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Matt McHugh
Matt McHugh.com - Blog - September 2005

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SUBJECT:
Freedom Marching On
DATE:
September 30, 2005

Earlier this week, a suicide bomber in Iraq killed 6 people. While (sadly) unremarkable in itself, this particular bomber was a woman. This is the first known incident of a female in such a role in Iraq. Nice to see that they are, as President Bush has observed, making real strides toward freedom and equality.

One wonders... when a female Muslim commits martyrdom in jihad--an act reputed to guarantee immediate entry into heaven according to poplular Islamic beliefs--what reward awaits her in paradise? Does she get the 72 virgins as well? Or perhaps she becomes one for a male martyr? That seems more in line with the cultural milieu of Islam. Still, strikes me as the short end of the stick, as it were. Maybe that's why female Muslim suicide bombers are so rare. No decent incentive program.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Awfa-Bits
DATE:
September 29, 2005

The other day, while reading Parents magazine (my wife left it in the bathroom... I was in there... the situation required reading material... so it goes), I see an ad for Alpha-Bits Cereal (I suppose I should put the trademark sign on that, but I'm protesting that increasingly annoying trend). The ad said the cereal now has zero grams of sugar, no artificial sweeteners, and is rich in fiber. I remember Alpha-Bits as one of the few sugared cereals my mom would buy, and as I recall the taste compared to, say, Cheerios, I recall that it was modestly sweet but not overwhelmingly so. Long story short, I tell my wife to pick up a box at the supermarket, figuring the kids might like it for breakfast sometime. Besides, I'm getting a tad sick of Cheerios. (You got kids? You got Cheerios in the house. End of story.)

So the wife buys a box, and we pour it out for the kids the next morning. Sure enough, the new, improved Alpha-Bits has zero grams of sugar, no artificial sweeteners, and is rich in fiber... and it friggin' tastes it! Seriously, I've eaten packing material (never you mind why) that had as much flavor. The kids gnawed a spoonful or two and asked for something else. I tried to finish one of their bowls, and couldn't. Eating the stuff actually has something of a cumulative gustatory effect. After a few bites, a vaguely chemical taste, like sawdust from pressure-treated wood, starts to build up in your mouth. For the myriad benefits of dietary fiber, I have choked down some pretty awful-tasting stuff. Couldn't manage a bowl of Alpha-Bits. We're going to mail the box back to the company, hopefully get a coupon for something palatable.

Doing a quick web search, I found a press release on the Kraft Food site announcing the "reformulated", sans "S-U-G-A-R" (probably thought they were real clever with that one) product launch. Think I'll e-mail the Kraft contact listed and rant a bit. Feel free to join in:

Abbe Serphos
Kraft Foods
914-425-3907
abbe.serphos@kraft.com

-- mm

Press release announcing the reformulated Alpha-Bits on kraft.com


SUBJECT:
Bad Priests in my Town
DATE:
September 28, 2005

A friend of mine sent me a link to a site posting court documents from a recent grand jury investigation into the Catholic Church covering up accusations of sexual abuse involving priests from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. This is essentially a summary of the grand jury's findings on how officials in the diocese sheltered or transferred abusive priests, rather than anything that formally charges individual priests. However, one document in particular lists dozens of priests along with the parishes or schools where they served and the years they were at each location. My grade school, high school, and a local retreat camp are all listed. I don't recognize any of the names named; my friend says he does. As you look through the whole list, it's scary how many names recur over and over, obviously transferred from parish to parish.

It's unfortunate that most of the individual priests will never face trial (damn you, statute of limitations!)--though the Church's overall culpability in hiding and shuffling around the offenders is something I'm glad to see getting its day in court, as it were. The Church's systematic hushing-up of the problem is what allowed to it reach such alarming proportions. It all just confirms some things I've always believed: 1) the first and foremost concern of any powerful organization is to preserve and expand its power; and 2) the Catholic Church's denial of sexuality, whether normal or aberrant, contributes to a culture of abuse.

-- mm

Grand Jury Report on the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy on philadelphiadistrictattorney.com


SUBJECT:
Seeing You on Jet Blue
DATE:
September 27, 2005

Here's an interesting footnote to the Jet Blue mishap the other day--you know, the one where the front landing wheel was stuck sideways, with the dramatic landing footage showing the wheel bursting into flame. Prior to attempting the landing, the plane--which pilots and controllers knew had crippled gear--circled for a couple hours to burn up excess fuel, lessening the risk of a major fire. During that time, passengers were kept distracted by a personal video system, the kind where a small monitor you control is in the seat back in front of you. Not a bad idea, all things considered.

However, one of the features of Jet Blue's entertainment system is that it allows you to watch broadcast television in addition to canned movies and such. This meant that many of the passengers on board, during the lengthy and no doubt tense time while they circled prior to the emergency landing, tuned in the news and were watching live footage of their hobbled plane, listening to commentators discuss their chances. As on all flights, the entertainment system was switched off prior to landing, so none of those aboard got to watch live footage of their fiery touchdown--but other passengers on other Jet Blue planes did.

I wonder what I'd do on that flight? I suspect I would not watch moment-by-moment news coverage. Once I get gist of a story that isn't really changing, I tend to tune it out. Also, I hate dwelling on things on things I can't do anything about--and listening to former pilots going on about the odds of success of two-point landings definitely falls into that category.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Everybody Loves Ray
DATE:
September 26, 2005

Finally saw Ray, the Ray Charles "biopic." (First time I saw that word in print, I had no idea what it meant. I thought it was pronounced "bi-opp-ick," as if rhyming with "myopic.") First off, I have to say I agree with the hype about Jamie Foxx's performance. It is impressive. Or, even more, it is convincing without requiring an instant of suspension of disbelief. For someone so well-known so recently, that's pretty tricky to pull off. Now, granted, Ray Charles had a very idiosyncratic way of speaking and moving--and, with the eyes never exposed, two big potential pitfalls in the portrayal are removed from the Ray-Foxx equation--still, Foxx's performance never once seemed like parody. And he even played the piano and sang as well (though most of the famous songs included in the film used the actual Ray Charles recordings). All that adds up to a pretty grand acting job, I'd say.

Beyond that, I found the story of the man's life interesting but, frankly, a little too meandering. The movie seemed to want to follow the events of Ray Charles' life faithfully--which is admirable in its own right, but doesn't necessarily make for great drama. All in all, I'm less interested in Ray's heroin addiction and mistresses and childhood traumas than his music. That's the man's true legacy and the film does a pretty good job of making that clear. Most biopics are short-sighted (hmmm... subconscious phonetic association?) in that they focus only on the trumped-up personal melodrama of someone's life, yet don't really delve into the very accomplishments of the individual that made them worthy of remembrance in the first place. They show the boozing and the fighting and the despair and the joy, but don't spend much time on the actual creations--be they paintings, operas, or equations--that have endured to exalt their creators. Not so with Ray.

Watching the movie, you get sense of how revolutionary his music was. The melding of gospel and R&B--so obvious now--was downright scandalous when Ray Charles first did it. The improv genius of "What I Say" bursting through racial barriers with unheard-of energy. The bitter breakup with a mistress almost transcribed in "Hit the Road, Jack." The sweet melancholy of country ballads filtered through blues-tinged jazz. Ray Charles cast his net wide, reeled in dozens of musical styles, and put his unmistakable stamp on them. Watching Ray makes you want to go out and buy some of his records. No musician could ask for a finer legacy, or a more appropriate cinematic tribute.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
100,000 to 400
DATE:
September 25, 2005

On Saturday, approximately 100,000 people gathered in Washington DC to protest the war in Iraq. The day was filled with speeches from politicians and celebrities, and the usual hubbub that goes with such things. As annoyed as I am by the Iraq war and eager to the see the administration get its comeuppance (which, by the way, it will not), I can't get enthused about mass protests. They're innately a form of mass hysteria where complex truths are over-simplified into self-congratulatory slogans. The fact that a given one might center around something I'm inclined to agree with doesn't mitigate that.

The main problem with the Iraq war protest movement lies in the "Bring the troops home now!" rallying cry. Love to. Can't. We're stuck there. The chaos caused by our removal of a dictator is our problem. Bush is right about one thing: leaving the place now, in dramatically worse shape than we found it, is a mistake. I hate to admit it, but Dubya & Co. got their way. We'll stay there, spend whatever it takes, expend as many lives as it takes, until we install a U.S.-friendly republic that gives us the kind oil access we want. The alternative is essentially leaving it as civil war-torn, terrorist free-for-all training ground. It's problems are our problems now. As Colin Powell observed, we own it now.

Still, it galls me no end. All that waste of life, resources, and national credibility for nothing but the inept desire of the third-rate son from a famous family trying to write himself into history by doing what his dad couldn't. On Sunday, following the anti-war protest, there was a pro-war rally scheduled. Thousands were expected; only about 400 showed up. But those 400 stridently defended the wisdom of Bush's decision to invade. Those 400 are in serious denial.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
A Whiter Shade of Beige
DATE:
September 24, 2005

My wife wants to pick a color to paint our bedroom. After casting aside my only preference (white--the one color that does not lower a home's resale value... go ahead, ask anybody), she's zeroed in on beige. But not just any beige! Oh, no. She returned from the hardware store with no fewer than 12 swatches of subtly gradated beige to choose from. Some of the color names:

Peanut shell
Arizona tan
Mystic beige
October sky

Serengeti sand
Saint Martin sand
Soft satin
Candle white

Metallic gold
Burlap
Latte
Winter sky

Acorn yellow
Yellow squash
Kahlua and cream
Woodland snow

I was going to throw an "Ione Skye" or "Negro palm" in there, just to see if you were paying attention, but it really wouldn't make it any more ridiculous.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Bible Book
DATE:
September 23, 2005

A group in Virginia called the Bible Literacy Project has released a new high-school-level textbook entitled The Bible and Its Influence. The book is intended as a non-denominational look at the Bible as a major piece of Western literature and examines its extraordinarily far-reaching impact, both literary and religious. Apparently, the book treads pretty carefully around issues where faith and scholarship clash (authorship, historical accuracy, etc.), not to mention carefully skirting the edges of religion in public schools by presenting itself as having an ostensibly academic approach.

I have not seen this book; I'll make a point to keep an eye out for it in bookstores. I'm curious to get a taste of what it's actually like in terms coverage and message. I've long advocated the study of the Bible in public schools--not as organ of faith, of course, but as a literary document. No one in American culture can call themselves educated unless they know the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and Moses, David and Solomon, Job and Jesus. Anyone who can't identify obvious references to the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes is as sorely lacking in basic Western literary grounding as someone who's never heard of Oedipus Rex or Hamlet. Shying away from the Bible out of fear of inadvertent religious indoctrination is a colossal disservice to students in this country.

However, giving them articles of belief indistinguished from fact is even more insidious. In principal, I think a book like this Bible textbook is an excellent idea. In practice, I'd want to be sure it's honest and scholarly enough to say what the Bible undeniably is (a work of enormous influence on civilization as we know it), and what some believe it is (the Word of God). It is possible to tell students "people believe this..." without either denigrating or proselytizing. I wonder if this Virgina-based Bible book walks the line.

-- mm

"Interfaith coalition unveils public school Bible course" - story on cnn.con


SUBJECT:
Stuff in the Girl's Purse
DATE:
September 22, 2005

My two-year-old girl is a bag lady in training. Her favorite pastime is stuffing things into other things. We have two doll strollers that are perpetually packed with teddy bears and hats and balls and shoes (including mine when I'm looking for them in the morning). She has at least three handbags she carries around with her--sometimes simultaneously--that, too, are always full of knick-knacks.

Tonight, my wife emptied out her Dora the Explorer purse. Here are the contents:

  • four bracelets
  • three superhero figures
  • a Matchbox car
  • a Transformer car
  • a book
  • a squirting fish
  • a rubber lizard
  • toy baby bottle
  • a small, empty perfume bottle
  • Tinkerbell sunglasses
  • a paper tag shaped like Dora from a nightgown.

I swear, it's a genetic female thing.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Doc Digs in Ear
DATE:
September 21, 2005

Went to the doctor for an annual physical today. No real problems, a few annoyances. One of them was a build up of wax in one ear. I've kind of felt it for a while, but was never really bother by it. Hearing-wise, I did notice it when wearing headphones. I kept wondering why the right phone seemed weaker than the left.

So when the doc looks in my hear with the funnel thingy, he says there's too much wax to see anything. He gets this dental-pick-looking scoop thing and starts digging and digging. I can honestly say it was one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever experienced. I can deal with pain. Needles, scalpels, even dentist drills. No problem. Some schmuck gouging my brain out with a fork. Uh-uh.

Take some advice, folks: Q-tip. Every day. The alternative is unthinkable.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Great Spam Name: Malvolio Jo
DATE:
September 20, 2005

I get an immense amount of spam, both at home and work. I've had the same work e-mail address for nearly ten years, and my home address is posted on every page of this website. No wonder they get hit constantly.

I am not particularly bothered nor worried about it. I'm not dumb enough to open anything from an unknown person (I'm reluctant to touch some of the crap some known people send me), and bedsides, I use a Mac and Win98 PC. Nothing is virus-proof, but their pretty close. So, rather than worry, I generally just enjoy the spam. I like seeing the trends in what they're selling. Originally, is was old-fashioned aphrodisiacs; followed by penis size enhancement; then, erectile drugs; now, stopping premature ejaculation is big. Peppered throughout the mix is a lot of stuff about lottery numbers, free CD/DVDs, mortgage rates, eBay password updates, micro R/C vehicles, refugee African ambassadors with millions stuck Swiss back accounts, and porn! porn! porn! The arc of decade right there.

Anyway, one of the things I've enjoyed most about the spam is assortment of sender names. I've gotten spam from myself, from co-workers, from friends, and, of course, from a whole slew of fabricated monikers. My latest favorite: Malvolio Jo. I'm imagining a kind of redneck Shakespeare troupe.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Rift of the Magi
DATE:
September 19, 2005

Watched a smidge of the Emmys® (apparently the trademark sign is mandatory now in print... my bad for omitting). There was a Johnny Carson tribute that was fine reminder of why Johnny lasted on TV for 30 years. The other segment that impressed me was a retrospective/memorial for the simultaneous retirement (professional and permanent) of the big three's leading anchors: NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Dan Rather, and ABC's Peter Jennings. I'm not a big news fan per se, but I did have certain respect for all three, and I'm sorry to see them go--especially in one stroke.

If I were a paranoid type, I might think this is a great coup for the Right Wing Conspiracy over the Liberal Media. I'm not sure how they managed Jennings, but Dubya & Co.'s push to get rid of Rather over the spurious National Guard memo (which, anyone who knows anything about monospaced v. kerned typography, should have spotted as a fake--at least in version if not content) was pretty obvious. I'm still pondering the nudge behind Brokaw's domino.

In any case, this does leave something of a vacuum at the 6:00 hour. I don't know how all-powerful network news is anymore, with dozens of other places people can get their daily fix in whatever flavor they find goes down smoothest, but there's no doubt it was still influential. I recall that on 9/11, when introducing an address by Bush (barely nine months in office after the most contested election in U.S. history), Dan Rather said "no matter how you feel about him, he is still our president."

I have no doubt the entire Bush Administration was gunning for him ever since.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Wise-dom of Star Trek
DATE:
September 18, 2005

With the recent death of legendary film director Robert Wise, I've been contemplating some of his films I know. Being a geek, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the one I've seen the most (The Day the Earth Stood Still is a close second)--not the least reason for that being that HBO seems to have it in heavy rotation this month. Anyway, I've probably seen ST:TMP, start to finish, two or three times, and in assorted pieces, more than a dozen.

An often unfairly derided entry in the Trek franchise, I've always liked the movie for a number of reasons--not the least of which is simple nostalgia. I remember going to see it in 1980--the last movie I ever went to see with my father, by the way--and to get a big screen, classic Trek fix with post-Star Wars effects technology was like sci-fi geek porno. Remember the whole launch-from-spacedock sequence? Admit it... you know you couldn't take your eyes of those anatomically precise tight shots of the redesigned Enterprise.

Beyond that, I thought the movie did a fine job of echoing the major themes and character points from the show, and taking a step beyond to introduce a sense of transcendant wonder into the archetypal space Western...an element the film series promptly abandoned for shoot 'em up adventure in the next movie (which I liked just fine, as well). I also appreciated the movie for the minimalist look it gave to the ship interior and uniforms--again, elements abandoned in subsequent movies. With the hundreds of hours of the half-dozen big and small screen incarnations Trek, the two contributed by the late, great Mr. Wise certainly stand out respectably.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Film Director Robert Wise Dies
DATE:
September 17, 2005

Last Wednesday, multiple-Oscar winning director Robert Wise died of heart failure (Is there another kind of death? Seems to me it's what causes the failure that's at issue.) Wise's cinematic cap included such feathers as editing Citizen Kane and directing Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In between, he directed some truly classic films in several genres: sci-fi (The Day the Earth Stood Still), musicals (West Side Story and The Sound of Music), drama (I Want to Live!), and the archetypal submarine warfare movie (Run Silent, Run Deep). He directed 39 films in all. He was 91.

I just have to say, any way you measure it, that's a damn good run. Here's to you, Mr. Wise.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Frosted Mini-Face
DATE:
September 16, 2005

Speaking of aging--as I am often now, zeroing in on 40--I can't help but be obsessed with how much gray is in my beard. I grow and shave facial hair often with no rhyme or reason; currently, I'm letting it go to a fairly shaggy effect. The gray beard hairs tend to grow faster and are more wiry than the (still, but losing ground fast) majority of my whiskers (always hated that term), so you get this real unkempt, grizzled effect.

I kind of like it. Makes me look, well, old, grizzled, and unkempt. People tend to bother you a lot less.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Another Allnighter
DATE:
September 15, 2005

Pulling another work allnighter tonight. It's about 3:45 am now and I'm still in the office. The network went down at around 3:00 and I'm hoping it will be up any minute now. I have to load a few files to a webserver and I'm done. I'll be damned if I spent all this time here for naught. At this point, what's the difference anyway? I've always found that two hours sleep is a lot worse than none.

In the past three months, I've pulled more allnighters (four, I think) than I have in the past five or so years. This really has to do with the kids. I simply can't work straight through anything anymore. I've got to stop and put them to bed, then go back to work once they're down. It really breaks my stride. I need a good chunk of uninterrupted time to accomplish anything; I'm not one of those people who can complete a complex task in small increments. I like to focus, rather than multi-task. I also generally prefer to work at the office, rather than home (even though all my work is Internet-related and largely accomplishable remotely). Again, helps me focus.

Anyway, I'm giving the network until 4:00. I'll be royally pissed if it doesn't come back up.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
39 and Counting
DATE:
September 14, 2005

I turn 40 in about a month. The weight of that milestone is really starting to sink in with me. All I can think about is the many things I have not accomplished in my life that I wanted (or expected) to by this time.

To be fair to myself, though, I have accomplished a good bit in my life. I've gone many places, done many things, that I never dreamed I would. The mere fact that I'm pushing four-oh and am only mildly overweight, still have some hair, and have minimal credit card debt is really pretty heartening when you look at the broader statistics. Nice home, lovely wife, two beautiful kids, decent job. All in all, not a bad showing--if not particularly exceptional.

As Joe Walsh once said:

I can't complain, but sometimes I still do
Life's been good to me so far.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
NJ Transit Bag Check
DATE:
September 13, 2005

Today, getting on the New Jersey Transit train I take home from work everyday, the were uniformed police officers with "bag inspection" tables set up all along the platform, apparently as some kind of random bomb check. Not every train at the station had such and inspection station; I wonder if this was truly random or if they targeted some more popular lines in specific--perhaps even one that received some particular threat (though, that doesn't make any sense).

As I approached the tables, I unzipped my backpack for the officers, who just waved me on without looking. I'm pretty white, though I do have a kind of ragged beard at the moment. Even so, I guess didn't fit the racial profile they were on the lookout for (let's not kid ourselves, folks... that is how they do it).

I can't imagine that such random checks (profiled or no) could possibly have any effect reducing the likelihood of a terrorist bomb attack. I mean, wouldn't they just take a different train? Or come back another day? It's only effective if the terrorist must be on the 5:25 Local. Maybe they've got to pick up a kid from day care or something. Those late fees really can add up.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Cuban Doctors for Katrina
DATE:
September 12, 2005

Cuban Communist Leader Fidel Castro recently offered to the United States the services of 1,500 doctors to help provide medical care for anyone affected by Hurricane Katrina. Cuba has insisted this is a genuine humanitarian offer of assistance and not some kind of ruse or publicity stunt, releasing a photograph of 1,500 white-jacketed doctors standing in an auditorium being briefed on what to expect once they had arrived in U.S. to provide for the immediate health care needs of victims. However, the U.S. State Department has declined the offer, refusing to grant the Cuban doctors the right to travel to the U.S.

I disagree with that. I think we should accept Il Presidente Castro's gracious offer. I fact, I think we should go him one better. It would be a shame if all these dedicated volunteers from Cuba would have to be separated from their loved ones while they generously and freely offer their services. So, rather than simply allowing these 1,500 doctors to visit the U.S., I think we should extend the invitation to their families as well. Any qualified medical doctor from Cuba who wishes can come to the U.S. with their complete, immediate family (i.e., spouse and children).

Let's see if Commrade Castro's humanitarian offer would hold up under those conditions.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
9/11 4
DATE:
September 11, 2005

The fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the U.S. by Islamic terrorists. It sounds ridiculous to say, but I will never forget that day. I was at work when the buzz of the first airplane hitting the World Trade Tower went around. Less than half and hour later, when word of the second plane crash came in, I recall wandering around looking for somebody with a radio. It took only a few minutes for me to decide to get out of Manhattan.

Both my wife and I worked in the city at the time while our 9 month-old son was in day care in New Jersey. I knew one of us had to get out and get him, and I'd had enough experience in NYC to know that any mass exodus from the city--be it caused by bad weather or a holiday weekend--means extra hours to get through the bridges or tunnels. Anyway, I left ASAP. I'll spare you the details, but I managed to get the last PATH train out of the city that day. On the walk cross town, I paused for a few moments to watch the Towers burning. Had I known I that would be the last time, I might have lingered. Something in me, really wanted to go downtown and see what was happening up close (which, in hindsight, would been astoundingly stupid), but I knew I had to get home to my boy.

Of all the myriad thoughts and feelings I've had about that day and subsequent events, I keep coming back to that primal need to get to my child. The power of that to eclipse all else still surprises me.

Anyway, just marking the day once more, as I always will.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Racist "Refugees" ?
DATE:
September 10, 2005

I came across an article recently arguing that the use of the word "refugees"--which seems to have been wholly replaced in the media by "evacuees" in the last couple days--to refer to displaced residents from New Orleans was inherently racist. Now, every one has noticed the huge racial disparity between those who evacuated early and those left behind, and many have inferred that tardy Federal assistive response can be attributed to prevailing governmental indifference to the plight of poor African Americans in any circumstances. Like most things in life, I think the honest answer is multi-layered (e.g., reduction in FEMA's budget, bureaucratization of FEMA as part of Homeland Security, drain on National Guard personnel by Iraq, general strain on Federal resources by Iraq, etc.), but I have little doubt that ingrained prejudice regarding race and class (which are frequently euphemisms for one another in American political discourse) did little to help the situation.

Still, does this mean the word "refugee" is racist? The context of this charge is mixed in with objections over numerous pejoratives ("looting"... "unrest"... "war zone") frequently used in the news to refer to the chaotic state of the city after the flood. On the literal level--and that's how I like to approach such things--referring to people stranded in storm-ravaged New Orleans as "those seeking refuge" strikes me as perfectly appropriate. Of course, in America, we generally only use the term "refugees" when referring to people in other, much less fortunate countries (Somalia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, India, etc.). People in America, no matter how dire their circumstances it seems, tend to take exception to being associated in any way with individuals in such "Third World" (another term sometimes tossed at New Orleans in the press) countries. It's only those lesser folk in lesser lands that can qualify as "refugees."

So, apparently, the word "refugee" is indeed a racist term. Just not the way people objecting to its use seem to think it is.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
That's a Lot of Words
DATE:
September 9, 2005

Here are some interesting stats. I just took a quick survey of how much text content is on this website of mine--e.g., I tallied up the word counts of the fiction and blog entries. For the blog in particular, I did a lot of estimating, so these are rough numbers, but definitely in the ball park, I think.

In approximately 3 years since I launched the site, I've put on it about 60,000 words of fiction and almost 150,000 words in the blog--which is only about a year-and-a-half old. About 210,000 words--and that's not even everything I've written during that time. There's still a couple stories in progress and attempts at longer essays/articles that aren't on the site. In any event, 210,000 words equals some 2-3 average length novels and about 7-8 screenplays.

I'd love to earn a living writing simply because it would allow me the time to write. As a way to pay the bills, I have no illusions that writing is better or worse than any other job (work is work, particularly if you have anyone else telling you what to do, as many professional writers do). In order to switch over to full-time pro, I need to complete a few saleable items--e.g., a couple of novels or screenplays--but I can never seem to manage that. Reviewing the raw quantity of material I've put on this site in less than three years in just my spare time, it's patently clear I could crank out the volume needed. It's the sustained drive to focus on one project of length I lack. If I gave up the short stories and the blog and just cranked through it, I could easily finish one in six months, I bet. As I count down to 40 (a little over a month now), I'm seriously considering that. I'll let you know when I decide.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Stuff I Won't Be Buying
DATE:
September 8, 2005

I always love to think about what gadgets and techno toys I'd buy for myself, however I can rarely bring myself to indulge in a frivolous personal purchase. There are many reasons for this (philosophically opposed to rampant consumerism; pathologically averse to credit card debt; believe I should be saving more money for the kids; believe I should be giving more money to charity; perennially worried I could lose my job and become broke instantly; etc., etc.), but the main reason is, simply put, that I'm cheap. I just hate spending money... makes me cringe inside. Don't get me wrong, I do manage to spend plenty (last month alone: $3,500 on wife's trip to Greece; $2,000 on new fridge; $400 on flight to Vegas for 40th birthday trip; $100 on wireless network hub), but each purchase is like a knife in my heart. So when it comes time to spend $20 on a new CD or DVD I want, I rarely can manage it. Pennywise, pound-foolish, I suppose you could might say, and I'd be hard-pressed to deny.

Anyway, here's a list of some things I thought I'd like to buy that I won't be buying anytime soon--possibly never. Somehow, it always makes me feel better to talk about them:

  • new iPod Nano ($200-$250)
  • refurbished iPod 20GB with original click wheel ($200)
  • new Apple iBook for wife ($1,000)
  • old IBM ThinkPad for son ($300)
  • Palm LifeDrive ($500)
  • Palm Tungsten E2 (new $250 / Open Box $200 / Blemished $180)
  • Star Wars Trilogy (Widescreen Edition) DVD ($50)
  • Remote Control 4-Turbine HoverCopter from FAO Schwarz ($200)
  • Chimera or Portable Patio Fire Pit ($200)
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Ah. I feel much better.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Oh Yeah, the Supreme Court
DATE:
September 7, 2005

In all the hurricane disaster news, I've forgotten that we're now down two Supreme Court Justices. This is Dubya's destiny, according to the great "conservative mandate" that re-elected him (do recall that he wasn't actually elected the first time). For someone whom I originally thought, was way back in the last millennium, was utterly unelectable and--once in office--figured was absolutely inconsequential, Dubya has sure turned out to be a fellow capable of causing astounding damage. Now, I'm kind of thinking that his Supreme Court nominees (Roberts and whomever else), are likely to prompt fairly insignificant changes to the court's dynamic.

Obviously, that's just denial.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Guy Parking on the Roof Dream
DATE:
September 6, 2005

Another oddly detailed dream: last night, I dreamed I lived with my current family in some kind of loft apartment building. I was up on the roof one morning, getting ready to go to work, when I saw a guy up there. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was just parking. It was then I noticed the whole roof was indeed a parking lot. This person was trying to cut loose strings from something--some article of clothing or blanket or something--and asked to borrow a pair of scissors. I gave him a tiny pair of cuticle scissors I happened to have handy.

I went back down the stairs to my apartment and was careful to lock the door to the rootop steps because I didn't entirely trust this person. I was telling my wife about it when he came knocking at the door. He wanted to return the scissors and give me a monetary reward for helping him out. I said that wasn't necessary, but he left a wad of bills--equaling about 50$, I recall--on the stair outside our locked door. I opened the door and handed the money back to him, repeating that it wasn't necessary and was, in fact, a little insulting to be offered money for the smallest of favors. He seemed insulted by that so I tried to soften it saying if he really wanted to give me something, I would just take a dollar. I tried to take crinkled, faded dollar bill from his hand but he wouldn't let it go. I said, fine, how about a nickel? In his other had, he had a fistful of coins. He held up one nickel which had a uniquely minted back to it. It was actually a hologram of a bird or bat in flight, and I commented that I hadn't seen a coin like that before.

That's pretty much all I recall--though the look of the apartment, parking lot, and even the stranger were all very vivid. Basically, the loft apartment resembled a house in our town my wife and I looked at and considered before we purchased our current home. The rooftop parking lot looked like the rooftop lot at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, which I believe is closed to the public now. I always considered it the best parking lot in Manhattan. Finally, the stranger was an innocuous looking man in his 30's with wire-rimmed glasses and a hyper-polite manner--though I recall thinking he looked like the archetypal innocuous-looking serial killer from old 70's movies. The only conscious inspiration I have for the dream was that earlier in the night my wife woke from a nightmare about a prowler being in the house. Oh, and we drove past the house-we-didn't-buy earlier in the day. Otherwise, I'm stumped as to what this one means.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Crusher's Husband's Birthday Dream
DATE:
September 5, 2005

Had an interesting dream last night. It started with me on the Enterprise (D -- the Next Generation one) involved in planning a birthday party for Jack Crusher, the deceased husband of ship's doctor Beverly Crusher. Apparently this would have been a milestone birthday for him (50, I think) and she wanted to commemorate it. I had to go down to a lower deck to some lecture hall or banquet room on the ship we had reserved for the party. After first, when asking some attendants which room I should use, I couldn't remember Dr. Crusher's name... though, after a moment or two, I did. The room was decorated with different teapots (apparently the late Lt. Crusher collected them) which Beverly had bought for the occasion. They came in box labelled Kabbalah and I joked that we should give out red strings and invite Madonna and Demi Moore. Everyone seemed to get the joke.

The next segment of the dream--I'm not sure of the transition--was myself and my wife walking down a street, apparently where we lived, though it reminded me of one near my childhood home, as we were returning from a trip to Greece. It had snowed and we saw neighbors out shoveling. My wife stopped to show a neighbor across the street how to use a complicated mechanical shovel she didn't understand. When we finally got home, our kids and my parents (though her parents are the ones who actually watched our kids while we were away) were sitting on the front steps. Our kids were pretty indifferent to seeing us and my parents just talked amongst themselves about how much they loved living in their old apartment in Chicago (they never lived in Chicago).

Then, the dream segued to me being towed uphill along the same street--which was now flooded with water, like a river--by a specially designed boat rowboat. This was somehow echoing my experience in Greece (in the dream, not reality) and I eventually got off on the shore of an island of mountains and farmland that were the colors of toast--i.e., mostly brown-tan with a little fringe of burned-looking black along the mountain ridges. I remember thinking that if an artist painted this kind of landscape, people would think it was contrived.

Finally, I found myself in a tent-pavilion where a wedding reception would be taking place. I contemplated staying for the party--ala, "Wedding Crashers"-style--but realized I was inappropriately dressed in a bathing suit. Besides, I couldn't delude myself I had the charm of a Vaughan/Wilson to pull it off. As I was thinking this, a black waiter wheeled a serving cart down the main aisle; on the cart was a pre-teenager black boy in a Little League uniform, apparently knocked unconscious by a ball and this was the only way he could be brought to emergency medical attention. I went into a back room reserved for service people working the wedding. A sign identified it as the "Spam Room" reserved for breaks, coffee, chat, tobacco, etc. (unlike an old myth, I am perfectly capable of reading in my dreams). I recall thinking I must not be in my home state anymore since tobacco use was not permitted indoors. Outside the window of the room, I could see a busy rural highway.

That's all I recall. There are several things related to some of my recent thoughts about mortality, family, Katrina victims, and my stage of life that I can see at work in this dream. All in all, an interesting one, if not truly illuminating.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Steam Cleaning Crap
DATE:
September 4, 2005

In my own little bitty taste of flood-related catastrophe, raw sewage backed up from the showing in basement, staining the carpet. I set two dehumidifiers to run overnight, which made the basement extremely warm, dry, and putrid. So, it's off to ShopRite (does anybody else think that name with "Shop" and "Rite" sums up something ineffable about the quasi-religious tone of American consumerism?) to rent me a RugDoctor Carpet Steam Cleaner.

Ever use one of these things? They work just fine, but they're a huge pain. You have to fill them with water and cleaning solution and they only hold about two gallons at a time, which only lasts for about five minutes. So basically, you have stop and refill the thing every five minutes. Slow, wet, messy, and maddening.

But, it works. The carpet is clean and (more importantly) smells clean. I've got to call the town and complain about the sewage back up. They won't do anything about it, of course, but at least I'll feel like I've done' something to prevent future poo-water floods.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Crap Upstairs and Down
DATE:
September 3, 2005

So here's a slice of some of the less pleasant episodes of my life recently. My 4.75-year-old boy has had a touch of stomach virus lately. Nothing too bad, just some more frequent trips to the throne. Anyway, he's also recently given up his pull-ups at night. As you might imagine, the twain were destined for a catastrophic convergence. So, Saturday morning at about 5:00 am the boy starts bellowing for help and sure enough, he's fairly messy in bed. So, I get him in the shower then strip his bed (waterproof matress pad... never underestimage the value of such things), and get him clean and dry and back into clean sheets for a few extra hours sleep.

I bring his icky sheets and PJs downstairs to rinse them out and put the laundry. As I step into the basement, I feel wet. At first, I think the cat peed on the rug, but I soon realize it's too wet and too foul-smelling. I soon figure out that the sewer has backed up through the basement shower--which has happened several times in the year-and-a-half we've lived this house (note to homeowners, resist the temptation to add an extra shower to your home by putting on the in basement; trust me on this one), but this was the worst. Basically, the indoor-outdoor carpet in the basement is damp with poo-water. I guess I should be thankful; it could have been much worse, and many have endured much worse recently.

Still, nobody likes poo-water. No-bod-ee.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Offering Your Home to Katrina Victims
DATE:
September 2, 2005

With all the devastation and suffering, all the human displacement and habitat destruction, wrought by Hurricane Katrina, I've been thinking about ways I might be able to help. Aside from monetary donations (really, the most practical and effective way, according to experts), the only thing I could come up with was to offer shelter. So many people, so many families, have lost their homes and will need a place to live for an indefinite period. Many may never go back, but none will be able to go back for at least a few months. Anyway, as an owner of a home with some a extra room two, I occurred to me that one of the most helpful things I could do was offer to take in someone who had nowhere else to stay.

Now believe me, I understand the logistical problems inherent in this. First of all, I live about 1,000 miles away from the area in question. Second, I don't particularly like strangers stepping on my driveway, let alone living in my basement. Third, and perhaps most important, I've got two small kids and need to be careful about whom I let into my home. However, all those concerns can be addressed. The bottom line is that, regardless of my good intentions, I'd rather not be inconvenienced by having to take in refugees; I'd rather someone else do it. As human and universal as such a feeling might be, I still find myself rather shamed to know it is true of me.

Anyway, seems I'm not alone in my offering shelter thought. The Bush-bashing, liberal firebrand website MoveOn.org is sponsoring a service to hook up people offering to take in displaced Katrina victims with qualifying candidates. Like a roommate service, you input what you're looking for (single male, family of four or less, stay of up to 3 months, etc.) and they somehow (not sure how) match this anonymously with victims seeking shelter. Everything is kept anonymous until both parties agree to communicate. Obviously, there are a lot of variables that could make such a program flop, but at least it was an attempt. There's are a couple others out there as well. I hope they do some good.

-- mm

Offer free housing to Katrina evacuees at hurricanehousing.org
Additional housing offer services listed at civic.moveon.org


SUBJECT:
Tragedy in Black and White
DATE:
September 1, 2005

Seeing the pictures of the increasingly desperate and chaotic situation in New Orleans, one can't help but notice a plain fact: the vast majority of refugees are African American. Certainly, New Orleans has always had a large black population and some of the poorest areas in and around the city are overwhelmingly black. These are the parts hardest hit, and the people hardest hit. Those who could evacuate did. Those who could not are still there. The racial divide in the coulds and could-nots is pretty glaring.

Just goes to underscore for me how far from practical equality we are in this country. The legacy of slavery and an all-but-institutionalized economic divide does not go away simply because we now consider it indelicate to notice its existence. You can say the law says one thing, but the class lines are patently clear. We point to the small percentage that actually manages to cross the line and call it progress. I suppose, statistically speaking, it is--but it's pretty miniscule... as 50,000 stranded refugees, more than 80% African American, will attest.

I see video of a helicopter dropping three sandbags into a 400-foot breach in a levee and just think how absurdly inadequate the effort is. Yet, in principal, I suppose it's better than doing nothing at all. Thus with all efforts to bridge the race-class gap in America.

-- mm




 





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