Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Planet Earworm

UST had a random funny thought. You know all those science fiction stories where a planet is beautiful, seemingly inhabitable by humans, but has some level of sentience and is actively hostile to invaders? ("Here There Be Tygers" by Ray Bradbury is one example.)

I was just thinking of something similar -- a planet that's quite beautiful and capable of supporting human life, but which resists human colonization through more subtle means. Practically no one stays on this planet for more than a week, because something about the planet activates the stickiest, most annoying earworm in your brain and plays it over and over and over again until you want to run shrieking. The only people who can successfully colonize this world are the tiny contingent of spacefaring humans who were born deaf.

So you might well say that, under the circumstances, it's a small, small world.

Yeah, I'm evil.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Post-Facebook social media choices

Gaahh. It's been a messy few days. The Facebook name police seem to have placed my account in limbo for the nonce. I've told them exactly what I think of their precious real name policy. But what ought to have been a simple decision -- either accept that my name is "Sooz Cat," or delete my account entirely -- is turning into a needless power struggle, because they won't accept my name as valid, but (at least so far) they refuse to purge my account.

Ridiculous. Stupid. Bullheaded. Twits. Or as Douglas put it, "pettifoggery over nothing." So that's fun. mutta.

Even with the current bad taste in my mouth, I've found I can't swear off social media completely. I'm still an introvert, which means I'm often shy and socially awkward in person, and social media provides a way to connect with people while conserving my limited energy. That said, not all social media platforms are equally compelling to everyone. Over the last few days I've been figuring out which social networks I use and enjoy, and which ones aren't all that personally appealing.

Evidently I must love Blogger (or you wouldn't be reading this right now!). Before, during and after Facebook, this and other blogs have been my location of choice to share life experiences, write stories, muse, rant, geek out, wax whimsical on various subjects, and otherwise Goof Off. I'm not likely to change that any time soon, although many others have abandoned their blogs in favor of other social media sites -- and I do understand why; there's more of a chance for interaction in one centralized location. (Trouble is, what happens to your content if you get kicked off the site? At least here I can download regular backups of the blog to my hard drive; if things ever go south -- heaven forbid -- I'll still have the articles and comments intact.)

Twitter is fun, in a bumper-sticker slogan sort of way. As an inveterate chatter who prefers to go on at length about various subjects (sometimes to the point that my victims contemplate gnawing off a leg to escape), I usually find the 140-character limit too confining for actual social interaction. It seems to work best for advertising, quick takes on unimportant subjects, and writing pithy epigrams that will probably get me in trouble later.

I don't use Instagram or Pinterest, and have no particular desire to do so. Although I like gorgeous or striking visuals as much as the next person, and although I do a fair amount of crafting, I tend to organize my thoughts far more in words than in pictures. I also can't maintain the fiction that anyone else wants to ogle my dinner with a '70s filter applied, or pore over my latest scintillating knitting project. The closest I come to photo sharing is my Flickr account, which I use mostly to find public domain images to give this blog some variety. (Even I can admit that huge swaths of text need to be enlivened by pretty pictures every now and then.)

Not really enamored with Tumblr, either. I do have a Tumblr account, but it's gone dormant and I'm thinking of just closing it; I've found I don't care for Tumblr's visually jumbled display. Also, for some reason it has attracted a rather militant, brittle group of users who aren't much fun to interact with unless you happen to share their precise set of values, likes and dislikes. Pass.

Goodreads is useful, though I haven't made enough personal connections (or enough comments) to be as engaged with it as I am with other virtual communities. I do like having a place to keep track of what I've read or am currently reading, if only to serve as a reminder to finish a particular tome in the Teetering Pile, and I've found that using Goodreads actually encourages me to read more often -- even as a voracious reader, I've discovered it's too easy to fall out of the habit. (If you have an account there, feel free to come bug me; I go by the name "TPK.")

Sadly, Google Plus is a lot like a model home -- all bright and shiny with all sorts of useful bells and whistles, but nobody lives there. It could be a better version of Facebook if enough people actually used it, but getting them to switch -- or even to use both at once -- seems to be a Herculean task. Most of the time, posting a comment on G+ feels like yelling into an empty auditorium. Frankly, if I'm going to navel-gaze, I'd rather do it here!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bits and pieces

Bleah. Sitting around the house with a head cold is seventeen kinds of Not Fun. I have been trying all the standard stuff one should do against head colds -- hot showers, chicken soup, neti pot, decongestants, and as much sleep as I can get before Roxy-cat demands to be fed again -- but this one is clinging tenaciously to my sinuses, and shows no sign of letting go. Next on the list: attempting to exorcise the Demons of Rhinovirus by pouring Tabasco sauce straight into a nostril. DIE VIRUS DIE.

Or, Father Time gets a sinus headache.
Happily there is better news to report. One of the best: my mom's nephrologist checked things out and said that Mom's new vegan diet has improved her kidney function to the point that she won't need to start dialysis for a while. It may not seem like a big deal to many, but I am thrilled by this news. They did surgery on Mom and installed a port and everything, and now she's up above 15%. Go Mom! And go all the rest of you who sent prayers and well-wishes and vegan cookbooks and so forth her way.

Yesterday was Miss V's birthday, and the first in many years that I didn't spend with her. Sadly, even if I'd been healthy enough to visit, we're in different time zones now... so we had to be content with telephone greetings and a few gifties in the mail. She did get to spend the afternoon with her mom and grandma. I hope she had a good birthday celebration.

If you haven't read my latest rant... no, I'm not on Facebook any more. It kind of sucks, since I'll be out of the loop on 6th Grade Updates from my sister Jenny (who really, REALLY needs to write a book), general life updates from family members, and all sorts of interesting information from my friends. But I was dead set on keeping my pseudonym, and the FB Powers That Be were just as adamant about attempting to force me to use my real name. So that's over. (The good news on this front? Productivity ahoy!)

Off to steam my face. My sinuses may still be wonky, but I'll have the world's dewiest complexion.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The talk

Hey, Facebook? Hi. Soozcat here.

There isn't really any graceful way to put this, so -- this relationship just isn't working. It's time we put an end to it.

Are you sure you want to know why? You're not going to like it.

Well, to put it bluntly, you're a pimp.

It started out fun, so I didn't notice at first that you were selling me, in every way you could think of, to the highest bidder. Yes, you claim you're "free and always will be," but only under the most legalistic definition of "free" -- that is, not having to pay you to sign up. But there are so many things you've asked me for ever since -- the schools I've attended, the jobs I've held, my religious beliefs, the political parties I've belonged to -- all kinds of valuable information you can use to sell me to tailored advertisers. You've used the lure of family and friends to get me to spend long hours of my life with you, to engage with you when I should just be going about the business of living.

And in the last few years you've gotten weird. Jealous. Possessive. You're throttling back my access to family and friends, and demanding that I pay you if I want the access I used to have. (So much for "free and always will be," ne?) You're allowing researchers to mess with my emotions. You're reading my private messages on the sly. You're creepy and manipulative, and I can't trust you with sensitive information -- if indeed I ever could.

Last week you didn't ask -- you demanded that I give you my legal name. And I refused, because that was my particular line in the sand. I'm old-fashioned enough to need a certain amount of privacy and security, and that means I use a pseudonym online -- not to defraud or confuse anyone, but as a way of maintaining that privacy.

You demanded again. I refused again, citing my reasons.

And now you've locked me out, unless and until I provide you with multiple forms of identification proving my full legal name. As though you fancy yourself some kind of... bureaucrat. I can tell you right now that's not going to happen.

So, not only are you a pimp, you're devolving into an abusive pimp.

Believe me, I've already considered what will happen next. You're not the only game in town, but you're still the biggest game in town. I know that losing my account with you means effectively being cut off from the company of my family, my friends, my neighbors. I know you're counting on my love for them, my desire to stay in touch easily, to make me comply with your insane demands.

But you know what, Facebook? I've had about all I can take from you.

So if you won't let me use the name I've chosen, go ahead and purge my account. Wipe away any trace that I was ever there. I'll miss my friends, but I won't miss you or your continuing efforts to turn me into a valuable revenue stream.

You can choose to go on being a pimp, if that's what you want. But I refuse to be your whore.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Schlockumentary: "Chariots of the Gods"

Home sick from church today, with some kind of stomach bug. (I blame the overly-friendly, personal-space-violating checkout clerk at Safeway yesterday; he was hoarse and said he was running a fever, and actually patted me on the back as I left. Thanks for the gift that keeps on giving, checker!)

Captain Midnight often multitasks his entertainment; he'll set up the Surface next to the desktop PC and play Minecraft while simultaneously surfing content on Netflix. Today he was going through various documentaries; eventually he ran into the 1970 documentary Chariots of the Gods, based on a book of the same title by Swiss author (and occasional fraudster) Erich von Däniken. If you're not familiar with this title, a TL;DR summary of its Unified Field Theory: all mysterious artwork, buildings and artifacts of the ancient world were not created by human beings, but inspired by visits from godlike space aliens. Although this book was almost certainly based on an earlier one, it spawned much of the modern interest in this theory, from the kidlit version in Cricket Magazine articles of the '70s, to the modern History Channel show Ancient Aliens.

And as I watched bits of this "documentary" over CM's shoulder, it struck me for the first time how rabidly racist the idea really was.

CotG focuses on specific objects and images from antiquity, purporting to give an extraterrestrial explanation for everything from Biblical passages to Easter Island statues to the Pyramids to the Nazca Lines. The narration and associated images depict most native peoples (some of whom seem to be wearing fantastically bad caveman wigs in a "cargo cult" segment) as small, brown-skinned, dark-haired primitives who could not possibly have created these artifacts themselves. Let's set aside all the wondrous things you can do when you're willing to enslave entire groups of people to create your treasure houses, the fact that ancient Homo sapiens had just as much native intelligence as we do, and that most ancient peoples had far more interest in the heavens and what we would later call "astronomy" than the average Joe Sixpack does today. Nope, their primitive lives were too nasty, brutish and short to create such marvelous things. Musta been aliens.

A number of the artifacts described as having mysterious origins in von Däniken's book have since been debunked -- the so-called Iron Pillar of Delhi, for example, is described in the book as being completely free of rust and made via a process unknown to the locals. Borrowing from the Wikipedia article: "When informed by an interviewer, in 1974, that the column was not in fact rust-free, and that its method of construction was well understood, von Däniken responded that he no longer considered the pillar or its creation to be a mystery." However, subsequent editions of the book continued to feature the Iron Pillar because, hey, what do those crazy Indians know about metallurgy? Anyway, aliens.

Things get really awkward when you discover that von Däniken's original text was drastically reworked by Wilhelm "Utz" Utermann (working under a pseudonym), a German screenwriter, bestselling Nazi author and leading producer of Völkischer Beobachter, the official newspaper of the National Socialist German Workers' Party from 1920 to 1945. Suddenly the whole grand theory of ancient alien intervention in human affairs resonates with the accompanying low notes of Germanic Übermenschen, of master races, of inferior peoples.

Is it really that difficult to believe that human beings of other times and cultures possessed not only the native intelligence, but also the time and will to create art and objects that made perfect sense within their cultures, but that we cannot now understand because we have no cultural context? Is it just possible that we have the whole thing backward, and that we, not they, are the ones incapable of understanding their artifacts? And how obnoxious is it of us to impute extraterrestrial origin to items that could just as easily be attributed to the extraordinary efforts of human beings?

Some time ago, my friend Fen introduced me to a British sketch comedy show called Goodness Gracious Me. The show does a great job of skewering British cultural condescension toward "British Asians" (British citizens of Subcontinental descent), often by turning such attitudes around on the British. One particularly sharp parody of the Rough Guide series shows a group of Indian students taking a short railway tour of the UK, all the while making patronizing remarks about the vagaries of British culture.

How well would we Americans respond, I wonder, to allegations from people in Europe or Asia pointing to various American landmarks -- the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the St. Louis Arch, Hoover Dam, the Sears Tower -- and arguing that such amazing works never could have been completed by the same ignorant, backward people who invented Wal-Mart? Clearly such objects could only have been constructed through alien intervention. (And at least in the case of the Statue of Liberty, they'd be right!) Would we bristle? Even those of us who know absolutely nothing about the fundamentals of architecture and who would have a hard time putting up a lean-to shelter, let alone a suspension bridge? Hell yes we would! Such allegations would be a clear insult to our shared culture.

And we ought to recognize and condemn such cultural vilification just as readily when it's being perpetrated on other cultures. Chariots of the Gods isn't so much a theory of alien visitation as it is a casual abasement of ancient people whose works we cannot fully understand. In other words, pure schlock.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Shiver me timbers, mateys, it be Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Oh, and it also be Deface Yer Avatarrr Day. Ha ha har!

This day we be hoistin' the Jolly Roger and slittin' throats. Or, ye know, maybe jest eatin' salmagundi. mmmm salmagundi.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Embracing the mess

Recently I've been meditating on a pithy smidgen of knowledge passed along by Kenzie of the Hello Neverland blog: "The plan is never as fun or as beautiful as embracing what messes it up."

Sometimes this is true. The plan I had for my life at age 16 was very different from the way things actually went, and from this vantage point I can look back and say, "Thank heavens I didn't follow the original plan." It took me a long time, though, to embrace what had messed up that plan; I wasted maybe a dozen years struggling to get back on track before I started to ask myself, "Why are you doing this? What's wrong with the path you're following now?"

At one point Captain Midnight and I planned to have a few children. When that didn't seem to be in the cards, we considered adoption. After a while, we gave up on the idea of being parents at all -- and then Miss V arrived. I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll have reason to say it again: she helped us experience what parenthood is, and we couldn't love her any more if she were our own daughter.

With that said, not everything that messes up your life plans is beautiful or fun. Sometimes it's heartrending, as when you discover that your parents are mortal. I found this out relatively early, at age 12. After my dad's death, I harbored a not-so-secret fear for years that my mother would die too and leave me, the oldest, in charge of keeping my five siblings together. But Mom, in spite of being diagnosed with diabetes, remained relatively healthy all the years we were growing up. That was a blessing.

Then the diabetic complications started coming at her -- first a few at a time, then thick and fast. I suppose things could have been much worse; if all these problems had hit her a generation ago, she'd be blind by now and have at least one foot amputated -- that is, if a heart attack hadn't killed her first. As it is, she still has her sight and the use of her feet, and an emergency surgery staved off the impending heart attack. But there's a limit to what modern medicine can do. Recently, Mom discovered she's gone to stage 5 renal failure, which means she needs to start dialysis. And that means my mom's years on earth are sharply numbered.

I'm not sure what I believed about the way Mom's life would go, but this wasn't it. Just at the moment, I can't see much that's fun or beautiful about embracing this mess -- mostly I see the sad and painful side of it. But I want to try to embrace it anyway, and work to find beauty where I can.

Any ideas?