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September 5, 2002 ... It is a curious fact -- although probably a rather pointless one -- that my name, Baxil, is apparently a real word in Uzbek, the native language of the people of Uzbekistan.

It is an even more curious fact, and rather darkly amusing, that the Uzbek meaning of "Baxil" is "a mean, spiteful person."

September 7, 2002 ... Arlo Guthrie once said of Ronald Reagan, "I think it's good we have a sleeping president. The more he sleeps, the safer we are."

Given the sort of policies that have been vomited out -- such as the endless, ambiguous "war on terror" that conjures up nightmares of 1984 -- you'd think the same would be true of our current administration. You'd think it would be wonderful news that George W. Bush has spent 42 percent of his reign on vacation.

The problem there, though, is that we don't seem any safer when Dubya "sleeps." The ludicrous political news isn't coming out of his mouth (well, except for that quote about blacks in Brazil -- if he actually said it, that is). It's from Ashcroft. It's from the Office of Homeland Security, whose name is practically a self-invocation of Godwin's Law. It's from Congress. Heck, it's even from ordinary people trying too hard to be patriots.

Speaking of "patriotism," apparently our vacationer-in-chief has proclaimed that September 11 will be Patriot Day (although he was requested to do so by a joint resolution of Congress; see what I mean?) ... I guess it's not enough to mourn the dead on the tragedy's anniversary. No, we have to celebrate Patriot day, and reflect on how much the USA kicks ass, and how last year's collective shock and bonding make us all proud to be 'murricans. We need to declare how much better we are than the rest of the world by virtue of having survived this shocking attack on our sacred soil, and not having let the death of 5,000 people bring us to a complete stop.

Put like that, it sounds silly. Frankly, put any way, it sounds silly. This is drawing a direct link between "patriotism" and "surviving a terrorist attack." By that logic, New Yorkers are the most patriotic citizens in the country -- they were closest to ground zero. How does geography have anything to do with patriotism? For that matter, how do the 9-11 attacks have anything to do with patriotism? Am I supposed to love my country more just because some psycho hated it enough to kill its civilians?

Don't get me wrong, I am quite happy that I'm living in America. Our Constitution (and the inalienable rights it provides) is the best foundation for a government this world has yet produced. The quality of life here is among the world's best. I have enormous freedom to do what I want, believe what I want, love who I want, go where I want. These are things that make America great. They are what I love about my country. But if I'm going to be patriotic, I'm going to remember that I love my country for the values it embodies, not the enemies it makes. Nor the events it's survived. The fact of its survival is testament to its people's resilience -- and that's a value perhaps worthy of celebration, but not something in itself worthy of a holiday, no more than we need to set aside a national "Freedom of Movement Day."

So enough of this "Patriot Day" nonsense. I support the alternate idea of "Enough Day." Enough killing; enough politics; enough hatred. Mourn the world's dead and do what we can to ensure no more slide down that black spiral. That's all. That's enough.

September 9, 2002 ... In the spirit of multiculturalism ...

No, scratch that. That's a horrible way to start a post. And, besides, I never bought it in the spirit of multiculturalism in the first place; I was merely curious.

So. I'll just start at the beginning. A few days ago, the four of us -- my housemates and I -- were wandering through the local supermarket, buying groceries for the upcoming week. We were wandering through the Mexican foods aisle, picking up taco seasonings, when a small packet off to one side caught my eye. It was called "Maizena," and had a cartoon farmer standing with his arms around a mug of some milky beverage, a vapid but strangely inviting smile on his face. I checked the back briefly; the instructions (in both English and Spanish) seemed to indicate it was a drink mix of some kind. "What the heck," I thought. "I'm willing to spend 33 cents to see what this is like. It comes in a variety of attractive flavors, like strawberry and the enigmatically named 'nut.' And you mix it in milk; that's a good start. How bad can it be?"

Those who braced themselves after that last line and are now expecting this entry to turn into a dire warning about the dangers of "Maizena" may be disappointed to note that it was, in fact, drinkable. The "How bad can it be?" may have been slightly misleading in the foreshadowing department. What was novel about Maizena was not its quality, but rather its bewildering interpretation of the concept of "drink mix."

Per the instructions, I carefully boiled a liter of milk (note to my fellow Americans: roughly a quart), and after dissolving the powder in a cup of cold water, stirred it in. The mixture thickened to roughly milkshake consistency. I gave it a tentative taste; somewhat bland. Well, they had said "sweeten to taste." I added about a quarter cup of sugar and stirred, then tasted again. Well, I had bought the "nut" version, and it did taste somewhat reminiscent of nuts, but ...

I poured myself a mug of the slowly thickening liquid ("Serve hot as a beverage," said the package) and took it in the other room. Kaijima had politely declined my offer of a mugful of this mysterious concoction, but I wanted a second opinion. "Here, give this a try," I suggested. "Be careful. It's hot."

He blew on the beverage's surface for a few moments, gave it a tentative sip, and looked at me strangely.

"It's Cream of Wheat," he said.

And it was.

Suddenly, the name "Maizena" made a little more sense. "Maiz" is Spanish for "corn." The primary (and practically sole) ingredient of the mix was corn starch. I find it more than a little weird that a mixture of corn starch and milk could taste so incredibly similar to a mixture of wheat and water, but that's exactly the effect they managed to achieve. Of course, I find it weirder that the directions on the package were very specific in requesting me to "serve ... as a beverage," but that's just culture shock, because my expectations as an American are that Cream of Wheat is served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.

I don't think I'll be buying Maizena again -- not because the experience scared me away, but because I'm just not a particular fan of Cream of Wheat. (Or oatmeal, or other similar hot cereals.) Although I have to admit that the idea of strawberry Maizena is almost novel enough to try. It carries the same sort of morbid fascination as the idea of Spam sushi.

(For the record, Spam sushi is not something I came up with just for purpose of analogy. It actually exists, and ... uh.

I just made the mistake of Googling out some information about it so that I could share a link with you all. All I have to say about the following is this: Read at your own risk. Spam sushi is far from the most disturbing concept I've encountered tonight. Frankly, more power to them -- but I have to admit that my brain slipped its clutch, and I need to quit writing to give myself some time to restart.)

September 11, 2002 ... Today was the day that George W. Bush officially proclaimed "Patriot Day." I showed my patriotism by staying the hell away from the TV, which allowed me to keep my last shred of respect for the American politicians and corporations who shamelessly exploited the anniversary of you-know-what.

Well, almost.

I had a Bush soundbite forced on me this morning as I drove Lox in to work. I couldn't help it; they sprang it on me while I was distracted after a song ended. In retrospect, I really should have done the smart thing and listened to the local Spanish station for the entire drive, but I was getting restless and wanted some pop.

"Though [9/11's victims] died in tragedy," said the man whose approval ratings doubled because of the tragedy in question, "they did not die in vain."

Thinking about it still makes me nauseous.

They did not die in vain? What, then, did they die for? Bush tells us "their loss has moved a nation to action," but that doesn't answer the question. A million things can move a nation to action, and we don't have to wait for loss to strike us before moving.

What gets me is Bush's attempt to paint these civilians' deaths as a noble sacrifice, by using language evocative of war heroes or people fighting for a cause. People who "don't die in vain" die because they made a choice -- that their cause was more important than their life. It implies that we who follow after them have a moral obligation to carry on their mission.

What were these victims' mission? To beat the commute rush, earn the next day's paycheck, and maybe take their spouse out for dinner that evening. Where is that choice? Where is that cause? And how can we compare them to war heroes without gravely dishonoring all of the brave men and women who have given their lives for something they believed in?

On top of that, Bush has been trying for the last year to manufacture the "war" in which these "war heroes" died. Who are we fighting? "Terrorism." Well, fine; nobody likes terrorism. But how do you fight a war against a concept? Actually, let's move than from the abstract to the specific: How has America's current administration fought this war against the concept? In 365 days, they have:

  • Bombed Afghanistan back to the Stone Age and not quite succeeded in capturing or killing the perpetrators of last year's attack;
  • and talked a lot about declaring war on Iraq, which has not been linked to any terrorist action (on U.S. soil or otherwise) that I currently know of.
Noticeably absent from this list are interventions in such high-profile terrorist targets as Ireland, Palestine, or (insert war-torn African country here). Noticeably absent are even discussions about global terrorism in these locations; instead, Bush has talked about the "Axis of Evil," including such despotic but not-previously-associated-with-terrorism locations as North Korea. The magnitude of hypocrisy necessary to call our current vengeance spree and/or regime rearrangement program a "war on terrorism" is astounding.

(For the record, I am deliberately ignoring in the "war record" such civil efforts as the replacement of minimum-wage incompetent private-sector airport security screeners with $12/hour incompetent public-sector airport security screeners. Such actions are not war efforts. War implies fighting. War implies opposition. Of course, even with such additional measures counted, the administration's record is less than impressive. The aforementioned action, and creating a new scarily-named bureaucracy, are the only achievements that come to mind.)

At any rate, to move on from my rant: I did make an effort to be patriotic today. I figured that nothing could be more patriotic (in the GW Bush sense, at least) than feeling my fellow Americans' pain. Accordingly, I watched the movie Mortal Kombat during dinner, and experienced the soul-searing agony of badly done kung fu and action movie cliches. Given that at least some small portion of America has seen this movie before, I have now earned the right to commiserate with more of my fellow countrymen than I could previously claim. I feel all red, white and blue inside.

September 12, 2002 ... The escalator was a waterfall of human bodies, travellers tumbling to the earth from the sky. Women, men, young and old; children, grandfathers, distracted businessmen, young lovers.

A pair of the latter embraced in front of me and kissed each other, lost in a moment of bliss at their reunion. That was shortly past noon. They drove home, shared conversation, ate lunch, and had sex on the living room sofa; I sat down in the airport, chatted with my muse, drank some water, and created four new characters for an upcoming TTU story. Professional-looking men and women held up clipboards and laser-printed name signs. I watched them come and go after finding their charges. I watched travellers passed out in chairs. I politely ignored people talking on cell phones and pay phones. The travellers continued to spill out into the Sacramento heat.

It took me two hours and several phone calls to discover that Kras' plane -- which had already left the gate and was waiting to taxi to the runway at the time -- was nevertheless detained after the Cincinnati airport security breach. There were another two hours to wait. I took a shuttle bus out to the far parking lot, walked down the road to a gas station, and bought a cheeseburger for lunch. Then I returned, and sat down next to a trio of middle-eastern-looking men, one of whom was wearing a yarmulke.

At one point, I got to talking to Mary, who was holding up a hand-written sign for an older couple arriving from Phoenix. Their flight was delayed, but not nearly as long as Kras' had been. Mary and I watched the endless stream of flesh drift past, scanning faces for our charges and briefly taking in the hundreds of lives flitting by.

"It's fascinating to watch people in the airport," she said. "It's the happiest and saddest place in the world."

I glanced around us at the reunions and the arrivals and the returns.

"Fortunately, we're on the happy side," I replied.

September 15, 2002 ... Last night, I dreamed I saw a plane land. As I watched from the side of the road (it was an emergency landing, miles short of the airport), the bulbous plane hurtled toward the earth like a pine cone shaken loose from its tree. But as the ground drew near, the plane unfolded wings from the underside of its fuselage, and pulled up into a glide, touching down gently on the asphalt and rocketing far past me, stopping miles away.

It was quite an inspiring piece of engineering. It seemed obvious from the design that it was some sort of dropship, designed to hurtle into the atmosphere without damage to the relatively large and fragile wings, and then expand them out nearer the ground for control and lift.

I would give my subconscious mind proper credit for this piece of technological creativity if I hadn't spent the rest of the dream teleporting around by standing in toilet bowls and being flushed to other areas of the neighborhood.

September 29, 2002 ... I've basically disappeared off of the face of the 'net for two weeks. This isn't to say that life has been uneventful. Quite the opposite, actually. I just have been in an extended antisocial streak, combined with some large developments going on in meatspace. In the interests of getting back into my groove, then, I'll sum up the highlights.

Event: The Auburn Job Fair, Sept. 17.

The good: Kicked my job search back into gear. About 80 employers. Some nibbles of interest and a number of good job ideas.
The bad: I was overqualified for much of what was there, untrained for much of the rest, and practically everything was over an hour's commute away. Of course, every lead helps, but it's rather discouraging to talk to over 30 employers and leave with only three real prospects.
The entirely too tidy for its own good: I went expecting a lot of retail and/or customer-service-type jobs (a correct assumption), but printed out a single copy editor resume. Just in case. So what's the first booth I see as I walk inside the building? The Auburn Journal, a newspaper that (being out in Penn Valley) I hadn't known was in the area. I wander up and glance at their job postings; nothing relevant. The man behind the counter strikes up a conversation, I apologetically mention that I've got some background in the area but they don't seem to need anyone with my talents. "What do you do?" he asks; I tell him. "Well, actually," he mentions, "we're also looking for a page designer." As I just happen to have my page design experience prominent on my copy editor resume, he gets it, and I leave cautiously hopeful. (Yes, I'm a mage and I really should expect this sort of weirdness, but I surprise myself sometimes.)

Event: The call, Sept. 19.

The good: Deric Rothe of the Journal called me back that Thursday, merely two days after the job fair, expressing interest in me as a page designer. I agreed to go in the following day to talk with him and the publisher about employment prospects.
The bad: Staying up for six hours that night tracking down and organizing my work samples. Glad that I had them, though.
The bureaucratic: The Journal's turnaround time from resume to call for interview, at two days, was eighteen times shorter than the other job prospect that I had dangling at the time. Way back in mid-August, I had submitted an application to a local community college that was looking for a mathematics teacher's aide. The application was rather specific about "don't call us, we'll call you," so I had no choice but to wait. They finally got back to me on September 26, thirty-six days after their application deadline, and after I'd already made the decision to work with the Journal. You snooze, you lose.

Event: The interview, Sept. 21.

The good: I was with it. I got to emphasize my strengths. I had plenty of work samples on hand. The Journal looked like a promising place to work.
The bad: Pressed for time. Left feeling like I hadn't adequately answered one or two points they raised.
The best line of the day: "Is it really okay for us to call your ex-girlfriend [as a personal reference]?" I wouldn't have listed her (Name: Erin Lynn, Relationship: Ex-girlfriend of three years) if it wasn't, but I knew that would turn some heads.

Event: Moving my sister in to her new apartment near UCSB, Sept. 22-24.

The good: Family time. A solo, full-moon, late-night walk on the beach.
The bad: Two consecutive nights of driving until nearly 3 A.M. Frat-boy morons with a high-powered searchlight and a house on the beach cliffs.
The details: Got to sit down at a piano again. Assembled much furniture. Ate a meal consisting of sushi and burritos. Found myself contemplating the difficulty and possible legal repercussions of acquiring a hunting rifle, going down to the beach again in the middle of the night, and shooting the fucking spotlight from the base of the cliffs. (I really did not appreciate having the silence and solitude of my beach walk ruined.) Decided against it, but it's still a consoling thought.

Event: The working interview, Sept. 25-26.

The good: Got a call back from the Journal; they wanted me to come back in for a few days to see me at work, and to give me a chance to get a feel for the office. Great people. Technology not stellar, but better than NewsMaker. Small office. Doing well enough that they decided to hire me. And getting thrown directly into the thick of things.
The bad: Getting thrown directly into the thick of things. Did my first Page 1 layout ever ... on a still-unfamiliar system ... while both placing and editing stories ... on a tight deadline. But I rose to the challenge.
The ugly: On Thursday afternoon, when the news editor decided I was worth hiring, he told me to come back in the next day to fill out the paperwork. Oh, and per company policy, take a mandatory pre-employment drug test. For the first time in my life, I was told that they couldn't make me an offer until I went off to a local lab and peed in a cup. I'm still waiting for the results of that to come back -- and praying that they don't mix up my sample with somebody else's, or return a false positive -- because that's the only thing standing between me and a formal job offer.
I don't have a problem with the moral issue of wanting employees that produce high-quality, altered-state-of-consciousness-free work. But it rankles to be told, in essence, "We suspect you." The HR person says that the company policy for on-the-job testing is that there has to be probable cause to suspect drug use (i.e., showing up to work with dilated pupils and a short attention span, on a fairly regular basis). So what's the probable cause to suspect I use them now? I know it's not just me, it's everyone they hire -- but that doesn't make it any more reasonable, simply less personal.
Note that I'm not ranting specifically against my new employer here. Employee drug screening is a very widespread procedure, and this is merely an example of a larger problem that our society addresses poorly. It's in the same class as zero tolerance policies (which have directly stung me before); the abdication of common sense and decency to pursue moral goals. Uh, but anyway.

Event: Random stuff over the last week.

The good: Getting a heartfelt compliment on my How To Hack Rogue page from the ODP editor who listed it. Getting an e-mail from someone asking if they could post my Shadow Hearts money trick FAQ on their site. Feeling, in general, like my content's being read, even if it's the completely random stuff that I thought nobody would ever get any use out of. Now if only Chibi Jesus would get more attention ...
The bad: Struggling to reduce my score on the local disc golf course from 88 to 82, only to find out from some kid half my age that the course par is 54. I'd feel worse about this if I were actually using a proper disc; as it is, I'm playing with a $1.99 generic Frisbee-thing that no living soul could throw further than 160 feet. I'm christening it the "Par 80." Maybe, for a laugh, I'll invest in (or borrow) an honest-to-goodness disc golf disc, and play through the course once just to see how many strokes I can shave off my score without doing anything differently.
The ugly: Getting threatened with collections over a medical bill that I thought was taken care of.

... And, lately, that's been me.

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