Thursday, September 29, 2011

In honor of Banned Books Week....

I usually do a banned book post every year.  This year I have a blog devoted to books, so it's over there:

       How to Avoid Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can capital punishment be justice?

You might not expect me to be undecided, but I am.

I've jumped from side to side on this issue.  My first stand was pro-death penalty.  I was a teenager, and encountered -- in a brochure about fighting child abuse, not about criminal justice -- a story of a little boy's death after abuse so horrible that it seemed that such criminals have forfeited their right to live, in the sight of the community, God, in every way.

Later, I changed my mind, then still later, changed it back.  Altogether, I've re-thought it probably half a dozen times and ever since the execution of the OK City bomber, I've been stuck in a muddy, uncertain middle.  I thought that one was the right thing.  I still do.

Here's my thing.

When I read that laws have been written to say that the burden of proof no longer falls on the prosecution at a late stage in appeals, even when the evidence and testimony that is now available would have brought acquittal if it had appeared at the original trial;

when I see that some states fight to execute people who are asking for DNA testing of their evidence, which didn't exist years ago at conviction, and the state takes the unconscionable stand that procedure has been fully carried out and that this makes execution "right";

when I encounter these things, I know that, if capital punishment can be just, it is not now. 

And my own endless heart-changes indicate that, like the people who crafted the system, my stand had been based on primitive emotion.  Not reason, or justice, but pre-verbal, primitive gut reaction.

I think we're hardwired to react with fear, rage and revulsion against the deeds of some, and that we write up loads of procedural legal convolution and spin reasonable arguments, to feel OK about claiming the right to kill.

I think this because, if we really wanted simple justice, deterrence, and safety for the community, we would write laws that never, ever tolerated anything less than going to the utmost length to make sure that only the undoubtedly guilty are executed.

Whenever we can do that, then I will revisit the issue of whether the death penalty can possibly be right or just.  Maybe it can.  I can't even imagine it now because all I see is barbarism cloaked in robes and business suits.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I am ashamed of my country

The execution of a man of whom there is more than reasonable, there is huge, doubt of guilt is the most shameful thing I have encountered in my life.

Am I overstating?  I remember My Lai.  I remember Kent State.  I remember Waco.  Why is this worse?

This is the darkest of them all, even if the number of unjustly killed can't compare, because it's so cruelly and unthinkingly Correct.  Procedure has been followed.  The paperwork is in order.

Procedure failed in all of the other cases, but procedure will always have limits within which it can affect justice or right.  There's a point, like the edge of The Matrix, beyond which the structure can't go and we're in the realm of individual blind judgment.  That judgment is subject to crippling fear, psychosis, greed and rage.

This unconscionable execution is more horrible because procedure has been sanctified and itself is corrupt.

I live in a country where the truth does not matter.  None of the mountain of evidence matters.  It can't stand up against the soul-dead ash-storm of Procedure.  The legalities allow this vicious murder to take place.  The legalities, which exist to support justice, are in the hands of the ugliest human souls imaginable.  They have no reason to fight for the right to kill him, except a craving to kill.

The claim that Procedure is that important is a lie.  Such people care no more about legality than they care about murder of an innocent man.  Procedure becomes God, Truth, and Justice, it doesn't serve them.  The truth is not a goal and the knowledge that he's probably innocent isn't disbelieved, it's irrelevant. They want to kill.  That Procedure, like a game, places rules above reality. Those who play it want a clean, neat way, a way paved with degrees and licenses and performance evaluations, to have what they crave, the power to kill.

I live in a country that calls this justice.  I live in a country where legally sanctioned criminals maintain states' rights, even when that state is the epitome of corruption and its purveyers of justice crawl under the rock of Procedure to deliberately -- not ignorantly, but with full knowledge of the travesty that they're committing  -- serve lies.

I live in a country that is capable of allowing the State Of Georgia that right. A nation that sanctions the "right" of a state to destroy a human being and if that person may be innocent, what a God Damned shame, but it's Within Proper Procedure. 

I live in a country I am ashamed of, because the whole country allows its citizens to be destroyed, to be subject to such state autonomy, to fall to the ice-cold subhuman Proceduralists who jockey into positions of power on a scale small enough to give them the power to craft a system of inculpable killing because they want to kill.

The worst thing I can wish for these bastards is that they live out long lives with an internal system failure of the deadening that has shielded their souls, and answer to some Higher Power when they leave this life.

Troy Davis died at 11:08 PM

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Try not to heave while I do a rare Gratitude post

I'm not much on doing nice humble gratitude posts.  I'd rather gripe.  But this week has brought too many things to love and to be grateful for, so bear with me.

1.  3 healthy cats.  Both sick guys are back to their usual selves, and Little Gray has not shown symptoms.

Downy rests up from the heavy demands of his life

2.  Fall!  The first nice cool overcast days of the season. I actually wore a sweater over the weekend. I'm also a fan of gentle gray days and cool weather, so the cool, cloudy weekend was like a gift. And today, we're getting rain!  Huzzah!

3.  Time with my dad, and the fact that he's still getting around and finding good in life.

4.  A husband who decides to spend the afternoon baking bread.  On his birthday.  That was Friday.


5.  And who walked all over the grocery store to find the chips I craved, on a special display, after I'd glumly given up on them when they weren't on the regular chip aisle.  I didn't make him do it, honest - I'm not that much of a High Maintenance Woman. Probably too much of one, but not that much of one. He disappeared and next thing I knew, he was guiding me to a chip rack.

6.  Books.  At every stage of my life, books have moved me, expanded my world, and kept me sane. This is only a few of the ones that have been the right book at the right time over the decades.

7. The invention of the slow cooker.  It's more than just an easy method of cooking for ADDs.  As luck would have it, the slow-cooker also makes the kind of food I like best, thick soups and stews, one-dish meals.  Slow cooking has existed for eons, but this little wonder of the world lets you do it without keeping watch over it, and without leaving your stove or oven on all day if you're out.

Back to my usual crabbiness without delay....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whatever it is, it's contagious

Now that Scooter, the Previously Sick Cat, is back to normal, Downyflake, who never gets sick, not in 8-9 years or so, has come down with what looks like the same bug.

Slightly different symptoms, in that Downy was panting.  Panting can mean various things and some of those things are pretty bad.

But Downy is The Nice One, and was considerate enough to get sick during regular weekday work hours.  So our regular vet worked him in and found he has a fever and some upper respiratory crud.

Home now, after THREE shots.  One of the shots was benedryl so he's rather mellow.

That's one nasty bug if we passed it by hand from Scooter to Downy -- who never meet in person.  That probably means Graymatter will get it too.  Unless her Personal pH balance is so acidic that it kills the germs.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too soon.

A few days ago I posted on facebook that I intended to miss as much of the 9/11 commemorative activity as possible.  I got a fair number of "Yeah, me too" responses.  Here I am, writing about it anyway.

I've never liked tragedy-anniversaries, but I honestly do understand their importance.  Something terrible happens.  It rips us apart.  Some events require recovery, others need both recovery and assimilation of a new reality, and either way, take a lot of time.  As I heal, I mark that healing : how a year later it's still painful but life is renewing; how 5 years later it's a scar that will always be part of me and in some ways makes me better, more compassionate, more grateful for what's good.  Ten years later, I've survived, grown, hopefully built something good out of what it taught me.

Regarding 9/11, that's crap.  The wound is still raw, the issues still unresolved, and whatever progress in getting-past-it usually comes in a year, or 5 or 10, feels like it hasn't even bloody started yet.

On the contrary, its siren has kept wailing through every day of these ten years.

So - the dialog kind of goes like this:

    "Never forget!"
    "Will you LET me forget?!"
    "See?  You want to!  America-hater!"

No, I don't want to forget.  I want us to move beyond, and I feel like we aren't.  Anniversary rituals seem like something that should come after that.

I'm using "I feel" a lot and that's because that's all it is, my feelings.  It's unquantifiable, and impossible to pass along to anyone else who doesn't feel the same way.

The film footage never stops running.  Not a day goes by that someone does not evoke 9/11 because it's a direct cause of an action, a policy, a debate of the day.

There are those on the one side who say that this is what makes the particular enemy that attacked us so vile - its relentlessness, its determination to exterminate free, democratic western society, so that the conflagration it starts never ends.

And on the other side, there's the feeling that the vilest SOBs of all have exploited the event for perpetual-war mongering and the profits derived therefrom, silencing questions with sneers about "peace at any price" and hating America and cowardice.

I realize that almost no one takes one or the other of those views exclusively.  Most of us see some degree of each going on, even if we disagree about which predominates.

But in either case, 9/11 has barely gotten anywhere near as far, in its process, as a commemoration usually marks.  Anniversaries revisit events precisely because the event is slowly transforming from open bleeding to scar tissue.

Mulling it over, I realize that something in me rebels at letting profiteers and opponents of all non-Christian faiths whip us all up again in a rush of anger/grief/fear which they're just waiting to exploit again.  "9/11 fatigue" might be legitimate on any other day of the decade but this one, and to ignore the day is to pretty much hand it over to the exploiters. It's vital to take it back and give its sole ownership to those who died and who performed stunningly heroic deeds that day.

We need to honor them, but it seems so much like we've all done it every day of this endlessly fresh conflict.

You revisit an event because you've moved away from it.  This one, we pull forward with us, day by day, and I'm having a whole bunch of trouble finding a 10-year marker in the rubble of discord that's not only never been cleared away, but that we keep adding to.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hurricanes, Twitter, and Sylvia Plath's typewriter

No, it's not a Royal.

I recently read a blog post from a young woman who tells us what she's interested in from Twitter tweeters.

There's not a thing wrong with her preferences, but they prove beyond any doubt *I* had that Twitter is a young person's game.

She's uninterested in following people who mostly tweet retweets and links, instead of their own thoughts.  Items 3, 6, and 7 on her list eliminate me from her world right now, not to mention book promotion, which I'll be doing eventually.

OK, social networking is all about finding people who share your interests, so she can be into "Be original! Say something!" while others might enjoy mostly pass-alongs.

Being original or interesting in 140 characters seems to me to be something only occasionally possible. Does that show my age, or does it show the mundanity of my life, or does her generation really care about trivia like the fact that today I hauled out my small crockpot for the first time in 10 years so I could make a smaller batch of vegetable soup? OK, Larry had to haul it out of a high cabinet. And he cleaned the top of the refrigerator while he was up there.

I can share that fairly succinctly, but what's interesting about it isn't really a 140-letter thing. Would tweeting, maybe, be a good exercise in curbing my longwindedness?

Here's what's going on : another hurricane is out there, and I realized while scrubbing the tray for the toaster oven that my whole life from spring to fall is about (a.) prepping for losing everything and (b.) hoping not to.  For that, and the heat and the bugs, summer has become a stretch of grumpy lethargy. Yard and garden work, I give up, and that probably won't change soon, since the heat and bugs are too much for a few more weeks.  But I dismiss indoor projects too.

We're currently watching the immensely fun Warehouse 13.  It's, for the uninitiated, a steampunky series in which the US goverment finds and stores various highly dangerous "artifacts" under lock, key, and "neutralizer" which is a purple goo that disables artifact misbehavior and is always on hand.

The writers have great fun with this.

In the one we watched last night, agent Pete stepped into the evil force-field emitted by Sylvia Plath's typewriter.

The typewriter causes despair.  The team has only minutes to solve a dangerous problem but Pete, roped in by Plath's Royal Manual, stares at it and can't move.  "What's the difference?" he says dully. Who cares?  Nothing matters. There's no point, etc etc.

I might, possibly, have a sick sense of humor but, despite finding Plath talented and her death tragic, I found this hilarious. A soul-sucking typewriter.  Another agent pushes him out of its field and the agents move on to their task.

Today, I made soup and washed up, and found myself thinking, Might as well clean this toaster oven tray. It's all discolored and cruddy, and I've looked at it many times and thought I should give it a scrub.

As I worked it over with Barkeeper's Friend [TM], I thought, "Why bother?  What's the point?  I'm cleaning this so Hurricane Marie can hit us at Cat 4-5 and take it and everything out to sea....."

I realized that I have my very own Inner Plath Typewriter.  I have no idea whether this is learned behavior from a family of rather anxious and sensitive people, or whether it's brain chemistry.  I think its brain chemistry. At least, I can't think of any family members I might have learned it from.  The sort of gloomy pessimism I see on both sides of my family has rarely made them lethargic.  Every one of them has always lived actively, always done the chores, done projects, lived to the fullest, even while being pessimistic about it, and I am the one exception. I retreat into a sort of functional-catatonic state in which I do what has to be done, but not much more. If a task can sit, it sits.

I kept scrubbing (it's still splotchy-looking but usable), and thought, This is good.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Live anyway.

It's not really a breakthrough. I periodically kick the pessimism/sapped energy habit but fall back in.  The Inner Typewriter will activate its gloom-field but I need to neutralize it when it does. Purple goo.  Maybe a brain-food blueberry shake.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Home. Eating. Grumpy.

That could describe me on any day of the year, but in this particular case, it refers to Scooter.

They couldn't find anything wrong with him.  Joyful joyful!!

He still wouldn't eat much when we got him back here, but he also was sneezing.  Cats insist on testing food aroma before they will eat it and whatever the systemic illness was, it put his smeller off.  He'd eat the smellier treats in our repertoire, but that was all, last night, apart from a syringe-feeding that did not go well.  It seems to be slowly improving, and he's now eating odoriferous wet food. 

Still not allowed outdoors until we get him back to normal.  Not happy, but no lethargy. Grateful tonight.

And just WHEN are you going to open this &$^% door??!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Scooter isn't well

We spent yesterday evening at the emergency vet with Scooter, the downstairs, indoor-outdoor cat. He had no symptoms except lethargy and refusal to eat. At the vet (those wonderful wonderful people! They open when all others close, nights, weekends, holidays. Bless them forever) they found he had a fever, so we left him overnight for bloodwork, etc.

Called this morning. His fever is gone! and bloodwork is normal. ?? That's good but he still won't eat.

This cat has usually lost a lot of weight when away from us. Maybe he had some run-of-the-mill infection and got over it but can't cope with (perceived) abandonment and confinement.

He's also not young, age unknown, but not young, and the dreaded day will come, however much I say PLEASE, not today. He get an x-ray later, and then I pray and pray we can bring him home.

I can't describe the uniqueness of this cat. I can tell you how he comes when he's called, how he takes walks with us, how he converses and signals and all that, but you'd have to live with him on a daily basis to really get the experience. I've lived with a lot of cats, and Larry with many more, and neither of us has ever met anyone like Scooter. All our cats have been producers of good endorphins during the stress of recent years, but Scooter gets way and gone the most credit.

So here we sit. I decided I'd illustrate this post with the most recent photo I'd taken of him, no matter what it looked like, and this is it, above. Hanging around the upstairs front door begging for attention.

I hate that we can't have him up here with us. I hate that Graymatter can't tolerate another cat, and I hate that the one who most "deserves" full time with humans he's clearly uber-attached to can't live in the house where he'd be safer and live longer just by avoiding the scrapes and bites and little venoms of nature.

He wants to come in the upstairs where we are, but he wants to enter and leave freely, and to roam. He lived outside too long to tolerate confinement. We tell ourselves that. Maybe if Little Gray Lucretia Borgia wasn't here, he'd be fine with it, but that's not to be.

We know people, and know others through media, who provide safe havens for a lot of animals and we've thought, because we love the idea so much, that one of our callings in life might be to do that. Then Graymatter intervenes and I'm starting to realize that, if there is some Great Plan, we've, maybe, been assigned a different version of the job. We can take in fewer cats, but we get "sent" the ones with few other options.

Scooter ... well, anyone would adore him, but he chose here, and seems to like this Best Of Both Worlds situation.

It's Graymatter who'd be relocated from a lot of homes. She's who she is, she can't help her high anxiety and her .... um .... need to assure herself that her space is hers by peeing on anything whose ownership isn't clearly marked. That picture of Scooter shows him outside our front door. He approaches it and yowls regularly, and we sometimes seen raccoon pawprints out there. To Graymatter, that's where Enemies try to breach the fortress, and she has peed on the door so often that the paint is dissolving.

Who else would both give her a home and love her? She might get shelter, but not the kind of enmeshed bond she gets with us, and that she needs, little psycho that she is. We're certainly not the only difficult-cat tolerators, but we're the ones who got the job. And I do love her, with all my heart.

Meanwhile, I'll call the emergency vet hospital again in a couple hours, and see if we can get our little Crock of Gold back here. He's our luck, best we ever had.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The chick in the mirror

A few days ago I wrote up a major frustration-venting over selling to self-professed "Christian" customers on ebay.

Then I decided, "OK, this was ONE obnoxious person, I shouldn't make a big generalized deal over it and rant away about all Christians everywhere." I got it out of my system, fine, no need to post it.

Today I get another one.

Is two prissy Christians my tipping point? I dunno, but however much it sounds like I'm painting a big population with a wide brush, I have experienced this enough to truly believe it:

A great many people who identify themselves, in largely unrelated matters and venues, as "Christians" seem to feel a massive sense of entitlement to correct and criticize every aspect of others' lives.

First there was a book I labored over creating the listing for, with multiple photos and description, to eliminate the possibility that anyone looking at it could find it deceptive in any way.

Specifically, I listed the condition of a 1960 design textbook as Very Good, which it was - maybe never used, clean, crisp and bright - even though it didn't have its original dustjacket. Jackets survive rarely on those old textbooks, since they got much much harder wear than other one-use reading books did.

A potential buyer sent a snotty sarcastic "question" couched in sweetness, in which she (or he?) talked to me as though I were a small and errant child who needed to be Guided about book condition. Unfortunately, before we had a chance to place a "block this bidder" on her (or him?), she also bid on the book, despite making it clear in her email that she didn't want it as it really was. Now, why would she buy it if...?

Oh crap. She wants the title, midcentury design is very desireable right now, but the cheapest with a decent jacket is $64 and she's given up on affording that, so she'll buy this superior unjacketed copy and then...

This was negative feedback just begging to happen.

We blocked her anyway, but too late, so there was nothing to do but close the listing.

Why exactly I was targeted for this Lesson From The Righteous, I don't really know. While most sellers are using stock photos and pre-filled information, I take multiple photos of important features and flaws, and write up this detailed description that Larry says nobody reads. 8~)

I'm under no illusions about that, but it does cover me. I can point to it and say, "But I said there are spine creases. Clearly. Right there. Line two. See?"

The potential buyer did read it. Her sarcasm was employed in informing me that she was Terribly excited!! to find this book with its dustjacket, because you called it VG so it must have its jacket, yay!!! The sarcasm with which she pretended shock that it didn't have one was pretty obvious. She wasn't misunderstanding.

I do know how to deal with creeps, and I know that it's dangerous to assume that they are not really misunderstanding.

I expressed my Deep Sorrow that my listing had been "unclear" and explained, in equally kind and gentle terms, how book sellers will give separate ratings for book and jacket, so books can be rated apart from their jackets, and how you can get actual information from an ebay listing, by merely reading it and looking at the pictures! It's fun and easy too! No no, I was more subtle than that. Really. But when she wrote again, instructing me again, it was time to bail.

What does this have to do with tightywhitey Christians? Why do I think she set out to Improve Our Walk In Truth by leaving us negative feedback so as to obey Biblical Edicts to Admonish miscreants? In Christian Love? Her user name is (I'll deliberately paraphrase and misspell this) a variation of ChrisstianLuv.

Keep spreadin' the Luv, honey.

Honest, I know that obnoxious people come in all creeds and associations, probably in about equal numbers. Sample any group, whether it's Christians or Pepsodent users or vegetarians, and you'll get x-number of trolls who have some kind of need to claim victimhood, or feel big by correcting others, or otherwise cause battles just because they feel like it.

Then today, the sale of one of my brand-new Bibles, which I packed carefully and securely in protective packaging, got slammed for using the recycled materials. Why the customer cares what the mailing box looks like -- holy bleep, I boxed it and padded it, instead of using an envelope -- is beyond me unless it was intended as a gift and even then, don't most of us order a book, take it out of the mailing box and gift wrap/bag it??

In my librarian days, I was in charge of inter-library loans. We'd get loaners of requested books from the state library or from other libraries all over the country and returns were particularly important. Each customer was cautioned that this wasn't just any loan, it was a trust from a distant library which had no authority in our state/county to get the material back with, and that our library could be blacklisted from the inter-library loan system if too many out-of-state loans to our patrons disappeared.

Exactly two non-returns happened on my 10+ year watch. BOTH procured for church matters or activities. In both cases, the borrower took the dismissive attitude that God's Work made return unimportant, and we could go jump.

Christians are assuredly not any more obnoxious than are others, but there's one difference. Other groups don't seem to think that the group itself issues the blanket license to assume authority over others.

A specific license? Sometimes, sure. Vegetarians can cop an attitude about animal welfare and food matters, sewing enthusiasts will critique garment workmanship.

But blanket license? The belief that their Fight For Truth applies to every single aspect of other peoples' work and lives, and that they are called by Jesus to correct posture, parenting and purveyance of ebay goods? I'm seein' it.

While internet selling is a good choice for someone with a thin skin, I still let them get to me on occasion. This has to be about my inner peace. I joke about Opportunities for Growth and how annoying they are, but the advice I want to give these complainers, which is "Start with the person in the frikkin mirror!" applies to me.

Whatever motivates these people -- and this is one stressed-out society right now. We've had more complaints in the last 3-4 years, in relation to vastly fewer sales, than in the whole 1998-2007 stetch on ebay before that -- but whatever motivates them, I have to do my best and then quit caring. I did well by the customer, with secure packaging, timely service and a good deal, and I have to turn him over to whatever version of Higher Power he's into.

Does this sound like something I should have learned many decades ago? I did and I didn't, because it's one of those lessons that come back and come back and come back and come back.....

The lesson being that avoiding criticism by working overtime to please people (in this case, customers) doesn't solve my inner problem of a thin skin. It reduces the number of occasions on which I have to confront it. It's my job to thicken my skin.

Larry pointed out a unique feature of life in our times that I hadn't really thought about. In selling, or any interaction done online, we're not just dealing with the bad (or good) personalities in a limited geographical area. We're dealing with them all over the planet, and maybe in higher percentages. Just as I like to protect my too-thin skin by putting online access to me between me and the buyers, unhealthy personalities can also find the internet protective. They can lob their stinkbombs over the fence and run away unseen.

Which is why the problem always -- always -- comes from a customer whose displeasure I wasn't expecting. Always. The ones I worry about? Never. The ones I think would have absolutely nothing to find wanting?? It's them, every time.