Thursday, July 31, 2008

I've gotten some "unusual" emails, but this one beats 'em all

Ever since the shootings at Virginia Tech last year, most colleges and universities now have pretty sophisticated emergency alert systems that text you or email you of everything from robberies to tornadoes. But this one, this is ... odd:

July 31, 2008

There have been several reliable sightings of an animal fitting the description of a cougar on the campus. The description of the sighted cat is: light tan and tawny brown, about 4 feet long with a 4 foot tail, and weighing about 50 pounds. Several sightings have been reported from the area of Cole Field House, near the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and continuing through the wooded areas to the area of the Comcast Center and Arena Drive Garage. There has been no report of aggressive behavior on the part of the animal, but community members are warned that cougars are a predatory species and that, if seen, the animal should not be approached.
I work in metropolitan Maryland. You know, the place the pundits enjoy describing as inside the beltway. In case you're wondering -- no, I shall not be approaching the animal ....

Exxon Mobil profit = $1,486 per second

By now you've probably heard about the astounding profit that Exxon Mobil is reporting for this past quarter: $11.7 billion. And yes, that is an American record. (Woo hoo for Exxon Mobil and their new American record, just in time for teh Olympics!)

The Guardian breaks that figure down for us: Exxon Mobil is making $1,486 per second. Per second! So as you read "per second," they've made another $1,486. And again. And again.

But, ABC provides by far the most disgusting figure in all this, as reported here by ThinkProgress:
Exxon Mobil today broke its own record for the highest-ever profit by a U.S. company, with net income this quarter rising to $11.68 billion. While Exxon officials regularly tout the company’s investment in alternative energy, ABC reported today that Exxon spends only 1 percent of profits on alternative energy sources.

“They’re probably spending more on the advertising than they are on the research,” noted an oil analyst contacted by ABC. BP invested the most out of the big five oil companies, at 2.9 percent.

Life is simpler in Vermont

Thanks to a tip from a co-worker who hails from "my new favorite place on earth" (note the ironic abuse of quotation marks), Rutland, Vermont, I was alerted to this important event from last week:
Crowd mobs Taco Bell opening

Rain fell through the Wednesday afternoon lunch hour, but that didn't stop hundreds of local chalupa-starved residents from lining up for the grand opening of the new Taco Bell on Route 7 in Rutland Town.

The wait time for cars at the tail end of the drive-thru line was estimated at around 50 minutes at lunch time.

"We knew it was going to be big," Matt Prouty, Taco Bell operations leader, said. "We expected this and we're excited to be here."

Customers anxious to get taco fixes were waiting outside the Taco Bell doors as early as 7 a.m. Wednesday— three hours before the doors were set to open.
"Taco fixes" at 7 a.m.? Makes me shudder. Read more from the Rutland Herald here.

(photo from Rutland Herald)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Grammar Head alert!

I can't help it. I've spent too many years as a professional proofreader and copy editor to avoid noticing how often we mangle the English language. So I was "thrilled" when I stumbled across The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks.

It's "brilliant!" Also not to be missed are:
Lowercase l

Apostrophe Abuse

Passive Aggressive Notes
And yes I am aware, thank you very much, that Grammar is #99 on the big list of Stuff White People Like ...

A killer of a different color

Because I tend to read a lot of "alternative" news sources, it took me a little while to realize that the MSM has not been giving much coverage to the recent killings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday. That is to say, they covered the event, and moved on.

But what if the killer was not named "Jim" but was instead named, oh, I don't know -- Abdul? Kamal? Hussein? I suspect we would be seeing stories nightly about how this shooting spree was planned and carried out. We would hear about every move the man made.

Instead, this is what we get from the Washington Post:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., July 28 -- An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, including its acceptance of gays, police said Monday.

A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson's SUV indicated that he targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because "he hated the liberal movement" and was upset with "liberals in general, as well as gays," according to Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV.

Oh, well then. And at the end of the story:
Court records from neighboring Anderson County indicate Adkisson threatened violence against his spouse several years ago.
Instead of simply reporting this case as one deranged individual and moving on, the MSM needs to look at what makes a white man in America feel oppressed. Rather, who makes this member of the most privileged sector of society feel oppressed. But perhaps that is asking too much, given the shades and genders of MSNBC, CNN, FOX, CBS, and ABC. We all saw how threatened the white male anchors were by the successful primary run by Hillary Clinton -- people like Jim Adkisson are listening and reading, and believing these people.

I believe in free speech. But I also believe in responsible speech. And when the hatemongers of the right wing feed on sick and distraught individuals like Jim Adkisson, they have lost their right to free speech. IMHO.

From the Christian Science Monitor:
"There's a whole category of mass killers who are seeking vengeance against a group of people who they feel are taking away their birthright, their opportunities, and making it difficult to succeed," says Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, author of "Extreme Killing." "They don't see themselves as criminals, but ... as striking a measure of justice, winning one for the little guy. This case may show that [Jim Adkisson] perceived that society has been bending backward to favor disenfranchised groups so they're trying to get some justice for their own victimization."

Wednesday poetry break

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

— Maya Angelou

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why I need to "be there"

The horrific news of the killings at a Tennessee Unitarian Universalist church has hit me hard. Clearly the man who did the shooting was desperate and unbalanced, but why did he choose this place to begin shooting? According to the New York Times:
A man who the police say entered a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday and shot eight people, killing two, was motivated by a hatred for liberals and gay people, Chief Sterling P. Owen IV of the Knoxville Police Department said Monday.
So, was this a "gay" church? No. But according to Out & About, it had just put up a sign recently "welcoming gays to the congregation."

Yes, "welcome" as in the "we are all God's children" kind of welcome. Do you remember what I wrote on Sunday about the Episcopal church I've been attending?
However, the congregation at this church is a little bi-polar. On the one hand, the inside of the bulletin proclaims that "We welcome all ages and abilities, classes and cultures, races, genders, and sexual orientations." Yet, in the monthly newsletter it's reported that a group of 20 met to discuss questions of division and exclusion. The article says "All answers and/or experiences were positive. However, we did not commit to being included on the list of friendly churches for persons of other orientations."
What will my neighborhood church do now? I mean, if they didn't want to advertise being gay friendly before, they're sure not going to be happy about it now. Probably, they'll want the gays of the congregation to keep a low profile, not call attention to this church. You know, step back into the closet. Except the problem with that attitude is that we give up an important piece of who we are, while these hateful people still rule the airwaves:

Rush Limbaugh: "I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus -- living fossils -- so we will never forget what these people stood for."

Melanie Morgan: "A great deal of good could be done by arresting Bill Keller having him lined up against the wall and shot."

Ann Coulter:
LINDA VESTER (host): You say you'd rather not talk to liberals at all?
COULTER: I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days.

"Sock" Sokolowski, to Stephanie Miller:
As with Cindy Sheehan the best thing that could happen to you would be seeing some WONDERFUL activist sticking an AK-47 up your Glory Holes and sending you into eternity.

(List from Orcinus)

Don't think these words have no effect:
Investigators said they found copies of "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism" by radio and TV host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by radio and TV host Bill O'Reilly.
On Sunday I wrote a long post about trying to decide whether I would continue attending this particular church now that the gay-friendly rector has left. I also wrote about the strange phenomenon wherein you seem to be in a place and time for a purpose. I think I'm beginning to understand it now.

"O's pound Yanks in Bronx"

Really, that headline from the Baltimore Sun says it all, doesn't it? Yeah, but here's some more:
Team gets 17 hits, including 4 HRs, to start road trip on winning note

NEW YORK - Mike Mussina's reincarnation as a soft-tossing right-hander has produced impressive results. He entered last night with 13 wins, one off the American League lead, and had allowed two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his previous 17 outings.

It seems that everyone is impressed by the transformation - except his former team. The Orioles knocked around Mussina for the second time this season en route to their best offensive game in nearly two years. They pounded out 17 hits and belted four home runs in a 13-4 rout of the
New York Yankees before an announced 54,120 at Yankee Stadium.
As an Orioles fan, at this point in the season you just get your joys where you can ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

More gratuitous vacation pictures

Just because it's way more interesting than my tiling job in the bathroom right now, (I know you all want pictures of that project, but trust me on this -- mosaic tiles make you a little dizzy after a while), here's the White Cottage in Woodstock, Vermont. Hot fudge sundae. Awesome. Just awesome:

And here's me at the top of Killington Mountain:

For the record, that is technically not fleece, but a sweatshirt kind of thing. Sigh ....
Double sigh:

McCain Watch: The Voting Record -- Danger Will Robinson!

Just in case you or someone you know is thinking "Well, John McCain doesn't seem that bad." Please, please read over some of his more extreme voting record below, gathered from OnTheIssues:

On Abortion:
  • Supports repealing Roe v. Wade. (May 2007)
  • Voted YES on barring HHS grants to organizations that perform abortions. (Oct 2007)
  • Voted NO on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. (Mar 2005)
  • Voted YES on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions. (Jun 2000)
  • Rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record. (Dec 2003)
On Civil Rights:
  • Voted YES on recommending Constitutional ban on flag desecration. (Jun 2006)
  • Voted NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes. (Jun 2002)
  • Voted YES on loosening restrictions on cell phone wiretapping. (Oct 2001)
  • Voted YES on setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities & women. (Mar 1998)
  • Voted YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage. (Sep 1996)
  • Voted NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation. (Sep 1996)
  • Voted YES on banning affirmative action hiring with federal funds. (Jul 1995)
  • Require 90 day delay for compliance before ADA lawsuits. (May 2002)
  • Rated 0% by the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights voting record. (Dec 2002)
  • Rated 33% by the HRC, indicating a mixed record on gay rights. (Dec 2006)
  • Rated 7% by the NAACP, indicating an anti-affirmative-action stance. (Dec 2006)
On Education:
  • Voted NO on $52M for "21st century community learning centers". (Oct 2005)
  • Voted NO on $5B for grants to local educational agencies. (Oct 2005)
  • Voted NO on shifting $11B from corporate tax loopholes to education. (Mar 2005)
  • Voted NO on funding smaller classes instead of private tutors. (May 2001)
  • Voted NO on funding student testing instead of private tutors. (May 2001)
  • Voted NO on spending $448B of tax cut on education & debt reduction. (Apr 2001)
  • Voted YES on declaring memorial prayers and religious symbols OK at schools. (May 1999)
  • Voted YES on school vouchers in DC. (Sep 1997)
  • Voted YES on $75M for abstinence education. (Jul 1996)
  • Voted YES on requiring schools to allow voluntary prayer. (Jul 1994)
  • Voted NO on national education standards. (Feb 1994)
  • Rated 45% by the NEA, indicating a mixed record on public education. (Dec 2003)
Health Care:
  • Voted NO on expanding enrollment period for Medicare Part D. (Feb 2006)
  • Voted NO on including prescription drugs under Medicare. (Jun 2000)
  • Rated 25% by APHA, indicating a anti-public health voting record. (Dec 2003)
Homeland Security:
  • Keep “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy - it works. (Jan 2000)
  • Voted NO on limiting soldiers' deployment to 12 months. (Jul 2007)
  • Voted NO on preserving habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. (Sep 2006)
  • Voted NO on requiring CIA reports on detainees & interrogation methods. (Sep 2006)
  • Voted YES on reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act. (Mar 2006)
  • Voted YES on extending the PATRIOT Act's wiretap provision. (Dec 2005)
  • Voted NO on restricting business with entities linked to terrorism. (Jul 2005)
  • Voted NO on restoring $565M for states' and ports' first responders. (Mar 2005)
  • Voted NO on adopting the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. (Oct 1999)
  • Sponsored bill for Iraq budget to be part of defense budget. (Jun 2006)
  • Rated 0% by SANE, indicating a pro-military voting record. (Dec 2003)

I [HEART] Lieberman!

No -- not Joe, silly. Nancy Lieberman. You don't know her? Then you don't follow women's basketball, and you obviously weren't watching women's college ball in the late 70's and early 80's, 'cause Nancy Lieberman ruled!

I ♥ her even more now, because she suited up and played with the Detroit Shock of the WNBA, at the age of 50! Because of a strange turn of events last week involving a brawl (yes, in the WNBA), the Shock found itself down a few players on its roster. So Detroit coach Bill Lambeer called on his old pal, Nancy.

So, she didn't score any points. So what. I still wish I'd seen the game. From the Tuscon Citizen:
With 1:16 left, [Lieberman] zipped a no-look pass to Olayinka Sanni in the lane and Sanni put it in, prompting some of the loudest applause of the night from the crowd of 7,261.

"I think I'll be able to pass when I'm in a wheelchair," she said. "Hopefully, that won't be too soon. But I've always been able to pass and it's fun to make people better."
"it's fun to make people better." -- our thought for the day!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Coincidence ... or not?

I'm a big believer in fate. Not so much in looking ahead, but when I look back at my past, sometimes it's just the only way to explain why things happened the way they did, or why I was at a certain place at a certain time. For example: once, many years ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning only to find that my coffee maker was dead. Completely and utterly dead, even though I had just used it the day before. So I decided to get dressed and walk the 2 blocks to the 7-11 to get a cup of coffee. It was early in the morning and this was a residential neighborhood, so there wasn't any traffic and no one was out and about yet. So it took a moment for my mind to register that someone was saying very softly, "Help. Please help!"

Across the road I saw a man standing behind his station wagon. And as I walked over I saw that his hand was caught between the jack and the bumper. And his face was as white as a sheet. He had been changing his tire when the jack began to slip on the gravel, and he had reached in to stop it. Yeah, bad idea. I think he was aware of this at that point.

Despite those stories of super human strength at times such as this, I couldn't move the car. So I told him I would run back to my apartment and call 911 (this was pre-cell phone days). As soon as I did that, I ran back again. And when a white panel van came up the street, I flagged down the driver, who happened to be a big burly guy. Between the two of us, we got the car up enough to get the guy's hand out, just as the ambulance came screaming up the street.

Turns out I didn't really need any caffeine to wake me up that morning!

In the years that have passed, I still think about that day a lot. Why did my coffee maker die on that morning and not the next? I read somewhere recently the description that "coincidence is God's way of keeping a low profile." Feel free to fill in the word "power of the universe" or however you see this. When you look back at your life, are there times where you wonder how you ended up where you are today? My life has been full of "one thing leading to another."

And today I feel like I'm at a crossroads again. Or at least at another "guy with his hand in the jack" moment.

We went to church this morning because it was the very last service of the Rector who has helped us through this terrible time of losing Unnamed Partner's brother John, to cancer. The Rector came to John, who in turn asked us to go to a Sunday service with him. We did, although we knew next to nothing about the Episcopal Church. But we've met some wonderful people in the congregation there, and participated in baking food for Movable Feast. We started to feel welcomed there. Losing the Rector has felt like losing John all over again, because she has been so important in our journey through the grieving process.

However, the congregation at this church is a little bi-polar. On the one hand, the inside of the bulletin proclaims that "We welcome all ages and abilities, classes and cultures, races, genders, and sexual orientations." Yet, in the monthly newsletter it's reported that a group of 20 met to discuss questions of division and exclusion. The article says "All answers and/or experiences were positive. However, we did not commit to being included on the list of friendly churches for persons of other orientations."

So, you're welcome here, we just don't want to advertise it.

Unnamed Partner and I discussed this last night and went through a range of emotions. We tossed around the idea of getting a busload of queers for next Sunday. We talked about feeling like we're being treated like second class citizens, and that maybe we should stop attending once the Rector is gone. But today after service when I had a moment with the Rector, I (a) thanked her for standing by the ordination of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson, and (b) told her that we would be watching to see what happens with the Episcopal Church and this congregation on this issue. And here is my moment of "fate": she said, "have you met X? Because he is very interested in this also. He feels that he has been called here for this."

So. I can stop going to this church. Or, I can continue to go, and work with X to engage members of the congregation in this issue of acceptance and inclusion. I can be there. Just be there. Because as every gay and lesbian knows, the majority of the people in our lives who still say they're "not comfortable" with homosexuality will be the first ones to say "oh, but you're different -- you're normal." It's the best way to battle discrimination -- to be present in people's lives so that they have to face the reality of what they're saying when they say they don't believe in equal rights. I am the reality. In all my boring ordinary life -iness.

So. To be continued, no doubt.