

A while ago I finally caved to the pressure and got a cell phone. Yes, it can be convenient and so on – leave me alone, I got one, didn’t I? I chose a provider pretty much at random (well, not entirely) because they’re equally out to screw you overall and it doesn’t make that much of a difference. At least not when you read enough customer reviews, where half of them are singing the praises of this company and berating all the other ones and the other half are bilious rants of near-transcendent hate and rage almost lyrical in their gibbering antipathy against that same company’s service. And it doesn’t matter which provider you’re researching.
Anyway, as part of the deal to hook you, this company was offering a rebate of $50 on the purchase of the phone with the 2-year-plan. Fine and dandy. But of course they couldn’t just hand me the money or, you know, not charge me for it in the first place. No, no, that’s not how it’s done. There’s a mail-in component to this rebate, a long-held tradition whereby the seller quotes you the price after rebate on the box in order to sucker you into thinking you’re getting a bargain. Then you pay full price but you get the fantastic opportunity of filling out a form in fine print, participating in a Schnitzeljagd/treasure hunt for the bar code and receipt and whatever other pieces of paper they require – careful with those scissors on the cardboard now – and sending all of this off to some place in Texas. And then you get your money.

If you remember to do it before a certain date that is. Because naturally your friendly seller, when offering you this fabulous bargain of a rebate, is hoping you’ll forget to send it off and so pay them full price under the illusion of having gotten a bargain. But hey, that’s how business works, and if you don’t like it you should stop buying stuff and move to Nebraska or somewhere nicely isolated like that. If you don’t play their game, you’re not a good consumer and that makes you a bad American.

Having resigned myself to the mail-in rebate thing a long time ago, I was all ready for my rebate. I filled out the form, cut out the bar code, found the copy of the receipt, made a copy of all of these materials for my own records (always recommended in the fine print, don’t you know), and spent 39 cents on postage in the happy anticipation that I would get my $50 rebate in 6 to 8 weeks.

Ha.

Let’s not even go into the waiting period. At least there I have the chance of a happy surprise when I find a check in my mailbox that I had forgotten I was getting. But did these nice people at Cingular Rebate send me a check? No, that would have been too easy. They sent a Visa rebate debit/credit card instead. One that I then had to activate and that was supposed to be easy to use. Except that I got rejected at the very next store I tried to use it.

Yes, if you try and make a purchase that is over $50, and want to split this between the rebate card and another credit card, you must ask the cashier to first deduct the amount over $50 and pay that with your alternate means and then you can use the rebate card for the remaining $50 balance. Yeah, right.

Ganesha was in the same situation, also having gotten such a rebate card. He tried to buy an Amazon gift card. No there’s a $1 charge pending on the rebate card and nothing is happening and he has no gift card. Easy to use, is it? Ha. The scam here is clearly that they are hoping to force you to buy something that costs less than $50 and then whatever rest amount remains, say a dollar or 50 cents, will become impossible to spend with the card and they get to keep it. Free money from you, how nice.

We are on a mission to find something that costs exactly $50 and not a cent more or less. It’s harder than you would think, what with our obsession of pricing everything with the 95 or 99 cents range at the end. That’s a whole other trick to get you to think the price is lower than it is.

Man, they should have just sent me a check or not offered a damn rebate at all. This kind of nickel and diming, underhanded attempt to squeeze a few extra pennies out of the consumer is just so much more bullshit. And frankly, there’s enough of that in life already. Thanks, Cingular and Visa!

Update to Sunday Reading

While writing Sunday's entry I had a second article in mind that I had read only recently in The New Yorker, which dealt with the same topic and more specifically the internal legal and bureaucratic fight over the Torture memo that allows the treatment of detainees as described by the Post article.

The New Yorker article, called The Memo, is a very illuminating piece by Jane Mayer in the February 27 issue of the magazine. It is both reassuring and unsettling because the article shows that there are good people in government who are courageous and idealistic enough to speak up against such horrible abuses, who stand by their convictions in a good way. But it also shows that there aren't enough of them to prevail right now, or perhaps that a small group of unscrupulous people has been able to hijack the process and throw out American ideals and principles. 

There should be more people like Mr. Mora. The original memo that he wrote is available here as a PDF.  Read it and think about what it means.