Monday, November 26, 2007

On a proper holiday, and a Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random Ten

It's all good.

Okay, so more than a couple of you have noticed that I've been way, way off my game these past few weeks (or, okay, month). There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that things are getting shuffled around at work and I actually have some to do, which is unusual for this time of year, and it's new and different work that actually requires a little bit of concerted attention. Another of the things is the fact that politics make up a significant part of my blogging volume, and I'm just not all that interested in politics right now; none of the potential presidential candidates from either party really excite me, and a body can only blog so much about the administration's criminal incompetence, Congress's inefficiency and ineffectiveness, and the gradual but inescapable erosion of our constitutional rights before that body notices that things aren't getting better and blogging, shockingly enough, isn't making a difference. Yet another of the things is a series of personal stuff -- not bad stuff; even, arguably, good stuff, but the kind of stuff that takes up a bit of time and attention -- that has demanded my time and attention. And I won't pretend that burnout isn't also a factor; I've been doing this thing for three and a half uninterrupted years, and while I try to keep it fairly fresh and new and interesting, the well is starting to run just the slightest bit dry, in case you hadn't noticed.

In light of all of that, Practically Harmless is going to take a bit of a vacation for the month of December. We're going to kick back, relax, take care of some stuff, take some time to really savor the holiday, and start collecting ideas for blogging in the coming year. There'll be plenty of activities to fill the down time; I've got a big trip planned for the middle of the month, Christmas presents to buy, some knitting to do, and believe it or not, a manuscript that has lain completely neglected for all of three months now. It's all fun and some of it's kind of exciting, and when I return January 1 -- and trust me that I will return January 1 -- it'll be refreshed, renewed, and ready to actually be interesting and post with some regularity.

Obviously, one of the things I've neglected in my negligence is TGTBATFRT for a full two weeks now. But what better time to really consider the good and the bad of it (mostly the good) than Thanksgiving, a time when, as the name indicates, we give thanks? So I'll make up for my prior failings with a big, fat Super Good, Bad, and Friday Random Ten: Now Thank We All Edition.

What's good (for the two-week period ending 11/23):

- My family. Yeah, blah, blah, blah, I'm grateful for my family, but I seriously am. My mom is one of the most genuinely generous, selfless, thoughtful people I've ever met, but she's also one of the coolest; I've never met such a truly nice person with such a... well-rounded sense of humor. My dad can do anything, from healing the sick and teaching residents to woodwork to pancakes to talking a distraught daughter off of a ledge with more insight and understanding than is expected from most men. My brother is a great listener, a source of great advice, the funniest person I've ever met, and not an un-snappy dresser, and he'd chew off his own arm if he heard that you needed one. And we actually enjoy spending time together; going home is never a Tim Allen Holiday Blockbuster chore, because there isn't the nagging or the browbeating or the getting on each other's nerves, because we actually like each other. And, knowing how rare and special that is, I'm grateful.

- My country. Despite our government's best efforts, it's still, in my opinion, the greatest place in the world to live. I'm grateful for a society that recognizes the importance of makes continual strides in the direction of women's equality. I'm grateful for the right -- and the responsibility -- to criticize my government freely. I'm grateful for the freedom to practice my religion as I see fit, and the freedom from anyone else trying to make me practice theirs. And I'm grateful that, when those rights and freedoms and responsibilities are threatened, when someone tries to turn my country into something it's not supposed to be, there are people who'll stand up and say, "Hold on, you don't get to do that. Let's get back on track." There aren't a lot of places on the globe where you really can do that, and there certainly aren't any others that offer all of that and 30 Rock.

- Chunky women in gold lamé:

- Having a reason to go around twice:

- Turkey, gravy, chestnut dressing, sweet potato casserole, cheese grits, green beens amandine, cranberry sauce, sourdough rolls, apple pie, apple crisp, chocolate bourbon pecan pie, chocolate espresso pecan pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and Alka-Seltzer

- The Georgia Bulldogs and Coach Mark Richt

- CoverGirl VolumeExact waterproof mascara -- and friends who keep you laughing so long and so hard on such a regular basis that waterproof mascara becomes a necessity

- Saved-up vacation days

- Rainy mornings when you have time for a cup of tea before work

- December holidays and everything that goes with them: Christmas music, Christmas lights, artificial trees that shed "pine needles" all over your carpet, glittery ornaments that shed glitter all over the "pine needles" all over your carpet, crowded shopping malls, not having to buy anything at those crowded shopping malls because you did all of your shopping online, latkes, my Jewish coworker's indignant children (who might actually start a War on Christmas; they're absolutely adorable), kolacky, the Airing of the Grievances, Feats of Strength, peppermint mochas from Starbucks, spiced-apple-scented candles, carol services, awkward office Christmas parties, relatives who forget how old you are when they buy you presents, overly aggressive Salvation Army bell ringers, all of it. I love it all. I'll take it all, every last awkward or uncomfortable or annoying wonderful bit of it, because I love the season. It's the one season where people at least give lip service to trying to live the lives we're supposed to be living all year round, and if only for that, I say God bless it.

What's bad:

- Plenty, sure. But there's time enough to go into that later.

A Very Special Thanksgiving Ten:

1. Enya, "A Day Without Rain"
2. Les Nubians, "Brothers and Sisters"
3. Michael Bublé, "A Foggy Day (In London Town)"
4. Dave Brubeck, "A Fine Romance"
5. The Cranberries, "Dreams"
6. Pet Shop Boys, "A Different Point of View"
7. 311, "Livin' & Rockin'"
8. Beat Foundation, "My Freedom"
9. Dido, "My Life"
10. The Temptations, "All I Need"

How about you? What's good in your life? That, your Thanksgiving favorites, your Christmas list, your Random Ten, all of it goes in comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On the generous gift of pocket tooties

Okay, so I guess if you spend so much time up someone else's ladybusiness, you might be concerned about being crowded out by "personal massagers" and such. I've mentioned before that the Alabama state legislature has outlawed the sale of personal sexual devices except as used in the course of legislation, health care, or law enforcement (the enforcement of which law is still a mystery to me). Well, apparently, such laws are still insufficient, because it would seem that merely selling a Jack Rabbit within shouting distance of an elementary school is enough to corrupt small children for life, leading them into lives of unspecified debauchery via mechanisms that are yet to be identified.

Anyway, the whole thing is a vague travesty -- a travesty! -- and something must be done:
Alabama Attorney General Troy King might ask the Legislature to amend the state's anti-obscenity law after a Jefferson County judge ruled this month that part of the law was too vague to force closure of a Hoover store that sells sexual devices.

…[Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr.] ruled against the city of Hoover's contention that the Love Stuff store violated a state law prohibiting an "adult-only enterprise" from operating within 1,000 feet of homes, churches, schools, day care centers or other places "frequented by minors."

Vance ruled the law was too vague to enforce because it did not define "adult-only enterprise."

"While Love Stuff clearly sells a number of items that are for adults only, this Court lacks any standards to decide whether it is an `adult-only enterprise,'" wrote Vance, who spent an hour inspecting the store.

Of that hour, Vance spent 45 minutes inspecting the magazines and DVDs in the restricted section and another ten inspecting the crotches of the "sexy" Halloween costumes, now on clearance.

Onetime gubernatorial candidate Loretta Nall, she of the infamous tee-tas, is of the opinion that Troy King would be far more likely to keep his hands off of our personal massagers if he himself had a better-than-passing familiarity with the wonderful world of adult toys. Thus has she launched her campaign to help the poor guy out.
Now, I only have six words to say to AG King about his anti-dildo crusade..FROM MY COLD DEAD FINGERS TROY!!!

I think that Troy may not have any experience with devices used in sexual pleasure, so, I am starting a crusade to introduce Troy King to the fabulous world of ben-wa balls, rubber weiners and pocket tooties. I want to encourage all of my readers to purchase a sex toy of some sort and send it to Alabama Attorney General Troy King. I also think there is something fundamentally wrong with a grown, college educated, elected official who seems to obsess over what other consenting adults in his home state might be using in the privacy of their bedrooms. I mean…don't we have much more serious problems in Alabama that our Attorney General should address?

Follow the link to Loretta's site for more information about where to send those pocket tooties to improve Troy King's quality of life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On a job worth taking seriously

Okay, so if Tom Cruise and I have one thing in common, it's the fact that we both really hate the glib. (If we have three things in common, the other two are our eyebrow-sweeping bangs and the fact that we both like men.) I make it a personal priority to take myself as unseriously as possible -- there is nothing about me as a person that warrants ulcer-inducing image maintenance -- but I take my work very seriously indeed, because I recognize that a lot of other people depend on me doing my job so that they can do theirs. I show respect for others by taking seriously those things that are important to them.

That's why shit like this pisses me off:

"Gu-huck! Gu-huck! I don't know what's goin' on over there in Iraq. One of the perks of the job, I get to hire other people to know stuff for me. Stuff like what laws regulate arguably undertrained and underdisciplined military contractors we've hired to go on over an' maintain the peace using questionable methods. I don't gotta do my own laundry, either; my job is swell."

Now, I don't expect Bush to be able to name the precise statute of federal or international law that tells us precisely how Blackwater is to be supervised and regulated; that really is minutia that the commander-in-chief has every right to delegate out. But with Blackwater being such a controversial presence in the region, he needs to have some vague idea of who is responsible for keeping them in line, and he needs to respect that that is a very important question. That student didn't use her one opportunity to address the president of the United States to ask that question because the one about his favorite color was already taken; she did it because that was a significant concern to her, and out of respect for her, he should have said, at the very least, "That's a good question, and I don't know the answer to it. But I'm going to consult with my secretary of defense and find an answer for you, because it's important that you and all of the American people understand the methods we're using." Because it's important, and his not knowing is not funny.

Bush is a big fan of laughing at his own ignorance.

"Gu-huck! I don't know nothin' about the economy! I got people to know stuff about that, too. I just keep your taxes low and let some economyologist clean up the mess."

This is the man who told the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia that we are "kicking ass" in Iraq. The man who says that, when he was running for the highest office in the country, he "never really thought about the decision to put men and women in harm's way. I never thought that that would happen." The man who has so much respect for his Secretary of State that he's said, "She's the Ph.D. and I'm the C student, and just look at who's the president and who's the adviser."

"Gu-huck! Maybe you got a Ph.D. and all that, Condi, but you still ain't the president! Ain't it just a hoot that we got a moron in charge of our whole entire country?"

I know I'm not the first to observe that, while Bush does a middling-to-respectable job at scripted events that don't include the word "nuclear," he's absolute crap when let off the leash. Well, here's a tidbit for our president that might improve his skills at extemporaneous speaking: You are the only person amused by your own idiocy. You find it hilarious, and the rest of us are appalled. The rest of us are standing slack-jawed at the flippant yokel who don't know nothin' bout no military contractors/economy/war casualties and don't particularly care none.

Your job isn't just important, Mr. President, it's the most important. You are the leader of the most powerful country in the world and the commander-in-chief of a military at war. Even if you don't particularly care about any of that, we do, and out of respect for us, you need to at least pretend it bothers you that you suck noisily at every aspect of your job. Appear to take it as seriously as we do. Pretend. If you have to stand in front of a mirror for hours upon hours until you've mastered the art of simulated gravitas, then do it, because it's hard enough just knowing you're ignorant and apathetic without having to see reminders of it daily on CNN.

Friday, November 09, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Idiot kings are only funny when they're fictional

Okay, so after the Florida victory, I said (publicly, if not online) that if we only won one game for the rest of the season, and that game was against Georgia Tech, I'd be a happy camper.

Of course, that wasn't taking into consideration the Through the Looking Glass Season of 1999, in which, despite the Bulldogs' spotty performances and ongoing tendency to play down to the level of our opponents, Georgia could still take the SEC East if we win out the rest of the season and Tennessee gets a loss. It's funny how having nothing to lose can change your outlook on things; I find myself having to swallow my breezy acceptance of a Georgia loss against Auburn this weekend and lining up all of my football superstitions in preparation for a fight. This weekend, I'm going to be in Athens with Doug, watching the game from Tent City, with Jenna, who will be wearing her Georgia sweater, and I'll be wearing my black Georgia t-shirt, which I'd be wearing anyway, because of the superstition, but it works because Geogia is planning to black out the stadium, but I'd be wearing it anyway because of the superstition, and good golly, being a football fan is more exhausting than one might think. I love it, I'm always glad to see football season roll around, but this might be the first year that I'm also glad to see the end of the season.

Too much pressure. Gah.

The good (for the week ending 11/9):
- the Blackberry 8100
- Local coffee shops that know you by sight and start pouring your skim latte before you even get to the counter
- Locomotive breakdancing:

- Monty Python and the Holy Grail screened a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- working together to actually accomplish something (Nice work, guys! Now let's see what you can do about stem cell research, reproductive rights, and ENDA)

The bad:
- wife-slapping as a socially redeeming quality (warning: logic-free logic may cause nausea and dizziness)
- suspending constitutional rule in the face of national security threats

The Ten:
1. U2, "Numb"
2. Sarah Brightman, "Nella Fantasia"
3. Johnny Cash, "Highwayman" (with Willie Nelson)
4. Tim McGraw, "It's Your Love" (with Faith Hill)
5. The Temptations, "The Way You Do the Things You Do"
6. Diane Schuur, "Easy to Love"
7. Portishead, "It Could Be Sweet"
8. Siouxsie and the Banshees, "Peek-A-Boo"
9. Jump, Little Children, "All Those Days Are Gone"
10. Diane Schurr, "I Can't Believe You're In Love With Me"

How about you? What's good for you this week?

Friday, November 02, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Post-Halloween Friday Not-Even-Random Ten

Oh, I can't stay mad atcha.

Okay, so Halloween is my second favorite holiday of the year (absolute favorite? Christmas. Third favorite? Thanksgiving. Fall and winter are awesome for me; spring and summer are a charmless wasteland, holiday-wise). My friend Amanda said that it's great because it's a chance to be someone completely different from yourself, just for one night, and get away with it. I pointed out that for some, it was probably a chance to be exactly who they really were, but pretended not to be 364 days out of the year, and get away with it. Some comedian whose name escapes me pointed out that it's the only day of the year you can walk down the street drenched in blood and no one bats an eye. However you look at it, it's a good day all around.

What's good (for the week ending 11/2):
- leftover Halloween candy
- Manic Panic haircolor in Wildfire
- that cute guy in the nerd glasses and bowtie outside Dave's Wednesday night
- a hot dog from the questionable hot dog vendor when you've had a little too much to drink
- Georgia 42, Florida 30

What's bad:
- leftover Halloween candy
- "moist." Who's with me?

And a very special Halloween Ten:

1. Dirty Vegas, "Ghosts"
2. The Cranberries, "Zombie"
3. Ella Fitzgerald, "Angel Eyes"
4. Addict, "Monster Side"
5. Rob Zombie, "Dragula"
6. Guster, "Demons"
7. Elvis, "(You're the) Devil in Disguise"
8. Dan Bern, "Tiger Woods"
9. Pet Shop Boys, "Vampires"
10. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"

What was good for you this week? That, and your Ten, and your Halloween tales of debauchery and smashed pumpkins, go below.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On a personal note

Okay, so a big shout goes out to our own commenter Zen Bubba, who, having been issued his dorsal fin and rows of pointy teeth, is now licensed to practice law in the state of Tennessee. Congratulations, Z.B.; if any of your coworkers look like James Spader, be sure to give me a call.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On eliminating back-monkeys in three easy steps

Step one, cut a hole in the box.

Okay, so I'm buzzing, and I have been since about thirty seconds after kickoff Saturday, and I'm hoarse, and it's awesome. I'm not going to pretend to have Zen Bubba's powers of football prediction, but sometimes I get inexplicable feelings (see last year's Auburn game), and something just told me that Doug was going to be streaking Highland Avenue again this week. Even with that feeling, though, I was waiting for one of the classic give-it-up-early-and-then-just-manage-to-pull-it-out last-minute field-goal Forrest-Gump victories that have been irritating my ulcer for the past two seasons.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait for long.

Coach Mark Richt (the undisputed hottest coach in Division IA) knew what he was doing coaching this game. I attribute it to his being the father of four small children. Because we weren't up against a college football team this week; we were up against the boogeyman of 2-and-15, a boogeyman that had psyched us out numerous times in past games. And if anyone knows how to conquer a boogeyman, it's a daddy.

The first thing to do, of course, is to make that boogeyman funny instead of scary. For the Bulldogs, that meant taking this Most Sacred and Hallowed Football Tradition off its pedestal and playing honest-to-God rough-and-tumble football. They didn't need to go out there with the goal of not-losing, which had been their mindset for going on a decade and is always a spiffy tool for self-defeating; they needed to take the field with the singular goal of fucking some shit up, and they didn't know whose shit, and they didn't particularly care. CMR said that they "game-planned energy" as much as they game-planned any of their plays, and it obviously worked. What else worked? CMR's now-famous proclamation that if they didn't get a penalty for excessive celebration after their first score, they were going to run steps. Sure enough, they swarmed the end zone after that first touchdown, Trinton Sturdivant shook it like a Polaroid picture, and Georgia had not one but two penalties and twenty-two-and-a-half yards that put a floppy hat and a flowered mumu on that boogeyman and stuffed him back in the closet. A Florida player later referred to it as "fake juice," manufactured enthusiasm, but if it works, I don't care if it's OJ or Tang. I had a few moments of fear when Florida did appear to get appropriately riled in response and answered with a touchdown of their own, but it soon became apparent that no amount of encouragement from Urban Meyer could make them want this win as much as the Bulldogs did.

Step Two was to put the fear of God into the Gators, and I think Tim Tebow spent enough time on his back, staring up at a sea of red helmets, to attest that we did that quite well. I recognize that the man was playing with a bruised shoulder, and he kept his head in the game admirably well under the circumstances, but by around the fourth nut-sack, he was starting to get twitchier with every snap. Every time he rolled back to pass, he heard footsteps. And even with that kind of constant pressure, he managed to pass for 236 yards and hook up for a total of 343 offensive yards. Dude's a hoss, and I tip my hat to him (and to the Unstoppable Percy Harvin).

Step Three was to pitch a tent in Florida's end zone, set up a hibachi and a satellite dish, and call it claimed territory. Doug points out to all of the "Tebow's shoulder" apologists that Tebow wasn't playing defense, and Tebow's shoulder didn't allow 42 points. A team that has in the past seemed almost phobic of the goal line (that would be ours), that has a recent history of charging manfully down to the red zone and then kicking for three (still us), saw Florida's red zone four times and scored all four times. With touchdowns. (Those are the ones that stay on the ground.) I'm sure Brandon Coutu felt well put-upon every time they pulled him away from his DVD and animal crackers to kick a PAT, because he certainly wasn't kicking field goals and he had probably just gotten comfortable.

In other words, Knowshon "B-Button" Moreno (must credit Practically Harmless) -- redshirt freshman, captain for the game, and all-around badass -- is my babydaddy, and Mo Massaquoi is my backup babydaddy. And fullback -- fullback -- Brannan Southerland is welcome to join the party. My biggest fear as Knowshon crossed the goal line after a nine-play, five-minute, 67-yard drive was that we couldn't possibly keep that kind of energy going for three more quarters, and that I was going to be brokenhearted if we started to slip. Then Florida answered, and then we answered their answer, and then they answered our answer to their answer, and I was convinced that the game was going to end 77-70 and the winner was just going to be whoever got the last TD in. Then they pulled ahead. Then we pulled ahead. Then the game started to get exciting.

A few off-the-field game notes:

- My mom? Magical. Yells, "Sack him!" and they do. Six times.
- Game ball goes to my dad, who, as Doug reports, picked up a spur-of-the-moment impulse-buy monster plasma-screen TV in time for the game. Add this to his recent purchase of a ruby-red Acura TL, and one might have to conclude that, in addition to being a great man, he's also a cool guy.
- Sports-related superstitions are a necessary but onerous burden. Unsure whether to go with my black Georgia t-shirt (undefeated at home) or my red Georgia jersey (undefeated on the road, save for the Tennessee game, which had mitigating superstitious circumstances), I chose to go with both for the neutral site but ended up stripping back down to the t-shirt after Florida's field goal. It appears to have been the wise choice.

One last word on the excessive celebration penalties: One Gator blogger talked about "acting like you've been there before" when you score a TD and said that that joyful display, coupled with the unfortunate jumping-on-the-V incident at Vandy a few weeks back, added up to a "low-rent" team of "excessive celebrators" that was a poor representative of the SEC East. Well, honestly, I'd like to politely invite him and so many of Georgia's other critics to kiss my preternaturally toned pink ass. First off, let me remind the gentle reader that the Vandy-V incident was pretty much the first time Mark Richt had had a facial expression all season, and he used it to chew gaping new ones out of every player involved in said incident in an inspiring and, frankly, not a little bit arousing display of passion and devotion to clean, classy football. Let me also remind the gentle reader that Florida is a team that has never hesitated to run up the score, trash-talk on the field, or shit-talk opposing players and coaches to the press, so pardon me if those protestations of bruised sensibilities ring just a little bit hollow. "Discipline, poise, and class," Terence Moore? You can keep 'em. Saturday, the Bulldogs played like a bunch of high school kids throwing the football around the dirt lot for bragging rights and a Co-Cola after the game, and while it's not something I'd like to see every week, it was so unspeakably refreshing that this week -- and just this week -- I'm doing a Trinton Sturdivant butt-dance around the office myself, and I'll probably keep doing it until it stops being fun, or next Saturday, whichever comes first.

Friday, October 26, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten: Twice As Nice (Or, As Applicable, Not Nice) Edition

Okay, so in lieu of delivering a late Friday Random Ten last week, I opted to skip it entirely, which had the dual side effects of depriving you of its Friday Random Goodness and saddling you with a Friday Random Superten this week. Don't you just hate me? Don't you just?

So here it is:

What's good (for the two-week period ending 10/26):
- health insurance for children whose parents can't afford health insurance but don't qualify for Medicaid
- cold, rainy days and warm wool coats
- cocoa and Bailey's Irish Cream
- the Miracle Beer Diet:

Miracle Beer Diet - Click here for another funny movie.

- "out" fictional wizards
- wingnuts peeing themselves over "out" fictional wizards
- this puppy (I want!)
- this puppy (couldn't you just eat those ears? No? Just me? Moving on)
- punk covers of pop songs
- Now poop on them, Oliver!

What's bad:
- having to give the "it's not you, it's me" speech and actually meaning it
- continuing to blame natural disasters on teh gheys
- taking a nap when it's probably not the best time to take a nap:

(A spokesman for Cheney insists that he was merely "meditating.")

- mal-malapropoisms:

Mitt, to make that one fly, you're gonna want to start with the wrong name and then finish with the right one. 'Sides, it was a whole lot funnier when 30 Rock did it.

The Ten (x2, which makes Twenty):

1. Tina Turner, "The Best"
2. Cherry Poppin' Daddies, "Zoot Suit Riot"
3. 311, "Amber"
4. Sarah McLachlan, "Blackbird"
5. Nina Simone, "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair"
6. Steve Tyrell, "Smile"
7. Sarah Brightman, "Nella Fantasia"
8. The Thompson Twins, "Doctor! Doctor!"
9. Fuel, "Sunburn"
10. Ella Fitzgerald, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"
11. John Coltrane, "Equinox"
12. Claude Debussy, "Fireworks"
13. Dave Matthews Band, "Satellite"
14. Coldplay, "Speed of Sound"
15. Berlin, "Take My Breath Away"
16. South Park, "I've Got Something in My Front Pocket for You"
17. Jump, Little Children, "Mother's Eyes"
18. Howie Day, "Sorry So Sorry"
19. Drowning Pool, "The Game"
20. Annie Sellick, "Everything Happens to Me"

Holy crap, that's the last time I'm doing that. What's good for you this week? What was good for you last week? Or did I lose you back at "Now poop on them"?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On information straight from the horse's ass

Okay, so in a staggering display of self-nonawareness, former FEMA director Michael "Heckuvajob" Brown(ie) is offering himself for interviews on the California wildfires. In an even staggeringer display of self-nonawareness-squared, he invokes, in his press release, memories of Hurricane Katrina. On purpose.
Mr. Brown can speak to the turmoil being caused by the California wildfires as well as to some of the new processes in disaster relief efforts that will help to restore California communities. He can offer advice to residents and businesses on proper relief and recovery efforts and provide suggestions for future disaster preparedness.


Currently, the brush fires are affecting hundreds of local businesses and have forced more than 500,000 people out of their homes. Of these 500,000 people, an estimated 10,000 of them have taken shelter at the local NFL stadium, Qualcomm, vaguely reminiscent of circumstances of Hurricane Katrina evacuees two years ago.

I've got to tell you, though, that that part of the state is prime territory for wildfires, not to mention earthquakes and severe weather. I can't imagine that people weren't aware of that risk when they chose -- chose -- to buy property there. And those 10,000 people taking shelter at Qualcomm Stadium, did they not hear about the encroaching fires? How long has this been in the news? How much time has there been for them to evacuate to safe areas? Were they in denial, or were they just too lazy to get out of there when there was time to move to safer ground?

I've got to tell you, I'm not sure that Malibu really deserves any kind of federal relief funds. People had to have known the dangers of the area when they moved there. And considering the little that southern California contributes to society -- overpaid movie stars, disgusting liberal celebrities who don't know when to keep their mouths shut, the distinct lack of traditional American values that is Hollywood -- I really can't say that that area is worth rebuilding when this is all over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On the secret life of wizard headmasters

"It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A... Everybody!"

Okay, so following the publication of her final novel in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling has come out with it and announced that Professor Dumbledore was, in fact, gay.

Some readers may have suspected it. I remember reading through the whole Grindelwald subplot in the seventh book and detecting an undertone -- or not even that, just having the unbidden thought -- of teh ghey, but I figured that if Rowling wasn't going to come out and say anything specific, it must not be a major plot point, and I let it go. So when she came out and actually articulated that Dumbledore was gay, I thought, "Hey, that's kind of cool." Kind of cool because my hunch was correct, and kind of cool because the best way to show the normalcy and basic human-ness of gay people is to present it without comment, to avoid the common stereotype and deliver a character who, like so many actual gay people, is a person first and most of all and a gay person incidentally. And kind of cool because, as a writer, I know how much extensive backstory most writers establish for their characters that never makes it to print, and I love this little tidbit that J.K. Rowling has had in her head the entire time.

Over at Pandagon, Amanda feels differently. She poses the question, "If he is, why didn’t you say so in the first place?" She sees Rowling as kind of weak and wishy-washy for presenting a Potterverse full of straight people who married their high school sweethearts and unmarried adults who have no social life. In her mind, Rowling's reluctance to offer any diversity in terms of lifestyle and sexual orientation is the result of timidity, and that if she wanted Dumbledore to read gay, she should have come right out and written him gay.

I have a couple of arguments with that idea. One is that, as mentioned by several commenters on that post, the books are written from a severly limited third-person perspective; we're basically viewing the world through the eyes of a 13-year-old over the shoulder of Harry Potter. And in the world of your average 13-year-old, the headmaster's sex life tends to be a nonissue. I know that, as a student, I had teachers whose first names I didn't really know, much less their domestic arrangements. If my unmarried seventh-grade social studies teacher was dating on the weekends, I not only didn't know but didn't even think to wonder. I had my own stuff going on, my own social life to attend to. And the books seem to reflect that; the Weasleys are presented as married because that's germane to Ron's life, the Dursleys are married because that's germane to Harry's life, Snape was still pining for Lily because it was a significant plot motivator, and everything else was saving the world from Voldemort and maybe getting a kiss from Cho Chang. If Professor McGonagall was meeting some wizard (or witch, for that matter) in Hogsmeade for butter beer of a Friday evening, I'm fairly sure Harry had other, more pressing, concerns.

I also think that, because the books are so entertaining and interesting to many adults, it's easy to forget that they're actually written for children. Rowling's original intent was to age Harry along with her readers, so that they would be able to follow him through his development and immerse themselves in his experience. While preserving kids from automatic heteronormativity is a nice idea and a worthy goal, it's also a real tightrope walk to present an 11-year-old with an openly gay headmaster and avoid any kind of ideological pandering. If it's not really vital to the character of Dumbledore that he's gay (or doesn't really become so until the seventh book), why adopt the burden of explaining the concept to a fifth-grader and injecting a serious shot of reality into what is, otherwise, a seriously fantastic book? As Harry ages and his readers age, the characters can become more developed and more complex and the plotlines can become more involved and more controversial.

And J.K. Rowling does introduce some element of real-world controversy. Hermione -- the Muggle-born witch with a heartier grasp of Muggle-world social issues -- embraces the cause of the house-elves, fighting for their liberty and equal treatment while many natives to the wizarding world have no concept of them as anything but servants, and both sides of the controversy are examined and revealed as well-meaning, if occasionally mistaken. The idea of "mudbloods," implying supremacy of pureblooded wizards over their Muggle-bred counterparts, certainly has real-world implications. Tonks and Lupin's interspecial relationship raises the question of what people will think and how to hold their heads high in the face of societal judgment, and Tonks's pregnancy raises feminist issues of women-at-home vs. women-in-the-workplace (or even, one could argue, women in combat). And the entire Harry Potter universe is shot through with strong, accomplished women in all levels of education, government, public service, military-equivalent service, and, yes, homemaking.

But to me, the greatest value is, as I mentioned above, that Rowling didn't have to write Dumbledore gay. He didn't bring boyfriends back to Hogwarts. He didn't dress in flamboyant robes. He wasn't effete or swishy (any more than any wizard would be when "swishing and flicking" a wand for purposes of levitation). He wasn't extra-sensitive, he wasn't extra-horny, he didn't have unusually close relationships with any of the female professors at Hogwarts. He was a headmaster, a powerful wizard, a champion of good, a mentor, and a human being -- well, a wizard, anyway -- and that's all J.K. Rowling really had to write about any character.

To delve into Dumbledore's sexuality in an arena, like his job at Hogwarts or his role with the Order of the Phoenix, where sexuality doesn't usually come into play would mean relying on traditional "gay" signifiers to get the point across, and that means turning him into a stereotype. Just as most people, gay or straight, are complex and multifaceted individuals outside of their sexual orientation, Dumbledore was a great many things and a well-developed character, to which his sexual orientation was incidental. Would it have been a great nod to diversity and progressiveness if J.K. Rowling had managed to shoehorn all of that in at once? Sure, if she'd managed to make it seamless and unobtrusive and not distracted from the storyline. If that had been impossible -- or just too much of a challenge to be worth her while -- I'm satisfied with the way she addressed it, I still love the books, and this revelation only makes them richer and more interesting to me.

Besides, Laura Mallory has got to be flipping out right now.

On a very special holiday

Seriously, you don't look a year over 5,984.

Okay, so get out your candles and your party hats, 'cause today is a very important day. It's the earth's birthday, and today good Mother Gaia is turning a whopping 6,011 years old.

She looks great. A little thin around the ice caps, to be honest, and her complexion is a bit smoggier than it once was, but she wears her age well.

Big ups to James Ussher, the Anglican bishop who, in the 1650s, conclusively calculated the exact birth date of the earth and determined that all of those pesky fossils and the whole "carbon-14 dating" scam were just a prank God likes to pull on nonbelievers. Punk'd!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On the yin and yang of dating douchebaggery

Hold tight, Muffin, you may have just met your match.

Okay, so many of you may have read the plight of Craigslist Girl -- and the unflinchingly honest response by a still-anonymous investment banker -- and thought, "That poor, poor girl. All she wants is a man who'll basically exchange money and luxury goods for her sexual consent and fleeting good looks, and look how mean people have been to her! Is there no one out there who can understand her and relate to her as one superficial, self-satisfied asshat to another?"

Craigslist Girl, your prince has come, and he's driving a Beemer. Gloss your lips, hike up your Wonderbra, and head south to meet John Fitzgerald Page,
who in addition to working in corporate finance, being a part-time trainer, and being available for work as a "costumed character" or a "stand-in," also somehow finds the time in his day to be a colossal, mindbogglingly douchey douchebag to girls he meets on!

But could those two crazy kids really hit it off? Let's introduce them and see.

Craigslist Girl, meet John Fitzgerald Page. John Fitzgerald Page, Craigslist Girl.
Craigslist Girl:
I’m a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25-year-old girl. I’m articulate and classy. I’m not from New York.

John Fitzgerald Page:
I went to an Ivy League school - the University of Pennsylvania - for my undergraduate degree in economics and my graduate degree in management (Wharton School of Business). Where did you go to school?

Now, now, none of that, JFP. Degrees are for ugly girls who can't find rich husbands.
I’m looking to get married to a guy who makes at least [a] half a million a year. I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City, so I don’t think I’m overreaching at all... I dated a businessman who makes average around 200 - 250K. But that’s where I seem to hit a roadblock. 250,000K won’t get me to Central Park West.

I do mergers & acquisitions (corporate finance) for Limited Brands (Bath & Body Works, Victoria's Secret, etc). Enjoy any of our stores/divisions?

See, look at you kids already! He's got the income and the high-end connections, she's got the desire to spend his income and utilize his high-end connections. It's a love match already, right? CG? JFP? Gosh, y'all are just so cute together.
I know a woman in my yoga class who was married to an investment banker and lives in Tribeca, and she’s not as pretty as I am, nor is she a great genius. So what is she doing right? How do I get to her level?

What activities do you currently participate in to stay in shape? I work out 4 times a week at LA Fitness. Do you exercise regularly? I am 6 feet tall, 185 pounds - what about yourself? I am truly sorry if that sounds rude, impolite or even downright crass, but I have been deceived before by inaccurate representations so I prefer someone be upfront and honest on initial contact...

Do you hear that, CG? This here guy's specific. He's been fooled before, so don't try and slide around his rules: No fatties.
Where do you single rich men hang out? Give me specifics- bars, restaurants, gyms.

I live in a 31 story high rise condominium, right in the middle of the Buckhead nightlife district. Do you ever come to this area of town to shop/go out/visit/explore?

Hey, CG, a Buckhead high-rise. It's not Central Park West, sure, but a hottie down from New York By-God City is sure to put those bitchy Buckhead Betties to shame.

Y'all had better make me a bridesmaid, is all I'm saying.
What are you looking for in a mate? Be honest guys, you won’t hurt my feelings... I’ve seen really “plain Jane” boring types who have nothing to offer married to incredibly wealthy guys. I’ve seen drop dead gorgeous girls in singles bars in the East Village. What’s the story there?

Do you have any other recent pictures you care to share? I have many others if you care to see them.

I wouldn’t be searching for these kind of guys if I wasn’t able to match them — in looks, culture, sophistication, and keeping a nice home and hearth.

I think you forgot how this works. You hit on me, and therefore have to impress ME and pass MY criteria and standards - not vice versa.

Come on, now, JFP...
6 pictures of just your head and your inability to answer a simple question lets me know one thing. You are not in shape. I am a trainer on the side, in fact, I am heading to the gym in 26 minutes!

John Fitzgerald Page!
Please hold your insults — I’m putting myself out there in an honest way. Most beautiful women are superficial; at least I’m being up front about it.

So next time you meet a guy of my caliber, instead of trying to turn it around, just get to the gym! I will even give you one free training session, so you don't blow it with the next 8.9 on Hot or Not, Ivy League grad, Mensa member, can bench/squat/leg press over 1200 lbs., has had lunch with the secretary of defense, has an MBA from the top school in the country, lives in a Buckhead high rise, drives a Beemer convertible, has been in 14 major motion pictures, was in Jezebel's Best dressed, etc. Oh, that is right, there aren't any more of those!

I'm -- Wow. I just... CG, I am so sorry. I had no idea. I just thought -- I mean, you're superficial, he's superficial; he's obsessed with his money and status, you're obsessed with his money and status... I apologize. You head back up to New York and get a pedicure until you feel better. I'm sure there's some hedge fund manager up there just begging to finance your fall wardrobe.

JFP, you should be ashamed of yourself. No wonder you're stuck looking for women on Go to your room.
I am heading to the gym in 26 minutes!

No, you aren't, young man, you're going to your room.

See, this is why I'm still single.

On talents of dubious value

Howdy, neighbor.

Okay, so my brother and I were talking the other day about the brazen, broad-daylight stabbing that took place by the fountain near my apartment a couple of week ago. I'd been considering the risks of living in my particular neighborhood (robberies, muggings, drug use and distribution, getting really fat from repeated visits to great restaurants) relative to the benefits (quick walk to work, great neighbors, friends and family nearby, charming apartment, getting really fat from repeated visits to great restaurants).

While that particular issue remains unsolved, it did get me thinking about my talent for finding the best apartments in the worst neighborhoods. My first apartment out of college was a two-bedroom for less than $500 a month. I had wood floors, 15-foot ceilings, 8-foot windows, central heating and air, a gated parking lot, a nice view - it was sweet. It was also literally across the street from the housing projects, all of the neighborhood kids had the gate code so they could come in and use the pool, and the bar two doors down had weekend gunfights that you could set your watch by. But for that kind of charm, I was willing to hit the deck every Saturday night from 11:45 to 11:50.

So there's my questionable talent: finding the most charming apartments with the most lovely views, the most homeless locals, and the most dubious sidewalk pharmaceuticals sales. Question of the week: What unique talent do you have that may or may not prove beneficial to you or others?

Monday, October 15, 2007

On a hardware store - finally - for me

Okay, so, like, OMG, don't you hate it when you walk into Home Depot and all you want is, like, a new set of drill bits and some drywall screws and some 40-grit sandpaper and a few feet of half-inch molding and you can't find a damn thing because there's so much stuff and the aisles are soooo long and the shelves are sooooo high and it's, like, all dirty and manly and smells like sawdust and stuff? Don't you just totally hate it all the way? Wouldn't it be great if, like, they had a bunch of knowldgeable, well-trained associates who know where stuff is and are actually available and easy to track down when you need their help?

Or they could just paint it pink.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Not-Even-Friday Random Ten: Hella Late edition

One of these is a great way to spend a weekend.

Okay, so I know it's been noticed by at least one reader (which, of course, assumes that I have more than just the one) that I haven't posted all damn week. Yeah, I picked up on that, too. On Monday, I was coming down from the most depressing football weekend in probably a couple of seasons at least - and, yeah, that includes Homecoming last year - and was pretty sure that anything I'd post would violate Blogger's terms of use. On Tuesday, I was fighting work battles, having semi-profane, angry-type, hiss-whispered discussions with coworkers over whether we were actually going to allow Dubya-esque non-grammar into our products. On Wednesday, I was bored and lazy; Thursday was taken up by the mandatory fun of an office luau; Friday was an impromptu day off that I didn't want to interrupt with anything resembling work.

So, to recap: I'm a really lazy person.

Regardless, there were good and bad things about the week. And the weekend, too, for that matter, but in the name of continuity, I'm going to stick with

What's good (for the week ending 10/12/07):
- the almost illicit thrill of running around doing fun errands and self-entertaining while everyone else is at work
- seasonally crisp, cool, sunny fall weather
- soft, fuzzy fleece jackets
- the hot food bar at Whole Foods
- Regina Spektor

What's bad:
- greedy people who take up all three washers at the same time - the laundry room is on the first floor because it's for use by the entire building; if it were your personal laundry room, it's be in your apartment
- just... blearghh

The Ten:

1. Wolfsheim, "Sparrow and Nightingales"
2. Franz Schubert, "Herbst" from Schwanengesang
3. Gioachino Rossini, "O salutaris hostia" from Petite messe solennelle
4. Original Broadway cast of Avenue Q, "I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today"
5. Incubus, "Drive"
6. Cake, "Open Book"
7. The Isely Brothers, "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)"
8. Ella Fitgerald, "Slap That Bass"
9. Biter MC, "Outta My Mind"
10. Serge Gainsbourg, "Chez Les Yé-Yé"

What about you? What's good for you this week? What went on with you while I was being so very negligent?

Friday, October 05, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

One of these guys has it all figured out.

Okay, so you know what's the worst thing about sick days? Being sick. The more I think about it, the more I wish I'd just gone ahead and gone to work yesterday and taken my sick day today, when I felt better.

So, that was kind of bad.

What's good (for the week ending 10/5/07):
- The brilliant things Martha Stewart can do with gingerbread and purple m&ms
- Thoughtful people who drop by with chicken soup, Car & Driver, coconut cake from Chez Fonfon, and Knocked Up on DVD to see you through your infirmity
- Knocked Up on DVD
- Laying 45 points on Ole Miss, even if we had to fight for it
- The installation of Bishop Robert Baker (but come on,, no shots of the choir?)

What's bad:
- Security guard brutality
- Nice Guys™

The Ten:
1. Archie Shepp, "Blues for Brother George Jackson (Mondo Grosso Next Wave Mix)"
2. The Police, "King of Pain"
3. Travis, "Side"
4. Moby, "James Bond Theme (Moby Re-version)"
5. James Brown, "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine (Part 1 & Part 2)"
6. The Beatles, "Lady Madonna"
7. Jump, Little Children, "All Those Days Are Gone"
8. Jem, "They"
9. Sarah Brightman, "Eden"
10. Saliva, "Bleed for Me"

What about you? What's good for you this week?

On political indecision

Okay, so as we approach Election 2008, are you confused by the issues? Unsure about the stances of the various candidates? Just plain too lazy to make a decision on your own? Try the Select a Candidate Quiz.

Caveat: Results may be... odd.

Dennis Kucinich
Score: 51
Stem-Cell Research
Health Care
Line-Item Veto
Death Penalty
Social Security

-- Take the Quiz! --


On being Nice™

Okay, so it seems to be Nice Guy™ week; everybody's got something to say about it, and a lot of them have good things to say.

And for the record, a Nice Guy™ isn't the same thing as a nice guy. A nice guy is one who takes you to a movie you'll both like, pays (or goes Dutch) as you feel comfortable, dresses like he thinks your date is something more important than the average trip to the gym, holds up his end of the conversation with minimal profanity (unless you're into that), and probably goes in for the kiss at the end but definitely doesn't pressure you if you're not really feeling it.

If you've ever found yourself saying, "I'm a nice guy! Why can't I get a girl? Why can all the jerks and assholes get girlfriends and I can't? I'm just not going to bother anymore. Women, if I don't open any more doors for you, you've brought it on yourself!" you're not a nice guy. You're a Nice Guy™.

Josh is a Nice Guy™.

Josh is a Nice Guy™ because he is frustrated that his unceasing campaign to open every door, pull out every chair, and pay for every meal has not resulted, formulaicly, in women giving up the poontang every time. He warns the women of USC that if they don't start rewarding him for his efforts with sex, he's going to stop doing it. And if they don't get any more doors opened for them, they've brought it on themselves, etc., etc.

Who has analyzed this phenomenon in a way I find insanely accurate? Believe it or not, Doug over at Hey Jenny Slater, an admitted recovering Nice Guy™ and thus a pretty decent source of insight.
Josh, apparently, wants to hold doors for women. He wants to buy them dinner and pay for their movies. And I'm guessing he wants to have a committed, monogamous relationship with one of them. Which is fine; some women out there want that too. A male who wants those things is a traditionalist but not automatically an asshole.

Josh, however, thinks that every woman out there wants that, or should. His views on male-female relationships are like the gender-role remix of every shitty, derivative comic you've ever seen on "Def Comedy Jam": Men are like this, women are like this. Josh wants to hold doors and pay for dinner and treat his women like princesses, therefore that means all women should want to have doors held and dinner paid for and be treated like princesses. And anyone who doesn't is a Feminazi or a harlot. (Yes, he actually uses those words.)

Boy, howdy.

And that's the thing: The difference between a nice guy and a Nice Guy™ is that nice guys genuinely like women. They see them as human beings with personalities that are fun to explore and interests that are fun to share. They don't see them as computers that are fun to decode to gain access to the aforementioned poontang.

So many problems in life come down to an issue of pattern recognition. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again with different women and never getting the hoped-for reaction, look for the constant in that equation - hint, it's not the women - and figure out what needs to be changed. And that's really where the n/ice guy and the Nice Guy™ part ways. The nice guy wants to do what'll make his partner happy, so he's going to be looking to that. The Nice Guy™ want his partner to respond positively to what he's doing, and he's going to be pissed off and combative if she doesn't.

In his post, Doug recounts (with my permission) the story of my engagement to a Nice Guy™. I didn't know he was a Nice Guy™ then and didn't, actually, even recognize him as such until I read Doug's post. All I knew was that I really couldn't complain about the things he was doing, since they were, by definition, Nice™, but they weren't the things that I wanted. That's a lot of pressure on a woman for a lot of reasons, and there's not a lot of sympathy out there for a woman who complains when her fiance buys her a TV and a great big diamond ring and visits and rubs her feet and takes her out to fancy dinners.

I'll let Doug wrap it up for me.
If you don't have anything deeper than door-holding or check-picking-up to offer, it's time to go back into the locker room and draw up some new plays. Sack up, Josh Bass, and ask a girl out instead of waiting for her to notice and appreciate your chivalrous awesomeness and then writing whiny, bitter columns when she doesn't. If you do go out with her, listen to what she says and find something more than just blond hair and a pair of tits to appreciate about her; don't just go into it thinking HOLD DOORS BUY PRESENTS ROBBLE ROBBLE as if that's all any woman has ever wanted since the beginning of time. And, as Kenneth the page said on "30 Rock," work that vajayjay.

That last one, of course, is key.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On the unseen threats of tampons and cake

Okay, so I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not crazy about kids. It's nothing against them personally; we just don't have a lot in common, and given the choice, I'd rather hang around people my own age. But not being crazy about kids doesn't mean that I actively dislike them and enjoy seeing their rights curtailed and even taken away entirely, which is way all of this stuff really sets my teeth on edge:

If you're a woman and you've been to high school, you probably remember the contortions involved in sneaking up to the teacher's desk, whispering your urgent need, and making it all the way to the ladies' room without anyone seeing the tampon and/or pad in your hand, because God forbid anyone (read: boys) should find out that you're menstruating. Purses obviously make this process far easier. A high school in New York is finding that it's strict "no bags" policy is making that process far harder, and has handled it in a fairly idiotic way. Girls are allowed to carry purses - when they're getting their periods. It's bad enough that these bags turn into small, Louis-Vuitton-knockoff beacons of nascent fertility when girls are only allowed to carry them one particular week out of the month, but it also leaves the school vulnerable to exchanges like this one:
The girl was called out of class by a security guard during a school sweep last week to make sure no kids had backpacks or other banned bags.

Samantha Martin had a small purse with her that day.

That’s why the security guard, ex-Monticello cop Mike Bunce, asked her The Question.

She says he told her she couldn’t have a purse unless she had her period. Then he asked, “Do you have your period?”

Samantha was mortified.

She says she thought, “Oh, my God. Get away from me.” But instead of answering, she just walked back into class.

At home, she cried, and told her mother what happened.

I am not, let me assure you, going to tell some skeezy security guard whether or not I am bleeding from my ladyparts. That's none of his damn business. As an adult, I'd probably give him an uncensored, unequivocal, and well-deserved what-for just for asking; as a far less poised and self-assured teenager, I probably would have dissolved into tears on the spot, putting Samantha Martin one up on me.

In an unusual show of teenage solidarity, girls and boys at the school have been protesting by wearing tampons and maxi pads on their clothing and carrying purses made from tampon boxes.
After hearing that someone might have been suspended for the protest, freshman Hannah Lindquist, 14, went to talk to Worden. She wore her protest necklace, an OB tampon box on a piece of yarn. She said Worden confiscated it, talked to her about the code of conduct and the backpack rule — and told her she was now "part of the problem.

That's right. If your school officials are inquiring into the intimate details of your intimate bodily crevices, and you object to that, you're the problem.

But it gets worse.

A high-school student drops a piece of birthday cake on the cafeteria floor. The security guard orders her to clean it up and, when her cleanup efforts aren't to his satisfaction, he tackles her, breaking her wrist, handcuffs her, and calls her racist names. She's later charged with battery and littering. A kid who captured the incident on his cell phone was also arrested, as was the girl's mother when she went to the school to protest her daughter's treatment.

In the first example, the girls' privacy was violated; in the second, her physical integrity was violated. And for what? Backpacks and a dropped piece of cake? I remember, in high school, throwing the "Nazi" word around in reference to our fairly strict administrators, but that was before students were actually tackled and arrested for such sins as dropping cake.

Students in high school don't enjoy a lot of the rights that other people are assured. This is accepted because schools have an interest in maintaining order and discipline by regulating dress, speech, etc., and because minors are seen as needing guidance by adults in learning how to responsibly exercise the rights they'll freely enjoy when they reach majority. But having curtailed rights doesn't make a person any less human or give them any less right to basic human treatment.

This puts adults in a position of outrageous authority, and with authority comes the responsibility not to abuse it. Those adults, school administrators and particularly the security guards now so common in this post-Columbine era, are increasingly ignoring that responsibility and using "those disrespectful kids" and the threat of student violence to lock doors, ban bookbags, shorten lunch periods, regulate speech, interrogate students, and now resort to physical violence to maintain order and discipline. Wonder how that's working out.

Schools have the responsibility, above and beyond basic standards for test-taking and information absorption, to prepare students for the requirements of adulthood. High-school students are given more personal responsibilities and less guidance than, say, elementary-school students because, older and more experienced, high-school students are expected to have developed maturity to guide them through their studies and activities. High-school students don't have homework sheets to be signed by their parents, guided study time with teachers hovering over shoulders, dictated class and scheduling choices, or enforced naps, because high-school students are practically adults and it's expected that they should be able to remember their homework, study, pick their classes, and get sufficient sleep on their own.

So which is it, administrators? Are high-school students growing young men and women learning to live up to the requirements of adulthood? Or are they children who can't be trusted to carry a backpack without endangering their fellow students? Or are they prisoners in a camp where failing to follow instructions gets your arm broken for you? Try to get back to me by the time I have kids; I may just want to homeschool.

Friday, September 28, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

Some people leave the world better than they found it.

Okay, so obviously, the biggest news coming into this week was Georgia's victory over Alabama - or so one might think. For me, it was that fact, plus the fact that my aunt and uncle in Northport had no problem with me eating their roast beef and using their washer and dryer while all this was going on. They're good people. I come, obviously, from good stock.

But there was plenty to love this week.

What's good (for the week ending 9/28/07):
- Lessons that only certain people can teach you
- 26-23 by whatever means necessary
- Having the option to go out and do something, and choosing to stay in and not do anything, and not feeling bad about it
- Keebler Fudge Stripes cookies
- fresh bedsheets

What's bad:
- Luring Iraqis into the street with explosive devices and then shooting them
- Quite literally capitalizing on a tragedy (hint to Giuliani and pals: If no one's willing to own up to it, it's probably a bad idea)

The Ten:

1. Sting, "Why Should I Cry for You"
2. W.A. Mozart, "Der Vofelfanger bin ich ja" from Die Zauberflöte
3. Athenaeum, "Plurabelle"
4. Live, "Dance With You"
5. Alicia Bridges, "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)"
6. The Beatles, "Day Tripper"
7. Marvin Gaye, "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
8. Kent, "Before It All Ends"
9. U2, "Like a Song..."
10. Annie Sellick, "Lullabye of the Leaves"

What about you? What's good for you this week?

On a story that'll break your heart

Okay, so Carnegie Mellon University used to have lecture series, called "Last Lectures," that asked professors what lecture they would give if they knew it would be their last. Just as they renamed it "Journeys," indicating that it characterized the professors' journeys through life, they brought in Randy Pausch - who gave his actual last lecture.

The entire lecture can be found here, and it really is inspiring. It's not even close to short, but it's worth watching the entire thing. It kind of underscores the general unfairness of life that a guy like that won't be around six months from now.

This would be a great lead-in to my own hypothetical "last lecture." I will not be providing such for the following reasons:

1. I couldn't possibly follow that up.
2. I'm barely a quarter of a century old. While I've amassed a good number of life lessons and some valuable experience, I certainly don't have enough of the good stuff to fill up a lecture. I don't have enough to fill up a blog.
3. I can't say I've lived a life of such quality that people should be taking my advice or looking to me for guidance. It's certainly worked for me (so far, anyway), but I've Gumped my way through so many of the tough times that I couldn't even tell you how I've ended up where I am.

So here's what I'll give you instead:
It is better for things to suck differently than for things to suck the same way they were sucking before.

That's it. That's the one thing, in my 26 years, that I've learned for sure that might be applicable to someone else's life. It's not Randy-Pausch-level inspiring, for damn sure, but it works.

What've you got? What one thing do you know for sure that might change someone's life?

On a tempting offer...

Okay, so in the interest of expedience, I'll no longer be responding individually to e-mails regarding the iBook I've listed on Craigslist. It appears that one blanket open letter will suffice. Thus:

Dear interested party,

Thank you for your interest in my iBook. Yes, it's still available, and it's in excellent condition, as listed in the ad.

I'm so sorry to learn of your hearing impairment, which prevents us from communicating over the phone. That's a real shame. I'm also sorry to learn that you're located so very far away from me; I'm not sure how you found my Birmingham ad all the way in Texas/California/Germany, but I guess you must really want a laptop.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to accept a money order for the price of the laptop, plus shipping costs, plus a little something extra. I also won't be able to deal with your escrow agent or your shipping agent. I absolutely will not be able to deposit your money order and then wire you back the extra money you inexplicably added. This is because I'm not an idiot.

I hope your cellmate is a pleasant individual.


Best of luck finding someone to fall for your scam,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On teaching our children well

Okay, so it's so easy to just try to indoctrinate kids while they're still blank and pliable, and some in various levels of government do seem to feel that keeping them ignorant as long as possible is the best way to protect them (and I'll have a few things to say about that tomorrow). That's why it's so comforting to see schools getting it right and presenting information in a way that interests kids but also leaves room for them to draw their own conclusions.

That's what happened recently at a middle school in Homewood. Teachers illustrated the issue of immigration by staging a return, of sorts, to Ellis Island for sixth graders.

They started out packed tightly onto "ships" and "sailed" past the "Statue of Liberty" before being released and lined up, single-file, for registation. They faced more and less sympathetic officials at "Ellis Island," and, in a rather inspired twist, the school emphasized the difficulties immigrants had coming to a foreign country by bringing in parents to speak foreign language at the kids. Frustration was evident as students struggled through the immigration process opposite Spanish-, Greek-, French-, or Russian-speaking "inspectors."

Obviously, illegal immigration today involves its own special set of issues, and it's easy to forget one of the points emphasized in this exercise: That people make great efforts to come to America because they really, really, really want to be Americans, and that the contribution made by immigrants to the foundation of our country has been significant. As teacher Donna Johnson put it, "We try to teach the children that it changed our way of life in a very positive way. If you stop and think about all the contributions that immigrants have made to our country, we wouldn't be the country we are today."

And while we discuss illegal immigration (always, for some reason, associating it with Hispanic immigration and ignoring undocumented immigration from all other directions) and talk about 700-mile walls and how people need to learn G-D English, we could probably all benefit from having someone shout at us in a foreign tongue - even one we think we speak fairly well - and expect us to understand it. 'Cause I know that I'd have about as much trouble with a rapid-fire "Où sont vos papiers? Êtes-vous en bonne santé? Avez-vous la famille en Amérique?" as your average native Spanish-speaker is likely to have with "WHERE IS YOUR EL CARD-O OF IDENTITY? ARE YOU SICK-O? DO YOU HAVE EL FAMILY-O IN AMERICA?" And if you doubt that, just ask any sixth-grader from Homewood Middle School.

On the Department of Why Isn't Everyone More Pissed Off About This?: Friendly Skies edition

Okay, so everyone has heard the "he who would sacrifice liberty for security" quote over and over again, and we've all been grateful for the government taking that out of our hands - if we don't have liberty in the first place, we don't need to sacrifice it for security.

For instance, if you really want to keep terr'ists from flying in on airplanes, it shouldn't bother you that much if the government should choose to track your every movement in a carefully-organized database.
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security's effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department's Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.

The ATS has actually been in place since the mid-90s, but it was beefed up in 2002 when the Department of Homeland Security determined that nothing threatens the freedom of red-blooded Americans so much as red-blooded Americans exercising their freedom.

DHS spokesman Russ Knocke "flatly reject[s] the premise that the department is interested in what travelers are reading," which goes without saying, since all they're doing is keeping meticulous records of what travelers are reading. They're also not interested in your credit-card information, your rental car, and the kind of bed you request at your hotel. The program isn't to establish, Knocke says, "guilt by association;" it's only meant to establish malfeasance based on what you're reading and whom you're sitting next to on the plane.

Having an encyclopedic record of your favorite vacation destinations, travel buddies, reading materials, vibrator preferences, snack foods, and Sleep Number settings might be considered intrusive if our government did things like, oh, spying on peace groups, environmentalist groups, feminist groups, and religious gatherings as wicked dissenters and potential threats to our government. Good thing our government would never do anything like that.

Which means there's no reason for everyone to be pissed off about this.

Friday, September 21, 2007

On the good, the bad, and the Friday Random Ten

A cuddly friend; a deadly weapon

Okay, so it's been an eventful week. Let's get down to it.

(You may notice a distinct lack of pirate references, despite the recent holiday. We at Practically Harmless are conscious of the ongoing conflicts between pirates and ninjas and, recognizing that our readership encompasses both sides of the struggle, are loathe to endorse one position or the other. Officially, our institutional position is Pirate-Ninja Neutral. Learn more here.)

What's good (for the week ending 9/21/07):

- Trash talk (and an enthusiastic "Greasy banana peels, empty cereal boxes, and those tear-off strips from the sides of dot-matrix printouts" to a certain reader from Northport)
- Fake lilies that look so much like the real things that people try to smell them when they stop by your desk
- Rimmel 60 Seconds Vinyl Shine nail polish in Big Night Out
- Mornings in the 60s, afternoons in the mid-80s, evenings in the upper 70s
- Thai food, Scrabble, and large puppies

What's bad:

- Blatant institutional racism and injustice
- Unapologetic sexism

The Ten:

1. Dave Matthews Band, "Dancing Nancies"
2. Howie Day, "Sweet"
3. KT Tunstall, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"
4. Pet Shop Boys, "I'm With Stupid"
5. Jem, "They"
6. Maurice Ravel, "Asie" from Shéhérezade
7. Korn, "Falling Away from Me"
8. Marilyn Horne, "Mignon: Connais tu le pays"
9. Public Enemy, "Night of the Living Baseheads"
10. Michael Bublé, "I've Got You Under My Skin"

What's good for you this week?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On the Jena 6

Okay, so the population of Jena, Louisiana has multiplied by a factor of about six today as marchers descend upon the town in protest of the treatment of the Jena 6. In case your local paper or progressive blog of choice hasn't really covered it (and chances are they haven't), the Jena 6 are six black teenagers who were charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. The attack took place in the aftermath of an incident in which three white students hung nooses from a tree in retribution for their black classmates' bold and insulting decision to sit under that "white tree."

But it is not and never has been about race.

Which parts of that story weren't race-related? When the black students felt they had to ask permission from the principal to sit under the tree, because no black students had ever done it before, doesn't that indicate that race might be a factor? And when the three white students chose nooses to hang in the tree, is that not a clear sign of race-related intimidation? What, were they just saying the kids were welcome to "hang out"? And when the principal chose to expel those three boys, and the school board dismissed it as a mere prank, did they have no idea that it was a racial threat?

What about the protests that followed? When District Attorney Reed Walters looked out at a crowd of black protesters and declared that he could "make [their] lives disappear with the stroke of [his] pen," was race not involved there?

What about the violence that followed? When a white man broke a beer bottle over a black student's head outside a party and was charged with battery and given probation, was race not involved? When a white student threatened a black student with a gun outside a convenience store, and the black student took it away from him and was later charged with theft of a firearm and second-degree robbery, was race not a factor?

Race was already a factor long before Justin Barker was assaulted.

Initially, the black students were charged with assault. DA Walters, he who could make their lives disappear with the stroke of his pen, upped the charges to attempted second-degree murder. On the first day of the first trial, charges against Mychal Bell were reduced to aggravated second-degree battery - "aggravated" by the use of a "deadly weapon," in this case, Bell's tennis shoes. And although witnesses couldn't even agree on whether or not he was even involved in the attack, he was found guilty and faced up to 22 years in prison.

Twenty-two years in prison for possibly - maybe not - beating a classmate so severely that he was able to attend a school function later that same evening.

But it is not and never has been about race.

I'm not saying - no one is saying, to my knowledge - that these young men should go unpunished for their crimes. Justin Barker was knocked unconscious during the attack and had to be treated at a hospital for his injuries; he easily could have been more seriously injured than he was. Violence such as that can't be excused or ignored. "Free the Jena 6" is a slogan, not a sincere proposal. Don't free them, but give them justice, not reactionism. Charge them only for the crimes they committed, try them only on the evidence available (an on all of it), and sentence them only for those crimes - not out of some sense of indignance, ire, or resentment.

The charges on three of the other young men have been reduced to aggravated second-degree battery - aggravated by their shoes - and conspiracy. Mychal Bell's conviction has been overturned and all charges dropped, but he remains in jail pending the DA's appeal to the state Supreme Court, since he can't afford $90,000 bail. Three white students who hung nooses on the "white tree," a white guy who beat up a black guy outside of a party, and a white student who pulled a gun on that same black student remain free. There's a lot of history behind this trial, and no one is innocent. It's hard to raise the necessary righteous indignation when we don't have a shining hero to support, but we need to, because injustice has been rampant since the first noose went up. And anyone who claims that it is not and has never been about is naive, willfully ignorant, or blatantly dishonest.

On a periodic feminist tirade

Okay, so I've been collecting little things here and there that have kind of been chapping my ass, and I'd love to get some opinions on them.

1. Why is it that Larry Craig nudges another guy with his foot in an airport bathroom and gets arrested for lewd conduct, but guys on the street can yell out, "Hey, baby, shake that thang on over here. Oh, baby, don't be so mean. I'd tap that one from both sides. Mm-mm," and I'm expected to take it as a compliment?

2. Why is it that when a woman is raped near campus at the University of Alabama, and campus police don't have any suspects or even a description of the suspect, they publicly warn women to be on the lookout for a rapist? What, exactly, does "a rapist" look like? Are we meant to beware suspicious, creepy-looking men hiding behind trees, or are we meant to paranoidly avoid all men as potential rapists? The woman was dragged off of her own front porch and raped in her own back yard; does this mean we're being warned not to sit on our front porches? I'm all for publicizing crime news so we know what's going on in our neighborhoods, but warning women to "be on the lookout" sounds an awful lot like making it our responsibility to remain twitchy and paranoid so we never get raped.

3. Why is it that men complain about expensive, complicated weddings? Have they met their brides beforehand? By the time you're getting married, don't you know your beloved well enough to know whether she's going to want a Princess Diana wedding or a Vegas elopement? If you don't want to deal with the hassle of an elaborate wedding, marry a girl who wants to get married on a beach with two witnesses and a rent-a-minister. Chances are, if you're all "Fresh air!" and she's all "Times Square!" you're going to end up with a fairly rocky marriage anyway, sitcom hilarity to the contrary notwithstanding.

4. What is the mental connection between big boobs and sexual promiscuity? Even assuming she did buy them herself, rather than growing them (which isn't something a woman can generally control), why would a guy (or a woman, for that matter) assume that just because a woman has large breasts, she's into indiscriminate sex? So many comments on the Southwest/Kyla Ebbert situation include words like "skank" and "slut," when the commenters had absolutely no way of knowing whether she was, in fact, promiscuous. Especially considering how much men like to look at 'em, why would a man expect a woman to duct tape 'em down to avoid the "slut" label? It seems self-defeating.

Men, thoughts? Women, anything I've left out?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On an international observance

Hey, y'know, like, "Avast," right? Yeah!

Okay, so today is International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day. Adjust your vocabulary accordingly.

Or, in other words, "Today be International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day. Adjust yer vocabilary accordin'ly, ye scurvy swine."


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On a proper apology (We're waiting...)

Flying the friendly thighs.

Okay, so Southwest Airlines has made a couple of majors boners lately. One was a couple of months ago; an SWA flight attendant removed Kyla Ebbert from her flight from San Diego to Tucson, where she had a doctor's appointment, insisting that she go home, change clothes, and take a later flight. Eventually, she convinced him that by tugging her shirt up and her skirt down, she could assuage his injured sense of modesty, and he allowed her back onto the flight. Of course, at that point, she had been publicly shamed and humiliated, so the damage was pretty much done.

Here's the outfit:

Scoop-neck shirt (no cleavage). Cute little shrug. Miniskirt. With a pair of tights and a few more inches on the skirt, you've got an outfit I've worn to work before. Of course, the biggest difference between Kyla Ebbert and me is sitting in the front of her t-shirt. She's got big boobs, and yeah, she probably bought them, and yeah, she works at Hooters. None of that says anything about her character, but it's enough for people to start passing judgment on her, to act like it's perfectly acceptable to objectify her, and to publicly shame her for her dress, when the fact is that a calf-length shift dress and dirndl could look provocative on a woman of her proportions - and certainly would become so under the weight of that flight attendant's judgment.

SWA's other big mistake was their handling of the incident. Here's SWA President Colleen Barrett's letter of "apology" to Kyla:
From a Company who really loves PR, touche to you Kyla! Some have said we've gone from wearing our famous hot pants to having hot flashes at Southwest, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we both know, this story has great legs, but the true issue here is that you are a valued Customer, and you did not get an adequate apology. Kyla, we could have handled this better, and on behalf of Southwest Airlines, I am truly sorry. We hope you continue to fly Southwest Airlines. Our Company is based on freedom even if our actions may have not appeared that way. It was never our intention to treat you unfairly and again, we apologize.

Haha! Oh, what a hoot. D'you remmeber that time we yanked you off a flight in front of the whole plane and told you you looked like a slut? Hee! Wow, what a boneheaded move, right? Heh-heh. Golly, you were just crying all the way to Tucson. What a gas. Did we ever blow that one. Get it? Blow? Because you were dressed like a slut? Oh, I kill me.

Just a note for future reference, SWA: An ATC delay, you can handle with jocularity. A computer scheduling glitch, you can handle with humor. You can probably even laugh off a drunken pilot as long as he doesn't get past the jetway. But when you've slut-shamed a passenger such that she's crying all the way from San Diego to Tucson, your apology had better start and end by validating her feelings, and offer her a diamond-encrusted pony somewhere in the middle.

I'm hoping the offending flight attendant got a talking-to. I'm almost hoping the PR team got fired, because any half-lucid PR professional with a degree from an accredited institution knows better than to send out a media release like that. I've left a message with their head of PR edxpressing pretty much that sentiment, phrased more diplomatically, of course. And should I receive my requested callback, this is the suggestion that I will make:
Dear Southwest customers,

We at SWA consider our customers and our employees to be part of our family. Families are made up of people, and unfortunately, people sometimes make mistakes. We've made several big ones lately in the way we've behaved toward Kyla Ebbert.

Our first mistake was removing her from the Tucson flight in the first place. Absent an actual customer complaint, our flight attendant overstepped his authority in commenting on her attire. Empowering our employees as we have to ensure the comfort of our customers does leave room for human error, and our employees now understand why this particular error was so hurtful to Ms. Ebbert. Judgments on issues of style and modesty are not the role of the SWA employee, and we apologize for this violation of our standards of customer care.

Our second, and possibly worse, mistake was our handling of the incident in its aftermath, particularly in the way we adressed Ms. Ebbert herself. Weather delays and technical glitches can gracefully be handled with lighthearted humor; Ms. Ebbert, however, is a human being who was understandably insulted and whose feelings were understandably hurt by what happened on that flight. In hindsight, my initial apology, which was intended to seem lighthearted, may have come across as glib and dismissive, and for this, too, we are sorry. Ms. Ebbert's feelings are important to us, and we picked a poor way of expressing that.

We would like to make this up to Ms. Ebbert and to anyone else aggriveved by the handling of this incident. To Ms. Ebbert, we offer free airfare, for life, anywhere SWA flies within the United States. To everyone else, we offer a fare of $10 (plus taxes and fees) to anywhere within the continental U.S. now through the end of the year, simply by referencing this e-mail. Please give us the chance to show you how friendly and welcoming SWA's employees really are.

We screwed up, and we're very sorry. We ask you, as members of the SWA family, to accept our apology and to give us another chance to provide the quality service and accommodating atmosphere that have been Southwest's hallmarks for over 35 years.

Colleen Barrett
President, Southwest Airlines

We've been over this before, but for some reason, people continue to have serious trouble with the art of the sincere apology. It's actually quite simple:

Step 1: Admit that you screwed up. "I'm sorry you were offended" doesn't cut it. An apology in the passive coice is an insult and is worse than no apology.

Step 2: Validate the other person's feelings. It doesn't matter if you, personally, wouldn't have been offended by what happened. If the other person wasn't offended, you wouldn't be groveling right now.

Step 3: Actually apologize. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I didn't mean to hurt/offend you" - if, in fact, you really didn't mean to do it, that's a fact you'll definitely want to include - but it's worthless unless it's followed up with, "but I did, and I'm really sorry."

Step 4: Make amends, as best you can, and sincerely try never to make that mistake in the future.

Y'all, I had an eight-week internship in this stuff in college, and I'm still doing better than the professional shills and spinners at SWA. I need to start charging for this stuff. You hear that, America? Today, you're getting this wisdom for free; next time, it's gonna cost twice as much.