Sunday, January 30, 2005

Novice coder

Alright boys and goyls. As you can see, I've been fucking about with the code for Mental Excrement lately. The most significant change is the addition of the counter (my self-esteem wasn't quite low enough, so I decided I needed empiracle evidence to show me just how big a loser I really am). Here's my problem (that's your cue to laugh condescendingly): I would like a space to appear on my sidebar below the words "Stand and be counted" and above the word "Links." I don't know shit from shit about code, and I've tried about 20 different things that seemed plausible based on what I could infer from analyzing the code for the rest of the page. Obviously none of them worked. If you know what I need to type in to my code to make a space there, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST PLEASE TELL ME! It seems like a little thing, but I have this anal-retentive streak and it's really driving me batty. The words look all crunched up and crowded and I just can't bear to gaze upon my sidebar any longer. Thank you for your support.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What I learned in school today

A couple months ago, after the "November 2nd attack on American democracy*" I wrote in a blog that living in America right now is a lot like living in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. At the time I stated that it was because the current in carnation of the American government was "on a Holy Crusade to rid the world of anyone they perceive as a threat to their devine mission of global homogeneity." I feel this connection more strongly than ever, and today I am going to expand on that statement.

I was substitute teaching senior religion today at a local high school. The class is called "The Holocaust." It is a relatively new addition to the curriculum. I personally think that an entire semester of a whole class devoted to the subject is a bit much, since they should be learning this stuff in history anyway, but since they won't, I'd rather they teach history in religion class than religion in history class. My instructions were to play a short film for the students showing interviews with Holocaust survivors, and then engage the class in a discussion about their reactions to the film. I love classes like that. I love it when I actually get to ask them questions and challenge their ideas and make them challenge mine and really get them thinking about something for once in their mindless, robotic lives.

So I was getting reactions like "it's so sad" blah blah blah, when one student finally gave me the gem. She said "it's hard for us to, like, relate to the people because nothing like that could happen our society, like, nowadays." I could have kissed her. Thus began the discussion of how America today is like Germany in the 1930s.

We talked about lots of things, like the marginalization of minority groups, the national, unspoken rule of denial, and compared the sense of paranoia and need to blame with the McCathyism of the 1950s, but two points in particular struck me. One (and a student brought this one up) was that the Nazis didn't walk in and all of a sudden start putting people on trains to Auschwitz. They began by slowly and incrementally limiting people's freedoms. First armbands for identification purposes, then where banded people could go, then when they could go there, curfews, etc... In this way people were slowly conditioned to accept the authority of their persecutors. Enter the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, stage right.

The P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act (for "Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism") is a slippery document. For one thing, it never defines "terrorist," though it uses the word throughout. At the moment in Americal culture, "terrorist" is popularly accepted to mean "middle-eastern Arabs and/or Muslim extremists who hate America." (We're very thoughtfully not including the IRA. We like our terrorists to have brown skin, thank you.) However, because the term is not defined, the government can turn the powers of this document, which are many and scary, on any group they deem enemies of the State (more on this later). It's difficult to isolate what exactly the powers of the new law are, so crypically is the Act worded. Mostly, it refers to existing legislation by number, and then proceeds to say that "such-and-such a paragraph will have a comma added after this word and thingummy added to the end." In this way you can read the entire Act cover to cover (and it's huge, believe me), and learn very little about what it does. You have to have an entire library of pre-existing legislation at your disposal just to translate the damn thing. Slippery.

Despite this (I believe deliberate) effort to make the law as incomprehensible as possible, I was able to glean 2 frightening infrigments on civil liberty from its pages. The first is the increased power to the presidential office. Section 106 states that when the US is "engaged in hostilities" with anything foreign, the president can "confiscate any property of any foreign person, organization, or country that HE determines has planned, aided," blah blah blah said attacks. It goes on to say that the president can effectively do whatever he wants with what he confiscates, and he is NOT SUBJECT TO JUDICIAL SCRUTINY! Basically he gets to start the war and keep the spoils. Screw the checks and balances! Let's declare W king and crown him on Christmas day!

The second scary bit is section 213, which pertains to search and seizure rights. Back in the good ol' days you used to need a warrant before you could search someone's property and haul it off as evidence of a crime. To get a warrant to you had to go to a judge and demonstrate probable cause. Like funny SNL episodes and good Madonna music, those days are no more. To quote, "the issuance of any warrant or court order... to search for and seize any property... may be delayed if... the execution of the warrant may have an adverse result [or] the warrant would prohibit the seizure of tangible property..." And finally there's a clause for repeated delays, effectively allowing the government to "delay" the issue of warrants ad infinitum. To paraphrase, the government can now search and seize your property without a warrant if they are either a, likely to be denied the warrant, or b, think it's a bad idea for some reason. God help us. This applies to any federal laws in any circumstance. Heil Bush. The slow, incremental process of government-sactioned limits of freedom has begun. Before you know it we'll be wearing armbands and told we have to be in by 5. (God, I sound like a North Dakota, survivalist, conspriacy-theorist, milita freak. See what they've done to me?)

The second point that struck me in class came out in our discussion of the social climate which made the Holocaust possible. This was a culture which was carefully created by the Nazi propaganda machine. One of the first things it did was to establish the tenet that if you're not for us, you're against us. Dissenting opinions were not tollerated, "sympathizers" were eliminated, and anyone not actively supporting the Nazi party was deemed an enemy of the state. This is happening in America now, and it has happened before. Anyone who lived in America before 1973 remembers the "America: Love it or Leave it" bumper stickers, which were popular with supporters of the war in Vietnam. War protesters were called "unAmerican," but ultimately their voices were heard, and America withdrew from Vietnam with its tail between its coasts. In the past two years this attitude has reached new extremes. I myself have been called "unpatriotic" because I spoke out against invasion of Iraq. It has become widely accepted that anyone who disagrees with Cheney, Ashcroft, and the boys somehow doesn't love America.

Could the Founding Fathers have anticipated this? They could, and did. As long as they have existed, governments have used various methods of silencing dissenters. Shame, fear, intimidation and murder have all been employed in the name of 'peace' and 'unity.' That is why the first right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is the freedom of speech. By definition, a democracy can only exist if conflicting interests and opinions are permitted to cohabitate and granted equal protection. Anything else is a totalitarian state. We are therefore not only permitted to question our government, we have an obligation as responsible citizens to do so. Right now over 75% of Americans believe otherwise.

"Yes," my students said. "But the Nazis murdered millions of people. Our government wouldn't do that."

"What's the death-toll in Iraq," I asked them.

"Over a thousand Americans," came the dutiful, prompt reply.

"I asked for the death toll, not the American death toll. " A study conducted by Johns-Hopkins Universtiy, Columbia University, and Al-Mustansiriya University released in October of 2004 puts the number of dead Iraqis, most of them women and children, at upwards of one hundred thousand. But we don't think about that. We don't want to know about that. Like the Germans living beside the concentration camps we can see the smoke and smell the bodies, but we don't want to believe it's happening. We just want to go about our lives.

For other disturbing and painful truths about our nation, read this article by Greg Palast at

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Thanks, bro

Spent the birthday gift certificate to iTunes today that Marley so generously gave me. Used it to beef up my collection of rock (which is sad) and picked up some Clapton, ZZ top, Bon Jovi, Sting, et al. If you've never heard Aeromith's dulcimer stomp, go find it and listen to it. It's fantastic. It brings me joy.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Hunker down

Thar's a blizzard a'comin'. I've stocked up on toilet paper, chili, chocolate, and porn. I can survive for weeks. The one thing this blizzard needs is a warm sweetie between the sheets. Nine months from now there will be a baby boom, and i'm going to miss all the fun (not that i want a baby, mind, i just want to be able to look back at this storn nine months from now and smile at someone and say "ah, yes. that was a good blizzard").

And for fucks sake, somebody say something, even if it's just ridicule. I havn't gotten a commet in, like, a dozen posts, and i'm starting to feel like I'm banging a tennis ball against a wall. It's a lot of fun, but it ain't tennis if no one's banging back.

Innauguration Day

If Washington DC is the seat of democracy, then George W. is the national asshole. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I am not entertaining. I know this. In the great tradition of me lacking entertainment value, I am providing you with a new link: Slumbering Lungfish. Enjoy. It's far more entertaining that I am (yeah, there's a claim to fame). Soon my blog will be nothing but a list of links to other people's creativity and humor, and be utterly devoid of anything resembling original work. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I really don't know how lesbians do it. Maybe being in love helps, but there's a very good reason why the Chinese character for "trouble" literally means "two women under one roof." I should have left while we were still getting along. Now when I go we'll both be bitter and spiteful and it will take a year to cool off. Crap.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Shopping therapy

Having joined the ranks of students who have been in some way, be it small or large, fucked over by the University of Manchester, this afternoon I attempted one final, last-ditch effort to restore my good mood with a bout of badly needed shopping therapy.

Shopping therapy works wonders. The biggest drawback is that the effect is so short-lived. When I came home $100 poorer but sporting 2 new pairs of jeans, a jazzy blue striped blouse, and a seriously sexy black leather jacket, I felt a lot better. For about an hour. But I can't afford another hit yet. Maybe I'll go sniff the leather to hold me over.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Valentine's Day

I hate Valentine's Day. Yes, I know that it's more than a month a way, but since the stores have put up the pink heart decorative cholocate crap a month early, I feel perfectly justified in bitching a month early.

Who is this holiday for? That's my question. People in love, who know each other, respect, like, and trust one another, and know in their hearts, minds, and bodies that it will last the long haul, don't need to show it with roses (or carnations, depending on your budget) or candies or pink plastic crap. They show it with day-to-day courtesey, foot massages, wiping out the inside of the microwave without being asked, putting their dirty socks in the laundry shute, picking the kids up from school, yelling at them for not doing their homework, sitting at the same table and sharing a meal, and saying "goodnight" at the end of the day. For couples like that (my parental units come to mind), Valentine's Day is a trivialization of their relationship.

Then you got the other kind of couple. The ooey-gooey, blushing, nauseating, sighing, shit-eating-grinning, eye-batting, sparks-flying, gag-me-with-a-dozen-roses couples (like Marley and Miss Happy), who love chocolates and carnations and pink plastic crap, but are so arse-over-tea kettle in love that they don't need an artificially constructed Hallmark holiday to pursuade them to purchase said trinkets of their affection. For them, every day is Valentine's Day, and god bless them for it.

Finally, there's the rest of us. I'm not buying any chocolates or flowers this year, and no one is going to buy any for me. For me, all this holiday's ever been is a painful reminder of just how single I am. I can't even watch the evening news without seeing four million comercials for diamonds, weekend get-aways, viagra, FTD Flowers, automotive stereo systems, bridal expos and baby food, all featuring attractive couples in love category #2. I ask you again, who is this for? Couples don't need it and singles don't want it.

The best gift (translation: only gift) I ever got for V-day was from my dad. I love my dad. He's the kind of man who doesn't ask you what's wrong, or if there's anything he can do, he just knows and does it. When I arrived home from England and was depressed from missing my friends, he went out and bought a bunch of flower bulbs for me to plant in the garden. We didn't need any more tulips or crocuses, but he wanted to give me something to occupy my time, and he knows I always feel better when I've had my hands in the rich earth for a spell. When I was just learning to drive, I had to make a really stessful trip with my dad. It was dark and raining and we were on a really dangerous stretch of road. Dad told me to pull over so we could call mom from a pay phone and tell her where we were. While I was making the call, he went a bought me mozarella sticks, just because I like them. And he's always the first to notice whenever I lose a few more pounds and congratulate me, not on the result, but on my effort.

So back when I was in high school, and fed up with going to school on V-day and watching all my friends' lockers fill up with flowers and candies and cards while I got exactly nothing, dad went out and had a pair of earrings custom made for me. They're dangly, procelain hearts, about an inch tall, and they're black. I love them. I wear them every year in mourning for my own sorry love life, and for what our society has done to love and romance. I mourn all the people who think that getting a neon pink teddy bear on V-day means they've found true love, and I mourn all the coniving pricks who have convinced them this is so. I mourn all the people who think that circuses like "Married by America" and "The Bachelor" are romantic (Brief tangent: I'm sick of the Religious Wrong in this country making a stink about gay people getting married and delcaring that it's a threat to the "sanctity of the institution of marraige." Frankly, I don't see how any two people, whatever parts they've got, loving and comitting to each other can be a threat to the sanctity of marraige. I think "reality" TV shows that base unions upon ratings rather than love are the real threat. But I'm old-fashioned that way.) and aspire to get on the shows so they can find "The One." And I mourn all the people who think that love and fashion magazine beauty have something to do with one another.

So a little more than a month from now, on February 14, I'm going to wear my black heart earrings and think about how lucky I am; lucky enough to not have to delude myself about the nonexistent worth of a meaningless relationship with a shallow person based on sex and trinkets; lucky enough to know that I'm a whole person as I am, and though I want to share my life with someone else, I don't need to in order to be complete; lucky enough to appreciate that I would rather have love without marraige than marraige without love and have the sense to recognize the difference.

oh, and take a mo. to check out the new link: Laser Monks-- gotta love it.

Need a little help here

Watched "Trainspotting" last night. Well scripted, well acted, highly disturbing with appropriate comic relief. Good flick all around. But someone needs to explain the significance of the title to me...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

That was WAY too close!

Tonight I very narrowly avoided what would have been one of the most embarassing situations in my recent past...

I was returning some movies to a local video store and picking up some new ones. I asked the kid behind the counter if they had "Trainspotting" and where it would be filed. The kid was cute. And no kid. We had a few minutes polite banter and he was very helpful. When I had all my movies and was checking out, I decided to ask him out. I was about to do the whole "What time to you get off work? Would you like to meet me for a drink?" thing, when out of the blue he asked me if I knew Miller Redfield.

Miller, you may remember from a previous blog, was my first love. I was ass over tea kettle for that boy for years, but we havn't spoken in ages. I replied, "Yes, we were rather good friends back in high school. What an odd question. What made you ask that?"

The response:

"I'm his little brother."


Holy shit. I remember this kid. When Miller and I went to Florida over spring break our sophomore year of high school, he bought his brother a Mickey Mouse watch for his 10th birthday. I did some quick math. HE'S NOT EVEN OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK YET!!! God help me. What happened to the spikey red hair? What happened to the freckles? When in the hell did he become a hunk?!? Tie me to an ant hill and call me Mrs. Robinson.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Gone skiing

It's 30 degrees out, sunny, no wind, and we got 4 inches of fresh powder last night on top of our 8 in base. Fuck this blogging shit-- the Bitch is going skiing. I love skiing. In addition to the obvious athletic exhileration and fresh air, it's the only word in the English language with a double "i."

Friday, January 07, 2005

It was a dark and stormy night...

These are the 10 winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest (aka The Dark and Stormy Night Contest) run by the English Dept. of San Jose State University. Contestants submit only one line -- the first line -- of a really bad novel.

Personally, I think numbers 10, 4, and 2 are rather hilarious, and would at least compel me to read the second sentence, so I don't think they deserve to be here among the 10 worst, but they didn't ask my opinion (which is, of course, the fundamental problem with the world). But here they are:

10) "As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber, he would never hear the end of it."

9) "Just beyond the Narrows, the river widens."

8) "With a curvaceous figure that Venus would have envied, a tanned, unblemished oval face framed with lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had a beauty that defied description."

7) "Andre, a simple peasant, had only one thing on his mind as he crept along the East wall: 'Andre creep... Andre creep... Andre creep.'"

6) "Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the cutting edge of narcissism, was about to give his body and soul to a back alley sex-change surgeon to become the woman he loved."

5) "Although Sarah had an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eeking out a living at a local pet store."

4) "Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then penguins often do."

3) "Like an overripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel floor."

2) "Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn't know the meaning of the word 'fear'; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the eye of death -- in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies."


1) "The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness, crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving the magnitude of the frog's deception, screaming madly, 'You lied!"

Just think: every one of these idiots got published. If that's not depressing, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Highs and Lows

Greetings, loyal reader. I've been doing a lot of reminiscing lately, and to help unload the maelstrom of thoughts from my already overburdened cranium, I've decided to take a page out of Herebe's book and plop them here. (After all, that's really what this blog is for. If I were doing this to entertain you poor slobs I would have named the blog "Entertainment for Losers" rather than "Mental Excrement.")

2004, in Review (in no particular order):

1. "Back" massages.
2. Being asked out for coffee by a witty, charming, talented, athletic hunk, who's OH MY GOD HE'S TALKING TO ME HE'S ACTUALLY TALKING TO ME QUICK SELF-ASSESSMENT DO I SMELL ANY BOGIES HOW'S MY HAIR OK HOLY SHIT HERE GOES. "I'd be delighted, thanks."
3. Simon and Garfunkel, third row, dead center.
4. Falling in love with a 4-year-old girl who likes salad more than pizza and an 11-year-old boy who plays with Legos and kicks my ass at chess.
5. My first formal ball.
6. A rainy morning at the Lowry.
7. Michaelangelo's 'David.' If you havn't seen it, I can't explain it. If you have, I don't need to.
8. Horseback riding in Provence.
9. Those peaceful mornings when you sat on the foot of my bed, sipping coffee, and neither of us said a word.
10. Spring training camp in Bordeaux, including (but not limited to):
a. Throwing up on my coach's shoes (not only did he deserve it, but I gave him ample warning which he neglected to heed.)
b. "Steph is a babe"
c. Winning the seat trials
d. Collapsing from exhaustion
e. Wine at every meal
f. "Lizzy!"
g. "Never, never have I ever..."
h. escargot on the hoof
i. fit boys in lycra
11. Pre-dawn row on the Bridgewater Canal in the dead of winter. Blackness, silence, plop, breath, fire, flip, spots, blackness, silence...
12. Being serenaded.
13. Learning to play the piano.

1. My personal performance at Henley. My team was stellar about it, but never in my life have I disappointed myself so completely.
2. "I wish I hadn't done that." You know who you are, you wanker.
3. Having the greatest musical experience of my life alone, instead of in the company of the one person I know who would have enjoyed it as much as me.
4. My Latin grade. I really do think I was screwed, and I've never said that about a mark in my life.
5. Having my camera stolen at the formal ball and losing all my photos.
6. Marley's engagement to the most boring human alive.
7. Losing two of my best friends.
8. Five weeks of Victorian pronouns.
9. Saying "goodbye"
10. Coming home.

Since the highs outnumber the lows, and since many of the lows are potentially correctable, I'd have to say that on the whole it's been a stunning year. Much thanks and love to everyone who helped make it that way.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Picture pages...

I'm bored. Time for some more photos. I took these two back in October. The first is the house where I grew up, and where I am currently (and temporarily) living. The second is me on Halloween. I didn't have anywhere to go, but I love donning the pointed ears, so I got dressed up to pass out candy to the neighborhood kiddies. I honestly don't know who had more fun, me or them.

(If you havn't already figured it out, you can click on the photos to view a larger version. Not that my face needs to be any bigger...)

Home sweet home. More or less. Posted by Hello

Free shag to the first person to correctly guess what this costume was supposed to be. Posted by Hello

Reincarnation anyone?

Spent the day visiting dying friends in hospitals and nursing homes. God, it's depressing. The hopless inevitablity, the total loss of dignity. I'm sick of death. It's always death in my family. I was the last baby born anywhere in my entire family, and that was 26 years ago. The circle of life in this family is a ray-- it's only going in one direction. Death is saying good bye and letting go and moving on; three things i'm not good at (you'd think with all the practice i've had i'd be a flipping expert by now). I want to celebrate and shout for joy and hear the squawling of fat, pink babies. Someone give me some good news, please.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy New Year

I've just returned from a very pleasant, slothful weekend up north with my parents and their long-time best friends, my aunt empathay and uncle ralph. they've got a nice vacation property up near honor, michigan, only a couple miles from the lakeshore. even in december, when it's really fucking cold out, it's still beautiful. I knew it was going to be cold because as we drove up from jackson (a distance equivalent to that from london to manchester) the outside air temperature dropped over 20 degrees. we watched the thermometer in the car plummet.

standing on the shore of lake michigan* is always an emotional experience, no matter how many times you've been there, and like the sky, it's always different. at the turn of the year it was somehow fitting and therapeautic to stand on the lonely dunes, with their thinning pates of brittle beach grass, and let the gale force winds off the water blast all the crap from 2004 away. My facade and my soul alike, having been scoured by bleakness of a sea in wintertime, were cleansed and gessoed for 2005's inspiration. I had no idea it would come so quickly.

marraige has been on my brain a lot lately, largely due to the constant reminders of my brother marley's impending marriage to miss happy. I've never been a proponent of the theory of "The One." As Jane Austen wrote, "It is bewitching in the idea of one's happiness depending entirely on one person." I know for a fact that there are numerous people out there with whom I could spend the rest of my life in the enjoyment of their company. I know this because I've met two of them. One is already married to someone else, but the other is not. In each case I had one of those "when you know, you know" moments. But something has been bugging me.

It will probably seem silly to you all (but since you're sitting there reading this crap, I am safely able to declare from my high camel that you are sillier still than i), but i didn't know what to do about the whole wedding thing. almost every girl grows up mentally planning her big, princess dream wedding, and by the time she actually has the opportunity to execute her plans, she knows exactly what she wants. I knew what i wanted. I've had the music picked out since I got my period. The problem is that it was all tied up with the catholic church. I was raised catholic, and it was always assumed by all and sundry that i would have a catholic wedding. then i stopped going to church. at this stage in my life, i'm rather determind not to be married in a catholic church. hearing about marley's wedding plans (lawd is it going to be a sight) has naturally got me thinking how i would do it better, but i've been at a loss.

This weekend, sitting in a recliner by a wood stove looking out over the north woods of michigan, listening to a snoring dog and fantasizing about lord peter whimsey, inspriation knocked on the sliding door and let itself in, politely wiping its feet on the mat. It suggested a venue that is personal, meaningful, original, tasteful, the exact right size, and conveniently located. I can't wait. It's going to be one of those cozy, intimate weddings where the love is tangible and everyone has a swell time. People will talk about it for years. Someone will write a successful serial blog about it. A good wedding should be a reflection of what the couple wants the marriage to be. In this case, warm, affectionate, hip, easy-going, and full of family and close friends.

You wouldn't believe the globe that rolled off my overburdened shoulders when this possiblity presented itself. I myself was astonished by the sense of relief. Apparently this little cunnundrum had been pissing off my subconscious for some time. Now if I can just pursuade the groom to marry me...

*native american word which means "big water"