Dear Sydney, I am always surprised to find how many people don't know about the microphones in our smoke detectors. Every smoke detector manufactured in the last six years contains a sensitive microphone and a tiny transmitter that can be turned on by federal agents at will from up to 120 yards away, day or night. So I ask you, is it our duty as citizens to inform other citizens about this questionable practice? It seems to be a gray area, legally, as many other things have come to be in the last few years. I read online that originally they were to have video cameras but some secret court overruled that part. Do you think the extra protection is worth this loss privacy?--Paranoid in Sebastopol
Dear Para: Well, I knew that I hated my smoke detector, but I always thought it was because it goes off every time I turn on the oven, not because it was listening to me. But I have to say, with all of the things to be paranoid about in this life, I think that spying smoke detectors should really be moved far down on your list. Internet junkie that I am, I did take a little browse around, and while it was soon apparent that microphones can be and are occasionally placed in smoke detectors as a way of keeping tabs on the "bad guys," I did not see any glaring indications of this being a pandemic across the nation.
Of course, if you take into the consideration the trends of our present administration, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that every computer comes equipped with a hidden camera that sends billions of unattractive images of us directly to the Oval Office. Then again, so what? As long as you aren't running a money-laundering business, a drug ring or a terrorist cell, I wouldn't give it too much thought. I mean, hey, if everyone in the North Bay has a microphone in their smoke detectors, I guess the feds have gotten really good at identifying what a bong hit sounds like. I can think of much more frightening scenarios to worry about than that.
Dear Sydney, after reading your reply to "Horrified" (Aug. 23), I started thinking. I'm engaged to be married to the love of my life, and planning a big wedding. Some of our friends are gay. By inviting them to the wedding, am I being insensitive? Wait, am I being insensitive by getting married in the first place? Am I supposed to not get married because of some fucked-up politics? I've always wanted to get married! But I also don't want to be flaunting something in the face of people I really care about. Sydney, what the hell is a progressive heterosexual girl to do in this situation?--PHG
Dear PHG: Good for you for being so sensititive! Sensitivity aside, if you want to get married, then get married. I'm sure that most of your queer friends will not hold it against you. After all, they're so used to it. However, this does not change the fact that by getting married you are choosing to engage in a meaningful practice that is denied to almost all of the commited same-sex couples in this country. So in a sense, when you get married, you will be joining the equivelant of a "whites only" club. Of course, "whites only" clubs are now illegal, proof that we are slowly but surely evolving as a species.
Heterosexuals, on the other hand, regularly engage in one of the most deeply engrained rituals of our culture, while their queer colleagues, family members and friends, must stand at the sidelines, throw rice and try not to get depressed about it. And all because the Giant Referee in the White House--along with the majority of their very own neighbors--have decided that they are not worthy of marriage. But, hey, I'm sure the wedding will be lots of fun! Just don't forget to order comfortable chairs. It's never worth skimping on the chairs.
Dear Sydney, I often have trouble making dates happen, dates of any kind. People tell me to act as though I know I am worth hanging out with, but that hasn't seemed to work. I make arrangements, and then at the last minute, they will change their mind and make up some excuse. Do you have any advice?--Dateless
Dear Dateless: First of all, let's get something straight. You don't need to "act" like you are worth hanging out with. You are worth hanging out with. Perhaps what you need to consider is that the people you are trying to hang out with aren't worth it. What you need in your life are friends you can count on, not flaky people you feel you have to prove your worth to. Better to do things alone than in the company of those who make you feel unworthy. You have to find a way to meet people with whom you share some interests and who might be just as interested in keeping their dates as you are. And that means getting out there. You need to break outside of your current radius of acquaintances, and make some new ones.
Take the time to really look at what it is you feel passionate about, at the obstacles you have faced, at what skills you have, and find a way to meet people by utilizing both your own knowledge and your willingness to learn something new. To become an interesting and alluring person, you have to do interesting things, and if you do interesting things, you will meet people who want to spend time with you. Your willingness to explore life will ultimately dictate where and when you are able to make and keep new friendships.
If you can't come up with anything you like doing, start taking penny whistle lessons at your local music store, then start or join a jug band. The only limit is your imagination.
No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall.