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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Poopie

We had to run our cat Joey up to the Emergency Vet yesterday.

He has had diarrhea since late Wednesday. We tried to identify and eliminate the usual culprits - new foods, new floral arrangements, new anything in his environment - but there wasn't anything obvious. One item of concern was the fact that Scooter had just been treated for roundworm, a parasite that can cause diarrhea. Could Joey have become infected?

Unfortunately our regular vet has been on vacation for the past two weeks in observance of the Rosh Hashanah / Yom Kippur season. We found this out on Thursday, when we decided that the diarrhea wasn't going to go away on its own. On Friday I suggested (in a note written before I left for work) that we contact another local vet, a friend of a friend and highly respected vet who had treated Haley once. My mom wasn't able to get in touch with him on Friday.

By Saturday morning we decided that we couldn't wait until Tuesday, which is when we already had a follow-up visit for Scooter scheduled at the regular vet. Joey's diarrhea was becoming more frequent, and while he wasn't showing any symptoms of distress it was clear that such a thing couldn't be good for him. We made a call and found the new location of the local Emergency Vet, who had relocated recently since the roof at the old location collapsed over the Winter.

Getting there was an adventure. Weekend construction projects had turned the highway into a parking lot, so we - along with several thousand of our fellow-travelers - took a detour.

We were the only people in the clinic when we got there, aside from the staff and one couple who were checking out with their dog. Still it took a while to get in, and we were bumped once when a couple came in with a dog that was having a seizure. Eventually we got into an examination room.

As soon as we got there my mom remembered something important: Joey had almost run out of food on Monday. He eats only Fancy Feast canned wet cat food, and prefers the Grilled Chicken and Grilled Turkey varieties. I went out to Wal-Mart on Monday and bought twenty-four cans of each variety. We had begun feeding him from those cans almost immediately.

It wasn't a new food, but it was a new batch of food. Could something about it have made him sick?

Our realization came too late, as we were already in the clinic, and the meter was running, so to speak. The vet examined him ad found nothing unusual: no signs of infection, and a list of indicators that could easily be the result of his diarrhea rather than the cause of it. For example, slightly elevated levels of bilirubin (one of the most fascinating multi-purpose secretions in the body - look it up!) could indicate an infection, or they could be the result of diarrhea causing intestinal inflammation causing a bile duct obstruction. In any event, the doctor prescribed some pills for Joey to take, one-quarter of a pill every twelve hours for the next ten days.

Just to confuse things, we also pulled all of the Monday-purchased cans of food and replaced them with food bought from another store. Joey's diarrhea has subsided, though whether this was the pill or the change in food I cannot say for certain. I suppose if I wanted to go all hardcore I could check the lot numbers and code dates on both the old and new cans of food, and if I wanted to be very strict I would not change two things at once - either keep him on the same food and give him the pill, or use a different batch of food and no pill. But we've decided to play it safe, to use the pill and change the food and maybe even take him up to the vet's on Tuesday along with Scooter. For now, he's doing better - and that's what's important.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bella who?

I've had a MySpace account for a while now, nearly sixteen months. I started it so I could leave comments on my friends' MySpace accounts - many social networking sites require you to be a member to comment on other members' sites, which is how they artificially inflate their membership numbers. I also set it up as yet another way to direct potential readers to my blog - my real blog.

If you go to my MySpace site you'll see I don't have many "friends" there. All - well, almost all - of the names listed there are people I've met in person, or know through their blogs. I do not "collect" friends on MySpace like other people do. If you're a stranger and you send me a friend request - well, there will need to be a compelling reason for me to accept it.

Most of the friend requests I get each day aren't from real people at all. They are from alleged women with slutty, sexy member pictures and almost-identical pages that had very little content aside from links to other pages that promised even sluttier and sexier pictures. I've never clicked on those links, but I know the sort of sites that they lead to. Most of the time I give these false friends a quick look and then delete the requests - or, if I feel like it, report them to MySpace.

The other day I saw these subject lines in my Hotmail inbox:

- Gloria would like to be added as one of your friends!
- Allie would like to be added as one of your friends!
- Bella would like to be added as one of your friends!
- Melva would like to be added as one of your friends!
- Ines would like to be added as one of your friends!
- Ursula would like to be added as one of your friends!

Fakes, all fakes! I thought. But one of the names caught my eye. Bella? I had seen that name recently. Twice.

Once was on the DeviantArt site of a local blogger whose blog I had stumbled across while searching for bloggers from Nanticoke - while she goes by the name "Jennafer" on her Blogspot blog, |verbal·suicide|, she uses the name "jezzabella" on her DeviantArt site.

The other is a site I traced back through my SiteMeter References page: the LiveJournal site for Regina, who goes by the LiveJournal username "bellatella".

Was one of them the "Bella" who sent me a friend request? I don't know. When I tried to open the request I was greeted with the message "This Profile No Longer Exists." Coincidentally, the MySpace link for Jennafer/jezzabella points to a site that says "Invalid Friend ID. This user has either cancelled their membership, or their account has been deleted." So it could have been her, if her site were closed or deleted after she sent me the request. Or maybe it was just a random, fake, false friend. Who knows? Who can tell?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Almost too tired to blog

It was a long and exhausting week, but they all have been like that lately.

Don't think I'm going to the Bloomsburg Fair. Tomorrow is the last day, and I don't think I'll feel like hauling ass out there tomorrow. Maybe next year.

Need to mow both lawns between now and Tuesday. I also have a bunch of Hostas that my cousin pulled out of her lawn that I want to plant at my new house. Hostas thrive in shade, and the sides of my house are perpetually in shadow.

I'm falling asleep. I'll write more tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Support Ashley in her AIDS Walk!

Blogger, author, aspiring comic book writer, and AIDS activist Ashley from Ink On Paper will be participating in AIDS Walk Michigan this Sunday, September 30. For more details see this entry on her other site, A Positive Blog In Lansing. Please support her if you can! Click this link to go directly to her support page:

http://www.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=239990

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shine on, Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon, September 26, 2007
Just in case you thought crepuscular rays - or in this case, anticrepuscular rays - were visible only in the daytime, here is a shot of tonight's Harvest Moon. The effect is courtesy of some unseasonably high humidity making the air visible, and some conveniently placed clouds adding the shadow effects.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kevin Smith has a blog!

(Attention Women In Comics / When Fangirls Attack fans! Please support aspiring comic book writer Ashley Shaffier in her AIDS Walk this Sunday, September 30, 2007! Click here for more details!)

This is something I should have been aware of long ago. In the months leading up to the release of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001 I used to be a regular visitor to the News Askew website. I was a huge Kevin Smith fan back then, but I gradually drifted away. I still kept in touch with the world of Kevin Smith, buying the anniversary versions of Clerks and Mallrats (was there ever one for Chasing Amy?), getting multiple copies of Clerks: The Animated Series (funny funny stuff, too bad most of it never aired), even getting a copy of the first DVD of Kevin Smith's college tour (still haven't watched it yet.) But somehow the need to stay on top of everything he was doing just seemed less urgent.

I read an interview with Kevin Smith in a recent issue of Wizard, the magazine of the comics industry (wow, that sounds so professional when I put it that way) that just pissed me off. He came across as sexist, immature, lazy, unprofessional - all probably fair assessments, but thrown into stark contrast when compared to the same issue's profile of artist Michael Turner.

This weekend I heard Kevin Smith on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and he killed. (Click here for his segment - this is a Javascipt link, so it may not function if opened in a new window.) This was the first time that I heard that he had a blog. (Hey, everybody should have a blog, and Kevin Smith is no exception.) I was reminded again on my way home today by this interview (not Javascript this time!) on NPR's Fresh Air.

It's more than just a blog. My Boring Ass Life, Kevin Smith's blog, is now also a book winnowed from the pages of the blog. As he points out in the Fresh Air interview, this is absolutely the easiest way to write a book, since all of the "writing" part is already done once you've written the blog entries. It also helps if you're a very good writer, and/or a celebrity, and/or Kevin Smith.

It's not the first time a blog has been turned into a book, and it certainly won't be the last. Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry collected their columns and published them as books, as have numerous feisty music critics and other columnists and essayists. I think many bloggers secretly (or not-so-secretly) dream of being tapped by an agent or publisher. Maybe it will happen - we can just keep blogging and doing our best, and hope that someone thinks our output would be worth paying for.

In the meantime check out Kevin Smith's My Boring Ass Life. And keep blogging!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Neglect

I've been neglecting my other blogs. NEPA Blogs has a few more sites to be added, courtesy of submissions in the comments. A Blog of Nanticoke - well, there was at least one topic I intentionally held off posting about, and it turns out my reticence may have been well-based; but there is another city-wide yard sale coming up in a few weeks that I should post about. I have more stuff for A Monkey in the Garden, tales of groundhogs and opossums and grapes and butterflies, but I just have to recast it all into a form that stands by itself. And Unknown Failure...well, the computer problems I (and my friends) have had since my last post there have eclipsed all the problems I wrote about before.

But not now. Now I have to get my lunch together and start to get ready for another four-day shift.

(And be sure to check out Lisa's Beyond the Needle. I may have been neglecting her quilting shop website, but she certainly hasn't!)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Northwest Passage and You

I woke up this morning dreaming of the problem of the Northwest Passage. If you're somehow not aware of it, here's a quick summary:

The North Polar ice cap is completely different from the South Polar ice cap. At the South Pole we have the continent of Antarctica, a giant frozen land mass that is covered with ice and snow. The North Polar ice cap doesn't have any land under it, aside from the northernmost reaches of Russia, Canada, and Greenland around the fringes. Otherwise it's all ocean, all water, covered over with a thick sheet of ice and snow. But there's no way to travel from one side to the other making use of this water, other than by sled over the frozen parts or by submarine under them. Explorers sought an all-water route through this region, dubbed the Northwest Passage, for many years, but ice has always blocked the way, with occasional brief seasonal openings.

But that's changing. As climate change advances, particularly the effects of global warming, the North Polar ice cap is melting. We've all seen the heartbreaking images of stranded Polar Bears left to starve or drown as they find themselves floating around on ice floes rather than waiting by holes in the ice waiting for ringed seals to surface and get eaten.

The problem of the melting ice caps is complex. The bright white ice caps serve to regulate the Earth's temperature by reflecting a significant portion of the sunlight that reaches the polar regions. As the poles melt and shrink, they reflect less sunlight, and the rate of heating increases. Meanwhile the melting ice dilutes the salt content of the ocean around it, reducing its thermal carrying capacity, threatening to shut down or strongly affect the ocean currents that convey warm ocean water from the tropics to the Northwestern coast of Europe, keeping places like Ireland and Scotland and Norway habitable.

So melting ice caps are bad, right?

Some plans have been suggested to put the brakes on the rate at which the ice caps are melting. Some are harebrained, crackpot schemes that may do more harm than good, if anyone can figure out a way to make them work. Others are even less promising.

Meanwhile, the Neocons and others who have finally decided to stop denying the reality of climate change have suggested that "market forces" will have to solve the problem. How will this work? Well, they don't know. They just tell us to have faith in the market forces.

Market forces have just realized that the melting North Polar ice cap can be a boon to transportation by cutting distances between certain Northern Hemisphere ports by thousands of miles.

So now there is market pressure growing to discourage any efforts to slow down or stop the rate of melting of the North Polar ice cap. Indeed, these same market forces may be looking upon this melting as a positive, desirable situation, one that should be encouraged - or accelerated - whenever possible.

Russia has staked a claim on the Northwest Passage, planting a flag underwater on what it claims is an extension of its continental shelf. Other nations are lining up to press their claims as well. There are profits to be realized, turf to be claimed. What is the extinction of a few dozen species who live exclusively in and around this environment when faced with such market forces? Who will raise a finger to slow this process down, when so many stand to benefit from seeing it through to its end?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Last Moon of Summer

Moon, 6:58 PM EDT, September 22, 2007
Well, Summer is over tomorrow. It feels like it's been a long one, though not particularly horrible. Or maybe I should say, I've been through worse.

My Autumn decorations are already out at the house, and the Halloween decorations are edging their way towards the windows and doors, ready to leap into position on October 1 or so.

I hope you had a good Summer, and I hope you have a better Fall.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Friday

The story so far:

- Just got done mowing the lawn about a half hour ago. Took a little over two hours.
- Have a wedding to go to at 5:00. Need to get showered, shaved, and put on my wedding-funeral-interview suit. Today is a gorgeous day for both a wedding and mowing the lawn.
- Still have a call to make. It's related to that thing that may be going on on Monday.
- The neighbor just brought over Scooter's brother.
My sister will be taking him, since the neighbor has decided that she can't keep him, and my sister has realized that having three cats who were born at the same time (back in 1996) means that she may have three cats who will die in rapid succession. I trimmed his needle-sharp nails, like I trim Scooter's nails each week, but got my hands scratched up in the process. What fun.
- After the wedding and the reception I will be going over to my house to spend the night, after some stargazing from my newly-assembled Adirondack chairs and some phone calls to friends.

Unfortunately, the phone in this house has been ringing continuously for the last hour, so I don't know if I'll be able to squeeze in my phone call. We'll see.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Anybody know where I can get a clicker?

We all know what they are. We've all seen them, and some of us have used them. Little clicky counter things, like the one Ben Affleck used in this commercial I saw when I was in Ireland. (In the U.S. there was a less-funny version starring Nick Lachley.) I think they were once used as inventory counters back before we had computerized inventory systems and wireless barcode scanners. I've also seen one used by a doorman at a club, though I'm not sure why - the number of people in line at just one of the three bars on the top floor exceeded the posted maximum occupancy for the entire club.

But where do I get one? I want to use it to count the number of Trick-Or-Treaters I get on Halloween. From poking around online I have a feeling I might need to check out a sporting goods department or store, though I don't know why they would have them there. Anybody have any suggestions?

CLARIFICATION: I should have said "Other than the Internet, where can I get one?" Call me old-fashioned, but I like buying things in bricks-and-mortar stores. Plus I'd like to avoid shipping and handling charges for such a small, trivial item.

UPDATE! Thanks to the Internet - specifically, the websites of bricks-and-mortar big box stores - I have found TWO counters! Staples has one for $11.99, and Dick's Sporting Goods has one for $9.99. Office Max and Gander Mountain don't seem to know what I'm talking about. I'd rather go to a local office supply or sporting goods store, but all of them seem to have gone out of business.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Garbage night

Yay. Third night of my rotation, and it's garbage night. Garbage night will be a part of my work week next rotation and the one after that.

Things don't settle down after this rotation is over. Friday, my first day off, I need to mow the lawn here, make an important phone call, and then get ready to go to a wedding at 5:00, followed by a formal reception. Friday night I'll spend at my house - those who I usually call from there should expect calls. Saturday morning I'll mow the lawn over there, then get ready for an informal reception at 2:00. Church is at 4:00 Saturday, or at 12:00 noon on Sunday. This is the first weekend for the Bloomsburg Fair and I'd really like to go again. And Monday - well, Monday may get its own blog entry.

But later. Right now I have to haul out the cat litter and then get to bed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How NOT to get a blog post written

Or, "How to NOT get a blog post written":

1. Come home.
2. Eat dinner.
3. Call friends.
4. Go online and check half a dozen blogs.
5. Leave comments on several of them.
6. Watch John Stewart.
7. Watch Stephen Colbert.
8. Watch Carlos Mencia and realize that he's actually pretty funny.

Several of the blog posts I've read today are intensely personal. But here's one I'd like to share: Gareth's Another Chance to See has a post about an article in the current issue of New Scientist written by Mark Carwardine , Douglas Adam's partner in the Last Chance to See expeditions, about the extinction of the Baiji dolphin. Please check it out.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Every eight years

My predawn commute has recently been guided by a bright beacon rising in the East: the planet Venus in its "Morning Star" guise.

Venus is a planet, of course, not a star. Its bright appearance - exceptionally bright right now, as it was in its evening apparition earlier this year - is caused by sunlight reflecting off of sulfuric acid clouds in Venus's upper atmosphere. Venus only appears in the Eastern sky in the morning or the Western sky in the evening because it is an "inferior" planet, closer to the Sun than we are, so bound to appear in the vicinity of the Sun. ("Superior" planets can appear far from the sun in the sky, because - well, you can work it out for yourselves. Copernicus did.) Unfortunately, some people persist in calling Venus "The North Star", which is wrong in every way it's possible to be wrong. Heaven help them if they try to us Venus to find their way North.

The orbital period of Venus is related to the orbital period of Earth in such a way that Venus appears at the same place in our sky every eight years. Watching Venus this Spring and Summer brought back memories of the Spring and Summer of 1999 and many happy trips to visit some newlywed friends who were living in an apartment in Jim Thorpe and building a house in the nearby woods. In September of 1999 I believe I was just winding down my morning dogwalks with Haley, walks that would not resume until the Summer of 2004, and we often walked under the arc-welder brightness of Venus in its morning appearance.

If you were lucky enough to have noticed Venus during this current apparition, one in which it has shined as brightly and risen as high as it ever does in its eight-year cycle, try to remember where you were and what you were doing and who you were with and who you were. In 2015, when the orbital ballet of Earth and Venus brings Venus into another spectacular appearance, perhaps you will look upon its beautiful brightness and remember what things were like back in 2007.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

All O.J., all the time

Today I watched CNN slip into madness. It had been building up all weekend, ever since the news broke that O.J. Simpson had been involved in what may or may not have been an armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel room. Still there was room for some other news: an earthquake and ensuing aftershocks in Sumatra, a plane crash with mass casualties in Thailand, the pas de deux between George Bush and General David Petraeus involving troop withdrawals from Iraq.

But then the big news broke: O.J. SIMPSON HAD BEEN ARRESTED! Suddenly all other news stories were irrelevant. Nothing mattered but O.J., O.J., O.J.!!! It was bizarre to watch this story evolve as I vacuumed and shampooed the carpet, read blogs, and chatted with friends. Suddenly it was 1995 all over again, when no other news story could make it through the wall-to-wall O.J. coverage. (My personal theory was that Bill Clinton had murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, since the O.J. circus effectively knocked Clinton's foibles - which, in hindsight, seem so trivial - out of the news for several months.)

The news became all O.J. the moment the arrest was announced. The cycle consisted of a recap of the story, some interviews with various experts, from legal commentators to friends of O.J. (there sure are a lot of those, it seems) to Nicole Brown's sister, followed by updates and breathless announcements of updates to come, followed at the top and bottom of the hour by an announcement of "our top story" - O.J., O.J., O.J.!

So now we are back in O.J. land. Some might argue that networks are simply giving viewers what they want. Others will say that some news directors are just plain lazy, and providing wall-to-wall O.J. coverage is much simpler than trying to fill a half-hour or hour or morning or afternoon with actual news. I guess until this story blows over, anyone who really wants news will have to hunt it down on their own.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Predatory commercials

"Sometimes I disrupt class...but someday, I'm going to disrupt conventional thinking!" - Commercial that airs daily on ABC between 3:30 and 4:00 in the morning

I'm becoming increasingly disgusted with commercials that seem to be specifically targeted at vulnerable groups. Maybe this is the essence of advertising: any target demographic is really just a collection of vulnerable individuals who can be reasonably expected to respond to a given advertisement. The above-quoted one from a company called Shire, makers of the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medication Adderal, is particularly pernicious. I know parents of children with ADHD, and I know that their hopes and dreams for their children are a little more down-to-earth than the glorious promises offered by the "ADHD Roadmap" being advertised in this commercial. But why settle for a child who can actually sit through an entire class, pay attention, and take notes, or on who can do basic homework in less than four or five grueling hours, when you can have one who might someday own a baseball team, or sit on the board of directors? All it takes is just one call...one visit to our website...then talk over treatment options with your child's doctor...

(Note: I'm not the only one disgusted and horrified by this commercial - see here and here.)


These aren't the only commercials that make my skin crawl. "Are you receiving payments from a structured settlement? We can get you CASH now!...It's your money. Shouldn't you be able to use it for what you need right now?" Yes, of course. I will certainly trust any company that would make such an offer. Of course, I'm sure they wouldn't take an usurious chunk of that money - your money - in return for that service.

Oh, then there are ads for reverse mortgages, targeted at the elderly who may be house-rich but cash-poor. As I understand them, reverse mortgages are a way of signing over your house to a lender in exchange for an allowance based on the equity in your property. In essence, you no longer own your house - you just live there at the pleasure of your lender, under the terms of your reverse mortgage. And of course, when ownership of that reverse mortgage changes hands, things can change. Things always change.

The creepiest ads were the ones that ran through late August, which were directed at students heading to college. In them we see happy, fresh-faced students talking about how they got the cash they needed for all those extra college expenses just by getting their parents to co-sign for loans from some private student loan company I've never heard of before. And you can ask about a special repayment plan that means you don't have to start paying the loan back until after you graduate! Which is really nice, since I didn't know too many college seniors who were in a position to start repaying any of their loans.

Personally, I've been responding to most of these ads like a Roman Emperor at a gladiatorial contest - "with pressed thumb". More specifically, with a thumb pressed to the MUTE button on my remote. I feel sorry for anyone who falls victim to these predatory ads.

Friday, September 14, 2007

As Summer turns into Fall

I took the giant tropical fish out of the windows of my house and replaced them with happy little dollar-store scarecrows and garlands of Autumn leaves held up with hooks on suction cups. The tree frog and tropical fish "Welcome" signs are gone from the front doors, replaced by other dollar-store scarecrows. And the spring-jointed crabs and flamingos on sticks have been pulled from the front lawn, replaced with...well, you've probably noticed a theme here.

I mowed the lawn for one of the last times this season, and ate a lot of now fully-ripe grapes. I also finally assembled the two Adirondack chairs that I bought many months ago and began painting in early August. Now I have a base from which I can stargaze, which will be nice since I have a relatively clear and dark view of the Southern sky.

In a few weeks I will be temporarily adding Halloween decorations to the mix, and then replacing them with Thanksgiving stuff. And after that it will be time to pull out the Christmas decorations. Time keeps ticking away...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Urban legend destroys local business

From the local news site PAHomepage.com:



TREMONT, SCHUYLKILL COUNTY -- A grocery store owner in the borough says a racist e-mail spreading on the internet is hurting his business so bad he'll have to close shop.

Patriotic colors adorn the outside of the Tremont Supermarket but it may not be enough to convince folks in town to shop here. An email claims the store owner refused to serve a customer wearing military uniform. Store owner Sam Singh says “the email was going house to house. It spread all over to Fort Indiantown Gap to Tamaqua. It's still spreading. It’s still going around."

The rumor also claims Singh, who opened this business in February, told the customer she killed his people. It asks readers not to shop there. And that he return to play in the sand where our troops may get lucky. Sam says he's never refused to serve anyone. "It has nothing to do with me. I'm from India and I come here to this country with my dreams to work hard . You can ask anybody if they've ever had a problem with me." Singh says sales have dropped 65% since the email came out. He's dropped prices and hasn't ordered anything new.

Some customers, like Dan Poletti remain loyal. Poletti says “I hope something can be done. Because the man put all his life savings into the place and he lost it like that." Customer Ron Tobias says "I think the person should go to jail for a couple years because they're slandering him and it’s all untrue."

Sam is speaking out because he doesn't want to take the blame for something that's not true. He says he's planning to leave town to start a business in another state. Police say the alleged victim, Dawn, never complained to police until they tracked her down while investigating the email. The police chief tells WBRE News he's looking into the case to determine whether Sam or Dawn will face charges.
I thought this story sounded familiar. Actually, I knew I had read it somewhere before. And that "somewhere" was Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages. See this entry for a thorough debunking of this sort of attack.
The years since the September 11 attacks have brought a panoply of rumors about business owners and employees who have supposedly openly celebrated terrorist attacks on America and/or refused to do business with U.S. servicemen...

...The August 2007 e-mail reproduced above (on the Snopes.com site) fits this pattern of rumors, telling the tale of two U.S. servicemen reportedly denied service by the owner of a Dunkin' Donuts franchise in Crown Point, Indiana who rudely told them "you are killing my countrymen and I will not serve you."
So is this just a local version of a racist attack using a stock urban legend? Yes. Probably. There's always a chance that the car driving toward you at night without headlights might be a gang member undergoing an initiation, and he (or she) will chase you down and kill you (and subsequently earn membership in the gang) if you flash you flash your lights...but it's probably just someone who forgot to turn on their headlights. In all likelihood this is another case of ignorance, stupidity, and gullibility dictating how people behave. Unfortunately, this time the result is not just a bunch of people praying to a random reflection on a garage door. This time the result has been a local convenience store going out of business.

More on this story:
Internet rumor harms Tremont grocery, 9/12/2007, The (Schuykill County) Republican & Herald
E-mail could lead to charges, 9/13/2007, The (Schuykill County) Republican & Herald
(This second story goes well beyond what is discussed in the story quoted above.)



UPDATE, 7/27/2011: Two codas:

This site has preserved a story from October 12, 2007:

A Tremont woman, who was accused of spreading rumors against her former employer, had her case heard yesterday, and some of the charges were dropped. The Republican and Herald reports that Amber Wolfgang originally faced charges of ethnic intimidation, making false reports to law enforcement and disorderly conduct, among others. She was accused of perpetuating a rumour about her former boss, Sam Singh, who owned Tremont Super Market. The rumour said that Singh told a person wearing a military uniform to leave his store.

Court documents said her employment was terminated due to poor performance. Singh failed to show up for the hearing, prompting District Judge Carol Pankake to dismiss all of the charges, with the exception of filing false reports to law enforcement, which she’ll face in county court.

Singh, who is a native of India, said that the spread of the rumour caused his business to plummet. The store closed last month. Wolfgang remains free on bail.

So, hooray. Justice was not served. I couldn't find any follow-up regarding Amber Wolfgang of Tremont, but I did find...this, posted by a person with that same name and that same location, on a site called Complaints Board:

family dollar store number 7319 Complaints - went to store manager about assoc.

went to the manager and complain that the one assoc. says o my god is she comes and sits the money on the counter instead of puttin in my hand, several times i go in there she throws an attitude towards me and roll her eyes i love that store but i wnt go in it anymore unless i have to if my husband is at work i will go in but other than that i wnt go in and then i go to the manager and tell her and she wants to blame someone else for these actions and its not her well she haned her keys in today and quit well i want to tell u somethin u need a new store manager as well as new assoc. cause plain and simple they r all snobs and have attitudes what store customers need that.use r gonna all miss the one girl that did her job rite and didnt go outside and take smoke breaks now come on as a customer who wants to see the worker smoke on family dollars time not me smoke breaks should be when u go on break not go out and smoke after ur done waitin on someone and then keep peakin in the store to see if anyone is at the register to stop smokin to go wait on them bs do it on there own time get real people or close the stor down cause u r losing customers w the one customer quiting .

So, there's a little insight into this case. I hope Sam Singh was able to set up a successful business somewhere else.

MSN Messenger hijacked by Verizon?

I first had this problem last week. I have MSN Messenger set up to open automatically when I start my computer. This is very convenient: I have a bunch of contacts on MSN Messenger with whom I like to chat, and I can jump onto my Hotmail account with a single click. Or I can just let the MSN window open up and I get a rotating list of headlines, feature stories, and the most recent arrivals to my Hotmail inbox.

Only last week I noticed that when I clicked on the little envelope symbol for Hotmail, I was taken not to Hotmail but to a page that was asking me to enter my Verizon mail address and password. How did this happen? I use Verizon for DSL internet access, but I hadn't clicked on anything that should have opened a Verizon page. I closed the window and went back to the main MSN Messenger window and noticed something odd. Instead of saying "MSN Windows Live" at the top, it now said "Verizon Windows Live". Otherwise the window looked pretty much the same - same portrait picture of me, same list of contacts - except now, the blue envelope for MSN Hotmail had been replaced by a red envelope for Verizon e-mail.

This freaked me out a bit. One of the last messages I got from my other computer before it died a few weeks ago was that it had been infected with a DNS redirect virus - something that would cause web addresses to be redirected to other, potentially hostile locations. Was this the same sort of thing?

I had been receiving sporadic messages from MSN Messenger over the past few weeks was that it couldn't do this or that because I might not have the most recent updates. I decided that maybe it was time to update now. An hour or so and two attempts later and I was back in business with MSN Messenger. That was weird, I thought.

As we left church this past Saturday my cousin was telling a friend that she had had the same sort of problem with her MSN Messenger. So it wasn't just me.

Yesterday after work I switched on my computer and opened up MSN Messenger. I went to check my Hotmail - and was redirected once again to Verizon mail. I was back to where I had started.

So what's going on? I don't know. I don't appreciate anything hijacking anything else on my computer. When I open up MSN Messenger, I expect to open MSN Messenger, not a Verizon equivalent. Is this some sort of shaitan's deal between MSN and Verizon? Or is there something in the fine print of my agreement with Vesizon for DSL service that grants them the right to take over services on my computer as they see fit? Either way, I'm a little miffed. I'll do a little digging. If anyone else has experienced this problem, I'd love to hear how you dealt with it!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Do Not Call List deadline is September 15 (sort of)

I'm a little confused by this. The deadline in Pennsylvania to get on the state's "Do Not Call" list that officially prohibits telemarketers (with certain exceptions) is this Saturday, September 15...if you were among the first people to sign up for the Do Not Call list five years ago, because the list is only good for five years and your participation will lapse if you don't re-sign up every five years.

Rather than trying to thrash around and explain all this, I'll just direct you to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's site, which somehow managed to snag the address http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/. (Unless this site is able to determine which state you're in and send you to that state's Attorney General's site, which would be a little scary.) Better yet, just go to the article on the Attorney General's site about the Do Not Call list here, or you can really cut to the chase by going to the Do Not Call FAQ page directly.

Bonus! For information on the national Do Not Call list, go to https://www.donotcall.gov/default.aspx.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It was a Tuesday

It's been six years since the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday, and the mechanism of Leap Year has brought the date back to a Tuesday again this year.

My current work schedule leaves me drained of energy and short on time at the end of the day. Today is the third day of my four-day shift, so I really can't write anything that does justice to this day, or all the people who died on it, or all the things that have happened as a result of it. Maybe later.

For now, you can use this link to see all of my posts in the category "9/11".

Stay safe. Enjoy your life. Every day of it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

AAAAGH, I missed it!

For the first time in about fifteen years, I failed to tape the MTV Video Music Awards.

My brother got me started on this. I think the first year that he taped it was the year Van Halen won for something major early on. The band took the stage and then-lead singer Sammy Hagar said "People wonder if we're grateful, and I say 'YEAH, WE'RE F***IN' GRATEFUL!'" Only the censor was a little bit slow, and I think only managed to clip the second "grateful".

After that it was a bit of fun to see what might happen. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers took the stage and began to play a slow, gentle version of "Under the Bridge"...and then Flea threw a handful of fireworks on the stage and they switched to an energetic version of "Give It Away". Seeing O.D.B., Pras, and the oh-so-gorgeous Mya performing "Ghetto Superstar", and then watching Pras rescue O.D.B. from being blown up by the end-of-song pyrotechnics. Watching The Kiss - well, both of them, the Madonna-on-Britney kiss and the Madonna-on-Christina kiss, which MTV unwisely cut away from to show Justin Timberlake's reaction to the image of his ex in a lesbian liplock with the Crazy Old Lady of Pop.

But I missed it last night. I missed the performance by the stoned, untalented Britney Spears impersonator (that couldn't have been Britney, that just couldn't have been). I missed...well, whatever else happened that was worth seeing. Which is a bit of a stretch, but still...

Well, all is not lost. According to MTV.com, the VMAs will be aired several more times this week, including tomorrow at 10:00 (pre-show starts at 9:00.) I'll try to remember to tape it then.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The worst thing about this schedule...

...is that I don't have time to read all my favorite blogs (i.e., the list in the right-hand sidebar) and write a full-fledged blog post. Most worknights I wind up just checking on three or four blogs, including The Comics Curmudgeon - sadly, minus the comments. I've caught up on a couple of blogs that I've let slide lately. Still, I will not have a full-fledged online presence again until this Wednesday night, my first night when I don't have to be in bed by 9:oo for a 3:00 wake-up.

One great thing about work (aside from the income and the insurance and stuff) is the fact that the air is pretty well filtered in the room where I work, so must of the time I don't have to worry about my hayfever - unless someone has just walked in from the outside, carrying a cloud of pollen with them. On my past four days off the heat, humidity, and hayfever really had me at a diminished capacity. I hope this Thursday through Sunday are cooler, drier, and less sneeze-inducing.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

And now, an Opossum

The catch of the day - or, more likely, night - was an Opossum. (Not to be confused with the Australian Possum, with which Sammie once had a very amusing encounter.) Unfortunately, I was not able to get to it to release it (in the woods down the street; I would have just re-released it into our back yard, but my mom objected) until nearly 1:00 in the afternoon, so it was in a bit of distress by the time I saw it. I released it near the Nanticoke Creek, so it had easy access to water.

Pears are turning out to be popular bait, though nobody went for the leathery old orange seen in the picture above, which I threw out when I released the Opossum. I hosed off the trap when I got back home and will not re-set it until the start of my next four days off on Wednesday night.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary, August 31, 2007

On a day when a goofy-looking Osama bin Laden released a rant whose greatest impact will be a loss of sales for Just For Men hair dye, when 18 year old High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens was embarrassed by private nude photos that are making their way around the Internet (allegedly; I haven't been able to locate them), when Portuguese authorities have named the mother of missing British girl Madeleine McCann a suspect in her daughter's death, and when temperatures reached 93 degrees (Fahrenheit) here in Nanticoke and once again prevented me from mowing the lawn at my house across town, I have decided to post these pictures of a Great Spangled Fritillary that I took in my back yard last Friday.

So here you are.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Potter, grass, and existential crises

Today I saw a movie in a theater for the first time in over two years.

It was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and today was the last day for it anywhere within a 40-mile radius. I was one of four people at the 12:40 showing.

It was good. The things that they cut out could easily fill several other movies. I feel very sorry for anyone who is experiencing this story through the movies alone, since so much stuff simply makes no sense without the context and exposition in the books. I liked the portrayal of Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite characters, and Alan Rickman was once again fan-friggin'-tastic as Severus Snape, playing the character with far greater depth than Rowling ever wrote. Michael Gambon redeemed his shallow performance in the last movie with an extremely physical performance that would have been impossible for Richard Harris at this point, even if he were not currently dead. The Order of the Phoenix barely made an appearance, and Sirius's magic mirror - the focal point of Harry's extreme guilt, and a key item in the final book - is completely absent. "Weasley Is Our King" and Ron's Quiddich ascendancy are skipped over, as is the fact that Ron and Hermione made Prefects - and Harry did not. We never see Luna in her roaring lion hat. Dolores Umbridge is the single most evil character anywhere.

After that, I came home, ate a late lunch/early supper, and mowed the lawn. It took a few hours, and the last bit was done in the dark, partly delayed by a neighbor who came over to congratulate me on catching the groundhog. (A groundhog, I pointed out, who may now have vengeful friends and relatives prowling the neighborhood.)

I have become aware of several people in my circle of bloggers who are undergoing existential crises. Having just come through one myself, I can empathize. I intend to write up a post summarizing my own experience at some point.

My crisis - hell, it's not over, and it may never be over - took an odd turn yesterday when I came across this article in Newsweek about the tragic suicides of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan, two very creative, talented, and successful Generation X artists and netizens who apparently descended into madness and paranoia in a folie a deux, a shared delusion. I started off knowing how the story would end, but as I read about the lives of these people, lives that sounded so much like the life I would choose if I had the opportunity, I hoped that somehow things would turn out for the best. They did not. (More on this couple, and a criticism of the Newsweek article, can be found here.)

So there you have it. I had planned to spend the night at my house tonight, but the lawn took longer that I had planned. So it looks like maybe tomorrow night. Now I'm off to call a friend.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Blood and candy

Today was a semi-big day for me. It could have been a big day, but I missed a few marks along the way.

It started with chainsaws. I woke just after 8:00 (after getting up previously at 11:00, 2:00, 1:30, 4:20, and 5:30) to a buzzing, whining noise. A neighbor a block away is having a row of very large, very old pine trees cut down. (I actually removed these trees myself several months ago - on canvas, at least.) There oughta be a law, I grumbled to myself, and realized that there probably was...but that it probably allowed chainsaws after 8:00 in the morning.

So I got up. I didn't have anything planned until my 12:15 blood donation. If I got my butt in gear early enough, I could stop at Radio Shack and pick up the cordless phone battery I had special-ordered to be delivered there, but that was a bit of a long shot.

I made myself breakfast, a high-iron cereal. As I finished I decided I would play with Scooter a bit. I looked in his box and saw that it was full of poop.

Well, not full, but there was poop there, watery poop. My mom had warned me that he had done this earlier. It looked like he hadn't gotten it on himself or his toys, but I had to change his blankets and wash out the box itself. I took him out of the box and let him scoot about the kitchen while I cleaned the box and reassembled it.

When I was done with the box I saw he had pooped on a rug in the kitchen. Oh, crap, he's sick.

We decided to take a stool sample from the blankets and take it to the vet's to be tested. I slid this module into my schedule for the day:
1. Blood donation, 12:15
Alt. 1: If rejected for donation due to low Iron, and if time permits, go to see 12:40 showing of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
2. Go to Radio Shack to get a battery.
3. Go to vet's to get poop analyzed.
4. Go to Best Buy and pick up my repaired computer.
My blood donation went smoothly, though my Iron levels were just barely acceptable. Radio Shack did not yet have the battery - it isn't scheduled to arrive until Friday, I found out later. The poop analysis indicated that Scooter has roundworms - how he got them, or why they waited until now to show up, is anybody's guess, but we had to give him half a pill today and half a pill in two weeks.

Before I went to Best Buy to part with rather a lot of money, I decided to stop at Sam's Club to prepare for the holidays. I walked out with $40 worth of candy (good for about an hour of Trick-or-Treaters; I need to buy a lot more candy in the next eight weeks - my next blood donation is scheduled for Halloween, by the way) and more than $50 of blue LED Christmas lights (if you're looking for LED Christmas lights, now is the time to buy them.)

My computer...well, I'm glad I found out about the AAA 20% Geek Squad discount. Very glad.

And then I came home, suddenly feeling very tired. Probably the blood thing. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

We caught a groundhog!

I was just getting ready for bed last night, in preparation for the final day of my shift (I had yesterday off, which I didn't know until literally the eleventh hour of the previous day) when my mom let me know that there was something in the trap. She didn't know what it was, but it was weird and pissed off.

Well, that's not exactly what she said, but whatever was in there definitely wanted to get out , in a way that the cat and the mystery mammal that we had caught earlier did not.

I grabbed a flashlight and approached the trap. I hoped it wasn't a groundhog. I really didn't feel like going for a ride.

I shined the light into the trap. A groundhog peered out at me.

Aw, crap.

We quickly emptied the trunk of my mom's car - it's larger than mine, and has less junk in it - and laid out a plastic tablecloth as a tarp. We covered the trap with an old blanket. I carried the trap, with its rambunctious occupant, to the car, carefully holding it away from my body.

We went for a little ride.

We stayed within the city limits of Nanticoke, technically. We drove to a remote location several miles away (as the car drives; much closer as the crow flies), well past any residences. We parked on a little industrial side road. I popped the trunk, took out the trap, and, with some trepidation, opened it.

Nothing came out.

OK, I had been through this once already that day. I tipped the trap and tried to dump the groundhog. Still nothing came out.

I shined the flashlight into the trap. The groundhog was holding onto the back of the trap, gnawing on the core of one of the pieces of fruit I had used as bait.

I tipped the trap more severely and gave it a few good shakes. After a while the groundhog got the idea and trundled out.

So now one groundhog has been captured and relocated. How many more can there be? And will they seek bloody retribution for the forced exile of their friend?

Monday, September 03, 2007

I caught...something

I woke up this morning to the news that something was in the trap. But what? "What will I do if it's a skunk?", I wondered. I had no idea.

We've already caught one of the neighborhood stray cats, who apparently went into the trap to eat the bird seed I'm using as bait (along with some fruit). We let her go. Eventually we plan on trapping the stray cats so we can get them spayed and neutered, but for now the focus is on catching the groundhog.

I went out to the trap, which is against the foundation to the house behind some bushes. The part I could see looked empty. I came up closer.

A triangular black-and-white head peered at me through the bars of the trap.

I jumped back. Skunk! OK, what was the plan again? Oh, right, there was no plan.

Skunks are not my favorite woodland critters, but I do not consider them pests. Not like groundhogs. I came up with a plan to safely release the skunk without disturbing it too much. I would cover the trap with a tarp of some sort, release the skunk around the corner of the house while staying out of range of its scent glands (which apparently had so far gone unused), and then reset the trap.

We didn't have a tarp handy, but we did have an old plastic tablecloth. I draped it over the back and sides of the trap, picked up the trap, carried it around the side of the house, and opened it.

Nothing came out. I tipped it forward a bit.

I'm not sure what came out. It was black and white with a triangular head, but that's all I'm sure of. It had white markings on its head and shoulders, but the rest of its body was black, except for the tip of its long, thick, non-bushy tail. It was fat and waddled as it tried to run across my side yard.

It didn't look too much like a skunk. Its head was shaped like the head of a badger, though there were no stripes on the face. The tail was thick and long and reminded me of nothing so much as the bear's tail from the legend How the Bear Lost His Tail. (Have you ever wondered why both Ursa Major and Ursa Minor have long tails?)

I didn't get a picture - getting a picture wasn't a high priority - so I can't really ask for identification help. I know it wasn't a cat or a bear cub, and I don't think it was a badger. I've looked up pictures of baby skunks and they look more like miniature versions of an adult. This didn't have the characteristic white stripes, or the characteristic bushy tail. Plus it was large, about the size of an adult skunk. So what the heck was it? Maybe if I catch it again, I'll get a picture. Maybe.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

10

On July 7, 2007 I donated my eightieth pint of blood.

I first started donating back in 1992. There was a blood drive going on in Nanticoke, at the Armory downtown. I was still kicking around trying to find myself a job, hoping that the one I had applied for with a Compact Disc manufacturer thirty-five miles away might work out, and giving blood seemed like a good thing to do while I was waiting. Besides, I had recently picked up a book on historical fads, and one of the more interesting ones was bloodletting - attempting to increase the lifespan of men to match that of women by imitating the periodic blood loss experienced by most females, and I thought it would be amusing to see if there was any value in it. Better health through blood loss! Unlike the bloodletting fads of old, my blood donations would actually get to help some people.

Donors were laid out on hard, flat cots. The donation lasted about an hour and left me with a huge bruise on my arm. I wasn't sure I would do it again.

I think I gave blood one more time, in the basement of a local Catholic school, before I started making arrangements for semi-regular donations at the local Red Cross Donor Center. Donations became a sort of a game: how many donations could I squeeze into a single year? (You can give blood every eight weeks, so if you time donations right you can actually give seven times a year, though you would only be able to give six times the following year.)

I haven't always succeeded. At least one donation went awry, with the needle missing my vein (or passing through it entirely), resulting in an incomplete pint that could not be used and a huge bruise under my skin. Other times I have been deferred for Iron levels that were too low. Sometimes I couldn't donate because of scheduling conflicts, or because I was out of the country when the date rolled around.

More people need to donate. For many people, the first and last times they donated was in the days following September 11, 2001. First, because many people had an automatic response to want to do something meaningful in response to the attacks, and donating blood seemed like the most appropriate and helpful thing; last, because many people became enraged when they discovered that their donations had been discarded after a certain period of time, and vowed never to donate again. (Blood and blood products have a finite shelf life, and the glut of donations in response to an incident that really did not call for blood donations meant that, briefly, much more blood and blood products were available than could be used before their shelf life expired.)

Over the last fifteen years I have donated eighty pints of blood. That's ten gallons of the red stuff, as the pin I recently received will attest. On Wednesday, if my Iron levels are sufficient, I will begin working on the next ten. I would be very happy if you decided to start working on your ten gallon pin.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Grapes

Purple grapes, rear arbor, August 31, 2007

When I was growing up there was a definite progression of events that let us know the Summer was ending and soon it would be time to go back to school. My Grandmother's birthday was the first, happening at the tipping point of Summer; after that day, Summer didn't feel like Summer anymore, it felt like a race towards September. After that there was our church bazaar, which until 2005 was held every year the first weekend in August. It was a last grab at Summer but was held in the parking lot that served as our playground at school, a cruel warning to the kids there to enjoy what little time remained to them. And then there was the ripening of the grapes.

My grandmother had three different types of grapes in her back yard. Directly behind the house was a long arbor that had white grapes on the north side, red "spice" grapes on the south side, and purple grapes in the middle. In the back of the lot there were more purple grapes on a smaller arbor.

My grandmother last lived in her house in 1992. For the next fourteen years my uncle took over management of the property and served as landlord to the tenants who rented the other side of the house.

The grapes, which had been a part of this property since long before my grandparents bought the property, did not fare well during those fourteen years. Parts of the arbor were torn down or allowed to decay. The grapes went without pruning and developed serious diseases. The red grapes, long my favorite, died out entirely - or were killed off.

When I bought the house I made the restoration of the grapevines a top priority: I strung wire up over the old posts where the wooden braces of the arbor had been. I purchased some new red grapes which, according to the catalog description, sound a lot like the ones I remember. I pruned the hell out of the remaining vines. And I began a ruthless program of spraying to control Black Rot.

As far as I can tell I was successful. Where last year I lost nearly 100% of the grapes to Black Rot, this year losses have been kept to 50% or less. I have been eating the grapes for about the last two weeks and I can say that, even in a not-quite-ripe stage, they are as delicious as I remember them.

I think I've pulled these grapes back from the brink. Something was very nearly lost which should not be lost. And maybe someday in the future the ripening of these grapes will signal to some other kids that Summer is over and it's time to go back to school.