Thursday, September 4, 2008

Whoa. Stop Right There.

Ah, so Sarah Palin's a hockey mom, is she? Just a good ole down-to-earth everyday gal who, like all us average gals, is completely prepared, in her new tour of duty, to broker deals with bad guys with bombs, keep us safe for democracy and protect, that's right protect, the right of her own sex to decide whether or not to have children. I feel so lucky. And honored too. Because every once in a while I need a reminder that the conservative political establishment thinks women are so rock-dumb that we'll vote for anybody with a vagina. And that anyone with a passing interest in Jesus will vote for a politican who says - as this nitwit did - that the Iraq war is 'God's task.' No, no, no. Not again.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Regular Janes & Joes Learn About Spam

Now this seems like quite an interesting experiment. Is spam really so bad after all? Well, let's think about it. Spam is mostly an attempt to sell us things we don't need or want, and to the extent that those pesky, excited little messages clog our email boxes and force us to cower behind firewalls, deflecting message from people we actually do want to hear from, it seems that yes, spam is pretty bad. Is it "bad" in some other way? Some spam is scam-mail, and that seems bad. Other spam sells penile enlargement devices, faux vitamins and growth hormones, questionable weight-loss therapies, and "hot, wet girls," and those things just seem more stupid than bad. And then the phishing sort of spam, which is actually criminal in addition to being pathetic.

I hope McAffee tells us what it finds out. One thing its testers better have is credit cards. They're going to need them.


"For the month of April, participants of McAfee's Global S.P.A.M. (Spammed Persistently All Month) Experiment will be intentionally clicking on spam messages to surf these sites, to make purchases and to register for promotions in order to see what the consequence of their actions will lead to.

"We invest a lot of time and money in fighting spam and the message has always been that spam is bad and don't click on it. We really wanted to show what happens if they clicked on it and do it in a reality TV kind of format," said Dave Marcus, security research and communications manager with McAfee's Avert Labs.

The Global S.P.A.M. Experiment has 50 participants around 10 geographical locations with five in each global region in countries like Germany, Australia, Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom. "[Participants] are a cross section of regular Joes and Janes just like you and me," said Marcus. "You got retired teachers, accounts, musicians and writers that will cruise the Internet."

Each participant has been provided with a clean laptop without spam protection and a new e-mail address that shields their identity. After the experiment is over, participants get to keep the laptop once McAfee has cleaned them again.

"We wanted people to see what happens to other people who actually digest the spam and use the spam and follow through what the spam is actually asking them to do. We want them to order the watches, order the e-pharmacy stuff. We want to graphically show what actually happens when you live on diet of spam," Marcus said.

He added that one person per geography has been tasked to buy from spam sites using a pre-paid card so their identity and personal information will not be compromised.

The experiences of each participant are being blogged at the experiment's website.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spending Our Way Out of Debt

What a bad idea - money back, when we're drowning in debt as it is? Maybe I'll take this dough and spend it on an economics tutor for Congress. Brought down to a personal level, this is like Macy's sending me a kickback, even though I owe them $10,000 and am in bankruptcy. Like, what's the point? And doesn't it just makes things sort of ... worse? I don't take any responsibility for the country's overspending, but cashing this particular check seems like hurling back another drink to cure a hangover, as Michael Kingsley pointed out. Hardly a cure, as it turns out.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Arguing Some More About Health Care

E-mails between myself and my beloved Republican mate. This kind of bickering is what mixed marriages are all about (at least when the partners are thoughtful, and you want the whole thing to last). What I've concluded: conservatives don't believe problems can be solved - not necessarily, at least. Life is messy, they say, and some people are just going to get the short of the stick. Can't buy your insulin? Well, that's a bummer, but what can anyone do? The thing is, I don't entirely disagree - just mostly.


From me back to him:

Thu 3/6/2008 8:08 AM
Subject: re: our great system

Are you actually insane? ????? If we didn’t pour our money into middlemen’s pockets (i.e., the insurance industry), we’d be just fine. The point is, you dope, that here, in America, we have to have LOTTERIES for health care??? What is this, Calcutta?

From him back to me:

Thursday, March 06, 2008 7:40 AM
Subject: Re: our great system

"At its peak in 1995, the program covered 132,000 Oregonians. State budget cuts forced the program to close to newcomers by 2004, but it now has several thousand openings." Proving once again that we can't afford a government health care system.

Forwarded from me to him:

03/06/2008 07:33 AM
Subject: our great system

Oregon Holds Health Insurance Lottery
BYLINE: Sarah Skidmore; Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon is conducting a one-of-a-kind lottery, and the prize is health insurance.
The state will start drawing names this week for the chance to enroll in a health care program designed for people not poor enough for Medicaid but too cash-strapped to buy their own insurance.

More than 80,000 people have signed up since registration for the lottery opened in January. Only a few thousand will be chosen for the program.
"It's better than nothing, it's at least a hope," said Shirley Krueger, 61, who signed up the first day.

It's been more than six months since she could afford to take insulin regularly for her diabetes. That puts her at higher risk for a number of complications, such as kidney failure, heart disease and blindness.

Her part-time job leaves her ineligible for her employer's insurance plan and with too little income to buy her own.

"I'm worried about it. I know it's a death sentence," Krueger said.

An estimated 600,000 people in Oregon are uninsured, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Those selected in the lottery will be eligible for a standard benefit program, which was once a heralded highlight of the Oregon Health Plan.

At its peak in 1995, the program covered 132,000 Oregonians. State budget cuts forced the program to close to newcomers by 2004, but it now has several thousand openings.

The program covers their most basic health services, medications and limited dental, hospital and vision services at little or no cost.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dinner, Wednesday Night

broccoli, carrots, parsnips, tempeh, udon noodles, ginger, garlic, red cabbage

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dinner, Thursday Night

I had an idea, to take my mind off election season, which is already breaking my heart (though as usual I'm not sure why). If I had to guess, I'd say this: there's an abundance of vision of one side, a paucity of vision on the other, and neither may mean anything at all push-come-to-shove. In office, everybody's something of a disappointment, and as often as not, it's our fault, not theirs. So if the end is uncertain, the means won't be: there's some terrible ugliness to come, and we all know it. Will Obama be Swift-boated by God-fearing Americans who discover his middle name is Hussein? Will Ann Coulter tear John McCain apart limb from leathery limb? And will we cheer mindlessly on?

So back to my idea: dinner, in photographs. Surely we can all agree on that.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Jeans, Teens, and the Coupon.

So here's the thing. Aeropostale, a store I hate on principle, is running this campaign called "Teens for Jeans," where it asks teenagers to turn in their "gently worn" jeans in exchange for a 20%-off coupon for a new pair of pants. The used jeans go to a local homeless shelter, which, almost anywhere you are, you can assume will be bulging, and especially now, when so many "submprime borrowers," i.e., people, are being tossed out of their houses.

So okay. Because I care so damned much about everything, and feel everyone's pain so acutely, I say, Hey, kids, let's respond. Let's tote our old pants to Aeropostale, a store as I've pointed out I'd normally circumnaviate the globe to avoid, and clothe the poor local teenagers who are stuck in homeless shelters and probably wishing they were dead about now. (Have you ever actually been in homeless shelter? I have, many times. So trust me on this one.) Anyway, we've got a chance to give these poor kids our used pants. That in itself is kind of icky, when you think about, but the brands are cool and kids will at least be able to hold up their heads in school, maybe for the first time in their wretched lives.

Of course, two of the children in my house don't care about this campaign. My son pats me on the shoulder and tells me I'm cute. The other one can't be pried away from his video game long enough to recognize that he's being spoken to. Now, my lip-glossed step-daughter, she cares, but only because there's a coupon attached. No coupon, no action, it's that simple. Why bother otherwise? And that's the problem - one of the problems - with all such"we care" marketing ploys. They just underscores what the stylish 13-year-olds amongst have always known: if you're going to give, you'd better be getting even more in return. Otherwise ... puh-leeze. If the poor have to hang around smelling bad and whining, we should at least profit from them.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Karamazovs and the Glasses

Two good things in this blighted political season: Bee Season, the recent movie based on the novel; and The Brothers Karamazov, which I read for the first time last month and am now reading through again. Both are about our highly individual and idiosyncratic searches for God, and the inevitable compromises that we all, saint and sinner alike, must make in the end. Add a third book about religious quests, and an old favorite: Franny and Zooey, which I'm having the pleasure of watching my 18-year-old son tackle right now. Indeed, we just got off the phone, where he complained to me from his dorm room about Salinger's high-flown vocabulary. What's a "Bennington type," or a "Sarah Lawrence type," he wanted to know, except maybe artifacts from a long-dead cultural landscape somehow associated with girls in religious crisis travelling on trains? I told him to stick with it; it'll be worth it. And so it will: indeed, is there a better book for an 18-year-old? If so, tell me. I'm listening.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Four Days to NH

It's 7 degrees in New Hampshire this morning and on the way to school to drop off one of the kids, I see two John McCain supporters, holding giant signs and hopping around in the snow trying to stay warm. The 13-year-old beside me pulls out one of her iPod earbuds and says, "They're here."

I say yes, indeed they are. They've been here for a year, of course, but now they're standing outside trying to avoid frostbite.

Obama's people keep on calling. His is the most persistent campaign, hands down. I expect we'll be seeing his people any time, along with Hillary's and Edward's, fighting for prime locations at the same intersection.

"I don't think they ever change anybody's mind," the 13-year-old said, reinserting her earbud.

"Maybe it's the enthusiasm that counts," I mutter. But she's probably right.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

In New Hampshire with the Candidates

I grew up in Indiana, which never received any attention in presidential elections because everyone knew the state would always go Republican, no matter what. Any lame-brained Republican could win there. My family always voted for the Democrats, and thus my family was always disappointed. But it was never ever surprised.

When I lived in Massachusetts, it was the same thing, only reversed. We got no attention in presidential elections because we were always going to vote for the Democrat, and everyone knew it. A Democratic corpse would've gotten more votes than a Republican in Massachusetts, and to my way of thinking, after wandering in the cultural and political wasteland of Indiana, that was just fine. In fact, I loved it.

Now I live in New Hampshire, and my license plate says "Live Free or Die." (I dislike this quite a bit, but never mind that.) New Hampshire likes to think of itself as flinty and independent, a state where high-minded ideals never get in the way of practical, cheapskate decisions. It's a state on the fence - Democratic in the last election, but Republican in the more general sense. Contrarian, difficult. If you were in a fight with New Hampshire, it would definitely aim low.

So this is what it's like in New Hampshire right now: Obama for President calls twice a night and leaves messages. Hillary Clinton for President calls every three days to poll me again. John Edwards calls once a week just to let me know he's still thinking about me. In today's mail, we got two identical fliers from Obama, one from Rudy Guiliani, and one from John McCain. Two weeks ago we got a annual-report sized piece from John Edward (who looked very fetching, by the way, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, ready to physically attack the deficit, slay the corporate elites and slug it out for the poor.)

The desperation is mounting. Who will I vote for? Who, who, who? I've got an idea, but the truth is, I've wanted to delay all this anxiety until the very end - like worrying about a particularly nasty outpatient procedure that comes every few years like clockwork. It won't kill you, but it will be painful. And a little humiliating, for all concerned.

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