succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Brain Candy

Right, so a while ago I finished State of Fear by Michael Crichton and I've been meaning to come back and say a few things. I picked it up because I'm in another library book phase (I occasionally forget that you can get books, FOR FREE, from these places called libraries) and happened to see it while browsing the new arrivals section and Crichton is good for an entertaining afternoon, so what the hell, I brought it home. A couple hundred pages into it I found out about the recent hubub around Crichton's visit to the White House. Well, now I'm intrigued, and am paying slightly more attention to the arguments set forth in the book. The apparent mass media consensus - Crichton is staunchly anti-global warming (as in, he doesn't think it exists), wrote a book debunking the whole thing, and now Bush has had this big secret meeting with him to further back up this administration's point of view. My consensus - um...not so much. Yes, the book cherry picks articles to reference in footnotes about scientists' findings that conflict with global warming theory. Yes, characters in the book argue against global warming and characters defending global warming often come off sounding absolutist and unreasonable. But my overall interpretation is that Crichton makes some valid points - global warming data is incredibly complicated and messy and does not provide black and white answers. Well...duh. Comparing temperature records from 150 years ago is obviously tricky, to say the least. He brings up some interesting ideas about how research should be conducted and funded. Overall, raises some interesting food for thought. As for the resulting controversy and this apparent belief that he has debunked some scientific theory, um, well, how to put this delicately? HE WROTE A FUCKING FICTIONAL NOVEL! Seriously!? This is what we're getting our panties all in a twist about? (here comes the elitist intelligentsia comment) If you're looking to a popular mainstream fiction writer for your information on global warming, you are not being thoughtful about the topic nor are you prepared to contribute to the larger dialogue on the subject*. You're reaching for the McNugget version. And yes, the possibility that that is what our president is doing is scary, but hardly news. What's actually sort of heartbreaking and frustrating about the book is that Crichton has about three pages of really good stuff about how the government and mass media have so successfully kept society in general in a perpetual 'state of fear' so as to more effectively manipulate us into approving whatever current agenda the administration is pushing. Why oh why did he choose global warming as the example of this when there are so many other more glaringly obvious choices? Anyway.

On to other brain candy related topics - I finally embraced today as a do-nothing day and treated myself to Red Eye (as Mark says, Cillian Murphy is a cutie!). Actually, the movie isn't so bad. Sure, it's ridiculous (and it's possible my threshold was already incredibly low due to an earlier viewing of the last half of Elektra) but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Primarily because (ok, in addition to the physical attractiveness of the two leads) Rachel McAdams doesn't suck in all those stereotypical females ways. She kicks a little ass, stays mostly calm, uses her brain, and implements some clever solutions. Yay!

In totally unrelated news, my knee made this sickening wet clicking noise when I stood up earlier. Some parts of my body are totally weird. Like my left shoulder. Anyone who knows me is familiar with the jarringly loud cracking noise it makes fairly regularly. Well, last night I was sitting next to a new friend and it was being particularly loud and we were smooshed closely together on this couch, so it was essentially cracking while pressed up against her arm, which I know tends to gross people out, so I apologized, and she says, "Is that...your...bones?" Yeah. weird.

*to be fair, Crichton does provide several pages of references both for and against global warming. I suppose if this book is way to get people interested and reading more about the subject from more scholarly sources I shouldn't poo-poo that so much. Just like Oprah's book club - things that get people reading and thinking and stretching beyond their comfort zones are generally good. Even if they make me roll my eyes, ensconsed over here in my little ivory tower and all.

Procrastination run amok

I have reached the point where I need to either accept the fact that absolutely no work is going to get done today and embrace that and just watch hours of bad television and movies or snap the fuck out of it and start getting shit done. This in between crap is neither productive nor relaxing. Meanwhile, I'm cleaning up my desktop and organizing my pictures when I ran across this one:

Posted by Picasa

I forget how old I was when Dad built this balance beam for me to practice on at home (it lived in the basement, not the back yard), it was just always around for most of the time I can remember. We eventually decided to give it away, but Dad took this picture and a small slice of wood from the end for me to keep as mementos.

Friday, March 17, 2006

In comments to an earlier post about reproductive rights, Steve poses the following question:

But at some point if we're going to actually fix this issue, we have to have a broader strategy - a goal that we can get almost everyone to buy into (if not on the means to get there). So, what would it look like to be in a place such that the emotional, financial, and biological issues of parenthood (or not) were handled reasonably, and both men and women could have meaningful rights and responsibilities?

Well, in my idea of a real utopia, every kid would be a wanted kid, and would be born, literally, into a whole community of people who would love and nurture him/her. But a slightly more realistic utopia? (is that an oxymoron?) I'll limit my ideas to heterosexual couples who produce a child from a consentual relationship. First, there would be a mechanism in place to nearly immediately establish fatherhood. Laws to enforce paternity tests and methods to track down potential fathers for paternity tests would be improved/created/enforced (in my liberal tax-and-spend ways, of course, I'd want the state to pay for these services so that women without their own resources would not be at a disadvantage for tracking down fathers). Of course, this mechanism would work both ways - the trade-off for women being able to establish paternity would be that it would be harder for women to hide/deny their pregnancies from the biological father (of course, there would need to be a loophole for women with abusive partners). In a utopia, I suppose at this point both parents would reach some sort of agreement about what to do next/their desired level of involvement. My first inclination, for cases where agreement couldn't be reached, was some sort of third party mediation, but that level of government or private sector involvement in such a personal decision makes me a little queasy. Realistically, it also seems that tying financial issues to these decisions is the most logical and available mechanism, (for example, a woman who had an abortion against the father's wishes would forgo any financial assistance from him for the procedure or any further medical needs) but that really seems to cheapen the level of moral and emotional complexity involved.

Beyond that, when the decision is to keep the child, but the parents are estranged, I think custody and child support issues are being decided in a more equitable way these days, but there's obviously still a lot of room for improvement, primarily through more gender-neutral court proceedings. Men who want custody or visitation rights shouldn't get the shaft just because they are assumed to be the less nurturing parent. Likewise, women shouldn't be assumed to be the 'natural' caretakers. Decisions should be made on an individual basis and genuinely place the child's best interests first - which parent can provide a more stable life (emotionally, geographically, financially)? Child support should be determined based on the level of support one would expect were the two parents to remain together and raise the child together. These laws would need to be updated to more equitably account for a parents' income (one of the main complaints/reasons for not paying child support is that income totals are unfairly calculated, including resources that individuals claim shouldn't really count as 'income.' I don't have any good examples off the top of my head) but likewise should close loopholes that allow people to 'hide' income by claiming to be broke on paper because resources belong, in name only, to a relative or company. Mechanisms to track down deadbeat parents and force payment of owed child support need to be improved/enforced.

And, I suppose, to work backwards, in a utopia education and communication would be improved such that every couple discussed the potential situation of creating a child together and knew the best way to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and had reliable access to those methods. Pro-choice women would never sleep with pro-life men. Pro-choice men would never sleep with pro-life women. etc.

So, those are my rather underdeveloped thoughts...I guess the bottom line is, I don't know how to set the goal of meaningful rights and responsibilities regarding child bearing between the sexes. Because it comes down to personalities - how do you change people to not lie to each other, to respect each other, to work together to reach the best possible solution to a (potentially) crappy situation?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The ceiling in my kitchen is leaking. Given that the kitchen is on the middle floor, and it hasn't rained in days, I'm assuming it's from a pipe somewhere. There's a little bubble full of liquid that goes drip drip drip every few seconds. I put a bucket under it and called my landlady. Times like these I'm glad I rent instead of own. Still, it's going to suck if they have to rip up a section of the kitchen/living room to get to the problem.

Went to Smith's Olde Bar last night to check out The Rantings of Eva (among others). The lead singer is our regular waiter at Taco Mac (wait, does that make us alcoholics? or just drunks?) and looks conveniently like Dave Grohl. The venue was excellent, and reminded me of shows at Common Grounds back home - going to see Richard and Justin's band (what was it called?) where everyone knew someone in the band and there was this sweet sense of comraderie and conversation between the folks on stage and those in the audience. There was even talk of moshing (but just talk...are we too old for that?)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ok, I know next to nothing about Hackett, but the fact that he did a little bit on the Daily Show making fun of himself (and, of course, skewering the dems' current lack of backbone) makes me kind of love him. (I'd check out his site, linked above, but it's currently down...overloaded by people like me watching the Daily Show?)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Also, another example of why I couldn't work for a pharmaceutical company:

On Feb. 3, Joyce Elkins filled a prescription for a two-week supply of nitrogen mustard, a decades-old cancer drug used to treat a rare form of lymphoma. The cost was $77.50.

On Feb. 17, Ms. Elkins, a 64-year-old retiree who lives in Georgetown, Tex., returned to her pharmacy for a refill. This time, following a huge increase in the wholesale price of the drug, the cost was $548.01.


The increase has stunned doctors, who say it starkly illustrates two trends in the pharmaceutical industry: the soaring price of cancer medicines and the tendency for those prices to have little relation to the cost of developing or making the drugs.

(emphasis mine)
(procrastination much?)

Several law schools submitted briefs to the US Supreme Court claiming the right to bar military recruiting activities on their campuses on the grounds that the don't ask, don't tell policy is unconsitutional. Meanwhile, I had no idea schools didn't have the right to keep military recruitment officers off their campuses (for any reason they damn well pleased). Apparently public schools, receiving federal funding, are required to allow such activities. Discuss.

Been meaning to post this for a while, but NYT kept it locked up behind that new Times Select crap. Finally let google do the work for me and found a copy:

I love Sarah Vowell, for many, many reasons. Here's just one:

Alas, I see my initial worries about the current administration as the greatest betrayal in my whole life by my old pal pessimism. I attended the president's inauguration in 2001. When he took the presidential oath, I cried. What was I so afraid of? I was weeping because I was terrified that the new president would wreck the economy and muck up my drinking water. Isn't that adorable? I lacked the pessimistic imagination to dread that tens of thousands of human beings would be spied on or maimed or tortured or killed or stranded or drowned, thanks to his incompetence. I feel like a fool.

All those years of Sunday school, and still the apocalypse catches me off guard.
PS - Steve, I'm working on your utopia question, really.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


I hate it. I appreciate what it enables me to do, but in principle, I hate it. I hate thinking about it and worrying about it and talking about it, and it seems these days that's about all I do. I hear it creeping casually into my conversations, practically every topic comes back around to my current state of financial instability, and now I'm blogging about it. And part of me is disgusted, because really, I'm not poor. I have a savings account (hell, I have a retirement fund!), a fridge full of food, a nice house, health insurance, and parents (and friends) who are willing and able to bail me out should things get really dire. But I am hand-to-mouth enough (and nerdy enough) that I'm constantly doing math in my head. And it's exhausting. How do people live this way for extended periods of time? How do people live this way with children?