I have to say, I’m really sort of sick to death of the statements going around waving Kim Kardashian’s name and face at us regarding…well, anything. But most recently, regarding why gay marriage should be legal. Actually, I was sick of it the first time I read it somewhere.

And this is absolutely not because I don’t support legalizing gay marriage 110%. And if you in any way question this, please refer to the article I wrote previously: https://gomersasquatch.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/proposition-8-protects-people-from-marrying-unicorns/ .

Furthermore, I agree that the sanctity of marriage has been compromised since probably its inception, and that upstanding right-wing politicians who yell the loudest about it often have several failed marriages under their belts, at least. Or extramarital affairs. Or hookers. Or extramarital hooker affairs involving belts. And often with a touch of gay-as-Christmas scandal to finish it on up. Not that any of these are bad, per se, but these are the sorts of things those politicians hypocritically pose to rally against, and that’s what’s bad. Clearly.

And I can see how drawing attention to their hypocrisy only strengthens our pro-gay marriage equality arguments. The people advocating hardest for a “sacred union” often have a completely unfounded argument when it comes to the way they live their own lives. Let us silence them one by one by holding them up to the mirror.

However.

Who the hell gives a good goddamn about Kim Kardashian’s failed marriage? So, she got married in a highly public fashion—some have argued entirely for this publicity to promote her television show. Maybe. Sure, why not? Although I don’t know too many details about her life and celebrity past snippets here and there, I can still say I find it very plausible. Sooooo, that would put her in league with Gene Simmons this last season of his show. Fine. Trashy, but fine. And following that, Kardashian filed for divorce some 70-something days later. This seems on par for a celebrity marriage.

But then—oh goodness—everyone just went ape shit for a week. Normal, otherwise good-natured people are standing in (a metaphorical Facebook) line to throw the fact that Kardashian couldn’t maintain a successful marriage back at her. Ha ha! One for gay marriage! …wait. What did we win here?

I mean, let’s remove from this discussion the people who went ape shit because they’re actually interested in her life. Because, dear god, why even try to reason with them? You people—you go over to Perez. I’m sure he has something for you.

The remaining people—those whose Schadenfreude leapt from their hearts directly into their wagging fingers at the first chance to go, “AHA! Straight people sometimes get divorced hastily! Why can’t we get married?” Those are the people to whom I refer. But please let me explain.

I guess I just don’t understand the sentiment. To step through it: okay—I can totally see saying this if she had ever been actively against marriage equality or was in any way raving about the sanctity of marriage as she sees it. From what I can find (and if I’m wrong, please point it out; I don’t follow the woman’s “career”), she has never said anything against gay marriage to begin with. In fact, I painfully sat through this video of her stating that she is, in fact, for gay marriage. Nothing political about this video, really. She’s asked a question and seems to summon up a fairly neutral, if not slightly airy answer.

But the point is, the only thing I could find linking her to speaking out about gay marriage is actually a statement supporting gay marriage. And if she has ever been against it but I just haven’t stumbled across it yet, let me be first in line to dance on the grave of her diamond-encrusted schmaltz package she called a marriage, now that it’s been put out of its misery.

But considering I can’t find anything of the sort on her…why is her failed marriage pivotal? In her being unrelated to politics or sanctity of marriage issues, this mudslinging seems…I don’t know…mean spirited, I guess? Or misdirected? Or straight-up irrelevant.

Seriously, couples in Hollywood get divorced all the time. Well, for that matter, so do regular people. And if allowed the right to marry, so will gay couples. Not all love lasts forever, and not all love equals longevity in life-partnering. I realize this is an unpopular thought for both camps, but hey, it’s just the truth. Divorce is a right we are afforded when love turns cold, or expectations aren’t met, or someone is unfaithful, or cruel, or sneaking off to have relations with our livestock, or what have you. It seems to me that by offering Kim as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of marriage sanctity, you are either saying one of two things.

1.) “Look, her marriage was a sham, so clearly marriage isn’t a serious institution,” which totally undercuts the message that gay marriage is in fact a serious institution. Or this argument even encompasses the idea that Kardashian’s marriage proves that marriage isn’t sacred or holy, when it actually still is to many gay or lesbian couples, as well.

2.) “If I—an honest, loving person who has been in a committed relationship with the same person can’t get married, why should someone like she be able to get married?” And is that really a comparison one would like to make?  It cuts at marriage as a whole (when clearly marriage is a concept that’s important to all camps here), almost suggesting the argument that Kardashian shouldn’t have been able to get married if everyone else can’t get married because she’s such a poor model of marriage. Or that committed gay couples have more right to get married than people like Kardashian who don’t take marriage seriously.

And that’s backward. My problem with this issue is that nothing about it states, “She has the right to marriage and we have the right to marriage because we are all equal and deserve equal rights provided to us and to our would-be spouses/families.” The point of the marriage equality argument is that everyone deserves that right—committed gay and lesbian couples, committed straight couples, and unfortunately, people who do it for money or reputation or dowry. (Because anyone of breeding of course still has a dowry.) Everyone deserves it. We’re all people and we all should get to choose how, when, and why we marry (within obvious reason). And that “everyone” is very important to the equal marriage rights agenda.

My gauge is that (and I could be wrong) the sentiment underlying this “Why should a marriage like that be allowed to exist when a marriage like mine is/would be real?” argument is that because straight marriage rights are already given, it’s gay marriage rights that need the media attention and public outrage on their behalf. So very, very true. But if we want to make comparisons to marriages that so offensively fail the sanctity of marriage test, let’s maybe pick a target that’s relevant and where the failed marriage actually proves to uncover the hypocrisy. Where our completely justifiable anger isn’t just spilling out all over the place but is actually focused where it needs to be in order to make the country pay attention and get the point.

And I feel like well-intentioned people are forgetting this in the excitement of the media hate-fest right now. (Well, this particular media hate-fest.) Instead, what’s been going on in reaction looks to me like useless mudslinging at someone who is just going through a divorce. And whether or not this divorce is painful for Kardashian, the mudslinging still lacks tact and precision.

I’m quite dumbfounded that this woman is the one that everyone has been so ready to jump on, when divorces of Hollywood and celebrity tend to line the drugstore magazine racks pretty much constantly. Um, can someone please explain to me why Kim Kardashian should be a  model of the sanctity of marriage to begin with? Why anyone who needs to have their mind changed about gay marriage would have cared one way or another about whether her marriage had been meant to last? Were we all expecting that this marriage was going to be successful? Were we even really caring?

I realize some of you care because you’re fans of hers, and you would probably do well to go read someone else’s blog. Because that’s just silliness. She’s a non-celebrity celebrity. Call me old fashioned, but in my day, you had to possess some sort of talent to be…you know what? Sorry. Tangent. I get worked up. About back in my day. When you had to have SOME kind of TALENT—nope. Stopping now.

But who was really thinking she would be a great person to make an example of? No one seemed surprised that this arrangement didn’t work out (possibly least of all Kardashian’s publicist). So why is everyone all, “Look! Look at your straight marriage, everyone! It fails too!” It’s petty, it’s redundant, it’s flawed logic, and I feel like it takes away from the serious, ardent message of people who want and unquestionably must have the right to marry the person of their choosing—whatever sex and/or gender that may be. I don’t know. That’s just my opinion on this topic. This whole particular media blitz is strange to me.

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Beer Me That Job

July 25, 2011

There are just so, so many things that bother me about the job search process.

For instance: why is it that nowadays, if you want to send in a resume to a job that’s located on a site that isn’t Craigslist, often they make you register with a multi-step process for their own stupid site, which then begins to send you more spam than exists in the entire state of Hawaii? News flash: If I’m looking for a job, I need to be checking my email account for serious job inquiries or, like, videos of kittens happily attacking watermelons sent from friends who want me to be less depressed about the dejecting work of job applications. I do not need it bulked up with requests for me to apply to jobs for which I would never apply and so, you know…I didn’t.

“Job available in your field: Prison Barber” Is it? Is it?

Or bulked up with ads directed at me, the job seeker. Alleged head-hunting agencies that—if really scammy—want you to pay to play, or—if merely sleazy, useless, and opportunistic—desire for you to go to their advertisement-marinated web page that no one actually uses to find jobs. Hey, glad that while I can’t find a job, you’re able to make lazy cash off advertisements springing up in my face like so many unwanted joke nut can snakes.

https://gomersasquatch.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/4e4f5-circussnake.jpg?w=344&h=373

Job peanuts.

Don’t believe me that they’re not there for you to apply to jobs? Actually attempt to apply to a job on one of those sites some time. More often than not, you can’t submit what you need to, it’s unnecessarily convoluted to the point that you end up just not applying, or you have to sign up for more advertisement abuse in order to submit a resume.

Departed are the days of sending in an application directly to the company via email or in a very simple one- or two-step process. Dead and buried are the days of just going over the building and handing the resume in.

(Yeah, try this some time. Then as you leave, hide and watch the receptionist unenthusiastically use it as a great big wrapper for stale gum.) Just, really. In a vast majority of careers, the physical resume is all but obsolete in the eyes of an employer.

Which is fine. All I wanted to do was to email the damn thing in anyway. But it’s just never that simple.

There are other things I loathe about the job application process, too. For example, feeling like the worst sort of corporate whore, having to sell yourself on your cover letter to please the sadistic evil hiring machine of the non-desperate, already-job-havin’ HR dementors while they muse over your life’s accomplishments in the most trivial of manners and make capricious decisions about the fate of your life.

Or that’s at least what it feels like. I know and love a few hiring managers—family members and friends. That’s really not dementors. …that we know of… But I’m fairly certain that all the hiring managers who’ve gone over my resume and cover letter have been exactly like this. Evil suckers of hope and identity.

But most of all, what I cannot handle about the job search process is the interview. The terrible, horrible, stinking interview.

Very possibly it’s just that I’ve always been as inept with interviews as I have been with auditions or, say, blind dates. I lose all semblance of personality (or even what a human is and how it normally functions) when faced with the daunting task of “BE CHARMING AND SAY ONLY THE RIGHT THINGS.” What the hell? It’s like someone telling you, “Be funny.” Or, “Be interesting.” Or, “Be sexy.”  Uhhhhhh. Ummmmm. Buuuuuuuh. *blink, blink, rub eye, blink*

https://monarcaresblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/dog-stretch.jpg?w=198&h=168

“Is this sexy or interesting?”  “No, but it is funny.”

You can’t put someone on the spot like that and expect them to perform well. Least of all me. It’s like I completely lose the ability to comprehend the fundamental makeup of humor or normal speech patterns at that moment and instead sit thinking totally functional and moderately intelligent thoughts with a horrified expression on my face, unable to make them come out of my mouth. It’s amazing—another person’s power to abduct attributes you might otherwise rock when not having to try at them. In these situations, rather than funny, interesting, or sexy, I instead break down into a grotesque amalgamation of the antonyms of all three—a character I think of as Abused Meg.

Abused Meg has had handed to her some of the most ghastly, miserable experiences known to man or woman and is therefore now no longer able to talk with the usual shape or wetness of her former mouth, cannot consider numbers or manifest emotions with certainty, can’t find an appropriate volume at which to express her monosyllabic sentiments, has never seen the sun nor heard loud noises, is constantly on the verge of tears or hiding in her own arm crevice like a sad baby Dracula, and otherwise behaves just as an abused, neglected dog might. At best, she has no personality at all; at worst she’s strange and alienating with the ability to rob anyone else in the room of a sense of normalcy. I am not good at interviews.

And the thing with interviews is, you just can’t ask the freaking questions you want. Mainly—how much will I get paid, and what are my benefits? I don’t get why this is such a taboo. You’re not supposed to ask that until right before you get the job. Why are we all wasting so much time?!

I understand that employers want a person who is right for the job and dedicated to the work. I get that. That makes for a more pleasant work experience for all and a more dedicated worker. But here’s a thought that is applicable for every single person I’ve ever met—unless there’s something truly horrific about my current job, I am leaving my job to look for either comparable pay or a vertical move of some sort, like more pay and better benefits. If money weren’t important with regards to the job, I wouldn’t be working in the first place. I’d spend my time … I don’t know … rowing a fucking boat or painting pictures of me rowing fucking boats. I wouldn’t be sitting in a cubicle taking orders from people. Right? And you—the job dangler—are remarkably stupid in not acknowledging that out in the open and right away.

So why can’t I ask on the first interview—or hell, before I go take off work to waste my time and the potential new employer’s time—what the pay is going to be? Then let’s see if I’m a good fit. Because I tell you what—even if I really love a potential job, I—like most everyone else—do not live in a career utopia fantasy. I have rent and bills to pay. I have to eat. I have a life outside of work I’d like to continue living in a similar fashion or better. I need to find a new job that’s going to pay me what I need to make in order to do all these lovely lifey things. And nearly everything beyond that is a minor deciding factor. The order of importance has to be: 1.) Do I vaguely want to perform this job/am I qualified?  2.)Does it pay what I need/want to make?  3.) Literally anything else that might be a point of interest. It doesn’t matter.

Number 1 is taken care of when I apply. I got the job description, I’m interested so far. Number 2 should be next. Number 2 should always be next. There is no point proceeding if number 2 is a deal-breaker. PEOPLE—NUMBER 2!! Come on.

So, yeah. This is the aspect of our job culture that I think I find most aggravating and wasteful of everyone’s time and energy.  And so does Abused Meg. As she shambles off into the shadows, totally freaking out all who exist there with her wide-eyed weirdness.

**I should note that this is not about a current job search I’m doing. In fact, I’m on the brink of going down to part-time work in a month so I can start full-time grad school (Yaaaaaay!). But being around others who are currently looking for jobs, it brings me right back to that same old rant in my head. Why the senselessness? Why the time-suckage? You know what? Let’s all just quit our jobs and join a commune.

Or go back to grad school.

Hello, happy campers! Here it is: post four (of six) that has been ripped from the cold, dead hands of my former blog. Re-posted here from 2007 for posterity, and may some relevant god have mercy on my sad soul. I give you Moral Turpitude. An Outrage.:

So, I was reading the RedEye this morning like a good little CTA rider, and I came across this small, glimmering gem of knowledge:

“One long-term study on rats showed that former binge-drinking rats—with a binge defined as exceeding the equivalent of a .08 blood alcohol level—had more trouble learning new things than rats that had never had a drop to drink. Tasked with swimming around a pool in search of a platform to stand on, the teetotaler rats were able to find the platform easily after it was moved, while the former binge drinkers—which had last been drunk three weeks earlier, the equivalent of six to seven human years—kept circling around the platform’s original location.”

Which just begs the question–if the average lifespan for a rat is 2-3 years, where are these rats being served? Clearly Chicago’s age enforcement for bars is not as stringent as we all thought. Shame on you, city enforcers. Shame on you. I move we discredit this study as unethical on the grounds that they must instead test on animals old enough to understand the effects of alcohol. Like turtles.

So many possibilities.

Do you know how many samples of my frightening genetic code would be out there if I could sell my sperm? Not that I have sperm. That sounded like I’m speaking of my sperm like I have sperm, like it already exists. Or will ever exist. For the record, not that I’ve ever extensively microscope-checked anything that’s left my body in one way or another, but being that I’m female and all, I’m relatively certain I don’t have sperm. I’m not, like, secretly hording anyone else’s or anything, either. That would be creepy, and that’s not how I meant my opening sentence. In sum, I have no sperm.

I feel like that was unnecessarily complicated.

But that’s the point. It would be so much easier if I did have sperm. That’s like a nonstop ATM attached to your body. Need a buck? Grab a magazine. AND it’s helping people who really want babies to have babies. AND it would be spreading my seed so that I may some day have a thousand me’s to carry out my nefarious– I mean, nothing. My nefarious…group of…pacifist gardeners…who desire nothing more than to plant flowers all over the world.

What? Nothing. What’s over there?  *walks away*

Nothing to see here.

The Great Battle

June 10, 2011

Things I find it nearly impossible to do while in a relationship:

1.)    Lose any significant amount of weight. Not a few pounds here or there, but significant weight.

2.)    Well…no, that’s really about it. Truly. It is a crazy phenomenon brought on by a number of things, and after talking to many others about this, I’ve found it isn’t singular to me. Not nearly.

3.)    Yeah, no seriously—just that.

Now, there are a number of factors that go into this phenomenon. Because when single, despite certain genetic—oh, we’ll call them “gifts,” but they will refer to things like curves—I find I tend to lose weight pretty easily by tweaking any number of behaviors. When I’m putting even moderate amounts of effort and/or money into it. Not that I wish to get rid of my curves, mind you, gentle reader. I usually quite like them, and I think they’re highly undervalued in this society’s media. (Curves in general, not mine in specific. Actually, you know what? Fuck. Mine in specific. YOU WILL APPRECIATE MY CURVES, AND YOU WILL LIKE IT!) But my healthier ideal weight is probably around the one I lied about on my driver’s license, so I’d at least like to get to that place.

But when I’m single, I have more money and effort to put into keeping a certain weight.

And aside from having effort and money to put into losing weight when single, I also find that I just lose some weight in general as a singleton, even without the added effort. This is because when I’m bored or anxious/tripping on the paranoia one can only achieve while living alone and realizing that having not left your apartment all Sunday means you haven’t actually heard the sound of anyone’s voice—not even your own—for over 24 hours, I tend to spend all my free time walking. I do love walking to alleviate unpleasantness. It’s so cathartic.

For example, my anxiety and paranoia while single might manifest like so: “Dear god—I haven’t had sex in two months. TWO MONTHS! Wow. Like, I don’t even really miss it…I just didn’t notice. Oh my god, come to think of it, I read once that there’s a pheromone you emit when you’ve been having sex regularly that attracts the opposite sex. Can they smell my sexual inactivity? Is my singleness repelling people??!”  (Said in my apartment alone, talking to my plants.)

And a walk—ooo, a walk just takes all the nasty craziness away and replaces it with sanity and clarity of thought. Like, “Ahhh. Much better now. Frightening paranoia has ended; I’ll just suck on these juicy beta endorphins for the next hour and go sweetly to sleep.” It just clears the air. A walk is like the Glade air freshener of my fetid psychological miasma. That’s poetry. I may stitch that on a pillow.

Only, since being in a relationship, when I’m feeling anxious, there is another sentient being in the apartment at most times who tends to quell the emotional baddies much better than my plants ever did (who still have yet to put a nice arm around me when I’m sad. So, you know what? I quit watering them. Yeah, screw you, you heartless bastards). And when I’m bored while in a relationship, my sig’ o’ and I just do something or watch something together. I’m not complaining; it’s lovely. I just now have no motivation to go walk out of general malaise until I’m too tired to remember what was bugging me. And that seems to rule out just losing weight without really trying.

In in a relationship, there never seems to be enough of anything to accomplish significant weight loss when I am really trying: free time, money, superfluous energy, etc. Even when I feel like I’m putting lots of energy and focus into it, it does not happen. And it’s so irritating; I eat sensibly. My portions aren’t large; I almost never like fried foods or things in butter; the only meats I usually eat are chicken, turkey, or fish—again, not in butter or fried; I seldom go back for seconds; I don’t often fancy dessert; I like vegetables and healthier options generally whenever possible; and I’ve cut out copious amounts of drinking. Hello, body. I’m torturing you with sensible, healthy eating—you’d think you’d shape up.

But I think I’ve boiled it down to a fair number of reasons.

1.)

First, age. I was 24 when I got into my current relationship; I am 27 today. Now, I’m not exactly a card-carrying member of the local gomer club (despite a rather misleading name for my blog), but I’m no spring chicken anymore either. Maybe like a summer chicken. And I’m thinking my body has decided to prepare me for the joys of bearing children and carrying them on my hips whether I make the active decision to procreate right now or not. Much like happens with chickens’ bodies in the summer! True story…

And I’ve come to this conclusion because, most specifically, it used to be easier to lose weight in certain areas of my frame than it is now. Ergo, I’m going to go ahead and say age is one of the villains of this piece.

2.)

Things can’t get any freakin’ better!

Secondly, happiness. It is damned difficult to worry about fighting myself with health food and annoyingly long hours of exercise when I’m too happy to notice. Not that I disliked myself when I was single, by any means. I was just more honed in to the task at hand, you see. The battle with my instincts of “tastes good = is good” and “feeling of laziness = well-deserved sleep,” if you will. I was a warrior in the body fight. And now I’m all, “Tra la la…whatever. Sugar bomb? Meh. I could really go for an orange pop…” I’m all sleeping in on weekend mornings rather than going out for a walk because the bed is such a nicer place to be with my partner there. Damn this insufferable, infernal contentment! What is it getting me?

3.)

Thirdly, I do not live in the constant fear of never having sex again. Say what you will about this statement, but that panic button for me and many others is a big, shiny, red one. It will make you do things you have absolutely no desire to do (when being totally honest with yourself)—things like going out at all hours of the night to packed bars booming with music so loud that you nightly lose your voice just trying to ask the name of the random sweaty person whose hand has been on your ass for the last half hour rather than just staying home with a hot toddy and a decent, quieter, more satisfying form of entertainment. Or suffering through torturous first date dinners with people you wouldn’t want to talk to if they were the only person who spoke English in a 1000-mile radius. Or regular small talk. Or going to comedy clubs for amateur night. Or, I don’t know, jogging. Point made.

4.)

An actual shot in my kitchen last week.

Next, I spend most free time I do have (which is precious little, let me tell you, and that is no understatement) doing relationshippy or couply things rather than at the gym. If I do get a night free, it’s so much nicer spending it at home with the darling male companion. So that’s how I spend most of my free time. And again, “most of my free time” is a small percentage of an already small percentage of my composite time, so have perspective. (I work a full-time job, do freelance work, commute 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, go to meetings and appointments most evenings, and see people constantly.) Also, see “not living in the constant fear of never having sex again.” This fear would trump wanting to spend free time at home if it were a certain reality, but it is not.

5.)

Cakes!

And finally, cooking for two. It has always been really easy for me to lose weight when cooking for just myself because I’m willing to eat some remarkably unenjoyable things. When I was single, since I don’t care about meals terribly much, I would often just make sure I was hitting certain food groups and stayed below a certain calorie/fat content amount. And then I’d eat what I’d made, regardless of whether any of it went together. It wasn’t about the pleasantness of the experience. It was about having fuel, and …doing math, and …eating nearly indigestibly healthy, tasteless things. But now that I cook for two (we have a nice system where I do all the cooking, he does all the dishes), I cook entirely differently.

It’s not that he’s picky; he’s said numerous times he’ll eat whatever I cook. And let’s just all pause now and appreciate a good’un when we see one. He’s a good’un.

But even though he assures me he’s not picky, I don’t want to inflict bad meals upon him. I prefer to give him a nice, balanced meal (taste-wise as much as health-wise). No, I don’t know why. I just do. So I cook things we both want to eat, which immediately ups the starch intake, at least. It also puts more meat where I normally wouldn’t put it, since he works on his feet all day, and I feel he should have a good intake of protein. I still cook things without putting them in butter and have other healthy cooking habits thoroughly ingrained. Still.

But furthermore, healthy food is often fresh food, which as you probably know is pretty damned costly. Health food generally does not consist of things that come out of boxes and cans. And therefore, making meals of healthy food for two people is even more expensive than…well, than making healthy food for one. Which is already fucking expensive! So in order to cut costs, we eat more things like pasta. More bread. More rice. These carbs add up, don’t ya know.

So, despite my continual work to overcome these obstacles, so far, aside from the small weight losses here or there, my efforts to lose significant weight have been fruitless as of late. Similar stories from many, many of the shacked-up people I’ve talked to. Damn. And combined with back problems I’ve had over the last two years that make it difficult for me to do any workout more athletic than walking, I think it might just be one of those things that will continue to plague me for quite awhile.

As will my plants not responding to me.

Heartless.

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Smoking the doily

December 28, 2010

My conversation today with my Darling Male Companion. This amused me. *Ahem*:

Me: Ha! My blog is signed up with RSS feeds so links to my blog appear on random pages, and I get linked to from all kinds of crazy, unrelated things. Like pet sites, travel blogs, etc. Well, I just got linked to off WikiLeaks. Awesome.

DMC: WikiLeaks?  O_O   I assume this means the FBI reads your blog, too.

Me: Lol, right? I’ve gone federal; break out the champagne!

…Maybe I should remove that bit in there about when I shared a doobie with Hilary Clinton and Medvedev next to a decorative pail of yellowcake…

DMC: I assume it’s too late. Erasing it now just makes you look guilty.

Me: What if I changed it to “birthday cake”?

DMC: No good. The mandatory minimum sentence would be for the doobie, not the yellowcake.

Me: Well, changing “doobie” to something like …”doily” would avoid a misdemeanor, but changing “yellowcake” to “birthday cake” eliminates possible treason for exposing government secrets.

Like when Ethel Rosenberg got pinched for her satirical blog, “Chillin’ With the Manhattan Project.”

DMC: …So your story is that you, Clinton, and Medvedev were smoking a doily next to a birthday cake?

Me: Hey, they were crazy times.

Um…this is all true.

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The Murder Basement

March 22, 2010

(Note: this is not an actual photo of my former basement)

I am not crazy, damn it. At least, not with regards to my sensitivity to supernatural beings. I will admit to a heightened sense of paranoia and a major case of stopped-tracks ear-twitching that I experience in the event of creepy noises that come from strange places, things that fall over with seemingly no reason or visible motivation, or spontaneous smells and sudden changes in temperature. I’m well-aware that these are things that just happen sometimes, and still when I go to investigate what’s caused them, I don’t rule out supernatural occurrences from my list of culprits. More often than not, this proves to be overly suspicious on my part of the situation at hand; drafts, for instance, always get the better of my imagination.

Nonetheless, I know the difference between freaking myself out over a totally normal thing and the feeling of an actual presence, and I do feel presences from time to time. Sometimes where I live.

When I lived in my studio apartment over at 432 W. Surf St. from 2008-2009, I absolutely hated going down into the basement to do my laundry. This is one of those very old buildings that had formerly been a hotel in Lake View back in the early 1900s, and so the rooms were set up like old hotel rooms—a wall light mounted on either side of where a bed clearly had been, French doors, a tiny kitchenette with a little eat-in section. It was positively adorable. (See image below for what the kitchenette looks like, taken off the leasing site.)

It was also very poorly kept up. Every time a tenant would leave, the property managers would plaster over anything that needed it—I could barely put nails in the walls because the wall would crumble around them, and there is actually a place in my kitchen where I could push my finger through the wall if I applied enough pressure. This should not happen on a normal wall, in case you’ve never had walls and are wondering. This is the opposite of a wall’s purpose.

Rather than keeping the wood runners and wood on the French doors looking nice, they had painted them over white (even the glass on the French doors). Nothing worked well. My ceiling and bathroom wall was growing mass amounts of mold until I complained and they came and painted over it with more white. Yeah, shitty management company.

Anyhow, the basement was totally removed from everything else. When you came in and went through what once was the lobby, you could either go up the shitty falling-apart staircase to the several apartment units or into the doorway to the left that led to a barely fluorescent-lit hallway for the basement. If you are smart, you avoid the basement area every time. It smacked of the basement in Amityville Horror. There was certainly a wild-eyed stepdad going crazy down there around some corner, waiting to take an axe to his beloved. Certainly.

Also, if mass amounts of mutant, standing-straight-up-and-hissing cockroaches weren’t enough to deter you from taking your laundry through this nightmarish stretch of hall (I could occasionally hear the faint sounds of Splinter training them to be ninjas),  then the eerie remoteness would have been enough. Removed as it is, there is also a multitude of doors leading to seemingly nowhere, doors without handles, open wires hanging from the ceiling, and one doorway that led into complete and utter blackness that seems to have a wall directly inside that possibly was just torn apart—wall guts lay strewn along the floor. You walk down the desolate hall, increasingly aware you’re being led out of anywhere public, and end up at a floor-to-ceiling door with a long, wide peep slot at eye-level cut out of it. No glass in it, just a hole shaped like a large Pyrex tube on its side cut into the door. Inside that door is a really weird laundry room.

Note, I only ever did laundry in here about 4 times while living there. Otherwise, I would take my laundry somewhere else and do it for much more money. That is how much it meant to me not to spend unnecessary amounts of time here. The room itself was strange enough—really old laminate paneling formed a wall to the left where a wall clearly had not been originally, and a doorway cut into that artificial wall that had been paneled over with the same laminate. The door frame was still there, but a wall was made where the door should open. What’s back there? Um, aside from a giant cockroach resort, spa, and brothel? I’m not sure. But it felt unpleasant to be back by that wall for some reason, I can tell you that.

The first time I went to do my laundry down there, I was minding my own business, loading things into the wash machine, when suddenly I stopped what I was doing. Note—generally, I am not afraid of ghosts. There have been times I’ve felt the presence of something, and as long as it doesn’t feel hostile, I often will just say hello and go about my business. So, let me just preface this by saying I wasn’t swept over by sudden fear because the basement was a little creepy. No, I was hit by a different feeling than fear. I glanced back at the door peep hole, suddenly, very much expecting a set of eyes to be looking directly at me from the other side. I was just sure of it. Nothing. So, I continued to load things into the washer.

But then it swept fully over me—my stomach was suddenly sick, like I had eaten something bad, and I felt very disturbed. I wasn’t sure why. Just very agitated, horrible, like something was very wrong, and I knew very much that I needed to leave. And I left. I waited for my roommate Eddie to get back home before I went down to pick up my stuff, because I was not feeling okay being there alone. That was the first time.

Eddie said he felt nothing down there, by the way; I was just being crazy. Okay. Fine.

I went down to do laundry a few more times after that, even once with another tenant (that time, we were standing there talking, and the entire front panel on the wash machine fell completely off in front of us. The wash machine had not been on, and we had not been touching it). And all was not well in the state of Denmark. Each time, I usually felt fine at first, and after a few minutes, the same sick feeling would come over me, and I’d need to leave. After awhile, the only time I went down there was to take guests to be like, “See? Huh? Right?” And they’d agree. One friend of mine didn’t even want to walk past the door into the room. He’d had enough, and he wanted to not be there anymore. I certainly didn’t argue.

But the rest of the time in that building was fine. My particular apartment unit never felt threatening at all, not even when I was home alone or had watched a scary movie. It was just that basement. I moved out after my lease was up, and since then I’ve only brought the creepiness of the basement up a few times. I fully assumed that something bad had happened in that laundry room back when it was a hotel, maybe behind that angry laminate wall, and that the remnants of the act still linger. But meh, not like I’ll ever know.

Then, last week a friend of mine was doing some research and came across this information: the building directly next door to my former apartment and another apartment, 2800 N. Pine Grove (less than a block away), were “among the homes occupied at various times by the founder and leader of the North Side Mob, ex-singing waiter and floral artist, Dion O’Banion, in the early 1920s. 2800 N. Pine Grove stands opposite the Commonwealth Hotel, where, a few years later, entertainer Joe Lewis was brutally attacked after he switched venues from a Capone-controlled bar (where the Panera now is on Diversey by my former apartment) to a North Side Mob saloon.” Ooo. That’s scary. Okay.

So, I’m thinking if this was going on in the building next door, very possibly someone had done some very bad things around the area. Perhaps someone was brutalized in the building next door, or even in my own building, or had hidden something there or something. Maybe, right? Maybe.

I ended up having a terrifying dream a couple of days after having found this information, wherein I had printed out my friend’s mob email and walked into the lobby of my former 432 W. Surf residence late at night. The place was a tomb—I mean, no one was stirring there (but then, no one really ever did. I often wondered if there were more than a couple other tenants even in the building, since it was a big multi-occupancy building, and I only ever saw like 3 other people). I had been about to walk up the steps to where my old unit was, but on instinct, I turned on my heel and walked into the hallway to the basement. I got inside the creepy hall of certain doom, and there was just this voice—either in my head or whispered at me, that said very clearly “GET. OUT.” I responded, “Okay, I’m leaving,” and turned around to go, only my ponytail was grabbed and tugged hard, and I couldn’t move. So there I was doing the Scooby Doo, running but not getting anywhere, until I noticed my hair had been caught (and hung) on the door hinge. I unattached it and started running toward the lobby door (which was being held open for me by an invisible force), still feeling like my hair was being tugged the whole way. I got to the threshold of the door, when my hair got pulled hard again, and it hurt. It was stuck on this outer door hinge now, too, inexplicably, so I freed it and went running out and down pitch-black Surf Street. Scary shit.

I told this dream to my friend, you know, to blame him for my interrupted sleep that night. A few days later, he sends me this:

“More nightmares—this one was your building:

SON OF MA BARKER ARRESTED – Arthur “Doc” Barker, son of gang leader, “Ma” Barker, was arrested here in his apartment at 432 Surf on January 8, 1935.

The real “Doc” Barker was a notorious criminal who committed various crimes throughout the 1920s and ’30s, from bank robberies to kidnapping and murder. His mother, “Ma” Barker, made headlines as the leader of the crime gang made up of Doc, his brothers (Herman, Lloyd and Fred) and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (so called, because of his sinister grin).

Doc was arrested in Chicago on January 8, 1935 and was sent to Alcatraz prison in 1936. A map found in Doc’s apartment led to the discovery of Ma Barker’s hideout where a shoot-out with the FBI left her and Fred Barker dead.

On January 13, 1939, Doc Barker and two other Alcatraz inmates attempted escape. None made it off the island however, and Doc was killed by a shot to the head during the melee.”

I just want to pause to say how much I love the word “melee.” Anyway, continue.

“In January 1935, agents of the U.S. Justice Department’s Division of Investigation–soon to be renamed the FBI–were closing in on the notorious Barker-Karpis Gang, nearly a year after their successful $200,000 kidnapping of St. Paul banker Edward Bremer. On the night of January 8, the G-men raided two apartments on Chicago’s North Side. At 3920 North Pine Grove, they arrested Byron “Monty” Bolton and two women. Another gang member, Russell “Slim Gray” Gibson, elected to shoot it out instead. Donning a bulletproof vest and arming himself with a Browning Automatic Rifle, Gibson ducked out onto a fire escape and was brought down by a .351 rifle slug which penetrated the front of his vest. He died soon afterward in a Chicago hospital. That same night other agents, led by Melvin Purvis, arrested Arthur “Doc” Barker and his girlfriend Mildred Kuhlman outside their apartment at 432 Surf Street. “Where’s your gun?” asked Special Agent Walter Walsh. “Home,” replied Doc Barker. “Ain’t that a helluva place for it?”

In the Pine Grove apartment, agents recovered a small arsenal, including a .32 Colt automatic, a .38 revolver, two B.A.R.’s, a 20 gauge Ithaca Auto Burglar gun, and a .351 Winchester rifle fitted with a Thompson foregrip and Cutts Compensator, along with a large quantity of ammunition.  A search of the Surf Street apartment revealed a Thompson submachine gun. The serial number was filed off but the gun later proved to be one taken from wounded police officer John Yeaman during the August 1933 holdup of Stockyards National Bank messengers outside the South St. Paul Post Office. Officer Leo Pavlak was killed in the same robbery.

Among “Doc” Barker’s effects agents discovered a Florida map, with the Ocala region circled. Barker refused to say anything about this but Byron Bolton was more cooperative. He revealed that Fred Barker and Arrie “Ma” Barker were living beside a Florida lake and that Fred enjoyed hunting a large alligator known locally as “Old Joe”; according to Bolton, Fred circled the lake in a boat, towing a pig as bait and hoping to shoot “Old Joe” with his Tommygun.”

WOW. Okay, this is awesome! That is some confirmation for me. That feeling I had had? I guarantee you bad things went on in this laundry room or behind those handleless doors. I’m now fairly certain I lived above a MURDER BASEMENT. Is that a term? It is now. But seriously, I could feel the undeniable ugliness and the negative energy, the ghosts of anguish past, stirring around in this room and that hallway.

I am way creeped out. And now I want to go back there with this knowledge, only I can’t. Apparently I have really easily grabbable hair.

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This Post May Kill You

March 3, 2010

So take it on a full stomach.

Well now, the thing is, I had been writing an entry that began with a discussion of the popular phrase regarding the definition of insanity—you know the one. The one that’s been floating around in common usage since about the mid-90s, often winding up in business seminars as a means to promote other businessy things, like “thinking outside the box.” It is as follows, and note that its wording has been paraphrased many times over the years, so it possibly bears the wear and tear of conversational license: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Various sources will attribute it to the likes of Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. Long-dead, very learned guys with (surprisingly similar) crazy white hair seem like incredibly trustworthy originators, don’t they? (Can’t you just see the first moron to create this mix-up: “Einstein said it. Hmmmm, yes. Or was it Mark Twain? Dammit, their pictures are SO SIMILAR!   They’re pretty much the same thing.”) Other sources will say that both of these are incorrect, and that the origin is likely Rita Mae Brown in her 1983 book Sudden Death. Which puts its inception much more recently, not shockingly.

Ya see, from my tender teenage years, I was practically raised on this phrase. My dad does tend to recite it like a mantra when the situation calls for it, and while I understand how it’s a helpful reminder to try something new (calling to mind images of silly people who realize a foreigner can’t understand English, so they just continue to repeat the same English phrase at the foreigner, only louder), that particular bit of paternal dogmatic endowment always stuck in my craw. Do I have a craw? I’m not sure. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I have a craw. That is where that phrase has embedded itself.

And my profound apologies for the discrepancy, father, if you read this. I just never happened to like this one.

I had started this entry off that way, intending to make some point, and then I put this entry—half-finished—off to the side to cool for a few days. I was about to pick it back up again, when wing-nut Joseph Stack decided to do a kamikaze off his good judgment and steer his airplane into an IRS building last month, effectively killing himself and tragically one other person who worked inside the building. The reason this had tripped me up is that he had written a suicide “manifesto” before going through with his actions, as I’m sure you’re aware. In it, he had said, “I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”    …Mmmhmm.    O_o

Well…crap. Since this was plastered all over the news, discussing this phrase now possibly falls under the “too soon” category, or potentially will not be able to stand on its own as a separate discussion, because people are all focusing on his message. Furthermore, I am generally not in favor of giving this guy any more spotlight than was necessary to simply report the tragedy of his innocent victim, nor do I wish to seem like I’m having a rational discussion about the recent words of a kook with an airplane.

And then I decided to—you know what? Fuck it.—finish it and post it, since really the phrase is only the initial part of this entry. And furthermore, I think this guy actually illustrates why this phrase sort of sits ill with me. And that reason is that it is an over-generalized phrase which is not literally correct. “Insanity” is a strong word, and an important one, considering that it’s accepted a sound reason to completely dismiss a person’s statements or actions as unintentional or unable to be helped, ergo rendering the originator inculpable. Weighty stuff. So it somewhat irks me when it’s lobbed about to fit whatever little thing people deem silly or possessing of a low ROI. And god knows we’re a society obsessed with ROI. (Though, of course, my annoyance refers to formal or didactic uses of the word “insanity,” not when people are using conversational connotations of it. I’m not about censoring things that make language colorful; like, it really affects me very little when people are all, “Dude, did you check out the wicked hot bartender? His body is insane!” Sure, whatever. Why not. I refer to people using it when speaking with authority on something.)

Yeah. Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting to get different results is the definition of redundancy with a learning curve. Or something along those lines, not insanity. By contrast, the actual definition of insanity is, usually, unsoundness of mind often affecting legal responsibility. To illustrate—giving money you don’t wish to give to the IRS for your entire adult life and expecting the system, which you find unfavorable, to change on its own is “redundancy with probably a steep learning curve” (the “steep learning curve” bit lying in the expectation of change part, not the recurring behavior. You are, sadly, legally bound to continue paying your taxes, I am sorry to inform you). Alternatively, Mr. Stack’s assumption that the way to clearly break this dismally futile pattern is suicide/homicide with a side helping of structural demolition of a government building is “insanity.” Note the difference. (Also note that when a legally insane person utters, “I am finally ready to stop this insanity,” it means they are about to take a bath in it.)

Okay, so the real purpose of this entry, aside from my nitpicking over this modern definition not being the definition of insanity but rather an occasional indication of it, is that this definition of insanity phrase has gotten so oversaturated in popular American culture that we forget sometimes that doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of “practice.” In that, sometimes it merely makes you better at whatever behavior you’re repeating, and that leads to different results, too. I think the prevalence of this definition of insanity phrase is a great indicator of how the notion of patience has completely slipped through the cracks of our modern, instant-gratification society, but that’s neither here nor there. Really, it had me thinking about the Tower of Hanoi.     …and why wouldn’t it?

The Tower of Hanoi shows us the importance of doing something over and over again, because it illustrates that we build muscle memory. Even if our psychological process isn’t learning anything from repetition—although it often does—our physical process learns for us. Which is all kinds of neat.

https://i1.wp.com/mathworld.wolfram.com/images/eps-gif/TowersofHanoiSolution_700.gif

The Tower of Hanoi (above) is a puzzle where one has to figure out how to get the four ascending-sized pieces of a puzzle from their pyramid shape on the first nozzle (in a set of three nozzles) to the third nozzle in that same final pyramid shape, one piece at a time (see the link for an illustration of how it’s done and hopefully a less ridiculous understanding of it than I was able to give you).

This puzzle generally takes awhile for people who aren’t Good Will Hunting to figure out. What was interesting here was that they found that amnesiacs doing the puzzle day after day eventually improved their ability to solve it competently, when they didn’t ever remember doing the puzzle before, or even the person administering the puzzle. These experiments were used by psychologists to show that we have muscle memory: increased levels of physical precision through repetitive behavior, in addition to our experience-based memory. Cool.

And then a barrage of existential questions hit me (and pardon me if they twist about in a rather labyrinthine way here). Aside from building muscle memory, which we seldom do intentionally, why do we do things again and again when, the probable majority of the time, it isn’t yielding results? I assert that doing this is not insane (as some would prefer to hyperbolize) because repetition is such a common human behavior—common enough that a vague cultural definition-of-insanity phrase had to be created and reiterated ad nauseam to discourage it. Is our proclivity toward repetition derived from a desire to preserve the action in our memories, rather than from stubbornness or stupidity?

And what is the purpose of making memories, other than merely learning to avoid danger—or is that it? No, certainly there’s something having to do with a memory’s purpose that distances humans’ minds from those of mere animals, which operate on instinct. We strive so hard to preserve certain memories, even ones that are ultimately detrimental to our health (whether we do so consciously or not), so surely there’s more to our collecting of memories than the instinctual survival of the species.

I consulted an interesting article on cryonics (of all things), about how memory intertwines itself with identity and whether preserving memory is the most important part of sustaining life, in the hopes of better understanding why we make and keep memories:

“To some people, preservation of memory is the most essential task of cryonics, whereas others regard feeling as being more critical. I am somewhat skeptical of both these views, but I do not have an alternative thesis — I am searching for one. If memory is critical to identity, why do I perceive that in the last year I have added memories, but not altered my identity? If some memories are more critical for identity than others, what are those critical memories and where do they reside? It may be true that to abolish all my memories would abolish my identity — but it is also true that stopping my heart abolishes my identity. That does not prove that my heart is the essence of my identity.”

I don’t know that I agree with this person’s dismissal of the firm bond between identity and memory, but at least it got me thinking of how they were interrelated. If the reason we do something again and again actually is moreover to make a memory, as I had hypothesized, are we doing it therefore to extend or preserve our identities? Isn’t that why we say doing menial tasks again and again builds character? Or is that just a platitude to alleviate the unpleasantness of it?

Memory is altered over time, as we know, and it is often shaped by personal perception. Does this indicate that over time my identity actually shifts, and that’s what causes my memory to alter? Could be. A progressed or evolved state of personal identity yields a changed perception in me and accordingly adjusts my memories to fit that perception? Or even, adversely, if my memories simply modify over time due to other factors—and many will—will it cause my identity to correlationally shift over time if memory and identity are inseparable? I mean…my tastes change over time, and they are integral to my identity.

To give an oversimplified example, I used to like to wear lots of dangly, clanky jewelry hanging all over myself. It made me happy. It made me feel comfortable. Now I like less stuff hanging all over me. So my tastes have evolved. How I prefer to present myself has evolved. How I see myself has evolved. And ergo there’s been a slight shift in my identity, right? I would testify so. Our tastes are just an expression of who we are or who we want to be—identity. And clearly identity has the ability to evolve. Again, I realize this is over-simplified, but it accomplishes my point.

On the other hand, certain aversions which memory has taught my body to create have evolved over time. For example, I got sick once eating tuna and couldn’t eat it for about a year, even though I know that all tuna isn’t going to make me sick. It’s a common defense mechanism of your body. But now I love tuna again. This indicates to me that my unconscious memory had created a taste aversion to preserve my body from whatever in that tuna made me sick, and that the particular unconscious memory seems to have left me along with the aversion. Bam!—memory alteration. (Oh god. Did I just become the Emeril Lagasse of mind-numbing conversation topics?) So, considering that identity and memory both evolve and assuming that the two are interwoven, does identity alter memory, or the other way around? Is it the chicken or the egg?

Furthermore, assuming identity is attached to memory, if I wish and wish for a painful or uncomfortable memory to be erased from my mind, is it because I merely don’t wish to carry it with me, or is it, more deeply, because I seek to alter myself?

More importantly, can identity exist without memory? Think of amnesiacs, for instance, or Alzheimer’s patients. Are they without identity? Much of our identity has to do with how we uniquely react to circumstances, our individual process of doing things, how we learn, and how we grow. While memory strongly affects each of these, the absence of memory wouldn’t leave us without these abilities. An auditory learner who gets clunked on the head by a falling ACME anvil may become an amnesiac (…you know…if they live through the subsequent cartoon-like effect of being hammered a full meter into the ground with just their appendages sticking out in alarm, the 4-inch bald lump that later rises from their head, and, naturally, all their teeth falling out like so many piano keys), but I would wager they’ll still likely be an auditory learner (short having incurred brain damage beyond amnesia) after the anvil event, as opposed to a visual learner (on the heavy assumption that their ability to see, hear, or learn hasn’t been altered by the cranial reception of an anvil). That’s because it’s ingrained in their identity, I think, the way their genes have determined they’re neurologically wired.

Dig it:

“Spiders can weave intricate spiderwebs, but this complex behavior is not learned — it is built-in neurological machinery. A female bird that is hatched and reared in isolation from other birds is still capable of building a perfect nest…”

“Even when learning does occur, neurological wiring may dictate which experiences result in learning and which do not. Many birds learn to form a strong emotional bonding at birth to any nearby distinctive and animate object — a process known as imprinting. Many animals develop strong aversion to a tasty food following a single experience of nausea after eating it.”

Our actions are a part of who we are, and they are present whether or not our memory is. Like the Tower of Hanoi. A person who had lost their memory midway through life was able to ingrain a behavior without neurological or psychological memory—their muscles learned to do something, and to do it a certain way. The person has no accessible memory of ever doing this.

Does this person have identity? Is their identity forever stunted from altering itself after they quit making new memories? Or does a neurological wiring to perceive muscle memory show that their hard-wiring is crafting an identity for that person, accessible memory or not? Are their behaviors, reactions, and sensibilities being stored somewhere other than the “tangible” memory, thus perpetuating who they are without their consciousness? Are we then predestined to be who we are, at least somewhat? Clearly our genetics can’t account for the circumstances and events in our lives that will occur and spark a change in us, but does our hard-wiring determine which of these experiences we will learn from and which we won’t on an individualized basis—whether we’ll experience pain, pleasure, or fear from the experiences?

The answer, darling class, is I don’t know. Possibly our identities can remain somewhat intact without the aid of memory. Possibly they’re also strongly influenced by memory, and we continue to make memories or strive to memorize in order to have a more well-rounded shape to our individual selves. Perhaps doing the same thing over and over again is comfortable for us because it triggers the feeling that we’re memorizing, which gives us the psychological ease that our identities will be preserved. Or maybe we do it because practice makes perfect. Regardless, repetition is not the definition of insanity; it is very human and very common. And sometimes, it’s the only thing that yields progress.

Whew. Who needs a nap?

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You Had Me at Rhinoplasty

February 10, 2010

Well, it’s the beginning of February, and that means that holiday of Hallmark holidays is coming up this weekend. And in honor of that magical day of romance and tenderness, most newspaper, Internet, and magazine ads are telling you all the ways you can alter your appearance, act especially out of character, or spend exorbitant amounts of money in the hopes of finally satisfying that special someone in your life who—assuredly—has just been putting up with you out of sympathy and ignoring crippling disappointment until now.  And isn’t that nice of them?

Who can ignore the nigh-pornographic images on a current gym advertisement of a half-naked couple—so tightly toned, you could bounce a quarter off the newspaper ad—on the verge of bumping pretties. And that thought bubble floating up from the Ken doll-looking gentleman pondering how grateful he is that Barbie’s abstained from a normal healthy caloric intake and subjected herself to grueling daily hours at the gym instead of that pesky bookworm habit. And all for this perfect Valentine’s Day moment of passion.

And thanks to all the dental offices out there whose February advertisements remind you that tooth-colored teeth will never, never do when attempting to knock the socks off your significant other with your winning smile on this very special night. You need a blinding grin, ladies, as you indulge in sweet conversation over a rich bottle of Merlot… which will end up temporarily darkening your teeth anyway, but really it’s the thought that counts.

I think possibly the most helpful are the Valentine’s Day ads for cosmetic surgery clinics, like this one from Nu U Medspa that accommodatingly informs you it’s not too late to surprise your Valentine’s date with a new you.  *Pause to hear the majestic singing* Presumably your date asked out the old you with the intent of trading up for a better model. Nu U is here to grant you relief by letting you know that you can still have that little procedure before your big V-day date this year! You know… apparently it’s still early enough that the pussing sores from your permanent body alteration will probably have healed in time for you to limp along on your evening of unbridled romance at the steak house and subsequent Jennifer Garner feature film. Why—if you grab a week’s package with Nu U, you could be smoothed out, hairless, with the fat siphoned out of your hips and ass and joyfully pumped back into your lips and laugh lines for a truly reasonable introductory payment plan!

I especially appreciate that I can re-contour my face and plump my lips by buying one syringe and getting the second syringe half-off. God, that’s a generous offer. It actually borders on philanthropy, and I’ve been meaning to write the city to ask for a day commemorating Nu U’s altruism. Happy Valentine’s Day—here’s your (half-free) second ass-fat needle; you’ll be looking like a Real Girl in positively no time, darling! And won’t he be a lucky guy. Additionally—since any date of yours who prefers you stiff-faced and full of tiny seepage holes is such a tremendous catch to begin with, won’t you be a lucky lady? Love is in the air…hmm-mm-mmm-mmm…

This all hearkens back to a fascinating and funny (in a laughing-so-you-don’t-cry kind of way) article I read at the end of January: The 6 Weirdest Things Women Do to Their Vaginas. Somewhere along the way, some brilliant person realized that we women are completely overlooking yet another way to feel adequate and satisfied—modifying our ugly, grotesquely horrible vaginas into pink, little fluffy pelvic clouds. Because lord knows, our dates have always spent all evening thinking up ways to avoid them. In fact, I can’t tell you how often I’d hear the resounding cry of the typical male—not to mention lesbian—lamenting that dreadful moment at the end of the date when they have to try and come in contact with these awful orifices. Thankfully, women are given expensive ways to make our vaginas minty, pale, bald, and less “floppy,” “irregular,” or “unfeminine.” You know, less like freaks of nature; more like god intended when he created microdermabrasion and chemical peels.

In short, thank you to all the companies out there who have reached out to us who read your advertisements during this fine, frosty February. Your encouragement toward creating the perfect evening does not go unnoticed.

This year, however, I do believe I’m going to give a Valentine’s Day gift to myself. Selfish, I know, but whaddayagonna do?

I am going to dress the way I want. No, no, seriously. I’m going to dress the way I want. I’m going to keep company for the evening who not only thinks this is a good idea, but who is also dressed the way they want. I’m going to eat a normal-sized meal and behave in a way that’s comfortable. I’m not going to attempt to impress anyone by looking or acting in a way I normally wouldn’t. And I damn sure expect the same in return. I’m going to spend a very reasonable amount of money, and I’m going to use all the money I’m not spending trying to impress on actually worthwhile things. And to top it all off, I’m going to have the audacity to think this is the perfect way to spend an evening, and also completely memorable (or, failing that, I’m going to realize that this is just another day and go about my business like someone who hasn’t lost their goddamn mind).

And I wish the same for all those I love. This means you.

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This is rather long, but I haven’t blogged in awhile. So…. dig it.

Interesting stuff going on right now. One of the topics that caught some recent buzz is the issue of abstinence-only education—long in the public’s eye, as it remains a point of contention across political parties and only recently lost its federal funding this year in favor of a more inclusive type of sex ed. I think most rational people can agree that some form of sex ed is entirely necessary in order to raise our children to be fully aware of their bodies and how not to crash, burn, and holy fuck, destroy the hell out of themselves. Like giving them a map through a land mine field, the more informative the map, the less likely they are to step on one and… blow their genitals to smithereens. Excellent metaphor, Meg. Moving on…

Deciding on which map to use is its own issue. According to recent news sources (possibly released a little too conveniently after Obama’s 2010 cutting out the federal funding for previously failing abstinence-only programs), University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine recently announced the news of a study detailing an intervention in which an abstinence-only education method proved somewhat more effective than comprehensive sex education in a trial Penn Medicine had conducted to measure success in delaying the onset of sexual activity in pre-teens.

This is actually pretty big news in the debate over effective methods in reducing unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STIs). This study has noteworthy significance, mainly due to conservative groups having pushed adolescent abstinence-only sex ed for years, mostly with the backing of the Bush administration’s massive grants and funding programs for this type of health education (though it bears noting it was initially established before his first term).

Established in 1996, massive federal funding was granted to abstinence-only health courses (rather than comprehensive sex ed), which were and are widely known to be highly ideological and largely morality-based, teaching kids only abstinence until marriage. This gets especially hairy when considering it alienates whole groups of people, like those who do not choose to get married, or homosexuals, who sadly aren’t even permitted to marry in the majority of states. And they tend to portray sex in an often off-putting, negative light, not allowing any discussion of contraceptives or prophylactics.

As SIECUS reports, “While these programs often replace more comprehensive sexuality education courses, they rarely provide information on even the most basic topics in human sexuality such as puberty, reproductive anatomy, and sexual health.” Yikes. This is a problem, as these are all issues central to the health of the adolescent and, therefore, any person they decide to love up, married first or not. This is why the Obama administration cut federal funding for abstinence-only in 2010 in favor of comprehensive sex ed programs, which not only feature abstinence education, guidance, and promotion, but sexual health and sexual protection information to prepare students for when they do decide to engage in sexual activity.

For an informative breakdown of the differences between comprehensive sex ed programs and abstinence-only programs, SIECUS details a nice chart for your reference, though bear in mind it is generalized.

Before continuing, I should state my purpose in discussing this issue, as it happens to be one particularly close to my heart. Considering that I am and have always been a firm supporter of comprehensive sex education, and also noting that I have proudly worked for Planned Parenthood, I want to make it clear that my aim is not to promote some liberal ideology about how this issue should be taught in a perfect world. Rather, it is because of my tremendous concern for the sexual and emotional health of our adolescents (and adults) that I support comprehensive sex ed as the proven most efficacious method of reducing the heartbreak of abortions or unwanted pregnancy and the danger of sexually transmitted disease. Cause I’ve seen it. Since everyone does not belong to the same religion or set of moral standards—nor should we be arrogant enough to think everyone everywhere should share our own personal beliefs—I think ideology over science is pretty pointless. And in the case of something as life-impacting as sexual health—damaging on an unconscionable scale.

It is because I value science over unyielding ideology that I don’t criticize this study. I don’t. Although I would like to see a detailed public breakdown of their testing and research before I can say that about their methods (for instance: I’d like to know how they account for margin of error or circumstance, since these children are submitting self-reports of a very sensitive nature which may contain untruths; or how many 12-15 year-olds do you know have sexual opportunities readily available to them at convenient times? Lord knows I didn’t. Well, not many.), I do maintain praise for the purpose behind and conclusion of this study. Any scientific study—the word is scientific, not “morally founded”—devoted to the best ways to reach kids with messages on abstaining from destructive decisions is positive and very worthwhile. I do criticize, however, the way many media sources are construing the findings of this particular study and what these media propose the findings mean.

Many news sources, of course, strive for sensationalism and creating a stir; this isn’t lost on anyone of intellect. Creating a stir yields greater debate, yields continued headlines, yields increased circulation. Woot. And even less credible sources often strive to boost an agenda by picking over and selecting only certain facts to give their readers a hazy understanding of information, figuring that most people will not go directly to the source and see what data has officially been released. Right? Right. (Or some that shall not be named strive to bolster a conservative agenda and address a puerile desire to yell “Told ya so!” at the first potential opportunity. That part contains my own bias and observations, and you can quote me.)

My beef with many of these news sources is the way they have glazed over the information of this study in order to make the findings seem more significant or shocking than they are. For example, many of the sources I’ve read or listened to—at least 15 or so, including the wording of the Penn State press release—have given very spotty details and the vaguest terms, which make it easy to overlook what they’re actually reporting. Make sure to pay attention to the wording when you’re reading about this or listening to it. A random example from the one of the print samplings:

CNS News:

The study found that an abstinence-only message was significantly more successful in getting pre-teens to delay the onset of sexual activity than was a “health-promotion control intervention” – or general risk-reduction effort…

There was a 33 percent reduction in self-reported sexual intercourse from the abstinence-only group, compared to the control group, by the end of the study. Of the students who reported that they were sexually active during the study, there were fewer reports of recent sexual activity from the abstinence-only intervention participants (20.6 percent) compared to the control participants (29.0 percent)… After two years, one-third of the abstinence-only group reported having sex, compared to one-half of the control group.

First of all, like many other news sources, this source doesn’t go on to state what the control group actually was, aside from a “’health-promotion control intervention” – or general risk-reduction effort.” Wow. Seek out a more detailed news article, if this is all they’re giving you. A better article will tell you that this “general risk-reduction effort” from the control group wasn’t pertaining to sex at all, just general health.

See the New York Times:

In Dr. Jemmott’s research [author John B. Jemmott III, PhD, professor of Communication in Psychiatry and of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine and Annenberg School for Communication], only about a third of the students who participated in a weekend abstinence-only class started having sex within the next 24 months, compared with about half who were randomly assigned instead to general health information classes or to classes teaching only safer sex. Among those assigned to comprehensive sex-education classes, covering both abstinence and safer sex, about 42 percent began having sex.

Or just pick up the Reuters article:

African-American sixth- and seventh-graders who completed the eight-hour program, which involved a series of brief activities and games (and no lecturing), were one-third less likely to start having sex in the next two years compared to their peers who took part in a similar program that targeted health issues unrelated to sex…

Jemmott and his team assigned 662 children to this [abstinence-only] program; an eight-hour “safer sex only” program designed to promote condom use; an eight- or 12-hour intervention combining both approaches; or a control group in which children underwent an eight-hour educational program on health issues unrelated to sex.

So what to take away from this is a more complete picture of the facts. Yes, this study showed that this particular abstinence-only program was about 9% more effective than the comprehensive sex ed program in preventing sex among 12 and 13-year-olds as they matured over two years, and that’s a significant finding since it contradicts numerous studies that have been done previously about the utter failure of abstinence-only programs nearly across the board. But rather than vaguely letting you make the assumption that the control group in this study is the comprehensive sex-ed group, a more detailed news source tells you that the control didn’t teach sex ed at all, just general health.

So, okay, that makes perfect sense. 12 and 13-year-olds not being taught sex ed whatsoever would logically be more likely to engage in sexual activity than those who had been effectively taught about the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and HIV, etc. Cool. At least we may have stumbled onto an abstinence-promotion system that works for reducing the early onset of sexual activity, which—if proven through more trials and testing—could help accomplish half the battle toward a sexually healthy youth. HALF the battle. The other half is preparing them for when they do decide to be active.

We need to remember that “this is the first randomized controlled study to demonstrate that an abstinence-only intervention had reduced the percentage of adolescents who reported any sexual intercourse for a long period.” So much more development needs to go into this in order to determine its effectiveness over other groups of adolescents, whether it works throughout the rest of the teen years (this is an enormous variable), what specifically about the way it was taught makes it most effective, etc.

The danger in the doing cartwheels over this one study is that findings can easily be twisted by certain ideologues in order to lead to the destruction of certain comprehensive sex ed methods we have found, through dozens of other trials over years of research, to be the most effective and health-consciously responsible. So again, do remember to put the discussions of this article in context, if your news source hasn’t for you.

For instance, as Jemmott says of his study: ““It is extremely important to find an effective intervention that delays sexual activity; the younger someone is when they have sex for the first time, the less likely they are to use condoms.” Absolutely true. But it is also imperative to find an effective intervention that teaches about condoms too, because when someone doesn’t have any helpful information on the benefits of condoms when they have sex for the first time… the less likely they are to use condoms, too. In fact, they are not likely.

He continues, “Abstinence-only interventions may have an important role in delaying sexual activity until a time later in life when the adolescent is more prepared to handle to consequences of sex. This can reduce undesirable consequences of sex, including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections like HIV/AIDS.” Yes. They should hold off until they can make more mature decisions about sexual protection. That is the value of teaching abstinence in sex ed. But with abstinence-only programs, where are they learning all these accurate and appropriate sexual decisions to make when they become adults? Nowhere? Through the grapevine? From less-informed sources? Think about the things you heard about sex before you were taught. If I have sex standing up, I can’t conceive, right? …Is that not right? Like, everyone says that’s right. Right?

What makes this abstinence-only program in Penn State’s study stand out as effective is that it isn’t promoting waiting until marriage like many morally based or religious programs that have gone before it; it merely teaches waiting until you’re ready to have sex. “Several critics of an abstinence-only approach said that the curriculum tested did not represent most abstinence programs. It did not take a moralistic tone, as many abstinence programs do. Most notably, the sessions encouraged children to delay sex until they are ready, not necessarily until married; did not portray sex outside marriage as never appropriate; and did not disparage condoms.” And if you think it’s a little shaky to merely say “until you’re ready,” at least this study shows it seems to work much better than what’s been previously taught in abstinence-only programs.

Another surprising finding was that “the theory-based abstinence-only curriculum [in this study] appeared to be as effective as a combined course and more effective than the safer-sex only curriculum in delaying sexual activity…None of the curricula had any effect on the prevalence of unprotected sexual intercourse or consistent condom use.”

Not something we’d like to hear, especially about comprehensive sex ed which does teach about using the condoms, but this actually makes sense, too, if you think about it. Allowing that the reason behind delaying sex until maturity is that immature sexually active adolescents have a lesser likelihood of weighing the consequences of sex and a lesser likelihood of having a healthy concept of their own mortality or sexual danger (and thus of feeling the need to sexually protect themselves), it is entirely necessary to teach effective abstinence information to children to guide them in holding off until they are mature enough to make responsible decisions. And that is where this new study proves exceedingly useful—possibly showing us a way to teach abstinence in an engaging and effective way. It is a critical part of sexual education. But this abstinence approach needs to then be tossed into the bowl with comprehensive sex ed and made into a beautiful comprehensive sexual health… salad—oh so good for you, and all the better for the variety of ingredients. Yeah, go with me on the metaphors. Try using some yourself today. It’s not easy what I do, people.

“The study’s authors — John B. Jemmott III, Loretta S. Jemmott and Geoffrey T. Fong — cautioned that abstinence programs are not an effective long-term solution… A common shortcoming of behavior-change interventions is that efficacy is demonstrated in the short term but disappears at longer-term follow-up,” the report said. “This may particularly be a problem for abstinence interventions. Unlike many risk behaviors (e.g., cigarette smoking, drug use), sexual intercourse is an age-graded behavior; the expectation is that people will eventually have sexual intercourse.”

True enough. This study was measuring people having sex under the age of 15. When they grow up a little into their sexual primes, they will need more to go off: “Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, said that in his opinion, the abstinence program does not go far enough toward helping youths who are sexually active make informed choices about contraception. He would like to see federal funding for programs aimed at abstinence and safe sex… “If you’ve got 24 percent of your class that’s sexually active, what about them?” Wagoner asked. In addition, he said, “OK, you’re 12. You’ve abstained until 14. What about the next five years?””

And this is the point—until an abstinence-only program is 100% effective in delaying sex until maturity, it leaves the remaining adolescents who opt to have sex (in this case, roughly 30% of the students, and who knows how many more over the following two years) in the dark. Kids usually lack the maturity to make responsible decisions with sex, which is why messages urging abstinence should certainly be perfected, taught, and promoted. Hopefully this delays early sexual intercourse. But then what happens when those kids who’ve only benefited from abstinence-only education finally reach this maturity where they’re able to make decisions in their best interest? Who will have given them the accurate knowledge to protect themselves adequately? The answer is likely no one, without the additional support of comprehensive sex education. If this is redundant on my part, it’s because it sooo bears repeating.

Comprehensive sex education teaches students the value of abstinence and then reaches out to the ultra-important goal of any of these programs that are worth their salt—STI protection and the avoidance of unwanted pregnancy. If you only teach them to delay sex for a few years but then deny them accurate information about their sexual health and protection options, when they finally do have sex—and they will—they will be a far greater risk to themselves and anyone with whom they come into sexual contact. Hopefully this study teaches us ways to fine-tune the abstinence promotion part, since pop media—magazines, advertisements, movies, TV, and pretty much anything online—make this abstinence message terribly difficult to nail into the head of an impressionable early adolescent. And hopefully everyone can benefit from how effective comprehensive sex ed can be with possibly some new approaches included in it.

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