Friday, January 30, 2009

Useful Information for Your Life as a Telephone User

Okay, I cannot even begin to believe I am having to discuss this, but since it has been happening non-stop, I'm wondering if this is yet another thing I incorrectly assume that people know to do.

When you receive a voicemail, listen to the name of the caller.

I know, radical shit. You should pair this with the also-useful concept of remembering who the hell your job interview was with. Most people probably have this on lockdown already, but we're doing a lot of hiring here right now, and if one more person calls in and leads off with "hi, someone...called me?" I am going to hang up on them, then run out of the building screaming. Does it not occur to people that perhaps - JUST MAYBE - more than one male and one female work here? Does this method actually get these people connected at other places? I just went about five rounds with some dude about this.

*ring ring*
Josie: This is Josie, how can I help you?
Caller: Yeah, hi, this is So and So, someone called me from your company and I don't have the name.
J: Okay, do you know why they would have called you?
C: Yes, I applied for a job, so I think they were calling about that.
J: All right, well, I'll start you with Betsy in HR, and she should be able to get you going in the right direction.
C: Okay, thank you.

Two minutes pass.

*ring ring*
Josie: This is Josie, how can I help you?
Caller: Hi, this is So and So again...the person you connected me with was not there, I got her voicemail, and someone called me from your company and I don't have the name because it was in a was a man voice.
J: Hmm, okay. [There are no men in the HR department.] Well, what position did you apply for?
C: *mumble mumble mumble blah blah* IT department.
J: Great, I'll try Bob for you, he's the manager of the department.
C: Okay, thanks.

Two minutes pass.

*ring ring*
Josie: This is Josie, how can I help you?
Caller: Hi, this is So and So...someone called me from your company and I don't have the name because it was in a was a man voice. You connected me to Bob and he was not there and can you look up who called me because they are waiting for me to call and it's very important...
J: Okay, but you didn't get the name from their message?
C: Well it all happened very fast and I don't know, it was a man voice.
J: Do you remember who you interviewed with or applied with?
C: No, it was a man...
J: Okay, I'll transfer you.

At this point, I transfer him to the first male I see on the IT listing and hope for the best. He hasn't called back yet, so hopefully he's off pestering the correct person, but holy CRAP, what the hell? It's apparently life-or-fucking-death, but you can't be bothered to remember who you interviewed with or listen to the voicemail again to get the right name? Does EVERY business you call employ receptionists with ESP so they can just Oujia Board up your intended target?

So just remember, kids, when calling somewhere, be able to make a passing attempt at telling the receptionist who the fuck you want to talk to.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cannonball Read #16: Fall On Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Quick note: Congratulations to Neil Gaiman for his receipt of the Newbery Medal. The Medal is presented to the author of "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children," and Gaiman's Graveyard Book is this year's winner. It looks like 2009 is going to be quite the year for Gaiman, with the movie adaptation of Coraline coming out soon. Bravo!

This is another one suggested by fellow bibliophile Celia, who packed me home from a visit in the Seattle/Tacoma, WA area with The Historian and this book. This one came with a warning: "it's really dark. No, Jos, seriously, it's really dark." Boy, she was not kidding.

Fall On Your Knees is a massive work of genealogy, chronicling five generations of a seriously messed up family, the Pipers. The story is set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in a fairly rough-and-tumble mining town. From the very beginning, the family is mired in trouble; James marries the extremely young Materia in secret, and when they are discovered, she is disowned by her family, which needless to say, completely destroys them. Rather than spinning the story into a happy one about how love conquers all, MacDonald then proceeds to describe three more generations of misery and unrest in the Piper family. Horrific things happen to these people...the children are more or less adrift in the world, only attended by their parents through abuse, and over the entire saga, every character bows under the worst of Catholic guilt. Even when one of the girls manages to break free and leave Cape Breton, she winds up chased by the endless bad luck of the family, and pursued even to New York by her horrible father.

The most remarkable thing about this book, however, is that you are still able to find things to appreciate about the characters. There's a fine point in literature for character development, where a truly bad character must be skillfully handled to avoid making the book as a whole repulsive. (This might only be true for me.) The perfect example is that of Humbert Humbert in Nabokov's Lolita...a foul individual, but Nabokov is able to crack him open and use him to make a definitive statement. The existance of evil is not enough to add to a book. It has to do something, and what it does is essential. The great evil in Fall On Your Knees is James Piper, and though his actions have no valid excuse, MacDonald takes care to show you that his actions are about more than some innate propensity to sin. All of the characters carry the scars of their family and the larger world, but they are so well handled that they are able to rise above and show us more than their problems.

This is worth a read, but I'd say leave it until spring or summer...had I read it in the depths of winter rather than around the holidays (yes, I'm that far behind), I don't know that I would have been able to deal with the weight and sadness of this book. I had a bit of a problem adjusting to the somewhat telegraphic style of the opening chapters, but the style develops as you go, and by the middle of the book, it meshes really well with the path of the story.

656 pages

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Short Version

On January 20th, 2009, I met Erin from Virginia and her friends on the bridge and walked to the Mall in the dark just before 5am. They peeled off at the Washington Monument grounds, and I continued up the Mall. People were already streaming onto the Mall, singing and yelling.

I met up with Rhonda-originally-from-Brooklyn and Ebony-from-DC at Independence and 4th, and we walked holding each others' sleeves to the gates, where we froze our asses off next to people from Miami, Ohio and Tennessee.

We lost our collective minds squished in with a bunch of girls from Indiana.

I talked to a little girl from Arlington on the Metro escalator at Waterfront-SEU. On the train, I sat next to a Vietnam veteran who had driven up from Dallas, picking up his friend in New Orleans. On the next train, I sat next to a guy who lived in Alexandria who'd been up since 1am.

That's the real story.

Details to follow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Importance of the Why Question

I work at an energy conservation company, and as such, I get to see a lot of interesting and occasionally really bizarre green initiatives and products. Over my time here, I've come to realize that the absolute most important question you can ask when making a violent lunge into the wild frontier of green products is "but...why?" Let me explain.

You know how sometimes you go to the grocery store, and you'll see something like a bag of potatoes, and it says something absolutely ridiculous like "no peanuts!" on the label. You just stand there in the aisle, right, enjoying your own private moment of WTF, because why would potatoes ever have peanuts in them, and if you have a friend on hand, you can point it out and say all serious-like, "hey, these are PEANUT FREE POTATOES" and then you laugh and move along to buy the rest of your grocery list.
My life is not very exciting.

So anyway, we have a couple items here that are very greenie, and they all mostly pass the But...Why Test. For instance, we have cups that are made out of things that you would not usually expect cups to be made out of. Like corn.


he idea behind it is that these corn cups break down more easily, thus reducing landfill space and avoiding the release of horrible chemicals into the ground, etc., etc. I can get behind this. They're comparably priced, and people here like them. The hot cups are made of potatoes, I believe. I assume that they are peanut free.

We order all these things from a company called EcoProducts, and they seem to really have their act together. They also understand that the way to my heart, for corporations at least, is through random and unexpected cheap company swag. The demonstrated this knowledge by sending me a mug for a holiday gift. Thanks, EcoProducts! The mug declares that it is "made from plants, not oil" (read: more corn), and has some handy green living tips on the back of it, not a single one of which is one you couldn't come up with on your own, but I appreciate the idea.

This is a great mug for me, but I can see how it would be problematic for other people. I drink tea and coffee like I need it to live (at this point, I probably do), so I usually just rinse my mug out between uses, and it rarely sits out for more than about 12 hours. I also only get hot water for tea out of an electric kettle or the high octane coffee maker in the cafeteria that fuels the IT department. It all works out for the mug and me. However, it's not microwaveable, and it has to be hand washed, so unfortunately it's pretty close to the "but...why?" line of demarcation. Rich, for instance, always microwaves water when he needs tea or TheraFlu or whatever, so this mug would not be his thing. Green industry is a tricky thing.

This is, I think, particularly relevant given the green boom and the current economic stimulus discussion. I like working where I do primarily because they are one of the first green companies that really get how to sell environmentalism. Nature preservation, environmental issues and green energy have long been favorite issues of mine, but up until relatively recently, the primary voice on the topic was freaking Greenpeace and other organizations, who want you to buy in to the concept based purely on your love for your environment, or whatever guilt they can stir up in you over littering that one time. What's so intensely frustrating is that people do care, kind of, until they have to pay for it, at which point they say, "I have three kids to put through offense, endangered tree lichens, but you can go pound sand." The way to successful environmentalism is through finding alternatives to what's actively causing trouble in the environment. Right now, we need a macro approach to things, and the biggest swath there is green energy management. Find the alternatives, get everyone to insulate their houses and swap out inefficient boilers, get off the fossil fuels, get real about nuclear power, and then we can worry about the animals and streams and plants that are still suffering. The latter can still be attended to throughout, but the main push should be for energy development and green living.

The way you SELL this idea is to tell people how much money they can save, and talk about the benefit to the environment as a side effect. I know, you don't care about people saving money. I know, you want the trees to rejoice. We all want the trees to rejoice. The problem is that we don't want to spend money to that effect, so we need to embrace a more cynical and less emotional motive to get this shit done.

This is what answers the "but...why" question. Green energy is more efficient (now in certain ways, and potentially in many more) and is renewable, does less damage to our ecosystem which in turn allows us better access to untainted natural resources. The nice thing is that it allows us to get out of nature's way a little bit, which in return can give us cleaner air and water, which boosts health and allows us to spend less money on bullshit healthcare expenses. It's not a cure all, but at a point where we need jobs and less mayhem in the area of the oil markets, it's also not an idea I think we should be kicking out of bed.

One of the many things I hope the Obama Administration can bring to Washington is a good, healthy does of the But...Why? Question. I love that when a hue and cry arose over an ancillary issue (funding for contraceptive promotion and supply) on the economic stimulus proposal, they simply axed it in the interest of getting down to work. Now, I hope that our political elite do eventually take up the absolute idiocy of the contraceptive debate (Really, sex ed without talking about contraception? "Don't have sex. If you have sex, because you will get pregnant. And die." While Pelosi was a moron to approach this from a pure cost-savings approach with an air of What the Fuck about it, I have a hard time understanding why we're even having this argument in 2009.), but right now, economic reform is more important. Now, I'm not 100% in love with this idea of the government solving all of our problems, but I do appreciate seeing some coherent and unified movement in a direction, period.

I really like my mug though.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cannonball Read #15: Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov

So finally, FINALLY, I have finished Pale Fire. I do not want you to think that I did not like this book, because I fucking loved it and will likely refer back to it again and again, BUT I think maybe it was cursed. I'm just saying. Every time I picked it up and sat down to read, something would happen, limiting me to a scant handful of pages at each sitting. It was extremely frustrating.

On the back of my copy, there is a quote from John Updike, which reads: "Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically." Everyone's tastes vary, of course, but I have a hard time imagining that anyone approaching this book would argue with Updike's sentiment. It's not an easy read, and you do need to be fully engaged with the text to get the most out of it, but the payoff is out of this world. Some writers are just plain in love with language, and Nabokov expresses that love better than almost any other author.

It would be hard to explore every angle and possible option for Pale Fire. From its very first publication, it has been as source of great debate, not only in regard to its correct interpretation or application, but even simply as to what the hell is going on. I'm going to disengage my more analytical side for the sake of better encouraging you to read this work for yourself, but I also can't not mention the critical analysis, because it's such an integral part of reading the book.

Pale Fire opens with a fairly scholarly introduction...academic, but with a personal air, as you so often see in analytical works where the commentator knows or knew the original author. John Shade's titular poem follows, and on its heels comes extensive commentary from the poet's acquaintance, Kinbote. The poem is lovely and deeply personal, exploring life through the lens of family and faith, and could be counted as a notable achievement by any poet. The commentary begins seriously, but fairly quickly, you realize that something weird is in play. Kinbote's analysis soon shifts into personal anecdotes, many of which display a frantic grasping at associations, and many of which reference a story that Kinbote himself had told Shade, and believed the poet to be memorializing in his poem. The story Kinbote believed Shade to be developing concerns the escape and adventures of the king of Zembla, not a personal reflection as Shade eventually created. Kinbote's bitterness over his story's abandonment shows clearly as the commentary progresses, and reeks of that high school yen for acceptance by the cool kids.

As the story continues, several things become clear. First, that Kinbote has clearly obtained this poem against pretty much everyone's the time he gets to telling us how he actually laid hands on it, the weirdness of that specific event is almost moot, since it is abundantly clear that Shade did not see Kinbote as either friend nor academic peer, that Shade's wife saw Kinbote as an irritating busybody at best and a dangerous stalker at worst, that Shade and Kinbote's colleagues considered him insane, and perhaps most of all, that he is unqualified to analyze the poem because of his intense personal feelings. Second of all, we begin to see that the Zemblan tale is deeply personal to Kinbote, whether he is in fact the Zemblan king the story revolves around or whether the whole thing is a figment of his imagination. Whatever the case, the tale is deeply important to him. Finally, we are left with a deep sense of Kinbote's desire for acceptance and acclaim...he wants his peers to respect him, but he also wants his story told and his achievements recognized. It's heartbreaking, at times. Kinbote so desperately wants Shade to be his friend, and to bring him into his personal life, but at every turn, he is rebuffed.

There has been a great deal of debate over what's going on in this book. Scholars and critics have put forth all sorts of theories - that Shade was a figment of Kinbote's imagination, that Kinbote was the creation of Shade, that Kinbote was insane and simply adopted Shade as an object of obsession...even the matter of Shade's death is hidden under a deep fog of uncertainty. Kinbote describes it specifically, but by the time he tells us about it, there are so many questions about his state of mind that the reader is reluctant to take his account at face value. The structure of the book is unusual and absolutely fascinating. It's a little bit like literary Celtic knotwork...the overall effect is lovely, and the work itself winds in and out of itself throughout. It's not the best choice for idle reading where you're likely to be distracted, but it shouldn't be missed.

301 pages.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Am So Organized

I know this will be amazing for everyone, but I have in fact accomplished more wedding planning, so I will once again share it with you. First order of business: my bridesmaids are awesome and have great taste. I told them that I didn't care what kind of shoes they got as long as they were comfy and some form of orange, and the three (AHEM, Ash and Cecilie) who have bought shoes have all rocked it out. Observe.

Celia (who will doubtless come at me all "eww you put pictures of my unpainted toenails on your blog whyyyyy"...cram it, lady, your feet will never attain my level of grossness and callousy creepiness) went with a pair of sandals from J.Crew that are totally cute and which she got on some kind of super sale for like $5. I am not usually pro-bows-on-shoes but the size and angle of these make them really cool.
The Lucy picked out these foxy sandals from Enzo Angiolini on Amazon. I love the brightness of the color, and the Enzos I have owned personally have always been comfy and great, so these should work out really well. I find it really interesting to see each woman's personality come out in the shoe's one of my favorite things (aesthetically anyway) about this whole planning process. Also on the favorite list: the fact that my wedding allows me to guilt my awesomest girlfriends into accumulating more or less at my whim. I'm gonna get married ALL the time! (Somewhere, Rich just had a spasmodic twitch for reasons unbeknownst to him.)
I probably don't even need to say that my sister picked these out, but yep, these are hers. I give her props for not only meeting the orange requirement (I don't know about the comfort requirement, but I do have faith in Sarah's heel-wearing abilities) but also for matching the color of the dresses almost exactly. I like the detail of the red platform and heel, too. These came from Amazon, too.
As a segue into bride stuff (via picture) from bridesmaid stuff (via intent), I love the idea of these little pendants used as bouquet danglies. They are of course from OliviaMoon, from whence my beautiful Alphonse Mucha pendant came. What a neat idea! I like them for all of our bouquets, so provided money and memory endure, I'll likely order up a bunch of initially goodness for everyone.
I ordered this jewelry set from BellaMink designs, and it arrived's seriously stunning and I totally love it. I ordered it up with a vague idea that it might work for the wedding, but now that I have the set in hand, there's no way I'm not wearing it. I am not usually one for pearls BUT as we know, I am a sucker for great color. I love the colors in this, and it will let me kind of nod to the more traditional in a way that works for me.
Our involvement with hockey in Worcester has brought a lot of great friends and acquaintances, but one of the somewhat depressing side effects of being involved with a minor league team is that the players and their significant others are much more likely to leave town eventually. The woman behind BellaMink is named Cristina, and she is the wife of one of the guys who came through Worcester. She was an absolute joy to be around while they were in town, and she recently started up this jewelry line, every single piece of which I totally covet. While she and her husband have moved on to a different team and city, it's absolutely fantastic to see her doing something with her clear talent and being so generous as to share her pieces with the wider world. Do yourself a favor and take a moment to toodle around her store, particularly since the Statement Necklace is Back and all that.

Finally, this decision was made earlier on, but these are our Save the Date cards (well, sans text...nothing personal, but I don't really want The Internet showing up at my wedding unannounced). There's this whole thing where I don't really give a crap about Save the Dates, but Rich has been all "well people DO STUFF on the Fourth of July so no one's gonna come," so needless to say I get all "I don't know what kind of crappy friends YOU have but my friends love me and they will come, and also a wedding is like a barbeque only way better and with more booze," and long story short we're doing the damn cards. Fine. However, I will say that I had a totally brilliant idea which resulted in these cards. The design is one that my Mom did. Yes, she is ridiculously talented, this is nothing on her watercolors or pottery, and it's extremely goddamn galling to be around someone who you can give, like, engine grease, some chewed gum, and a duck and who will then return to you some kind of frameable art. She drew this for my birth announcement, and I thought it not only was really cute but also that using the same design for my wedding lent a certain nice continuity to my Major Life Events.

Technology: Impending Doom, or Continued Ineptitude?

During my Problem of God class last semester, I had some issues with one of the themes of the course, that being that technology, because it discourages us from using our fucking techne, and thus distances us from God, is problematic and should be reined in. I don't think the professor actually wanted us to go back to using smoke signals from a pile of burning cell phones and PDAs to communicate, but sometimes it edged into "technology is going to kill us all" territory, which immediately got my hackles up. Yeah, I think we need to keep an eye on technology and ask the "but why" question more often, but I don't think it's going to kill us all or eat us, etc., etc. With that in mind, I have a few questions.

1. If technology is so powerful and all-consuming, how come my school email sucks on a level unattained and coveted by the entire vacuum industry? If the latter could harness the power of my school email's sucking, every molecule of dirt ever in the world would be sucked from the face of the earth in a matter of seconds.

2. If part of the problem is the efficiency of technology's ability to seamlessly integrate itself into our lives, how come I can't buy a cell phone that doesn't fuck up my car radio for no reason?

I am not saying technology isn't something to be better considered than it often is, but for real, if the future is full of dastardly soul crushing robots of all sizes, then I am ready. I shall know them by the sound of their radio interference. Here comes technology in Starbucks, on tiptoes all "I'mo gitchu sucka" and meanwhile, I hear the radio all DIT DIDIDIDIT DIDIDIDIT DIDIDIDT WHAAAAAAAFZZZZZZZ DIT DIT, slowly put down my coffee, and when I see technology closing in in the reflection of a chrome espresso machine, I whirl around, punch technology right in the face, and run for freedom. They'll never take me alive!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

I have run in to references to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab several times, in a strange variety of contexts, and every time I run across it, I spend a startling amount of time lost in their website, reading the descriptions and trying to wrap my brain around what they could smell like. I finally gave in and ordered a bunch of samples, and they arrived today!

Now, the site has a distinctly dreamy feel to it - there are pages upon pages of descriptions, and some of these are poems, others list ingredients like "opium" and "blood" (theoretical, thankfully). There are hundreds of fragrances, grouped into collections with titles like "Ars Moriendi," "Pharmacopoeia" and "A Picnic in Arkham." It may be best to simply paste their own description.

We specialize in formulating body and household blends with a dark, romantic Gothic tone. Our scents run the aesthetic gamut of magickal, pagan and mythological blends, Renaissance, Medieval and Victorian formulas, and horror / Gothic-themed scents. By utilizing our knowledge of homeopathy and aromatherapy, the conceptual theories of hermetic alchemy, and the aesthetic artistry of perfumery, we have mastered the art of encapsulating allegorical ideas into singular olfactory experiences. We are the first of our kind, and have over fifteen years of practical experience in the field. Our expertise shows.

They are 100% correct. These scents are unlike anything else I have ever found, and while not all of the samples I picked were exactly to my taste, they were all wonderfully complex, intricate fragrances that truly captured the feeling of their inspirations. After all, this was an experiment...I don't still wear Love's Baby Soft, and I don't like every perfume I smell. I'll give you a little run down of the ones I tried, and then leave you to spend your own time paging through their catalog and selecting your own to try. I highly, highly recommend giving it a try.

  • Belle Epoque (Bewitching Brews)..."The Pretty Era”, France’s Golden Time: an age of beauty, innovation and peace in France that lasted from the 19th Century through the first World War and gave birth to the cabaret, the cancan, and the cinema as well as the Impressionist and Art Nouveau movements. Sweet opium, Lily of the Valley, vanilla, mandarin and red sandalwood." I really like this one. It's very bright smelling, and the darker notes that can sometimes make vanilla and sandalwood cloying and somewhat claustrophobic fall back to let the sparkly lighter notes come through and dominate the scent.

  • Black Dahlia (Sin & Salvation)..."Voluptuous magnolias strewn over orchid, star jasmine, black amber and smoky rose." This one was a bit of a miss for me, even though it still was...olfactorially accurate. I just didn't really account for the darker tones that the Black Dahlia mystique would call for, and they are quite strong for me personally. I like it, I just don't know that I would wear it. Maybe in the latter half of winter, when it's gloomy outside and everyone's getting sick of winter because the snow on the side of the road is all gunged up with dirt and sand. I should also confess a vague hostility towards rose perfumes in general, so this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.

  • Jazz Funeral (Ars Moriendi)..."Considered a great honor, this is one of the most distinguished aspects of New Orleans culture. Its roots lie in the customs of the Dahomeans and Yoruba people, and is a celebration of both the person’s life and the beauty and solemnity of their death. The procession is lead by the Grand Marshal, resplendent in his black tuxedo, white gloves and black hat in hand; almost a vision of the great Baron Samedi himself. The music begins with solemn, tolling dirges, moves into hymns of sorrow, loss and redemption. When the burial site is reached, a two-note preparatory riff is sounded, and the drummers start the second-line beat, heralding the switch in music to joyous, upbeat songs, dancing, and the unfurling of richly decorated umbrellas by the “second line”: friends, family, loved ones and stray celebrants. Strutting, bouncing, and festive dance accompanies the upbeat ragtime music that sends the departed soul onto its next journey. Bittersweet bay rum, bourbon, and a host of funeral flowers with a touch of graveyard dirt, magnolia and Spanish Moss." I like this one, too, and weirdly enough, it's the earthiness of the dirt and moss that really seals the deal for me. I can't express clearly or often enough the astounding accuracy of the scent's match to the concept it's named after, but this one smells exactly like its description (pre-ingredients) feels. I have never smelt anything like this, and it's intriguing and exciting.

  • Kubla Khan (Bewitching Brews)..."[Kubla Khan, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge] Through sunlit caves of ice, roses unfurl amidst dancing waves of serpentine opium smoke and amber tobacco, golden sandalwood, champaca, tea leaf, sugared lily, ginger, rich hay absolute, leather, dark vanilla, mandarin, peru balsam, and Moroccan jasmine." This one is very complex...were I still in the dating market, I would hit this up for a first date in a dark room. All of these elements combine to make a perfume that's somewhat dark on the whole, but has a certain airiness that keeps it from being too musky or heavy.

  • Les Bijoux (Ars Amatoria)..."[Les Bijoux, by Charles Baudelaire] Skin musk and honey, blood-red rose, orange blossom, white peach, red apple, frankincense and myrrh." I was telling Celia about this one, and I described it as smelling the way it feels to bite into a tart apple when you're out in an orchard in fall, when it's crisp but not freezing cold. I absolutely love this one, and I'm wearing it today. Unfortunately, this means I have been surreptitiously sniffing my wrists like a complete weirdo at work. Zut alors, c'est la vie.

  • Tavern of Hell (Bewitching Brews)... "[Description of the Moulin Rouge in Paris, exerpted from a letter from Andrey Bely to Alexander Blok in 1906] White gardenia, ambergris bouquet, lavender fougere, orange blossom, melissa, tobacco flower, coriander, ebony wood, ylang ylang, absinthe and aged whiskey." This is another one that I like a lot but do not really want to wear. The alcohols are quite prominent, not in a boozy smelling way, but rather in an liquors-frequently-smell-really-goddamn-strong kind of way. It's just a little too brawny for me, if that makes any sense. For my personal chemistry, it's the odorific equivalent of being "a lot of look," Tim Gunn style. Very cool, though, and again, very complex and reminiscent of name.

I also got two little freebies, which was very exciting. I am awash in perfume samples these days, thanks to this order and to holiday shopping at Sephora. One sample is called Lust, from the Sin & Salvation section, and it's comprised of red musk, patchouli, ylang ylang and myrrh, all of which combine to make the second most complex perfume in the bunch (preceded only by Les Bijoux). It will be a good going out perfume, but is quite powerful for everyday. I smelled the second sample, called Uruk, and was immediately reminded of the way Cairo felt when I was there in high school. I then read the description: "A city of mystery, wonder and majesty, said to have been built by order of Gilgamesh. Thick bitter almond and heady night-blooming jasmine with saffron, cinnamon leaf, red patchouli, river lilies, bergamot, fig leaf and the sacred incense of Inanna." So apparently, I was at least regionally correct. You see what I mean about the concept-to-scent thing? Amazing! I am still trying to decide whether I would wear Uruk on a regular basis. It's lovely and has a real air of mystery to it, but it's another one I don't know if I could pull off every day.

If Bulldozing an X Over Stupid Becomes an Option, CALL ME IMMEDIATELY.

First of all, Dianne Feinstein can fuck right off, as usual and forever.

There is no legal imperative to seat Burris. There are a bunch of things you have to do in this country to actually get into the Senate, and some of them involve paperwork. Until Burris darkens the Secretary of the Senate's door with Jesse White's signature in hand, he has not done the things required to represent Illinois in the Senate. There is no issue of legality, DIANNE. Sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, stop acting like such a dipshit.

Okay so now that I've gotten in my usual swipe at Dianne Feinstein, can we talk for a second about Roland Burris? Honestly, I haven't heard a hell of a lot from actual Illinois residents - it's mostly been horseshit from Reid & Co. - but I hope to God that every last one of them is fucking aghast at the idea of this guy could be their Senator. His behavior since his appointment tells the entire country exactly what they need to know about his ability to effectively represent Illinois in the Senate. There are two options here - either he is actually stupid enough to believe that the simple fact of Blagojevich's appointment is a taint he can cleanse himself of, or he's clueless enough to not get it. Either one makes him unfit for the work Senators do. As much as we might like to make fun of the dippier comments and decisions that percolate in the US Senate, the body is an intensely competitive and complex one, and it's not a job for ninnies or morons. Burris is one or the other, and frankly, that is a shame.

Moreover, there is a way by which he could have played this better (again, his inability to do so demonstrates his lack of fitness for the office). Had he waited out the Blagojevich mayhem, or had he gone to make nice with the Senate leadership behind closed doors, he probably still could have been appointed, if that was his goal. Look,'s not like Illinois is held up in this country as the last bastion of righteousness and purity. It's famous for its corruption, and Blagojevich is just the first schmuck to take the Illinois Travelling Corruption Circus and Dementia Sideshow this close to the national spotlight, which is why it blew up on him. Illinoisian corruption is well noted, and as a result, Blagojevich is going to be dispatched efficiently, and then Illinois will go back to being quietly nuts and the rest of the country will feel better about all being well in the universe. Had Burris just put his squirrely looking little head down (seriously, how weird is that footage of him? It looks like he's afraid Harry Reid is going to hit him with sticks. WTF?) and ridden out the Blagojevich situation, he would have been able to wind up in the same position, but with actual legitimacy and a shot at explaining what he plans to bring to the table, instead of the mess he's in now. Dumb, Burris. Dumb. Blagojevich the biggest idiot in middle America, or some kind of magical politics genius? I seriously cannot decide. I have flipflopped on this about four hundred and twenty seven times in the past 24 hours. It's fucking gross that he's playing the race card, but it's kind of amazing, isn't it? Everyone is so afraid to fuck up the whole love-in on race that's been jumpstarted by this election that the race card is scarier for politicians than it maybe ever has been. (Let's be clear, too - if Reid did in fact call up and say "no black guys" then he's an asshole, too, but frankly, I think he 's a jackass anyway so it wouldn't change much for me.) So he's managed to salvage the teeniest swatch of insulation for his choice. He's also somehow managed to hold the entire US press corps off by simply pretending everything is okay. Have you been watching this coverage? He's going to church, going to work, doing normal crap...dude, he tried to sell a seat in the SENATE. There are only ONE HUNDRED of those bastards in the COUNTRY. I mean...did he think no one would notice? Did he not care? Does he really have an ego so spectacular that he thought it wouldn't matter? It's magnificent, really, and this is why I'm having trouble deciding if he's an idiot or not.

Can we just have a little talk about -isms, too? I have talked about what feminism is at its most fundamental level, and a lot of the same applies to most movements for equality. To put it in a less pretty way than you typically hear...equality is about everyone having the same chance to fuck up. Feminism means that Dianne Feinstein can be in Congress, even though I routinely refer to her as a mindless twat. Feminism means that people can have really asinine female bosses and really asinine male bosses. It means that everyone can try and fail OR try and succeed. Same thing with racial means black people can run for the same offices as white people, and they can win or lose. I means black people can apply for the same jobs and the same bank loans and the same whatever, and be judged on their humanity instead of their race. What racial equality does NOT mean is that if a black person applies for a job, they get it by default.

And don't come at me with this "well if the candidates are the same" two humans are the same, so there's going to be a clincher. This is the trouble with the way our society tries to define and legislate everything these days. Sometimes, guys, it just comes down to personality. If I have the same Assumption College bachelor's degree as someone who is a crappy writer who can't interview well and never showers, then we are not the same. There comes a point when you just need to go on who the person is. If Harry Reid called Blagojevich up and told him "no darkies in the Senate clubhouse" because he didn't want black people in the Senate, then he's an outrageous form of reprehensible asshole. But if he called Blagojevich and told him he wanted one of how ever many white guys selected who he thought were more competent than Burris (and given Burris' showing thus far, this isn't hard to imagine), then he's just someone looking at competence instead of skin tone. That all being said, right now I'm not even willing to think about the veracity of the call, because BOTH Reid and Blagojevich are acting so petulant and nuts that I don't really believe anything that comes out of either of their mouths.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Most Amazing Slice of Whacked Out, Batshit Insanity Ever Committed to Celluloid

I am currently resting in the calm before the impending storm that is the month of January. Next week, I'm leaving for DC for the Inauguration, staying down there just long enough to return on the SECOND day of school (luckily, I'm taking all poli sci classes this semester, so forgiveness is more likely), and then about fourteen seconds after I get home, the AHL All Star Classic will kick off, and I'll be busy running around making shit happen and drinking heavily.

Boy, the more I think about it, the more simple explaining January gets. I'm just going to be shitfaced from the 15th until February.

So anyway, I'm chilling out. For some reason, I decided last night that this should include watching Doomsday, which sparked my interest primarily because of a vague memory I had of it being "that movie with the chick with the tattoos on her face and lots of yelling and maybe zombies." Which...apparently was appealing to me. Whatever. Watching this movie managed to be the best decision I have maybe ever made in my life, and I am now practically suicidal with depression over not having seen it in theatres. (More or less) simply put, it's the most pointlessly violent, deranged, nonsensical, awesome, glorious, magnificent ode to dementia I ever dared dream existed. Let me just share with you a brief piece of the conversation I had with Celia while I was watching it. (PAST THIS POINT, THERE WOULD BE SPOILERS IF THERE WAS ANY WAY THIS MOVIE MADE SENSE EVER IN THE WORLD.)

There is zero point
It's set in the near future...there was some kind of virus so they quarantined SCOTLAND (yes, Scotland) via giant metal wall
So after much fighting and stabbing and even a cooking which was interesting involving military types from the clean side and the heavily tattooed crazy-ass types
There are now people on horseback

They exploded a bunny
For no reason

Oh okay I just found out why they went into Scotland, AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
Oh my god this is glorious
Okay they went into scotland bcause the virus appeared on the non-scotland side
In London
Which you may note is not actually all that close to Scotland
But the IMPORTANT PART is that one of the infected dudes just broke into wherever the fuck the PM is supposed to be hiding out, by first lopping off a guard's hand to pass a fingerprint scan and then
Well, there was a retinal scan required, need I say more?

Oh and let me tell you, that wasn't even the half of the amazingness. After a daring escape via train (obviously), the heroes (maybe??) wound up in the woods, where they got captured on purpose by PEOPLE ON HORSES IN MEDEIVAL ARMOR. Then eventually there was a gladiator fight - chick in workout gear versus giant person in armor modelled after an armadillo. And then - THEN! - somehow they find a pristine Bentley and a BOX OF GPS UNITS in a fallout shelter and then escape as one of their comrades is shot with arrows. And then this happens:

I titled this picture "magic.jpg" when I stole it off the Internet.

Just in case your brain shut down and refused to interpret what it was seeing, that is a Bentley racing some kind of roided out chopper made out of random vehicle parts and probably lots of human matter like skin and bones and shit.

Oh, and it has a gimp tied to the front of it.

If I need to tell you that within three minutes, the passenger of the Bentley asked the gimp if he liked pain, the gimp did something weird but affirmative with his tongue, and then the chopper immediately smashed into a solid object and exploded with about a bazillion times the force of any remotely possible amount of on-board fuel, then you are not fully in the spirit of Doomsday. I am STILL not wholly sure I understand what the hell was going on at the end of the movie, but I am 100% sure that it was awesome.

I really can't say enough about this movie. I think I am actually dumber now. My IQ dropped drastically as a direct result of this flick, and yet I cannot WAIT to watch it again. It's by far the most whacked out, moronic crap I have ever seen, and I love it with such an immense stupid love I don't know how to explain it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cannonball Read #14: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

In some of my darker hours, particularly those during the semester at American that I took a class called "America in the Nuclear Age", I have thought about what would happen if the nuclear powers of the world stopped playing this stupid game of Advanced Chicken and finally pushed their respective red buttons. On good days, I have great faith in the essential good of human beings, but by the time I get to thoughts of nuclear annihilation, it's usually a bit late, and I'm thinking about the more insidious and depressing elements of humanity. Even though I have a good imagination, have been able to observe humans under pressure, and had dedicated significant time to considerations of political behavior, the fact remains that I currently do live, and always have lived, in a world that is relatively stable and have never experienced a catastrophe that destroyed civilization as we know it. There's a certain limit to what I can wrap my brain around.

What made The Road even harder to process is that it doesn't take a complete stand on either side of things...there are good people and bad people and ambivalent people and things in this book, but none of them can stand definitively for the collective human response. The story is set in a post-something-horrific world, and the vast majority of the tale focuses on a nameless father and a nameless son, the rest of the world theoretical at best. The lack of specific details in and of itself lends a massive amount of tension to the book as a whole. The only name given in the book is to a decrepit elderly man they meet in their travels, and that name turns out to be false anyway. There are no place names, only directions travelled, and the world is by and large devoid of humans. Every encounter with the few-and-far-between fellow survivors provides a glimpse of a new kind of horror...the man and his boy come across piles of dead bodies, corpses afloat in water, a dead child horribly treated. The living people they meet are either violently hostile, organized into mobbish armies, are crazed with fear and desperation, or are so clearly dying that they are hardly human anymore. Perhaps in large part, McCarthy avoids making a statement on the human response to sudden and violent removal of society in all its forms because in crafting his landscape, it's necessary to destroy humanity altogether. The effect presents an interesting challenge to the idea that there is something fundamentally human about each of us. Maybe it's just all about peer pressure and social conformity and other environmental factors, and once you take all that away, you're left with a fairly base, torn down, busted up mammal.

For those thinking that the preceding is a lame ass summary, I'd like to assure you that I'm not leaving all that much out. A man and a boy travel down a broken road after a widescale catastrophe that has left the world a shitshow of burnt, ashen wasteland, pushing a grocery cart of everything they have in the world, trying to survive. That's what it is. To go into deeper detail would be to either spoil various plot points or ruin the effect of the story's minutae which make it so good. So basically, I ain't doin' it, and you're going to have to read it yourself.

The Road also stands as an interesting study on how we have distanced ourselves from nature. While the father and son do engage in some fairly intense MacGuyvering in order to keep alive, the major survivalist victories of their trek involve finding stashes of manmade goods, not managing to sustain themselves on the wilderness. It's not necessarily that they can't - they do manage to pull off some fairly creative use of natural resources - but rather that they just happen to wind up more driven to find these lodes of manmade items. The book is relatively trim at about 300 pages, so it's possible that this is just a casualty of its brevity; we are dropped into the story several years after whatever event decimated the planet, and the son appears to actually have been born after it happened. That being said, the reliance on manmade goods almost takes on more significance...having lived in this state for so long, why haven't they adapted to living off the land? It's obvious that the natural world was equally hard hit, but it still is striking to see them so dependent on unnatural products to survive in what has been devolved back into a scary, Hobbesian state of nature.

Obviously, everyone reading this has by now rushed out to their local bookstore to buy this superbly uplifting piece of literature about how we're all animals to each other and are going to die in what appears to be a nuclear holocaust and its ensuing aftermath. The thing is, you sort of should buy it for its uplifting qualities. Even though the whole tale is couched in this ugly, brutish environment, in the end, it is most of all about the relationship between this father and son, and their combined struggle to keep on "being the good guys." These two people are near death from the moment you meet them, but they not only manage to heroically stave off death...they do it because for each one to give in and give up would be to let the other down. By the midpoint of the book, you just have this awful, crushing feeling that there's no way it can end well, that there will be no happy ending, but what makes it so awful is that you know these two people are going to struggle on until they are completely demolished, simply for the sake of being there for each other. This relationship is the closest McCarthy comes to a definitive stand on whether humans are inherently good or evil. Contrasting the beautiful intensity of the love between father and son against the hell all around them does more to show the potential for one or the other.

I found this to be a pretty quick read once I sat down and got to it, rather than reading between phone calls at work. The book is one long string of short paragraphs, fairly widely spaced, so it's not a very dense 300 pages, though the emotional heft more than makes up for it. When talking about A Million Little Pieces, I frequently credit James Frey's writing style with lending a certain immediacy and intensity to the book, and a similar effect is in play here; the short paragraphs comprised of short sentences bring to mind a journal or diary, and imbue the whole thing with enhanced feeling. It feels a bit like someone trying to leave a record of their existance and create a reminder for themselves of who they are and what they must do. The only thing I didn't really enjoy was the absence of apostrophes (one blog I came across while looking for a picture of the book cover had an awesomely snotty line about the situation: "All apostrophes must have been burned in the fires that scorched the world."). That's mostly a personal problem, though...I get excessively fixated on missing punctuation.

287 pages