That’s how they keep you shopping there hour after hour

Speaking of permissiveness and individualism, let me just illustrate by showing you what else they have at Target for you:

For those of you in the know, I need not comment further. For the naive among you, the explanation would take too long and ruin the joke…

Mysteries of the west

Judging from all the signs everywhere telling people of the dangers of everyday living, I jumped to the conclusion that California was way behind in the area of personal responsibility and individual liberty. Boy, was I wrong.
Back home in Virginia, everything is tightly regulated — not in the same way it is in California, by warnings and such, but by just a great big no. In Virginia, you can’t buy liquor anywhere other than a state-run store with limited hours. In California, I can go down the hill to the grocery store and buy a liter of vodka with my Budget Gourmet.
In Virginia, you can’t buy fireworks other than innocuous sparklers. In California — ready for this? — you can buy fireworks at Target! Not in the parking lot, but right there on the shelves in the store.
Hmm. Easily obtained fireworks and liquor… maybe that’s the state’s way of keeping the population under control.

More mysteries solved: ever since I was a little kid, I wondered about the mysterious black box up on Mt. Umunhum. It’s a large retangular structure, like a monolith, perched high on top of the Santa Cruz mountains. I look out at it every day from my office window. Of course, this is 2005, and the internet knows all: it turns out that the huge structure is a building from the former Almaden Air Force Station, also known as the AN/FPS-24 Tower.


In fact, it’s not black — it just looks that way. It’s a large concrete tower that was once part of an Air Force radar installation. It was once used for early warning of incoming… well, I guess missiles, as part of NORAD. Now, it’s abandoned and becoming a ruin. (By the way, the next large mountain south of Umunhum is Loma Prieta, the epicenter of that big 1989 earthquake.)

The other mystery that haunted me was the harsh yellow street lights here. I’ve never seen anything like it, coming from a land of bright white lights… and light pollution. Yep, that’s the answer to this one: San Jose uses sodium discharge street lighting which casts a bright yellow light in order to keep the light pollution to a manageable level for the Lick Observatory, which sits on Mt. Hamilton just to the east of the city. The observatory can easily filter out the narrow wavelength of yellow used by these lights, and thus continue to make astronomical discoveries while perched above one of California’s largest metropolitan areas. Astronomers were so grateful for San Jose’s concession that they named an asteroid after the city.

Just call me the Answer Man.

Well, they’ve named everything else for him

You must be kidding me — Discovery Channel has named Ronald Reagan as the “Greatest American?” Ahead of Abraham Lincoln?
What in the hell did Ronald Reagan do other than spend this country into a massive hole we’ll never climb out of, ignore a massive pandemic, declare ketchup to be a vegetable… oh, yes. He never told us any bad news. That’s what makes a great American.

Picture pages picture pages

A few pics of stuff that I took fully intending to create blog entries around them… but now the urge has passed, so I present them with the original thoughts intact but no big editorial write up. Draw your own conclusions and make up your own complaints.

Now that the fundamentalists are in power, the TV networks seem to have decided to make the ratings BIGGER, since the whiny moralists obviously forgot they were there when they plunked their kids down in front of the set. Like everything else in life, a few people ruin it for the rest of us.

Meanwhile, instead of tinkering with the ratings, they should have hired a few proofreaders.

This is how I spent the end of last week: making 60 of these DVD packages.

I picked up a DVD set of “Newsradio” last week, and quickly noted the typo on the back… but then something else jumped out at me:

Generally speaking, DVDs in the US include English subtitles–but for some bizarre reason, this DVD set features an English soundtrack and Portugese subtitles. Oh, sorry, I mean Portuguese.
Boy, I enjoyed every minutee of these discs…

I need a bigger trunk

I had myself a Costco experience today — I plunked down my money and joined the cult of savings. At first, I was skeptical and annoyed at the huge crowds and lines. But then I found ink cartridges for my printer: a set of six color inks costs $90 at Staples, but the set is $58 at Costco. Woo hoo!!
Of course, what offsets these bargains is the total bill. After buying ink, a couple beef roasts, chicken, and wine, I ended up spending nearly $200 for just a few items. I don’t drink very much, but I was sorely tempted to pick up this bargain:
That’s right, nearly 2 liters of Bombay Sapphire for only $29. A big huge bottle of gin for about what the state store charges back home for less than half that amount. Of course, they don’t sell liquor at Costco back home…

From the “Wonko the Sane” files: I bought a bag of almonds. On the back of the bag, it warns that it was packaged in a plant that handles nuts.

Let’s all go to the lobby

As I sat down in the living room just now with a lovely lunch salad of endive, greens, and radicchio, I realized that when my living room is clean and neat, it feels like a lobby.
Maybe that’s because I’ve been working at home nonstop for the last week, doing freelance for the old job, for Sara, and for other clients. I’ve gotten a lot done — a CD-ROM, 60 DVDs, promotional brochure, pocket folder… it’s starting to become satisfying to finish off a project and move on to the next one, and it’s starting to bring me out of my sit-around-the-house-with-nothing-to-do phase.

A few notes from a California newbie:

  • There are reflectors in the road lane markings here, lots of them. Every time you change a lane or make a turn across other lanes, you begin to think about the possibility that California has a lower average tire life than other states.
  • Despite the fact that this is the tech capital of the world, a large proportion of businesses here don’t accept plastic or electronic payments. For example: the post office counter beside the grocery store: cash or check only. The Subway sandwich shop: cash only. The light rail: cash or tokens only. The Century movie theatres: cash only (and end-of-run movies are $9.50). Pacific Gas & Electric: gotta mail in a check, no e-bills. And yet, you can use your debit card at McDonalds. Weird.
  • I got a new postal box today for my freelance work, and it suddenly hit me: my business address is on Branham Lane, down the street from my grandparent’s old house. I got this weird feeling driving over there today, a little bit of what I felt when I visited them here in San Jose as a kid. It’s a kind of California feeling when the sun is bright and the air is clean and the palm trees are planted in a row; the familiarity of the street signs and the curbs. But it was tempered a bit: I’m no longer a kid, and it’s hard to bring up the same feelings of non-responsibility. My grandfather is no longer with me to drive me to the library, my grandmother is no longer here to make Cream of Wheat for breakfast. I wonder what they would think of me making this drastic change in my life and ending up in their old neighborhood?
  • One of the new habits I’m training myself to do in my new life is flossing. Twice a day. Good for me!
  • People are friendlier here, but I am finding it difficult to give up 38 years of distrust and antisocial behavior. I mumble greetings in my usual way, I avoid eye contact, and I shuffle along like I don’t want anyone to notice me. This may be the next thing on my list of life changes.
  • Since I’ve been here, I’ve abstained from Outback cheese fries. This is not because I am trying to be more healthy, but because the local Outback is too far away.
  • In the same shopping center as the Outback there’s a CompUSA. I think that they are beaming out some kind of super-strong wifi or something: I’ve been to that shopping center 4 times now, and every time my car’s smart entry/start system is disabled. My car has mini transmitters in it that sense the key in my pocket, and open the doors. Doesn’t work there. In fact, the regular push-button remote unlocking doesn’t work, either. I have to fish the emergency key out and unlock the doors manually. This has never happened anywhere else, ever. And the problem persists throughout the parking lot, not just in one spot. The other day I got my hair cut there, at the far end of the lot by the street. Still couldn’t unlock the car.
  • I’m still waiting for an earthquake. Sounds morbid, really, and I probably will come to realize it’s nothing worth wishing for. But to think that the one earthquake I’ve experienced was back home in Virginia is a little odd, isn’t it?
  • Can you tell that it’s Friday afternoon, I’m all alone with no one to talk to, and the first weekend of summer is here?
  • I was going to go see Bewitched with Jann today, but he took off to his in-laws for the weekend. Then I read the review this morning, and figured that I might wait for it to come on cable. After all, movies are about $10 here, so they’d better be good. And people wonder why movie revenues are in the toilet.

Okay, time to go back to work. I’ll be back down to the lobby in a few hours.

Thursday morning and America’s getting worse

I just don’t understand what is happening these days to my country… and why people don’t notice. For instance:

  • The “Justice” Department has enacted a rule — 18 U.S.C. §2257 — that restricts websites from posting “sexually explicit” photos. It seems like they haven’t been paying attention all these years, and then John Ashcroft must have fired up a browser and realized what was out there, and Roberto Gonzalez finished the job. So to speak. Even funnier is their idea of explicit — for instance, you can’t have an image of a person with a hand down his pants, because that might indicate masturbation. And absolutely no cartoons of a sexual nature, because we all know what happened to Sponge Bob. The new regulations go into effect today, even though they were already declared unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Now do you see why the Bush administration is so intent on pushing through ultra right wing judges?
  • Another flag-burning amendment? Are you kidding? Why do right-wingers seem to wrap themselves in symbolism and rhetoric, but not understand that the true strength of American freedom lies in the exercise of our rights, not the symbols of them? Orrin Hatch says that burning the flag is “offensive conduct” that we ought to ban. Well, so is sending thousands of American kids to their deaths for a trumped up war, but they managed to get around that constitutional road block, so…
  • The Pentagon is creating a database of high school and college students so that the military can conduct recruiting — the database includes not only names and social security numbers, but grade point averages, ethnicity, and subjects studied. You know, these days the old ultra-right groups who claimed the government was overbearing and tracking us through our money seem more and more on the ball, don’t they?
  • As always, once they set their sights on a new target for conquest, the neo-Cons attack from all sides. Not content to place high-ranking Bush politicos as top management of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS, they’ve now decided that the way to take over one of the last bastions of balanced broadcasting is by taking away it’s funding. What really irks me is the way they’ve just come right out and said it: they want it to be conservative. None of this tedious back and forth about “programming duplicated by commercial stations” like in the past, they just laid it on the line and told the truth. They want PBS to be a Bush administration mouthpiece like Fox or talk radio. For example: a Republican House aide recounted traveling through the South recently and hearing “six Christian radio stations and NPR. The contrast was obvious. There’s a real cultural dissonance there.” Through his eyes (or ears), the fact that NPR didn’t sound like six religious stations was a cause for concern! Scary. If they do manage to cut the funding by millions, I hope that George Soros will stand up and make a big pledge to replace that money. That’d show the bastards.

Tomorrow is Friday, and I’m sure there will be a slew of horror stories coming from various podiums… ’cause no one reads papers on Saturday. Except me.

Attention all Catholics: you can take it easy now

Actual headline from the Washington Post:


Now if they could only get rid of that pesky mortal sin, everyone could breathe a sigh of relief.

The genteel hunt

I don’t know if he was testing out material for a stand-up act, but CIA Director Porter Goss made me howl with laughter this morning.
In an interview, he claimed that he has “an excellent idea of where [Osama bin Laden] is.” But his reasoning behind the lack of action?

He cited some of the difficulties as “dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you’re dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play.”

Yeah, we’ve really been held back by our doctrine of fair play lately, haven’t we?

Time is up

Well, I just watched the season finale of Dr. Who, and was blown away — not by the specifics of the plot line or the special effects, but by the way that this show’ revival has turned on character development. That’s something that the old show tended to let fall by the wayside, but this series has relied on it, right up to the end.
I’ve decided to not reveal any spoilers, figuring that the vast majority of Americans haven’t seen the new series; but I will let you off the hook about my previous Bad Wolf posting: I was completely, totally wrong about my prediction.
I will tell you this about the finale without fear of spoiling anything: Gee, remember all the flap back in 1996 about the Doctor kissing his female companion? Well, let’s see what the fundies have to say about this! Captain Jack finally gets to kiss the Doctor!

Late to the party, but welcome

Now, my only question about the latest Bush poll numbers is this: where were all you people way back in 2000, when we first started telling you about this guy? Well, I can’t say that in this situation it’s better late than never, but hell — welcome to reality, such as it is.

In a CBS News/New York Times poll out Thursday, more than half the public disapproves of the job he’s doing. And it gets worse from there:

  • Only 39 percent approve of his handling of the economy.
  • Only 39 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy.
  • Only 37 percent approve of his handling of the war in Iraq.
  • Only 25 percent approve of his handling of Social Security.
  • Only the campaign against terrorism gets the approval of more than half those questioned.

On Iraq, the President’s 37 percent approval rating (not much different from the 38 percent he received last month) is also similar to the low ratings he received last summer. The percentage of Americans who say taking military action against Iraq was the right thing to do is now at 45 percent, matching the lowest level ever found in this poll. 51 percent think the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq.

The President fares worst when it comes to opinion of his handling of Social Security. Despite Bush’s months-long promotion of his plan for Social Security, only one in four Americans approves of the way he is handling the issue.

Weather Report

For the first time since I arrived in California, today was cool and completely cloudy — I enjoyed it, it reminded me of an April day back home. And just a few moments ago, I heard a familiar sound, but couldn’t quite decide if it was what I thought it was. But yes, I was right: it’s raining! Just a little, big fat drops but not a real shower or anything.
Still, it’s kind of relaxing on a quiet Thursday afternoon, just me and the dog and the sound of the rain.