Part II: How I Became

Part II: How I Became (Somewhat) Emancipated From The Devil's (Cable) Service

5:50 p.m., last night
Me: Hi. I'm not trying to be paranoid, but I want to confirm that someone is, in fact, coming to fix my cable tonight.

Customer Service Representative 13: Let's see here. Yes, on your file it says someone will be by after 6.

Me: Well, it said that earlier today when Andre Brown showed up at 2 p.m.

CSR13: No, they should be there. Between 6 and 7.

Me: Fantastic. Now, the problem is with the cable box. I'm nearly 100 percent sure of that. Will the tech have an extra one?

CSR13: Oh, they always have extras.

6:15 p.m.
Me (taking no chances): Hi, I'm calling for Gloria Wren. I need to confirm an appointment.

Customer Service Representative 14: What's your name and address?

Me (giving her the info): I fail to see why that's important, but whatever.

CSR14: Let me connect you. Hold please.

Me (on hold, to myself): I can say with near certainty that if I ever lay eyes on Randy Character, Demetrius Johnson, any member of the SLU soccer team, Jennifer Garner or Antonio Banderas, there will be hell to pay.

CSR14 (after six minutes): Ma'am, Gloria is taking her lunch.

Me: Excuse me, did I hear you correctly? She's taking her lunch?

CSR14: Yes.

Me: You do realize it's a quarter after 6.

CSR14: She works weird hours, I guess.

Me: But isn't any meal at 6:15 in the civilized world considered dinner? On second thought, never mind. I'm missing the forest for the trees, or however the expression goes. Please tell Gloria after she has finished lunching that it is imperative she call me back.

Fifteen minutes later
Andre Brown: Is this Rachel?

Me: Yes. Who is this?

AB: This is Charter. Charter Communications.

Me: Oh, right. Andre Brown.

AB: Um, yeah, I guess.

Me: So you're here?

AB: No, not yet. I figure I'll get to this one job and then swing by your place. I got some jobs tonight on Euclid.

Me: What time will you be here?

AB: Hmmm. Hour, hour and a half?

Me: Enough time for me to get groceries. Great. See you at 8.

Approximately two hours later, at 8:35
Me: Hello?

AB: Yes, Rachel, this is Charter. Andre Brown. Charter.

Me: I see. Should I let you in?

AB: No, I'm leaving the job now and I'll be there in 15 minutes.

Thirty minutes later
AB: I'm here. Charter. Andre.

Me (buzzing him in): Come on in.

Two minutes later
AB: Hmm. Looks like your cable box is broken.

Me: Weird! That's kind of what I thought. Maybe I should try to get a job with your company!

AB: Too bad I don't have any extra boxes. We could set up another work order...

Me: Andre, I've got this crazy idea. Is it possible for me to just have basic expanded cable? You know, no need for the box?

AB: Well, yeah. But that's analog (pointing to the TV screen). This is digital (pointing to the box). The difference is that the box is digital, ya know?

Me: Um, yeah. Digital. I get it. But just take the broken box with you. I don't really need digital cable, and it will probably take a long time for you guys to come back out.

AB: Well, OK. Let me just go get the work order for you to sign.

Ten minutes later
AB: OK, sign here.

Me (sighing with relief): Bye.

Five minutes later
Me: Hi, I'd like to downgrade to basic expanded cable and collect on my credit for my cable being out for three days.

Customer Service Representative 15: OK. Let me see...we show a credit to your account of $0.33.

Me: What the hell? Thirty-three goddamn cents for all of the goddamn trouble you've put me through?

CSR15: Ma'am. Ma'am. Let me explain. I need to explain the bill to you.

Me: You know, I wasn't a math major, and I'd put money on the fact that you weren't either. But if my monthly bill is $90, and there are, say, 30 days in a month, that amounts to about...let me see here...$3 a day for service.

CSR15: Your point?

Me: Well, my cable was out for three days. So at the minimum the MINIMUM, mind you the credit should be $9.

CSR15: Well, it's not. As I stated before, it's $0.33.

Me: Do you have any concept of what your miserable company has put me through in the last three days? And what's with ignorant people using big words like "stated"? Why isn't the tried-and-true "said" good enough?

CSR15: I understand you're angry, ma'am, but I'm sorry, that's just how we do things here.

Me: Get me your boss on the phone immediately.

Five minutes later
Assistant Leader of the Charter Race: This is Cathy.

Me (after rambling through the entire story for the billionth time): So what are you going to do about this?

ALCR: Well, I just downgraded you to basic expanded. You'll be credited $52.37. And now your bill will be $50.51 a month after tax.

Me: Wow. So that really was the same price as doing digital?

ALCR: Yeah, if you had the Internet package with it.

Me: Well, I don't. You canceled that, right?

ALCR: Yes. It's too bad we can't keep you as an Internet customer.

Me: You know, getting a new phone line and paying for DSL will be about $47 a month. This new, "cheaper" cable costs $50. So I'm actually going to be paying more for a slower DSL line and less channels than I would if I used your digital and cable Internet service.

ALCR: Ma'am, we can certainly add you back to the...

Me: I think it's safe to say that I'd rather give my firstborn son to Rumpelstiltskin than deal with your atrocious customer service again.

ALCR: I understand you're angry. But you'll need to bring the cable modem back to us. Unless you want us to send a tech out there to pick it up.

Me: You know what, Cathy? I'd love to drop the modem off to you. I'll probably be there between 1 and 5 tomorrow. Or maybe I won't. I'm a human being who makes mistakes, and I might forget. So maybe you should call me between 5 and 6 to remind me to do it. And then maybe I'll drop it off a few days later, and I'll try to do it around the time that you ask, but it will probably be around 9:30 p.m. Sound good?

Forty-five minutes later
AB: Rachel? This is Charter. Did I leave my toolbelt at your apartment, ya know, by your TV?

Me (getting up from bed to see): Um, yeah.

AB: OK, I'll be by after this next call to pick it up.

Me: I'm putting it out by the coffee machine at the concierge's desk. I'll buzz you in when you get here, but I'm not getting out of this bed. I have to get up at 6:45 tomorrow.

AB: But it might get stolen.

Me (a little tired and somewhat punch-drunk): Andre, I doubt anyone will want to get any more involved with your company than is absolutely necessary. Even criminals who only need one more dirty old toolbelt to complete their collection. Their collection of dirty old toolbelts.

AB: Um, OK.

An hour later, I buzz Andre Brown in. Across the room, I see the one good thing that came out of all this: the super cool universal remote that came with the digital cable box that I took as a parting gift.

09-29-2004 10:24 AM - comments (3)

Part 1: Going Charter, or

Part 1: Going Charter, or How I Stopped Being Reasonable and Started Plotting the Murders of Any and All Charter Communications Employees

So I'm finally moved in. I'll have to take some photos and show you my new, tiny-but-awesome apartment. As Michael pointed out last night, there might not be much square feet, but there's a lot of cubic feet (tall ceilings). It has a lot of character and personality, terms usually used when describing ugly people or apartments. But no, my apartment is beautiful and will look even more so when I actually finish unpacking.

May every employee Charter Communications burn in the fiery pits of hell, though. I swear, Charter is a perfect example of why capitalism needs government regulation. If there were other cable providers in the area, they wouldn't be able to screw me over so blatantly. It should seriously not take 12 "customer service" reps to solve my one little problem.

The following are highlights of conversations I had with some of the massively unintelligent, lazy, pathetic people known as Charter Communications Employees.

Twenty-two hours after the problem (cable wasn't working) was noticed and immediately reported to Charter...
Customer Service Representative 7: I see here you have the Charter Communications Big Freakin' Pack with Movie Channels You'll Never Watch and blah blah blah...

Me: Well, actually, no. I don't have any cable at all. That's why I've called six times already.

CSR7: Would you like a copy of the Charter Communications guide? It will help...

Me: Excuse me, but did you not hear me just explain I DON'T HAVE CABLE?

CSR7: Oh, right. Well, let me just put you on hold...

Me: Actually, no thanks. I have already heard your promos for "13 Going on 30," a "romantic fantasy starring Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink." I have also heard about "Once a Time in Mexico," which I was under the impression was called "Once Upon a Time in Mexico," but you're the cable people, so I guess you would know. And yes, SLU soccer, which I could care less about, is going to be on some local channel...

CSR7: Ma'am, it will only take a minute. I'll be right back.

Me (on hold): #$#@%^%$@#ing morons.

CSR7 (after 10 minutes): OK, I see the problem. I'll go ahead and set up a work order. The guys will be out sometime between now and 8.

Me: So I have to stay here for five hours?

CSR7: Yes. But they'll be there.

Next conversation, about six hours later.
Me: Just out of curiosity, why haven't the techs shown up?

CSR8, aka Raleighshonda or some such name: I see here you have the Charter Communications Big Freakin' Pack with Movie Chan...

Me (quietly): I think it would be best if you don't talk about that now.

CSR8: All right. Well, it looks like the work order was canceled.

Me: Canceled? Why??

CSR8: Well, you live in the city. And city ordinance doesn't allow us to send guys out after 2.

Me (channeling Adam Sandler): Don't you think this is information that should have been brought to my attention SIX HOURS AGO?

CSR8: I'm sorry, ma'am, the person you dealt with must have been new.

Me: Really, now that's a surprise. Next you're going to tell me half of you never saw a day of eighth grade and the other half can't figure out which branch of ITT Tech is closest to your parents' home.

CSR8: I'm afraid I don't understand.

Me: When the hell is someone going to come out to fix my cable?

CSR8: I can try to get someone tonight. Let me put you on hold and...

Me: Don't. Even. Think. About. It.

CSR8: OK, well I can call you back and let you know when they will be out.

Me (surprised): Really? Wow, that actually makes sense. I am actually concerned that this solution makes way too much sense to come from a Charter Communications employee.

CSR8: Talk to you later.

Next morning at work, about 12 hours later.
Customer Service Rep 9: Hi, this is Kevin. How may I help you?

Me: Kevin. Great name. How are you? Oh, wait. I don't have time for small talk right now. You see, I've now wasted somewhere around eight hours of my life on your company. I waited around for Leroyshonda, or whatever her name was to call me back, as she promised she would. I'm starting to understand how you do business.

CSR9: How's that?

Me: Remember "opposite day"? From when we were kids? I think you guys have become, like, "opposite company" where everything you say is actually the complete opposite of the truth. I'm guessing this little game is a lot more enjoyable for you than me.

CSR9: I see here that you have...

Me: Kevin, I'm the one in charge now. You're going to send someone out tonight to fix my cable, understood?

CSR9: Actually, it shows here that someone is going to your apartment right now.

Me: Now? Um, hello, it's 9 a.m. I am at this thing called "work." Maybe you've heard of it. Though probably not, seeing as you're employed by Charter.

CSR9: Let me just go ahead and cancel that for you.

Me: Fine. Great. Set something up for tonight, when I am finished working.

CSR9: Well, I can't actually set up a tech call right now.

Me: Really. Why is that, exactly?

CSR9: You will need to call closer to the time you need service. So call back around 6 or 7 and we will get someone out. All their calls have been scheduled already.

Me: Fine. What is your supervisor's name, so I can ensure this is taken care of today?

CSR9: Well, when you call back you can speak with a supervisor.

Later that night, around 6 p.m.
Customer Service Rep 10: Hi, this is Bill.

Me: Bill, I want to speak your supervisor. Immediately.

CSR10: Is there anything I can help you with?

Me: No. But your supervisor can.

CSR10: OK, let me just put you on hold.

Twenty-three minutes and nine promos for "13 Going on 30" and "Once a Time in Mexico" later...
Supreme Leader of the Charter Race: Hello.

Me: Hello. I want my cable fixed now. Are you a manager?

SLCR: Yes.

Me: My cable is not working. I want someone out now. Can you send a tech tonight?

SLCR: Let me see. I'll put you on hold.

Me (sarcastically): I can't wait. Bartender, another scotch on the rocks. Make it quick.

SLCR (five minutes later): Well, I just put the work order in, but it was entered at 6:01.

Me: I'm not following.

SLCR: Well, we have to input those between 5 and 6. And it's 6:01.

Me: You have got to be kidding me.

SLCR: No, ma'am. But it's possible they'll still come out. Let me put you on hold and see what's going on.

Me: No. Why can't you just find out if they will come tonight or not?

SLCR: Well, ma'am, because some of these guys have their own cell phones. And I could try to call them, but it's their phones and their minutes...

Me: Are you trying to tell me they don't have work cell phones? And if not, are you trying to tell me that their time is more valuable than mine?

SLCR: No. Ma'am, let me call you back when I get through to the tech guys.

Me: It better be within the next 10 minutes. What's your name and title, anyway?

SLCR: Gloria Wren, supervisor of the call center.

Thirty minutes later, on my way to my new apartment
Customer Service Representative 11: This is Jermaine. How may...

Me: Jermaine, I need you to connect me to your supervisor immediately. And without putting me on hold.

CSR11 (snarkily): How can I transfer you without putting you on hold?

Me: Oh, you're all SUCH comedians, aren't you? Jermaine, I want you to transfer me so I don't have to hear that simpering, grating voiceover and the equally bad hold music.

CSR11: Well, there are no supervisors here right now.

Me: See, I think you're lying. And I'm not sure what benefit you derive from lying. Regardless, I want to speak to Gloria Wren. I know she's there.

CSR11: Hold for a minute.

Five minutes pass
CSR11: Gloria Wren is on a call right now. She's trying to get through to a tech.

Me: For my case?

CSR11: Yes.

Me: You have her call me back the second she is done, do you hear me?

CSR11: I haven't done anything wrong.

Ten seconds pass while I contemplate this.

Me: You know, you're technically right. But you are also the eleventh person I have spoken to regarding this, and it still has not been resolved. So I think I have earned the right to be pissed off right now. I was patient with the first five people. After that, it was only a matter of time. You tell Ms. Wren that I know people at the Post-Dispatch and the Riverfront Times. I think the people of St. Louis might be interested in a series of articles about certain local corporations taking advantage of their monopolistic status.

CSR11: I'll have her call you back.

Thirty minutes later
Me: Hello?

SLCR: This is Gloria Wren.

Me: Gloria, you called me back. Thanks.

SLCR: Well, I'm still on standby with the tech guys.

Me: Really. Well, let's just say you and I set something up for tomorrow night.

SLCR: I can't do that. As I stated before, you have to call us between 5 and 6 the night you want service.

Me: Gloria, I find it hard to believe that the supervisor of the entire call center of Charter Communications in this region doesn't have the power to schedule a call for someone as angry as me.

SLCR: I just can't. They need to be e-mailed and everything beforehand. I could put in the request myself tomorrow, but I'm a human being. I make mistakes. I could forget to do it.

Me: Forget to do it? Gloria, I highly suggest you remember to do it. Just this one time. In fact, if you could see me right now, I'm pretty sure you would have already done it by now.

SLCR: I've got a lot of people to worry about. I can't just move your case to the top of the pile.

Me: If the other people you have to worry about are anywhere as enraged as I am, I would say your job might be in a little bit of jeopardy. But forget it. Just sign me up for Saturday and credit my account for the services I did not receive.

SLCR: I can't do that. They're booked Saturday.

Me: Um, what? Fit me in.

SLCR: I can't, not for a no-picture situation.

Me: You know, I've had a lot of time to listen to your hold music and your hold commentary. If I counted it up, it would probably be in the neighborhood of three whole hours.

SLCR: Oh yeah?

Me: Yeah. And one thing your voice-over guy says ad nauseum is "At Charter Communications, customer satisfaction is our number one priority."

SLCR: Yes. That's right.

Me: Let me tell you, if customer satisfaction is your number one priority, I would really hate to find out what your number two priority is.

SLCR: Look, I can take the abuse. I'm like a human punching bag.

Me: I don't care if you're the freaking second coming of Jesus Christ. I want my goddamned cable fixed.

SLCR: I'll call you back and let you know what we can do.

Thirty minutes later, I received a voicemail from Gloria Wren, who said she had called the main tech guy at home he "was eating dinner," she said pointedly, as if I gave a f#$% what kind of inconvenience someone from Charter had to go through to actually give me the service they promised and that she personally guaranteed he would be at my apartment after 6 the next night.

The next day (today), 1:30 p.m.
Me: Hello?

Unknown person: Ms. Otto? This is Charter. We're at your apartment now to fix your cable.

Me: Oh, really. Isn't that special. Well, you might be there, but I'm most certainly not. You need to come back after 6.

Tech guy: OK, I will call you at 6:30. My name is Brown. Andre Brown.

Me: Andre Brown, I doubt I will ever actually ever get a glimpse of your face, but it's been nice meeting you all the same.

Homicidal rage ensues. The exciting conclusion to follow.

09-28-2004 5:44 PM - comments (3)

Because there are ghosts and

Because there are ghosts
and they won't even wait to call
They will crawl up in your skin
and they will come out from the wall
if you let them

09-23-2004 5:00 PM - comments (0)

Best commercial on TV, hands

Best commercial on TV, hands down.

Kid 1: Are you going to Brian's party Saturday night?

Kid 2, dressed in George Washington wig and eating nuts: No way, man. Brian stinks. You stink. This dog stinks. I hate parties. I hate this bike!

Voiceover: Elegant naysayers love Emerald Nuts!

And the dog is wearing one of those Shakespearean collars, and the bike is something out of a 19th century circus. Oh, it's fantastic!

09-20-2004 4:53 PM - comments (1)

It definitely makes you wonder

It definitely makes you wonder if you're cut out to be the managing editor of a bridal magazine when, while writing about Vera Wang jewelry, you can't remember if it's "carat" or "karat."

(Thank you, AP Stylebook. The Jewelry Gods must have been out to get me, what with "carats" referring to the weight of precious stones and "karats" referring to the proportion of pure gold used with an alloy. I will never forgive you as long as I live!)

09-20-2004 4:24 PM - comments (0)

Yes, yes, yes. This is

Yes, yes, yes. This is what we need to be hearing and reading about in the mainstream media.

Kerry blasts Bush 'excuse presidency'

DETROIT, Michigan (AP) -- Sen. John Kerry accused President Bush on Wednesday of presiding over an "excuse presidency," challenging Bush's credibility on jobs, the record national deficit and the war in Iraq.

"This president has created more excuses than jobs," Kerry told the Detroit Economic Club. "His is the excuse presidency -- never wrong, never responsible, never to blame. President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops -- it's where the blame begins." (Ed. note: Isn't this a great line?)

Kerry said that of the last 11 presidents, Bush was the only one to oversee a national job loss, and he said Iraq and the war on terror were no excuse. "Many of them faced more severe recessions, many of them faced bigger wars with bigger expenses," Kerry said.

Bush's Democratic rival focused on one of the president's biggest potential weaknesses -- a record of lost jobs and budget deficits during four years in the White House. And in a broader effort to sharpen critiques and fight back against Republican criticism, Kerry also went after Bush's handling of Iraq.

"We are punching back," Kerry said in an interview with radio host Don Imus. "I am absolutely taking the gloves off." (Ed. note: A little belated, but good to hear.)

On Iraq, Kerry raised doubts about whether there could be national elections in January, given security problems in places like Fallujah, Ramadi and Najaf.

"I know that the people who are supposed to run that election believe that they need a longer period of time and greater security before they can even begin to do it," Kerry said. "So I'm not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation either at this point."

Kerry said Bush's actions have made it harder for the next president to withdraw troops and argued that Bush should be under more pressure to develop a withdrawal plan.

"What you ought to be doing, and what everybody in America ought to be doing today, is not asking me. They ought to be asking the president, what's your plan?" Kerry told Imus. "What's your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed?" (Ed. note: Now we start getting into the political rhetoric people complain so much about. But sadly, people need this kind of political rhetoric. If they didn't need it, we wouldn't have heard so much criticism of Kerry's campaign strategy. So Kerry supporters, shut up and let him say silly things with this kind of force so he sounds as strong and decisive as everyone seems to think W. is. He won't win otherwise.)

When asked whether there were any circumstances under which the United States should have gone to war in Iraq, Kerry responded, "Not under the current circumstances, no. There are none that I see." He voted to authorize the administration to use force against Saddam Hussein but has said Bush used the authorization in the wrong way.

Later Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin, Kerry said he had warned Bush early on not to rush to war without the support of allies. "We told this president this, we said it to him in the beginning," he said.

Bush, who also has been campaigning in the Midwest, stayed home to appeal to a key election constituency Wednesday, hosting a White House concert and reception celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.

In Detroit, Kerry tried to reassure his conservative-leaning audience that he would be a friend to business if elected president.

"Our plan is pro-worker and pro-business," he said. "I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat."

Kerry's economic plan combines tax cuts with job incentives, improvements in scientific and technological development and programs to slow the rising cost of health care.

He has promised to halve the federal deficit -- now estimated at a record $422 billion for this year -- while rolling back tax cuts passed during the Bush administration for people making $200,000 or more.

"This president consciously turned a $5.6 trillion surplus into trillions of debt for our children," Kerry said. "George Bush accomplished all of it in only four years. Imagine what he could do in another four years. I want to be clear, my friends: I'm not saying that president wanted these consequences. But I am saying that by his judgments, by his priorities, by the decisions he's made he has caused these things to happen or to grow significantly worse. And he refuses to admit the error of those choices."

In Washington, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We've seen 1.7 million new jobs created over the last year and the last thing we need to do is turn back from those policies. ... The failed policies of higher taxes, more regulation, more litigation and more government control of people's lives would put the brakes on our economy." (Ed. note: Surprisingly tame response from McClellan, which is good.)

The Kerry campaign had singer Sheryl Crow warm up the crowd in Madison. In Detroit, the candidate brought along a reminder that U.S. business can prosper under a Democratic president, receiving a glowing introduction from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who served in the Clinton administration.

Kerry's campaign views job losses and economic worries as a strong force that could push key Midwestern states in his favor. He is running ahead of the president in polls of Michigan voters, but is trailing the president in some other Midwestern states that have lost jobs, such as Ohio.

09-16-2004 11:46 AM - comments (0)

Trying to lose weight is

Trying to lose weight is an odd thing. For one, I think people understimate how much pressure their friends and co-workers will put on them not to try to eat healthily. It's crazy, but I have to keep the fact that I'm trying to diet from everyone because once they find out, they berate and harrass me to eat all sorts of horrible things. And they do not find out because I tell them (because I am loathe to do that) but they realize I am eating much differently than I was a few months ago, and they see that I look a little different. Mystery solved.

This brand of peer pressure is unlike that most of us faced in high school, where the cool kids picked on everyone else for not being just like them. So the less cool kids well, the ones who cared about what others thought of them or the ones who just wanted to blend in a little better started shopping at Abercrombie and cutting little triangles into the ankles of their jeans. (I have no idea why either of those things was particularly cool, but then again, I was always more envious of the Dior-clad model in Vogue ads than I was of the bleached-blonde cheerleaders and their knuckle-head boyfriends.) Succumbing to peer pressure didn't actually ensure your own coolness, because the intent of the pressure was not actually to convince the less-cool kids to become cool. No, back then peer pressure was a social weapon used to keep the majority of people down and a small, select group of people up. (Am I alone in my continued bitterness toward those people?)

Peer pressure now, at least in the very specific context of me trying to lose weight, comes in a much more nebulous form. When I'm at a generic chain restaurant like Applebee's, if my fellow diners know I'm trying to drop a few pounds and they hear me order the low-fat pseudo-quesadilla thing off the Weight Watchers section, they will, without fail, tell me I'm being stupid and that I should have ordered the Appetizer Sampler, which consists of real quesadillas, cheese sticks, nachos and buffalo wings. I have to bite my tongue and not tell them that a) eating the Appetizer Sampler was how I got into this position in the first place and b) why won't you just leave me alone and let me make healthy food choices? I haven't determined yet if they really think I don't need to lose weight or if they are just overly concerned with my eating habits because they don't want to examine their own. I'm leaning toward the latter.

It's weird, because our friends say one thing and the media says something entirely different. We all hear about how obese America as a nation has become. I'm sure you're as sick of reading about it as I am (and maybe you too noticed the tremendously fat Europeans on your Caribbean vacation, as I did, and wondered aloud to your relatively trim and fit American family what part of "moderation" did they happen to subscribe to). We're inundated with articles and commercials about Atkins and South Beach and low-fat and low-cal everything and it's enough to make us scream. I tried some of that stuff, realized it was hype and realized trying it and failing made me feel worse than knowing I had some weight to lose to begin with. The media are partly right; we are too fat, but crazy, high-pressure diets just aren't the solution.

Tired of being between the sizes of 9/10 and 11/12, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I now try valiantly to eat tons of fruits and vegetables, to get good amounts of protein in and to cut out fat and sugar. It's not low-carb in the Atkins sense. It's actually just what smart people have been saying all along: eating sensibly. In seven weeks, I have lost about 14 pounds, which might not seem miraculous to anyone, but it's pretty damn impressive for someone like me, who has not a shred of self-discipline and who has used my friends' encouragements to order the Appetizer Sampler as justification for binging more times than she can count.

I don't look that much different. I'm now a pretty solid size 7/8 or a medium in shirts, but it's not like what happened to Fat Bastard at the end of the last Austin Powers movie. (Mainly because I really don't have that much to lose, to be honest. Not enough to justify doctor intervention, but enough to make me cower at the sight of a bathing suit.) I know it's cliched, but when people tell me I look good or ask if I've lost weight, I accept their compliments willingly, but later acknowledge I am prouder of having accomplished something so big (no pun intended) than of being able to wear clothes from my sophomore year in college.

People shush me when I tell them I want to lose another 14 pounds. They say I am thin enough and that I have a great body and that I am being stupid. I might be in the minority of American women who think so, but I happen to like my body a good deal, save for the whole being paler-than-a-ghost thing. I think my shape is nice. But it will be a lot nicer when I am at the weight I am supposed to be. And I know people will continue to make fun of me for drinking eight glasses of water a day; they will joke about my low-fat frozen dinners; they will scoff when I don't finish every bite; ironically enough, they will even make a big deal when I order something that might be the slightest bit fattening. And I will have to remind myself that food is something to enjoy and take pleasure in, but it simply cannot be when I'm eating around other people.

09-15-2004 10:40 AM - comments (3)

I enjoy Wednesdays because it's

I enjoy Wednesdays because it's the day The Onion comes out, and, to a lesser extent, because the Suburban Journals come out. I really enjoy the "Sound Off!" section in the Journals, where we transcribe the messages anonymous callers leave on the Sound Off! line. People will say the funniest things when they know they don't have to leave their name.

Also, the letters to the editor section might be far better in the Post-Dispatch, but this letter today from a woman in Manchester, Mo. was pretty darn decent:

One Sound Off! caller is tired of Bush-bashing but obviously doesn't object to liberal-bashing, as if being liberal was something bad. Hence, I looked up the word "liberal" in the dictionary and I found a slew of meanings, each with different connotations.

When liberal means generous, broad-minded, tolerant, receptive, understanding, impartial, unprejudiced, reasonable, rational, unbiased, reformist, objective, magnanimous, favoring reform or progress and even a bit unconventional, I'll choose liberal. However, left, leftist and left-wing are really not meaningful and need more description. The other meanings of liberal were radical, permissive, indulgent and avant-garde.

Then, I looked up conservative. Some definitions were opposite of liberal, such as unchanging, unchangeable, traditional, conventional, unprogressive, obstinate, inflexible, opposed to change, taking no chances, fearful, unimaginative, in a rut. However, being stable, constant, steady and cautious sounded good. Other definitions included right-wing (also meaningless like left-wing), conserving, moderate, preserving firm and timid.

After reading these definitions, I concluded that being liberal was more interesting and ethical, as long as it was tempered with steadiness, stability, moderation and a little caution.

Joyce Guard

Isn't that great? The Sound Off! people, conservative and liberal alike, complain that the other party is full of dispassionate, stupid liars. It's nice to read something by someone who is at least trying to make sense of the two parties. (Then again, that's kind of an effort in vain.)

09-15-2004 9:12 AM - comments (0)

Both Candidates Often Shift Positions

Both Candidates Often Shift Positions

WASHINGTON (AP) - While working relentlessly to portray Democratic Sen. John Kerry as a "flip-flopper," President Bush has his own history of changing his position, from reversals on steel tariffs and "nation-building'' to reasons for invading Iraq.

Most recently, Bush did an about-face on whether the proposed new director of national intelligence should have full budget-making powers as the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission recommended. Bush at first indicated no, then last week said yes.

Just as GOP efforts to question Kerry's military record in Vietnam helped revive nagging questions about Bush's service in the Air National Guard, the "flip flop" attacks on Kerry could boomerang against an incumbent running on his record and reputation as a straight talker.

"The guy who is the ultimate flip and flop is this sitting president," said Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware.

Yet so far Democratic efforts to paint Bush as "Flip-Flopper-in-Chief," as one Democratic news release put it, have not seemed to have had much impact on the race.

Republicans have been driving home their depiction of Kerry as a flip-flopper for months, in campaign ads, speeches and interviews. And polls suggest this line of attack is working.

Far more voters give Bush high marks for being decisive than they do Kerry. Three-fourths, 75 percent, in the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll said the president is decisive, up 7 percentage points from August, while 37 percent said Kerry is decisive, down 7 percentage points from a month ago.

Republican audiences chant "flip-flopper" when Kerry is mentioned, some political novelty stores are carrying flip-flop sandals bearing Kerry's picture, and the theme is reinforced by late-night comedians.

"Gee, I wonder if Bush will say the 'F' in John F. Kerry stands for flip-flop,'' said NBC's Jay Leno after Kerry last week suggested the "W'' in George W. Bush stood for "wrong.''

If he is a flip-flopper, Kerry has company.

In 2000, Bush argued against new military entanglements and nation building. He's done both in Iraq.

He opposed a Homeland Security Department, then embraced it.

He opposed creation of an independent Sept. 11 commission, then supported it. He first refused to speak to its members, then agreed only if Vice President Dick Cheney came with him.

Bush argued for free trade, then imposed three-year tariffs on steel imports in 2002, only to withdraw them after 21 months.

Last month, he said he doubted the war on terror could be won, then reversed himself to say it could and would.

A week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush said he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive.'' But he told reporters six months later, "I truly am not that concerned about him.'' He did not mention bin Laden in his hour-long convention acceptance speech.

"I'm a war president,'' Bush told NBC's "Meet the Press'' on Feb. 8. But in a July 20 speech in Iowa, he said: "Nobody wants to be the war president. I want to be the peace president.''

Bush keeps revising his Iraq war rationale: The need to seize Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction until none were found; liberating the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator; fighting terrorists in Iraq not at home; spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. Now it's a safer America and a safer world.

"No matter how many times Senator Kerry flip-flops, we were right to make America safer by removing Saddam Hussein from power,'' he said last week in Missouri.

Bush has changed his positions on new Clean Air Act restrictions, protecting the Social Security surplus, tobacco subsidies, the level of assistance to help combat AIDS in Africa, campaign finance overhaul and whether to negotiate with North Korean officials.

But while Bush's policy shifts have been numerous and notable, Democrats haven't succeeded yet in tarring him as a flip flopper, said American University political scientist James Thurber.

"Kerry has made some statements about it, but he doesn't have a clear strategy for hammering back at the flip flops of the president,'' Thurber said.

The sustained Bush attack draws on Kerry's 20-year Senate record, with special emphasis on his votes to authorize force in Iraq in 2002 and against final passage last year of an $87 billion aid package for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kerry didn't help himself by explaining that he first supported an amendment to provide the $87 billion by rolling back Bush's tax cuts. "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,'' he said. The Bush campaign turned the quote into an ad.

Bush aides brush off suggestions by Democrats that the real flip-flopper is Bush, not Kerry.

"One moment they say the president's too stubborn and the next day accuse him of being a flip-flopper. It's generated to a point of incoherence,'' said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

EDITOR'S NOTE - Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.

09-14-2004 8:44 AM - comments (0)

Stolen from Pandaposse Amy... Survey!

Stolen from Pandaposse Amy...

Survey! Bold what's true.

01. I have kissed someone of the same sex on the lips.
02. I see a therapist.
03. I'm the youngest child.
04. I am drawn to things associated with sadness. (Also known as, "How I Fell in Love With My Boyfriend.")
05. I love my gauged earrings.
06. I wear black eyeliner every day. (I've noticed I'm in the minority on this one, so I bet people think I look weird. But I feel naked without it.)
07. I am extremely influenced by kindness.
08. I love to write, even though I think I suck at it. (Well, I wouldn't write so much if I truly thought I sucked. That would just be mean.)
09. I can't live without lipgloss.
10. I'm probably emotionally scarred.
11. I lived in Tahoe.
12. I spend money I have. (Um, and some that I don't.)
13. I'll be in college for over 4 years.
14. I love designer handbags.
15. I've had a concussion before.
16. I'm not good with confrontation. (Doesn't mean I like it.)
17. I loved the Backstreet Boys.
18. I have more than a couple horrible memories. (Mostly due to my "romantic" relationships, I should point out.)
19. I'm addicted to Degrassi.
20. I've tried writing poetry before but it sucked. (But I am the best haiku writer in the history of the world!)
21. My first kiss was unexpected. (The kiss was expected. The gum that ended up in my hair and on my favorite shirt wasn't so much.)
22. I'm not a fan of rap.
23. I love taking pictures.
24. I hate girls who are fake.
25. I can be mean when I want to. (Sorry to say, but true. Don't screw with me.)
26. When I allow myself to get close to people, I get very attached. (See my answer to #18. Fatal flaw of mine. I try not to let it happen.)
27. I am bisexual.
28. I have way too many pairs of shoes.
29. I was into Hot Wheels as a child. (Still am.)
30. I dress how I feel that day. (It's worth noting that the bars in my closet have collapsed under the weight of my clothes more than once.)
31. My room is painted a color other than white.
32. I cry very easily.
33. I'm always early.
34. I barely ever study for tests. (That got me made fun of in high school, as if being smart is akin to not bathing or marrying your cousin.)
35. My birthday is my favorite holiday. (That's what happens when your birthday is New Year's Eve!)
36. I have too many clothes for my closet/dresser. (See answer for #30.)
37. I am a morning person.
38. I wish I was smarter. (Well, I'm smart enough to know it should be "were" and not "was," and for that I'm grateful.)
39. I believe that it is wrong to be gay.
40. I don't blame gay people for being gay; it's not like they have a choice. (I'll take it a step further and say the word "blame" shouldn't be used in this context whatsoever. To me, being gay is morally equivalent to being straight, which is to say there should be no moral issue with either.)
41. No one really knows me. (Thankfully, one or two people really do. It wasn't always that way.)
42. I don't have many bad hair days.
43. I sometimes fight with my parents. (Not so much anymore.)
44. I am passionate about my interests.
45. I have had the chicken pox. (Useless Factoid About Me: If you look at my face closely, you will notice a medium-sized freckle under my right eye. Under that freckle is the worst of my chicken-pox scars.)
46. I'm a hopeless romantic. (Depending on the day, of course.)
47. I feel empty sometimes. (At least a quarter of the time.)
48. I am/was most likely clinically depressed at a point in my life. (But I think most people have been at one point or another.)
49. I am no longer depressed.
50. I am very outgoing.
51. Christmas is my favorite holiday.
52. I can be very insecure. (Got to admit it's getting better all the time.)
53. I don't notice it, but I'm told I'm very softspoken.
54. I hate ignorant people.
55. I love the color yellow.
56. I love guys that play the guitar.
57. I state the obvious.
58. I'm a happy person. (With some rage and melancholy thrown in for good measure.)
59. I have absolutely no self-confidence.
60. I hate to clean my room. (Mmmm...I love cleaning my room.)
62. I tend to get jealous sometimes.
63. I like to play video games. (Cannot wait until the new "Grand Theft Auto" comes out...)
64. I love John Mayer. (I like approximately one of his songs.)
65. I get more upset when I see an animal hurt than a person. (It really does depend on the person. Seeing dead squirrels, cats and dogs on the road fills me with immense sadness, but I'm pretty sure I'd feel sad if I saw some homeless guy dead on the street, too.)
66. I'm a vegetarian/vegan/don't eat beef.
67. I've had a crush on a teacher before. (Mmmmm...J200 TAs...)
68. I am too forgiving. (On the contrary. I tend to hold grudges, but only against people who have hurt me without apologizing or caring. Those people should be very careful.)
70. I have a good sense of direction. (Ha.)
71. I've never had a boyfriend/girlfriend before.
72. I've played a musical instrument for more than 5 years.
73. I can function perfectly well without a girlfriend/boyfriend. (I certainly could, but I'd prefer not having to prove it, if that makes sense.)
74. I love kisses on the forehead.
75. I love the color blue.
76. I don't sew.
77. I am not addicted to drugs.
78. I wear contacts.
79. I hate it when people say they hate Bush because he is a moron. Can't you find a better reason? (I think being a moron is a good enough reason not to want him as our president. But this all goes back to my answer for #34.)
80. I hate Bush, but I have reasons to justify it. (Hate is a strong word, but I seriously cannot tolerate the man.)
81. I don't take criticism well. At all. (I don't know anyone who can, personally.)
82. Conformity is stupid. (What is this, a survey written by the remaining members of the Sex Pistols?)
83. Chris Carrabba is one of the sexiest men alive. (OK, you can now disregard my answer to #82. And no, he most certainly is not.)
84. So is Conor from Bright Eyes. (I love the guy, but he's not sexy.)
85. I love my family.
86. I don't mind getting shots.
87. I am a perfectionist when it comes to certain things.
88. I always wanted to learn to play the drums.
89. I can be too hard on myself. (But it's worth noting that I can be pretty lenient on myself, too.)
90. I will or have had premarital sex.
91. I don't like my nose.
92. I am religious.
93. I still act like a little kid. (At times.)
94. I am ridiculously indecisive sometimes. (Sometimes I am and sometimes I'm not....I couldn't resist. Seriously, I am incredibly decisive about most things, which can get me in trouble.)
95. I believe in a higher power or some form of an afterlife. (Believing it doesn't make it so, as much as I wish it did.)
96. I love music.
97. I'm in love. (Big time.)
98. I have problems letting go of people. (Sometimes yes and sometimes no. People who mistreat or use me I have absolutely no trouble pretending I never knew or cared about. But for everyone else, it's a trying situation.)
99. Jesse Lacey writes the most amazing lyrics ever. (Who the hell is Jesse Lacey?)

09-09-2004 3:30 PM - comments (1)

This is war Every line

This is war
Every line is about who I don't want to write about anymore
Hope you come down with something
they can't diagnose, don't have the cure for
Holding on to your grudge
Oh, it's so hard to have someone to love
and keeping quiet is hard
'cause you can't keep a secret if it never was a secret to start
At least pretend you didnt want to get caught...

Oh, we're so c-c-c-c-c-controversial
We are entirely smooth
We admit to the truth
We are the best at what we do
And these are the words you wish you wrote down
This is the way you wish your voice sounds, handsome and smart
Oh, my tongue's the only muscle in my body
that works harder than my heart
And it's all from watching tv
and from speeding up my breathing
Wouldn't stop if I could
Oh, it hurts to be this good
You're holding on to your grudge
Oh, it hurts to always have to be honest
with the one that you love
Oh, to let it go.

-Brand New

09-07-2004 9:50 PM - comments (0) ...complete with snarky commentary.

...complete with snarky commentary. I'm only doing it because the media aren't doing a good enough job of publicizing this stuff, stuff that does in fact influence voter opinion if voters ever read it.

Congress' deficit forecast worsens

Analysts say deficit will hit $2.29 trillion in 10 years; earlier forecast was $2.01 trillion.

September 7, 2004: 12:25 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. budget deficit will balloon to $2.29 trillion over the next decade, congressional analysts said Tuesday. This represents a worse outlook than previously forecast and one likely to stir election-year debate about President Bush's economic policies.

The forecast from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office compares to its March outlook for a cumulative deficit of $2.01 trillion for the 2005-2014 period, if current economic policies stay the same.

"The outlook in terms of the deficits in 2004 and 2005 has improved, but the projection of the cumulative deficit over the 2005-2014 period has worsened," the CBO said in a summer update of its budget outlook.

The CBO confirmed a preliminary forecast made in August for a record deficit of $422 billion for the 2004 fiscal year.

That number compares to the White House's latest deficit outlook of $445 billion for this year and was better than earlier estimates. The White House no longer provides a 10-year deficit forecast. (Ed. note: Wonder why not?)

CBO is expecting the deficit to decline to $348 billion in 2005, if current laws and policies do not change.

"This report underscores that our policies are working to create a stronger economy, more jobs and a lower deficit," said House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican.

The economy, particularly the deficit, has become a key theme between the two presidential candidates.

Bush blames the 2001 recession, the costs of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terror for the growing budget shortfall. (Ed. note: Hmmm. Pretty sure that war he started was more expensive than the aftermath of Sept. 11. And whose fault is the recession? Who decided tax cuts were a good idea?)

Democrats say Bush's tax cuts are responsible for turning the surplus he inherited into a record deficit, which they say threatens the future of Social Security and the Medicare health-care program for the elderly.

"Only George W. Bush could celebrate over a record budget deficit of $422 billion," Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said in a statement Tuesday. (Ed. note: Fantastic! Finally, he starts the attack.)

Kerry said he has a plan to restore fiscal discipline, rein in "out of control" spending and cut the deficit in half in four years. (Ed. note: I'd really like to know more about this plan of Kerry's. I'm not so blindly Democrat that I trust his plan is any good. So if anyone knows about this, please let me know.)

CBO warned that even if the economy grows more rapidly than projected, "significant long-term strains" on the budget will get worse within the next decade as the baby-boomers begin to retire.

The report projects economic growth of 4.5 percent in 2004 and a slightly slower 4.1 percent next year.

CBO also forecasts that the federal government will reach its $7.384 trillion debt limit in October.

The U.S. Treasury has asked Congress to raise the borrowing ceiling for the third time in three years, a sensitive vote Republicans would like to avoid ahead of the election. (Ed. note: I thought they could do no wrong. Where's the fiscal responsibility? I mean, it's the one thing they're supposed to be better at than Democrats! What has the world come to?)

09-07-2004 3:44 PM - comments (2)