Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thinking Green

Finally, I can feel (sort of) smug about not using cloth diapers. According to an article in the October issue of Wired magazine, washing cloth diapers at home uses 6,946 gallons of water per year. Sending them out to a diaper-cleaning service (and who wouldn't, given the choice?) raises the water consumption to 17, 908 gallons per year. Your energy consumption and annual solid and water waste numbers do go up with disposables, but the recommendation is to use them if you live in a drought-prone area. Like, say, California.

At the grocery store, I always choose paper over plastic, and until today, I felt pretty good about that. Turns out that's not always such a great idea either. Sure, we end up tossing more plastic (1.6 million tons) than paper (1 million tons), but it takes only 600 BTUs to make one plastic bag versus 2500 BTUs for a paper bag. Time to buy a cloth bag or, better still, put some of those trade show bags to good use.

Do you still rinse your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher? Or worse, actually wash them before loading? Using a standard dishwasher, you're using 3,473 gallons of water and 735 kilowatt-hours every year. Wash them by hand with the water running and use up 5,974 gallons of water and 1,243 kilowatt-hours. The best bet--and I know my mother would cringe at this one--is to wash them in a high-efficiency dishwasher WITHOUT rinsing: 868 gallons of water, 276 kwh per year.

But don't just listen to me--read it for yourself! There's a nice little surprise in there about your coffee cup, too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Earmuffs, Please

One of the hidden joys of moving is switching over all of the utilities. They never seem to have any difficulty finding you when they think your bill is past due but they haven't quite figured out how to apply the payments to the new account rather than the account tied to the previous address. So what does this mean? Fun stuff with AT&T today--it almost rivals Thomas's Comcastic experience.

On Sept 15 I paid AT&T $113.74 for the August statement. Nothing weird there.

On Sept 19, they sent me a new statement with a credit of $113.74 PLUS a check for $113.74. Ok, that was a little weird. So I decided not to deposit the check.

Good thing.

Today, I received a disconnection notice because of an unpaid balance of--you'll never guess--$113.74. WTF?? I thought. Well, to be honest, I thought it out loud. Out very loud. Hannah was listening, so it ended up sounding more like "WHAT THE FUfffffffffohforchristssake!"

I spent the next 30 minutes trapped in the not-so-helpful AT&T customer holding pen. Er, system. And then another 10 minutes after I hung up and called back.

"Thanks for calling AT&T! I see that you have an outstanding balance of $151.26! May I take payment on that today?"

Um, no my cheery little man. You may not.

With a few keystrokes and apologies for the system being so slow, he said, "Huh," apologized again--yes, it was their mistake--and said that, since they had already sent the check, I would still need to pay the $113.74 AGAIN. You know, just so there would not be an interruption of the phone and Internet services.

Mindful of the problems Thomas has had with Comcast reps incorrectly telling him (much nicer than saying "lying to him to get him off the phone") that the situation had been resolved, I made sure I got my guy's phone number, address, social security number and underwear size. Not really. It's not like he was applying for a loan. But I did get his employee ID number, just in case.

I would like to say that this was an isolated incident, but Thomas had the problem with Comcast (of course, they not only said that we owed them money but that we had swiped their modem when we moved). And PG&E didn't combine our accounts as I had been told. The PG&E rep was great about just moving the money from one account to another, but he did tell me that they would not have caught the error; the payments would have just continued to accumulate in the old account while I kept getting notices of non-payment on the current account.

And he knew this because?

They did it to his mother. Ah, more good times!

So if you have moved recently, be sure to check, check and double check that your kids are out of earshot before you open the bills.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On John Adams

I've just finished reading David McCullough's excellent biography of John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Ambassador, first U.S. Vice President, second U.S. President and father of the sixth U.S. President. You know: a classic underachiever. Anyway, a couple of thoughts:

Anyone longing for the "good old days" of civil discourse is deluding themselves. Compared to the beginnings of the republic, this IS the age of civility. And the press today are more than timid. In some of the kinder comments, Adams was repeatedly referred to "pretty fat and flourishing" and a "pharisee of liberty." And that was just by the British press. In the U.S., he was mocked as "His Rotundity" and "the President by Three Votes;" a tool of the British and a "a man divested of his senses." And though they later patched up their friendship, Thomas Jefferson told a French ambassador that "Mr Adams is vain, irritable, stubborn, [and] endowed with excessive-self love."

But Mr. Adams believed strongly in conscience over party; in doing what he thought was right for the country rather than what was right for his political party. Something we could use a little more of these days.

While reading, I constantly found myself trying to draw parallels to the current goings-on in the political world and it was with difficulty that I restrained myself. After all, it's easy to find parallels when you bring your own biases to the party. But from one line (now inscribed on a mantelpiece in the State Dining Room) Adams wrote after moving in to the White House, I think I have a better understanding of why Bush is so uncomfortable spending time there: "May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Question of Conscience

The Bush administration wants to ban only those torture methods that "shock the conscience." I'm assuming that this judicial interpretation was meant to apply more generally, as in "the nation's conscience." However, Bush seems to be taking it more specifically to mean, well, him. And therein lies the problem.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Apocalypse, Now?

I've spent the last few days wondering if it Pat Buchanan practically urging Al Gore to run for president in 2008 and Christopher Buckley saying that it maybe it was time for a time-out for Republicans could be a sign of the apocalypse. And in June, George Will basically said Al Gore should run, that the Presidency would be the best way to influence the debate on global warming.

Of course, there are some blatantly political reasons for wanting the Democrats to at least take the House: Give the Republicans time to regroup while the dems, though in power, would not be able to move an agenda with the Senate and White House still in Republican hands. The Democrats then become the do-nothings, completely focused on the sure-to-be-launched investigations of the run up to Iraq, illegal wire-tapping and torture issues. Republicans could then just sit back and watch as the American public became increasingly disgusted, returning both houses of Congress and the White House to Republican hands in 2008. Brilliant. Sick, but brilliant. Not that I'm feeling cynical about all of this.

So is it too late for Al Gore? Can he come back and take what so many feel was rightfully his? He's come a long way in the past six years. But does he want to do that to himself again?

I like Hillary, but I don't think she can win a general election. I think she would be more effective staying in the Senate.

I like Joe Biden, but he still has a little baggage and really, really likes to hear himself talk.

Russ Feingold--like him, but don't know that he has the name recognition that he'd need.

Did Gore get a dose of humility large enough to make him come across as himself this time and not some stuffed shirt who knows he's the smartest guy in the room? (Biden also suffers from this but still manages to make you think you might want to grab a beer with him anyway. Just throwing that in since so many people find it an appealing quality in a presidential candidate.)

And did Gore learn enough to let the Clinton machine do it's job this time? Has he made his peace with Bill? Yes, yes, Bill has some personal issues, but the man knows politics. He knows America and he knows how to get elected. Also doesn't hurt that he's playing nice with Bush I. Not that I'm feeling cynical or anything.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tumor Free!

Three hundred and a few dollars later, Argus is officially tumor free and ready to have his teeth cleaned. The exam was only supposed to take 15-20 minutes, but half an hour later we were still waiting for him to come back with the vet. My anxiety must have been contagious because, as I felt my stomach begin to do flips of worry, the girls got quieter and quieter until Hannah asked why it was taking so long. (I'm pretending that it was out of concern for Argus and not because Charlotte had just finished the last of the crackers and juice.)

Just a few minutes later I heard the thump thumping of his tail on the wall before he reentered the room, looking extremely pleased with himself. Apparently he was very cooperative and his usual charming self with the staff. The only thing they couldn't check was his adrenal glands which were blocked by his stomach, swollen a bit from nervous gulping of air. But he's home and healthy and happy! Fortunately his insurance should cover the blood work and the ultrasound. Unfortunately, it will not cover the dental. But I guess that's the price of puppy love.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Suri With the Fringe On Top

Ok, it's a "shock" of hair, not just a fringe. And anyone who recognizes the title is either as old as I am (older?) or has either seen Oklahoma! or When Harry Met Sally a few too many times.

Anyway. Back to Suri Cruise, aka the wagon that TomKat is riding back to relevance.

I am almost ashamed to admit that I gave in to the hype and went to Vanity Fair site last week where there are three photos posted--you have to buy the mag for the rest. Yes, yes, she's very cute but I expected more. A halo maybe.

People please--it's a baby! They're born every day. They just don't have parents with the same PR machine or the desire to make the kid start earning her keep that soon. I'm sure that the money will be donated to charity, but still. At the rate that Tom and Katie were losing popularity, does anyone think that Vanity Fair would have given them a spread that big--much less paid for it--without Suri?

And we wonder why children of stars are so messed up

One more thing: Annie Liebovitz could make a freshly-dug turnip beautiful.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Puppy Love

My oldest child just turned six in July. He weighs 144 pounds and stands 32" at the shoulder. He is the color of summer wheat, just starting to darken for the winter. His mask is black, shot through with the silver that announces his advancing age.

Like any good kid, Argus alternately makes me incredibly happy (feeble attempts to be a lap dog; not minding the occasional tutu around his neck) and drives me crazy (inhaling the cupcakes meant for Charlotte's NICU nurses; eating two sticks of butter intended for cookies; barking at dangerous-looking Chihuahuas while ignoring the magazine salesman at the door). His tricks are limited to balancing a cookie on his nose, bounding at the window barking when you say "Look!" and maintaining his dignity as he slides on his butt down a freshly mopped hall.

But he is my puppy love--the first dog I ever had. (My mother thought only boys should have dogs, while cats were deemed appropriate for girls--I'll get to that post one of these days.) I never knew I was a dog person until we found each other. Last week I dropped him off at the vet to have his teeth cleaned. Three hours later, Dr Schmidt called to say that his Alk/phos was high and not just a tad high, but three times the normal range. So they cancelled his cleaning and started throwing around words like "internist" and "ultrasound" and "liver biopsy."

So while we're sure it's nothing, Argus has to have an abdominal ultrasound done tomorrow afternoon. They are going to check for tumors, stones, and other things I don't want to think about right now. And when they don't find anything he'll still need to get his teeth cleaned, because though not kind, Hannah rightly keeps telling the poor guy he smells like he ate a catfish.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

He Actually Said it With a Straight face

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell:

The Democrats are trying to politicize the war on terror. They are the ones who chose to make this a political issue . . .

So there you have it: It's OK for Republicans to trot out the already-beaten-to-death issue on the eve of an election or any other time they need to change the subject. Anyone else even mentioning it with a questioning tone is a) a traitor; b) an appeaser; c) against the troops; or d) using an issue of national security for political gain.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Day of School

You may have noticed that I've been eagerly awaiting the first day of school. Well, the wait is finally over and it would seem that I wasn't the only one counting the days. I took Hannah by yesterday to show her where her classrooms are and she refused to leave. I had to drag her, kicking and screaming, to the car under the watchful eye of the hired security guards. Ah, good times!

Today she was dressed and ready to go an hour before we needed to leave--which is in itself a miracle. Once we arrived, I thought there might be some show of shyness or not wanting me to leave her there. But no. She kissed Charlotte good-bye in the car and, once we reached her classroom, said good-bye again as she gently nudged Mom and sister back toward the door. So here I am, three hours later, trying not to be impatient with Time dragging it's feet toward five o'clock.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Because It's Funny (and I'm feeling lazy)

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.

The unflinching arrogance of the Bush Administration is prompting the exodus among liberal citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray in public, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists, and Unitarians crossing their fields at night. "I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota.

The producer was cold, exhausted, and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk"

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. "A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the Bush administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR.

Liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies." I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and Canada, Vice President Dick Cheney met with the Canadian ambassador and pledged that the administration would take steps to reassure liberals, a source close to Cheney said. "We're going to have some Peter, Paul & Mary concerts. And we might put some endangered species on postage stamps. The President is determined to reach out."

My only source is my friend Jessica, who got it from her mother. Smells like The Onion though, eh?