Saturday, July 31, 2004

Ow. Ow. Ow. My knee is fucking killing me. Why? Well, it's not like I've fallen on it or injured it or done any strenuous or knee-intensive exercise... unless you count working on my feet seven days straight for eight hours a day, of course. Yes, I should have kept up with my exercise routine, I haven't been to the gym once over the summer. But I'm just thinking about it now, and this is the first job I've had where I spent eight hours a day (minus 2 breaks so short they don't really count) on my feet. All my other jobs have either been part time, or allowed plenty of time to sit and relax, or both. Unless ibuprofen can work miracles, forget an eight hour day for me - I'll be lucky if I make it through four.

Thursday I sent out ten trays or so - between 1000 and 3000 letters - to Vermont. When I got to towns where I knew people I checked the names more carefully. It turns out I sent out half a dozen pieces of junk mail to people I knew, or if not them then their parents. I'm sorry, Diane Sardonis.

I feel dirty.

Also, out of curiosity I've kept track of my counts every day. Some days I forgot to write it down and had to make a rough guess later, but still. From the Friday I started to this past Thursday, I mailed roughly 160,150 applications for a credit card extension scam or whatever you'd call it from Chase bank. It would take less than seven weeks for me to send out one million pieces of junk mail. And "junk" is the word. At least 95 percent of people getting these will throw them out on sight. And at least half of those who actually accept the offer will wish they hadn't.

It's got me thinking environmentally. I've been making plans for an effort to boycott companies that send you junk mail, which would be accompanied by a pledge not to use spam filters on e-mail accounts. That way companies have a legitimate way to reach customers without needing to waste paper or try to be misleading about who they are, and they wouldn't have to worry about their competitors getting all the junk mail business (however much that is) because their competitors would just get boycotted. Because think about it - if you have the boycott alone, then companies wouldn't like that but they'd still need some way to reach their market. So they'd just send out letters disguised to look like they're coming from someone else, or include the credit card offers with your normal bank statement or something. So that's why you need the "spam pledge" too. I still have a lot of details to work out, but if no one tells me a reason why it's impossible, expect to see an online campaign against junk mail some time relatively soon.

Monday, July 26, 2004

I read a couple articles in the paper Sunday about the preparations for the Democratic National Convention. I think they were the most depressing thing I've seen in a newspaper this year. A few of the things that got me down:

The designated protest area is small, dark, cramped, and not even in sight of the convention center. And yet all authorities agree that this is necessary in the "post-Sept. 11 era". WHY? It's ridiculous! What's the mentality here, we'd rather destroy the Constitution ourselves than let any brown people do it? And add to that the irritation I feel whenever people reaction to terrorism with paranoia - it's exactly what they want, you dumbasses, and this type of security precaution could never be enough to stop someone willing to martyr himself without turning the US into a police state. But I guess I should count my blessings here - at least the AP story called a spade a spade. It used the phrases "protest area" and "demonstration area". I swear, I've read stories about people who were trying to protest President Bush. They were forced to do it too far away to see the man, and officials called the spaces "free speech zones". A textbook example of doublespeak. At least the Democrats haven't fallen that far.

I also couldn't help but think about the actual point of a convention. In theory, it's to pick the party's nominee. But Kerry has been the only contender for months now, so what's the real point of this? According to the article, it's "getting the word out". "Kerry and his campaign remain less known than Bush," so this campaign is their chance to fix that. Now, let's think about this for a second. He's been the Democratic party's center of attention since - what, early March? And this is in a year when %49 of people say they're paying a lot of attention to politics, more than ever at this time of year. So either those people aren't really paying attention at all, or Kerry is an extremely boring and/or incompetent candidate. (It occurs to me right now that Kerry and his team were probably planning on this all along, since it is a good time for this stuff, so it must be just that people aren't really paying attention.)

And an entire city is paralyzed for a week for this. A major metropolitan area, one of the leading cities in the country, is crippled because there are so many people and so much security coming for this. (Granted, its traffic and road systems are infamous even in good circumstances, but still.) And what's all the fanfare for? Just to get the word out.

It made me wonder what actual differences between the two major parties are. They both have protest areas and dynastic politics (a Kerry fundraiser was held on Sunday at Senator Ted Kennedy's home) and they're both ruled by partisanship rather than principles. What do they stand for? Republicans stand for the war on terror and in Iraq, Democrats stand for the war on terror and in Iraq - only doing it right. Wow, big difference.

And by coincidence, as I was doing a little research on that previous post about Annie Jacobsen, I happened to find this. The Nader Factor. It made me think. I've got into a fight with someone who plans on voting for Nader, and I still wouldn't do it myself. But really - as that blogger points out, quoting someone else, 2.7 million people voted for Nader, 8 million registered Democrats voted for BUSH, and 85 million voting-age adults did not vote. So why are we attacking Nader voters? Because God forbid they should not toe a party line, not belong to some "reputable" group, have the same values as you but still disagree with you.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

This woman, Annie Jacobsen, is a fucking moron. (There are several news stories on that web page; the one I'm talking about is the one titled "Air Marshals Say Passenger Overreacted".)

A couple weeks ago, Annie Jacobsen wrote a story titled "Terror in the Skies" I think it was, about a perceived potential threat. She saw a group of a dozen or so Arab men together on a plane, and she assumed they must be terrorists, everyone on the plane was in mortal peril, and even more safety precautions, restrictions on travel, and racial profiling were needed. Despite the fact that the flight attendants assured her several times that the situation was completely under control. Despite the fact that those checks are much more restrictive now than they were 3 years ago, and the fact that terrorists would never be so obvious. And most of all, despite the fact that terrorism is never completely preventable, and the terrorists have only really won when they've completely changed your way of life.

I first heard about it through some left-wing blogs, and two days ago atrios posted a link to that story I'm linking to now. Her stupidity and racism were the topic of discussion on all the web sites where I heard about it, and many people also questioned her honesty, because some elements of her story seemed either too convenient, or seemed like breaches of privacy or security. For example, the flight attendant told her some stuff about how the men were questioned by security, which seemed like a violation of privacy, and also told her that there were air marshalls on board, which seemed like a huge security breach. (If that's not clear, just Google on Salon and
Annie Jacobsen - Salon does a good critique, which I'm just summarizing.) So was Jacobsen making it all up?

Well, according to this, no. You know what the most interesting this about this article is? The last three paragraphs:

The source said the air marshals on the flight were partially concerned Jacobsen’s actions could have been an effort by terrorists or attackers to create a disturbance on the plane to force the agents to identify themselves.

Air marshals’ only tactical advantage on a flight is their anonymity, the source said, and Jacobsen could have put the entire flight in danger.

“They have to be very cognizant of their surroundings,” spokesman Adams confirmed, “to make sure it isn’t a ruse to try and pull them out of their cover.”

The only threat on that flight was... Jacobsen herself.

(BTW, wondering why I'm linking to that article so much? Google bombing. My readership on this blog is probably about 3 people, but I figure if I and enough other people link her name to the small story correcting her rather than the popular, paranoid and inflammatory one she wrote, then the correction will turn up first on Google.)

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I'm amazed at how many weird coincidences and "wow, it's a small world" moments I've had in the past three days.

Wednesday, at the restaurant interview, I mentioned that I was from Bethel to Stephanie, the woman who owned the place with her husband. She was familiar with Bethel because her uncle was from there - Tom Kellog, a name I had heard a lot as a kid because my dad knew him.

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised when Mary, my manager, pronounced my last name correctly. I congratulated her on it, and she said it was because she had known another Levesque - Phil Levesque. He was the president or chairman of the board or something at Gifford hospital in Randolph until he died like 10 years ago. He's no relation to us except maybe distantly, but my family knew his daughter Sharon just because we used to get her mail all the time.

When Rose and some mechanic guy told Howard, the second shift manager, that I lived in Middlebury, he asked me if I had a sister who just graduated. Apparently he knew Zoë because he had been a substitute teacher in several of her classes.

And the one that seemed most incredible of all at the time - when I was looking down the rack for my time card, I saw one with the name "Campbell, Crystal". In my class back in high school there was a Michelle Campbell, and she had an older sister named Crystal. Was it the same person? Well, to hear the vague description from the one person I could find who knew her, probably not. But even so, I was excited to see it, and a lot more excited when I walked by a manager's office and saw a printed poster saying something like, "Congratulations on the twins, Crystal!" No last name, but it seemed like a very reasonable conclusion to jump to.
I found a job. Cool!

I'm working at the place in Rutland. I called Lance, the guy who's starting the restaurant, and he couldn't take me on to help with the construction and moving-in process for insurance reasons, so I went with the employment agency's offer. I'm pretty impressed with them, really - I called them Monday (IIRC), saw them Tuesday morning, was offered a job on Wednesday, and if I hadn't wanted an extra day to give the restaurant a start, I could have started on Thursday. Considering that I had been looking since June 16th (interrupted by the family reunion, sure, and maybe not looking as hard as I could have been, but still), I think that's pretty damn good. I'll probably give them a call next summer.

Anyways, the job in Rutland. It's in a junk mail factory. There are machines that stuff envelopes, and my job is to keep a machine running - load the various parts of the letters, clear any paper jams - and put the finished envelopes in mail cases. Today, for example, Rose (the woman training me) and I turned boxes of enveloped and huges rolls of uncut letters into 17,000 credit card offers for Chase Bank. Yes, it is every bit as exciting as it sounds. But it's easy, it's the second highest-paying job I've ever had, and it's the only thing I could find that would take me for the rest of the summer, so I'm not complaining.

Friday, July 23, 2004

They say you can't be friends after a relationship. Are "they" (whoever "they" are) right?

To elaborate: for as long as I can remember, no one has ever said "we're just friends" if it was true, and "we're still friends" has almost always been followed by a qualifier - "we're still friends, but..."My father has been very surprised that both me and my sister maintain any relationship at all with our exes, let alone good ones. (My sister broke off a serious relationship at the start of last summer, if I remember correctly.) And a very memorable episode from Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Spike deliver a monologue to his nemeses Buffy and Angel about how, and why, they'll "never be friends". So I'm wondering, is what "they" say correct?

In one sense it's completely false, obviously. Gretchen and I are able to talk about serious issues, give each other shoulders to cry on, have fun together, and tell each other in-jokes - pretty much the definition of friends.

But on the other hand... well, there's always one person who leaves the other, one person who moves on quicker. A friendship isn't a relationship nor vice versa, so maybe one can't change to the other, at least not in normal circumstances. I was talking to Gretchen briefly about a problem between her and her boyfriend Nick and how it got resolved, and it seemed very, very similar to a problem there was between us that never got resolved. Or did, but in the worst possible way. It's always different. Some weeks ago I noticed on this computer a saved AIM chat between Zoë and her ex from back in January, and, well, he apparently hadn't moved on too well. And Zoë, for her part, has gone out of her way to avoid meeting his new girlfriend. And, while of course it's not something you learn about people right up front, my sister and I are the only examples I can think of where serious relationships became friendships.

Friends? Maybe. Normal friendship? Maybe not. You only have one "first time", only one first "real" relationship, only one first love. (Note, of course, that those might not be the same.) After having shared one or more of those major life milestones with someone, is it really possible to just hang out together and talk about hobbies you have in common?

Of course, I'm looking at this from the perspective of the guy who got left rather than did the leaving. But the same could easily apply to someone in the other position, I think. Maybe not in my situation, but in many others. And even between me and Gretchen, it's not me alone who contributes/has contributed to the friendship being... nontraditional.

Well, that's all for tonight. I'm tired, and I'm just drifting rather than getting anywhere. I learned a few weeks ago just how very beneficial it could be to sleep on stuff like this, and maybe I should have done that rather than write it all down. Maybe I'll edit this entry to have a "meaningful" ending or maybe I'll write another to finish it or maybe I'll just let it stand like this.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

It never rains, but it pours.

I got two job offers today. The first was from an employment agency that I met with just yesterday. The job is something or other to do with using machinery at a company that produces direct mailings. It pays $9 per hour, there will be mandatory overtime, and it's in Rutland, which is a full hour's drive away. About the overtime - well, my reflex was to count that as a drawback, but really, so what? What else would I do with my time? Play computer games or read or get some exercise, but if the overtime is so much that it cuts into my two or three visits a week (if that) with friends, I would be very surprised. I could use the money and I have almost no other commitments, so why worry about the overtime? They were ready for me to start at this job tomorrow, but I asked for one extra day so I could go to the second job interview and see how it went.

And it went well, except for one thing. It's at a restaurant which is under construction. It's in Brandon, which is only half as far from me as Rutland. The owner and his wife look like nice people, they offered me the job right there, and working in a restaurant would probably be easy and fun for me, since I've done it before. It pays $7.50 to start, and they were willing to accept the fact that I'd be going back to school at the end of August, assuming I'd be back to help out over Christmas break and next summer. The problem is, the restaurant is now under construction. It's not expected to open until the second week of August. So I'd have two weeks of work before leaving. The owner - Steve, I think his name was? Damn, I hope I can remember it by the time I call him back - thought he could probably get me some work helping out with the process of moving in - cleaning and carrying kitchen stuff and so on. But he needed to talk to his personnel guy first about paying me under the table, so he wasn't sure.

So that's the conundrum. Do I take the inconvenient, dead-end, and probably uninteresting job which pays better, or do I take the job which pays less and can't promise any work at all for three weeks?

Hell, that's too pessimistic, turn it around. Should I take the higher-paying job that's a sure thing, or the convenient and fun job?

Of course, what I should do, what I'll probably wind up doing, is getting rid of the "sure/unsure" part. The restaurant guy said he could probably let me know about work before opening by tomorrow afternoon, and tomorrow is my deadline for the Rutland job. So I'll call Steve (?) around 3 p.m. or so, and if he says he can find stuff for me to do and can pay me for it, then I'll probably take that job, and if the answer to either of those questions is "no" then I probably won't.

Thoughts, anyone? Something important I've forgot?

Monday, July 19, 2004

Same old, same old.

Computer games, biking to get around whenever the situation allows it, looking for work. Today I did something I should have done weeks ago, but didn't because I didn't know such a place existed in this town: stopped by the employment & training office in Middlebury. Got some good leads. I have two job interviews scheduled for tomorrow, which is encouraging. But then, the place I've been most optimistic about so far has just blown me off, so...

Dammit. I need to have work by the time my dad gets back in a week. If I can't manage that, then I need to at least have painted the dining room.

Where is my dad, you ask? In the bottom of the Grand Canyon. With my sister. (Oh yeah, see previous entry.)

Maybe this job stuff is karma catching up on me. In the past I've relied on luck quite a bit, and it served me well. My employment history: I got the first job I ever applied for (phone operator at a mail-order computer games store), and whenever I had free time I could play computer games, which should tell you something. In 2002 I was quickly hired in the grocery department at Shaw's, and then a job I had applied to earlier got back to me and offered me something that paid better and had a ton of free time (snack bar manager). I had quite a few complaints about that job, but still - it paid well and had a ton of free time. And last summer, down in South Carolina, it took me a little over a week to find work, but by comparison to this week I hadn't been trying hard I don't think. And when I did find it, I just walked into a restaurant and the owner hired me on the spot and it turned out to be a fun job with nice people. So with such a history of luck in the job department, maybe my luck has just run out.

I went down to Jo's last night and hung out with her and Kendra. Fun. I think I'll cut back though; I'm not used to smoking so often. And I don't want to get used to it. We watched "The Crow" - Jo has a great collection of geek/SF movies - and played Uno.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I need to get off my lazy ass and do stuff.

I don't have a job yet. I don't regret the fact that I spent the first month or so of my vacation subbing at my dad's high school, even though it meant throwing away the edge offered by being available before all the other students looking for summer work. It was fun and I learned a lot and it paid very well. Hell, in that one month at Fair Haven I made about as much money as I had made all of last summer. Sure, I had a lot more expenses last summer and my job then wasn't full time and so on, but still - subbing was worth it.

I do, however, regret that I haven't worked too hard to find a job for the rest of the summer, and that I barely even tried while I was subbing. At the beginning of last summer my dad told me that finding work should be a full-time job. What have I been doing so far this summer? Calling whatever "Help Wanted" ads in the paper that I'm qualified for and are right close to home, leaving résumés with a couple businesses that I assume are "always hiring" - and that's it for the past month. I suck.

Oh well, I'm over it. There's still time, I'm still optimistic about one place I applied to last week, and tomorrow I have no excuse not to buckle down and try all of a half-dozen good leads.

In other news, I spent this morning driving down to Albany and back. My dad and my sister have been planning a white water rafting trip through the Grand Canyon for months now - it's sort of a combination birthday/graduation present for her. It's two weeks long and starts tomorrow. At 3 a.m. - THREE A.M.! - this morning, we get a phone call, and when the answering machine picks up, it's an automated voice saying that their flight out of Burlington was cancelled. So most of us go back to sleep but my dad just gets up then and makes alternate arrangements. So he, Zoe and I drive 2 hours to Albany to make their other flight, and I drive back. I was proud: I didn't get lost or even have to ask for directions once, even though I did the last time I was on that road.

It's amazing how much good a little exercising can do you. Or maybe it's biking specifically rather than general exercise, or maybe it's just me or whatever. Anyways, I was feeling pretty depressed yesterday, and I had some errands to run, so I biked into town and... wow. That was all it took.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Today was an eventful day.

Dad and I left before 10 a.m. to work at the Paige House, to get it ready for sale - sweeping, cleaning, throwing a lot of junk away and deciding what junk we wanted to keep, that sort of thing. We had lunch at Wilson's Restaurant, a place that's old-fashioned and down-home, but unlike most old-fashioned and down-home places, Wilson's is just that way naturally, without even trying to lure tourists or anything. It's on a state highway between one small town and another, right next to a hunting/sporting goods store.

After we got back from our last dump run, we found Gretchen there waiting for us. She had got bored and called my home and my mom told her where I was, so she came over to say hi. I did a little more sweeping while talking with her, and I gave her a little tour of the place, then we went off and sat on the stone benches around the old, overgrown fishpond for a bit in the shade. I tried to apologize to dad for slacking off, but he didn't care. He asked us to drive for a bit until my cell phone found a signal so I could call mom and let her know we'd be home in an hour or two. We decided to go to South Royalton because I had seen in the paper that there was a new band shell on the town common and I wanted to see it. And when we got there, we didn't find a cell phone signal, but there wasn't just a new band shell on the common - there was a carnival too. A Ferris Wheel, a big inflated slide-type thing, chickens being grilled by the dozen, a fried dough stand, and so on. We didn't really do anything there, just walked around a bit and reminisced about how everything looked smaller than it did when we were younger.

But at the carnival we ran into the father of Amanda, who had been Gretchen's roommate this past year in college. He told us that she and and her boyfriend Dan were around there somewhere, so we went looking and eventually found them and hung out a bit. We went to Amanda's house which was right by the common and met her younger brother (who has the same name as one of my cats) and I called Mom from there. But we left before too long because I didn't want to keep my dad waiting.

Just a mile or so outside SoRo we passed Katie, a friend of ours who was in Gretchen's class in high school. Gretchen had tried and failed to call her earlier today, so when she saw her going the other direction we turned around and tried to find her. We hoped she would have stopped when she saw us, and when that failed we guessed she might have been going to the carnival, but we didn't notice her there either. So we set off again - but when we were driving through Royalton, I saw a guy on a ride-on lawnmower going down the road, and it was none other than Colby, from Tae Kwon Do! (Gretchen found it funny how I shouted "Colby!" out of the blue as she was driving along.) So we turned around and I ran after him for a little ways until he noticed that I wanted his attention, and we talked briefly, just saying hi and catching up and stuff.

And finally we made it back to the Paige House. Luckily, my dad had only been waiting around for twenty minutes or so. Then we stopped by Lilliesville, the old neighborhood where the house we used to live in was, and I went to see if the blackberry and raspberry bushes were in bloom yet (they weren't) and I hiked up the hill before we came back here to Middlebury.

Monday, July 05, 2004

As you can see, I have comments again. All the old ones were lost, unfortunately, since I'm doing it in a different way. When I originally took the lines out of my template, I thought it would just be for a few hours or days until I had a chance to sit down and figure out what was wrong... but that became a few months because I was so busy last semester... and in the summer I had time but it had been so long that I barely cared... and so on.

My dad downloaded Mozilla because all the pop-up ads we get drive us nuts, and that can block them. But I was finding it very hard to use, oddly enough. I'd type a URL in the search window and it would do a Google search on it instead of going to the URL, and the dimensions of the frames would be changed slightly in my blog so something in the sidebar wouldn't fit, and I'd try to make changes and they wouldn't appear when I refreshed it, and so on. I don't know if this is because I was being clumsy or we have the wrong version of Mozilla or it doesn't work so well on a Windows computer or what, but I don't like it. I miss the U of R network.
I honestly, really have no idea what to think of this. It seems accurate, on the whole, but it couldn't be better designed to shake a leftist's faith in his side. (Notice the word "leftist", not "liberal"; it's a pet peeve of mine how people confuse liberal and conservative with right and left. There's nothing tolerant or open-minded about big chunks of the far left, they just have a non-traditional set of prejudices. And whatever else you say about Bush, you have to admit that he wouldn't know responsible spending or a limited government if it hit him over the head. But anyhoo, that's just a tangent.) I don't think this affects my position much - ever since the war in Iraq began I usually, with some breaks, thought of it as, "Maybe a good idea, definitely a bad execution." But damn, I think I'll have fun showing this to certain progressive people I know when I get back to school and watching their heads explode.

I got back from a week in Québec on the afternoon of Friday the 2nd. It had its good points and bad, but overall it was worth it. Saturday we said goodbye to my cousins and aunt and uncle from Seattle, who had flown into and out of Vermont and drove from here to Québec with us. I'll talk about the party yesterday, and maybe details from the trip or Deep Thoughts, but I'll do it later.