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Dec. 15th, 2011

Snowbunny

Dog Crazy with a Difference

I’ve always loved dogs. I’ve been described as dog crazy; the same way some women my age are baby crazy. At social gatherings I’ve been known to awkwardly ignore the human hosts in favor of hanging out with their canine roommates. I enjoy reading about dogs, watching doggie documentaries, and talking about dogs at every opportunity. Of course, this can put a damper on my appeal with people who aren’t so enthusiastic about my furry interests (for example, cat people and communists) but it’s just one of those quirks my loved ones have learned to deal with, and it’s rooted in the way I grew up.

I was born and raised in Alaska, where dogs are a ubiquitous and intrinsic part of life. Of course, I know plenty of people here who love dogs, but the nearly universal attitude that they are a vital part of life isn’t really present. Most people would probably regard this difference in perception as minor, but it’s something that I feel all the time, and just one of the many little things that makes me homesick on occasion. As a kid, everyone on my street was a dog owner. One neighbor even had a dog sled team. In fact, I knew very few people who didn’t own a dog, and I didn’t know anyone who was afraid of dogs.

Alaska’s dog-loving culture can be hard for outsiders to understand. The extent to which Alaskans respect dogs is often underestimated, or misperceived. Humane societies and other groups have criticized the state for allowing dog sledding events, and have compared them to greyhound racing. What most people miss is the co-reliance of dogs and people in Alaska.

Since we don’t have any competitive sports teams, the Iditarod, the world’s most famous dog sled race, is our Superbowl. The race runs from Anchorage to Nome, and commemorates the 1925 lifesaving serum run to Nome, when several teams of dogs delivered vital medicine to the town’s children, who were sick with diphtheria. Many people outside of Alaska have heard of Balto, the lead dog of the team that delivered the serum. In Alaska, he’s an enduring hero. No one remembers the musher.

Rather than being bred to be fast and easily triggered to run, for the purposes of betting, sled dogs are selected for a wide range of natural abilities. They must be able to work as a team, and to love working. Once a winning team crosses the finish line, they become instant celebrities, so the dogs have to be properly socialized with strangers, not isolated. Our neighbors socialized their dogs and puppies by letting us kids play with them daily, and including them in their family-run summer camp every year.

Sled dogs must also be intelligent and able to reason for themselves. Balto famously refused to take his team across a patch of thin ice that the musher hadn’t noticed. If the dog had given in to his master’s commands, the entire team could have been killed. In urban and suburban environments, it’s necessary for a family pet to trust its owners. In the wilds of Alaska, where people are farthest out of their element, it can be just as vital for the owner to be able to trust their dog.

But Alaskans’ special relationship with dogs goes beyond the sled. Avalanches are a huge part of living in the mountains. Every winter, they close main highways, rip out power lines, and take lives. Trained dogs are essential in recovering people trapped under the snow, and no equipment can do what they do.

Furthermore, dogs accompany us hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. My family used to take our golden retriever, Toklat, camping and hiking with us all the time. He would carry a pack like the rest of us, containing his own supplies and a few of the kids’ as well. If an animal were in the area he would alert us. All Alaskans know how to detect the signs that a bear could be nearby, but there’s no substitute for a dog’s nose. Of course, Toke would have rather played with the bears than avoid them, but his excitement was a helpful indicator nonetheless.

Wherever I went as a kid, my dog went with me, and it was the same with my friends and their dogs. For most people, getting eaten by a bear or trampled by a moose is probably a long shot, but up there it happens, even in the cities. Living in the mountains, moose and even bears were frequently sighted in our neighborhood, but like any kids, we wanted to spend our days outside. Our dogs provided a natural deterrent to other animals, and warned us if danger was close by.

Toklat was diagnosed with cancer when he was about twelve. He was such an integral part of our family, that my folks were willing to spend the money on chemo to improve his quality of life. He had two more wonderful and happy years before he started to get sick again, at which point it would have been selfish to prolong his suffering. He was such a joyful, giving presence in my childhood; someone who I didn’t just love, but who I needed every day.

Toklat’s oblivious guardianship of my childhood isn’t the best example of the necessity of dogs in Alaska. Sled dogs and rescue dogs demonstrate it better. However, his story illustrates the way Alaskans rely just a little more on their dogs, even if the dog is just a family pet. I think the difference between dog culture in Alaska and in most other parts of the US is based on the fact that humans don’t really belong in such a harsh, wild environment, and sometimes our animals know more about it than we do: that requires us to trust them in a way not necessary down here. I think it can be best summed up as the difference between loving your friend and respecting your partner.

Oct. 24th, 2010

sexyme

My Review of the Local Salvation Army, Plus, Tips for Thrift Store Shopping in General

I am personally a fan of thrifting. I love the idea of finding vintage or unique treasures on the cheap, and I've found plenty here. For example, last time I was there, I picked up a gorgeous high-waisted houndstooth pencil skirt, a lovely Talbots blouse with funky tuxedo cuffs and collar, and a slick, slim-cut blazer, but there was plenty more that I wanted to buy. The Salvation Army thrift store in Wareham is definitely a treasure-hunters dream, but I can understand why a lot of people would find it challenging. As far as clothing goes, the racks are jam-packed to the point where just retrieving an item results in several other articles coming off the rack with it. The sheer amount of clothing can be really overwhelming. With that in mind, I have a few tips for thrifting which have helped me in the past.

First, LOOK OUTSIDE OF YOUR SIZE! Think about why people get rid of clothes in the first place. Unless the clothes are really out of style, they ditch them because they don't fit or don't flatter anymore. Lots of people wear clothes until the fabric begins to relax and lose it's shape. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that smaller sizes in a thrift store may actually fit larger. Conversely, if the clothes are really vintage, you will run into the opposite problem, as vintage sizing is smaller than modern sizing. Finally, the mod look is in right now, and some clothing that has been surrendered by older/more conservative dressers who bought looser fitting garments, might work on a more curvaceous modern shopper whose body type would fill out the garment. Just be flexible. After a while, you'll be able to eyeball to a certain extent what is a small size 10 or a large size 4. I've bought both.

Secondly, TRY IT ON! Many people become dissuaded by the presentation in thrift stores, and this can dampen your motivation to take a closer look at something you find interesting. If you know your body type and you can distinguish what silhouettes will and won't work on you, try on everything you can in that silhouette. Colors and patterns can surprise you once they're on your body. Don't just dismiss an outfit because of what it looks like on the hangar.

Third, ONLY BUY WHAT YOU LOVE! It's easy to talk yourself into purchasing a so-so piece because it's only 3 bucks, but it's not worth it. Unless you love it, you won't wear it (trust me), and you'll be less motivated to go back. A lot of shoppers recommend buying things that don't quite fit because it's easy to hem or take in anything you buy. I say, save this practice for real treasures. Sure, if you come across a vintage Jackie-O style Chanel suit that's just a tad too big, you'll want to rush that baby to the nearest tailor, but for most items, they'll just end up sitting in the closet, making you feel guilty. Unless you're someone who really enjoys altering clothes, just give it a pass.

Fourth, BE PATIENT! Thrifting is a skill. It's easy to learn how to hunt down the good stuff, but the first couple times may be really frustrating. Don't give up if you go home empty handed, and don't buy anything you don't want just to make the trip feel worth while. Go when you have a couple hours to kill, not when you'll have to be in and out in fifteen minutes. I actually prefer going alone so that I can move at my own pace. This is not a process to be rushed. It also helps to be open minded. If you go into a thrift store with a rigid idea of what you want, it's likely that you will end up stressed out and disappointed.

If you don't mind crowds, Mondays are half-off days for most of the clothing at Salvation Army. It does get crowded though, so wear something you can throw shirts or dresses over so you don't have to wait for a dressing room. This is also a great place to check out if you are looking for furniture. Bedroom sets seem to be a specialty. All in all, with a little patience and a trained eye, this is a great place to pick up a new wardrobe on the cheap. Just be patient, and be prepared to make a few return visits before you find your thrifting groove.

Mar. 18th, 2010

sexyme

In which I rant about Warped Tour '10, Punk Rock, and "Kids Today"

Agent Orange, Angry Samoans, Anti-flag, Dickies, Discharge, FEAR, GBH, Green Jelly, Manic Hispanic, Streetlight Manifesto, Swingin Utters, the Adolescents (!), the Bouncing Souls, the Germs, the Voodoo Glow Skulls: these are just some of the incredible bands on Warped Tour who are NOT coming to Boston. We're not even getting the fucking Dropkick Murphys, which is just about the most ass-backward thing I've ever heard of. What do we get instead? We The Kings? Bring Me The Horizon? The All-American fucking Rejects??? Granted, I'm excited about RBF, the Casualties, the Flatliners and Face to Face, but I can most of see them pretty much any time I want (how many times have the Casualties played at Club Hell now? Do they have air mattresses in the back?). Boston is a mecca for punk rock. Massachusetts produced the Freeze and Gang Green, for fuck's sake. What happened? A lineup like this is unacceptable when the West Coast dates are almost historically amazing. Fuck it. I'm saving up for tickets to fly to Carson and go to the real Warped Tour.

Of course, I am aware my crotchety stick-shaking at the Powers That Be behind "Wahp Tah" is largely due to my own inability to change. I am hopelessly out of touch with the music scene of today, and positively angry at the mutant scream-o babies that were spawned by the punk bands I love, and which are enjoyed by everyone under 20. Of course there are exceptions, but the sea of Pepsi/Disney-Core, mass-produced, corporate bands just makes me sad. They all look exactly alike: Snake-bites, black side-bangs, wrist bands. They all sound exactly alike too. If someone can show me any significant differences between Escape the Fate, We The Kings, and Bring Me The Horizon, I will eat my own elbow. I know people had the same complaints about punk in its heyday. No, I can't show you any significant differences between GBH and Oxymoron. But these were bands that had to make it on their own, and they spoke to kids who saw them in dirty basements and tiny clubs and then went out and formed their own bands. I hate this new breed of alternative band for the same reason I hate the Sex Pistols (the punk rock equivalent of The Monkees). Did you know that Panic! At The Disco got signed to a manor label before ever playing a live show? They are corporate creations. They are an original idea which has been hijacked, re-tooled and mass-produced to sell to little kids via the Disney Channel and MTV. It's a reality of the market, but it also makes me sick.

And with the passing of time and the changing of trends, I fear that we will lose the core of what made punk great. Almost all of the bands I love formed in the nineties or before. Lars Fredrikson and Dickie Barrett and Fat Mike are all getting old, and members of bands like the Vandals, FEAR, Youth Brigade, the Adolescents, and MDC are senior citizens. Many more are finished with their bands, like Ian MacKay, or dead like Frank Navetta, Lux Interior and any of the original Ramones. What will replace them?

There are bands still holding it down out there like the Have Nots, the Swaggering Growlers, and the Ashers who show no signs of going anywhere but up, but its up to the fans to get out there and support them. It's fucking hard to be a musician: equipment and gas drain your money and promotion, touring, and practice require most of your free time. Those who do it do it because they love it. People who play punk these days have more in common with the bands of 1981 than did the bands of the nineties who could ride the wave of punk's mainstream success. The fan base is small and fierce and the bands are back underground, ignored by the emo-pop-focused entertainment media. The key to keeping it alive is once again the individual fan and the indie record label and the zine (it's a blog now, but same idea). So go to a show at a VFW or in a basement, support the tiny venues buy some stickers and listen to bands you don't know and tell people about them. It's back to basics time in this scene. Really, that' how it should be.
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Feb. 22nd, 2010

sexyme

Metalocalypse is not funny.

If one more person says to me "Youtube this thing from Metalocalypse! It's so funny!" I am going to smack them upside the head. Let me make it clear, Metalocalypse will never get a laugh out of me.

The clown does coke, ooh! You can't understand the members! They say things are Brutal! Hilarious!!

Not so much. It's not funny. You just find it funny because it's about you. The same goes for me and NN2S. It's a web comic about punk rock. I find it hilarious, but I'm not going to sell most people on it. The problem with Metalocalypse is that its fans are metalheads, and metalheads are convinced that everybody is misguided, and deep down should love what they love. Everyone who knows a metal kid has been subject to the eternal "You just have to hear this song by so and so. It's so Beautiful!!1!1" and then held hostage for the next seventeen minutes. That's one of the reasons I love punk. Punks don't do this. Punks need people to hate what they like... otherwise they'd all be "poseurs".

Oct. 18th, 2009

sexyme

Halloween, fun with knives. And squash.

It has been far too long since I've posted in here, but I figured I just had to share this particular personal triumph. A friend and I got together a few days ago to carve pumpkins; something which I am usually not too thrilled about. It's not that I mind the mess or the time consuming nature of decorating orange squash, I just can't ever think of anything clever to carve. This year, however, I had a stroke of genius, and after several hours of swearing and one bloodied knuckle, I produced this:Jack-o-lantern GeekinessCollapse )

Jan. 1st, 2009

Susitna

American Lion: The Story of Andrew Jackson in the White House (John Meacham)

Three days ago, I bought an XBox with my Christmas money. We'd owned one before, but I'd broken it. Originally it was a gift from Justin's dad, and  we hadn't told him that it was gone, so he had been slowly buying us a game library at every gifting occasion, not knowing that they would go unused. But when he bought us Saints Row (which is just like Grand Theft Auto) and Guitar Hero for Christmas, we decided to bite the bullet and spend the $200. We spent the following two days saying "I'm only gonna play for five minutes" and then wondering why it was five hours later the next time we looked at the clock. In fact, we named it the "Time Machine". I would love to get it a little blue police box case.

Today, though, I started a book I just bought on reccommendation from John Stewart, and I believe it to have trumped the shiny new time machine by a mile. It is the story of Andrew Jackson's presidency; a portrait of the man, much more than the times that he lived in. This didn't sound very interesting to me either, but Stewart pointed out a page in the book, in a Daily Show interview with the author, that indicated that Jackson had challenged a man to a duel for insulting his wife, and had let the other guy shoot first. If that wasn't insane enough, the guy actually shot Jackson in the chest, but Jackson still managed to finish the duel and kill him. I had to check it out.

In The first 9 pages of this book, I learned that Jackson was mired in scandal for marrying his wife before she was divorced from her first husband, that at his father's funeral, the palbearers got so drunk that they "briefly lost the body", and that he was the only president ever to take a bullet from an assasination attempt (not the duel), and then to chase down and assault his would be assasin. Badass.

The man was no champion of civil rights, and he was needy and demanding of his family, and really, not particularly likable when he wasn't getting his own way, but he was an interesting character. I would reccommend it to anyone who enjoys nonfiction.

Nov. 19th, 2008

sexyme

Thoughts on Anarchism, as I understand it.

The philosophy of anarchism (and I'm not talking about a bunch of 12 year old punks that listen to the sex pistols and want to be able to smash windows and steal stuff without consequence) relies on the same underlying assumptions about human nature that Marxism does. The two are actually very similar. They postulate that humans are naturally sociable, rational, and cooperative creatures, but that society corrupts them into concern for only material goods. Marxists say that the solution to this is the rejection of the notion of private property, and a dictatorship of the working class until such time as no one is exploiting anyone else for capitalistic gain and the government fades away naturally. Anarchism basically just skips those steps and abolishes government altogether based on faith that the naturally cooperative human spirit will emerge and that humans, unfettered by the consumerist drives created by capitalist markets and government structures, will work together for the common good.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to work. I personally believe that this is because the assumption of any "human nature", or fundamental cooperative or uncooperative attitudes inherent within human beings, is flawed. People are not born blank slates and, although circumstances can often shape who someone becomes, nature cannot completely override nurture. Some people are naturally leaders, some are followers, some are social, and some are sociopaths. In a power-vacuum, some naturally power-hungry individual will always step in to control and exploit the weak.

Nov. 5th, 2008

Susitna

There are no words...

... to describe the unfamiliar feeling of pride and joy in my entire country and it's people. Over the past 8 years, a culture of fear, mistrust, and hatred has been created by the Bush administration to control this society. Yesterday, America showed it's true character.

We will not be herded like sheep.

Go us. That's all I can say. Go us for throwing off a veil of created ignorance. Go us for choosing a change. Go us for voting for a qualified, intelligent candidate. Go us for unity and equality.

And go McCain. You didn't get to run the campaign you wanted, but you went out classy.

And go Obama. You made me cry. You made me excited to be American again. Thank you, and good luck.

Sep. 18th, 2008

sexyme

Band Diary

So Justin, Drummer Chris and I got together today and jammed for a couple hours. Before this, I spent the entire post-school day looking up online guitar lessons, tabs, and other how-to's. All of this added up to some seriously significant play time for me, and led me to a new revelation about electric guitar: It's going to hurt me.
I've played acoustic guitar more or less successfully for several years, but my arsenal of acquired skillz has been based purely on practice. I have no musical talent; all of those genes went to Amy. So whenever I've picked up an electric in the past, I've become frustrated and quickly slammed it back down. The sound, the playing style, everything is so different that almost none of my programmed skill set is compatable with this instrument. I can't play sitting down: It looks stupid. The picking, the chords, everything sounds different; everything requires amp adjustments or palm muting or, you know, talent.
This time, I've come into the ordeal prepared to sound like utter shit. I've practiced and prepared, and I'm finally starting to make those power chords sound good, but all that practice has revealed to me that one other thing does not tranfer from acoustic to electric guitar: Callouses. I've built mine up on the tips of my fingers over many painful years, but it turns out that on an electric you have to use the pads of your fingers to bar all those power chords. It is owwie. I have many blisters.
Of course, I bitch about my bruised fingers, but here I am, typing with them, 'cause I can't resist bragging about having finger blisters.

sexyme

Although Reel Big Fish told me not to...

I'm starting a band.
Do I want fame and fortune? No. What I want is to get together with my far-more-talented friends and play some distorted two minute punk songs. I want to practice all the time, blow all my money on gear, and go deaf from pounding out power chords. I want to play local gigs for no money. But most of all, I want to be able to say "Sorry, I can't. I have band practice."
First one is tonight at 6. I'm on the guitar, Justin's singing. Drummer Chris is drumming, and my friend's little brother is playing bass. I can't wait.

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