Archive for the 'really?' Category

The sky is falling

Perhaps it’s my affinity for Discovery Channel alarmist pseudoscientific docudramas affecting my perception, but I’m pretty sure the world is coming to an end. Or at the very least, having a cataclysmic episode of PMS. 

Supervolcano. 2012. The Day After Tomorrow. Armageddon. Deep Impact. Perfectly entertaining end-of-days films, but they all make the rather silly assumption that one single devastating event will ruin us. In reality, 2010 has seen a series of bizarre and terrifying goings-on around the world this year that my carefully tuned sense of paranoia has cobbled together to build a pretty strong case that the planet is really, really pissed right now. 

  1. Snow.

    North Capitol St. during round 2 (or 3?)

    It snowed like the frickin dickens on the East Coast this year. One BILLION feet between 20 and 40 inches of snow blanketed the Mid-Atlantic area in one weekend (Feb 5-6) this year, and blizzard conditions created drifts several feet high. I didn’t see my car, let alone drive it, for three weeks. I mean, Wikipedia has THREE ENTRIES for “North American Blizzard of 2010”! Because there were THREE BLIZZARDS just in 2010! To say nothing of the massive snowfall we got the weekend before Christmas, 2009. 

  2. It’s hot. Fortunately, it got really warm, really quickly after the snow stopped falling. I mean, it’s not like the Fenty Administration was going to be even remotely effective in clearing the roads in DC, so God smiled on us in the form of sunny 50-degree days starting in early March; we got to an average high temperature of 80 degrees weeks before even the first day of summer. Since, hardly a day has gone by without the mercury hitting 90 or higher.
  3. Thunderbumpers.  The warm temps across most of the United States yielded insanely gorgeous tree blossoms, foliage, and flowers, but they also create the perfect storm for, well, the perfect storm. Summer thunderstorms have always fascinated me: Violent systems blow through, sticking around for only a few minutes but causing untold damage. The smell of the air before a storm is foreboding, and the landscape after it’s gone stands vivid and resilient. But. I am terrified of lightning. My dog can’t handle the sound of thunder (which, actually is really cute because he gets all sadpuppyface and snuggles up under me for protection). I’ve had to wade through my fair share of flash floods, and lost my fair share of umbrellas to gale-force winds. And this season has been particularly destructive. Just two storms this week have felled thousands of trees, caused widespread power outages, and endangered the lives of at least seven people whose mother I had to reassure from my powerless position in front of a computer. But these storms are nothing compared to
  4. Hurricanes. NOAA expects a very active Atlantic hurricane season (June-November), with 12-20 named storms, including 8-12 hurricanes of which 4-6 could be major. Plus there’s La Niña, which I never understood. When I was a kid I thought Hurricane Hugo was King Kong, which perhaps you can imagine was wildly damaging to a 4-year-old’s perception of natural disasters. I’m over that now, and quite frankly I really want to chase hurricanes for the television news, but hurricanes tend to come at really inopportune times:
  5. Gulf Oil Spill.

    Most of that is oil.

    BP has evidently successfully fixed the problem, but it took them 87 days to get there. After throwing shit at the wall and seeing what stuck, BP finally figured out how to stop the damn thing from leaking (that, or the reservoir finally emptied, which… depressing). But not before 4.9 million barrels (which is one BILLION  some crazy high number of gallons) of crude spilled into the Gulf. There’s not much else to say about the spill that hasn’t already been said, except for that when the Deepwater Horizon exploded, it sure did distract us from 

  6. Eyjafjallajökull.

    This guy kicked some ash.

    Remember that? When a tiny part of the world exploded and choked the entire European continent? Airplanes were grounded from April 14-23, then again from May 4-5, and then AGAIN from May 16-17. His inability to get a flight home allowed Rolling Stone freelancer Michael Hastings extra time with Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, extra time that probably yielded extra damning quotes. Eyjafjallajökull therefore earned the nickname “THE DOOMBRINGER.” Actually, pretty sure that’s a direct translation from the original Icelandic. 

  7. Russia is burning down. And not in the ironic way either.
  8. Pakistan is drowning.
  9. So is Poland. Speaking of which,
  10. Waterworld. The polar ice caps are evidently actually melting now.
  11. Tiger’s losing his stripes. Perhaps it isn’t quite a natural disaster, but nevertheless, pretty indicative of a world changing not for the better. Yes, he’s a philandering asshole. But he’s still supposed to be the best golfer known to man. And this isn’t what usually happens to the best golfer ever.

    Tiger Woods dropped his club after playing his approach shot from the fairway on the 18th hole at Firestone.

    Losing his grip.

So. There’s probably more I’m forgetting, since I’ve thrown my hands up and screamed “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!” more times than I can count in the last 8 months, but I should probably keep my “Signs of Doom” list trim enough to fit on a sandwich board. But don’t expect me to wear aluminum foil on my head and prance around Times Square. It’s too damn hot.

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Things they don’t teach you in school

wtf?

Does anyone really know what Permanent Press means? If so, could you kindly enlighten me?

Ten or so years ago I started doing my own laundry. More because I didn’t trust my mother not to shrink every item of clothes I owned (and this was around the time I started earning my own keep, so they were really MY clothes) than to be a responsible teenager, I learned through trial and error what could be washed together, what definitely shouldn’t go into the dryer, and when not to ignore the “dry clean only” tags. And I’ll tell you, even now as a “grownup” I still can’t figure this shit out.

I discovered the value of bleach one day after I spilled one too many shots of espresso on my white polo work shirts. I found out that dryer sheets really do get rid of static and sweater fuzz. And in the past few months I’ve realised the incredible value of the magic elixer that is fabric softener. At every juncture, I feel like I’ve had a mini-epiphany. But I’m left to wonder… why didn’t anyone ever just tell me how this stuff works?

The answer, I believe, is rooted in one of my long-standing criticisms of the Feminist Movement. We ladies of today have gained so much from the work of our mothers, aunts, crazy cat ladies who scream on the corner–the idea that a woman can walk into a brokerage firm (bad example… oil company), plop down her resume and college degree and get a powerful job. Ok, we still don’t get paid as much as men in general, with a few notable exceptions, but we have come a long way from the age when men would even let us drive a car, let alone run a Fortune 500 company.

Now that I’ve placated all the rabid feminazis, here’s my issue. My brother took home economics as part of his 6th grade arts rotation. He also took French, Latin, and Music, which suggests that enriching ones liberal arts knowledge does not exclude a practical education in how to run a home. I, however, took no such class. Everything I know about cooking and cleaning I picked up through osmosis, or learned from Martha Stewart (insider trading? whatever I LUVS YOU Martha!). But what I never understood is why I should be considered less of a strong, independent female for knowing how to roast a killer pork tenderloin. Would I look better wearing a crisply ironed shirt to work or a wrinkly mess?

I just can’t tolerate it when people take ignorance as a mark of pride. Why is it acceptable for a young woman to be all, “tee hee, I burned my microwave frozen dinner,” but turn her nose up at my ability to cook a whole Italian dinner from scratch?

This is why I’m writing a cookbook… eventually. I just wish someone would write a book about laundry. Thank God for Google.

I will never sneeze into my elbow

https://i0.wp.com/newsday.today.com/files/2009/09/artelmo_flu_gi_.jpgAt the risk of sounding like an old woman who yells at her TV, I offer this direct response to Kathleen Sebelius and Elmo, and everyone else who advises the public to do impractical and potentially dangerous things: I will never sneeze into my elbow.

Remember when we were kids, and, to our mothers’ horror, we would wipe our runny noses on our sleeves, from elbow all the way to wrist and sometimes fingertips if we were wearing gloves? It was after washing that umpteenth snot-encrusted sweater that mom thrust a box of Kleenex into our hands and taught us to blow our noses. Tissues go in the trash, where their nasty germ-filled contents are destined for a gruesome incinerated death. And that fact gives me comfort.

Advance 20 years. We live in an age of bird, swine, beef, ground lamb, and Cornish game hen flu, and it’s best not to spread that sort of thing around. As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, that wonderful catch-all department that’s supposed to be most in tune with the Public Interest but really only in the event of an epidemic, Kathleen Sebelius was charged with the responsibility to keep all those foreign animal influenzas from breaching our shores and mixing with our women infecting the American population. For the better part of 2009, this job consisted of holding regular press conferences to tell us just how fast the H1N1 was spreading, and when we should expect to have to start wearing surgical masks and burning anyone who coughed or scratched their nose. But when FLU SEASON started, Sebelius took it upon herself to re-teach all of America how to sneeze.

Evidently, we’d been doing it wrong (though those incorrigible folks who sneeze openly into the air to shoot their 45-mile-per-hour spit droplets onto everyone and everything around them always do it wrong). Rather than sneeze into our hands, then proceed directly to the sink to wash said hands or OCD apply hand sanitizer as a stop-gap, she told us to sneeze into our elbows. Sneeze all that grossness into our bare (gross) or beshirted (GROSS) elbows, then sit around with a wet spot on our arm until it dries and all the germs turn into spores and… sorry, I’m gagging.

I was horrified when I first heard this cockamamie advice, and promptly decided to ignore it. But today I was watching PBS (full disclosure, I enjoy watching Arthur and have ever since… well, high school), and there appeared some old guy and Elmo to feed this nonsense to children! They’re undermining mom’s stern guidance to instead teach kids to sneeze onto their clothes, and by extension each others’ clothes, until every Kindergarten across this great nation devolves into one massive snotty sticky mess (well, more so than they already were). This is worse than the corn lobby’s ministrations against people who spurn high-fructose corn syrup, because it’s “nutritionally the same as sugar and fine in moderation.” (They leave out that pesky little detail that HFCS is so dirt cheap that food manufacturers may as well put it in everything, everywhere. As a general rule, any ad or congressman that advises you to “get the facts” is probably lying to you.) Because the idea of sneeze-laden shirtsleeves is just SO GROSS.

No amount of elbow grease can out those damn spots.

I was told there’d be moon colonies

“Glow-in-the-Dark Plants are Highlight of International Space Station Science Briefing” reads my latest email alert from NASA.  And we’re de-funding this agency, why?

After decades of war and depression (the money kind), Americans needed something to rally around in the 1950s, and the answer was space flight (and polio vaccines). If for no other reason than to smite the Soviets, Americans enthusiastically pursued the once-impossible goal of flying to the moon. The moon moon, that everyone sees every night from everywhere around the world. People’s minds were literally (ok, maybe figuratively) blown forty years ago when man walked on the moon, which actually happened, despite what that guy who hangs around outside Union Station says. And on that day, our dreams of one day living on the moon–after we’d drained every last resource our planet had to offer and salted the earth for good measure–were born.

But those dreams were effectively dashed when President Obama’s budget came out on Monday. In it was a paltry (ok, ungainly in real-people terms, but we’re talking interstellar travel here) $6 billion over five years for NASA to oversee the development and construction of commercial space vehicles. For the first time since its inception, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is taking a back seat, not the cutting edge, on space exploration.  

Of the many and varied programs the federal government takes my money away to fund, I object to NASA the least. I do admit, it’s odd that I am such an ardent supporter of one of the most massive bureaucracies our government has to offer. Even odder that the agency’s scaling-back was initiated not by a waste-conscious Republican (it was former president George W. Bush who challenged NASA to “gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own” in 2004 [and it was another Bush that said “The future lies in space travel”]) but a progressive Democrat. But space travel falls into one of those special categories, like national defense (and in fact, our research into space has regularly improved our defensive capabilities), that I believe are best suited to government spearheading.

First of all, barriers to entry into the space travel market are huge. Unlike air travel, which relied on a few physical principles and benefitted from the input of countless individual pioneers, the principles of space travel are prohibitively complex and expensive. What few commercial space travel outfits exist are funded by billionaires like Richard Branson, with little hope that small startups or even moderately sized aviation firms could join the fledgling industry at present. Deregulation that allowed for the birth of the commercial satellite industry was surely a step in the non-governmental direction, but while the technologies are in the same general ballpark, telecom satellites and trips to the moon are apples and oranges.

Second, privatization of space travel eliminates the patriotic component that drove scientific innovation in the first place. Government-sponsored projects aimed to beat the Ruskis, and the accountability for success was to the taxpayer, not private investors. If it turns into something like the military industrial complex, where private developers compete for government contracts and thus improve the overall quality and cost of each project, I would be on board. But if budget cuts prove to be the death knell to NASA, I fear for what private space travel will mean for scientific and public innovation.

Most importantly, and perhaps most morbidly, when things like space shuttles explode, it’s a big deal. Bigger than when planes crash, even though shuttles are generally smaller, because they’re hurtling in from outside Earth’s atmosphere and rain fire and debris across hundreds of square miles. These are national tragedies, and as a nation we come together and mourn, take stock of our losses, and fix what went wrong. Private companies are not beholden to the public trust, and so when things go catastrophically wrong, we would become that much more likely to suffer through coverups, finger pointing, and shady back-door transactions. To be sure, a government agency is far from immune to this sort of behavior, but there is inherently zero transparency and accountability in private firms. Look no further than Wall Street, circa September 2008, if you don’t believe me (not that I believe government intervention was the answer there, but the analogy is ripe).

When the Kanamits came and promised they were going “To Serve Man,” all the naive little 1960s high-trousered earth people destroyed their civil defenses and greeted their visitors with open arms. Then the aliens ate them. I can only hope this step towards commercial space exploration does not leave our government powerless in the face of competition, terrestrial or otherwise.

Facebook’s codependent relationship with me

you, facebook.

Apart from being scary and all-poweful and mercilessly flip with my privacy, Facebook has taken to suggesting I make the site better for someone who doesn’t have a lot of friends by writing on his wall. Aw, sad.

Ok. Folks who know me (/read my status updates) know how I feel about this “suggestion” widget, and know that I have taken steps on my home computer and the multitude of work computers I use to make it go the hell away. But every time I see it (before immediately disabling it), I can’t help but think about the deeper implications of a tool that suggests active participation within a tool that is inherently socially passive. You know, because I’m like that.

Facebook started as an experiment among elitist colleges to see just how elitist we could be allow us to rediscover friends from home we’d otherwise relegate to the 10-year-reunion, is she preggers? did he die? corner of our brains. It came at an interesting time for me and my class: Spring semester freshman year, word of this “thefacebook.com” spread around. Not an actual facebook (which evidently existed, although I didn’t buy one), but rather an online website you could join and poke people. Maybe the experience of meeting people in college would have been better the traditional way (which is not to say there weren’t plenty of keggers and “who the hell is this entry in my phone book?”s). Maybe “thefacebook.com” augmented the freshmen meet market by allowing us to catalog our acquaintances, instead of letting them disappear forever once Intro to Ethics ended.

Facebook evolved from an opportunity to find out the name of that guy you made out with last night those early years with limited information to share and find, where your home page was just your picture and tally of friends and you had to dig for updates, to its current form as a constant stream of information, musings, relationship news, shout-outs, and parties that 20 of your friends are invited to but you aren’t. The poke is a thing of the past, and so is your privacy (but that’s another post altogether).

Because facebook now does all the work for you, even adding a “Live Feed” in its most recent update, this social network–in itself a supremely passive form of social interaction–has turned us into self-interested idle sponges of human beings. (To be fair, an effect of the internet as a whole, not exclusive to facebook. Case in point.) Self interested because the majority of posts are about #1–what I’m doing and thinking, this party I’m having that you’re not invited to, and this blog I think you should read. Idle because one needs not contribute a single thing to facebook for it to work for them; if even a small percent of your long-lost friends take facebook up on its suggestion to write on your wall or add you as a friend, you are instantly popular.

At 14:42 today, I got a banner that suggested I add an Automatic Friend Finder feature. Here’s a quagmire: facebook wants you to be more active in certain friends’ online lives, but it’s perfectly willing make friends, for you, automatically. I’m left scratching my head.

But I will say this: I AM NOT GOING TO SUGGEST FACEBOOK FRIENDS FOR A DOG. I shouldn’t even BE facebook friends with a dog. Even though he’s cute. Come to think of it, I know a lot of people who might think he’s cute too. Maybe they’d like to be friends…

We are the bodyscanners

You know what I like more than keeping my skivvies to myself? Not getting blown up.

Every now and then, the ACLU finds itself in agreement with some core conservative principles–personal property, opposition to government intrusion in personal lives, privacy. So it comes as only a mild surprise that the ACLU has come out in opposition to the use of electronic scanners as an additional measure of airport security. “Full body scanners present serious threats to personal privacy and are of unclear effectiveness,” their statement reads. While I agree that the effectiveness of such devices should be thoroughly evaluated and improved, the degree of threat to my personal privacy is highly dubious.

For one thing, the only secret I keep in my bra is some pretty great BioFit technology… but that’s just for show. I try not to walk around with high explosives strapped to my body, so I don’t mind in the slightest if someone takes a look-see to make sure. If it catches the guy next to me who does have more to hide than a flat chest, then I’m glad to have done my part.

Second, have you ever used one of those body scanners? Moderate claustrophobia aside, those things are pretty neat. Like a 5 second open MRI, shaken, not stirred.

“Body scanners produce strikingly graphic images, creating pictures of virtually naked bodies that reveal not only sexual organs but also intimate medical details such as colostomy bags and mastectomy scars,” the ACLU statement continues. Anyone who’s ever gotten a bikini wax has shared more with total strangers than these body scans reveal. But for more private people, I understand how someone looking at your virtual hoo-hah isn’t the most pleasant of ideas. Some pervy security workers might get a jolly from looking at these bizarre alien-like images, but one can only hope that if the system works as it is intended to work, they’ll be looking for–and will catch–bombs.

I’m sure the argument was raised when x-ray scanners were improved so TSA workers could see more than vague shapes inside your carry-on bags. “They don’t need to know I’m carrying a box of tampons with me!” “That’s bottle of pain pills is MY business!” But we’ve gradually learned to leave a little dignity at the airport doors in the years since 9/11, along with cans of mace and pipe bombs. We’ve learned to react not with fear and sorrow over terrorist efforts, but rather, as did the heroic citizens on board Northwest 253 Christmas Day, with outrage and hardened determination not to become statistics in a tragedy. Of course the fear of a slippery slope is legitimate, but if it’s one thing we can do to keep our travels safer, we should embrace it, however begrudgingly. After all, there is less revealed in a fleeting body scan image than your personal information on Facebook–and that stays public forever.

The opposite of “weblog” is “log”

The Oxford American Dictionary has given us the latest incarnation of what happens when the real world tries to grapple with online phenomena.

According to the Oxford University Press blog (which in itself is a quagmire), “unfriend” is the 2009 Word of the Year. Stiff competition? “teabagger.” I can’t wait until 2010 when “rimjob” might be in contention…

Anyway, the trouble here is, have you ever heard anyone use the term “unfriend?” I would think that word would be a derivation of the adverb, “unfriendly,” which is, afterall, a real word. eg: “The Id can be very unfriendly when she’s in a bad mood. She unfriended me last week by farting on my bed, although I’m not sure that was the result of a bad mood.” If her unfriendliness ever gets so bad that I want to cut all ties with her, I will “defriend” her from my facebook, and “stop being roommates with” her in real life.

Negative prefixes aren’t always perfect, but it makes more sense to think of “defriend” like “deactivate” (as if I would “deactivate” my facebook account) than “unfriend” like “undo” (as if I would Ctrl + Z our friendship).

UPDATE: Luke Russert agrees.

But the root of the matter, beyond the fact that Brits shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about how badly Americans bastardise [sic] the English language, is that when the real world tries to make sense of and codify the random and natural evolution of the internet, something’s bound to miss its mark.

When you have the world at your fingertips, it doesn’t make sense to go to a dusty library, sort through shelves of books, and then put as much of the world as can be contained by 1,000 abridged pages at your fingertips. When there’s a .com version of a real-life thing, the online thing wins.

Dictionary.com > Dictionary.
Google Translate > Merriam-Webster’s Spanish/English dictionary. (For that matter, Google > Human brain)
Thesaurus.com>  Shift F7  > Thesaurus.

The one notable exception to this rule is virtual pets (and materialistic teenage girls, and farms). FooPets is on the list of websites I should not have access to. Because, on a Wednesday night with a little shiraz in my blood and an intense desire to play tug of war with my actual dog, a cute furry animated Shiba Inu who barks and sneezes and lets you rub his tummy (with your cursor) is a very reasonable alternative. Until, of course, these clever webmasters get you hooked and con you into paying electronic funds transfers real money for pet food, shampoo, and facebook birthday gift doodads that you can never actually touch. When the time comes that you actually consider PayPal-ing your money away for a jpeg birthday cake, you should probably just go to the library.


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