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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mine

My new house, circa 1920

It's done. I bought the house.

Closing Day

I'm off to get ready to close on the house. By "ready" I mean showered and dressed. Everything else I can do I have done.

Now, as long as I can avoid getting into a car accident on the way to the lawyer's, and avoid dropping my Certified Check into a storm drain, everything should be fine. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To-do list part 2: Must do within 1 year

In addition to the list of things the insurance company wants repaired in the next 30 days - all projects that I will be paying someone else to take care of - there's also a list of things they want me to deal with within the next year. The garage I've already mentioned, and I don't think they included the front storm doors on the list, but I'll be replacing them anyway. Here are the other items. Wrought-iron fence: clean and repaint. This fence is at least 80 years old, possibly older. The last time I know it was painted was back in the Summer of 1979 when my brother and I painted it. (I remember that while I was working on it I was also eagerly awaiting my long-delayed Boba Fett action figure mail-in offer.) It may have been repainted once or twice since then.

Railings: repaint. The steps and porch really need to be repainted, and are in fact several years overdue. But first the porch needs to have its broken boards replaced.

Retaining wall under grapevine: repair. Yep, I'll be getting quite a bit of concrete experience this summer. This wall is as wide as the house, but is in sections.
Walkway between grapevine and house: repair. They call this a trip hazard, I call it character and charm. But, again, this will be a good, low-consequence project for trying out concrete-working techniques. Or I may just dig out the weeds, grass, and moss, clear away any loose bits of broken concrete, sweep in sand, and call it an old-world cobblestone-style walk.

I've got my Certified Check. I'm ready to go.

To-do list part 1: Must do within 30 days

There are a few things my insurance company is requiring that I get taken care of within 30 days of buying the house. The list became considerably shorter between the time I initially spoke to my agent on the phone and the time that I signed the policy - the other items were bumped onto a "within one year" list.
Item 1: Repair broken boards on front porch. This shouldn't be too hard, and should be a good deal cheaper than replacing the entire porch. The problem is that these boards are tongue-and-groove, aged over 15 years by exposure to the elements (most of that time under a coat of paint). My cousin's boyfriend may be able to help here, or point me to someone who can.

Obviously there are at least two other jobs presented in this photo: re-painting the porch and front steps, and replacing the front storm doors. Both are planned for this summer, but after the porch is repaired.
Item 2: Replace broken window at lower left. This is a double-pane window in the kitchen on the side of the house I will be occupying, the outer pane apparently smashed by a ball of some sort within the past few years. (The inner pane is intact, so the kitchen isn't exposed to the weather and critters.) I really wish my aunt hadn't returned the tenants' security deposit.

Other jobs in this picture: rebuild grape arbor, replace grapevines. The arbor once stretched across the entire back of the house. There were three types of grapes: white, on the left as seen in this picture, purple, in the middle, and red "spice" grapes on the right. Only the white remain. I have to figure out how to shop for grapevines that will match a taste. I think I'll be doing some traveling to upstate New York to sample some varieties.

Note the scare-owl perched at a jaunty and improbable angle on the top left of the roof.
Item 3: replace smashed garage window on right. Again, probably a consequence of ball-playing. Again, something that probably should have been covered by the security deposit.

Other jobs: numerous. Repainting the garage is on the "within one year" list. The foundation needs - something. I hope it's repairable. I'm going to be developing a lot of masonry skills this summer, I think. There used to be a fence and gate on the left - apparently the tenants tore it out to make moving out easier. (To be fair, they might have put up the fence and gate that were there the last few years, which just presents another question: where did the original fence go?) The "bush" on the right is another purple grapevine, next to the skeleton of the arbor that once supported it. The stumps of two pine trees are visible in the foreground, right where I had been planning a garden - these were trees that my brother and sister and cousins and I used to play a game with when we and they were very young, running around them and kicking our legs over their tops. They were cut down a few years ago when they became larger than the house. I forget - do pine trees have taproots? Can I remove these stumps with brute force and leverage?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Closing still on for Wednesday

The closing will take place this Wednesday as planned. The only obstacle at this moment is the lawyer's office: they still need to tell me the specifics for the Certified Check. If I don't have that information before 3:00 tomorrow, I won't have the check for Wednesday at 10:00.

We just had a bit of a houseclearing at the house. My aunt opened it up to make it possible for the various children, grandchildren, great-grand-children, and assorted spouses to take "mementos" of my grandparents. The less said about this, the better. Suffice it to say that it went pretty much as expected. Considering the fact that I could count on the fingers of a leper's hand how many people paid regular visits to my grandmother during her time of confinement in nursing homes in the final years of her life, there was quite a large and enthusiastic crowd gathering mementos - particularly those mementos with the greatest resale value.

But it's done. Only I have a feeling it isn't. I have a feeling that some of those who were eager to carry off everthing they could get their hands on will be back a few months down the road to pay me a social call. That's really something to look forward to.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The dream of the tiny door

I had a recurring dream theme come up again the other night. It may have something to do with everything else that's going on.

It's what I call a "tiny door" dream. I usually think of it as a "narrow door" dream, but the door isn't just narrow, it's also small - roughly 8" wide by 12" high or so. The circumstances of the dream vary, but the conclusion is always the same. For whatever reason, I will come to a series of smaller and smaller passages and rooms through which I must pass, sometimes through a succession of smaller and smaller doors through which I can barely squeeze. In the end I come to a final, tiny door, not even big enough for me to squeeze my head through. Beyond the door is my ultimate destination - another room, a garden, someplace - and usually there are other people there on the other side, people who have either gotten through the door somehow or have figured out another way of getting there.

Maybe that's the key. Thrashing about on the Internet, the only thing that I've found that specifically references this is a dream dictionary that says "A small door symbolizes your desire for inner exploration and self-discovery." That doesn't sound like this. Maybe the dream reflects a common anxiety for me: I find many things overwhelmingly difficult to face that other people do as a matter of course. Whether this is because I'm overthinking the issues or I just have an inadequate denial mechanism (which, if properly functioning, would allow me to face monstrous issues without ever recognizing them as such), I don't know. So perhaps buying a house is my latest "tiny door", and all those people on the other side are all the other people who have gone through this before me, who have somehow found a way.

I have other recurring dreams - the dream of the forgotten class (I signed up for a college class in the beginning of a semester, and then sort of forgot about it until it's finals time!!!), the dream of the misplaced class (this time I remembered to go to the college class, but I have no idea where the final is being held!) Both of these dreams are fairly common and are supposed to indicate personal disorganization.

I also have recurring dreamscapes. Most notable is the bookstore that does not exist up near Dallas, PA, a big, sprawling Barnes & Noble with vast numbers of books laid out on two levels, one of them slightly sunken relative to the other (much like the Princeton bookstore, or the bookstore at Vanity Fair in Reading, PA.). Sometimes it's a stand-alone store - I could take you to the very spot where that store should be, I've been there myself and there's nothing there. And sometimes it's part of a big, sprawling mall - I need to try to figure out where that's supposed to be located, but I think I may already know.

Who knows what I will dream of tonight? Maybe it will be another dream of the tiny door.

Change of plans

Closing on the house is set for 10:00 Wednesday morning. That may be changing, however. My uncle in Maryland just died.

He was a big, ruddy-faced man with a booming voice. He did not resemble the rest of my grandparents' children, who were all of medium height and somewhat willowy. He actually resembled me in some ways.

He had a powerful grip, like my grandfather, and would crush our hands as a joke when we would see him at the holidays. He would always pick me up when he saw me, at least up to age 10 or so, which was a bit of a trick as I got older and bigger.

He's gone now. Another ghost to haunt my house, another echo of the past to resound as I move around the place. May he rest in peace. And may his memory live on.

What's on YOUR monitor?

Left to right:
- Silver and gold foil leaves from Diamond's chocolate Easter eggs, 2005
- Background - $4 clock, has kept perfect time for 2 years or so on one AA battery
- Buddy Christ, offering protection, support, and tacit approval
- Logitech eyeball camera that came with my PC. Plugged in, but aimed at a wall.
- Smiley face sticker, courtesy of one of my nephews
- Name tag made of foam
- Kang (or is it Kodos?), Burger King Simpsons Halloween promo, 2002
- Dollar store dinosaur - highly detailed, accurate, and very nicely made Scelidosaurus
- Another Monkey blog card
- More leaves
- Below - 19" CTX monitor purchased in 2000, displaying "Another Monkey - Mozilla Firefox"

And what's on your monitor?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

How to be a Climate Change Denier

I am going to plagiarize myself once again. This is expanded from a comment I made on Michael Plank's Content yesterday:
How to be a
Climate Change Denier

1. Climate change? What "climate change"?
2. It's all a myth. Not happening.
3. And we had nothing to do with it, so there's no point in changing what we're doing.
4. Besides, people pay good money to travel to the tropics each year. Now they don't have to travel so far!

An Inconvenient Truth opened in theaters yesterday and according to the IMDb it has a "user rating" of 5.9 out of 10. This is a little surprising given the pre-opening reviews I've read. A look at the message boards for this movie reveals what's going on.*

It's no secret that lots of products are pushed by "street teams" - people whose job it is to evangelize, to sing the praises of a product to everyone within earshot. Music labels have teams of people whose job it is to call TRL on MTV and tell them that the song they really really want to vote for is whatever song they've been told to vote for, over and over again. Movies are the same way: any studio that gives a damn about a movie it's releasing has teams of people singing the praises of the movie on the IMDb, regardless of whether or not they've seen it.

Given the subject matter of the movie (climate change) and the identity of its star (Al Gore) it's pretty obvious that the movie would also attract its share of haters. But the people who are putting in a concerted effort to derail this film are not simple haters; they're Climate Change Deniers. Some of them have even expressed items 1 and 2 from my list above, which means they never got the memo. The official Climate Change Denial line is currently closer to Item 3: Climate change is happening, but it's the result of natural cycles. And volcanoes. And trees, trees that emit greenhouse gasses. (And whaddya want, another Ice Age? We're fighting hard to keep that from happening!)

Climate Change Deniers ride in the same cart with Holocaust Deniers and Flat Earthers and Young Earthers and Evolution Deniers and the "there's nothing wrong with secondhand smoke" crowd. Faced with "facts" presented by "scientists", they quickly roll out their own anointed and approved experts to present contradictory facts. Have you ever read a Holocaust Denier's screed? Have you ever had a Young Earther full of piss and vinegar and crap and the Holy Spirit harangue you about how all this "fossil" stuff is nonsense, how dinosaurs were killed by humans who brought on an Ice Age by causing an inversion of the Thermosphere or something like that? Have you ever seen the Tobacco Industry's defense of the health benefits of smoking, circa 1950? I have. It's scary.

We hear that there is no consensus among scientists on climate change. That's like saying there's no consensus among historians on the Holocaust, because the Holocaust Deniers are always ready to bring in some crackpot who will claim to have proof that there were never that many Jews in Germany and Poland to start off with, and those who died died of natural causes, and besides, they're just Jews and gypsies and homosexuals, so who cares?

Don't believe the Deniers. See the movie with an open mind. Read what scientists - real scientists, not industry puppets - have to say on the subject.

And then do something about it.

*Actually, looking at the distribution of user ratings makes it just as clear. Out of 464 IMDb users who gave ratings:

257 (55.4%) rated it a 10 (highest rating possible)
34 (7.3%) gave it a 9
8 (1.7%) gave it an 8
4 (0.9%) gave it a 7
5 (1.1%) gave it a 6
5 (1.1%) gave it a 5
2 (0.4%) gave it a 4
10 (2.2%) gave it a 3
32 (6.9%) gave it a 2
107 (23.1%) gave it a 1 (lowest rating possible)

That's what we in the statistics biz call a "bimodal distribution".

Firefox keeps crashing!

Note: This post is just superficial bitching about Firefox issues. For more in-depth bitching and some links, go to these posts:
Firefox and the js3250.dll crash
Is it fixed?
The answer to the previous post's title is "NO!"
UPDATE, 1/6/2007: A POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM HAS BEEN POSTED!
See the bottom of this post for details!

Firefox keeps crashing on me! When I first downloaded it back in January 2005 Firefox was supposed to be infinitely better than Internet Explorer, and much more crash-resistant. Sadly, that is not the case. Maybe it's just the usual heat-related problems with my PC (although the room temperature is still below 78), maybe it's the increasingly complicated moving adds that infest most websites and kill my PC's performance.
Meanwhile, Firefox says that I have all the latest updates, so it's not that

But whatever the cause, the symptom is that Firefox is collapsing faster than George H.W. Bush at a state dinner with the Japanese Prime Minister! Grrr!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Next steps in the home-buying process

Here's the latest schedule in my home-buying adventure:

Today: Meet with insurance agent, sign and pay for policy; contact Credit Union and talk about what I need to do to get a Certified Check; get information on "how much" and "made out to whom" from lawyer's office

Memorial Day Weekend: Get addresses and phone numbers of all utilities from my aunt, who currently owns the house; buy sledgehammer, small hammer for use with stone chisel, chisel appropriate for trimming concrete, several bags of concrete mix, rural-style mailbox and mailbox post (for temporary future use); begin staging first wave of move-in items (kitchen table, chairs, several thousand pounds of books); contact Lee Valley / Veritas and request gardening catalog, woodworking catalog, and hardware catalog be sent to new address

Tuesday: Get Certified Check drawn from my life savings in Credit Union; call utilities and have them switched over (or do I have to wait until I officially own the house?); panic

Wednesday: Take day off from work; drive aunt to lawyer's office, meet with mortgage broker, sign papers, hand over check, close on house; place label with name on it on front porch mailbox (to avoid mail confusion); begin moving in non-critical first wave of move-in items

Within 30 days of purchase (required by insurance company): Repair or replace front porch (will need to temporarily relocate mailbox); paint front porch and steps; scrape and repaint wrought-iron fence; replace cracked kitchen window and broken garage window; paint garage; repair "retaining wall" (I assume they mean the base of the grapevine - this is what I need the sledgehammer and chisel for)); fix "holes in sidewalk" (I assume they mean the brick and concrete walkway along the grapevine; unaware of any holes, but I'll make it nice and purty)

Then: Paint, rewire, do minor interior repairs, refurnish, completely move in (I have the luxury of not needing to vacate my current residence immediately.)

Then: Lay out gardens, rebuild grapevine arbor (design it to last another 70 years), install clothespoles and clothesline

That "within 30 days" bit will be a trick. I hope we have a dry June. And I hope some of my friends will be available to lend a hand. I'm thinking of writing up a release form for my cousin's Summer Pre-School/Camp for an outdoor class/activity involving painting. Yes, the kids will be able to point to my wrought-iron fence for years to come and say "I did that!" What a great experience for them! What a sense of accomplishment!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Rose is on MySpace!

Rose, the musician/ philosopher/ veterinarian-in-training/ Dostoevsky fan/ guitarist and vocalist from bands like 3 Brix Shy and Blue Sundaze has opened a site on MySpace! Check it out!

Grand Opening, Coming Soon!

Royal Highness buds, May 25, 2006

I can usually count on my first flush of roses the first week of June. It looks like my Royal Highness may jump the gun by a few days!

I really love this bush - it is incrediby easy to work with, and is extremely rewarding. We also have several Blaze rosebushes (a fairly common red rosebush with masses of flowers) dotted around our house. These are daughter bushes from the long-removed Blaze rosebush which was in front of my grandmother's house. My aunt has grapevines that are daughters grown from cuttings taken from the vines which once shaded the west side of my grandmother's house, grapevines that are no longer there. My aunt also has raspberries that followed the same path. It will be appropriate next season when cuttings from all of these plants find themselves coming full circle as part of my program to restore what is soon to be my new house to a functional replica of the house where I spent so many happy days of my youth.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Spam as poetry

Now that I'm at the end-stages of the home-buying process I'm being a little more cautious about deleting e-mails that once upon a time I would have automatically dismissed as spam. Whenever I get a response to an e-mail that I've sent to my lawyer's office, the subject line has usually been modified to include tags like "[Norton AntiSpam]" that suggest that my messages are being flagged as spam by their server, probably because they contain magic words like "mortgage" and "application".

Today I received a message with a subject line of "Application approval #" followed by what is probably a spammer's tracking code which I will not reprint here. The message is a jumble of semi-random words and phrases that, as others have observed before me, have a sort of poetic unity. So I've decided to reformat the message with line breaks and present it to you for your interpretation and appreciation.

Application approval #
(author unknown)
profit and johns may trail !
mulberry the cyanic or epistemology
not alfalfa not duke and balloon on pursue , cowbell !

dryad , flex a boggle may defunct in transferor

on coward or potato
not whore or rebut the audubon !

waller it ablaze or aperiodic
not catalysis a transfix but eddy but mike ,
dollar try docket it transoceanic
and
notebook in rood
not seneca or Keine
(email hier )
and deathward may tambourine it's
or greenland !

virginal it
see volumetric in decolonize some
the bilingual , chauncey or

And that's how it ends. "chauncey or?" Is that "or" as in the conjuction*, or "or" as in the term for gold used in heraldry? Is this an unfinished work? Can someone suggest the closing lines? Or does this represent a unified whole, a completeness that encompasses the incompleteness of the human condition vis a vis a universe that is at once knowable and unknowable?

*"Or" is not a preposition. Silly boy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Link maintenance

I've made some additions and changes to the links on my sidebar. Nothing major, no deletions, but a few additions and a streamlining of the layout of the links for added convenience.

My convenience, that is. Remember, these sidebar links are there (for the most part) because these are sites that I visit regularly.* So the latest changes were mainly about segregating those site links (that is, non-blog links) that I find myself using or referencing frequently.

I've created a new group called "Semi-daily visits". It includes these sites:
These are sites that I find myself visiting on a regular basis, some as often as every day. By separating them out from the "Other site links" I've made them more convenient and accessible for me. Tis is not to say that the rest of the "Other site links" aren't also useful and interesting; it's just that I don't visit them as often.

I'll be making more changes as time goes on, but that's it for now!

*Two of the links are there by special request, but I visit these sites once in a while, too.

Things which should not be forgotten

Thinking about Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's current plight and possible future as a limited-edition line of Elmer's Glue put me in mind of a song my grandmother used to sing to me when I was a babe in arms:

Mine all mine
And nobody else's but mine
I met my true love in a glue factory
And that is the reason he's stuck onto me

I Googled a few lines from this song yesterday and came up empty. Maybe my grandmother made up the words herself, or maybe it was something she learned when she was a child. (It has a 1920's ring to it, so I think that's possible.) I remember another song she used to sing, just to amuse herself:

Went to see Old Joe Clark
Found Old Joe in bed
Stuck a finger in Old Joe's eye
And found Old Joe was dead.

Fare thee well, Old Joe Clark,
Fare thee well, I say;
Fare thee well, Old Joe Clark
I'm bound to die someday.

I Googled "Old Joe Clark" some time ago and found that this is a well-known folk song - though, like most folk songs, it has infinitely variable lyrics.

Are songs like this dying out? They shouldn't be allowed to. Folk music, snippets of songs, even aphorisms and obscure cliches all contain grains of folk wisdom, traces of our history that flavor our culture like spices in a meal.

Fortunately the Internet provides a convenient repository for these cultural traces. If you remember any old songs your grandparents used to sing when you were a little kid, why not publish them to a blog or other website somewhere? And, Googlebots willing, perhaps the next time someone does a search on "I met my true love in a glue factory" they won't come up empty.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Thermal inversion

April showers bring May flowers

I thought something felt out of kilter last month.

Months usually follow established seasonal patterns here in Northeastern PA: February is raw and cold, a lousy location for Valentine's Day; March is cold, dry, and windy, a good month to fly a kite; April is cool and wet, especially in the latter half of the month; and May is warm and sunny, a time to plant gardens.

Well, all that's in the used-to-be column. April was hot and dry this year, and May has been cool and - in the past week or so - wet. I couldn't figure out why I had a creepy feeling the first few weeks of April, looking at the trees appearing naked in their pre-leaf stage while temperatures soared. In a typical year at this stage I would be looking at these trees through curtains of rain, and everything would register as normal for Spring. Now I was seeing early-Spring trees with early-Summer weather.

The dryness and warmth of April bled over into the first few weeks of May. Temperatures dropped a bit but the dryness continued, creating conditions ideal for brushfires. Then it started raining - just a trickle compared to some other places, like much of New England, which have received heavy rain and flooding. But it's rained every day for over a week.

Yesterday there was a break: light rain in the morning followed by sunshine the rest of the day. In the afternoon I decided to plant the tomato plants that I bought on Saturday (Rutgers, Big Boy, and some alleged Brandywines which may actually be peppers). (Yes, I know I'm lame for buying plants rather than start them from seed.) I also planted some marigolds, scarlet salvia, red and yellow onions, carrots (Danvers) and radishes (French Breakfast). Also three types of sunflowers.

It took me a few hours to prepare the pre-broken soil, work in some organic fertilizer (composted chicken manure from Agway - it smells like chocolate), and get the plants situated. Then the wind picked up.

Then I remembered the frost warnings. Yes, frost warnings in the fourth week of May.

I couldn't locate any of my Wall-O-Water frost protectors, so I did what I hope was the next best thing: I covered over the newly-planted plants with the first thing I could grab - which happened to be some burlap.

Now I'm going out to pull it off. We'll see if they made it through the night.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ashley on Basement Flooding

If you know me or have been a regular reader since January of 2005, you know that I've had to deal with basement flooding several times. (See here for an account of flooding in January 2005, and here for a flood situation in March 2005, on the day the Pope died.) Aspiring comic-book writer Ashley from Ink On Paper has written an excellent, informative, and thorough article for Associated Content called "What to Do About Basement Flooding: Keeping Ahead of Water Filled Basements". It covers pretty much every lesson I've ever learned through hard experience - experience I could have mostly avoided if I had read Ashley's article beforehand! (I have some friends in Maryland who would've found the article helpful two weeks ago, as would have many, many people in the New England area this past week.) Please check it out and give Ashley some feedback!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Welcome to the Presidency. Now learn English!

From White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's "Press Gaggle" of May 19, 2006:
So the answer is the administration -- as the President has said, one of the things that you want to make sure is that when at the end of a path, people who wish to become American citizens are ready for that, that they have a command of the English language.
It's unfortunate that a command of the English language isn't a requirement for the Office of the President.

Has anybody really thought this through? My grandmother was the daughter of Polish immigrants, and she spoke fluent Polish and unaccented English. (Not even a Nanticoke accent. At best she had an "accent" that consisted of words and phrases that she had picked up over 60 years before I was born.) She and my mother, who also speaks Polish, were able to hold conversations in Polish in front of me and I had no idea what they were saying.

I took two years of Spanish in High School and one semester of Scientific German in college, and am fluent in neither language. Thanks to my job I can distinguish written Spanish from written Portuguese, and written Icelandic from written Danish or Norwegian. I can also distinguish Norwegian from Danish some of the time (the "jag" vs. "jeg" rule - or is that Swedish?), and I can distinguish written Finnish from pretty much any other language on Earth. But I don't have a command of any other language but English. Like most Americans, I am monolingual.

So here we are, telling people that if they want to become U.S. citizens and do not already speak English, they have to become bilingual. What a terrible idea! Suddenly bilingual immigrants-turned-citizens will have a huge advantage over monolingual citizens-by-birth. They will be able to speak two languages, while the rest of us will know only one. And why should they stop there? Once they've learned a second language, how do we stop them from learning a third or a fourth? Next thing you'll know, somebody will be expecting us to stretch our minds by learning stuff. And learning stuff is hard!

Well, best to get started. I found some stuff on the Internets about Latin. "Orge-Geay Ush-bay is an oron-may." Hey, I might just get the hang of this second language thing!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Two old dogs

Me with Haley, May 21, 2005

Haley died a year ago this weekend. This is the last photo taken of the two of us together, taken by my neighbor's dogsitter.

There actually aren't many pictures of the two of us together. Partly this is because I'm usually the one behind the camera, partly because I'm a lot camera-shy, and partly because...I guess it just never occurred to me to have a portrait done of the two of us together until after she was gone. Someday I will create one.

This isn't the best picture ever of me, nor of her. It was the Saturday of her final visit to the vet, May 21, 2005, a few hours after we had gotten the news. I was slumped into an Adirondack chair, my coat pulled close against the unseasonal cold of last May, wrapped around me as a cloak of grief. My face is red from the cold...and the crying...and from rosacea and whatnot. The cold made Haley's survival possible for as long as she lived. Warmer weather would have killed her faster; as it is she spent her last two hours of life with her head against a fan, the cooling breeze pointed at her panting tongue.

Haley doesn't look her best because she had less than 36 hours to live before her cancer would kill her. She looks so small, so thin, so bony, her luxurious orange and white fur coat flat and dull. I have her harness on - why the hell did I have her harness on? At that point she could barely stand, or walk; surely I didn't think she would run away? But I think I had it on for two reasons: It was there to help me help her to stand up without placing too much strain on any point in her body. And it was there as a refusal to give in to the inevitability of death. Not yet, you son of a bitch. Not yet.

(I am crying now.)

Haley was my best and closest friend. We walked together for hundreds of miles. We shared many, many experiences. She is gone now, gone for a year. She is a pile of ashes in a beautifully carved box that sits on the chest of drawers that once held her pills. I accept this.

But still I am allowed to miss her. Still I am allowed to cry.

Should Bush be impeached?

A serious discussion broke out on Adam Felber's site in the comments to his latest post on his upcoming book. Seems the latest talking point being tossed around by the Republican spokesmodels is this: If the Democrats should happen to regain control of Congress in the November 2006 elections, they will immediately derail the important work being done by Congress in order to pursue impeachment hearings against our divinely anointed President. This is the latest ploy in the "Politics of Fear" campaign. But is it a legitimate concern?

Impeachment, we should all keep in mind, is not removal from office. Andrew Johnson was impeached, and Bill Clinton was impeached, and both served out their full terms. Richard Nixon was not impeached; in the great tradition of cowards everywhere he cut and run by resigning the Presidency before Congress had the chance.

Should Bush be impeached? Should Clinton have been impeached? The "high crimes or misdemeanors" Clinton committed consisted primarily of lying to Congress about whether or not he had sexual relations with an intern. (By the definition of "sexual relations" embraced by the Theocons, the answer is an emphatic "no." For them, a blowjob doesn't count as sexual contact.) His impeachment was a national embarassment, a baring of the face of a partisan Congress that had committed itself whole-heartedly to the undoing of the will of the American people by turning all of its energies to undermining an extremely popular President who was presiding over a nation enjoying an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity.

Should Bush be impeached? On the face of it his crimes appear to be much worse than anything Clinton did, starting with the false oath he took on January 20th, 2001 and again on January 20th, 2005 when he swore to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic - and then set about undermining the Constitution at every turn. But that first oath was only the beginning of a pattern of lies and corruption not seen since the glorious days of the Reagan administration.

And there's more. Well, there's probably more. The Bush administration is the most secretive in history - recent history, at least - and they're very good at hiding evidence under the pretext of "National Security", shielded from the prying eyes of anyone who might hold them accountable.

Should Bush be impeached? I don't know. It would be up to an Independent Counsel to determine if evidence exists that might result in a Congressional call for impeachment. Only the Office of the Independent Counsel doesn't exist anymore. It expired with Ken Lay and was never reestablished.

There are lots of folks out there who voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 who now regret their decisions. But what can they do to make it up to the country? Some, I am sure, are planning on flogging themselves on their town squares while wearing sackcloth and ashes and lamenting "I am a fool! I voted for Bush!", but that won't do much good.

What they can do is call for the reestablishment of the Office of the Independent Counsel to at least launch a wide-ranging probe into the allegations that have been made against George W. Bush. Now, that probably won't happen with the current Congress. Actually, not a lot happens with the current Congress. I hear they're planning on having a week of hearings into the crisis of flag-burning, maybe sometime after they conclude their ongoing hearings on steroids in baseball.*

No, what they can do is vote the bastards out in November, and vote in a crop of Democrats who won't roll over and play dead for the President. Should Bush be impeached? It's an open question. But the next time someone suggests that the Democrats will pursue impeachment once they're back in charge, I hope they respond with something like this:

“No one is above the law, not even the President. But when we are in control of Congress we do not intend to ignore the business of America to pursue political vendettas. We have all learned a lesson from the gridlock and pettiness of the Republican-controlled Congress during the Clinton Presidency.”

Should Bush be impeached?

You decide.

*Sorry, it turns out what they were doing this week is finally resolving the long-unresolved issue of what to make sure Janet Jackson's bared nipple never again makes an appearance at the Super Bowl. And debating whether or not to make English the official language of the U.S. Please ignore that smoke, just sit back and enjoy the fiddling.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pat Robertson, weatherman

The latest tactic pseudo-Christian Pat Robertson has found to keep his name in the headlines? Weather forecasts.

Yes, Pat "I'm not a Christian, but I play one on TV" Robertson is calling for hurricanes during this upcoming hurricane season. Well, not him, exactly, but he's pretty sure that's what God said. Also, he's noted that plate tectonics is causing motion in the Pacific plate, and maybe this might possibly result in catastrophic earthquakes or whatnot that will trigger tsunamis in those areas of the Pacific Northwest that have been prearing for tsunamis for decades. Hey Pat, did God say anything about snow next Winter? 'Cause I'm betting it's gonna snow. Too bad about your Liberian investments - was it more Christian for your buddy Charles Taylor's troops to amputate limbs "short sleeve" or "long sleeve"? By the way, how's that Venezuelan assassination thing going?

I'm disgusted by the role religion is playing in the culture wars. I'm tired of watching people plunge further and further into religious intolerance and extremism, plummetting relentlessly to the far right towards the hate-based religions like the Kansas cult that calls itself the"Westboro Baptist Church". These are the people who preach the message "GOD HATES FAGS", the nutjobs who have been disrupting the funerals of U.S. soldiers to let the world know that God killed our soldiers because they were fighting for a nation that embraces homosexuals. (A lot of homosexuals would be surprised by that description of the U.S., but there you have it.) Theocons are rapidly crabwalking towards positions that are in line with many of the WBC cult's views, some of them while maintaining that they are the only real moderates in the room.

Some will assert that because I do not share their views of Christianity, or do not adhere to their vision of Catholicism, I have no right to call myself a Christan or a Catholic. Fair enough - but wrong, very wrong. Anyone who believes that God is Hate is a long, long way from wisdom and enlightenment.*

But it's a characteristic of these sorts of people that they are absolutely convinced of the rightness of their positions, and no amount of logical argument or spiritual persuasion will serve to budge them. So, for all you religious extremists and Theocon extremist wannabees, here's my advice to you: wear your rubbers.

Because Pat Robertson says it's gonna rain.

*Compare to the First Letter of John, Chapter 4, verses 8 and 20: "Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love." "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Buy this book

I've been hanging out at Adam Felber's Fanatical Apathy ever since around the time of that great national catastrophe, the 2004 Presidential Election. I found his site in a fairly odd manner: I was searching the internet for pictures of Sue Ellicott, who frequently appears on NPR's weekly news game show Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, as does Adam Felber. (I don't think the photos I found, which were from somebody's wedding - possibly Adam's! - are still on Adam's site.) After posts like Concession Speech and Group Activity: Headlines From the 2nd Term I was hooked. I was also immediately an enthusiastic and frequent commenter, and quickly became a member of a group of regular commenters on his site. Unfortunately, all of the comments from the two posts I mentioned, as well as comments for many other posts from this long-ago time, have been wiped out and replaced with trackbacks. Fortunately, Concession Speech and Headlines were both wildly popular and were copied and forwarded all over the Internet, frequently with the current set of comments attached. So those comments are still out there, somewhere.

Adam has been working on his first novel for some time now, and the release date for Schrödinger’s Ball is finally almost here. For some early reviews, a link to the Amazon page for the book that features a lengthy excerpt, and a "complete the excerpt" game check out this post. Adam announced the opening of the website dedicated to Schrödinger’s Ball today, and you can visit the website itself here. You can also pre-order the book (which has a release date of August 16) by clicking on the link from either Fanatical Apathy or the Schrödinger’s Ball site.

Buying a book by a writer whose blog you visit regularly who you first heard of as a regular guest on an NPR radio game show isn't enough? Fine. Break down the fifth (or is it sixth?) wall and come to Felberpalooza, September 2-4 (Labor Day weekend) in lovely south central Pennsylvania on the grounds of Grouseland. Meet other fans of Adam Felber face-to-face, and possibly (maybe, we hope, we hope) meet the guest of honor himself (if he can squeeze it into his schedule just two weeks after the release of his book), Adam Felber!

If you're not a fan of Adam Felber yet, there's still time - visit Fanatical Apathy, listen to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, buy Schrödinger’s Ball, and then join the rest of us at Felberpalooza!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

If you're not angry, you're not paying attention

My homeward-bound commute usually starts sometime between 6:00 and 6:30, just in time for me to catch Fresh Air with Terry Gross on my local NPR station. In case you don't remember, this is the show where Terry Gross made Bill O'Reilly cry like a pussy and run out of the studio by - get this - asking him questions. (Sissy O'Reilly later claimed that she was mean and unfair and didn't come close to showing the level of courtesy he shows his own interviewees. Coward.)

Fresh Air usually involves interviews with recent authors, so interviewees cover the entire spectrum of human experience, from actors and athletes to politicians and pundits. About half the time the show centers around topics I don't really care about, and on these occasions I get to venture out into the crapfield that is commercial radio. (God, I need to hook my CD player up again soon. I took it out of the car when I went to Ireland and never put it back.) But other days the show is riveting and engaging and sometimes even results in what NPR refers to as "driveway moments" - times when I sit in my parked car listening to my radio for five, ten, fifteen minutes or more because I can't stand to turn off the interview. This tends to get me some odd looks in the Sam's Club parking lot.

Lately there have been more and more of these sorts of interviews, probably because the worsening political and social situation in the United States is resulting in more books and articles being published on more important and relevant topics. This, at least, is a sign that some parts of American society are still functioning - or need attention, depending on which side you're on in the culture wars. Here are three recent shows:

May 9, 2006 · The Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage noted in a recent article that President Bush has asserted the right to ignore numerous sections of laws passed by Congress. The scrutiny prompted Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) to call for June hearings to investigate the matter.

Ever wonder why Our Unitary President has never vetoed a single bill presented to him by Congress? Two words: signing statements. Bush has decided that his novel interpretation of the role of the President means that he and he alone my decide how laws passed by Congress apply to the office of the President. Gosh, did someone say "Checks and Balances"? Check out this cartoon for a perfect illustration of the concept, courtesy of fellow Felbernaut Sharon.

May 11, 2006 · Journalist Michelle Goldberg, a senior writer for the online magazine Salon, and covers the Christian Right. In her new book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, she writes that Christian nationalists believe the Bible is literally true -- and they want to see the nation governed by that truth.

American Theocracy and the coming Culture Wars. Better decide which side you're on, fast. I know where I stand. Do you know who you'll side with? This is a scary, scary topic.

May 16, 2006 · While the Northern Marianas Islands are a U.S. territory, they are exempt from the usual American laws regulating minimum wage, tariffs, quotas and immigration. Yet clothing sewn in the sweatshops bears the "made in the USA" label. To further complicate matters, the Marianas were a client of Jack Abramoff, who, with the help of Tom Delay, blocked legislation that would have eliminated these exemptions.

Ms. magazine reporter Rebecca Clarren and executive editor Katherine Spillar discuss the latest issue's cover article about the sweatshops of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Sweatshops, slave wages, human trafficking, forced abortions, women pushed into the sex trade - all on American territory, all with the consent and support of lobbyist/puppetmaster/convicted criminal Jack Abramoff and stooge/thug/not-yet-convicted criminal Tom DeLay. Another proud moment for Republicans everywhere!

Listen. Get angry. And do something about it.

SJLA reunion recap

This past weekend's SJLA reunion was less traumatic than I had expected. There were only a handful of representatives from my class - five of us, I believe. Overall attendance was down a bit from last time. I think there were fewer than 60 alumni present this year, while at our last reunion in 2001 there were over 80, at least as far as I can tell from this photo.

With most class reunions you find yourself reunited with many people you know, once knew, or sort-of knew, all of whom shared common experiences at the same time. The SJLA reunion is a different sort of animal: alumni were present from many different years, from the early eighties to the class of 2005, and through these years the program had been constantly changing and evolving. Classes had been added to or dropped from the program, professors had come and gone (and in some cases, died of old age), and the overall tone of the program had varied slightly as the precise mix of students, professors, and subjects had changed.

We had "Back to the Classroom" sessions, our choice of three half-hour mini-classes out of six that were offered. I chose the three that were being presented by my former professors. They were all-too-brief, and while I was the only representative of the class of 1989 present at any of my sessions I came this close to meeting several interesting younger women who were in the same groups as me, including an M.D. who deals with geriatric patients and a newly-minted kindergarten teacher. Alas, the half-hour sessions didn't give enough time for interaction and we quickly found ourselves travelling in different directions for our next sessions.

Our lunch (on the fifth floor of Brennan Hall) was followed by several more presentations by professors and alumni, which led to a discussion session that I had to skip to attend a memorial Mass for my uncle who died last year. (Scranton is only 25 miles from Nanticoke.) I returned for cocktails and dinner, which I mostly spent in the company of my fellow members of the class of '89.

So in the end the reunion was not as traumatic as I expected, but at the same time it was less stimulating than I had hoped. (The stimulation would have been a function of the trauma, so the two go hand in hand.) Still, I walked away with some ideas (most of which can be summed up with the words "SJLA blog") that I'd like to work on a bit before I relay them to Father McKinney, head of the SJLA program. And I'm definitely looking forward to the next reunion in 2011!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Errors of fact

I just got back from having dinner with my mother and my sister at a local Perkins restaurant. In the booth next to us four young adults argued good-naturedly amongst themselves about whether there are fifty-one or fifty-two states in the United States. Some of my friends will be pleased to know that I demonstrated remarkable restraint, held my tongue, and did not turn around and provide them with the correct answer. Others will be horrified to know that I let this group leave the restaurant believing that there are fifty-one states, with Puerto Rico slated to become the fifty-second. (The correct answer, as of this writing, is that there are only fifty states in the U.S.)

Random groups of twentysomethings I will let off the hook - their ignorance and misinformation will only lead to a slow decline and collapse of Western civilization. On the other hand, professors from Georgetown (a well-respected Jesuit university) who insist on making fools of themselves in public will get no such breaks from me.

I saw a "Comment and analysis" piece in the latest issue of New Scientist by Francis Slakey called "How to kick the habit". (This is a restricted-access article, so non-subscribers will only be able to access the first few paragraphs. Fortunately, someone has thoughtfully plagiarized the entire article - complete with errors - here.) According to the mini-bio at the end of the piece, "Francis Slakey is the Upjohn lecturer in physics and biology and co-director of the Program on Science in the Public Interest at Georgetown University, Washington DC." With credentials like that, any errors of fact incur my full wrath. And so I did something I have only ever done once before* - I wrote a letter to the editor of New Scientist:

I must note a few glaring errors made by Francis Slakey in his Comment and Analysis piece "How to kick the habit" ( New Scientist, 13 May 2006, page 21.) He states that Jimmy Carter "endorsed a 55 mph limit when upheaval in the Middle East led to a crisis in the 1970s." This may be technically true in the same sense that Jimmy Carter also endorsed a myriad of other already-existing laws and policies - since the national 55 mph highway speed limit was signed into law by Richard M. Nixon, who was President two places before Carter.

He goes on to say "The public groaned, and then kicked him out of office, along with the policy." While the first part of this statement is true, if overly simplistic, Carter served a full term in office. His unsuccessful re-election bid was the result a combination of factors unrelated to the national speed limit, including the ongoing Iranian hostage situation and an aggressive campaign by the charismatic Ronald Reagan. The national speed limit of 55 mph remained solidly in place for until 1986**, five years after Jimmy Carter left office, and remains in effect to this day on much of the U.S. highway system.
Slakey makes yet another error of historical fact: "President Carter achieved this in 1975 by passing a law..." This would have been difficult for President Carter to do in 1975, considering that he was not elected President until November 1976 and was not sworn in until January 1977. And to be pedantic about it, U.S. Presidents do not pass laws. That is the role of Congress.

For any academician to be so sloppy about the easily-verifiable facts of U.S. history is shameful. For these mistakes to be made by a Georgetown professor and co-director of the Program on Science in the Public Interest is even worse. Sadly, such errors only serve to undermine the credibility of his arguments.


Yeah. That'll show him. Better check your facts next time, buster. You've been warned.

*The only time I ever did this before was last week. So I may be turning into a letter-to-the-editor-of-New Scientist-writing crank.

**Sheesh. I wish I had proofread this better.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Soon to be nothing but memories and rubble

The Gunster Center, a.k.a. the Student Center
One of the next changes coming to the University of Scranton will be the demolition of the Gunster Center, which will be replaced by a bigger Student Center. I have a lot of memories from this building - playing video games and pinball machines (Tetris, Altered Beast, Pinball Deluxe, Cue Ball Wizard, and others) in the basement, known then as "The Archives" and later as "The Wolves' Den", eating many meals in both the second floor cafeteria and the "new" (completed in 1985, I believe, the year that I started there) third floor cafeteria officially known as the "Pocono Northeast Room" (indicated by the glass windows on the left on the top floor), studying inbetween classes in the windowed room on the right, hanging out at Campus Ministries, buying National Lampoon in the bookstore, spending late nights in a lounge that was later transformed into offices...

I met the widow of the architect once at a dinner. She told me (and the others at our table) that the strange shape of the roof was meant to represent an open book. This had never occurred to anybody that I know, and the addition of the new cafeteria on the third floor disruped the symmetry of the design.

The clock in front is new to me, and I immediately dubbed it the "One-Faced Liar", because when I looked at it it was three minutes slow. (This is a reference to Shandon Bells in Cork, Ireland, known as the "Four-Faced Liar" because once upon a time each of the four clock faces on the tower showed a different time. Thoughts of Ireland are never far from my mind in Scranton.) It is entirely possible that there was another face on the other side - I never got around to checking. Clocks in classrooms in St. Thomas Hall were also off by a few minutes. I wonder if this ever causes any problems?

We had our SJLA reunion dinner in the Eagen Auditorium in the Gunster Center. It was a little sad, thinking that this was probably the last time we would see a building that had been a big part of our lives for four years.

My old mailbox, #741
I stepped out of our dinner to use the bathroom, the same bathroom that had been there in 1985, and I decided to give myself a quick tour of the surroundings. The mailboxes were still there, with exactly the same mailbox numbers - or in the case of my old mailbox, lack of a number.

The wall of plaques in the Eagen Auditorium
The plaques representing all of the country's Jesuit universities were still on the wall of the Eagen Auditorium. During one of our "back to the classroom" events a side issue came up regarding Jesuit identity at the school. Back in our day, Jesuit identity on the University of Scranton campus was maintained by the presence of Jesuits. But in the ensuing years Jesuit numbers have dwindled, just as the number of Catholic priests in the country has dwindled. Fewer and fewer Jesuits now walk the Z-bricks of The Commons. How do you maintain a Jesuit identity without Jesuits?

Curtain and stage at the Eagen Auditorium
Soon the Gunster Center will vanish into the past, and the Eagen Auditorium, the Pocono Northeast Room, the cafeteria, the Wolves' Den, and all of the other places in it will just be memories and rubble. I believe it has been the practice in recent U of S construction to salvage and incorporate portions of demolished buildings - windows, doors, other things - into the buildings that have taken their place. I wonder what of the Gunster Center will live on in its replacement?

Scranton from the fifth floor of Brennan Hall

Scranton, looking North
from the fifth floor of Brennan Hall
Elm Park Church
Some photos I took from the fifth floor of Brennan Hall. This building really has a beautiful view, and I know that the new library ("new" = "built since I graduated", so "new" may mean up to sixteen years old, since I graduated seventeen years ago this month) also has some remarkable views. That seems to be one of the guiding principles in the new construction, and something that was lacking in the older buildings. Or perhaps the older buildings had beautiful views but they were obscured by subsequent construction. But, on second thought, both the Weinberg Library and Brennan Hall have great open balconies that give views well above the treetops and rooflines of their surroundings, a design feature that was absent on older buildings.

How Bizarre

I'll report on the SJLA reunion later. Here's something to settle a question raised at an after-reunion get-together at a bar:

The song "How Bizarre" is by the band OMC, which originally stood for "Otara Millionaires Club". It is not by Sugar Ray, who had a similar (but even more annoying) song called "Every Morning."

Friday, May 12, 2006

SJLA reunion dress code

I've been debating what to wear to tomorrow's SJLA reunion. I sort-of settled on a sport coat, dress shirt, tie, and dress pants. Looks like I made that same decision five years ago, as recorded for posterity in this photo from the 2001 reunion that I took from the SJLA reunion website. (I'm in the front row, next to the woman in red.)

Judging from this picture I was a little overdressed. Maybe I'll go for something a bit more casual this time...in which case everyone else will probably dress up, and I'll end up looking like a slob. Well, after the dinner I almost certainly will look like a slob, so may as well go for it.

Now, I just need to figure out where the heck Brennan Hall is. They keep on building these buildings...

One more anniversary

In two days it will be the second anniversary of Another Monkey. Since tomorrow is the SJLA reunion and Sunday is Mother's Day, I don't know if I'll be able to post on the actual anniversary, so this will have to do!

A big THANK YOU! to everybody who has stopped by over the past two years, especially to everybody who's left comments! Without you, this would just be a bunch of murmurs in the darkness. Thanks so much, and I hope you keep coming back for many years to come!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

One month without Ashes

It's been one month, almost to the minute, since Ashes died.

It's also been five years since Douglas Adams died, a year and a day since Haley and I went for a morning walk under a sun pillar, and a year and three days since I took this picture of my father. In eleven days it will be a year since my uncle died, and in twelve days it will be a year since Haley's death. In thirteen days it will be nine months since my father died.

It doesn't end there. Another of my uncles, who took a sharp turn for the worse at the end of last August, is not expected to live much longer.

And a friend's cat just died yesterday after a bout with cancer.

It never ends. So long as life goes on, so too will death.

Five years without Douglas Adams

I meant to remember, but I forgot. Gareth's post at Another Chance To See reminded me.

Douglas Adams died on May 11, 2001 at the age of 49 while exercising at a gym.

The world is a happier place because of him, and a sadder place without him.

Discretionary Income; or, How the rising price of gasoline is affecting Tom Cruise

I work in a factory that manufactures CDs and DVDs. I am not exactly what you would call a "factory worker", but I am a little too hands-on to be classified as an "office worker." I am the Asset Manager for our DVD Compression, Encoding, and Authoring department. That means that I get the bits and pieces that will become all the video and audio features on the DVD from our clients, and then I figure out how they will all fit onto a little shiny disc. After a few mathematical magic tricks, the project assets are ready for my friends to Compress, and Encode, and Author.*

So in a sense I'm in both the manufacturing industry and the entertainment industry. We are, first and foremost, a manufacturing facility, with gazillions of widgets being popped out every so many days.** But the product we make is essentially an entertainment consumable. It's something people want to buy to keep themselves entertained.

Over the years I've learned bits and pieces of business terminology. "Fixed costs", for example, are extremely important to understand in everything from factories to schools to hospitals to the Space Shuttle program. If you don't understand your fixed costs and how they relate to your total costs, you don't have a hope in hell in business.

A more personal business term that I've learned is "discretionary income." This is the money that's left over from your paycheck after you've paid for all the things that must be paid for - taxes, housing, food, necessary transportation. This is the money you can spend, or save, as you please. This is the money that pays for your satellite dish and your HDTV and going out to eat three or four times a month. This is the money you spend on vacations and road trips. This is the money that you spend on CDs or DVDs or going to the movies.

Three years ago gas was, according to my records, about $1.50 a gallon, half of what it is today. Six years ago it was closer to $1.00 a gallon. I consume about 600 gallons of gas a year, mostly for going back and forth to work. I am spending $900 a year more on gas than I did three years ago, and $1200 a year more than I did six years ago. That's a lot less discretionary income for me to play with, a lot fewer CDs and DVDs and trips to the movies that I can spend money on.

Mission: Impossible III opened this past weekend and took in more than $47.7 million dollars - a box office gross that is considered disappointing by Hollywood, at least for a Tom Cruise film. That crazy Scientologist Tom Cruise and his crazy couch-jumping antics, the Hollywood analysts say. See how he has hurt the opening weekend box office for this film.

Well, yes, that may be true. Tom Cruise's Year of Living Weirdly has perhaps taken a toll on the public perception of an actor who was once considered a bit odd, a lot private, but generally kinda nice and likeable. But is that why people didn't go to see his movie?

The price of gas is up. Discretionary income is down. Even if you use you car for nothing more than getting to work, you are still paying twice what you were three years ago, three times what you were paying six years ago. You might not have noticed, but you really do have less money in your wallet after you've paid for all the things that must be paid for. That means you have less money to spend on eating out, or going on vacation, or on CDs, or DVDs, or movies.

People say, "When will the high price of gas start affecting the economy?" I say, it already has. It's affecting me, as people choose not to spend their discretionary income on CDs and DVDs. It's affecting Tom Cruise, as people choose not to spend their discretionary income on going to the movies. It will eventually affect every sector of the economy, as people continue to reprioritize their discretionary spending - or worse, opt to go deeper in debt for that new car or widescreen HDTV or other luxury item that they simply cannot live without.

But there is something you can do about it. Something you can do which will have a positive impact on the economy. Something that will help make American jobs more secure.

Buy more DVDs. (Cue The Battle Hymn of the Republic.) Yes, by buying more DVDs, DVDs that have been made in America***, you are helping the economy, and helping to make American jobs more secure. My job in particular. Screw Tom Cruise, he's loaded. Spend your discretionary income on DVDs.

Thank you for your support.


*This is a completely different process than what you might be doing in your basement with the "DVD Authoring" program that came with your new computer.

**This is a lot cavalier of me. Our widgets are extremely sophisticated, complicated, high-tech widgets, and I do not mean in any way to imply that this is the same sort of process that's used to make pancakes or bottlecaps or soapdishes.

***Check the back first to make sure they're not stamped "MADE IN MEXICO" - those discs don't do anything to help me, though they may in the long run have a positive effect on the illegal immigration situation
.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Camilla's moblog

I was working on a post called "Discretionary Income; or, How the rising price of gasoline is affecting Tom Cruise", but Firefox crashed on me twice while I was writing it. I decided to salvage what I could and maybe finish the thing off in the morning, when my computer is a little cooler. (Current room temperature is 79.4 degrees Fahrenheit.)

In the meantime, there's been a Camilla sighting. She hasn't been eaten by a moose or crushed by a glacier or tossed into a fjord, at least not as far as I can tell. She's posted some new photos on her moblog. I'm not sure what a moblog is. I think it might be a blog made up of pictures taken from a cell-phone camera, but if I try to look it up I'll risk crashing Firefox again.

Maybe in the morning I'll try adding Camilla's moblog (which is called "Pus", which may or may not mean something different in Norwegian than it does in English) to my sidebar, but not tonight. As long as Firefox (or my PC) is acting up I don't want to try to edit my template.

SJLA reunion this weekend

I'm going to a college reunion of sorts this weekend. The reunion isn't for any particular class year, but rather for all of the alumni of the University of Scranton's Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) program.

Reunions for me are always a time of internal conflict. Even just meeting with a few old friends several months ago brought on these feelings - inadequacy, disappointment with what I've done with my life, feelings that I've wasted my time and not lived up to my potential. I think some of my readers thought of this as a case of the "winter blues", coming as it did at the very end of December, but I believe it was actually a moment of clarity, a moment when all of my comfortable daily routines had been stripped away and I was forced to confront the reality of my situation.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. This weekend may be the kick in the pants I need to do something with my life beyond grinding the daily grind and hoping that things will get better. As I recently heard on the radio from a soldier, a veteran of Iraq, "Hope is not a strategy." (He was quoting someone else.) And I can console myself with the knowledge that many of the other people at the reunion are experiencing their own feelings of disappointment with themselves, regardless of their levels of success.

Sounds like fun, huh? Actually, I'm sure it will be. I'll be seeing a lot of people I haven't seen in a very long time. I'll have to take copies of my blog card with me!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Blogspot problems, again

Another Monkey was down for a period of time this morning. It's possible that this outage affected all Blogspot blogs - even after Another Monkey came back up I couldn't get on Mr. H.K.'s Postcards From Hell's Kitchen or Gort's Gort42, both of which are Blogspot blogs.

This is the first time I've encountered a problem in a while, but I've seen recent complaints from Gort and from John Webster of webster107. I know Gort is thinking of changing over to another blogging service, and Puppetdude already has. Last year Chris Pirillo trashed Blogspot for its infestation of fake blogs - actually, he went much further than that, declaring Blogspot "nothing but a crapfarm" (I'm still waiting for that apology, Pirillo - you insulted me and millions of others who actually write real content on our blogs) with 99% fake blogs (demonstrating either mathematical ineptness or a willingness to make up statistics on the spot to serve his own needs.) Pirillo and his minions even agreed to ghetto-ize Blogspot blogs, some going so far as to block comments from anyone listing a Blogspot address in their blog's URL. (Most blog comments have a feature that allows you to provide a link to your own site - but by this rule, I would not be allowed to post http://www.anothermonkey.blogspot.com/.) I suspect ulterior motives - after all, a free site like Blogger takes money away from pay-to-blog sites, and there's a lot of money to be made with pay-to-blog sites.

So, Chris Pirillo's objections and motivations aside, I think Blogger should take a look at the ongoing exodus of users and address the issues. Outages? Resolve them, and prevent them. Features offered by other blogging tools, like "categories"? Identify them, and incorporate them! Fake blogs? Police them. Many of the ones I've seen feature similar structures and even similar text - these should be easy to root out.

It still doesn't look like Another Monkey is 100% back - my sidebar is missing on my main page, although it is present on subpages, and this may already have been resolved. For all its problems, I like Blogspot, and I'm not about to give in to the blog-snobbery of Chris Pirillo and his ilk. But these problems do need to be addressed.

David Blaine's "Drowned Alive" stunt ends

Well, David Blaine failed to hold his breath underwater for as long as he had hoped. He also failed to drown himself, which a certain segment of the population was hoping for.

I've never been too impressed with David Blaine. I've always been a fan of stage magicians, particularly the iconoclastic duo of Penn & Teller. (I have a photo of my mom standing next to Penn after a show in Scranton a few years ago. She is very short and he is very tall - she barely comes to the level of his elbow.) But Blaine's focus seems to not be about the wonder of illusions, or about the skill that is required to pull off a magic trick believably. Blaine has always seemed to me to be more about self-promotion. This stunt was no exception.

If anything good has come of this, it has been to dispel the myth that New Yorkers are rude and apathetic. Read Mr. H.K.'s impressions on seeing David Blaine, for example, and compare that to the reported behavior of Londoners during a stunt he performed there in 2003. Similarly, his London stunt seems to have served primarily to dispel the myth that Londoners are civilized and polite. So perhaps the point of Blaine's stunts is not what specifically he is doing, but how the crowds respond to his stunts - magic as performance art and sociology.

On a brighter note from the world of entrapment and escape, the Australian gold miners who had been trapped for nearly two weeks were finally freed yesterday. Good on them.

Monday, May 08, 2006

David Blaine: Copycat!

I just realized that David Blaine's "Drowned Alive" stunt is not in any way original. The chains, he has admitted, are an homage to Harry Houdini. But the acrylic sphere filled with water? He stole that from South Park - a South Park episode that made fun of...David Blaine!

The episode is from Season 5 and is called "Super Best Friends". David Blaine has started a cult called Blaintology and has attracted many, many followers, including Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman. Stan leaves the cult, and when Kyle has second thoughts he is betrayed by Cartman and is locked in a clear acrylic sphere in the cult's compound. Blaine leads his followers on a march on Washington, D.C. to demand official recognition as a religion - or the Blaintologists will commit mass suicide by drowning themselves in the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Monument. This turns out to be a challenge since the reflecting pool is less than a foot deep. So the Blaintologists drown themselves one at a time by lying facedown in the pool - except for Kyle, who is to be drowned by having his acrylic sphere filled with water.

This is one of the funniest episodes of South Park, but you'll probably never see it on TV again. When Stan seeks help from South Park resident Jesus in dealing with the Blaintologists, Jesus enlists the help of his Super Best Friends - Krishna, Lao Tzu, Buddha, Joseph Smith, Moses, Sea-Man...and Mohammed. So you'll just have to buy the Season 5 DVDs or take my word for it. Blaine is defeated, but he escapes, and today we are seeing what happens as a result...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Would you like to buy a book about this annoying ad?

Is it just me, or is anyone else running into performance problems whenever they hit the new Ask.com ad? It's a little sidebar ad that uses a moving image of blurred search results flashing by while text pushing Ask.com floats over it. Unfortunately, my poor little computer on my poor little dialup connection has a hard time processing these graphics and performance slows to a crawl. If I have multiple pages open that contain this ad, or multiple copies of the ad on a single page, my browser may lock up or my computer may crash.

I know, I know. My computer is a little old 1999 (pre-Y2k!) Compaq Presario 7478 that has been upgraded only once, with the addition of a huge amount of RAM. (For some reason this PC came with a laughably small amount of RAM and I couldn't even upgrade to whatever the latest version of AOL was back in 2001 without the addition of another memory...thing.) And I'm still on dialup. Hey, what can I say? I'm a late adopter, and I'd rather hold onto my money and buy this year's latest and greatest computer at next year's discount prices.

I've never tried Ask.com. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from its previous incarnation as Ask Jeeves. Ask Jeeves was heavily touted as being the closest thing to AI that you would find in a search engine, but most of my searches resulted in a stock series of non-answers, including the infamous "Would you like to buy a book about ____?" As long as this annoying ad is bogging down my computer I don't think I'll be doing many searches over at Ask.com.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The case of the missing Norwegian work of art

How did I miss this one? I just heard on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me, NPR's hilarious weekly news quiz show, that three people were convicted in Norway in the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and "Madonna", neither of which have been recovered. None of the people convicted, or three other people who were suspected of involvement, were Camilla Henrikke or her boyfriend Henning, which would have explained why I haven't seen signs of activity from Camilla in two weeks.

First Sammie drops off the radar, now maybe Camilla, the two people who inspired me to get into blogging. Hopefully Sammie's new site will be online soon...and I hope Camilla pops back up soon! The blogosphere is starting to become a lonely place.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Colbert correction

I erred in one of my posts regarding Stephen Colbert's performance last Saturday. He spoke at the White House Correspondents Dinner, not the White House Corresondents Dinner. I apologize for the error.

Unfortunately, as of this morning I was the #2 Google result for "Colbert corresondents dinner". So since this error is serving both to provide information to the spelling-challenged and to provide me with additional hits (More friends! More allies!), I will correct the error but at the same time retain the incorrect spelling in the body of the post.

House update

I just signed a big pile of disclosure forms yesterday to get the ball rolling on the purchase of my grandmother's house. Closing was originally projected for May 15, but it looks like a more realistic date is May 31.

Now I have to start lining up an electrical contractor (I want to completely replace the electrical system) and a general contractor (repair a plaster ceiling, replace the front porch, do a few other jobs that are beyond my abilities). Need to get paint, too, lots of paint. I already have much of the furniture and furnishings - some of the stuff, like a kitchen table with matching chairs, a set of cooking pots, and a set of cast-iron skillets, I bought more than ten years ago. Oh, and bookcases...I'll need lots and lots of bookcases. Including at least one barrister bookcase for the kitchen.

This will be an interesting summer.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I have a beautiful commute

I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's the particular angle the sun's track though the sky is making with the mountains that define the Wyoming Valley. Maybe it's the leaves just unfurling from their buds on the trees that cover these mountains the way houses cover the landscape in other areas that are creating just the right proportion of reflection and shadow. Maybe it's the fact that I'm finally, finally, finally almost really and truly over this cold-turned-allergy that has had me in its grip for over a month. But it just struck me today that I have an amazingly beautiful commute.

If you've never driven South along Interstate 81 from Scranton to Nanticoke at about 6:30 on a beautiful May evening you probably don't know what I'm talking about. You've seen paintings of the scene, certainly, lines of gently lilting mountains receding in wavy undulations into the far distance, covered with great curdles of trees in shades of Spring Green and shadows in Burnt Umber, all kissed by a golden glow that probably resulted (in the painting, at least) from age-yellowed varnish. But this isn't a scene out of 16th-century Italy or the 19th-century Western frontier of America. This is real, this is now. This is Northeastern Pennsylvania in the middle of Spring about an hour before sunset.

This is my commute.

Damn, I'm glad I live here.