We started on about religion, specifically Satanism.

I said: " I've always thought of Satanists to be the epitome of idiocy, a collection of embittered fools who love and cherish their bitterness so much that they buy into a fable constructed to address their all-too-human anxiety of death and need for moral structure, except these morons buy into it inversely, i.e. they bow their dull heads to a hierarchy of power that places them on its lowest rung. Now I could be wrong, but if you're going to believe a moralistic fable, wouldn't you want to be in its most privileged sector?

Satanists are like the residents of a mansion determined to live in its septic tank, exclusively.

And I've never heard of a sadder, stupider group of individuals. I'm certain the Marquis would agree."

And he replied: "I said Satanism, not Satanists."

And I: "What I said can be applied to either. Satanists created Satanism, which further created clones of its creators. And all are imbeciles."

And he: "Of course, you could also apply that to the followers of any religion."

And I: "I suppose. But I don't think all religions are inherently moronic. Flawed? Sure. But I wouldn't call Buddhists, for example, morons."

And he: "I believe that you have no soul. You are a body for someone to take control over. Just make sure that someone is always you."

And I: "Even your staunch atheism is a religion my friend. Humans are a religious animal. The lack of belief is itself a belief, an existential roadmap believed to be the very verisimilitude of the living terrain you transverse. Except it's no more real than an actual roadmap, whose accuracy is always eroded by the ravages of time upon the real world it seeks to imitate. A mountain will collapse here, a road is destroyed there, but your tightly gripped map remains unmarred. It is no more an absolute guide, a truth, than the one used by those jackasses bowing before a mythical celestial father, or even the one used by those pathetic morons believing in Him, but worshiping His negation.

Which is why I say: just run wild with it. Go to Montana and join a UFO cult. Climb up the highest mountain and self-immolate to send a clear bright signal to the gods that you, above all others, are their ever-devoted child. Drop acid and convince yourself you ARE god. Just do it. Buy ridiculous amounts of Nike shoes and show up at their corporate headquarters with the receipts in a leather-bound folder entitled The Great American Bible. Unleash your ego against the secret self-knowing of your own infinitesimal existence, the reducto absurdum of all heart beating mystery, the whispers that we tell ourselves in the all-consuming inkblot of dark dark lonely nights."

And that's it. My random daily log.

In the darkness, a fire is kindled.

Motivation is a strange thing. I've always been labelled as lazy; bone idle it said on one of my first school reports. One my parents have kept and one my father used to delight in showing me by way of a reminder that I'll probably never change. I've proved him wrong on many other expectations though, why not this one?. This writeup in itself is to be a testament to the final reversal of my worst vice. Even if I don't start writing again (after this long hiatus), I'm determined to do something.

Some of my ambitions require money- learning to fly a helicopter, for example. It's something I will do, when I'm earning a little more. Even taking up fencing again requires more money and effort than I currently want to regularly lay out. But the small things I've stopped doing. Reading; I've been bogged down in Don DeLillo's White Noise for a while now. It's not difficult, but not much has happened in the first third and I've stalled. Small things like that need to be freed up.

The feeling is always there that time is flying past. Rushing faster each day, a speed that means I can't seem to fully utilise it. There are so many things to learn, and read and skills to practise. I feel I should be doing them all, all the time, and in the end, end up doing nothing. Playing computer games to gain some skills against my friends for another day - a waste of time? Reading some forums I frequent - a borderline social event I enjoy, but that it's impossible to fully keep up with. Talking to people on MSN - there's always someone there. Arranging the night's entertainment. When am I supposed to read? Or even draw, another skill I'd like to rekindle that's been utterly lost. I was inspired a few years ago by Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, but never actually did anything about it (except teach myself to pick locks, which, thinking about it now, was a start).

Many people fail at keeping fit, because of the regular effort and commitment required there -- and a regular gym routine is something I've managed to establish recently. Another good sign. Good.

My work colleagues would say I'm lazy at work too, but this is a seperate issue. Once I sort being lazy about learning things I want, I'll look into finding motivation for things I don't want to do already...

This writeup, pored over, also shows how far my writing has fallen. It was never good. But it was better. It can improve too.

Chaos Incorporated.

The marketing of patriotism has reached new heights of excellence. Never have I seen such effective campaigning for placing ideas and political affiliations on the same plane as buying Coca Cola or Hershey's chocolate. Don't you want to be part of what the cool people are doing?

We made the mistake of thinking the thought police were going to come wearing starched brown uniforms, carrying guns and demanding compliance. How foolish we were. They knew that would never work. They had better tools at their disposal here in America. They had advertising, marketing and the media at their disposal. Why force compliance when you can truly alter the nature of human thought through a steady stream of images and slogans? How foolish we were.

No one even needed to manipulate the world of media, marketing and advertising. The system was set up so they could be fed and eat well at the table. Dissent is so much harder to market than the "good, old-fashioned values of the American way of life." Disintegrating conditions and the chaos of a crumbling nation are moved to the back burner by the media simply because stories of heroes coming home from war keep more people tuned in. Say it is good, people tune in. Say it is bad, people tune out.

Order and triumph sell.
Chaos is not marketable.

Whatever you may believe, the truth is irrelevant. The truth is not generally very marketable. It takes too much effort and too much work. We want instant coffee and scratch tickets.

I receive a request via e-mail to fill out a survey on how I feel about George W. Bush and the War in Iraq, so I decide, sure, why not, and click on over to answer their questions. At the end they want me to give them my name, address and phone number so they can send me a "God Bless America" t-shirt with a big American flag and the words "We Will Triumph" on the back. Next on my agenda is ordering checks so I can continue to pay my bills. I click on over to the site for the check ordering and the first thing I am asked is if I want their new selection of "patriotic images" in brilliant red, white and blue to "Show support for all your heroes!" This morning I was asked if I wanted to participate in a drive to collect "toothbrushes and Gold Bond foot powder for the troops." When I ask why a government that spends billions of dollars on a single airplane cannot supply its fighting people with toothbrushes, they asked me to make a cash donation. "Or maybe you are one of THEM," she remarks and gives me the evil eye. She then goes over to her associates, in the workplace, and points at me. They all shake their heads. I cannot believe what is happening.

Go out anywhere and people are talking about the "greatness of America" and how other countries and world leaders need to "start paying what they owe us or shut the fuck up." Every car seems to have an American flag and some sort of slogan announcing our alliance with God to bring a new and forceful order to the world. When they announced the War in Iraq was "over," the religious station the boys out in the warehouse at work listen to began playing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and the rock station announced its "pride" by playing "We Are The Champions" from Queen and stating that although it wasn't by an American band, it was most certainly by a band from a country that "supports us."

And then, of course, the Baseball Hall of Fame decides to cancel its fifteen year celebration of the film Bull Durham because of the anti-war stances of two of its stars, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins... because everyone is worried that someone will make a political statement. Or, at least, an unmarketable political statement.

Woke up to the alarm clock radio the other morning, where the chatty cathy disc jockeys like to make sure they are selling themselves to the morning coffee commuter crowd. One of those middle of the road "lite rock" stations. Their newscasts these days consist of highly marketable press clippings about soldiers coming home from war and talking about how proud they were fighting for their country and the cause of freedom. They then like to prattle on about how wonderful such sentiments are and "wishing everyone could be so positive." They usually temper such chit-chat with remarks about the "negativism of these tasteless people who bring politics to nice events like the Academy Awards." It is "politics" when you speak out against something. It is "positive and wonderful" when you support something.

Yes, we foolishly believed the thought police would come wearing brown uniforms and brandishing guns...

See the future...

Applying to the Peace Corps is somewhat like jumping through hoops set on fire. Especially since my medical care professionals seem to have stripped me naked and thrown gasoline all over me.

This burns a bit. Anyway, on to my story.

At the behest of the Medical Office I am refilling out some paperwork, mostly because a nurse mistook the blood section of the urinalysis for the hemacrit section about 3 inches to the right. Oh, and it appears they took my blood pressure wrong.

The Peace Corps was a little worried as it appeared I have really high blood pressure. This is not the case. Normally, its low. But, because I want a job with them, I will jump through as many hoops as they put out before me. I really have to get out of Iowa.

So I get to the doctor's office around 2:20. At about 3:15, the nurse in charge of just checking blood pressure calls my name and then proceeds to apologize profusely for leaving me out there as long as she had. Apparently, the blood pressure check queue is its own thing apart from the one people wait in to see an actual doctor. It was no problem at all to wait, as they had the new issue of Outside magazine. We get into the exam room and I explain why I'm here and she flips through my chart. I watch her flip through the chart and I notice my name is misspelled. I point this out to her. She looks at it, looks at me and says, What do you go by? I answer, Katharine or Kat. she says, But not Kathy. I say, No, never Kathy. She asks what my birthdate is, I answer. She looks back at the chart, looks at me and says, I'm going to go get your chart. I begin to wish that I'd brought the magazine in with me.

So, she brings back the chart, makes some notes and then goes to take my blood pressure. She can't hear anything. So, she tries the other arm. Still can't hear anything. She gets the mercury way up high, and she hears nothing again. Nurse Shelley decides to go get the blood-pressure-taking machine. She hooks me up to it, says relax, and then lets the machine take it. I watch my arm turn white, and then slowly back to flesh color as the blood begins to flow back into it. We do this three times, each time getting an error that says, Outside readable range.

The nurse goes to get a new nurse, Nurse Sasha. Nurse Sasha proceeds to try and take my blood pressure. She says to me,I'm going to get the mercury up really high, this is going to hurt. This is not a problem, at this point I'm four months into what is usually a six to nine month process of applying to the Peace Corps, an hour of nurses trying to take my blood pressure is a drop in the bucket. Nurse Sasha says, I think I heard something, but I'm not sure. It sounded really low. I explain that this one day in which my BP was written down on my medical forms was the only day in my recollection it had ever been above 120/something. She says, "Hmm. I'd like to try the other arm." So, she does. And nothing. Well, not nothing. She made a face and said it sounded low again. I asked Low, Low? Like it could be a problem low? And she said, Yes, like it could be a problem. Skippy.

Nurse Shelley returns with a different blood pressure cuff and tries again. She agrees with Nurse Sasha, she thinks she's hearing it low, but she's not sure. They discuss this and decide that the P.A. who took my b.p. the first time heard something artificial and not the actual sound that indicates what my systolic pressure is. Under normal circumstances, this would make me ridiculously angry as if this and the U.I thing had been done correctly the first time I'd already be medically cleared and I might know where I'm going. Alas, I am not, and I do not and this is the only thing I can do about it. So, I actually think its funny. Apparently, to two nurses and a machine I have no blood pressure at all. Weird. I have a pulse. And, I'm not even to the best part... they had the cuff so tight on both my arms, I started bruising almost immediately so they want me to wait a day before we try again.

On the way out of the office, Nurse Shelley asks when this all has to be done; when I am leaving. I tell her, Oh, soon as possible]. They won't place me without this information. She gives me this sort of sad, I'm sorry look. I tell her I'll see her on Wednesday and we can try again.

MY NAME IS ROBOT. UNFORTUNATELY NO-ONE CAN BE
TOLD WHAT A CALL CENTER IS. YOU HAVE TO SEE IT
FOR YOURSELF. LET ME SHOW YOU...

:::DAILY LOG 22/04/03:::

830
- LOAD WORKPLACE...DONE

900 - PROCESSING........INCOMING CALL - PICKUP. PROBLEM ENCOUNTERED....
920 - SOLUTION FOUND - ERROR CODE 1 - USER ERROR
..........
..........
..........
..........(miscellaneous scenes of mechanical tech support workers taking repetitive calls)
..........
..........
..........
1230 - SYSTEM EVENT = STANDBY MODE (LUNCHTIME=TRUE)

1330 - STANDBY DISENGAGED (BRAINFUNCTION=ON)
1340 - PROCESSING........INCOMING CALL - PICKUP. PROBLEM ENCOUNTERED....
1400 - SOLUTION FOUND - ERROR CODE 1 - USER ERROR
..........
..........
..........
..........(more mind-numbing scenes of mechanical tech support workers taking repetitive calls)
..........
..........
..........
1700 - ERROR! INSUFFICIENT PATIENCE. REQUIRED=3,748,167 BYTES AVAILABLE=0 BYTES.
1728 - PLEASE WAIT WHILE LIFE SHUTS DOWN YOUR WORKPLACE...
1730 - IT IS NOW SAFE TO SHUT DOWN YOUR WORKPLACE

:::LOG ENDS:::


:::23/04/03:::

RESTART

So, I quit smoking a week ago today.

And right now, I really, really, really, would quite like just one drag on your cigarette.

May I?

Oh, that is good. That is first class.

I feel better now. Thanks.


Actually, I haven't been near a cigarette since I gave up. In fact, I've surprised myself that in this time I've managed to keep my composure and calmness (I think, although independent verification may be required here). I've so far managed to survive each of the following events, all of which would, in the past, have followed, resulted in, or included, one or more cigarettes:

  • Travelling

    After a nine hour flight, what could be worse than fighting for space at the baggage collection belt? And what could be better than finding the nearest smoking area? If a train is three minutes away from the station, how long do you suppose it would take to smoke a cigarette?

  • Sleeping/Waking up

    Actually, this has proved quite tricky so far. Like my effervescent Vitamin C tablet when I get to work, the cigarette before climbing the wooden hill to the land of nod was something I just did. Every day. There were but two occasional exceptions: If I was with someone, or if I had passed out. Sometimes the two coincided. As for waking up - once upon a time I didn't have a shower in my flat, guess how long it took to run a bath? More recently I found the morning smoke while waiting for a lift to work was a good way of undoing the revitalising efforts of an exfoliating shower.

  • Working

    What I'm doing (ha!) right now. So far, this is the toughest. When I'm not at work I can usually manage to occupy my mind, entertain myself. Work isn't so exciting right now that I can distract myself from the thought of either the smoking room (yuk!) or (ah...) the sunwashed steps at the nearest exit from the building. I've been doing some research into quitting smoking, though. See below.

  • Shopping

    Most modern shopping centres have been designed jointly by urban planners and giant tobacco conglomerations. This is why most interesting shops are spaced at fairly regular cigarette distances. Or so it seems. I went shopping on friday, and was amazed at the number of time I walked out of a shop and started reaching into my pocket for my fags before I realised what I was doing.

  • Boozing

    Not as difficult as I had feared, this one, especially since it was mixed with watching football, which is usually a cigarette banker. Fortunately, not one of the people I was with appeared to smoke, which must have eased the pain. Before I got horribly drunk and locked myself out of my house I managed to have a great time, and after enough drinks, it didn't even occur to me that I might want to smoke.

  • Visiting the folks

    Res ipsa loquitur

Scattered advice on giving up smoking.

So far, I've just gone completely cold turkey. I don't want gum, I don't want a nicotine inhaler, I don't want patches, I don't want stupid expensive crave-easing systems that will cost me nearly as much as cigarettes. I don't like the idea of quitting smoking by allowing myself surrogates of some kind. I've quit, therefore I don't smoke, therefore I don't need something like smoking.

However, perhaps a few hints and tips might come in handy. So off I go in search of useless soundbites.

Googling for "quit smoking" produces a mere 352,000 hits or so. Sponsored links offer to help you quit smoking in 7 days (which just sounds like horrible procrastination to me), or one hour if you're in a rush (how can you quit smoking in an hour? quit FOR an hour, maybe...), or even now, if you visit natural-herbals.com, which turns out to be a sly link to help-quit-smoking-stop-smoking-quitting-aids.com (help-stop-url-too-long-quit-typing.gaaah...)

My first stop is givingupsmoking.co.uk, drawn in by the laudably straight-laced URL. I've signed up to their email motivator programme, but so far I have only received a welcome email suggesting I read two articles on the web site. I deleted the email.

The web site features a panel that says "Help. I need a cigarette, NOW!" and an invitation to click. I empathise with the sentiment, so I click. Excellent! my first free advice:

"If any difficult situations or social arrangements are on the horizon, think about how you will deal with them in advance."
Let's see. Apart from all situations including waking and sleeping being quite difficult, I have a wedding to attend this weekend, for which I have purchased some fine Dominican cigars to hand round, including one for, hurrah!, myself. On special occasions, it is permitted to smoke a cigar, you see. And I promise not to inhale too much... But what better reward could there be for days, weeks, months of penury...

I can almost taste it already.

Perhaps it's time for some more advice.

"Keep you hands busy by sipping slowly on a glass of water or juice - taking little sips instead of drags of a cigarette."
"Try and spend more time with your non-smoking friends in the first few weeks."
"Change your routine - walk to work instead of driving, avoid the shop where you usually buy cigarettes."

Well, almost none of my friends smoke, walking to work would take about two hours, but the shop I usually buy cigarettes from is the departure lounge of whichever airport I find myself in, so at least I can avoid that banana skin. As for slowly sipping water. What? Perhaps I should also light small rolled up bits of paper, then stub them out without inhaling?

Or perhaps I should take a moment, breathe deeply, relax, and go fix myself a nice cup of cha.

Or I could ...:

"Visualise cigarettes as a dark marker colouring your lungs in each time you smoke."
Ugh. Although I'm not a smoker, so why would I be smoking? Since I don't smoke, I'm going to visualise myself in happy situations, none of which include cigarettes.

Heh. I'm on a date in this one. I'm nervous as hell, but it seems to be progressing nicely... I'll let you know how I got on. Later.

Today is shaping up to be one lovely day. It started out with having to get up an hour early - always a great way to start things - and especially when it's just for a stupid conference call with the San Diego Police Department, who have software of ours. They're a bunch of scary frightening morning people who get into work at seven in the morning bright and chipper and don't understand how everyone else isn't the same way. If I had to work there, something would snap.

This is especially pointless when it's a status update conference and everyone knows the damned status, which is that, for the first time in forever, everything seems to be working properly. Conference just to discuss that there's nothing to talk about? Grrr.

So to the drive. Using an old car as one's daily driver is a coin very much with two sides. Turns up heads, everything runs great, the traffic is light, and you have twice as much fun as possible in some modern plastic box on wheels. If it falls tails, however - a long slow grind in traffic, giving one ample time to hear plenty of nasty old-car noises that one's finely-tuned sense of automotive paranoia turns into signs of impending doom. The worst part, of course, is you damn well know some of those noises ARE going to be expensive ones, sooner or later. Some of which I know about, have the money already assigned, but who knows what else might lurk to expensively fail?

Today was one of the tails days for sure. The freeway crawled -- most days I take the streets, but today I thought 'the freeway will be faster, and I have to get in on time'. Of course, that meant that today it wasn't faster. Four car pileup just before the 405 transition to the 55 - by the looks of things, some idiot missing his carpool exit, panicking, diving out of the diamond lane without looking and hitting someone, with a couple more adding to the party through following too close or not looking. So it was crawl all the way down, hardly having to touch the throttle the whole way - that big 428 ci engine pulls quite well just at idle in traffic. The bust exhaust manifold gasket so damn loud everyone looks, and not for the right reasons (that's one of the expensive noises I know about and have a fix planned).

I overfilled the power steering fluid reservoir last night. Had no idea that the difference between 'so dry of fluid it's making horrid groaning noises' and 'overfilled' was so little fluid. I'd asked about it on the Glamorbirds mailing list yesterday, got no replies mentioning anything about that part, so I bought some automatic transmission fluid (power steering on a 1967 Ford Thunderbird takes ATF, not power steering fluid, for whatever reason) and poured some in, afraid that those noises were going to be costly ones pretty soon. Of course, this morning I got an email from a fellow list member helpfully telling me which kind of ATF to put in (I'd used the wrong one, naturally, but I'm not sure it matters TOO much here) and warning 'Be careful of overfilling'. Doesn't it figure? Seems that too high a fluid level can create too great a pressure in the system and possibly lead to failure. Worse, it seems from what he said that the hydraulic hoses used in this car for the power steering and wiper motors (yes, windshield wipers on these are hydraulic, not electric like on a sensible car) are incredibly hard to find. So, tonight I'm going to try and syringe some of that excess fluid out of the reservoir. I don't think I overdid it TOO much, but still ... And it does sound like a good idea to hunt for replacements of those damn hoses, just in case they ever do go.

The grinding and groaning in the system is gone, at least.

I get into work ten minutes late, but of course the SDPD people got busy and are late ... and the call takes, as I'd guessed, all of five minutes.

THEN I get to deal with the remaining fallout from our power failure in the office yesterday. I recently inherited responsibility for a whole bunch of machines after they laid off the other admin. Of course, these boxes are the ones not coming back, now. And that server room is an OSHA violation just waiting to happen. After much dangerous clambering, I find that no machine in there corresponds to the label on it, the one that I was assured was an out-of-use backup server is actually a critical machine with company financial data on it -- with a broken drive, too, and running in degraded RAID 5 mode, too, so no more redundancy. Just great.

Finally getting to sit down and have some coffee now, but I think it's not going to be fun.

So CNN’s Crossfire is dead, or as good as dead. They’ve moved it to a deadly ghetto timeslot -- 4:30 pm. Crossfire’s old 7:00 pm timeslot is the new home of an evening Paula Zhann show, not that we weren’t already seeing enough of her on CNN’s American Morning. This is the last straw for me and cable news -- Fox’s rightwing propaganda and subsequent ratings success has prompted all the other networks to follow suit in a desperate attempt to appeal to all those people out there in the “Red” states that went to George W. Bush in the election. Crossfire was the only cable news program that offered a real left-wing point of view, albeit watered down by milquetoast Paul Begala and the largely absent (though terrific) James Carville.

I feel as though I woke up one morning to find that I’d been moved to another country against my will. I turn on the television and see nothing but right-wing spin masquerading as news, and even the once fair-minded Washington Post shows zero dissent. The only time anyone talks about the opposition is to criticize them and question their patriotism. Chris Matthews constantly asks his MSNBC and syndicated guests: “Why do Americans love George W. Bush so much? Why is it that they’ve really bonded with the guy?”

I’m reminded of an account I once read of North Korean television. “All hail the great leader! He is great! Why is he great? He just is.”

At work, I’m surrounded by optimists, people convinced that the Democrats have a chance against Bush in 2004. Most of America gets their news from television, and all the news networks have rolled over and showed Dubya their soft, fat throats. How will any opposition candidate get their message out in this environment? The simple answer is that they can’t.

To try to salvage the illusion of living a free country with an independent press, I’ve decided to stop watching television news. From now on it’s just NPR, Salon.com and the New York Times for me. I’ve even given up my beloved Washington Post. If the advertisers who fund television news networks want my eyeballs, they should tell the programming robots to start offering objective coverage, again.

My baby don’t care for clothes,
And my baby don’t care for shows.
My baby only cares for me.
My baby don't care for cars and races
My baby don't care for high-tone places

Liz Taylor is not his style
And even Lana Turner's smile
Is somethin' he can't see
My baby don't care who knows
My baby just cares for me

I can hear your voice this very moment in the silence: dark breeze of cool. And I can hear your piano, its defiantly simple swing and clamor. You weren’t out to impress anyone with complex chops. What did someone like you need chops for?

I remember when I first heard this cut. I stood amazed and just listened. Then I pressed repeat at least five more times. Since then it’s been a favorite accompaniment to a kindly poured scotch at the end of a world weary day. It just makes me smile and smile each time I sway to it. Sometimes I think it may well be the greatest single cut of music every recorded.

So long, Nina. Yours was an inimitable style: pure music, no bullshit.

America became unbearable for you, but oh, how we sorely need the likes of your hard-edged wisdom and cool right now.

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