Thursday, August 31, 2006

Five Topics, One Post

Aaaaaand GO.

Oh gimme a break. What a bunch of eunuchs. The only reason they have a chance is because the Republicans are abusing their power and have let the conservatives run amok. (And yes, there is a difference between a Republican and a conservative--though not as much as there used to be.) The fact that the Democrats lost twice--twice!--to George W. Bush, one of the most vulnerable presidential candidates in recent history, speaks volumes as to the leadership and base of the party. And don't gimme that crap about how screwed up the American people and how this country is going to hell. These are the same people who gave Clinton two terms. No, the problem is with the Democrats and the issues in the last election prove my point. Can anyone tell me what Kerry was FOR? Where the hell was the positive thinking, the progressive action, the ideas for the future? NOTHING! The entirety of their message was "uh, we're pro-defense too!" and "Bush sucks!" God knows there was plenty of material begging to be used to slam the Republican Congress and the Bush administration. How about the obscenely bloated Federal budget? It undermines the entire argument of traditional Republican conservatives and indeed has resulted in some friction in the party. Who's doing anything about the decreasing economic mobility of the poor and working classes? Where's the initiative, the Federal mandate, to begin weaning this country from its incredible dependence (and vulnerability) to external sources of fuel? Where are the regulations to prevent the massive fraud perpetuated by Enron, WorldCom, and the dozens of mutual-fund market timers? Who the hell is slamming the Right's fingers in a car-door (rhetorically speaking) over the Terry Schiavo debacle? You know that would find an ear with Americans--polls prove it and the Republicans realized it when they backed away from guys like Delay. My point is that the list of targets is long and ripe. The Democrats are just adrift. Part of the problem is the traditional tug-of-war between the Liberals, who are pretty organized and pissed off at the moment, and the rest of the party. Part of the problem is that Reid and Pelosi are not the types of leaders who will pull them out of this mess. But the biggest problem of all is that lack of direction, the total lack of initiative, and the sense that, inevitably, they are due their turn in Congress or the White House. Fortunately they don't piss me off as much as ...

I wish we'd overshot Nagasaki in 1945 and hit Moscow instead. Okay, so I might be joking. A little. If you've followed Russian events over the last 60 years you know exactly what I mean. Christ, the last 10 years should be enough to justify that first sentence. Do places like Grozny or Abkhazia ring a bell? How about "influence" in the elections in Georgia or the Ukraine? What about threats to neighboring countries in the form of pipeline disruptions and border exercises? How does the phrase "resurgent pan-Slavism" strike you? Which gigantic country was the sole supporter of Serbia while NATO was bombing the shit out of Milosevic and his comrades? Who else besides me remembers the woman who got a state-sponsored syringe full of relaxants in her because, literally, she was upset about the Kursk? For a more recent treat, let's not forget those democratic party members and protesters who were arrested on their way to a rally in Moscow. Lest anyone think my Estonian blood is speaking for my normally rational self (oh wait, I forgot about the open threats made to the Baltic nations during my visit there), I assure you that I am not the only one to raise the alarm about modern Russia. What makes it scary is that they're sitting atop vast energy reserves and a gigantic nuclear arsenal. There may be other places worse off socially or politically, but none come close to exercising the power and having the aspirations that Russia does. There is no civil society, no internal or external balances to government power, no judiciary to speak of, and no bounds to the corruption that permeates all levels of government, society, and the economy. Read the news. It's like the former Soviet Union with a sloppy veneer of capitalism. That's a nice segue in to ...

Alright, check out Mr. ACLU on this one: I agree, in principle, that the NSA should be recording outgoing phone conversations as part of terror surveillance. I'm afraid many of my liberal friends are so vehemently against Bush that they're position-oriented (as opposed to issue-oriented ... thanks Chris!) and short-circuit the entire debate when his name comes in to play. The issue is that the United States, and the West in general, face a serious threat from a determined enemy. This isn't "just" 9/11. This is the USS Cole, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the nightclub attack in Bali, the transit attacks in London and Madrid, the insurgency in the southern Phillipines, and the numerous busted plots in Germany, Jordan, Britain, Seattle/LAX, France, the Phillipines, Canada, and elsewhere. It's not just a small group of angry radicals (Oklahoma City, 1993); or a threat only to our overseas military (Red Brigade, November 17, Libyans, and Red Army groups in the '80s); or a limited group of whackjobs with some serious weapons (Aum Shinrikyo, 1995). It's a threat to all of us across the globe. There's no doubt at all that these fellas are interested in killing as many Westerners as possible and are pursuing weapons of mass destruction. They did it under Clinton, they've done it under Bush, and they're gonna keep doing it no matter who is in the White House. Besides, other Federal agencies have practiced wire-tapping for decades. Why then the hesitancy on my part? Congress and the special intelligence judiciary do not, to my knowledge, have adequate oversight to the process. President Bush has been reasserting Executive Privelege as a right. It's one of those internal balances of power that shifted to Congress in 1974 as a reaction to Nixon and the entrenched Congressional seniority--and, interestingly enough, to the abuses of Federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies in terms of domestic surveillance. The debate now is if this is a correction to that power balance or a power-grab by the Executive branch. I'm inclined to believe the latter since Bush has shown a tendency to believe that his guys, and his guys alone, know what's best for America. The irony is that they may undermine their own efforts when Congress or the Judiciary unscrews their pooch. So anyway, now that the tough topics are over, let's move on to some lighter fare like ...

The evidence is pretty much complete that human activity is causing a rise in global temperatures. However, the debate is filled with so much overheated alarmist hyperbole that it clouds the very serious and very real threat of "human-influenced climate change". Global warming is as natural and well-documented as global cooling. In fact global warming could very well be a positive thing since the planet is actually in an "icehouse" global climate right now. Using the phrase "global warming" is what leads to so much argument in the first place. The more accurate phrase is "inadvertent climate change" since climate is not so simple--things aren't necessarily going to get hotter. The freaky part is that there's so much contradicting evidence. The Gulfstream could slow down significantly, bringing far cooler temperatures regionally to Europe and eastern North America. Greater cloud cover stemming from higher evaporation rates could actually initiate cooling since the solar reflectivity (albedo) of the Earth could increase. Parts of the American West could become much drier and lead to dust-bowl conditions; alternately the Southwest could experience greater precipitation from a longer monsoon season or a change in El Nino. Melting permafrost could release tons of curently non-decomposing carbon in to the enivronment but alternately a wet Arctic and warmer planet could create massive new carbon sinks leading to cooling. The only given is that things are changing, they're changing quickly, it's likely due to us, and we don't know where it will lead--except that it will have global impacts. Speaking of climate change, there are ...

I am lactose intolerant. Besides the obvious--ice cream, cheesecake, entire blocks of cream cheese--I've discovered, through trial and horrible error, numerous foods that contain lactose.
  • BW3 chicken wings - the sauce apparently has a cream base. I discovered this 25 minutes before Chuck Delacuesta's graduation ceremony.
  • Mashed potatoes at restaurants - again, usually thickened with cream.
  • De Cecco pasta - my favorite pasta noodles have "ferrous lactate" as an ingredient. Ugh.
  • Vegan chocolate cake from Sweet Life bakery - don't believe them when they say "dairy free" ... I discovered this today after two massives slices resulted in me missing several hours of work.
  • "Lactose-enhanced" beer at McMennamin's - DUDE, WTF. I JUST WANT A BEER.
  • Regular air - at this point I wouldn't be surprised.
May your sphincters rest in peace.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sandy Eggo Ketchup

I'm writing from the carpeted floor of the airport terminal in San Diego. It's totally packed in here since everyone arrived early to avoid the long lines stemming from the UK airline bombing scare. It's good to see that people generally have their shit together--everyone I saw had already pruned all liquids, gels, cremes, pastes, sauces, marinades, curries, syrups, yogurts, cuds, urine samples, liquid bombs, and (in my case) magma from their carry-ons. The catch is that we get checked again AT THE GATE in case someone manages to McGyver something together from the condiments table at McDonalds. (Little do they know that I'm smuggling a methane bomb inside my body. Muah!) Anyway I figure the sight of TSA guys snapping on rubber gloves is enough to dissuade just about anyone.

Our week-long GIS conference here finally wound down yesterday. It was interesting at points, predictably numb at others, and completely surreal in the beginning: imagine walking in to a gigantic darkened conference hall filled with 14,000 GIS professionals (read "map dorks") all cheering for Jack Dangermond's disembodied head gazing lovingly upon them from three enormous movie screens. Cheers erupted for phrases like "new map labeling engine!" or "introducing the workgroup geodatabase!" I am seriously not making this shit up. The first word that jumped in to our minds was "Orwellian". It wasn't a stretch to imagine thousands of conference attendees happily walking straight into a hideous wood-chipping machine that spat out boxes of ArcGIS software at the other end. "IT'S MADE FROM PEOPLE! ArcGIS IS MADE FROM PEOPLE!!!" I hesitated at my choices: laugh in pity at the spectacle or sprint out the door in terror. Several blocks later I ran out of breath and accepted my duty to enthusiastically suffer through "ArcGIS Network Analyst--Data Preparation", "ArcGIS Data Models: Transportation", and of course "Linear Referencing Systems in Transportation". There were enough "Arc-" prefixes floating around to spawn a world of euphimisms: ArcBullshit, ArcWTF, ArcPrrrffff, ArcAss, etc. It was hilarious. Really. You had to be there.

Anyway the week was spent in a downtown condo/racqueball court with my co-worker Will and boss Eric. Will actually got a job offer while he was at the conference ... he's still deciding if he's ready to leave Eugene and head back to Boise. I also sat next to a guy on the plane with Northrop-Grumman in Portland who works with the crew considering my resume. Then I ran in to him again today in this very same terminal. He says the guy reviewing the resumes definitely knew my name. Sweet! Opportunity abounds! Anyway most of our time was split between the conference center, bars, or trying to sleep through the sound of constant traffic right outside our door. San Diegans like to drive as fast as they can between red lights, especially if they have motorcycles or shitty aftermarket mufflers. They also like to honk and occassionally yell at each other (which I admit I've missed for the last two years). This can make for a difficult sleep environment. One of my dreams consisted entirely of trucks crashing to an accompanying suite of honking, revving diesel, and metal grinding. I awoke to the same soundtrack on the street outside.

Having no car, no bicycles, and no money, Will and I decided to walk the 600 miles it took to reach the USS Midway which has been converted in to a dockside museum. It was very cool to wander around the massive flight deck. We sat and listened to an old F-4 pilot talk about night landings and the evacuation of Saigon. We also threw fake blood on a jet fighter to protest the Iraq war. Haha, of course not ... no, we used real blood. San Diego has lots of homeless people!

So now, through the magic of time-travel, I'm sitting in Seattle six hours later waiting for the flight to Eugene. The flight along the Sierra Nevada and Cascades was spectacular--Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Reno forest fires, the Warners, Sycan Marsh, the Three Sisters, Jefferson, Hood, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier at sunset--but now I'm anticipating my Saturday morning. Travis has spent the last week at my house cleaning and organizing so I'll have to see what he's dicked up in my house. So he'll be picking me up tonight along with his girlfriend Heather who is also visiting and who should provide some balance to his negativity. Tomorrow I will get up early and continue trying to get my house in selling condition in case this Portland job (or any other) comes through. Part of this involves stripping lead paint from the exterior of my house and repainting it myself, since contracting a full lead "abatement" is outside of my budget. I'll have to put up all kinds of covers and sheets around my bushes/lawn to capture all the flakes that would otherwise flutter about and create a tasty toxic coating. Between painting the house, working extra hours at work, and a single long ONDA trip, my entire August is pretty much shot. September is looking similar but I am determined to squeeze in a Banff/Jasper trip in there. Being a single home-owner with a semblance of a life pretty much sucks. Next time I do this I'm getting married first.

A few weeks ago I took Chris V. for a quick tour around Central Oregon. We hit Crater Lake and then drove east for a big loop past Lake Abert and the booming metropolis of Wagontire. It was a perfect day, complete with a handful of thunderstorms scudding across the open spaces as the sunset streamed between the clouds.

Chris stepped out for a photo but got tired halfway across the road.

We happened across some sand dunes and went exploring. I'm seriously infatuated with dune fields. Sometimes if you walk downhill on the right kind of dune, each footstep will make a low squealing sound like a finger across wet glass.

Chris was literally astounded at the emptiness. Occasionally he would just start laughing in amazement.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Are Girls Insane?

Ha ha, of course they are! It's basically a rhetorical question. [This post effectively destroys what tiny little chance I had of ever having sex with any of my blog readers. Except Mike. HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL.] But what's that you say? Something about needing proof? Okay:

Women think that other women are insane.

That's right, read it again. It's like invalidating the Identitive Property. How many times have you, man or woman, heard a female friend of yours proudly announce that she has "more guy-friends than girl-friends" and then go on to explain that girls are too stressful, bitchy, vindictive, indirect, non-confrontational, or "territorial" to spend much time around?***

Recently I was sitting around a campfire with several women between the ages of 29 and 65, one of whom is a lawyer and another who is a well-off conservationist/benefactor, as they talked about the possibility of working in an office full of women. The consensus in the group was that it wouldn't work. The lawyer piped up that she'd seen the results of such a setup and that it'd sucked. Now, this group wasn't dressed in burkhas or otherwise spouting off ultra-conservative rants ... quite the opposite: they were liberal, independent, educated, successful women suggesting that a group of women couldn't keep a lid on their collective insanity. My brain basically imploded when I heard it. On top of that, a number of my TOTALLY ANONYMOUS women grad-student friends talk about how their GENERIC UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT is a hornet's nest of tension due to the overwhelming presence of female students. These are simply recent repetitions in a litany of women talking about how insane other women are. I swear to God I am not making this shit up. So what's my point?

First, women who negatively generalize their own sex never seem to make the connection that they themselves are women. It's the equivalent of me complaining about asshole drivers who speed way too much and weave in and out of traffic on Hwy 20 returning from Steens Mtn in their black Honda station wagons with Oregon license plates 424 BEX.

These same women will vigorously defend womankind ... even though they think they're all insane anyway. I just can't wrap my head around it.

Here are my current working hypotheses for this whole thing.

1. Women have inhereted a gene that that makes them both hot and insane.

2. Cultural factors have made most women so hyper-self-conscious that they distrust other women.

3. The writer is an overly-critical asshole.

4. Monthly, uh ... y'know ... that thing with the thing ...

Items 1 and 3 have pretty much been proven and I'm suspicious of 4. Item 2 is an open question. I wish I could convince John McLoughlin to take this issue up on his Sunday-morning show.

***Before I get a boatload of well-deserved hate in the comment section, note that these are NOT MY WORDS. These generalizations were made by women about women on multiple occasions. I would never generalize women. Except to say that they are universally horrible drivers. And insane.