Monday, July 31, 2006

On things that make you scream, but silently, like in those Cingular commercials

Okay, so it's nice to get the official warm welcome from Big Brother, although I'd say that the warmest welcome has been the three - count 'em, three - weeks that I've spent on his couch as I wait for my apartment to become available. The filth and squalor haven't been nearly what he makes them out to be, and I've greatly appreciated having a daily shower, air conditioning, a reasonably soft place to sleep, and an adorable little dog to boot off the couch every once in a while. I like to think the benefits haven't been entirely one-sided; through my presence, he's gotten some free housekeeping, some free groceries, and he's been introduced to the concept of "vegetables," which seems to be agreeing with him.

I hope that he's found my presence to be more of a pleasure than an imposition, because... well, I might be there longer than expected. That whole "moving this weekend" thing? Turns out that when the moving company says that they can have me packed up by 10:00 Friday morning, they mean that they can have me packed up by 10:00 a.m. Friday. After that, they allow themselves seven days to actually get my stuff where it needs to go.

And those are seven Earth days. The twenty-four-hour kind.

So let's review: It took me and my wonderful, gracious, longsuffering mother and father one day to move me from Atlanta to Columbus. Twelve hours, actually, from their arrival Saturday morning, last-minute packing, chaos and confusion with U-Haul, an angry phone call, lunch, more last minute packing, dinner, final deep-cleaning of the apartment, and a two-hour drive down to Columbus. It was another two hours to get the truck unpacked into my storage unit and my sofa disposed of. So we're looking at fourteen hours for three amateurs to ghetto-pack a one-bedroom apartment and move it a hundred miles to the south and west.

Professionals, however, who merely have to pack up an already-packed storage unit and schlep it three hours to the north and west, will need a week to do so.

Thus my lovely new apartment remains vacant, and the Baby-Sis-shaped butt print on Doug's couch grows ever deeper.

Sorry, dude.

On the horrors of vlogging

Okay, so a note to all of you bloggers out there: Many of you are watching the march of technological progress as blogs begin to feature podcasts and now even video posts. Many of you may be saying, "Hey, I'm kinda photogenic. Why shouldn't I just make a tape of myself and put it on the Internet for all of my reader to enjoy?"

Don't. Just don't.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

On why the Middle East needs a daddy

Okay, so I just got finished geeking out and saying that the Iraq needs a bunch of gravity-defying, vinyl-clad movie characters, and now I’m saying that the Middle East needs a daddy. What shall I think of next?

[Note: The following post relies heavily on stereotypical and gender-normative views of parenthood for the purpose of allegory. The author in no way intends to impose this view of parenthood on the world at large, nor does she claim this view as indicative of her own upbringing. In fact, the author's own family life involved a lot more respect and a lot less fear, and she'd hate to think that either parent might read it and think otherwise. I love you, Mommy and Daddy.]

Actually, to be completely accurate, I’m going to spout the uber-conservative family-values line that the Middle East needs a mommy and a daddy, at least in the hideously heteronormative traditional sense. It seems kind of irreverent to reduce the recent conflict in the Middle East to backyard-squabble terms, since the consequences are so grave. But our basest human behavior is usually quick to take us back to times when our needs were a little simpler and closer to the surface, and the fact is, both Hezbollah and Israel are acting like children.

Which is not to say that their motivations are immature. They aren’t; they’re just based more on id than on superego. Right now, in Lebanon and in Israel, people are worrying about their very survival. And people worried about their survival are rarely very likely to try and take the high road. Does Israel have the right to defend itself against aggression from Hezbollah? Sure. Has Hezbollah acted unconscionably? Absolutely. Has either side taken the best approach, the one most conducive to future peace in the region? Arguably no.

And that’s why they need supervision.


Daddy is, traditionally, the enforcer. He’s generally the tallest and hairiest of the two parents, and thus when the kids are fighting, he’s the one to step in and break it up. (This is not to say that Mommy doesn’t have a pretty impressive grip when she gets you by the upper arm, but such interventions are traditionally a Daddy job.) He gets what he wants by commanding respect. Lacking respect, he commands fear, and that usually works too. When a situation calls for conflict resolution, he's abble to intervene by virtue of being bigger and meaner than any of the other parties involved.

Daddy is also the guy in charge of the ass-whuppings. When it comes down to superior size and strength, Daddy cuts the more imposing figure. Frequently, the mere sight of Daddy taking off his belt in preparation for an ass-whupping is sufficient to curtail all ass-whuppable behavior.

Now, in the Harmless household, Daddy and Mommy both had some say in the punishment. When one of us kids misbehaved, we got the sit-down from both parents, who would hear both sides of the story and then retire to their room to decide on a punishment. It's generally accepted that if Daddy were in charge of the discipline, Big Brother and I would both still be grounded. Or several inches shorter apiece.

But we're free, and we're tall, and that's because of...


Mommy doesn't mean cream puff, but she's generally (traditionally) the kinder, gentler of the two. If Daddy makes you behave, Mommy makes you want to behave. Mommy nurtures. She bandages skinned knees. If you get into a fight at the park, Daddy whups your ass and Mommy gives your cupcakes to the kid you were fighting with. Then, when you get home, she whups your ass again, and then gives you cupcakes of your own. She's a bit erratic like that, but her heart's in the right place, and the most important thing is the feeling of warmth and safety that you get when you're around her, the knowledge that you're not going to starve and you're not going to die of exsanguination from the knee because Mommy is there.

Between them, Mommy and Daddy take care of basic needs like food and shelter and health, and they take care of more abstract needs like nurturance, discipline, and a sense of safety. And more than anything, that's what people in Israel and Lebanon need right now.

The Kids

First of all, Hezbollah has never been a good kid. It doesn't even get black sheep status; Hezbollah is rotten, and his parents have never been able to figure out how he turned out so badly when so many of the other kids at least try to be good. Hezbollah is the kid who tied fireworks to the cat at age 8, started drinking at 12 and probably was the one who knocked up the neighbor's daughter, although she refuses to say. Hezbollah is a weird kid, too; sometimes he's nice to his sister Lebanon, but more often than not, he just gets her in trouble. And yet, she keeps standing up for him. But that's another story.

Poor Israel was adopted, and Hezbollah has been picking on him ever since. They've had a few squabbles, particularly after Hezbollah had to start sharing a room with him. Beyond just resenting his presence, Hezbollah resents Israel's very existence and has made no secret of his intent to eliminate him entirely. Israel has, on occasion, snapped at Hezbollah more vigorously than was absolutely necessary, but it's hard to blame him when that bastard kid has been picking on him constantly, pinching and hitting and just asking for it.

And now Hezbollah has kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. And Israel declared that that was absolutely freaking it, it was the final straw, and Hezbollah was going to get what was coming to him. Israel had just been waiting for a reason to go off, and he gave it to Hezbollah with everything he had, bombing the ever-living crap out of him, taking out infrastructure right and left, airports, power stations, broadcast capabilities, roads, everything, because Hezbollah freaking had it coming. And he did. Hezbollah had it coming.

But Hezbollah isn't the only one getting hurt.

Lebanon is getting it, too. When the power goes out, Lebanon is stuck without light, without electricity, without water, in the stifling desert heat. When a road gets bombed, Lebanon is trapped in a war zone - or blown up. Whatever damage is being done to Hezbollah, Lebanon is getting it just as badly - or maybe worse, because Hezbollah, at least, knows how to defend himself. And while it can be argued that Lebanon puts herself in that situation through her continued loyalty to Hezbollah, it can also be said that she doesn't generally mess with Israel, that she's been trying to be good, that she even broke up with Syria just a few months ago, and that she doesn't deserve what she's getting.

Who's going to resolve this?


And thus we come to the problem the world faces: Who's going to step up and be Daddy? Mommy is already pretty much taken care of; the UN makes a pretty good mommy. The UN knows how to round up aid, set up refugee camps, establish hospitals to help the victims of war. The UN is also pretty good at setting rules. But when it comes down to enforcing the rules, actually laying down the law, the UN is pretty ineffective without Daddy standing by to keep everyone in line. But still, we're left with the question: Who's going to be Daddy?

The obvious choice is the US. The US has the "big and scary" thing down pat; he's got nukes, and he knows how to use them, and he has used them when absolutely necessary. And even in terms of conventional warfare, the US can lay a pretty effective smackdown.


The US, I hate to say, has been a kind of crappy daddy lately. His enforcement of the rules has been spotty; Iraq got an ass-whupping without even having WMD, while North Korea actually fired off missiles and got nothing more than a talking-to. And the US's ass-whupping resources are stretching mighty thin, with ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More importantly, though, the US just isn't ready for fatherhood. George W. Bush himself has some maturing to do; he still thinks that he can manage foreign policy from the cowboy perspective. He still thinks in dichotomies of good guys and bad guys, always-right and always-wrong, unconditional support and unconditional condemnation, and that just doesn't apply in a world where the good guys sometimes do wrong things. Bush wants to be a friend, and certainly Israel needs a friend, but what the world needs is a daddy.

Israel has shown some maturity and self-control in choosing not to expand military operations in south Lebanon, although they haven't withdrawn and they haven't stopped bombing. Hezbollah has shown no restraint at all, in spite of the fact that Lebanon is taking the worst punishment for Hezbollah's actions. They need a neutral party, a voice of reason, who's able to enforce a cease fire - on both sides - and, yes, even negotiate with despicable characters previously declared un-negotiatable. Daddy needs to be someone who doesn't want to see this conflict escalate, who does want to see both sides satisfied within limits set by the basic boundaries of humanity, and most importantly, who truly believes that peace is possible without either party being completely erased from the map.

God help me, I really, really want to see signs that George W. Bush can become that Daddy.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On The Matrix in the Middle East

Okay, so right now, there are somewhere around 127,000 American troops stationed in Iraq. For those of you in search of a metaphor, that's about the population of Bern, Switzerland. Today, the Iraqi Prime Minister pushed for more money and more troops, comparing the attacks of September 11 with the violence in his own country. He also said that "the battle of Iraq will decide the fate of this war," although he didn't specify which particular war he was talking about, and I suspect he was speaking metaphorically.

And that's one of the problems that we continue to deal with as the Iraq war cruises through its third year; we really don't know what the war is anymore. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't think it's the War on Terror, not really. It's not the war against Saddam Hussein; he's in jail, on trial, and looking hungry. It's not the war on WMD, certainly, or else North Korea would have gotten the Baghdad treatment a week ago. So what war is it that we're so desperate to fight?

It's Not Our War.

I know that sounds kind of crazy, considering that I just wrote a week ago about how every conflict affects us, and how important it is that we keep an eye on, and maybe a hand in, world affairs. I wrote that honor killings in Turkey, clitoridectomies in Afghanistan, and suicide bombings in Iraq make us less safe here, not by putting us at risk for attacks but by creating a world culture of violence and vengeance that makes everyone unsafe. I wrote about how necessary a true global consciousness is for hopes of future peace - or at least detente - in the Middle East. And I still feel that way.

But it's not out war. Not in Iraq. Right now, throwing more money and more troops at the problems in Iraq seems like a simplistic answer to a complex problem, because we're not facing the same enemy we were facing at the beginning of the war. We're not deposing a dictator and fighting his army; we're facing factions that are fighting each other out of deep-seated, longstanding hatred, and don't care how many innocent people - Iraqi or American - get caught in the crossfire. Many of them resent the our presence (many of them are grateful for and resent our presence, both at the same time), but the sight of an American military uniform is often just an irritant to a Sunni militant with a Shiite in the crosshairs.

Iraq has gotten to the stage where it has to be able to fight its own battles. Not because we're tired of being there, tired of American deaths one day and more insurgent attacks the next, but because the next step is the one where Iraq can fight its own battles. A continued American presence can only delay the inevitable; either the people of Iraq - innocents and militants - learn to accept democratic self-rule, or they don't. American troops can capture insurgents, kidnappers, bombers and gunmen after the fact, but the job of actually preventing such atrocities can only be performed by Iraqis themselves.

They need Keanu Reeves.

Ah, yes, my geek flag flies high as I work my first-ever Matrix reference into a political post. But it fits, really, if you think about it, so toss back a drink and suspend disbelief for just a moment.

Right now, people in Iraq want peace. Not all the people, obviously; a great many of the people want the complete elimination of everyone not like them. But a great many people want to be able to go to the grocery store in the morning without fear of suicide bombers, would greatly appreciate electricity for more than four hours a day, think that being able to go to school or worship or dinner would be an excellent thing.

Unfortunately, all of those people are prime candidates to stop wanting peace with a quickness. In an environment like that, a twelve-year-old boy turns into a vengeance-fuled insurgent with the push of a button, if that button is attached to a suicide belt that takes out his entire family. Before, the boy may have been completely innocent of any kind of ill will or violent wishes, but after, he's the next threat to the safety of the people around him.

He's just wandering around in the Matrix, minding his own business, not threatening anyone, when suddenly, bzzt, his face stretches sideways and he's Agent Smith.

There's no real reliable way to predict the next Agent Smith. Sometimes you can judge by proximity, location, access to weapons and to others with violent agendas. But sometimes, it's the woman in the square who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. An army can't stop an Agent Smith from popping up; the only way to do that would be to kill everyone, which would defeat the purpose of our presence. The only way to bring lasting peace is to, if you'll pardon my geekness, free Zion.

We need Neo.

Neo isn't one of the troops. He's just some Iraqi guy who can see things a little bit differently, and who can put aside the conventional wisdom on the current situation and reject the notion that things like peace between religious sects is impossible. It's a lofty dream, I know, and probably unrealistic, and probably naive. But it's what has to happen, because if we keep doing what we're doing, we're gonna keep getting what we're getting. Neo doesn't have to be superhuman; he just has to be willing to reject the false assumptions, stereotypes, and inaccurate views of Middle Eastern politics that have gotten us into this situation, and find another way of doing things. And more importantly, he has to be able to convince those around him to reject their own notions of inevitable sectarian violence, so that they can take their country back from those determined to convert-or-kill.

What is America's role in all of this? We know we have one. We know we have a vested interest in a healthy, functioning democracy in the Middle East. But we're not the ones who'll do it; we're the ones who have to find the one who can. We're Morpheus.

Laurence Fishburne. Hells yeah.

America is marching around in its black leather jackets and little-bitty sunglasses, and the only productive thing it can do right now is to find that one person who, with some coaxing, can put aside those preconceptions and rally his fellow Iraqis to make peace in their own country. America will fight alongside, certainly, and do everything it can to support the Iraqis' efforts. But America isn't driving this anymore. This one is going to be won by the Iraqis.

And they're going to win it when they can be convinced to fight it for themselves.

And thus is the geek flag lowered, doused in Canned Heat, and set respectfully aflame, never to be raised again. Seriously.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

On snowflake babies: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so I almost didn't do a Friday Not-Even-Random Ten this week, because I usually do something (reasonably) funny (in my opinion, at least), and it's hard to joke around when Israel and Lebanon are blowing each other up and southeast Asia has gotten hit by another tsunami. Funny stuff, right? Honestly, I just hadn't seen that much in the news to laugh about.

And then I saw this.

Well, okay, that's not terribly funny in and of itself. Basically, Bush is so desperate to pander to his hyperconservative fundie base that he's willing to sacrifice the nearly limitless potential for healing that stem cell research offers in favor of protecting a bunch of barely-differentiated clumps of cells. That's right, Mr. Suffering-From-Alzheimers (and you, too, Mrs. Helplessly-Watching-Her-Husband-Suffer-From-Alzheimers); you're just not quite as important to our president as a frozen blastocyst that the parents are just going to discard anyway.

This, however, is hella funny.

That's why this Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random Ten goes out to the snowflake babies. The 400,000 frozen blastocysts out there (joined by 25,000 new ones every year) that are, ostensibly, going to be adopted by needy couples. Each and every one of them. Congratulations, kids; you're frozen, in a big freezer in an embryology lab, and you don't actually have a brain yet - or, for that matter, more than eight cells - and you can't be seen without a microscope. But President Bush has given you a second chance.

Wish my grandfather were so lucky.

The Ten:

1. Dean Martin, "Baby, It's Cold Outside"
2. Ben Folds Five, "Selfless, Cold and Composed"
3. Crystal Method, "Keep Hope Alive"
4. 311, "Freeze Time"
5. Norah Jones, "Cold Cold Heart"
6. Coldplay, "The Scientist"
7. Madonna, "Frozen"
8. Dinah Washington, "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby"
9. Athenaeum, "Frozen in Time"
10. Tchaikovsky, "Waltz of the Snowflakes"

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On unneccessary reminders

Okay, so another movie director is trying to capture the emotion of the September 11 attacks on celluloid, this time Oliver Stone with his World Trade Center drama aptly titled World Trade Center. The movie stars Nicholas Cage as a New York Port Authority police officer who was trapped with another officer under the rubble of the World Trade Center. As with United 93, family members of the deceased (and of the two officers featured, who are real people and who did survive) were consulted at length and gave their blessing.

Also as with United 93, people are starting to suggest that World Trade Center is just what the country needs, that it should be required viewing to remind all of us ungrateful Americans of “what we’re fighting for.” I don’t think either movie would do the job, and I don’t think either should be asked to.

As midterm elections start heating up, and as high-minded politicians start looking ahead to the presidential elections in 2008, the debate is rising again over the actual imagery of the September 11 attacks. Bush’s campaign in 2004 was practically set against a backdrop of the crumbling towers. The meme then, and God forbid it should return, was, “Look! It’s the death and desolation of the people you love! Vote for me, or it’ll happen again!” And it’s been generally accepted that using the deaths of thousands of much beloved family members for political purposes was a bad thing.

Why, then, should using them for entertainment purposes be any better? Even if – especially if – it’s “entertainment with a message”? Much to the open-mouthed disbelief of the stubbornest righties, I haven’t forgotten 9/11. I remember where I was when the first and second planes hit. I also remember where I was for the next three days – on my couch, glued to the television, looking for some explanation and/or some sign of humanity in the chaos.

You know what I saw? I saw people running from the rubble, covered in dust, as the coworker who was right behind them on the stairs never appeared. I saw children and husbands and wives straining at police barriers and poring over walls of pictures, hoping desperately – and, often, fruitlessly – that their missing loved one had just been misplaced for a while. I saw crews of twenty firefighters go into the rubble, and come out only fifteen.

I saw people jumping from windows. I saw people jumping from fucking windows, holding hands and jumping or, God help us, jumping all by themselves, because of the despair, the knowledge that they weren’t going to be saved, and the hope that a hundred-story fall would be a kinder death than the fire.

I don’t want to be reminded of what I was feeling that day. Those aren’t the kind of feelings that just go away anyway. And what I really don’t want is for some filmmaker, or some politician, or some blogger sitting at home on his couch, to say, “Remember those feelings? Let them make you angry. Let them make you hate. Let them make you scared enough that you don’t care what’s going on in the rest of the world, as long as your government is keeping you safe.”

But there’s another reason I don’t think WTC works as a “reminder of what we’re fighting for,” and that’s that I don’t think that “preventing another 9/11” is what we’re fighting for. I think that what we’re really fighting for, or, at least, what we should be fighting for, is several degrees removed from the events of 9/11. If people were objecting to our actions in Afghanistan, then yeah, I think that a sharp, emotional rap upside the head might be useful. But if our current activities elsewhere in the Middle East have the goal of preventing another 9/11, we’re way off track.

The way I see it, and correct me if I’m wrong here, we’re working toward something more far-reaching and globally significant than just preventing more terrorist attacks. Not that 9/11 wasn’t significant to a lot of people, and not that it didn’t count for anything, but our actions now take on more of a “grand scheme of things” significance. We’re not trying to stop more people from blowing up our stuff; from what I can tell, we’re trying to create an environment where terrorism can’t grown, where the seeds of terrorism (if you’ll pardon my flowery metaphor) never get planted, because people who could be terrorists have other outlets. The reason we’re trying to rebuild the region, establish democratic government, and discourage sectarian action, rather than just paving the whole place over, is that we see the potential for responsible global citizenship in the Middle East. And that is ultimately what’s going to keep us safe, not the fact that all of the terrorists are dead.

We’re not trying to prevent “another 9/11.” We’re trying to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up day laborers in Kufa. We’re trying to prevent insurgents from gunning down mothers and children in Baghdad. We’re trying to prevent Hezbollah from attacking Israel just for existing, and prevent Lebanese villagers from getting blown up for something Hezbollah did. And, though the connection not be immediately apparent, we’re trying to prevent honor killings in Turkey and the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, because our goal isn’t some myopic hope that our buildings will still be standing tomorrow afternoon. Our goal is to create a world where no one has to be scared to walk to the market in the morning because someone might shoot them or kidnap them or drop a fucking bomb on them, and while Americans think we know what that fear is like, we don’t, even a little bit. Any lesson that we could learn from World Trade Center would be a shallow one that misses the point and only stands in the shadow of the real lesson, which is that the only safe world to live in is one where people agree to not kill each other, even if they don’t agree to like each other.

Now, whether or not we’re going about it the right way has been and is being debated. Right now, the hottest debate is over Israel and Lebanon, about the balance between Israel’s right to defend itself and the danger to Lebanese citizens. In the end, the goal is the same: a world where people don’t have to be afraid, either of their fellow citizens or of their own government or of some guy who hates you and doesn’t even know you. But that goal is one that’s being largely ignored, because it doesn’t have a convenient and emotionally charged mascot like the World Trade Center.

If we really want to remind people what we’re fighting for, we don’t need to get them scared. We need to get them educated and informed. And then we need to hope they give a rat’s ass about something that’s happening thousands of miles away, and more importantly, about the people it’s happening to. Because the real threat isn’t from what’s happening at home. Maybe someone needs to make a movie about that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On the real cost of war

Okay, so Doug's written a really thoughtful and thought-provoking post on the current conflict in Israel and Lebanon. He makes a lot of good points about the potential repercussions, for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the possibility of peace in the Middle East, and I really can't think of anything to add.

Except for this: Go here. And then go here. Or go to the second one first and the first one second. And then before you start throwing down your comments about how the [insert racial slur here]s just need to go find their virgins, or about Israel has been waiting for an excuse to start something, remember who is really being hurt in this conflict. It's not the Israeli government, which has countless allies in this situation. And it's not Hezbollah, which manages to take every bomb and every death and turn it into a rallying cry for still more bombs and death. The people being hurt are folks very much like your mother. Or your sister. And they don't want war or death any more than your mother wants war or death.

Or maybe that's not safe to say. Judging from some of the comments I've read, there are a lot of people out there who are all about war and death. For all I know, they are mothers. Thank God they aren't mine.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

On what the devil really wears

Okay, so I'm sure that the percentage of Practically Harmless readers who have seen or are likely to see The Devil Wears Prada is somewhere around, well, me. However, I did see it, and while I did, for the record, enjoy the heck out of it (Meryl Streep rawks as passive-aggressive editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly, and while I know she's supposed to be the titular devil, I want to be her), I had some issues with it. And now you're gonna hear about them.

Anyone planning to see the movie - consider this the slightest bit spoliery.

The biggest thing, and realize that this comes from someone who was employed in a similar position up until quite recently, is that the writers really used the fashion industry as shorthand for "shallow and valueless pursuits." Instead of actually trying to show, through what she did and said and how she acted, how main character Andy turned into something distasteful because of the job she had, they just got lazy and said, "It's the fashion industry! Everyone knows it's shallow and vapid, because it's the fashion industry! Andy's gonna get all shallow and vapid, because she works in the fashion industry!" She started dressing better. She stopped slacking off at her job. She started seeing her coworkers as human beings. But it's the fashion industry, which means she's becoming - all together, now - shallow and vapid.

It's just lazy, says I.

Now, this might just be the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but as a former Much-Abused Assistant, I can really identify with the character of Andy Sachs. I, too, was a young woman, reasonably fresh out of college, completely unconcerned with fashion but facing down the barrel of a resume-building entry-level job that would pretty much let me write my own ticket in the future. I started out with a lot of disdain for the industry, and a lot of that, I still have (there's a lot of superficiality going on, and a lot of politics), but I also gained a lot of respect and understanding.

For instance, I learned that a significant chunk of the economy is supported by retail, design, and production, and it really does range across all income levels, from the Mercedes-driving, Manhattan-loft-dwelling trust-fund baby who sits on her ass and pretends to design hideous chiffon sundresses so that Daddy thinks she's doing something productive all the way down to the college student supplementing her scholarship money folding sweaters at Old Navy. Moreover, as far as a fashion publication is concerned, there are a whole bunch of people involved who couldn't care less whether they're producing a fashion magazine or Philatelists Monthly, as long as the magazine is getting out on time and their name is spelled right on the paycheck.

Yes, Andy's job was hard. It was demanding. It sucked that she had to miss her boyfriend's birthday party, and it sucked that she was forced to attend the gala on such short notice. But she was working a high-prestige, dues-paying job, and them's the breaks. It's the kind of decision that a person has to make for herself. What do I value more: personal time, relationships, sleep, health, job satisfaction, and a sense of fulfillment, or a job that looks good on the resume and will most likely to lead to better jobs in the future? When you get to the point where the former starts to outweigh the latter, that's when you quit your job and find something more livable.

What bugged Andy's friends wasn't the fact that she was devoting so much of herself and her time to her job; it was that they didn't think that her job was good enough, had enough value. If she'd had to miss her boyfriend's party to work late for her job as a PR flack for the CDC, he probably wouldn't have had nearly the same reaction - even if she'd only been schlepping crudites at her boss's cocktail party. But she was working late for her fashion industry job, so it was perfectly acceptable to accuse her of losing track of her values and sense of self. When her boyfriend accused her of losing her values, it was only because initially, they'd both had equal disdain for the industry, but now she was being open-minded and starting to learn that her colleagues (most of them, anyway) were actually human beings as worthy of respect as anyone else, and he was still disdainful.

From the beginning, Andy said that job was going to be both high-stress and high-reward. She said that if she could tough it out for one year, the rest of her career would be smooth sailing. Her friends could have accepted that and gotten off her back a little, respecting that she was doing what she'd decided was necessary for her future success. Instead, they accepted her expensive designer gifts, played keep-away with her phone while her boss was trying to call, and laid a world-class guilt trip on her for not devoting more time to them when she was obviously stressed paper-thin as it was.

Miranda, bless her heart, was at least consistent in her ridiculous and impossible demands, and the brass ring was very much in evidence. Her friends, on the other hand, demanded her time and attention, accepted her best efforts and pricey gifts, and offered nothing in return in terms of compassion or understanding. I'm not going to pretend that Miranda wasn't beastly (been there, done that, got the ulcer and a really great pair of chandelier earrings), but from where I was sitting, it looked like the devil was wearing Converse.

On Km Jonquil: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so some of the biggest news in the past week has been North Korea's test firing (or, more likely, "startin' something" firing) of several threatening-type missiles. An act of aggression for which they will be severely diplomacized.

That's why this Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random Ten goes out to Kim Jong Il, The Boy King, The Littlest Dictator, Senor Pompadour himself. History shows what happens to uppity little-bitty guys with Napoleonic complexes. Like, say, Napoleon.

The Ten:

1. Basement Jaxx, "Red Alert"
2. Guster, "Rocket Ship"
3. Diana Krall, "Lost Mind"
4. Norah Jones, "Shoot the Moon"
5. Avril Lavigne, "Losing Grip"
6. Lenny Kravitz, "A Million Miles Away"
7. Korn, "Falling Away From Me"
8. Jump, Little Children, "Too High"
9. Ohio Players, "Fire"
10. Frank Sinatra, "Fly Me to the Moon"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On things that are new

Okay, so it seems that I've been giving so many of those "Where the hell have you been?" updates that I might as well make it a weekly feature ("Wednesday Weekly Wherethehellyoubeen?" perhaps). Hopefully, though, this'll be the last one for a while - not because I'm going anywhere, but because I've finally gotten (God willing) to the kind of settled place where I might actually be able to get to the computer on a more-than-biweekly basis.

Anyone who's done any freelancing knows exactly how much actual work-work it takes to pay the bills (and most of the rest of the time is spent doing something known as "fervent sobbing prayer"). That's why I jumped at the chance to take on a new day job, one that would actually pay me a living wage (unlike my last one) and give me actual time off on weekends and holidays (unlike my last one) and not make me physically ill with stress and overwork (seen The Devil Wears Prada?"). I've been holding off on an official announcement until I'd actually been to work and seen that it could be a sustainable, perhaps even permanent, kind of thing. But I have, and it could be, and here I am: the newest resident of Birmigham, Alabama.

Yeeeeah. I'm not really sure myself how it really happened; it was all kind of a blur. But I know there was a job opening for an advertising and marketing copywriter in Doug's building, just upstairs, and I know that they paid real money, and I know that I was completely underqualified, and I know that they said, "Meh" and hired me anyway. So my last big life change has been followed by another one, which currently involves me crashing on Doug's couch while I look for an apartment and will soon involve some seriously nice benefits and, I hope, a non-slum apartment.

So that's where I am now, and I'm assured that I'll have plenty of time to "pursue other writing projects in the evenings" (which I think is UAB's way of reminding me that we don't blog on university time). And this is certainly something I intend to keep writing. And now I'll have time to actually do it, albeit not during the work day.

But more importantly, I will no longer be my boss's handmaiden and/or her daughter's math tutor. And I think we can all agree that that's a very good thing.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

On the not-so-secretivest of secrets

Okay, so a Google search for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication turns up, as the very first hit, a Web site devoted entirely to SWIFT, produced by none other than SWIFT themselves.

Why does SWIFT hate America?

One has to wonder why the Belgium-based company would be so blatant and overt about their activities tracking terrorist financial activities. Bush's passionate condemnation of the New York and Los Angeles papers for publishing articles about the program certainly seems to indicate that it's super-duper-extra secret, that the papers in question have given aid and comfort to the terrorists by letting them know that the US government is tracking their financial transactions. And yet SWIFT is so bold as to discuss that very same classified program on its Web site.

And in the hateful language of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, no less.

But it gets worse, people. This is from our very own president, on September 24, 2001:
"We're putting banks and financial institutions around the world on notice -- we will work with their governments, ask them to freeze or block terrorists' ability to access funds in foreign accounts."

Why does President Bush hate America?

What's even more, that same DefenseLINK article has a sidebar of 27 "individuals and organizations identified in President Bush's Sept. 24 executive order as terrorists, sympathizers or supporters whose financial holdings in the United States are subject to an immediate freeze." Way to protect our men and women in uniform, DefenseLINK.

So now, for those keeping score: Leaks that of classified information to the benefit of the government, to make them look good and tough and butch and stick it to their critics? Awesome. Leaks that the administration doesn't personally orchestrate themselves? Aiding and abetting terrorists.

Hope y'all are taking notes. It gets complicated.

On world logic

Okay, so in light of North Korea's recent missile launches, President Bush has decided to take a tough line. Further acts of aggression will lead to a firm, multi-national come-to-Jesus:

"As you know, we want to solve all problems diplomatically. That's our first choice," he said.

So now, for those keeping score: Amass stockpiles of plutonium and fire multiple missiles toward and around enemy countries, get a good talking-to. Don't have weapons, don't sponsor terrorism, and be next door to a country that's actually successfully attacked the US, and your shit will get blown up.

Incidentally, don't miss the second half of the article, where the the leader of North Korea is identified as "Km Jonquil." Always remember: If you're going to write your stories by hand, make sure your editor can read your handwriting. Vldmr Pooting will thank you.