Saturday, March 25, 2006

Ever have one of those days?

You know how it is. You’re doing that usual Saturday morning lazing around the house stuff, and by the end of the day you’ve half the local police force in your driveway.

What? You mean you’ve never had a day like that? Well have I got a tale for you.

We were sitting in the living room this morning, just kicking back, and all of a sudden there was a loud noise outside. Knowing how the UPS man tends to throw boxes at the screen door, rather than walk up the steps and place them there, I figured more review materials had arrived. The dogs were barking like crazy, but well…it was pretty loud. Xander went to check the door, but there was nobody there, and curiously, not even a package on the porch. We just figured one of the dogs knocked something over and thought no more about it.

Until an hour or so later when Ailema went to let one of our many cats out of the front window, and discovered two holes, presumably BB gun pellet holes. When Xander went outside to check, he noticed that there was a third one in the kitchen window. So someone decided to take it into their heads to strafe the crazy goth house. Brilliant.

So I called the insurance company, and the guy took the details and told us he’d be sending out an adjustor on Monday, and oh, by the way, did we call the police? I told him that I didn’t see much point as there wasn’t much the cops could do about it now. But little insurance claims guy said we should always call the police and have it noted by them in case they should catch the guys or something. Oh, and could we call glass places and get some estimates? Oh, and we have a $250 deductible but they’ll be happy to pay anything it costs to replace them over and above that $250.

Nice. Thanks a lot, you little BB-toting shit, whoever you are. I had PLANS for that $250.

So we called our local sheriff’s office who told us they’d send out a deputy at some point, since it obviously wasn’t a big emergency or anything. Fine. Half an hour later, the deputy arrived, and took a look at the windows. Then he went to the back of his big Suburban to retrieve something he needed.

Now the people across the street have two dogs. Pitbulls. Dogs they don’t see any reason to keep fenced in or coralled in any fashion. Dogs which may not have mauled or killed anyone yet - in fact they’ve been fairly friendly up to this point - but who are still an annoyance whenever anyone goes to the mailbox or tries to walk up and down the driveway, as they barrel over and try to jump up.

Well the deputy opened up the back of his truck just as these two dogs - who had been chained TOGETHER for some bizarre reason known only to their owners - decided to show up and investigate the deputy. The cop, who has no idea who these dogs are, or where they’re from, or what their temperaments are, merely sees two pitbulls who are chained together and approaching him. They start circling him, and he yells at them to get away. One of the owners decides to come out of the house and start yelling at the dogs (who never listen at the best of times, so god knows why he thought they’d start now.) The deputy drew his gun and pointed it at one of the dogs. They carried on circling around him and trying to get at him, so he shot the older one in the neck.

Now the owners finally decide that maybe they should come and rescue their dogs, one now mortally wounded and bleeding profusely, and the other one trying to escape by dragging the dying dog along on the chain.

And that’s when things started to get ugly.

Everyone piled out of the house across the street - there were about ten people there. Our neighbors on the left side ran across the street because they sensed a fight was in the offing and they wanted to be part of the excitement. Now the husband of this couple already knew about the problem we had with the windows since he’d been talking about it with Xander earlier in the day. His wife, however, howls from across the street to Azrael, “Why did you call the cops over and have them shoot the dog? YOU'RE the freaks!”

Azrael, who actually had much finer feelings for the dead dog than I personally ever did was as shocked as anyone at the speed with which everything had happened, protested that we only called the cop to report the windows.

The deputy was on the radio the minute he’d shot the dog, and pretty soon, other police started showing up on the scene. The people across the street were yelling at the cops. Our shit-stirring neighbor was still pointing fingers at us, as though we’d called out the cop deliberately to shoot this dog we knew would be out roaming in our front yard when he showed up. It took six patrol cars and one fire truck showing up before people finally dispersed.

Azrael went over across the street at one point to apologize to the owner of the dog for his dog getting shot, because that was obviously never our intention. It’s not like we IMAGINED the damn holes in the windows. The young guy who owned the dog was quite okay about it and said he knew that we didn’t do anything to cause it. The guy’s father, however, ordered Azrael out of his yard, with the admonition that he was going to beat the crap out of him, and he was going to kill him.

Terrific. We started the day with our windows intact and wound up with three pellet holes, a dead dog and a death threat. It’s a funny old life.

I guess, like Xander says…when someone breaks a window, God kills a puppy.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Favorite...Obsession...

No it’s not a man with blond hair and a tan. But it is good for relieving my tension Brownie points for placing that reference? Anyone??

The obsession in question is something I didn’t really want in the house in the first place, and wasn’t going to pay for. So Azzy and Xander did their level best to keep Mountain Dew in business, as they were giving them away free for a certain number of codes from the lids of Mountain Dew bottles - don’t ask me how many. All I will say is WAY too much caffeine.

It is an X Box 360.

I really didn’t want to like this console. I don’t particularly like Microsoft much as a company. I use a Microsoft operating system on my IBM clone laptop only because my work files have to be completed in Microsoft Word. Left to my own devices I’d jump into a Mac and swim away blissfully in stable operating system heaven. But the reality of things is that we basically live in a Microsoft world, however much we may dislike their flaws and fixes and endless patches.

I also thought we had enough consoles. We have a Dreamcast and 2 Game Cubes and a regular X Box. We used to have 2 PS2s, but one broke, so we’re down to just the one. And that’s without counting all the obsolete systems and handhelds in the house. (Did I mention we’re media sluts?) The offerings for the X Box were crap if you don’t like first person shooting games and sports. So the 360 didn’t fill me with excitement the way it did Azzy.

Well it arrived last weekend. And much as I have tried and tried to resist its siren song, I have finally caved in. It’s an excellent machine. There are no two ways about it. You could basically lose all of your stereo equipment, dvd player, etc, etc, and replace it with this one sleek and fancy looking piece of electronics. It plays audio CDs and DVDs with aplomb. It has a very respectable sized hard drive which is capable of storing a large amount of downloaded games from the X Box website. You can then download your own music and replace the music from the games with your own personalized soundtrack. Bliss and deep joy. And by hooking it up to the internet, the thing keeps track of your high scores and measures them against everyone else’s who owns one. It has goals and achievements to reach in each of the games, which afford you other little goodies. Oh, and you can play Robitron. And Joust. And Bejeweled 2 just by downloading them from the X Box website to the hard drive for a very small amount of money - less even than what you’d pay if you downloaded Bejeweled 2 to your computer.

But our favorite part of the X Box 360 has to be its controller. It’s a wireless controller, which is actually a really cool and nifty gadget. Firstly, it really is wireless and you really can use it anywhere in the room. It doesn’t have to be pointed at that little electronic eye in the way most wireless devices do. It takes a little getting used to at first to be able to sit with your hands at a 90 degree angle facing away from the unit and still be able to play the game. It doesn’t seem as though it should be that easy. The controller turns the console unit on and off for you, pages through the options menus for all the various games, and basically makes the concept of legs an outdated one. If it werent for feeding/elimination, you could sit in your comfiest chair and play to your heart’s content without having to worry about the dogs chewing your controller cables.

So...come up to the lab...and see what's on the slab. We like. We like very much indeed.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Pioneer Days

Once again our half of Washington State has been rattled by killer windstorms. You think we'd be used to them by now, right? Right?? Actually my personal belief is that the power company really ought to be used to them by now. We get them every stinking year. Something about the Cascades acting like a barrier that creates a wind tunnel effect or something similarly stupid. Whatever the reason, you can guarantee that October/November and February/March we're going to see mighty winds.

Okay, so here's what I don't understand about the whole power company thing. The whole western side of the state is infested with 60ft+ fir and pine trees. They line 70 percent of the roads here, particularly in the more rural areas. So why does the power company in its infinite wisdom see fit to string power cables alongside these accidents waiting to happen? 'Cause of course, the evil twin of the winds we get here are the rains we get here. 40 days of rain + soil = a muddy, horrible mess which isn't capable of maintaining its hold on something 60ft tall when it's assailed by 70mph winds. Ferchrissakes, draw a diagram, figure it out.

The obvious result is that the trees wind up crashing down on various parts of the power grid, cutting off electricity to large blocks of the population and plunging us into an icy blackness from which the power company promises to rescue us in...oh...three days or so.

The problem is our situation. We live out in the boonies. Not as in solitary cabin on the lake kind of boonies, since new developments are springing up in the area all the time, but still 30 miles away from Tacoma and about 60 miles away from Seattle, and 100 miles away from Bellevue. Why is that important? Because your power is restored relative to how close you live to these urban areas. I know that Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue are all yuppie land where one can't go ten minutes without a caramel latte before suffering a severe anxiety attack, but geez, Louise. We gots needs fer the shiny lights too darnit.

The nutty part of the equation is that if you happen to live closer to one of these aforementioned urban areas, you are also within spitting distance of 100 different hotels and motels where you can, at a pinch, go to get a hot shower or a computer hookup. People who live in the yuppie heaven of Bellevue also make more money than they know what to do with, and so can afford to purchase little extras like portable generators - which they might just have the time to dust off and power up before they get their power restored. Us simple folks don't necessarily have that extra moolah to drop on a generator.

And my family are one of the lucky ones, for we have a woodstove. More on that instrument of torture later, but at least we have one. I know that most of my neighbors here are lucky if they have a fireplace. The vast majority of them live in mobile homes which are entirely powered by electricity, with maybe a back up fireplace. Some have no fireplace at all. And let me tell you when it's freezing and below outside, it gets pretty cold inside pretty fast.

But, as I mentioned, we have a woodstove. It has seen us through many power outtages in the past, bless its little infernal heart. It is also an instrument of the devil. It has two heat settings. Off and blast furnace. Oh, you can let it go out, but then you have to go through all of the rigamarole of relighting it and trying to get it to stay lit for the first hour. It's capable of eating its way through an entire tree in the space of a day. And once it's going...oh bless your hearts...if you don't open doors and windows to allow some free flow of cooling air, you all wind up prostrate on the couch gasping like a fish out of water. And as it's the only source of heat/hot water/cooking in the house, you can't let it go out.

Power outtages turn me into an insomniac. Already half-insane through lack of percolated coffee (no electricity), surviving on only instant made with boiling water that you have to heat on the flat top of the woodstove and which might boil in fifteen minutes/half an hour/next week, depending on where the wood is stacked within the fire and how long you let the fire race before closing it up, I gather the children into the living room with their sleeping bags and quilts and mattresses. I mean please, having two teenagers confined together in one room for an extended period of time without TV, stereos or video games is enough to send you batshit crazy to begin with.

We hunt around for candles in the dying light of early evening. Yes, we have candles. The trouble is that they've usually been grated up for some kind of chemistry experiment (Xander) or burned in some kind of wiccan ceremony in her bedroom (Babybat). We have five dogs and six cats, so these candles have to be placed strategically in petproof areas in case one of the animals decides to have a spaz moment and leap onto a table, setting fire to the place in the process.

We hunt down firewood from the pile over by the fence - strategically placed there in order to keep our dogs from arguing vociferously with the dogs on the other side of the fence, and which we meant to bring back under cover before we had that 40 days of rain. So then we have to make a run to the store which is operating on backup power, through streets without working traffic lights and fight like demons to pay $5 for a bundle of half a dozen pieces of wood which will at least make a hot enough fire to burn the damp wood we're bringing in from outside.

As darkness falls, we light the candles and play cards for a couple of hours, remembering to feed the woodstove every half an hour so it doesn't turn into a heap of smoldering ashes before you open the steel door in front to check on it. We eat salads and drink milk and instant coffee and try to pretend it's a big adventure. We can't play board games as there isn't room to place the board and the candles without one upsetting the other, so we play word games. Sing the first line of a song that has a girl's name/color/city/animal in the title. And thusly we pass Friday evening.

The children drift off to sleep at around 10, soothed by the dimness and the warmth of the room, and I drink instant coffee and doze fitfully, ever conscious of the need to feed the woodstove monster so that the fire doesn't go out and we don't all die of hypothermia before morning comes. I make a call to the power company's automated update line and discover that our power should be restored by Sunday morning at 5am. I also remember that I have a transcription job due on Tuesday morning which runs about 12-15 hours of actual transcription time, and a battery on my computer which is good for less than two. I'd at least make a start on it, but then I remember that I have yet to download the audio files, and since we have cable internet and not good old dial-up, I have no internet access.

Azzy returns home from work at around 6:30 am, bringing with him a couple more bundles of wood which he managed to find at a convenience store closer to where he works. I send the kids out for more wood from the back fence. We find the big carving fork, and attack a loaf of unsliced bread with a carving knife, cutting it into big hunks that can be stuck onto the carving knife and toasted over the fire. This procedure involves opening the steel door in front which allows the air into the fire and causes it to roar wildly as I sit on the floor in front of the stove hoping that the bread cooks before my face and hands do. We have butter and lemon curd - and five dogs who suddenly think I'm the greatest thing since the invention of the automatic watering bowl.

At least it's daylight now, so we can blow out the candles and open the curtains as wide as they'll go to try and encourage what tiny bit of winter light there is outside to penetrate into the dim and smoky interior. The kids are simultaneously thrilled because they don't have to do dishes - no hot water, and bummed out because they can't shower (Babybat) or take a 2 hour bath (Xander) - no hot water. We at least manage to find more candles in preparation for the evening to come. I dig a pork loin out of the freezer - which the kids have been helpfully opening and closing all day to see whether it's still cold in there - and stick it in a covered roasting pan on top of the woodstove at 7:30 am. The hope is that it'll be cooked at some point today. Frozen vegetables in a saucepan, same thing. I give a sympathetic thought to all of the people in the vicinity who don't even have the option of cooking since they don't have a woodstove. That makes me call the power company again. Oh deep joy. Apparently there have been more windstorms overnight, which has cut off the power to people in important places, so now they don't even have an estimate for how long we'll be in the dark. In my mind I'm X'ing out Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue with a big black marker, feeling deep and powerful hatred for people I've never met.

Azzy's sleeping in the bedroom, despite it being cold in there, since Xander and Babybat are in the living room where it's warm and they've already spent waaaaaay too long in each other's company. The first night of a power outtage is always fine. People are nice to each other, and respectful of one another. That's usually starting to erode by mid-morning of day two. I put Xander in charge of cooking dinner, since it's his favorite thing in the whole world, and Babybat settles in to read "Crime and Punishment" for English class. I try to sleep. On the couch. With five dogs. And the CLUNK sound that the fire damper makes every half an hour when Xander opens up the fire to check on it. In other words, I sleep not a lot.

There's a little excitement when Xander announces that food is ready at around 3pm. We wake Azzy, who has to be back at work at 6pm in a place that has power and internet access cause it's homeland security and vital to the nation and all that. I hate him for his electric lights and his internet access and video game console and coffee pot.

We settle in for another evening of darkness. The kids sack out earlier tonight, since they're bored and stupified with the heat. There is a moment of anxiety when Ashes (our pyromaniac cat, so named because he had a tendency to set his tail alight as a kitten, and a deep desire to become one with the inside of the lighted woodstove) spazzed out and jumped up onto what we thought was a safe area housing a candle. He jumped right down again and took off outside. Xander and I both sat there sniffing the delightful aroma of singed cat fur and hoping he wasn't darting around the underbrush out back like a little roman candle setting fire to everything, but too stupid from the heat to raise the enthusiasm to go check. (Don't worry - he was fine)

And then - oh miracles - the lights came back on. The TV flicked on and off, the fridge whirred into action and we were transported back to the 21st century again. For all of about five minutes. Then it went out again for another forty five minutes. Then it came on again - oh joy, oh joy, oh...I hate the power company. Then off it went. Xander got on the automated line and actually got to speak to an operator.

Xander: Why do you taunt us?

Operator: Excuse me?

Xander: Why do you taunt us with the power? You tease and torment us by turning it on for five minutes and then off again. Why are you so cruel?

Operator: Maybe you should turn off the breaker switches in your house and that way you can turn them on again at 5:30 when the power's supposed to be restored?

Xander: Are you making fun of me?

No, they were perfectly serious. And to be honest, I wouldn't have wanted to be a power company operator that weekend. But she just didn't understand how crucial that first blooming of electricity is when you've been without it for a couple of days. You could turn off the breakers, yes you could. But....but what if the power was restored at 4 am and you missed it? Or, even worse, if you turned on the breakers at 5:30 only to find the power still not there? Yes, living without power really does turn you into a mental case.

Power was finally restored in the early hours of Sunday morning. The kids slept right through it and I blew out candles and continued with my firewatching, since our heating system has a lockout which doesn't allow it to work for the first hour or so after power is restored. And I used my insomnia time to work on some transcription.

Then I came down with the flu. But that's another story, gentle reader.

All I can say is that I SO do not do pioneer woman well. Oh, and I was sneezing black gunk out of my nose for days. TMI?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

We Come In Peace, Shoot To Kill...

Okay, so you either remember The Firm and their excellent "Star Trekkin'" or you don't. This line from the song does, however, illustrate a wonderful dichotomy happening in India today.

Apparently we aren't the only country in the world who doesn't trust Bush any further than they can throw him. And he seems to be as blissfully unaware of it there as he does here at home.

Two different AP stories on the wire today concerning the shrub and his trip to Afghanistan and India. The first is devoted to the speech he gave in Kabul, where he sent a message to all Americans from a safer place than the White House where more press might have been on hand to question him, I guess. The message was that he's confident Bin Laden will be brought to justice - despite the fact that it's been five years and nobody seems at all interested anymore, least of all the shrub's own regime. He also went on to describe how:

"It's a thrill to come to a country which is dedicating itself to the dignity of every person who lives here...We're impressed by the progress your country is making. I come as a friend and an ally"

And a conqueror - forgot that part. Oops.

It's a good thing that it's "Mission Accomplished" over there in Afghanistan too, and that the embassy workers in Afghanistan are on "The front line of freedom's march" since it would be awful if "Bush's entourage flew into the city from Bagram Air Base in a flotilla of heavily armed helicopters. Two door gunners on a press helicopter fired off a short burst of machine gun fire at unknown targets as the aircraft flew low and fast over barren countryside. "

Oh wait...

Then he was off to India where "Our relationship with India is broader than our discussions about energy," Bush said. "Ours is a strategic relationship."

Which brings us to story number two from this morning, entitled "Tens of Thousands Protest Bush India Visit"

Funny thing. Tens of thousands of Indians waving black and white flags and chanting "Death to Bush!" rallied Wednesday in New Delhi to protest a visit by President Bush.
Surindra Singh Yadav, a senior police officer in charge of crowd control, said as many as 100,000 people, most of them Muslim, had gathered in a fairground in central New Delhi ordinarily used for political rallies.
"Whether Hindu or Muslim, the people of India have gathered here to show our anger. We have only one message _ killer Bush go home," one of the speakers, Hindu politician Raj Babbar, told the crowd.

And: Muslim groups also have called for a daylong strike to protest Bush's visit to Hyderabad, a key center of India's booming information technology industry. Muslims account for nearly 40 percent of the city's 7 million people.

And: Members of the leftist Students Federation of India and the Communist Party of India burned effigies of Bush at three intersections in Hyderabad on Tuesday. The communists, who are key allies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, also plan to protest Thursday at India's Parliament in New Delhi, a few miles from where Bush and Singh will meet.
"Up to 50,000 people will take part in the march, and we have the police permission to express our feelings," said Pushpender Grewal, secretary of the Communist Party of India.
"We will protest against the U.S. policies, especially the inhuman atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq, a likely invasion of Iran and its continuing support to Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine."

And the same story goes on to talk about how the shrub is more popular here than he is in many countries.

So this kind of begs the question, when you have millions of people all around the world telling you that you're on the wrong track, how long do you continue down the megalomaniacal path you're marching down? There was a time when America had the backing, support and sympathy of most of the clear-thinking peoples of the world. The country had been attacked by a bunch of loonies at the behest of a mega-loony known as Osama Bin Laden. Everyone wanted to help us to bring this guy to justice. We knew where he was. We even had guys in the area. Had the shrub thought it necessary to send in a large contingent of troops, we could have rounded him up and brought him in. No harm, no foul. No other country in the world would have begrudged us our justice.

And maybe, with a different presidency at the helm, that's precisely what would have happened. A president who had half an idea about foreign relations. A president who didn't already have an agenda to "liberate" those parts of the world he deemed in need of liberation. Or at least the assets of those countries.

But unfortunately we had a whole different animal at the head of the country. A group of neo-cons whose mission was to create an American empire, replete with conquered nations and puppet governments. I'm not sure whether they really believed that the targeted nations of the world would just be so overwhelmed at the idea of western democracy that they'd throw themselves to the floor and kiss our jackboots, or whether, like most other megalomaniacs throughout history, they just didn't give a damn.

Either way, it's sad to look back at the chances we had to be the better person in the fight, and how we blew them by manufacturing evidence to back up assaults on peaceful (against us anyway) nations. When you look at the money that has been spent in this nation building effort, and how our children, old folks and veterans are suffering in order to finance it, it's a criminal shame. And what do we have to show for it? Those countries which don't hate us with a passion, don't trust us. There is no goodwill anywhere in the world with the exception of Britain which has always followed blindly along behind whatever garden path America has taken it.