Wednesday, December 28, 2005

They Doth Protest Too Much

Apparently, we are supposed to be arming ourselves in the war on christmas because school districts and towns everywhere are banning the wearing of christmas colors, santa, christmas trees, and the use of red-and-green decorative motifs as a protest against the true meaning of christmas. The post office is no longer making religious stamps (not!) and at any moment, the so-called elimination of christmas may lead to the downfall of civilization. Oh, the horror, the horror! I really don't see how affiliating yourself with red-and-green, santa, rampant consumerism, and the whole pagan-tree decorating thing has anything to do with the religious observation of christmas, but being an atheist, perhaps I'm just not privy to the secrets.

At any rate, talk radio has been flogging this issue with ecstatic zeal. Methinks they doth protest too much.
O'REILLY: In Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas, the school told students they couldn't wear red and green because they were Christmas colors. That's flat-out fascism. If I were a student in Plano, I'd be a walking Christmas tree after that order. Have a little thing on my head.(From the December 9 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor)
He notes a similar thing on the radio show, with some added self-righteous hand-wringing.
O'REILLY: Plano, Texas, north of Dallas. Students were told they could not wear red and green because they were Christmas colors. Let me repeat that. Plano, Texas. Students can't wear clothing that have red or green colors because they were too close to Christmas colors. Can you believe this? This is fascism. In addition, it'd be grossly disrespectful. (From the December 9 broadcast of Westwood One's nationally syndicated The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:)
And, even better? He posed the same story about Saginaw, MI as well.

Well, it appears he's making stuff up, in an attempt to stir up a furor over this bogus 'war on christmas'. The rebuttal from the school district is here. Yes, the Plano school district was embroiled in lawsuits last year (2004) regarding their refusal to allow a student to hand out gifts with a religious message (candycane pens, I believe). This hoo-ha about red-and-green napkins stems from a request by the school that parents bring white napkins and paper plates to the school Winter party. Apparently, requesting white ones is "banning" red and green. We of course must immediately decide that this is anti-christian, the request for white table accoutrements.

The best part? This appears to have happened in 2001. O'Reilly claims to "have the memo", but no one has seen it. Does it say "no red and green because this is a holiday party?" as accused by several religous sites and Fox news? No one knows. (Please, let me know if someone has actually seen the text). Is there any mention of the fact that this controvery is already a few years old? No. How is this relevant today? It's not, unless you are trying to forward your political agenda, I think. No one banned any colors of napkins or plates. No one banned any color of clothing. I think the school went overboard if they banned a religious-themed gift, but I cannot find if it was a personal gift or a party-favor type thing. In either case, this appears to be an isolated issue of 'political correctness' gone too far, and don't we have bigger things to worry about?

What I found amazing, however, is that there are dozens of sites on the web that have picked up this "story" and are reporting is as fact. Most of them are religious sites, or right-leaning sites, which is to be expected, but very few of them bothered to report the retraction that came out about three weeks later, admitting that the banning of "christmas colors" and other imagery was not true. Once again, I think the media is counting on the fact that this will push conservative/religious buttons and people won't actually follow up on the story.
Now, I made a mistake a few days ago when I said clothing was included in that party dictum. Clothing was not included. It was colors of plates and cupcakes and things like that. (From the December 20 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor)
A mistake. Hm. Either O'Reilly is lying, or he isn't bothering to give these news tips an even cursory fact checking. If he can't be bothered to fact check this, why should I assume he fact-checks anything else? A caller claimed that she was told that non-secular postage stamps are not sold any more. Suddenly, this is 'true', even though a two-second look at the postal service web site shows that they are available.I should call his show with some ridiculous claims and see how long it takes my heated fantasy life to take over the airwaves. That seems to be how it works. It could be fun to try.

This is getting tiring. Some other commentary:

Planet of the Apes

I have to admit that I'm creeped out by a recent Doug-Doug TomTom ad on television. I'm sure you've seen them in one of their incarnations: people driving in a car and the driver is constantly snapping, "DougDoug! Which turn do I take? DougDoug! I think that was the turn!" or somesuch nonsense. TomTom is a GPS-mapping gizmo and service that speaks to you and give you precise directions (I assume in cities where the service is supported?).

I think the service is pretty cool, actually (although we have so far avoided anything in the car with a screen on it, to keep the Adorable Husband from trying to drive the car like it's a video game!), it's just that this latest ad has the creepiest looking woman in it. She has a positively emaciated face...except for her enormous poofed-up lips. They stick out past the rest of her face like some weird chimpanzee snout. They move about as well as those rubber face-masks, too. Planet of the Apes meets modern plastic surgery. Ugh.

I really don't understand the giant-lip phenomenon. I mean, it just doesn't look natural at all. Sure, some people have tiny, thin lips that could benefit from a little plumping, but this penchant for injecting half of the fat on your ass into your lips so that you look like a demented duck really doesn't do it for me. It nearly always looks fake, and previously attractive women suddenly look deformed. (For some of the strangest (and snarkiest) commentary on plastic surgery, check out Awful Plastic Surgery)

The Adorable Husband notes that I do not appreciate this sort of thing because I am not...ahem..."plumbed properly".


Monday, December 26, 2005

Papers, Please!

Well, we've got at least one state moving perilously close to a police state. In Ohio, their version of the Patriot Act would allow police to arrest people if they might be about to commit a crime, or witness someone else who might, if they refuse to properly identify themselves. The approach of the law is ham-handed at best, and the vagueness of the written law seems custom-made for abuse.

There are a couple of seriously questionable elements in the bill. Some seem quite reasonable -- for example, requiring anyone renting an aircraft to provide appropriate identification. This seems to be a no-brainer. Then, it goes on to demand that people provide their name, address, and birthdate when demanded by a police officer in a "transportation infrastructure site" if there has been a threat to security. On the surface, this seems none too objectionable (we're all used to providing ID when boarding a plane, for example) -- but the "war on terror" has no defined end, security alerts have no consistent criteria. The definitions here are a bit vague: what is a 'threat to security?' and what sites are covered? When will police be demanding id from everyone? What is done with this information?
Sec. 2909.31. (A) No person entering an airport, train station, port, or other similar critical transportation infrastructure site shall refuse to show identification when requested by a law enforcement officer when there is a threat to security and the law enforcement officer is requiring identificationof all persons entering the site.
But it is another section that has raised the hackles of the ACLU and other groups. Apparently, Ohio believes that their police are psychic -- or at the very least, possessed of unerring prescience. "About to commit"? Since when do we allow people to be arrested before they commit a crime? And witnesses are now considered criminals for protecting their privacy if they happen to be in the same place as someone who is going to commit a crime, even if they aren't involved? I'm not a constitutional scholar, but red flags went up for me when I read through this bill. Is this normal wording for laws regarding law enforcement?

There are specific laws regarding witnesses and suspects, there are very clear rules regarding evidence. At least to my reading, the following section now allows anyone to be stopped at any time by a police office who has a "gut feeling" that the person in question either is about to commit a crime, or is witness to someone who is about to commit a crime. There are already laws on the books to allow apprehension of someone who has committed a crime and to compel witnesses...the addition here of "about to commit" and "is about to" make this legislation a little surreal.
Sec. 2921.29. (A) No person who is in a public place shall refuse to disclose the person's name, address, or date of birth, when requested by a law enforcement officer who reasonably suspects either of the following:
(1) The person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a criminal offense.
(2) The person witnessed any of the following:
(a) An offense of violence that would constitute a felony under the laws of this state;
(b) A felony offense that causes or results in, or creates a substantial risk of, serious physical harm to another person or to property;
(c) Any attempt or conspiracy to commit, or complicity in committing, any offense identified in division (A)(2)(a) or (b) of this section;
(d) Any conduct reasonably indicating that any offense identified in division (A)(2)(a) or (b) of this section or any attempt, conspiracy, or complicity described in division (A)(2)(c) of this section has been, is being, or is about to be committed.
The full text of the bill is here

No New Puppy for Xmas

Another Christmas past, and all is well with our families. Our holidays here at the Phouka household were quiet and uneventful (in fact, we alternated napping with reading our christmas-gift books). The Adorable Husband was on call the whole weekend, but apparently no one succumbed to holiday stress or holiday goodies, so he never got called in.

I spent the morning chuckling through the Complete Calvin and Hobbes; the husband was immersed in the enormous Chapman's Piloting and neither of us bothered to get dressed until sometime after two. All in all a nice day.

Our neighbors have a new puppy, which makes me really, really want a new puppy -- and that's the one thing that I've consistently lost on: the edict in the house is two people, two dogs. I'm sure that if I found another puppy, you know, just wandering the streets, the Adorable Husband would love it to bits. But of course, I'd be sleeping in the garage by myself while he cuddled the puppy. Hmph.

We never did put the tree up. We planned to, but by the time we finally decided to do it, it was Christmas Eve and we figured, why put it up for just a few days?. I was reminded that we left the tree up last year until March sometime, and we just decided to pass on the whole thing. I put up stockings, though, and we have a tiny rosemary bush that looks like a passable tree, so it wasn't a complete loss. And there were lights outside. Our display was quite pitiful compared to some of the extravaganzas in the neighborhood, I'm sure we're on the "bad holiday decorating" list and our HOA will have a note in our mailbox soon. Some of the lights are positively Griswold-esque. Although, I'm thankful we don't have this guy in our neighborhood. (office friendly, but w/ sound) I'm sure that he's an inspiration to a few of our neighborhood decorators, though.

Ah well, back to work tomorrow. Only seventeen more days. Seventeen. Woo-hoo!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

No Fanciful Quidditch Moves

Apparently, reading Harry Potter books takes precedence over other dangerous childhood activities, at least during "opening weekend" for each new book.
"The results, published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal, showed that 67 children were injured on average each weekend but the number fell by 30 per cent to 36 and 37 in the two weekends when the Harry Potter books were launched."
I can't say I'm surprised. The two adults here in the Phouka household remain locked behind closed doors and eat takeout food the weekends the books come out, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Bibliophile? Me?

Well, the shininess and button-y-ness had its way. The new washer and dryer are being delivered Tuesday. I am such a sucker for this stuff. We had really decided not to do the whole 'christmas present' thing, as I noted below, but it was too much for us. Does a household appliance count as a romantic gift?

Probably not.

I always feel sorry for the Adorable Husband when holidays and gift-giving occassions roll around. Most men have the fallback position of "jewelry" that is always good and makes their wives happy. I hate jewelry, for the most part. I don't wear earrings, for years all I wore was a wedding ring. It makes it a bit harder for those "big" gifts, like anniversaries. But I make up for it by being a gadget freak, and an ipod or computer part or new speaker wire is likely to have the same result.

A barcode scanner for my birthday was great! Ok, that probably requires some explanation. We have a lot of books. (Ok, I have a lot of books). A lot. A truly stupendous amount that is actually one of the primary reasons we had to move out of our previous, smaller house. We were pushed out of our house by the book stacks and bulging bookcases. New house, an extra 150 feet of bookshelf space, and we're a bit more in control.

However, our homeowners insurance -- like most policies -- has a flat percentage of the house value for "stuff" and when we asked about the books, our friendly agent resplied that, "Oh, we assume you have a standard amount of books, probably about 2K."

Well, I have two thousand dollars worth of technical books in the bookshelf behind my desk, not to mention the six other cases in my office. We were informed that we'd have to inventory them by title in order to get any more for them. A listing by title, ISBN, with accompanying pictures of the shelves. Most people when they are told they need to LIST all of their books would thinkg, 'Oh, No! What a waste of time."

My response? "Wow! A list of all the books? A library catalog? Cool!" and rushed off to find software that ;ets me do this. has software that tracks books, videos, etc and supports scanning in barcodes and looking up the details for books on Amazon and the Library of Congress. I was hooked. I've been scanning them in every since. I started with a little hand-held scanner I got off eBay until he found the tabletop scanner. Yeeha! Technology wins again!

I'm weird. I know this. But organizing, categorizing, and documenting all the books is one of those things that makes me content. It must be some weird OCD thing. We're up somewhere around 3K books and that's not including the boxes in the basement. I think I have every book I"ve ever bought. I try to take them to the used bookstore and it makes me get all nervous and sweaty and sad. Bibliophile? Me?

Of course, we haven't inventoried anything else in the house, you know, like things people might actually steal...

Friday, December 23, 2005

Put Your Left Foot In...

I hear that the media has "liberal bias" all the time. Based on my own experience, the opposite is often true and the latest information about the UCLA study that labelled the media "liberal" based on how they referenced think tanks shows just how biased the study itself was. Gives me a warm fuzzy, it does.

Media Matters has some interesting information about the study:
News outlets including CNN cited a study of several major media outlets by a UCLA political scientist and a University of Missouri-Columbia economist purporting to "show a strong liberal bias." But the study employed a measure of "bias" so problematic that its findings are next to useless, and the authors -- both former fellows at conservative think tanks cited in the study to illustrate liberal bias -- seem unaware of the substantial scholarly work that exists on the topic.
I (like many other reasonable people) viewed the much-trumpeted 'liberal media bias' as suspicous, at best, and finding out this bit of info was no real surprise:
...the authors have previously received funding from the three premier conservative think tanks in the United States: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), The Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace.
The assumptions of the study were..well, incomprehensible to me. And the determination of which groups are liberal and conservative actually defies logic. The ACLU is considered a conservative body? In what alternate universe is that true? Defense contractors are liberal? Black is white. War is peace. This stuff just hurts my brain to try to understand it. Here's how they define media bias:
...If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a "bias" making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank.
What is 'approvingly', and how is mentioning a group considered bias if it is relevant to the discussion? If the standards of analysis and definition are this low -- and bizarre -- then I can only conclude that the authors and proponents of the study designed it specifically to show their presumed result. It was never intended to deterine actual bias, just to "support" the idea that the media is liberal. Jigger the results enough and you could "prove" just about anything, I guess.

I'm sure that they assumed people would hear the headline - 'liberal media bias!' - and never actually pay attention to the study itself. The media (belying this supposed liberal bias, I guess) trumpeted the findings and that was that. No one questioned it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Back to the Good Old Days

I just saw this on a tshirt at cafepress, (although the site it not cooperating at the moment.) and it made me chuckle...but it's definitely dead-on how I feel:

"I don't really want to be governed by people who think the rapture might happen tomorrow."

Rather sums up my frustration with the influence of the fundie-right (and yes, I understand that not every christian is a fundamentalist) on public policy, government, and private life. I don't want to live in the fourteenth century, and some people seem bound and determined to drag us back there.

Seduced by Buttons

For some completely inexplicable reason, I'm lusting after a front-load washer and dryer. I really don't know what that means, except that I am mortally embarrassed to be excited about appliances. Too...hausfrau, or something. I don't usually get even remotely interested in household stuff, but everyone has been gushing how wonderful these things are and suddenly I want one.

I certainly don't need a new washer and dryer. Our current washer is just fine, the clothes are cleaned and dried adequately, they do what we need them to do. In fact, after looking at the spiffy front-load washers (which are a mind-boggling 1400 bucks!) I think they are far more complicated that we will ever use. No one needs seven wash cycles, variable water level, three rinse options, and twelve combinations of water temperatures for wash and rinse. What the heck is 'sanitizing', anyway, and why do I need it? We're used to simple. I mean...with our old washer, we washed everything in cold water on medium. The washer didn't have a temperature sensor, and since the water comes out of the ground here at about 35 degrees F, the standard mix ratio for 'warm' resulted in, perhaps, 37 degree water.

Laundry is a mystery to me, really. My mother used to separate laundry into 16 different piles based on some bizarre sorting algorithm that would require NASA scientists to figure out. Of course, she also produced more blue and accidentally pink laundry than anyone I've ever seen. Perhaps we shouldn't try to adopt her method.

In our house, we have a very simple sorting rule: red and not-red.

Ok, perhaps that's oversimplifying, but the most we ever manage is dark clothes, light clothes, and red stuff. A few horrible mishaps with red towels (never buy red towels, or at least, never buy them if you intend to wash them) and we learned early on to pull those out of the laundry basket. Occasionally, a load of white-with-bleach, and occasionally a load of sweaters or something, but we tend to just dump everything in the washer when there's enough for a load. Not a lot of thought goes into it, and I will gleefully admit that I wash clothes on whatever setting the washer was on last. Other than changing the water level, I don't really fiddle with it. So far, it all seems to be fine.

These new washers, though, don't even have a button for water level. They figure that out themselves somehow. So why do I want one? I don't know. I've been seduced by the buttons and shininess of them. I'm a sucker for shiny. And digital.

If these babies came in red, I'd have them delivered tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

This Book was not Written for Them

I really wasn't going to comment on politics or religion. Really. There are thousands of better-informed bloggers out there than me. I tend towards angry ranting instead. But, some things just really, really push my buttons. It must be the holidays.

Apparently, a bunch of student are suing the University of California for refusing to accept some of their courses for admission to the school. The books and topics for these classes are from textbooks written especially for "christian" schools (mostly by Bob Jones University) and present a faith-based approach to learning. Rejecting the literature class ("Christianity and Morality in American Literature") was not done because of the christian-based content; I've taken courses with similar content at the UofMN and seen classes like this at Regis University (although usually as philosophy classes, not as literature courses). The classes were discarded because the school requires that the full text of at least some of the literature be read in a literature course, not just excerpts. I might disagree with their particular interpretation, but if they followed the rules, the credits would be accepted. As is it, they don't and it's not. If this class was taught anywhere else, it would not be accepted in its current form, either.

The classes just aren't up to par from an academic perspective (based on content and coursework) -- and, they look at everything from a biblical perspective and a biased one, at that. Of course, criticizing them means we're against christianity and they start whining 'discrimination' as soon as they are called to justify the classwork. Why I am not surprised that these idiots are complaining?

The school has every right in the world to indoctrinate its students with whatever religious dogma they want to. If parents spend money to send their children there, expecting a religious education, they have made that choice. But when they teach classes solely from books including "...for the Christian School" in their title, and their literature course only excerpts text from the classics to evaluate the author's adherence to christian beliefs, or their biology book clearly states that it will follow the bible and not science...well, that isn't up to snuff outside of their own circle. That's not education, that's indoctrination and it belongs in seminary, not in college prep classes. There are standards for classes to be accredited and BJU and other schools do not get to have their own rules. The whole world cannot be viewed through the rose-colored glasses with jesus-belief as its sole perspective. College requires critical thinking, and frankly, that is not the goal of such a class.

Questionable Authority has a much more eloquent and informed explanation of this whole kerfuffle in their blog.

A nursing friend of my husbands was dismayed to learn that her degree from BJU is not accredited, barring her from a number of other nursing programs without remedial work. She got a good education, she's a smart woman, but the standards of the school do not follow the rules and the BJU and the other schools are aware of the standards and most of their classes comply. They could make changes to bring the rest up to par. They either refuse to do so, or it hasn't been an issue until now.

The christian-schoolers argue that they can teach what they want and that to refuse to allow their classes is discriminatory. It's a hard call with a course in literature which can be completely subjective, but history and sciences have well-accepted norms that I expect college-bound students to understand them. What next? Faith-based physics? Do we have to allow a school that teaches an alternate numeric theory? Or a school that teaches history that completely denies the holocaust and WWII? Accept a sociology class that is based on the 'fact' that certain races are superior? At some point, we need to recognize these biased, exclusionary teachings for what they are: propaganda, and push them to the fringes of the academic world.

Holiday Baking Frenzy

I mentioned the Holiday Baking Frenzy that grips our house this time of year in an earlier post, and it bears some explanation, especially since I'm just an innocent bystander.

Each year, starting about Halloween, the Adorable Husband starts to BAKE. And bake and bake and bake. Loaves of bread, hundreds of sugar cookies, cakes, rosettes, lefse, fudge. We go through pounds and pounds of butter, somewhere near 50 pounds of flour, and enough decorating sugar to cover the lawn like snow. It's quite astounding.

And quite messy. For the month on either side of Christmas, the kitchen is covered in a fine layer of flour. It's everywhere. He's a very good baker, but the catastrophe that he inflicts on the kitchen is amazing. I know it's an old and hackneyed joke that when men cook they use every pot, every pan, every utensil they can find..and then leave everything on the counter. Well, he does clean up the pots and pans and stuff, but I'm pretty sure he uses most of them. Luckily we have a big dishwasher.

So far this year he's made ten loaves of Cardamom Bread (Steve's Mom's Cardamom Bread recipe, halved, making the dough in the breadmaker) and used over a pound of pearl sugar as topping. Four batches of the best sugar cookies in the world, six or more double-batches of spice cookies. A huge batch of lefse made after Thanksgiving should keep us stocked until next year. A batch of pepperkakker (which were not as good as we had hoped) and a variety of other baked things. The house smells wonderful most of December.

Luckily, he takes most of the tempting stuff to work. In fact, I think at least some of the baking frenzy is fueled by all the petting and cooing he gets at work for bringing goodies. I'd be encouraged, too -- when the nurses at the hospital actually hide the bucket of cookies because they don't want to share, you've done good!

I'm Dreaming of a Brown Christmas

It's going to be warm for Christmas here. In the sixties, according to the weather this morning. Of course, the mountains got 12-24" of snow in the last two days (a trend which will continue through the week and make Xmas skiing fabulous, I imagine). Here in Boulder we have a 50/50 chance of having a White Christmas...maybe less. It is one of the things that I do miss about Minnesota, where you were guaranteed a white Christmas morning. The fact that it was also somewhere around ten below zero (F) was merely an annoying side-effect. Sitting inside a warm, cozy house watching the snow come down outside is a lovely memory.

But, Colorado is just as likely to be brown. It's hard to really be in a cheery holiday mood when there is no snow, and it's warm enough to wear shorts outside. It's not as bad as the strange sight of Christmas lights on cactuses or palm trees (ala Las Vegas or Florida), but it's not the Norman Rockwell version, either.

To be honest, I hate the holidays. Oh, I like exchanging presents with the Adorable Husband, and sending stuff to the neiblings, but the whole 'family get-together' thing is not high on my list. Every single holiday that I have spend at home has ended up with a) someone screaming and leaving in a huff or b) me in the bathroom crying. It's mostly my family, I'll admit. The husband has a lovely family who actually seem to like spending time together. Mine, well...the holidays seem to be a fertile battlefield for every single personal issue we've ever had. I dread going home for the holidays -- and have managed to avoid it for the last five years or so. Other time, visiting isn't bad, but the holidays (especially Xmas) seem to bring out the worst in some people. Maybe it's because expectations are so high for a "warm family get-together" where everyone gathers around the table, shares a meal and then reminisces about how good and wonderful life is. When things don't go quite as planned, it's harder to deal with because we're supposed to be Suffused With Holiday Joy.

This year, the husband announced that we had to go back to MN for one of the holidays. We already had planned to travel back to go to my sister's graduation, and I thought that trip (falling just before Xmas like it did) would be enough. Apparently not. We're taking a whirlwind trip for New Years'. Sigh.

And what's with this ridiculous argument about saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Merry ChrisHanaKwaanzikah? It's being touted as a 'war on Christmas', which is a tremendous load of bullshit, if you ask me. Christmas is not being banned, despite what talk radio would have you believe. Not everyone is Christian, not everyone celebrates Christmas...Hey, you can say whatever you want, as long you say it with genuine warmth, ok? What's wrong with recognizing that there may be multiple Holy Days being celebrated? Saying Happy Holidays is a way to include anyone who might be celebrating this season, be it Xmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Saturnalia, whatever. Say whatever you want to, just don't try to force everyone to agree with you. It is not "persecuting Christians" to not give them special, a-number-one standing by requiring that everyone acknowledge -- and accept -- their beliefs. I'm getting really, really tired of that fatuous argument. I celebrate Christmas, and I'm about as anti-religious as you get. It's a secularized holiday that has grown up from a number of different religious practices, pagan and christian alike. Get over it and have a nice holiday, whichever one you celebrate.

We don't even have our tree up. We finally bought a fake tree last year after about five years without a Christmas tree. It has lights, but we only found four of our ornaments. It was a little sad. This year, we just can't seem to summon the energy to haul it upstairs, refluff it's branches, and dig out the box of ornaments and tinsel. We're not really exchanging presents this year, since we decided to start the basement-to-big-screen-theater conversion this winter. So, no presents to wrap or put under the tree this year. Maybe a few small stocking stuffers, but we're pretty much taking a pass on the holidays (except for the holiday baking frenzy). Being on call with the hospital tends to put a severe cramp in any holidays plans, at any rate.

Maybe I'm just a humbug this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bon-bons and Computer Games

As many of you may know, I have been at the Client From Hell -- a bizarre combination of clueless management, passive-aggressive developers, and a heady dose of marriage counseling -- and I'm scheduled to roll off in January. At this point, if I have to talk to another client, I may snap and actually tell them exactly what I think.

That would not be good.

I was supposed to be here for only three months, which made the hour-long commute tolerable (although I bitched to high heaven about it). I should have known. Three months turned into six turned into nine and here I am a year later still commuting 120 miles a day and trying to manage a warehousing project that has run amok. It has been...well, hellish. The worst client I have had. This gig has driven me closer to quitting my job than anything else in the last 12 years.

Oh, I like the individual people quite well. They are nice. Occasionally clueless, but for the most part with good intentions. But the company has re-org'd five times in the year, had three rounds of layoffs, and some plan that includes reabsorbing part of the business back into their parent company. As you might guess, morale is at sub-basement levels. About half of the people who were laid off in the last round were given an end date of 12/31 so they could wrap up current projects.

On one hand, it's nice that they know what's going on over the holidays. On the other, it's quite insulting. "Oh, we don't think you're good enough to keep, but you're on an important project right now, so you need to stay and finish it." Um...No. Sorry. The resumes have been printing at record speed. People are disappearing on a daily basis. I thought I'd be immune to it, since I'm only a contractor, but it sucks the life out of you. I've been dreading going to work every morning, I've had anxiety attacks and insomnia, can't deal with the slightest frustration, and (as my husband so succinctly commented), I'm a hideous bitch.

So, I talked to my boss today about a sabbatical. I don't think you can call it a sabbatical if you're not in the academic world, but the idea is the same: no work. And I shouldn't say I "talked" to him, as if this was a discussion about the possibility of time off. It was pretty much, "I'm taking twelve weeks off. How does this work?" He's entirely on board, which is good. My only concern is not losing medical coverage during this period, and I don't know how that is going to fly. I'm willing to do something "back office", like write a class or edit books, etc, to make it a zero-sum for my company and for me. My boss insisted that regardless of how we work it out, there should be some time when I'm just "gone" and no one expects time from me at all. Financially, we're fine. No bills, no mortgage; the Adorable Husband assures me that I can go back "when I'm ready."

I don't want to quit -- the grass is almost never greener, and I'm treated very well -- but a few months off is something I'm really looking forward to. Get back to doing the things that I want to do, the things that have fallen by the wayside as my stress and apathy have sapped urge I have to do anything. I'm barely even reading books right now -- which is probably reason enough to put me on life-support. I've offered to write a class, or do a few interviews, or whatever. Mostly, I'm just looking forward to playing computer games until my eyes fall out, stitching, reading, and finishing both the Irish part of the site and the Ireland travelogue.

THe Adorable Husband thinks I'll last about six weeks and then have to go back to work. We'll see. I'm sure he'll have an office pool by the time I actually stop working. "How Long Will She Last?" I suppose it depends on what I end up doing. I can't actually play computer games for days on end (ok, well, maybe a few days), and I have ridiculous requirements for input and amusement: four books going at one time, TV while I'm sorting, indexing, scanning, etc. We'll have to see how it goes.

Press and Fold

Followup mammogram this morning. Ouch. The tumor/duct they removed in April turned out to be benign, but they wanted to keep track of some other "suspicious spots" so off to the mangler this morning.

I really don't know how women with teeny breasts do this -- it's uncomfortable enough to be squished flat when you have something to squish. It must be doubly bad when there is barely anything there. In any case, everything is ok, no changes, just come back in six months to keep track.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Ok, people. It's not EAVESDROPPING when the government listens in on your phone conversations or emails. Eavesdropping is when you overhear the next table at the restaurant discussing Aunt Flo's last stroke. Eavesdropping is when you crane to listen to the snarled argument between the soon-to-be-divorced couple standing in line at the post office.

What the Shrub secretly authorized is called SPYING. On Americans. S-P-Y-I-N-G. Not eavesdropping, which has a slighly naughty-but-harmless air to it, but spying. Allowing the NSA to secretly monitor your words.

Let's at least be honest about the terminology.

Hypercompetitive Overachievers

The annual-and-unchangeable office christmas party was a huge success. My company does some sort of team-building exercise every quarter -- and despite the ominous name, these are fun weekend outings that everyone looks forward to. Skiing in January, a show and dinner in the summer, that sort of thing. It's definitely one of the perks of working for my company (indeed, a few of us would probably quit outright if they stopped doing them). At our quarterly meetings, we vote on what to do -- and every year for the last eight years we have demanded that the christmas party be exactly the same. Cocktails, catered dinner (preferably Whirled Peas catering), casino gambling (Crystal Rose), and an auction for some pretty nifty gifts. It's all fake money, of course, but it's the perfect christmas party for hypercompetitive overachievers. First you gamble (and hopefully win!) and then you compete for presents.

It's all in fun, but as I said, we're a competitive bunch. Things get pretty hairy at the craps table when players get down to their last $25, and the table playing Texas Hold'em was a spiritied affair. It's amusing when you realize that there is nothing on the auction table that we wouldn't be able to go out and buy ourselves if we wanted it -- but add in the competitive bidding and suddenly we get a bit cutthroat.

I get freaked out losing fake money at a party...I won't really gamble at a real casino. In Vegas, I dutifully put my twenty bucks into one of the poker machines, it gobbles up every nickel I play, and I'm done. Mr. Phouka drops a buck into a machine at the airport and scores a hundred dollars. Go figure.

This year, though, we did pretty well: I scored a laptop. And, I'm embarassed to admit, I bid for one of those as-seen-on-tv Chocolate Fondue Fountain things. All I can say is that it better be dishwasher safe or we're only going to be using it once.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Passive-Aggressive Chocolate

My whole evening is off-kilter.

The lovely, enormous box of assorted chocolates that I received as a gift does not include a decoder ring. Now I have several pounds of unidentified dark and milk chocolate which should include things like buttercream or caramel but more often have some sort of disgusting coconut concoction or weird jam-bits inside.

After ending up with a mouthful of something that I think included mocha and marzipan and possibly raisins, I'm not feeling particularly Forrest Gump-ishly optimistic about the whole thing. They should market this stuff as Passive-Aggressive Chocolate. "Here! Eat this lovely decadent dark will be good. Ha-ha! Fooled you! It's coconut shreds!"

I've resorted to poking through the bottom of each piece to determine whether it's edible and leaving the mangled chocolates in the box. This does not endear me to the other occupant of the Phouka household. Feh.