Thursday, February 24, 2005


Most people don't know that, when reading a magazine or newspaper, I almost always read the advice columns. Not because I care about peoples' personal problems (unless I know you personally, I usually don't), but because I am curious to see if the advice I would have given matches that given by the columnist.
This is made more unusual by the fact that I very rarely give advice, even to people I know well and who ask for it. There are a number of reasons for this. First, I despise receiving unsolicited advice, and this has made me unfavorably disposed towards giving even solicited advice. Second, I think of advice as medicine: a foreign substance that, while possibly helpful, can be harmful if administered too early or in the wrong amount. Generally speaking, people know their lives better than I do, so how can I hope to provide reliable advice on those lives?
When I am called upon to give advice, I usually try not to provide answers, but to clarify the question and let the requestor come to his/her own conclusions. That is in my opinion a more helpful tactic, and it keeps me out of trouble in terms of giving advice that turns out badly. This sometimes aggravates those who know me. My brother once really had to verbally hammer at me to get me to provide specific advice on a matter he'd asked about. I wasn't intentionally being coy, but I've spent so many years avoiding advice-giving that reticence came naturally.
Non sequitor: For some reason my blog is not accepting hard returns so I can properly space paragraphs. Sorry!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

You know what bugs me?

Elderly drivers. I'm sorry, but they're a menace. Even though the #1 killer of drivers aged 15-20 die is auto accidents I'd still rather have them on the road with me than the geriatric set. See, young drivers know what they're doing; they just don't care. That to me is infinitely more comforting than the sight of a blue-haired octogenarian behind the wheel of a multi-ton vehicle sitting in the middle of a busy intersection blinking in confusion. Besides, young drivers usually drive fast, so you can pretty much count on them outdistancing you quickly.

People with loud voices. I know this is petty, but when I'm talking to someone who's talking twice as loud as necessary I get annoyed. My typical tactic is to speak even more quietly, forcing the person to shut his yap to hear me. This tactic has a mixed record of success, but like George Bush I refuse to abandon it regardless of the facts.

Bugs. This category extends to any creature with more than four legs that isn't Odin's mighty steed. I know spiders aren't insects, but since both insects and spiders are bugs, they fit neatly here. Sorry, but no creature with eight eyes, eight legs and fur should exist in any rational universe. Fur...they have fur! That is creepy beyond description. And why do they need so many legs? So they can cause maximum wig-out when they scamper across our faces at night, that's why! Bastards.

I'm now realizing that my last three posts were in the same format, which is getting old. I'll stop now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Super Powers I DO Want

Telekinesis: Now here's a handy power, and a marketable one. You can not only use it to fend off muggers and ruin high school proms, but you can also influence the movement of roulette wheels or those little balls inside the lottery machine. And you could finally change the toner in your laser printer without getting any of the black stuff on your hands.

Invisibility: I know that in the choice between flight and invisibility, invisibility's the one that means you're bad, but I don't care. I want to be able to move unseen, dammit! I'd use my powers in the cause of justice, exposing the corruption of sleazy politicians, getting crucial evidence to right-minded police officers, and shoving paper clips in every parking meter in Philadelphia.

Weather control: Rain would never, ever again happen on a Saturday afternoon when I would otherwise be playing Ultimate, nor would I be inconvenienced by snow. Now, you're asking yourself, "But where would you send all the bad weather?" To the Red States, duh. Republicans control the federal government; let them worry about out the fools who put them in office.

Regeneration: The ability to quickly heal nearly any injury is not only life-saving, but it makes a great practical joke ("Uh-oh...I've cut off my finger!). Come to think of it, regeneration's a quick way to earn extra money. Step in front of a moving vehicle and you've got yourself a quick lawsuit without all the fuss of an actual injury. Nice.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Super Powers I Don't Want

Telepathy: I don't want to speak with most of the people I meet on a daily basis, so I certainly don't want to know what they're thinking. Besides, no matter how disciplined and well-intentioned I was, inevitably I'd start reading the minds of those people I do care about, and knowing what your friends are thinking is way scarier than knowing what strangers are thinking.

Precognition: Like telepathy, precognition is simply a way to beg the universe to make you really unhappy. Do you really want to know when/how your parents or friends are going to die? Even if you foresee some avertable tragedy you'll probably just get stuck having to sacrifice yourself to stop it, ala The Dead Zone. No thanks...that kind of heroism I can live without.

Shapechanging: This is a really neat ability for Odo on DS9, but how much practical use will the average person get out of it? Sure, you can turn into a lion or eagle, but then what? Get tranquilized by Animal Control and stuck in the zoo? Wow...mix in a little rectal surgery and that's my best day ever. You're thinking, "But as an eagle I could fly!" Shut up. If you wanna fly, you'd do better with the power of, say, flight, instead of turning into an eagle and then having to learn to do what comes naturally to birds, not to mention the risk of getting sucked into a jet's engine. Yeah, you could turn into a mug on your boss' desk and eavesdrop, but then when he's thirsty you get to experience your boss' lips right on your naked, ceramic, shapechanged body. Maybe that's hot for some of you with cute bosses of the appropriate gender, but for me it's...less than hot.

X-ray vision: This was really one of Superman's second-tier powers, and I understand why. It has no use except ogling people on the bus, which I admit would be fun at first but would get old quickly. I guess you could sell your services providing gamma-ray-free x-rays, but if you don't want to be a radiologist you're pretty well reduced to checking out lots of naked people.

Super strength: In a world populated by vampires, evil supervillains and zombies, a person with this power would rule; in this world, however, super strength pretty much means you always get asked to help your friends move. Nobody needs that much free pizza.

Monday, February 07, 2005

My knee hurts and it's all my fault.

This weekend I was all set to play Ultimate with my we'll-play-anytime pickup team, on a beautiful day, and no one showed up. (Well, almost no one.) Anyway, I decided to turn that lemon into lemonade and, if the weather held for Sunday, do the walk I have been dying to do: the loop from the art museum, across the Falls Bridge, and back again. In case you didn't know, that's an 8.5-mile loop, which of course does not include the two-plus miles from my apartment to the museum. But did I let that daunt me? No! I may be queer but I am no pansy, so I gathered up my new sneakers and my backpack and set out at 11 am Sunday morning.

It was indeed a beautiful day, and Kelly Drive was full of people with the same idea as me, except they were sane and walked only a few miles. I was feeling pretty good, until I got across the bridge and about one mile along the drive, at which point my knee sent me a message:

"Let's take a break, OK?"

Did I listen? No! I'm no pansy, so I girded up my courage and pressed on, ashamed of my knee for suggesting such a thing. About another mile later, my big toe chimed in:

"Hey, blister developing here! Break time?"

I laughed at my toe's weak will and kept my pace, confident that as a healthy individual who walks four miles a day I was not daunted by a mere blister. After about another mile, my knee sent up a more pointed message:

"Dude, you are thirty-five. That's 3-5. Ten years ago you could have dashed one way and trotted the other, but today you'd better take a break."

Break? Breaks are for wussies, I thought, disgusted with my traitorous knee. However, for the remainder of the walk my toe and my knee vied for first place in the "I Really Hurt" contest. The knee was more persistent, but the toe was more wince-worthy. Back and forth they went, and by the time I was on Chestnut Street Toe was way in front. However, when I was limping along Pine at 11th Knee made the comeback of a career, racing past Toe to claim the "Hurty Hurty Ow Ow" gold medal, which it still wears proudly today. Stupid knee!

The moral of the story: Don't walk from my apartment to the Falls Bridge. It's just as bad an idea as it seems.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Rant, rant, rant

This is going to be a long one, so hang on to your hats.

I’m angry and frightened at the turn this nation has taken, both socially and fiscally. I'll start with the fiscal. Our government is saddling us with an enormous debt while spending billions of dollars getting Iraq in shape, and yet George Bush wants to make permanent his tax giveaways to the rich. Yeah, yeah…instead of raising taxes to fund a war, let’s cut taxes and go into unprecedented amount of debt. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be fiscally conservative?

Now Bush is talking about “saving” Social Security from a crisis that doesn’t really exist. His numbers, while not wrong, are used, uh, selectively to support the dubious notion that the entire Social Security system is about to collapse. His solution? Put our Social Security taxes into the stock market, which as we know functions oh so equitably, and always pays out. Bush says we can’t trust the government, whose members we elect, but we can trust the likes of Ken Lay, who’s selected by a bunch of rich people we don’t know. Even worse, he wants to borrow one trillion dollars to make the switch to a privatized system. When I think of what we could do with one trillion dollars I could just cry. Who’s going to pay for all this? Sure, Bush says he wants to protect future generations from Social Security collapse by saddling those generations with a crushing debt. Does that make sense to anyone who’s not a Republican? Hell, does it even make sense to all Republicans?

Let’s move on to the social. The Republicans have done an admirable job of riling up voters with cultural wedge issues while furiously screwing them on fiscal issues. The percentage of low-income voters who side with the GOP is staggering. Why the hell would anyone who’s poor vote Republican? Because they’ll protect you from the gay couple next door who might get married? What the hell does that matter if you don’t have health insurance? If every state in the union banned gay marriage, and a federal gay marriage amendment passed Congress and sailed through the ratification process today, no one is going to make more money tomorrow. No children are going to be better fed. No Iraqi insurgents are going to stay their hands. Can’t these low-income GOP voters see this?

I think I can answer all these questions. I’ve learned that, at least in today’s politics, the only thing you have to do to promote an agenda is to keep repeating it. It doesn’t matter if what you’re saying is true or even likely, as long as it’s superficially plausible. When countervailing evidence arises, you simply attack the source of the evidence and raise your voice. Sooner or later, people will start to believe what you’re saying, I think because they figure that you wouldn’t be saying it if it weren’t true. Look at the fantasy WMD’s that we didn’t find in Iraq. Bush said they were there when the evidence was shaky at best, and did his best to link Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda, but when he was later forced to admit that neither of these things was true, a majority of Americans still believed it. Some of them still do. So you see that all you have to do is keep repeating yourself and a lie can become true. The same strategy is in play in the Social Security debate. Bush is already backpedaling on the crisis claim, yet the seed has already been planted. It no longer matters if a crisis exists in reality, because it now exists in the minds of Americans. If I had to guess, I’d say Bush is going to win on Social Security, at least partly, because many Americans are too foolish to distinguish between reality and an oft-repeated lie.

What can we do about this? I honestly don’t know. A lie often makes a better slogan than the truth, which makes it easier to repeat. Although I truly believe that truth is the resonant frequency of the mind, in these days truth is an endangered species, and many minds are closed to anything but the latest tripe spewed by Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly or some other conservative liar. The guy in the White House claims to be a uniter, and yet he has divided us with anti-gay amendments and anti-abortion bills that affect a tiny, tiny percentage of Americans. When running for president, John Kennedy had to prove he wouldn’t take marching orders from the pope, but John Kerry had to prove he would. Christians prove their piety not by feeding the hungry or housing the homeless, but by voting against gay marriage and stem-cell research. Up is down, black is white, and nothing is true anymore.

We as a society are increasingly distanced from reality, and I fear that a sharp lesson is in store. I can’t say what form that lesson will take: a dramatic jump in the death-toll of our troops in Iraq, or perhaps a draft. I do know that we’ve sown a pretty foul crop these last four years, and if we reap a bitter harvest it will be no more than we deserve.