Farewell . . . for now

I've been really lax about posting & just haven't been able to give this site the attention it deserves. As such, I've decided to end Ask Steph. I'm sure in the future the unsolicited opinions will build up inside of me, demanding a release in the form of some other blog. Until then, I bid you all farewell & happy blogging!


Check Out the New Chick!

I know, I know, I'm the most unreliable blogger ever. Sorry to everyone, especially Ashly. Thank you so much for introducing yourself.

Ashly rocks, you guys will love her. Welcome, Ashly.


This post was pure trash and cabaret

So, last night I proved once again that I am a sucker for train-wreck syndrome and tuned into the latest American Idol audition special. As per usual, the show mostly focused on showing the people who were so terrible that you have to wonder why they would try out for this show. Because no one can be that bad without knowing it in some way.

But what amazed me the most was when a young woman who was in school for opera tried out. In her pre-audition interview she talked about how she would probably lose her scholarship if her school found out she was skipping to audition for A.I., but that she didn’t care, she was taking this chance.

Her audition was, honestly, so-so. She sang two different pop pieces before Randy asked her to sing some opera for them. She begins belting out an opera piece looking far more confident than she did with either of her previous pieces. When she had finished, Simon looks at her and says, “You’ve shown us three different voices, who do you want to be?”

She stutters out “The next American Idol…”

Simon, showing some semblance of humanity, says, “I’m not criticizing you. I’m just saying, you sang three different songs in three different voices. Which of those three people do you want to be? Who are you?”

The girl says, somewhat shyly “I’m a singer and a songwriter…” and then, suddenly, she gets this much bolder look in her eyes and says with emphasis “…and a rock star.”

I never thought I would see the day when Simon Cowell would, so offhandedly, make such a poignant statement.

The number of people that come through those auditions and say “I’m going to win because I’m unique,” while dressed up in some ridiculous costume or playing some ridiculous character (and I know that’s what a lot of them have to be doing. A.I. has become two contests, the drawn out one to find the next Kelly Clarkson, and the short audition round one to find the next William Hung. If you can’t sing it doesn’t matter, you can still attain something not totally unlike fame. And you know what? Considering how much of a joke I think a lot of American Idol is, I don’t totally see an issue with that) is overwhelming. But the number of people who can honestly come in and say, “This is who I am,” and believe it, mean it, and be able to back it up? Is very, very small.

I guess that’s just generally how I feel about humanity, though. People talk about how hard it is to be an individual. This is sort of true, but what’s even harder is actually knowing who you are and being yourself. Dressing, acting, writing, dancing, or even just speaking “uniquely” can achieve being an individual, but if you’re not being yourself what’s the point? Honestly, I think it’s harder to be honest with yourself as to who you are and what you want in life than it is to simply be an individual.

So Simon Cowell actually asked the most difficult question in the world last night. “Who are you?” And amazingly, he actually got a response. A response I could get behind, even.

So, who am I? Well, for now you can think of me as "The New Girl." It's a place to start. It's a pleasure to meet you.


Speaking of Windbags . . .

I know this is kind of behind-the-times but there's been a lot of debate in the local media about controlling the deer population. Some recent letters to the editor in the PG have offered timeless wisdom on hunting & other management methods.

One guy tells us that people are more important than deer so we need to do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. A particularly venomous shrew of a woman decrees one run-in with a deer tick will immediately change the minds of the idiot "do-gooders".

I beg to differ. An encounter with a tick might be gross but it's not particularly painful or life-threatening unless you ignore it for months - or even years - and it just happens to have been an infected tick. Lots of big ifs there. Worst-case scenario for any normal person is a short course of a simple antibiotic such as amoxycillin which is hardly a big deal & only costs about $10 if you don't have insurance.

And by "normal" I mean people who practice even the most basic personal hygeine. I speak from experience when I tell you that you will not miss a tick on your body. Even the most half-assed effort to bathe yourself will reveal them. And local doctors & vets will tell you that Western PA is a relatively unlikely place to encounter any type of tick, especially the kind you need to worry about.

Certainly I don't question the value of human life. However, our wildlife management is not so lacking that we need to be protected from nature. That's freakin ridiculous. Wildlife is usually only a "threat" to us when their habitat has been recently disrupted. I see deer in the heart of the city almost every day, but rarely see roadkill or a wildlife related accident. Why? Because the development is relatively old & everyone has adapted.

But in the suburbs there's a TON of roadkill & lots of accidents. There's also constant development. Wildlife habitat is disappearing daily. Surely, I'm not the only one that sees a connection.

Not to go off on a tangent, but just because a car hits a deer, is it always the deer's fault? Let's be realistic here. People crash into inanimate and/or stationary objects all the time. Is it the telephone pole's fault when you hit it?

Lots of drivers don't pay enough attention: talking on the phone, looking at their kids in the backseat, reading a newspaper, shaving, putting on make-up, intoxication, stupidity or just plain old not a good driver. Sometimes road or whether conditions are simply out of our control & even the best driver can't avoid an accident.

How many people hit deer on suburban roads because they're blinded by some oncoming idiot with high-beams or excessive flourescent headlights? I'd love to see statistics on that. (Note: areas like Shaler & Oakmont do not require high beams. If you think you need them, simply obey the speed limit, know where you are going & shockingly everything will work out ok, dummy.)

All I'm saying is that vehicle-deer collisions are usually noted as unavoidable accidents. They're not always unavoidable but there's no victimized driver to report what you were really doing, so the deer take all the blame.

In short, if you feel threatened by Bambi, buy a house in an established neighborhod instead of building your McMansion on an abandoned farm. Duh. Animals adapt, often much better & more quickly than humans. If you don't like them, stay out of their home & you'll likely avoid them altogether. But if you want to "share" the land, you're going to have be a better neighbor.

I Feel Stabby, Oh So Stabby!

I recently quit smoking & it's just awful. Words can't even describe it. Let's just say that I'm not fit for social interaction right now. I did smoke half of a cigarette yesterday while wearing a patch but then someone caught me & I was shamed into putting it out. This sucks.

Mind Your Own Beeswax!

As a blowhard & blogger, I take great pride in giving the world my unsolicited opinions. The beauty of my system is that nobody has to read the blog & the world doesn't change to accomodate me. Sure there's the occasional tete-a-tete with some wacko (see Mr. Enlightenment on why women should in fact not think for themselves or the more recent comments from "Omar", the guy who insists that I mean the opposite of whatever I say . . . ).

The very self-important just can't accept the fact that their ideas are too stupid or unpopular for practical implementation. So they form groups with likeminded jackasses to bully everyone until they get their way. Such actions can be witnessed on every level of our society, from peer pressure among children to political lobbyists. But when it screws with pop culture, even I'm forced to take a stand.

There's a group called the Parents Television Council. Their entire purpose is to watch television shows of which they do not approve, then harass corporations until said companies refuse to advertise during those shows. All of this time & effort is expended in the name of "protecting" our children.

There are shows & even entire channels just for kids and/or family viewing. Federal regulations dictate what can/can not be said or done on TV. Technology exists that allows parents to block out specific channels & shows. Most significant, there are these people called "parents" who are supposed to pay attention to their kids, interact with the children & ensure that the child's life isn't spent in front of the TV.

In their latest newsletter, they are targeting some of the best shows (Family Guy, Criminal Minds, CSI, Rescue Me & others). Even if you don't watch these shows, would you deny the rest of the world an opportunity to view them merely so that you don't have to be responsible for your own children?

In particular, they're harping on CSI: New York right now. Hello, but that airs at 10 pm in most markets. Why isn't your kid in bed yet? They have successfully chased off big bucks advertisers (Verizon, Clorox, Mazda & many more), convinved the FCC to increase fines tenfold & are challenging license renewals for local stations in large markets such as Houston & Dallas.

They're working diligently to "abolish" violence in video games & "indecency" on the radio, as well. Incidentally, they gave their broadcaster of the year award to the Hallmark channel. And their efforts aren't limited to the major networks, as they're attacking cable channels as well.

In short, their tactics work because people give in just to be rid of the unrelenting harassment. We all have the right to choose such things for ourselves for now but that right is going to disappear quickly if we don't counteract their efforts.

They're going to do to television what ClearChannel has done to radio but it's not going to stop there because ClearChannel radio isn't wholesome enough for them!

Let's inundate them with letters, complaints & harassment until they give in & mind their own business! I'm going to request a list of their financial sponsors & then start a boycott of those who support this censorship. I encourage everyone to do the same. Let's see how they like their own medicine.

I don't know about you but I do not want Ned & Maude Flanders to be the final authority on all of America's entertainment choices. If music, television, movies, video games, free speech or autonomy mean anything to you, please act accordingly.


You're It!

Umm, okay, I'm it . . . I've been tagged by Heather.

  • Grab the book closest to you
  • Open to page 123, go down to the fifth sentence
  • Post the text of next 3 sentences on your blog
  • Name of the book and the author
  • Tag three people

"It's true that the various police departments involved in the case --- particularly the Michigan department --- are ready to have both you & Mr. Turner arrested. I, however, do not share their enthusiasm."

"Get to it, Doctor." - Mortal Fear by Greg Iles

That's incredibly boring & is totally not representative of the book, which is one of my all-time most favorite novels! I have no idea who to tag. Seriously, nobody I know is going to do this but I will try . . .

You say tomato . . .

It's not as though I have some fantastically high profile blog, as though the world waits with baited breath for the next post. As such, this blog receives a variety of interesting & thought-provoking comments but doesn't attract so much attention as to make me a target of wackos.

Until now.

If you disagree, offer a rational point of view instead of calling names & hurling unfounded accusations. If my posts seem ridiculous, ask questions instead of making crazy accusations.

Everyone makes mistakes sometimes or misunderstands others on occasion. But there's no acceptable reason to make comments on a blog if those comments have nothing to do with that blog.

It takes an extraordinary coward to make crude, offensive anonymous "comments"; How easy it must be to criticize others while denying them the opportunity to critique you in any way! If you can't be bothered to make any effort of your own, you should be especially considerate of those who do.

If you have something to say, blog. Blog away! But don't unload the chip on your shoulder on someone else's page. I'm perfectly able to admit it when I don't understand something & require further explanation. I believe that only then will I learn.

When I comment, I apologize when I'm mistaken or misunderstood in any way. I also thank people for taking the time to explain their point to me, since I missed it the first time. Even when I disagree with other people's opinions, I appreciate having had the opportunity to hear them out & consider where they're coming from.

Sometimes I change my views as I gather more facts. But even if I don't, I'm always grateful to have had a chance to critically examine & affirm them. If I read something that I find offensive, I write down my response, walk away for a while & revise it as necessary before submitting -- or sometimes just delete altogether.

Knee-jerk reactions, closed minds & emotional responses never lead to broadened horizons or meaningful discussions.

I believe in being gracious -- and grateful -- to everyone who puts themselves out there and especially to those who that the effort to get their point across to everyone.

The key to good communication isn't getting it "right" the first time, but rather in being able to reiterate your statements as needed to reach as many interested parties as possible.

Life is not static, it's fluid. You can't go through life without ever forming new views, revising existing ones or opening yourself to ideas you've never considered. Well, it's possible but would prevent even an iota of personal or intellectual growth.

As this year draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone out there for blogging & commenting. I learn something each time I read your thoughts & I hope that every reader is enriched by my own, even if only in a very small way.

Merry Christmas to All!

Would you like to wish a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to some of your online friends in their native language? Here are some great links to translation pages, to help you do just that.

Translations from Omniglot

Greetings & goodbyes around the world

Central European translations

Merry Christmas in all languages

Merry Christmas!


Leave Santa Alone

Illegal immigration has long been a hot topic in this country & we all know that it will be in the spotlight for the next presidential election. (Yay! Election season! All soundbites & rhetoric, that time of year when facts & intelligent dialogue just fall by the wayside.)

Being of Native American descent, I follow the arguments with both interest & a hint of amusement. I can't help but see the parallels. That said, there's an important point in this debate that nobody seems to want to face. Illegal immigration as a whole is not a real problem in the US. What is a huge problem is illegal immigration of Mexican citizens.

Let's face it, most foreign-born citizens that want to come to the US have to follow a process. There are only two places geographically positioned in such a way as to allow people to sneak into the US illegally & you'll never convince me that large numbers of Canadians are fleeing here.

Since the rest of the world has to abide by our regulations & established process to gain citizenship, why would Mexicans be exempted? It seems really unfair to the rest of the world to let Mexicans just walk right in when that won't fly for anyone else.

It's ridiculous to characterize the problem as illegal immigration when in fact it's not about immigration at all. The real issue is that citizens of one particular nation consider themselves to be above our laws. They want special preferential treatment above & beyond what is afforded to everyone else.

If you have no respect for the laws of a nation, no faith in that nation's due process & no compassion for others (people such as foreigners from countries other than your own, who seek citizenship through proper channels), then why do you want to come here in the first place? Logically, this place isn't for you. You hate it's laws, you hate the people it welcomes, you hate the people who already live there or you'd pay all the same taxes they pay . . .

You're probably wondering what brought this on. I recently came across an article about an anti-Hazleton, PA website which accuses the town of banning Santa Claus because he's not a US citizen. I visited the site & frankly it's pretty stupid.

For starters, Santa is not a good example. He visits everyone once a year for a few minutes, which does not qualify as illegal immigration. Also, I truly believe that Santa not only pays taxes but also that the elves earn a living wage & have excellent benefits.

More importantly, it's a really bad idea to promote, encourage & champion illegal immigration. It does a terrible disservice to potential immigrants from every other nation, for one thing. They may hear stupid messages such as this & think that they aren't welcome here because they're not the preferred race or ethnicity. In some parts of the US, public & social services which exist to help newcomers are overburdened by illegals & not accessible to our legal immigrants.

Just look around the next time you go shopping or visit a doctor. Everything is in Spanish today. Imagine how confusing & frustrating that must be for the hundreds of thousands of people from non-Spanish speaking countries that come here & struggle with language every day. In essence, by embracing the current "movement" put forth on behalf of illegal Mexican immigrants, we're telling people from all over the world that we don't care about them at all. We're telling them that we're only extending ourselves to the squatters & scofflaws.

The solution is simple: don't support this movement. It harms many & benefits only a selfish few. By being illegal, these people are often put in a position where it is difficult or even impossible to assimilate. By accomodating them, we ostracize everyone else. That isn't welcoming to new citizens. It unfairly burdens the law-abiding taxpayers who have to foot all the bills -- many of whom are legal immigrants themselves; What a slap in the face! It does nothing to help the illegals become legal, yet it condones that way of life & encourages the cycle to continue.

It's a lose-lose situation for everyone. And the root of the problem here is the lack of focus in the debate. Obscuring the real issue prevents critical thinking on the subject. No useful or relevant solutions can ever be put forth when all subject matter is completely out of context. We can only help that this issue will be discussed in context as the debate continues.


Homage to Blinky

Here's some food for thought: Imagine that you encounter a strangely freakish animal, a mutant of some sort. Maybe a hermaphroditic cow/bull with 7 legs. What would run through your mind?

I think my thoughts would turn to the possible cause of the mutation. I'd wonder what dangerous pollutants or dire genetic abnormality might be responsible. Maybe I'd try to get a photo of it. But I definitely wouldn't accept a burger made from that cow. Would you?

A daring chap in Wisconsin does not share my reservations. The man ran over a young buck in his driveway. Being an avid deer hunter, he decided to take the carcass home for dinner. I can only imagine his surprise upon closer inspection, when he discovered that the buck had both male & female sex organs, as well as 3 extra stump legs similar to crab pinchers.

Incidentally, the story brought to mind good old Blinky, the 3 eyed fish caught in the river just outside the Springfield nuclear power plant.

"It was definitely a freak of nature." He's quoted as saying in a recent MSN article. "It kind of gives you the creeps when you look at it." He also described the deer as quite tasty.

Sorry, but I just couldn't eat the mutant. It would be interesting to see a follow-up story on this guy years from now. Will he have dolphin-like flippers or perhaps nub antlers of his own? One can only imagine.

I don't know what kind of environmental laws they have in Wisconsin, but I sure hope this kind of thing is stringently investigated. That seems unlikely, sine the evidence was promptly processed & consumed but I'd still like to think someone will try to figure it out.