Friday, September 10, 2004

California, love it or leave it.

I want a house. I want one so badly that I very uncharitably envy all of my friends who have houses of their own. I want walls that aren’t white, a garden that I can control and, above all, I want a pet.

But I can’t have a house because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where your basic 1950's tract home costs over a half a million.

So you’re probably thinking to yourself, well move then. Here’s the deal. I’m actually a native of this area. That’s right, born and raised. And, truth be told, I don’t want to leave. I love it here. More than that, all the people that I love (with the exception of a few folks on the east coast) live here as well.

But everyone wants to come here. They leave Ohio or Maine or Georgia and head to California where the weather is lovely, the high-tech industry still (more or less) reigns supreme, and where houses cost a ridiculous amount of money.

My complaint is this. Because everyone moves here and has pushed the price of houses way out of my reach, I’m naturally a bit resentful. And what makes it worse…is when people who aren’t from here, complain about it.

“Oh, it’s so expensive out here!” They exclaim. No kidding…you want cheap? Go back to Idaho.

“I miss the seasons. California doesn’t have real seasons.” Aw, I’m sorry you miss watching the leaves change color…you know, you could move back to Connecticut and watch the leave change to your heart's content.

“It’s so crowded.” You know, you’re right…it is crowded. Why don’t you free up some space by returning to New Jersey – I think they miss you there.

Now I have a great many friends (and a wonderful husband) who are themselves transplants. And of course, since this is my world, they can stay…but if you’re going to move out here, cause traffic, inflate house prices and compete with me for jobs, at least have the decency to stop insulting my home.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Why an SUV?

Does anybody really know why people would buy an SUV? Do they people who buy them really know why they are purchasing such an unhelpfully large vehicle?

I can understand them for people who really do have the SUV-commercial lifestyle. Rock climbing in Yosemite. Skiing in the Sierras. Rafting down the…uh…big wet thing. But it’s odd. I actually do know people like that and they have pickup trucks. Not even the big-ass, hay-hauling kind either. Just a Toyota big enough to throw a tent and some rope into.

So why the SUVs? Please don’t give me the “I’ve got a bad back,” argument. I’ve heard that one. Guess what? I have a bad back. I just got through two rounds of physical therapy for it and not once did my therapist recommend I shell out an obscene amount of money to purchase a monster larger than my garage.

And don’t say, “We’ve got kids.” My folks had 5 kids and managed just fine with a station wagon.

So what’s the point? Why do people actually want something that gets 15 mpg when gas is over $2 a gallon? Why will people voluntarily drive something that is nearly impossible to park? (Note: You know those parking spaces labeled “compact car only?” THAT MEANS YOU, IDIOT. If you’re not in a small car, go park in one of those spaces at the other end of the lot. And don’t complain about having to walk – it’s good training for all those camping trips you must be taking because you have an SUV.)

People are spoiled. And car companies (hell, every company in the world) panders to that. Now I’m not going to get all “in my day” over you, but I do recall doing just fine growing up in a station wagon that did not have cup holders, 5-disc CD changers, a DVD player, individual climate control, or any of the other conspicuous options that people feel they need. And tell me, what’s the point of having kids if you won’t even talk to them while they’re in the damned car with you. Road trips were not meant for the kids to be watching Shrek in the back while mom and dad talk to each other – they’re supposed to be about family bonding. Remember the stupid license plate game from your own childhood? Teach it to your kid. Sing silly songs. Count cows. Yeah, there are boring stretches filled with “are we there yet?” But they are more than made up for by the fact that you will actually be interacting with your children, not just keeping them busy.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Cheshire Mac

Computers are kind of like cats: they think they are smarter than you are.

Both the computer and the cat are wrong. They are not smarter than you are -- they are merely better at getting what they want than you are.

Consider the cat. A cat will blithely ignore you for most of your existence and then decide that it would like its ears scratched please and would you be quick about it. So, unlike a person who would like some affection, a cat does not make subtle conversation, laden with hopeful overtones and oblique hints too vague to be picked up by anybody other than Kreskin. No, a cat simply pours itself into you lap -- regardless of what you are doing -- and demands to be petted.

Now consider the computer. You are minding your own business, happily working away at a machine you once had to be convinced wouldn’t electrocute you. Then, you quite innocently do something that offends its delicate sensibilities. Now suppose you had similarly offended a person. A human would perhaps withdraw quietly, maybe with a little pouting for good measure, and save up the minor grievance (which would subsequently be heaped upon by other minor grievances) to be brought out and thrown into the offender’s face at a later date. However, a computer demands instant retribution. It beeps (or boings or hisses) at you insistently until you apologize for your transgressions by immediately fixing whatever was wrong. Silence is your only reward for jumping to its beck and call.

You see, in both instances, we the people like to think of ourselves as the master -- and in both instances, we are sorely mistaken.

Join me
I have just volunteered to visit swing states for the Kerry campaign in the hopes of doing something to get George Bush out of office. Please join me. This is not the time to sit back and wring your hands while you bitch about the state of the world. This is the time to do something. Help register people to vote. Volunteer to call people. Sign up to go door to door. Host a house party to raise money. Do something, anything to get involved. Just make sure that if the unthinkable does happen and Bush gets reelected, you don't end up kicking yourself for not doing more.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

All the news that fits

I have grown weary of the news. Mostly because we seem to be missing so much of it. Taking William Randolph Hearst as their patron saint, modern American news outlets have decided that telling us what they want us to know is more important than telling us what we need to know.

The worst crime of all, in my opinion, is the way the media decides there is one “it” story and that story will, above even wars and natural disasters, always have a place of prominence. Even when it’s no longer news.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area the “it” story is the trial of Scott Peterson. And most of the coverage doesn’t even qualify as journalism, let alone “news.”

Let’s remove the personalities and look at this strictly as a crime. A woman disappears; that’s news. Her body is found; that’s news. Her husband is arrested; that’s also news. And when a verdict is reached, ok, that qualifies as news. However, taking up 5 minutes of a 30-minute local news broadcast with “interviews” with legal “experts” getting their opinions on the day’s testimony and what it means for the case is not news.

An interview with someone who went to high school with a murder victim is not news, and yet the media wants us to believe it is. Somewhere along the line, “opinion” became “news” and now it’s impossible to watch pretty much any television news without being told what might happen, what could happen, and what might happen if what could happen happens. (Follow all that?)

It’s not like these people have to struggle to fill up their news broadcasts, is it? The world is most obligingly supplying us all with non-stop material in the form of wars, genocide, terrorist attacks, crime, poverty, and other forms of mayhem. As if that weren’t enough, Mother Nature is kindly bestowing upon us hurricanes, locust invasions, droughts, and more. And yet there always seems to be room for the “it” story.

The problem is, that to make for the “it” story, the networks deny us full and impartial coverage of the aforementioned wars, genocides, droughts, etc. Ah…but who cares what happens in Africa as long as we can all get through the day secure in the knowledge that our media has qualified us to have an opinion about the behavior of Scott Peterson’s girlfriend.