The audicity of hiatus

What a hiatus it has been.  A dozen days gone by since my last effort to write something down, and what have I got to show for it?  A saucerful of surprises.

Twelve days ago, I accepted a new job, which means doubling my workload at the liberry during my final fortnight as Technology Manager.  Many projects which I’d put off for future days were scrapped, and I’m in the midst of trying to realize a very select few of them before my time runs out.

Eleven days ago, I assembled a new computer, which you’ll read about later.  This makes writing much easier than it was with the moribund Hrothgar.

Ten days ago, I was dog-sitting in 3 houses, and was able to cut it down to two houses for the rest of the week.  I haven’t slept in my own bed since then.

Nine days ago, I saw an excellent play directed by a talented friend of mine.  While not really comparable to the works of Shakespeare, It had more jazz & dancing girls than King Richard III and Macbeth put together.

Eight days ago, I watched all six Star Wars movies consecutively.  They were thrilling.

Seven days ago, I spent my whole Sunday working at the Liberry and probing the vagaries of Virtual PC 2007. Blegh.

Six days ago, I met with my new doctor and was told to eat more salt.

Five days ago, I started doing interviews for my job at the Liberry.  Conducting an interview is almost as bad as being interviewed.

Four days ago, I held a Uromastyx for the first time.  By far, the cutest reptile I’ve ever seen.

Three days ago, I went to a bar after work.  I felt very out of place, maybe because I wasn’t imbibing pitchers of Bud Light and trying to get laid.

Two days ago, I went to a pool party in honor of a 21st birthday.  It was all fun and games until Ape hit me over the head with a (hard) plastic surfboard.  The bleeding stopped, but the headaches won’t….

One day ago, I got really, really tired of dogsitting.  I must’ve been bitten by 28 different mosquitos while we were on a walk.

Today, Ape and I had delicious cucina Italiana and deutches Bier with my parents.  So much of it that afterwards, I felt like I’d swallowed a canteloupe.

Tomorrow, I leave the Liberry.

A world gone to pot

I was having dinner out with my family on Saturday and a strange thing happened: a few patrons of the restaurant walked to the edge of the sidewalk (nearly in the road) and lit cigarettes.  For citizens of Illinois and a few other states, this in itself would be unusual (smoking in public places having been prohibited for more than six months in Illinois).  However, we were in the great state of Missouri, where no state law against smoking exists (although it’s being hotly contested as a city ordinance in St. Louis).  So there was no legal reason for these good folk to distance themselves from other patrons of the restaurant.  The strange thing is that they moved simply because they did not want to bother anyone with their smoke, and said as much as they passed by our table.

Stranger than fiction, some might say.  I’ve known smokers who wish they hadn’t started, wish they could quit, and tell others never to smoke, but that is where their courtesy ends: they still smoke, still stink, and still piss all the non-smokers off.  Did I witness the birth of a new generation of considerate/compassionate smokers who are selfless enough to indulge their addiction away from others who disdain it?  I think not (everyone at the table next to ours lit up a few minutes later, and filled our lungs with the rich smell of burnt tar).  No, these smokers were just exceptionally polite people.

Will the ban pass in St. Louis, forcing the polite & impolite alike to retreat to their homes before taking a drag?  Is it even constitutional?

This led me to thinking about the governance of addictive substances in this land of ours.  Addictive substances is the ugly umbrella-term for the trifecta of mind-altering goodies: booze, pot, and smokes.  Nearly everyone has sampled at least one of the above, but the legal ramifications of each makes about as much sense as a Doonesbury comic.  Why are the laws which govern alcohol, marijuana,  and cigarettes so contradictory?  See if you know the answers to our addictive substances quiz:

Of the three (alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes), give the correct response to the following questions:

1.  Which is a proven carcinogen?

2.  Which is the most addictive?

3.  Which can you buy when you turn 18?

If you guessed cigarettes…you’re right!  You can buy cartons of the carcinogenic & highly addictive sticks with the money you get from your 18th birthday.  If you wanna have a glass of champagne to celebrate, you have to wait until you’re a responsible adult or turn 21 (whichever comes first).  At that time, you are free to let loose and drink until you pickle your liver.  And marijuana…. don’t even think about it, you goddamn tree-huggin free-lovin hippie.

When you strip away the hysteria and rhetoric, alcohol is likely the most innocuous substance of the three.  It may or may not be healthy*, but is relatively easy to procure and enjoy.  It can be addictive, certainly, but not as readily or as detrimentally as cigarettes.

*By this time next year, no less than 37 studies will have conclusively proven/disproven that alcohol is good/bad for you.  Seriously, do they just make this shit up?

Marijuana’s health impact seems to be a  topic of contemporary debate, a war that is fought with competing studies and research.  Naturally, pro-cannabis and anti-cannabis groups each have an arsenal of research, but the outcome of said research is often dependent of who funds it.  I don’t think there can ever be a victory in ideological battles like this one, but for the time being, marijuana is illegal over most of the globe.

And cigarettes….are undisputedly bad.  There really is no question of whether or not they have an impact of health; rather, the question is whether or not cigarettes actually kill the people who smoke them.  End of story.

So what if things were different?

What if our government took an objective look (objective, meaning it doesn’t involve congress or tobacco/alcohol lobbyists) at these substances and put them on equal footing?  Would cigarettes only be available at age 21, instead of 18?  Would there be a ban against drinking alcohol in public?  Would a Big Pot lobby spring up in Washington?  Would anyone take them seriously?

It isn’t going to happen, but maybe someone in the government could start an honest debate on the subject (if such a thing is even possible).  Until then, you can still drink anywhere, smoke cigarettes at home, and smoke your joints at Blue Oyster Cult concerts.

Another Victory Gin, please

1984 Signet Classic1 175x300I’ve just finished reading George Orwell’s 1984, and without giving away the end, I’ll say forthright that the ending is exactly as it should be. It might be silly to point that out first, but so many books & films have ruined themselves through predictably lame endings that such sublime endings are in short supply.

The story is already familiar, thanks to decades of imitation, spin-off and parody. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is under the boot of a totalitarian state. Crime is committed by thought, rather than by a tangible act. Government surveillance is ubiquitous. Doublespeak exists, so that people can tell lies and wholly believe in them.

Come to think of it, there’s another reason the story is familiar: the dystopia Orwell so cleverly imagined is not unlike our own. While Thoughtcrime doesn’t formally exist, citizens of all nation can be taken at the will of the American government and locked away indefinitely in secret prisons. And government surveillance: if you’re uncertain whether the U.S. government is spying on you, take our handy quiz:

Have you ever:

1. Made a phone call to someone outside the United States?

2. Had contact with known terrorist organizations?

3. Used the Internet since 2003?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re under government surveillance. And Doublespeak? Wikipedia has a page for Doublespeak, but I prefer a more concrete example.

And Victory Gin*……..is Bud Light.

Fortunately, my situation is not as extreme as that of Winston Smith, and I live in a country which allows p0litical discourse to take place freely (which does not happen frequently enough, as far as I’m concerned).

Political bandying aside, it’s an interesting book. Orwell does not display any amazing talent with dialogue (which may be intentional, given the nature of the book). Instead, Orwell describes the mental development/disintegration of the protagonist with profound clarity, and therein lies the real pleasure of the novel.

Even though I enjoyed the novel immensely, I don’t agree with the premise upon which Orwell builds the totalitarian regime which dominates the story. He seems to suggest (perhaps genuinely, perhaps artificially) that the human spirit can be extinguished, or at least reduced to nearly nothing, through a number of convincing techniques (victory gin notwithstanding). This premise strikes me as fundamentally wrong, for reasons that have nothing to do with 1984, totalitarians or anything of the sort. I can’t put my finger on why (yet), but I’m certain that a man deprived of human spirit would die, voluntarily or not….

More on this to come; for now, one last victory gin and then it’s off to bed.

*Victory Gin: The alcoholic beverage drunk by Outer Party members–it is colorless, oily, tastes like nitric acid and has a sickly smell. Drinking it causes an effect like being hit on the back of the head with a rubber club. It is the only product in Oceania that is both cheap and easy to find.

Summertime, when the living’s easy

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written anything, both in the figurative and literal sense.  We in Edwardsville are being smothered by the onset of summer heat (I debated whether I should call it heat or warmth.  Ultimately, warmth seemed to convey a sense of comfort, which is distinctly absent these days).

Normally the weather doesn’t bother me.  Everyone who resides in the Midwest shares the joy of scorching summers, white winters, tornadoes, floods, and most recently, earthquakes.  The wiser ones among us minimize their exposure to the elements, but this only works in the proper circumstances.  Inevitably, we all confront the wrath waiting just beyond our door…

Like it or not, that’s the way things are/were/will be (which I heartily accept).  What vexes me is the disappearance of those warm days I’ve come to associate with June.  The cold can still bite in May (it was too cold to play outside on the 24th), but June has consistently been pleasant (around 80 degrees, please).  Until now. There was no segue between the Spring chills and the Summer swelter.  It’s hot as hell and I’m not gonna take it!

It’s not all bad news

The garden has never been more prosperous.  For my trees, flowers, vegetables and (annoying) grass, perpetual rain and intense heat have kicked off a growth spurt like none I’ve ever seen.  Plus, I might change my tune next week, as I begin dog-sitting for a home with a lovely pool….