Friday, July 13, 2007

No column this week, alas . . .

. . . so instead I'll leave you with this list I found deep in the Neatorama archives.

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The Washington Post is read by people who think they should run the country.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand the Washington Post. They do, however like the smog statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country, if they could spare the time, and if they didn’t have to leave L.A. to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who’s running the country, and don’t really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don’t care who’s running the country either, as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure there is a country, or that anyone is running it; but whoever it is, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped minority, feministic atheist dwarfs, who also happen to be illegal aliens from ANY country or galaxy as long as they are democrats.

10. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country, but need the baseball scores.
Yeah, that's pretty much the size of it. Which is why I work in fiction. ;-)

Monday, July 09, 2007

I'm very little good with salespeople. Also, saving the planet is overrated.

Apologies: Sorry there was no column last week at The Scenic Route. Just a little too much going on all at once at the end of the week.

Life: I went shoe-shopping on my lunch hour today, looking for a pair of little black flats that wouldn’t cut into my feet (no such luck), so I decided to cut my shopping short and head back through the mall. It doesn’t really cut any time or distance off the walk, but at least it’s air conditioned. Anyway, as I was heading down the main aisle on the second floor (it’s a downtown mall, so it’s all in a line and stacked on top of itself, like a cake. A cake made out of shopping), I got snagged by a saleswoman at one of the kiosks in the center of the corridor. Normally I’m pretty good at avoiding them (I don’t make eye contact, etc.), but this one stepped out and addressed me and I got flustered. Before I knew it I was sitting on a stool and she was straightening bits of my hair with a ceramic plate straightener and telling me how the ions and whatever supposedly sealed the cuticle and locked in moisture. The cheapest one was $150. The model she used on me was $200. I nodded and smiled and made the appropriate noises and tried to find an excuse to get away, but as I was leaving I asked where she was from (she had an accent) and she said Israel. So I smiled and showed her my keychain of the Israeli flag, and she offered to sell me one for $100. Luckily, my phone’s alarm went off, telling me I had 10 minutes to get back to work, so I ended up telling her that I would think about it at work and would come back in the evening if I decided to get it. Then I powerwalked away. The Moral of the Story: I’m no good at handling salespeople. I understand the theory behind it (never trust anyone who’s paid to be friendly), I just stink at putting it into practice.

Oh, well. That’s what I’m seeing a therapist for.

The funniest part of the story is that, except that those locks have a little less frizz, you can’t really tell where my hair was treated. I’ve never bothered to straighten my hair because the slightest hint of moisture makes it curl back up into these bouncy, tousled curls. I restyled that section of hair in ten seconds because it was hot and my hands were damp. I know a lot of girls with curls don’t like them, but I do. Of my two sisters and me, I’m the only one who has them, and I like them. Nyah.

Politics:: I’ve always taken the warnings of the global warming crowd with a large grain of salt, but I could never quite articulate why. Today, in the aftermath of the LiveEarth concerts (which were, in themselves, huge carbon producers), I’ve finally found why I never quite bought the scare tactics.

First, there’s this article in the BBC:

Armies of insects once crawled through lush forests in a region of Greenland now covered by more than 2,000m of ice.
DNA extracted from ice cores shows that moths and butterflies were living in forests of spruce and pine in the area between 450,000 and 800,000 years ago.
Researchers writing in Science magazine say the specimens could represent the oldest pure DNA samples ever obtained.
The ice cores also suggest that the ice sheet is more resistant to warming than previously thought, the scientists say.
"We have shown for the first time that southern Greenland, which is currently hidden under more than 2km of ice, was once very different to the Greenland we see today," said Professor Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and one of the authors of the paper.
"What we've learned is that this part of the world was significantly warmer than most people thought," added Professor Martin Sharp from the University of Alberta, Canada, and a co-author of the Science paper.
This, along with the fact of, oh, I don’t know, the fact that this planet is not and never has been a static environment, only reinforces my belief that global warming is a cyclical occurrence and is not caused or even particularly accelerated by human activity. But the most effective one I heard was this gem by Glen Reynolds:
I'll start acting as if it's a crisis when the people who are telling me it's a crisis start acting as if it's a crisis.
Yeah, that about sums it up.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The good, the bad and the trivial (not necessarily in that order).

Life: They might keep me here at my temp job for a little while longer, my boss told me today, marking the, what, third? fourth? time he’s done that. It was nerve-wracking at first – what if I don’t get a new job right away, what if I don’t like my next assignment as much, what about my car payments – but I’ve gotten used to it. I like my job here because it gives me plenty of time to write – but I’ve talked about that before so I won’t go over it again here. (Points here for style and self-indulgent self-reference. Score!)

I’m looking forward to Ratatouille tonight, not just for the reasons I listed yesterday but because I can’t wait to see what clever little short they’re going to have at the front of it. I’m a great believer in short films: They’re like fun-sized movies, little bite-sized chunks of cinematic goodness that keep you entertained for a few minutes and then let you go so you can go do something else. Of course, when a bunch of short films are collected into one place – like on, say, AtomFilms - they can quickly become a time-sucking vortex of doom. I watch one and oh, hey, that was cute! Hey, here’s one by the same director! And here’s another on a similar theme! And this one has a cat in it! It’s like YouTube for the snob set, and I love it.

Faith ‘n’ stuff: It’s really amazing how, the closer I get to God, the more I feel it when I go a little bit off. Stuff that never registered on my radar now sets of klaxons at the smallest exposure. It’s like if you’ve been immunized to a toxin by constant exposure, and then later when you’ve been cleansed (in every sense), the slightest amount of it causes a reaction. Maybe it’s just that the closer you get to the light, the easier it is to see the edge of the path – and the darker the chasm beside it appears. The starker the contrast, the more grievous the fall if you do step off.

Rebellion is a funny thing, though: I have found, in my own experience, that it is possible to be in rebellion and still be aware of the presence of God. It’s not a comfy place to be, but it’s comforting to know that even if I completely screw things up, even if I do things that I know are wrong, it’s never out of His control. The second I truly give up and turn back to Him, He makes it work. And that’s a wonderful feeling. Note that this isn’t to say I’m the sort who runs around and does whatever I want because “Oh, God’ll just fix it all in the end.” I know that’s not true. I know I’ll have to face any consequences that may arise, and I know that I rarely get to that point of true surrender because, frankly, I’m a stubborn ass in every sense of the word. But it’s the knowledge that there’s always someone to pick me up after I make a muddle of things that gets me through the day, and I wouldn’t trade it. Not for all the pleasures this fallen world could offer.

News: This column from the Chicago Sun-Times takes an interesting look at global warming: Instead of debating whether it is or isn’t happening, the writer takes Al Gore to task for using faulty science and conclusions to scare people.

In his new book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore pleads, "We must stop tolerating the rejection and distortion of science. We must insist on an end to the cynical use of pseudo-studies known to be false for the purpose of intentionally clouding the public's ability to discern the truth." Gore repeatedly asks that science and reason displace cynical political posturing as the central focus of public discourse.
If Gore really means what he writes, he has an opportunity to make a difference by leading by example on the issue of global warming.
A cooperative and productive discussion of global warming must be open and honest regarding the science. Global warming threats ought to be studied and mitigated, and they should not be deliberately exaggerated as a means of building support for a desired political position.
Many of the assertions Gore makes in his movie, ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' have been refuted by science, both before and after he made them. Gore can show sincerity in his plea for scientific honesty by publicly acknowledging where science has rebutted his claims.
He gives specific examples in the rest of the article, but I thought his initial premise was the most interesting bit. Scare-mongers are rarely interested in reasoned discourse and rational analysis, and if there’s one thing that’s turned me off of the global-warming bandwagon, it’s the scare tactics. We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die because you drive a big car! AAAAAAAAAH! I have yet to hear of a crisis that was effectively dealt with by screaming.

Jericho doesn’t count. That was organized.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Whoo! It's Monday! Let the sleep deprivation begin!

Life: Tuesday night I plan to go see Ratatouille, which I’ve been spazzing over since I saw the preview for it in front of Cars. It’s a sweet tale of a young rat trying to make it as a chef in Paris. I like the idea because a) it’s Pixar, and they’re pretty much geniuses, b) it’s about Paris. I love Paris. I have never been to Paris and I find myself perennially disappointed in the French people (although their last election was a bit of an upper), but I nevertheless harbor a serious geocrush on Paris (and most of the rest of France, to be honest). The third reason I want to see it is the line in the teaser when the rat says, “I like good food. I can’t help it!” I have said those exact words, expressed that exact sentiment, so many times I’ve stopped keeping score and started keeping a tab at the local gourmet grocer.

Okay, that last bit is a lie. Trader Joe’s doesn’t offer that option. But believe me, if I was offered the chance to travel the world on a tour based around food, I would take it in a heartbeat. And that’s why I want to see Ratatouille: He’s a plucky little rodent who loves food and lives in Paris and follows his dream! Go, little rat, go!

I don’t know if he achieves it or not. I just know that he follows it, and that’s what counts.

Music: I finally bought an mp3 player a few weeks ago (You mean I went all through college without an mp3 player? Le gasp!) and it came with 100 free downloads from emusic.com, which overall I’ve been pleased with. They’ve got some halfway decent stuff there, including some oldies (CCR, for one, although their Chicago selection is terrible) and some newer stuff, like The White Stripes and The Decemberists (except their last album). Plus I rediscovered The Barenaked Ladies, which is a definite plus. Their contract with the big label expired, so now they’re putting stuff out on their own and it’s awesome. And I’ve still got more than 40 downloads left.

News: The quick-and-dirty version: People keep trying to blow up England (and occasionally Scotland) with cars full of gasoline and nails. The police have made five arrests so far (including one guy who set himself on fire after ramming his flaming SUV into the Glasgow airport’s main terminal). It’s definitely a terror attack, and it looks like they were all homegrown and had outside help. Also, at least one of the cars was a Mercedes, so I don’t want to hear anything about “Oh, they only lash out because they’re frustrated and poor.” Frustrated, I’ll give you. Poor – ah, no.

Culture: This article takes an interesting (for a left-leaning author) view of multiculturalism: Namely, if someone’s culture says he should kill you, you’re obligated not to tolerate it. Which is what the right has been saying for the last, oh, forty years or so, but it’s interesting to see someone on the other side of the aisle come to the same conclusion through different means. It’s like the guy who cracked Fermat’s lost proof: He came up with a viable proof, but it’s not the same as Fermat’s because it relies on 20th century math. Kind of a broader-application all-roads-lead-to-Rome type thing.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks for reading. Go have fun.

Second drafts are a tool of the man, man.

[Editor's note: This was originally posted at my other blog, but it was a little too loosey-goosey to stay there so I moved it here. Also I made a couple minor edits. That is all.]

I’m sitting at my desk. I’ve been here for almost four hours, and this blog post is the first real constructive thing I’ve done all day besides bring cookies for the other office critters. They’re all a bunch of geologist/environmental types around here, so I used a recipe that makes the cookies look like trilobite fossils. (Don’t know what that is? Look here. Also, watch “Nova” more often.)

They’re cute little cookies, nice, not too sweet, with a good blend of vanilla and almond extracts and one end dipped in semi-sweet chocolate for the head with little candy stars stuck into said chocolate for the eyes. I found the recipe on teh Intarwebs a couple weeks ago and I knew that because I’m working in an office full of environmental engineers and geologist types, I would have to make them and bring them in. Which I did. They’ve been a hit.

It took me two days to complete the recipe. I baked the actual cookie part of the equation Wednesday night, sliding around with one knee on the seat of a kitchen chair because I sprained that ankle and it’s impossible to cook effectively on crutches in my parents’ crowded kitchen. Yesterday I melted the chocolate and commenced to dip, and today they’re being eaten. Whoopee. I’m feeling decidedly exhausted, mostly from having to use crutches for the past two days, which is a wonderful way to tone up the shoulders but I wouldn’t recommend it for anything but emergencies. Also, don’t wear sweaters and crutches at the same time. You’ll chafe under the arms something awful.

Last night I went to see my therapist/counselor/what-have-you for the first time in about a year, and it was amazing how she a) offered to put in a good word with someone to see if they can arrange an internship for me and b) got right to the root of my anxiety problem within, oh, about three questions. It’s a rare person who knows the right questions to ask, and she’s one of them. We didn’t delve very far and I’m not going to go into it now because we didn’t want to open up a bunch of stuff and then leave the wound raw and uncovered for two weeks until I can get back in and see her, so that’s all I’m going to say on that point. I suppose I just wanted to comment that sometimes all it takes is someone finding the right way out of the woods and the whole trip gets a lot easier.

Yeah, I’m not real sure exactly what I meant by that, either. It’s just writing at this point, sort of a stupid phone hang on.

Back. That’s the pitfall of temping as a receptionist: They hire you to answer the phone, so you do that all day, only the calls are intermittent at best so hang on again.

Back. The calls are usually intermittent at best, so the rest of the time you just sit around and surf the Internet because they don’t give you much else to do around here. The girl who’s normally at the front desk still handles all the bills and paperwork and things, so the only other things you get to do are printing out FedEx labels and getting the mail. Which, incidentally, is a lot bigger production when one of your legs is out of commission and the post office is a good two-three blocks away.

I’m typing this in Microsoft Office so I can catch spelling errors, but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the grammar checker, which apparently has the intelligence of a fourth-grader and the stylistic sense of an inebriated sow. For instance, it put a little green squiggle under the last sentence in that last paragraph, and when I right-clicked for the suggestions, it said I should either change it to a question or replace “which” with “this,” both of which are technically correct and literally soulless. No, I’m not bitter. I just don’t like stupid programs.

I suppose I should say something about the iPhone, what with that being the new big thing and all, but really, all I know or care about is that I’m not planning to get one because a) it’s too expensive, b) I am not an early adopter and c) I don’t like Macs. I’ve explained why before, but an additional reason is that the Cult of Mac is very paternalistic in a Big-Brother-Knows-Best sort of way which I find annoying. Of course, with my insecurities, I’m tempted to buy into the superior sense of belonging that most Mac users have, but at the end of the day I want my trusty little Toshiba with two mouse buttons and word-processing program that works. I don’t want the iPhone. I don’t need the iPhone. I’m technically not cool enough for the iPhone, but when it comes down to it, the difference between Macs and PCs is that PC users actually earn their money through hard work, not modeling contracts and mad poetry slam winnings.

I suppose I should also say something about the immigration bill that just got shot down in Congress, but really all I have to say anymore on the matter is that I don’t care anymore, I just wish they’d be a little less cavalier about security and silly little things like that. Also, given the way Mexico’s treated us through this whole thing, I think it’s about time we stopped enabling their sense of entitlement and tell them to fix their own system instead of trying to take over ours.

Did you see The Office last night? Where Jim put all Dwight’s stuff in the vending machine? That was pretty funny.