Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Extended Metaphor, TSA-Style

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever."
--O'Brien to Winston Smith, 1984

"If you want a picture of the TSA, imagine dogshit smeared all over the sole of the boot."
-- Jennifer to whoever reads her blog, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

UC Davis: Those Cattle Cars Won't Fill Themselves, You Know

A couple days ago, when I first saw headlines about police at UC Davis pepper-spraying nonviolent protesters on the campus, I didn't read the accompanying stories because I didn't have time: I'm only one person, an American person at that, and in America, "Police use violence against nonviolent protesters" has become the new "Child born to area woman": headlines like that appear every day, so you pay little attention unless you personally know one of the people involved.

Police Taser an tiny elderly woman, police attack a tiny pregnant woman, police beat a tiny college woman in the face -- like "TSA mistreats person in airport," it hardly qualifies as news in America anymore. It's just life.

So I might never have seen that UC pepper-spray video, were it not for the intense cheesiness of my local TV news broadcast: last night, while watching Fox's Sunday primetime cartoon lineup, I kept seeing commercials for the ten o'clock news: "Coming up next: [legitimate local news story], [another legitimate local news story], and what does the height of your heels say about the state of your finances?"

For some reason, I found that juxtaposition extremely funny: "How tragic, a young woman died at a Yale tailgate party last night, now here's a puff piece giving us an excuse to run stock footage of women walking in very sexy high heels! But we'll pretend it's an important analytical piece about the economy."

So when cartoons ended I didn't change the channel, but stuck around to watch the news and the "news," and after the legitimate local news stories but before the high-heeled puff piece, my local Connecticut broadcasters showed a video snippet of a pepper-spraying police officer 3,000 miles away.

The truly horrifying thing about the UC Davis videos is that the police look so calm. So bored. In other cases of police malfeasance toward Occupy Wall Street and its regional branch protests -- shooting a nonviolent war veteran in the face, beating the snot out of a woman half his size ... well, there's no justification for what police did in any of these cases, but there might sometimes be an excuse -- maybe the cops (rightly or wrongly) felt threatened, on high alert, drunk on adrenaline, and it's not humanly possible for them to do their best and clearest thinking once their fight-or-flight responses have kicked in. The cops who escalated matters in Oakland, New York, DC, Richmond et al -- maybe they can claim they thought they were acting in self-defense.

Not the cops at UC Davis. What chilled me about the video was how nonchalant the cop was. How casually he pepper-sprayed the quiet bowed heads of the students sitting before him, methodically going down the row to ensure every student got a good solid faceful of orange chemical weaponry.

Yesterday afternoon I acted with the same remorseless boredom, while cleaning some spilled coffee grounds from off my kitchen counter: Well, they're in a more-or-less straight line along one edge of my cutting board, so I'll start at this end and sloooowly make my way down. Whoops! Missed a spot. Lemme double-back with the sponge ... that's better. Not one individual spot on this line shall escape my notice. I'm gonna get 'em all.

Not that my thoughts were anywhere near that explicit. Truth be told, when I cleaned the coffee grounds yesterday I didn't think or feel much at all: I wasn't angry, frightened, or feeling threatened; it's just that whenever coffee grounds, flour dust, syrup drippings or any other foodstuff hits my countertop, it becomes "dirt" the second that happens, and dirt must be swept away before it attracts vermin.

Normal people have that attitude toward kitchen spills. Sociopaths have it toward human beings. And those cops at UC Davis weren't spraying pain chemicals point-blank into student's faces because the cops were afraid or even angry; they were just doing their jobs. When you sweep up dirt you don't worry about the dirt's well-being. The cops weren't angry at the students anymore than I was angry at my spilled coffee grounds. But neither did the cops concern themselves with the students' well-being, anymore than I give a damn for the feelings of my coffee.

Of course, I can see the difference between ground coffee and live people, same way I can distinguish between peaceful demonstrations and dangerous threats. Why does the University of California give weapons and badges to people who can't tell the difference in either case?

Those who make peaceful protest impossible make violent protest inevitable. I wish I could believe my government -- anybody at any level of my government -- understood that.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Football Flabbergastment

I'm almost done playing catch-up for the post-blizzard week I spent twiddling my thumbs in lieu of doing actual paid work that requires electricity (soon as those old-fashioned foot-pedal-powered computers come on the market, I'm buying one); however, I'm wondering if maybe smoke inhalation from the hundreds of candles I used as my primary heat source that week hasn't made me a little loopy, because I keep reading this news story about the Penn State child-rape scandal and it persists in making no sense to me:

Penn State trustees fire Paterno, students riot
Thousands protest dismissal of longtime coach embroiled in child sex-abuse scandal

The winningest coach in major college football history was fired Wednesday night, sending angry students into the streets where they shouted support for Paterno and tipped over a news van. ... As word of the firings spread, thousands of students flocked to the administration building, shouting, "We want Joe back!" and "One more game!"
When I disagree with someone on a certain matter (as I do the majority of the time, being an individual-rights proponent living in an evermore police-state country), I always try to at least understand why my detractors feel as they do, and usually I think I succeed -- I don't support the evisceration of the second amendment, but I understand why many of my fellow Americans do. I don't support anything the TSA has ever done, but understand why a self-centered coward would feel differently. I even -- kind of -- understand how I, born and raised in a different time and place, might have believed "all women, myself included, should stay home and raise kids all day," "God exists and slavery is His will" or even "of all available candidates, that Hitler guy looks like the best option."

But I cannot understand how a modern American college student -- or any American born and raised after the mid-1960s or so -- could look at a rich and influential man who was complicit in covering up the rapes of dozens of children, and think HE is the victim for losing his job after his complicity was exposed. Can't wrap my mind around that at all. My best guess is that it goes something like this:

I of course do not approve of raping children or the coverup of same, no no no, but still think it's a goddamned shame the school has to lose all that sweet football money and important athletic prestige just because some tattletale couldn't keep his damned mouth shut. Not that I'm saying the rape of children is a good thing, mind you, unless a TSA agent does it for national security reasons which obviously was NOT a mitigating factor here, but there is a LOT of money at stake here, y'know, and alumni football fans to keep happy, and idealistic-purity arguments about not corrupting education or the law with the protection of athletic programs tend to be dreadfully ignorant of how the real world works, y'know?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Seven Days Of Darkness

I finally got my electricity back today, after being without it since last Saturday night. It still might be awhile before I resume regular posting, though, because I have enormous amounts of work to do here. My living room looks like a refugee camp (which is pretty much what it was, this past week), I need to do some serious grocery shopping since my refrigerator and freezer are entirely empty (I tossed out their contents last Monday, once I realized there was no chance the power would come back in time to save the food), I'm outrageously behind on various freelance assignments and, while I'm not the type who responds to every unpleasantry in life with cries of "There oughtta be a law!", I do think there oughtta be a law saying that if you have trees on your property, you cannot let their branches grow over or through aboveground utility wires. (It's one thing if your tree outright falls over; I'd consider it unreasonable to expect trees to be far enough away from neighborhood wires to cause no damage if they topple. But branches that fall straight down after being overburdened by wet, heavy snow should NOT bring power lines down with them, and entire neighborhoods should not suffer a week of cold darkness just because some homeowner -- or city landscaping department -- is too damned irresponsible to keep their trees properly trimmed.)

Between spoiled food, lost freelance work, and the expense of using candle oil as a primary heat source, I personally lost over a thousand dollars from this storm (and Zod knows I was never too rich to begin with). Discarding leftovers, or half-empty condiment bottles and jelly jars, didn't bother me too much, but throwing away entire unopened packages of chicken, bacon and beef, the unopened half-gallon of milk, the almost-full cartons of expensive ice cream and so forth, outraged every frugal bone in my body (which is to say, every bone in my body except maybe a couple of the smaller ones in my inner ear). If I'd known (or even suspected) that I'd suffer such a power loss, I would NOT have bought any freezer or refrigerator food when I went grocery shopping last week.

On the other hand, once I could see the bottom of my fridge and freezer for the first time since we moved in here seven+ years ago, I discovered it was kind of gross, so maybe it's just as well I had the chance to clean it up; when the power came back on today, the first thing I did was turn on the heat, and the second thing I did was scrub down the inside of the fridge and freezer with hot soapy water.

Housekeeping advice: you really should clean out your fridge and freezer at least once every eight years.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Year Without A Halloween

Last Wednesday: turned on the heat for the first time since last winter.
Last Friday: sunny, warm-ish and gorgeous.
Last Saturday: giant monster blizzard slams the Northeast and knocks out the power to my city.
Conclusion: Old Man Winter is a lazy selfish fuck who just rams it in without bothering to engage in foreplay.

I haven't had power or internet access since 11:55 Saturday night, and still don't; I'm writing this from the home of one of my partner's colleagues, who kindly offered to let me shower and work from here today while my partner is at work.

Our apartment, fortunately, is very well insulated. Even more fortunately, I always keep on hand a large supply of candles and lamp oil, which have been our only source of heat these past few days. I cleared off the coffee table and loaded it with enough lamps and candles to keep the room temperature at about 62 degrees (of course I extinguish all flames before going to bed, and indoor temps drop to the low fifties by the time we get up next morning). I've also been using two metal coffee cans as makeshift radiant heaters, by burning four or five tealight candles at the bottom of each one. Even at the rate we're burning through them, my candle and oil supplies should last at least another two weeks, and even the most pessimistic scenarios predict we'll have the power back by then.

The one problem I'm having is gasoline, since I stupidly neglected to fill my tank before the storm. I went out yesterday morning because I'd heard the business district one town over still had electricity. That was only half-true; when I drove I'd see one block with full power, including traffic lights, but then the next six blocks or so would have nothing. Intersections without traffic lights were treated as four-way stop signs, so I needed over two hours to make a drive that would ordinarily have taken about twenty minutes, and burned a lot more gasoline as a result (I only had a quarter-tank -- about two and a half gallons -- to start with).

The few gas stations open for business had lines upwards of a mile long, with police there to prevent riots and line-cutting. I didn't bother trying to buy gas, not because I lacked patience to wait but because I seriously doubted I had enough gas to make it to the front of the line. (Near the end of my journey, I wondered if I even had enough to get back home. But I made it--barely.) Thus, my car is effectively undriveable until the gas stations near me are not merely open for business, but open for normal business, the kind where customers can pull right up to the pump rather than wait in a long line.

My partner sometimes complains that I'm difficult to buy Christmas presents for, but this year will be easy since I've been drawing up a survivalist wish list. I want one of those fancy battery packs that you charge in an ordinary electrical outlet, and then plug small appliances into it. (My partner still goes to work each day, since his job still has full power; he'd be able to recharge the battery pack at work if we had one.) I want a small, low-power TV which I can plug in to said battery pack (do such things even exist, now that TVs all have to pick up digital transmissions?). I want a battery-powered radio better than the one I have; it hasn't been able to pick up any of the all-news AM stations in my area, and what stations it does pick up are utterly useless to me: yeah, I already know Def Leppard gets hysterical when I'm near. I know Jim Morrison wants me to light his fire. (There's over twenty open flames on my coffee table every night; he can damned well light his own fire off one of them.) What I don't know is, what useful businesses are open near me? When is the power supposed to come back on? What is going on in the larger world outside my immediate line of sight? None of the high-power rock stations my cheap radio can pick up have deigned to tell me. But the radio has served one useful purpose: my partner finds it difficult to sleep without some sort of background white noise, so we keep the radio tuned to an all-static station. I rather like the idea that cosmic radiation left over from the Big Bang now lulls us to sleep at night.

The mayor canceled trick-or-treating on our city last night; most cities in the area have done the same. The official excuse is that there are still live power lines down in many places, but if I had kids I wouldn't have let them trick-or-treat last night anyway, since our neighborhood is in pitch darkness: no streetlights, no porch lights, nothing but the occasional glow of a candle or battery lantern dimly shining out of the occasional window. Most of the other people who live in my building have either gone to stay with friends who have power, or moved into the shelter the city opened in a nearby middle school.

I'll end this now because I still have actual paid work to do; I'm supposed to turn in two stories for a certain magazine by this Thursday, but will only be able to do one, since the second required me to do phone interviews with certain people yesterday, and they have been incommunicado since Saturday. For the first time since I started my professional writing career, I will not be giving my editor a story expected of me, and this fact has me more pissed off than almost anything else about this storm.
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