Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I voted. Have you?

Early voting rocks!

Thanks to the well-thought-out planning of the government (I can't believe I just said that!), there are a lot of early voting stations with convenient hours for voters this year. And according to the latest report, the election this year may have a record turnout because people are allowed to vote early, during a long range of days and hours.

I did have to wait in line for about an hour but it felt great when I stepped out the voting booth. Plus, my 5 year-old boy was so excited about getting the sticker that said, "I voted!"

One third of the voters are expected to take advantage of Early Voting, and I assume that means one third of the final total count, including people who otherwise would not have bothered and been able to vote on Election Day. A dear friend of mine put up a poster on her front yard to remind people to vote, now or on November 4. I think it is a great idea, esp. considering that Halloween is just around the corner, and people in your neighborhood are going to be walking by your house with their kids.

Make a poster and urge your neighbors to vote!

But before you do that, go vote early yourself!

Labels: , , ,

I dig "Really? Really??" "Are you serious?!"

I don't understand why there was not more bluhaha around the AIG retreat. For those of you who haven't heard of it, AIG brought all their top executives to St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif for a week-long retreat. The $443,000 tab includes $23K for the Spa. Here is the breakdown for a vacation of the lifetime:

(See Washingtonpost.com for the full report)


Most of the attendees at the convention between Sept. 22 and Sept. 30 stayed in premium "pool view" rooms at the 400-room hotel, with 47-inch LCD TVs and marble bathrooms furnished with a "Deep Roman" bath and shower. The rate: $375 per night.

The group also booked 17 "ocean view" rooms, at $425 each, and one "presidential suite," discounted from its usual $3,200 a night to $1,600.

Another $9,982 was spent on food and drinks at the StoneHill Tavern, the Monarch Bayclub, in-room dining and the lobby lounge; $6,939 on golf; $1,488 at the Vogue Salon; and $1,450 on no-show and cancellation fees.

An invoice dated Oct. 3 said AIG still owed the resort $40,543 in charges after a $402,701 deposit. The itemized bill does not show what executives specifically ordered at the spa and salon, but a look at the hotel's spa menu shows 75-minute "intuitive massages" at $215 a pop (most of the executives spent $210 each for a spa treatment on Sept. 25) and men's and women's haircuts and styles starting at $50 and $75, respectively. Executives also spent $147,302 on banquets at the hotel and $23,380 at the Spa Gaucin, which features three-story waterfalls..."

The kick is, they went on the retreat IMMEDIATELY AFTER receiving the Fed's Bailout package of $85 Billion.

Talk about reinforcing bad behaviours! And I got dirty looks from the storeckerk when I bought my child a lollipop after he threw a tantrum???

I cannot believe that there were not more reports on this. Weren't people outraged? I surely am. I am utterly disgusted. Are people simply tired? Or have we been so thoroughly disgusted that we simply don't want to talk about it any more? This fall has been great for SNL. You cannot make these stories and characters up. Most people weren't alerted of this outrage until they saw the Weekly Update skit on SNL. (Fastforward to the 2:15 mark if you must...)

If I had written a story like AIG and the beyond-comprehension shamelessness in my creative writing class, I would have been criticized for being contrive, buying into the archetype, for catering to cliches. This is real life! In one's wildest creative dream, one would never have been able to conjure up a character such as Sarah Palin. I wonder whether people on SNL should consider voting for Republican this time to make sure that Palin stays in the limelight for four more years. With her in the White House, they can probably get rid of half of their writing staff and simply replay whatever is going on in real life.

I am beyond outraged. I am actually for once, speechless.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Now that's customer service!

(Bless the investigative reporter's heart: at first glance, I thought this map was used for some sort of military reconnaissance maneuvering!)
I am glad to finally read a report on excellent customer service provided by cellphone providers. Seriously, aren't you tired too about all the bad press endured by these companies? This story just proved that, yes they can, if they just put their mind to it, make sure that you can use your cellphone in your darn backyard, even if yours is a 15-acre ranch...
From Washington Post Exclusive: Verizon and AT&T Provided Cell Towers for McCain Ranch

My friend Joe (no relation to Joe the Plumber: and speaking of plumber, I am so glad that Joe is not a carpenter, because that would just be too allegorical, too weird, wouldn't it?) complains about the lack of cellphone reception in his own house. Because the phone is provided and paid for by his company, he reasoned, "Well, I can't really go about getting a new phone, now, can I? That would just be stupid, not taking advantage of the company-paid phone. I think I may have to move into a new house!"

Joe, I want to let you know: there is hope for ya yet! (Again, I am speaking to Joe who is not the Plumber mentioned in the debate 2 dozen times last night. It just happens to be an all-American name. How lucky for the candidates that it is catchy too...)

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, October 9, 2008

If you think you are being watched, well, you are...

Wired posted the first image demonstrating the power of satellite photography.

"This bird's-eye view of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania was the first image ever seen by the GeoEye-1, the world's highest-resolution commercial satellite sponsored by Google, when it opened its camera door earlier this week."

(The above comparison picture comes from my new favorite website ReadWriteWeb).

So the US Government is footing half the bill while Google comes in as the second major sponsor. I have to say: NGA (a government security agency) and Google make strange bed fellows. It attests to the power of Google, and I am sure this is giving the Conspiracy theorists a bad heartburn right now, and at the same time, providing wonderful not-far-from-reality material for sci-fi writers out there. Thanks to the government for putting a stop to Google's power: "There's one catch for Google: While the GeoEye-1 will provide imagery to the NGA at the maximum resolution of 43 centimeters, Google will only receive images at a 50-centimeter resolution because of a government restriction." Whew! I was worried for a sec. It is ok I guess for the scientists and government agents to spy on me. But Google? That's a completely different scale: I certainly don't want to be seen frolicking in my pajamas in the backyard by the whole world. (Frankly, I don't want to be seen by the whole world even if I were 30 lbs. lighter and 15 years younger. Period).

And if you are Bradgelina and you are worried that the Paparazzi soon will have unlimited access to your privacy, no worries: "Google's partnership with GeoEye is exclusive, meaning the search-engine giant will be the only online mapping site using the satellite's photos." (Yes, Paris, we know you are disappointed...)

As a Suburban Mom, I can think of one great practical use of GeoEye: this should finally shame our neighbors into mowing and weeding their lawns properly! Isn't technology wonderful?

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 6, 2008

The New Zen

If Rob Cottingham is not a genius, I don't know who is. Again, Mr. Cottingham's post together with his musings here.
"There are times when I wonder if there's something wrong with the fact that I anticipate, say, the next Macworld keynote or big Google announcement more than, say, my own birthday. But then I get distracted by a cool new web application, and the feeling goes away."

We are in dire need of a stand-up comedy act based on the musings from the technosphere.

I think it is also time that we re-write history for "Men: the New Shopaholics". It is simply not fair for women to continue to bear the stereotype of crazed material obsession any more. If anything, men tend to be the ones with gadget envy.

Anything you say can be used against you, in a brand new way

You can see Rob Cottingham's post here.

Define "Workaholic"...

I love this one! You can see the original (with proper credits) here.

The best part is the first comment:

"Hey, you should try my solution to the social web - get yourself some kids.
Then you have no time for social networking..."

My sentiment indeed.

Long live Kilgore Trout!

I have not mourned the death of Kurt Vonnegut, and now it is one and half year late(r)... By not thinking about it, I thought unthinkingly that it would be as if he had not left this world, to me at least. The way the world is going to hell in a hand basket, perhaps, one could argue, it is better that Kurt is not here to witness this mess. He was one of the few satirists who truly loved this world and the people in it. He was in love with humanity and hence his frustration with it showed often in between the lines. He couldn't seem to be cynical. Even in all his satirical moments, he read sincere. Perhaps that's the point of all his writing: we cannot afford to be cynical towards our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, cynicism seems to be the only way to stay sane nowadays, esp. since they (Congress and the news media) overnight changed the name of the bill from "Bailout" to "Rescue Plan"...

NOTE: I DID NOT WRITE THE FOLLOWING, arguably one of the finest eulogy that I have come across for the greatest mind in the 20th century. I copied the entire fine article 15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will by Scott Gordon, Josh Modell, Noel Murray, Sean O'Neal, Tasha Robinson, Kyle Ryan (April 24, 2007). I printed the whole thing out and read it often, to keep me grounded, to stay away from the big blinking sign that says "What do I care? As long as the lawn is mowed every week..."

1. "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

The actual advice here is technically a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's "good uncle" Alex, but Vonnegut was nice enough to pass it on at speeches and in A Man Without A Country. Though he was sometimes derided as too gloomy and cynical, Vonnegut's most resonant messages have always been hopeful in the face of almost-certain doom. And his best advice seems almost ridiculously simple: Give your own happiness a bit of brainspace.

2. "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."

In Cat's Cradle, the narrator haplessly stumbles across the cynical, cultish figure Bokonon, who populates his religious writings with moronic, twee aphorisms. The great joke of Bokononism is that it forces meaning on what's essentially chaos, and Bokonon himself admits that his writings are lies. If the protagonist's trip to the island nation of San Lorenzo has any cosmic purpose, it's to catalyze a massive tragedy, but the experience makes him a devout Bokononist. It's a religion for people who believe religions are absurd, and an ideal one for Vonnegut-style humanists.

3. "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand."

Another koan of sorts from Cat's Cradle and the Bokononist religion (which phrases many of its teachings as calypsos, as part of its absurdist bent), this piece of doggerel is simple and catchy, but it unpacks into a resonant, meaningful philosophy that reads as sympathetic to humanity, albeit from a removed, humoring, alien viewpoint. Man's just another animal, it implies, with his own peculiar instincts, and his own way of shutting them down. This is horrifically cynical when considered closely: If people deciding they understand the world is just another instinct, then enlightenment is little more than a pit-stop between insoluble questions, a necessary but ultimately meaningless way of taking a sanity break. At the same time, there's a kindness to Bokonon's belief that this is all inevitable and just part of being a person. Life is frustrating and full of pitfalls and dead ends, but everybody's gotta do it.

4. "There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

This line from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater comes as part of a baptismal speech the protagonist says he's planning for his neighbors' twins: "Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." It's an odd speech to make over a couple of infants, but it's playful, sweet, yet keenly precise in its summation of everything a new addition to the planet should need to know. By narrowing down all his advice for the future down to a few simple words, Vonnegut emphasizes what's most important in life. At the same time, he lets his frustration with all the people who obviously don't get it leak through just a little.

5. "She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing."

A couple of pages into Cat's Cradle, protagonist Jonah/John recalls being hired to design and build a doghouse for a lady in Newport, R.I., who "claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly." With such knowledge, "she could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be." When Jonah shows her the doghouse's blueprint, she says she can't read it. He suggests taking it to her minister to pass along to God, who, when he finds a minute, will explain it "in a way that even you can understand." She fires him. Jonah recalls her with a bemused fondness, ending the anecdote with this Bokonon quote. It's a typical Vonnegut zinger that perfectly summarizes the inherent flaw of religious fundamentalism: No one really knows God's ways.

6. "Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'"

In this response to his own question—"Why bother?"—in Timequake, his last novel, Vonnegut doesn't give a tired response about the urge to create; instead, he offers a pointed answer about how writing (and reading) make a lonesome world a little less so. The idea of connectedness—familial and otherwise—ran through much of his work, and it's nice to see that toward the end of his career, he hadn't lost the feeling that words can have an intimate, powerful impact.

7. "There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too."

Though this quote comes from the World War II-centered Mother Night (published in 1961), its wisdom and ugly truth still ring. Vonnegut (who often said "The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected") was righteously skeptical about war, having famously survived the only one worth fighting in his lifetime. And it's never been more true: Left or right, Christian or Muslim, those convinced they're doing violence in service of a higher power and against an irretrievably inhuman enemy are the most dangerous creatures of all.

8. "Since Alice had never received any religious instruction, and since she had led a blameless life, she never thought of her awful luck as being anything but accidents in a very busy place. Good for her."

Vonnegut's excellent-but-underrated Slapstick (he himself graded it a "D") was inspired by his sister Alice, who died of cancer just days after her husband was killed in an accident. Vonnegut's assessment of Alice's character—both in this introduction and in her fictional stand-in, Eliza Mellon Swain—is glowing and remarkable, and in this quote from the book's introduction, he manages to swipe at a favorite enemy (organized religion) and quietly, humbly embrace someone he clearly still missed a lot.

9. "That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes."

The narrator delivering this line at the end of the first chapter of Deadeye Dick is alluding both to his father's befriending of Hitler and his own accidental murder of his neighbor, but like so many of these quotes, it resonates well beyond its context. The underlying philosophy of Vonnegut's work was always that existence is capricious and senseless, a difficult sentiment that he captured time and again with a bemused shake of the head. Indeed, the idea that life is just a series of small decisions that culminate into some sort of "destiny" is maddening, because you could easily ruin it all simply by making the wrong one. Ordering the fish, stepping onto a balcony, booking the wrong flight, getting married—a single misstep, and you're done for. At least when you're dead, you don't have to make any more damn choices. Wherever Vonnegut is, he's no doubt grateful for that.

10. "Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak."

Vonnegut touchstones like life on Tralfamadore and the absurd Bokononist religion don't help people escape the world so much as see it with clearer reason, which probably had a lot to do with Vonnegut's education as a chemist and anthropologist. So it's unsurprising that in a "self-interview" for The Paris Review, collected in his non-fiction anthology Palm Sunday, he said the literary world should really be looking for talent among scientists and doctors. Even when taking part in such a stultifying, masturbatory exercise for a prestigious journal, Vonnegut was perfectly readable, because he never forgot where his true audience was.

11. "All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental."

In Vonnegut's final novel, 1997's Timequake, he interacts freely with Kilgore Trout and other fictional characters after the end of a "timequake," which forces humanity to re-enact an entire decade. (Trout winds up too worn out to exercise free will again.) Vonnegut writes his own fitting epigram for this fatalistic book: "All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental," which sounds more funny than grim. Vonnegut surrounds his characters—especially Trout—with meaninglessness and hopelessness, and gives them little reason for existing in the first place, but within that, they find liberty and courage.

12. "Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?"

Even when Vonnegut dared to propose a utopian scheme, it was a happily dysfunctional one. In Slapstick, Wilbur Swain wins the presidency with a scheme to eliminate loneliness by issuing people complicated middle names (he becomes Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain) which make them part of new extended families. He advises people to tell new relatives they hate, or members of other families asking for help: "Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?" Of course, this fails to prevent plagues, the breakdown of his government, and civil wars later in the story.

13. "So it goes."

Unlike many of these quotes, the repeated refrain from Vonnegut's classic Slaughterhouse-Five isn't notable for its unique wording so much as for how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything. There's a reason this quote graced practically every elegy written for Vonnegut over the past two weeks (yes, including ours): It neatly encompasses a whole way of life. More crudely put: "Shit happens, and it's awful, but it's also okay. We deal with it because we have to."

14. "I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."

Vonnegut was as trenchant when talking about his life as when talking about life in general, and this quote from an essay in Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons is particularly apt; as he explains it, he wrote Player Piano while working for General Electric, "completely surrounded by machines and ideas for machines," which led him to put some ideas about machines on paper. Then it was published, "and I learned from the reviewers that I was a science-fiction writer." The entire essay is wry, hilarious, and biting, but this line stands out in particular as typifying the kind of snappishness that made Vonnegut's works so memorable.

15. "We must be careful about what we pretend to be."

In Mother Night, apolitical expatriate American playwright Howard W. Campbell, Jr. refashions himself as a Nazi propagandist in order to pass coded messages on to the U.S. generals and preserve his marriage to a German woman—their "nation of two," as he calls it. But in serving multiple masters, Campbell ends up ruining his life and becoming an unwitting inspiration to bigots. In his 1966 introduction to the paperback edition, Vonnegut underlines Mother Night's moral: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." That lesson springs to mind every time a comedian whose shtick relies on hoaxes and audience-baiting—or a political pundit who traffics in shock and hyperbole—gets hauled in front of the court of public opinion for pushing the act too far. Why can't people just say what they mean? It's a question Don Imus and Michael Richards—and maybe someday Ann Coulter—must ask themselves on their many sleepless nights.

So it goes. SO IT GOES.

Is Sarah Palin firing her Body Language consultant?

Sarah Palin apparently winked one too many times at the Veep debate (or five, according to some pundits. The uptight ones may have even said six!) Come on, give the old girl a break! It's all the consultant's fault. I am sure she has on staff many different kinds of consultants: one for Body Language, one for Image, one for Fashion, one for Hair Styles (ok, maybe not this one), one for Diction, and oh, I won't be surprised if they have hired her an acting coach. It is important to get those important stage pauses just right. It is their job, not hers, to convince us that Sarah is right for the job. To be the Veep of the US of A. (May I call you Sarah?)

There are two things I want to point out in defence of Sarah's Winkgate:

1. All the consultants do this. Real-life experience, mine nonetheless! Wowyee! Business Consultants that I used to work with have honed this skill to an art form. I am convinced that they teach you this at B-School, after you take The Intro to Effective Networking and How to Rate Each Person by their Network Worth that You Will Ever Meet for the Rest of Your Life. The higher their position, the more they wink at ya. Like so many have discussed, this is truly deemed as a quick and easy way to say, "Hey, I am one of you! We are all in this together!" Works wonders when you go into a client's office to be the "Two Bobs" (seen Office Space?) and need to gain trust quickly.

2. Old women do this all the time. Old women who know that they've still got it at least. Or who THINK they've still got it...

Note to Self: Do not EVER EVER pull the "Consultant Wink" again. See #2...

Now, how come there's no post out there discussing the lipstick color she used for the Veep Debate? Or is the mentioning of "lipstick" completely banned from this presidential campaign on both sides? Jeez.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

You are probably in the wrong place!

I am never one for planning even though part of my job description involves research and I am a very good researcher if I am allowed to toot my own horn, and I guess I am, since Goddammit, this here is my blog! "Serendipity" in my case oftentimes does not come because of good luck, which I am sorely lacking hence the blog (more about that later), but because of creative thinking. Anyway, I digress...

So I was saying, I am never one for planning. I have been thinking about starting a blog just so I have some way to realize my self, and I have always thought that the Secret Inner Life of a Suburban Mom would be a good one, (sort of the same way young girls think of names for their would-be baby daughters). Notes from Underground was once a choice and would have been nice too, but I don't want to be pegged as a literary snob or a name-dropper or a wannabe. Plus, the name is used for at least three blogs. (And of course, I am not suggesting that any of those blogs' owners are a literary snob, a name-dropper, or a wannabe...)

Anyhow, I was saying, I am never one for planning, so tonight is a good time to start as any other time, and I really need to stop talking to myself inside my head, so I sat down and actually registered the name I have always wanted for a daughter (figuratively speaking) for my blog. I still cannot believe that this name is available. Come on! It IS a great name for a blog!

Anyway, half way through my inaugural post, it dawned on me, OMG! what if there is another blog out there with the same title? Since I am brand new in the blogsphere, I'd be in deep doodoo. (Hey, I am after all a MOM, so no naughty words here. Well, not in the first post anyway...) So I did a search, and OMG! there are so many different versions of suburban moms out there, and quite a few of them seem to have established celebrity-like presence. These moms must have 48 hours a day. Look at their blogs! Wow! Impressive! I am on the other hand, hoping to e-mail in my posts when I take the train to work or during long drawn-out meetings. (I am looking forward to the latter especially!)

So, what I am trying to say is: If you are reading this, you are probably in the wrong place. You probably have heard about a cool blog by a suburban mom who, surprisingly, is witty and humourous, intelligent and articulate, insightful and enlightening, and whose blog itself is blog-worthy. Sorry, dude, no dice. Not here. Do another search.

I am just using this here as a self-medicating device, before the downward spiral takes me too far away from my self until I do not recognize her any more when I meet her one day. This here is my therapy.