Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nutmeg Burning: Apocalypse Lite

It’s perfectly normal on a bright sunny day to notice the air’s a little hazy, as I did Thursday afternoon. Yet I had a vague “this isn’t right” feeling, similar to the one when you suspect you’re forgetting something important. Beautiful sunny day, windows wide open (and hallelujah it’s finally warm enough to do that), brisk breeze blowing through the house … and then I realized: I’m used to seeing haze on humid days, yet the breeze blowing through the open windows was dry.

Fluttery little black things filled the air. Insects? Flying bugs do tend to go crazy this time of year, what with springtime being their only chance to have sex before their mating season ends and they die. But these weren’t bugs getting their groove on. I stepped out onto the porch and realized there were charred bits of leaves and grass falling from the sky, ranging from near-microscopic specks to scorched-leaf flakes the size of a quarter. They weren’t overly numerous, though; maybe one little flake in every five cubic feet of air. And then the Man About The House came upstairs and said “There’s a forest fire in the hills.”

We later found out it was merely a brush fire, with no injuries or property damage reported. (There were other brush fires throughout Connecticut that day, which I hope were one-time oddities rather than an omen of what summer will bring. With luck, the brush fires burned off all the brushfuel that might otherwise have started a forest fire later in the season.)

You couldn’t see any actual flames from my place, but bright white haze filled the entire horizon behind the low line of the hilltops nearby. It didn’t look like fire-smoke, just a bright white opaque fogbank. You wouldn’t even realize the ashes came from it unless you paid attention to the wind.

Of course we’ve all seen the occasional building fire, but I’ve never been in a situation where the land itself was burning close enough for the smoke and ash to reach me. No worries, though; there’s a river between my apartment and said hills, and my side of the riverbank’s mostly paved over.

Fire or no, I got dressed and left for a meeting I’d scheduled six blocks away (job-type thing; long story). Even with the land burning just over the next ridge I wasn’t driving my car six blocks through a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood on a gorgeous, if slightly sooty, afternoon.

On my street were many puzzled people on their porches, looking out at the hazy hills. “Do you know what’s going on?” one woman asked as I strolled by, and I told her what I knew about the fires.

My street turns onto a wide concrete plaza framed by ugly 70s-modern concrete government buildings. It was deserted; the cop cars usually parked in the lot were gone, presumably so police could help the firefighters or at least divert traffic away from them. The ashes in the air were easier to see across a wide empty vista with a pale concrete background, and it looked exactly like every science fiction disaster-porn flick you’ve ever seen featuring a post-apocalyptic wasteland with charred organic matter filling the sky.

Since there was no damage done to people or property, I can say with a clear conscience this was the coolest real-life image I’ve seen all year. Damn, I wish I’d had a camcorder.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This Kafka Crap’s Getting Old

So I got an e-mail thanking me for “helping to expose the truth” about the government’s involvement with 9/11, and thought, “What?” Based on a few things the e-mail said, it took me no time at all to run a quick online search and discover that Steven Jones, a bigwig in the Truther movement, just had an article published in a “peer-reviewed journal” (that’s an exact quote from multiple blogs I don’t feel like linking to). I’m quoted in Jones’ article, and that section of the article's been quoted on many of the blogs I’m not linking to here.

The offending section deals with Jones’ claims that he found explosive residue in the World Trade Center debris. By contrast, the National Institute of Standards and Technology says it did not find any such residue, and never looked for any.
And here’s what Jones’ paper says:
Perhaps NIST will explain why they have not looked for these residues? The code specifies that fire-scene investigators must be prepared to justify an exclusion. NIST has been asked about this important issue recently, by investigative reporter [name redacted, like it actually makes a difference at this point]:
[Me] : ” … what about that letter where NIST said it didn’t look for evidence of explosives?”
Neuman : “Right, because there was no evidence of that.”
[Me] : But how can you know there’s no evidence if you don’t look for it first?
Neuman : “If you’re looking for something that isn’t there, you’re wasting your time … and the taxpayers’ money.”
The evident evasiveness of this answer might be humorous, if not for the fact that NIST’s approach here affects the lives of so many innocent people. We do not think that looking for thermite or other residues specified in the NFPA 921 code is “wasting your time.” We may be able to help out here, for we have looked for such residues in the WTC remains, especially in the voluminous toxic dust that was produced as the buildings fell and killed thousands of people, and the evidence for thermite use is mounting.
Great. I’m still looking for a steady writing gig, and potential employers doing searches to check the blog response my past work’s inspired will find that the most recent posts are praise for the investigative journalist who helped prove 9/11 was an inside job.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Transitions: The Culling

I have no idea if I’ll be living in the same apartment or even the same time zone a year from now, and the thought of having to move fills me with more horror than unemployment ever could. (True fact: when I moved into my current digs I still kept my old apartment for two months, because that’s about how long it took me and the Man Of The House to transport all of our stuff from Point A to Point B about 30 miles away.)

So I’ve set myself a goal of reducing the net volume and weight of my material possessions by at least 50 percent. The first thing I have to do is get rid of some books. A household census shows 14 bookcases in my apartment, ranging from little three-shelf jobs to an eight-foot-high black monstrosity bolted to the wall for safety. (Please don’t think I’m saying this to impress you with my bookishness. For every one piece I own with a title like Super-Intellectual Stuff Only Smart People Read, there’s about 50 pop-fiction novels, comic compendiums, and works of hardcore disaster porn.)

I donated about 250 pounds’ worth of books to the Salvation Army yesterday; that’s weight, not their value in British currency. Another dozen or so such trips should make a noticeable dent in the size of my book collection. And wouldn’t life be sweet if I could simply host a big bonfire in my backyard tonight?

Dang fire codes. But I won’t break them, especially not now that I might be starting a part-time gig working with a friend’s performance-art troupe political campaign. Imagine the embarrassment potential: “Candidate, you claim to stand for free speech and yet your press person over there was arrested for holding an illegal book-burning. How do you explain that?”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Men Can Be So Hormonal Sometimes

Despite BBC’s reputation as a Serious News Site, there’s often fun to be had when you find on their respectable front page a headline like Why male sex hormones may be fueling market turmoil. I was hoping for more salacious Spitzer stories but instead found a scientific piece blaming testosterone for various economic woes:

Hormone surges among City traders could be partly responsible for driving "boom and bust" economics, say researchers.

A Cambridge University team found testosterone levels were directly linked to the profit they made .... They found that daily testosterone levels were significantly higher on days when traders made more than their average profit.

They ascribe this to the "winner effect", seen in sportsmen, in which success increases testosterone levels, which in turn increase feelings of confidence and ability to take risks, which then increase the chances of further profits.

However, if repeated too much, they say, the rising testosterone levels could eventually compromise their ability to make rational decisions, as the traders take bigger and bigger risks during so-called "bubbles", where the market rises sharply.

There’s about a thousand comments I could make on how boom-and-bust cycles would vary if women were the majority of the world’s stock traders, but they’d all be very crass and I’m trying to play the respectable card these days, what with the whole jobquest thing. What's worse is, I suspect that both my jokes and this article's serious thesis are both entirely true. How many more millennia before our ancient reptilian brains devolve away and we can make serious progress? Enough to ensure it won't be in my lifetime, too bad.

Friday, April 11, 2008

And That Book’s Closed

Today was my last day at work, and once I handed over my security badge around two in the afternoon I officially ceased to be a staff writer for the Advocate. My boss handed in his badge about ten minutes later, and in retrospect I kind of wish I’d let him go first so that when we were out drinking later I might’ve said “Ha! I outlasted you there.” On the other hand, that would’ve been rude. (Bear in mind I drink so rarely that I’m a total lightweight when I do.)

The first thing I did after becoming unemployed today was walk into the sales office, remove something from the supply drawer, hold it up and announce “As a non-employee, I am not entitled to this Bic pen but I’m taking it anyway and I’m not giving it back.” And I didn’t, because I am a badass. I also consumed company coffee while making photocopies on company paper with company ink on the company Xerox machine. My Boss-Who’s-Keeping-His-Job took me out to lunch, and when we returned to the office I almost reached for my badge to let us in before remembering I no longer had one.

The few members of the editorial staff whose jobs survived the downsizing epidemic chipped in to buy me the most thoughtful present I’ve ever received from someone who wasn’t either sleeping with me or hoping to do so: a framed and mounted copy of the cover from my phone sex story and a bottle of chocolate booze, which I’d mentioned drinking in the story before actually working the sex line. (Except I drank the cheap stuff, whereas my colleagues bought me Godiva.)

I should probably tell you it’s illegal to click on those last two links unless you’re over 21. In fact, I should probably have mentioned that before embedding said links.

Anyway, I have a couple of feelers out, and sent a few snail- and e-mail applications already. Meanwhile, I need a proper libertarian justification for going on unemployment. Right now I’m going with “Well, my employer had to pay the premiums anyway, and if they hadn’t done that they’d’ve given the money to me instead,” except I know I’m lying. So I’ll stick with “The HR lady told me to file and said the company wouldn’t contest it” accompanied by “I’m all for standing on principle, but not to the point of being a damned martyr about it.” If y’all can think of anything better, please do tell me here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Advice Bleg: Help Me De-Enlist

When you’re still punch-drunk from the sudden impact of an unexpected downsizing, you must be very careful not to do the job-hunting equivalent of going on a bender and waking up next morning with a hangover, a tacky tattoo and an enlistment contract with the Navy.

I sort of did this in a very minor way, and am hoping y’all might know how I can back out of this. Here’s what happened: my Boss-Who’s-Keeping-His-Job showed me how to get electronic copies of the text of old stories that are no longer available online. I spent a good chunk of time doing that, and decided to start a second blog to use as an online clip file (yes, Moose, I know you told me to do this months ago).

Starting an online clip file is a very sensible and responsible thing to do, especially if you give said blog a nice professional title like My Name dot blogspot dot com. (None of this "feral" business. Remind me to tell you sometime how I picked the name; it was basically a throwaway joke which I never expected I'd even remember all this time later.) But I thoughtlessly used my pre-existing Blogger account to open the new blog, which means my nice new thoroughly respectable blog now has the exact same profile as does this one.

Mass profile deletions ensued. And so I wonder if anybody knows: if you have two blogs with the same Blogger profile, is there any way to separate them so there’s a different profile and contact e-mail for each one? Preferably a method easier than laser tattoo removal.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Gallows Humor

Despite the deep and abiding truth in the headline to this post, I didn't know the following was gallows humor when I wrote it Monday afternoon:

Hookers Are Bad, Sez Blumenthal

In a March 27 press release, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal declared himself shocked — shocked! — to discover that hookers sometimes advertise on Craigslist.

"In spite of rules banning such content," the release indignantly sputters, "Craiglist's [sic] 'erotic services' section is rife with ads containing explicit language and images bordering on pornographic, as well as hourly rates and descriptions of services clearly sexual in nature." In a letter to Craigslist attorneys, Blumenthal declared himself "especially troubled that Craigslist has disregarded and dismissed this serious and growing problem."

An informal poll of our male acquaintances indicates that they do often find something growing when they gaze upon such ads. However, they did not classify such growth as a "problem" and we find it impossible to view it as anything "serious."

At any rate, Blumenthal notes that his previous attempts at a cure only made the presumptive disease worse: "As a small step in response to my concerns, Craigslist now requires anyone posting a listing in the erotic services section to provide a phone number. This step, however, will hardly deter the prostitution problem on the site, and may indeed make it worse. Many of the most graphic solicitations already include a telephone number to enable prospective patrons of their services to contact them."

We probably shouldn't have laughed as hard as we did, when we read that. In fact, we probably shouldn't have laughed at all.

Jennifer Abel

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Change Doth Sucks

The good news is: I got a raise last week! The bad news is: five days later I learned that my job (and my boss’ job, and a few others as well) will cease to exist a week from this Friday. Accursed budget cuts. So if y’all know anyone looking to hire an opinionated, talented, give-‘em-hell writer, please let me know.

I’m also supposed to do another radio interview this Friday; I agreed to it before I knew of my incipient career changes. Oooh, that’s gonna be awkward. I’ll link to it after the fact; this DJ apparently keeps free downloads of all her radio shows on her Website. I’m supposed to wax punditical about homeschooling or something.
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