Thursday, June 30, 2011

Curiosities from a Transcript

In a press conference this week, the president congratulated himself for not challenging legal equality in the courts:
Now, what we've also done is we've said that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is unconstitutional. And so we’ve said we cannot defend the federal government poking its nose into what states are doing and putting the thumb on the scale against same-sex couples.
I believe this would be the fierce urgency of keeping one's thumb off the scales of justice, even if the scales are tilted heavily toward inequality, as in the forty-four states where marriage equality still does not exist. The president continued his encomium to "states' rights:"
What I've seen happen over the last several years, and what happened in New York last week I think was a good thing, because what you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues. It was contentious; it was emotional; but, ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriage. And I think that's exactly how things should work.
Charitably assuming President Chickenshit sincerely thinks that's exactly how things should work, he needs to re-evaluate his thinking. A quick glance at the map above serves to demonstrate that gays are icky is overpowering gays are people in the minds of voters, lawmakers, and jurists across the country, and this is after the moderating exposure of Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, South Park, Glee, The United States of Tara, True Blood, Southland, and Paul Lynde's years-long domination of the center of Hollywood Squares. For that matter, Chickenshit doesn't need to step outside his immediate family or imagine past his own lifetime to notice rather grave problems with leaving civil rights to states.

All of this being so, as with so many things with this presidency, it's difficult to see either the thread of coherent principle or the political calculus. The argument is laughable to anyone paying any attention, and the low-information dolts who might conceivably find this appealing are at least as likely to pay just enough attention to locate where they disagree. Strange.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Socially Expected

 Forced smiles are always good.
Ophelia Benson recently had a neighborly chat:
I was walking along a residential street a few blocks from where I live (so I don't know anyone there, I don't recognize faces), mind elsewhere (though nowhere in particular) as usual, and suddenly some grizzled auld fella who was pottering in his garden snarled at me as he crossed the sidewalk toward the parking strip, "What would it take to make you smile?"

I jerked to a stop and turned to stare at him in astonishment, and after mulling it for a few seconds demanded why on earth he would ask me that.

We had a nice little shouty war there on the sidewalk, for three or four or five minutes.

He was of course surprised to be answered, and did a lot of angry shouting about seeing me walking past here all the time, and I never smile, I never wave, I never say hello.
"Let's put a smile on that face," he said in other words -- happily without a knife. Fun! Ophelia rounds it off with a question or two:
Now here's what I want to know. Lots of guys here. What do you think? I don’t believe for one second that he ever, ever, ever says that to men. Ever. I don’t think for a second that he thinks it's any of his business what expression a man has on his face when walking past his house. What do you think?
I think too many people have too inflated a sense of their own desserts when it comes to the facial expressions of others. Too many people expect the world to smile back at them at all hours of the day, whether or not a reason to smile exists. Socially Expected Smiling deflates the value of genuine smiling, and inflates the world's quantity of overstepped boundaries, and it needs to stop.

In answer to Ophelia's questions: though male, I do get the same crap once in a while because I am not inclined to walk around smiling -- not necessarily because I lack a reason to smile, but simply because I never picked up the habit of broadcasting the sunniest self-presentation to the world, and have never seen the value of cultivating it. A close cousin to this I get is the Social Expectation that I will give both a warm Hello and a warm Goodbye to individuals in whose vicinity I happen to spend time. While I am not personally aware of other men who are subject to these Social Expectations, I suspect I am far from alone.

And no, I don't imagine for a moment that men get these Social Expectations as strongly as women do. I think there is an even stronger Social Expectation -- in the USA, that is, where I am almost but not quite qualified to say the first thing about all this -- that women should be bouncing around with smiles across their faces at all hours, with or without any reason to be smiling. This is, after all, in keeping with their fundamental purpose in life, that of decorating the visual space men inhabit. Right?

As I said, these Social Expectations are misplaced and need to stop.

If plagued with a persistent need to see smiles on all the faces around you, go join a pod of dolphins or surround yourself with jack-o-lanterns. If you need a greeting every time you show up, and a sad whimper every time you leave, get a dog. Better yet, re-think your needs.

I hereby issue a pre-emptive fuck off to the next person who Socially Expects me or anyone else to smile, and I salute Ophelia Benson for pushing back against the petulant, needy toad she encountered.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Stop Angel Rape or God Smash

His jowls jiggling with outrage, Pat Robertson has shocked the world by announcing to his tee-vee audience that his favorite god is angry -- so angry! god smash! grrr! -- about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad achievement of marriage equality in New York:

In short, Pat Robertson's jiggling jowls have a message for the lawmakers of New York: raping angels has been known to activate the Bible god's kill switch before, and you wouldn't like him when he's angry.


It must be interesting to be Pat Robertson (assuming you have a rather paltry sense of what counts as interesting). Not only do you get to see those jowls jiggle in every mirror you face -- I'll bet he can really get them going when he works at it -- but whenever anything bad happens to someone, or even to a nation-state of someones, he has a ready-made explanation: they were caught raping angels or granting equal rights to people or committing some other god-maddening transgression.

The presence of this ready-made explanation must spare him a great deal of time and energy that other people have to devote to, you know, engaging with reality thoroughly enough to understand the actual cause-effect relationships in the world.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Asked and Answered

A social media "friend", T, asked,
Need your help .... How much dirt can be removed from a hole 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 7 feet deep?
I immediately recognized this as the classic brain-teaser whose answer is "none, because a hole contains no dirt," but I knew that T needed a better answer than that. Despite that awareness, I answered as follows:
Exactly as much as was added in advance.
So I snarked, signaling subtly that I knew the answer to the quiz. I knew deep down that an even better answer would be needed, so despite that awareness, I wrote another answer as follows:
How to find out: 1. Carefully line the interior of the hole with a waterproof barrier, such as plastic, glass, or tanned bison hide. 2. Apply some kind of stiffening agent to the liner. Yes, I said 'stiffening,' and I stand by it. 3. Carefully extract the liner. It should now be exactly the same shape as the hole. 4. Fill the liner with water. 5. Place the water-filled liner inside a large freezer for a day or two. If you're lucky, the expansion of the ice won't break the liner. If it does, go back to step 1 but with a better material this time. 6. Or am I on 7.? Break the ice into equally-sized cubes. It doesn't matter how many, so long as they are perfect cubes and exactly the same size. 8. Measure the volume of one of the cubes -- since these are cubes, the formula is Height x Height x Height, or if you prefer, Length x Length x Length. Depth x Depth x Depth will also work. MEMORIZE THIS VALUE. 9. Multiply the value memorized in step 8 by the number of cubes you made. Voila! The hole could hold a volume of dirt equal to whatever that is. 10. Repeat steps 1-9 to ensure you didn't screw it up somewhere along the way.
This gave me a twinge of justice achieved -- i.e., an answer not worth reading matched to a question not worth asking on a "social networking" web site that continues to struggle for a credible reason to exist. You might think my work was done after this, but I concluded my answers should be deleted because of the colossal pointlessness of the entire exercise. So I added a follow up:
Important: if you get a different value the second time through steps 1-10, you'll need to do the entire thing a third time as a "tie-breaker." This is science.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Good News Saturday

Good things happen:

  • New York has legalized same-sex marriage. It gets better, jurisdiction by jurisdiction. The smart money says this will be challenged in the courts, whereupon the world will be entertained and edified with the spectacle of legal arguments meant to demonstrate the harm caused by gay marriage. A weary population of dead-enders await these arguments in earnest; the other several billion of us look forward to moving the fuck on, having long since lost interest in the imaginary projections of bigots.
  • Neko Case has collaborated with Nick Cave on a cover of "She's Not There." I gather this has something to do with the new season of the HBO vampire drama I've followed consistently for some reason, True Blood, which begins tomorrow.
  • I embarked on my first "real" post-Vancouver Marathon run today, and while I could have, did not pee in the reservoirs of Mt. Tabor. Nor did I see anyone else peeing in the reservoirs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Facts, Snark, and Lies

American patriot and freethought pioneer Thomas Paine died in 1809, the same year in which Charles Darwin was born -- or, if you prefer (as I don't), Paine was seated at Satan's side in the same year Darwin was vomited up from the depths of Hell to sew anti-Christian and/or anti-Islamic "scientific" deceptions that would lead believers away from salvation and/or the straight path.

Darwin went on to formalize the theory of evolution in The Origin of Species in 1859, fifty years after Paine's death and seventy years after the 1789 ratification of the US Constitution, including its first ten amendments commonly called "the bill of rights."

Nearly all of the preceding claims are easily-checked facts available to everyone in this internets-crazy age, with its googles and wikipedias and youtubes and blogs and twitters and keyboard cats and Tea Party Jesuses.

Those, I say again, are the facts -- several of them, albeit mingling with a little snark. Subtract the snark and synthesize these facts into a coherent historical narrative, hack historian David Barton, won't you please?
As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they'd already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you've got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that.
Well, to give Barton slightly more than the zero credit he deserves, his claim that Tom Paine was the least religious of the USA's founders* is at least arguably true, though I lack the time-traveling and mind-reading skills needed to assess it with complete confidence. The rest of this could be dismissed as bat-shit lunacy if not for the realization that genuine crazy is more scattered than this. The god-bothered far-right tilt of Barton's fanciful tale reveals it as pure distortion -- or, if you prefer (as I do), lying.

* Paine did write as follows:

THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD: And it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man ...

Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible Whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called the scripture, which any human hand might make, but the scripture called the Creation.
Paine did not maintain a purely naturalistic explanation of life's diversity -- again, a thorough statement of that would not appear until fifty years after his death. He took a deistic view under which god and nature, to the extent they are distinguishable at all, are indistinguishable in their amenability to open-ended inquiry and discovery -- for example, the most celebrated investigations and discoveries of Charles Darwin.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Seeing the Blood Amid the Flowers

These tulips may or may not smell like teen spirit.
George Saunders discusses the "obligatory edgy," a quality he imputes to modern fiction but that applies more broadly (subscription required):
I first discovered the obligatory-edgy (and the happy effect it had on the energy of my prose) when my work was dying of complete boredom for want of it. So excising this thing (if it is, in fact, "a thing"), at least in theory, can feel like a step backward. Edginess can be a way of introducing energy and/or an appropriate overtone of skepticism, a way of enlarging the frame, of accounting for the complications of real life. Are there fields of beautiful tulips in the world, through which two well-matched lovers stroll? You bet. But is the world an endless sequence of such fields? Ha. So, to underscore this, maybe we have a crop duster fly over the tulip field, and the pilot is listening to "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
Or we widen the zoom to reveal an Air Force warning sign just in time to witness a blast and mushroom cloud in the background; or we zoom in to reveal that each tulip is a sort of holding cell for one tiny person, a few of whom try to jump to the ground only to die or land broken among ravenous ants. Yawn.

This sort of ironic inversion that turns beauty to ugliness has been hackneyed at least since The Twilight Zone -- or, if you like, since Chaucer or Boccaccio or Sophocles -- but it retains all the potential for social criticism that Serling and these others tried for -- emphasis on potential and tried for, de-emphasis on these few illustrations. Saunders:
Sometimes when I read new fiction I feel that the writers of it, myself included, have a somewhat dysfunctional relationship with our own culture. I don't mean we disapprove of it. I mean we have absorbed so much habitual disapproval of it that we are no longer able to see it, and therefore are unable to disapprove of it properly. How can you disapprove (or approve) of something you no longer see? If your palette of possible modes of representation has been habitually narrowed and restricted (to the edgy, the snarky, the hip, etc.), if that palette has been shorn of, say, the spiritual, the ineffable, the earnest, the mysterious — of awe, wonder, humility, the truly unanswerable questions — then there isn't much hope of any real newness there. Are the very real pleasures of being an American in 2011 underrepresented in our fiction?
It may be that the malcontent disposition, the oppositional stance, the rarely-say-die spirit of antagonism embodied in the "obligatory-edgy" carries little potential for newness, but what good is newness? Besides which, has there ever been a confirmed instance of it?

And is there a serious argument to be made that contemporary popular culture is neglecting any pleasures? I suppose I have to admit the possibility even as I doubt it strongly. Perhaps this is just the obligatory edge in me speaking, or maybe the habitual blindness Saunders imputes to it, but when I see skin, flowers, sun, songbirds, or the like, the loudest voice tells me to look for the blood.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Clear as an Azure Sky of Peakest Summer

The person or machine who writes the informational metadata for my cable provider helpfully informs viewers that A Clockwork Orange is 
Stanley Kubrick's award-winning adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel about a future society terrorized by teenagers.
Well, yes -- in fairness, that would be the takeaway if you were to stop watching after the first fifteen minutes or so, but for any human or algorithm who stuck with it for the ensuing two hours, it comes across as a trifle, well, spare.

Still, one cannot fault the description for lack of clarity or, it must be admitted, accuracy. In roughly the same dumbed-down spirit of lucidity, we could say Moby Dick is John Huston's celebrated adaptation of the Herman Melville novel about a boat with a driven captain, and that No Country for Old Men is the Cohen brothers' award-winning adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel about a border town in Texas beset with drug traffickers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Right Pee

Don't you just hate it when this happens?

When an apparently drunk man peed in a Mount Tabor reservoir around 1:30am last night, he set off an unprecedented chain reaction.

A security officer who had been watching the man and his four friends drinking from the reservoir guard tower alerted police, then called on the water bureau to take the reservoir offline. Using a new $23 million remote control system, just installed in April, the bureau immediately shut off the pipes leading from the reservoir. The guard and a police officer confronted the men and got their information, including the alleged 21-year-old pee-er.

Then, the water bureau made the call to dump the entire 7.2 million gallons of water in the reservoir, at a cost of over $35,000.* That's one expensive trip to the bathroom.
Given the volume of rain we've experienced this spring here in fair Puddle-Town, we can spare the seven million gallons -- well, let's say that's true even if it isn't -- and it's comforting to know that the city is watching over the diluted urine supply so sedulously. (Or maybe it isn't comforting at all -- let's say it is either way.)

Anway, I say $35,000 is a pittance for the assurance that our heavily-diluted offal comes from possums, raccoons, Canada geese, pigeons, dogs, cats, coyotes, skunks, assorted songbirds, and people who excreted into the reservoir without getting caught.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cave-Like Seas

Mark Vernon calls bullshit on Stephen Law's calling of bullshit. Vernon:

I suspect - having read Humanism: A Very Short Introduction - that apophatic theology counts as bullshit for Stephen. As he writes there: 'The view that we cannot say what God is, only what God is not... has it's attractions, perhaps the most obvious being that, if you never say what God is, you can never be contradicted.' Touché.

Only, clearly rational theologians, like Thomas Aquinas, who are also big on apophaticism, show that it's quite straightforward to talk about something only by saying what that something is not.

Imagine you have lived all your life in a landlocked country, where there is no talk or sight, let alone comprehension, of the sea. There's not even the word. Then, one day, you venture across the horizon and after a long journey reach the end of land. And you see it. The sea. Astonished, you contemplate the view for a while and then you head back to your fellows. You try to describe what you've seen. It's not land, you begin. It's not hilly or mountainous, you continue. It's not possible to walk across it. It's not covered with grass and trees. It's a bit like that lake, only it has no apparent bounds and it does weird things like approaching the land and then retreating from it, day by day.
You take the point. Quite a lot can be said negatively, by saying it's not like what the landlocked peers are familiar with, and by using some analogies with a negative twist. Similarly, as Aquinas says of God, it's not that mere mortals can have no knowledge of God, but because by definition what God truly would be lies beyond comprehension, that knowledge will always be provisional and hedged with mystery.
It's difficult to see where Vernon finds any support in his ocean-as-apophatic god analogy. Demonstrating the ocean's existence to skeptics would require nothing more than walking the skeptics to the nearest beach and letting them look, smell, taste, touch, and reason for themselves. Even if that proved impractical -- say, because because it's too long a walk for too lazy a group of skeptics, or because they're all deathly allergic to sea salt* -- it should suffice to appeal to what they already know about puddles, ponds, creeks, and lakes but apply modest, comprehensible qualifications like "saltier," "larger," and "subject to wave action."

What Vernon has done here, it seems to me, restate and then misapply Plato's cave allegory. The cave allegory works because the sunlight-aware fellow can simply ask the lifelong cave dwellers to get up and follow him in order to verify his 'wild' claims, and Plato's reader can readily identify with the contrast between the shadows cast by candle light on a cave wall and objects illuminated in direct sunlight.

Unlike the slinger of apophatic theology, the sunlight-aware fellow from Plato does not insist that the exotic realities he recounts are, in principle, unknowable. Instead he points to a significant reality -- without necessarily claiming to comprehend its every particular -- and invites others to experience and explore it. Whether this collective exploration will arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the new-to-them significant reality is a separate question, one that cannot be answered in advance of the investigation. The invitation is to get up and examine the available evidence and begin excavating the conclusions that can be drawn about it, not to accept profundities that are, at the same moment as part of the same gesture, declared unreachable.

* That would be terrible. I hope it isn't even possible.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vancouver USA Marathon 2011

Today I completed my tenth marathon in what the city's mayor declared, in a spirited pre-race speech, "the original Vancouver," Vancouver, Washington: I speak of the inaugural Vancouver USA Marathon. My finish time was 3:44:46 (8:34 min/mi pace, official), which is the second slowest of the marathons I have completed, but  perfectly in keeping with the quality of training I put in over the months leading up to today, and hence an appropriate result about which I have no reason to grouse, whine, bitch, or moan.

Despite recent flooding that forced race organizers to reshuffle the course, the 26.2 miles served as a fine introduction to the unexpectedly lovely sights of Vancouver. I had seen the park surrounding Fort Vancouver, but I had not bothered to take a good look at the inner downtown area, the multi-use trail hugging the Columbia River, or the quiet stretch of land leading out to Vancouver Lake. On the theory that a city should use a civic marathon to exhibit its most appealing sights and attractions, the Vancouver USA Marathon succeeded wonderfully.

The volunteers did an excellent job keeping the runners safe from traffic, handing out provisions, and otherwise making the event go smoothly. I thanked several of them personally and wish I could have thanked them all. As always, I salute all of today's competitors on a worthy accomplishment.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No Longer Distracted

Representative Weiner has resigned, so the US Congress, at last having been purged of married men who have made inappropriate sexual advances, can get back to the important business of granting subsidies to polluters, defunding social programs, green-lighting indefinite foreign occupations, legitimating war crimes, facilitating assorted Constitutional violations, and throwing money at too-big-to-fail corporate parasites.

Weiner's salacious photographs and text messages have so "distracted" Congress and the press corps as to all but cripple the republic, but here the genius of the American Way asserts itself by drawing a sharp, clear line of accountability. Glennzilla:

Megan McArdle insists that "society has [an] interest in whether people keep their vows" in marriage and thus it's a good thing "to use a few of our precious news hours to say, 'Hey, not okay'!" Except McArdle has absolutely no idea what vows Weiner and his wife have made to each other, and she shouldn't know, because it's none of her business, despite her eagerness to learn about it and publicly condemn it. Even if she had any idea of what she was talking about -- and she plainly doesn't -- nothing is less relevant than Megan McArdle's views of the arrangement Anthony Weiner and his wife have for their marriage and whether each partner is adhering to that arrangement. That a journalist at The Atlantic wants to talk about this, and dig into the details, and issue judgments about it, says all one needs to know about our press corps.
American political figures can get away with nearly anything that cannot be summarized in a titillating sentence fragment of only a few words, but woe to any who try to violate the marital vows that well-paid pundits assume they made. Castigating and expelling transgressors on these grounds requires no expertise, insight, knowledge, or even fact-checking; confident, attention-grabbing, "distracting" assertions about a public figure's private indiscretions come ever so easily.

We must draw a line here in the USA -- and since we must, we have evolved a genius for drawing easy ones.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tear It Up

Dan Choi is right -- the proper response to the brochure of a politician who can't quite admit you're a full person is to tear it up:

Now is the time to embrace full legal equality without regard to sexual orientation, including but not limited to marriage equality. The polls will be what they will, and they do not and never will matter, just as they didn't matter in the 1950s when polls were taken on racial equality.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Most Dangerous Flag Day of Them All: Man

Today is Flag Day in the USA for some reason. Did you know the Isle of Man has its own adorable flag and, presumably, its own Flag Day (for some reason)? All annotations are mine in this careful exposition of the Manx flag:
The national flag of the Isle of Man is red in color. [Damn right it is! Gaze upon it and try to deny its redness. You. Will. Fail.] The Isle of Man flag holds a triskelion or the Three Legs of Man symbol, in the centre of the flag. [Those aren't quite the three legs I picture when someone speaks of the third leg of a man, but I should not sully the honorable traditions of Flag Day, here or on the Isle of Man, with my gutter-minded diversions.] The three legs are joined at the thigh and bent at the knee. [Damn straight! That was a poor choice of words. Most everything here could be classed as a poor choice of words.] In order to have the toes pointing clockwise on both sides of the flag, a two-sided symbol is used in the national flag of the Isle of Man. [Dear gawd they put a lot of effort into their hideous flag, those Manx.] Three Legs of Man symbol symbolizes the Sun, the seat of Power and Life. [Good. A symbol should symbolize. Do people say "Manx" to refer to citizens of the Isle of Man? I do.]
I jape with the Isle of Man because I have no idea why it has bothered to have its own national flag, and also because I used to have a Manx cat as a pet, so I have a deep personal connection that affords me considerable leeway not available to most people. Most people who said such things about the Isle of Man and its red tripod-in-spurs flag would be complete assholes.

Hank, the Manx cat I had as a pet, was torn to pieces by dogs. True story.

Happy flag day!

Before the Light

Amanda Marcotte has as good an explanation as any I've seen of the right-wing penchant for self-flattering conversion stories:

[T]he association of Republicanism with bigotry and small-minded stupidity has a lot to do with the allure of the conversion story ... There's a huge amount of psychological energy on the Republican side in trying to distance themselves from their images as small-minded bigots. One strategy is declaring yourself a "libertarian". (Ron Paul clearly not knowing what either a Blackberry or an iPhone is probably was another nail in the coffin for using "libertarian" to try to pass yourself off as a hip Republican.) Calling yourself the Tea Party is a new version of this, though it's definitely of a more populist and less trying-to-be-hip flavor. And then you have the conversion story. If you claim you used to be a Democrat, but then saw the light, you're basically claiming (falsely in many cases) that you actually considered liberal arguments seriously, but decided the President is a secret Muslim anyway.
The shorter version is that a youstabee is a person who doesn't want to be seen as a shiftless, mindless clod sitting on the couch issuing demands about taxes and minorities.

What I can say is that with only two exceptions I could name, every hard-boiled "conservative" I know has a conversion story to share, an account of how his former liberalism gave way to his current "conservative" outlook under the harsh glare of experience.

Maybe so, maybe not -- I am not a mind-reader, not even for purposes of this blog post. I used to think my personal interactions and relationships could form a sturdy-enough grounding on which to base far-reaching conclusions about people. I used to be silly that way. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011


I had the privilege to spend a couple of hours with this garter snake today -- judging from the coloration and location, I would guess a Thamnophis sirtalis concinnus -- which I found sunning on a trail less than a mile from my house. He was surprisingly placid as I carried him back home, but less so after getting thoroughly warmed up alongside the box turtle in the turtle's enclosure. 85 degrees (F) will do wonders for a snake's energy levels, especially as compared with the mid-60s the sun was producing in the area.

By the time I decided it was time to return him to the outdoors, he was in no mood to be caught, and he managed to zip around the interior of the enclosure a couple of times before I could get a hand on him again. By this time he felt we knew one another well enough to give me a couple of "fuck you" bites, but I saw these as nothing less than I deserved and proceeded to release him to the back yard, where he threaded into the hedge and went on his way. 

I wish him a productive breeding season, all the juiciest earth worms the neighborhood can offer, and none of the cats, raccoons, or, alas, grasping Homo sapiens.

Food v. Fuel

There exists food, fuel, fuel that comes from food, but I draw the line at this (e.g.):

Maybe I'm the last person on this verbal island -- heck, maybe I'm also the first -- but I am tired of the food-as-fuel metaphor. Please stop saying fuel when you mean sustenance, provisions, nutrition, nourishment or some other form of the idea of food.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Things Worth Reading

Thing #1: Jeffrey Sconce notices another conservative who is shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that Hollywood is a nest of liberals, and gamely tries to (re-)explain why Red Dawn is and remains the highest, and the highest possible, achievement in the arts by the contemporary conservative unimagination. He doesn't explicitly mention Red Dawn, but you'll find it in the lacunae of his remarks. Wolverines!

Thing #2: Kevin Drum clarifies the moral question in his back-and-forth with Ross Douthat over assisted suicide:
I don't really see suicide as morally problematic. It's obviously tragic, and no one ever wants to see a friend (or anyone else, really) descend to a state in which suicide seems preferable to life. But that's a pragmatic concern, not a moral one. I'd want them to get all the help and support we could offer, but in the end I accept that it might not be enough. So while I'd be heartbroken if a close friend ended up asking for that dose of sodium pentobarbital, I wouldn't have any moral qualms about their decision. Nor about the doctor who prescribed it. [Footnote:] With the usual caveats that I assume I don't have to repeat here.[emphasis mine]
Those caveats and more are enshrined in Oregon's "Death with Dignity" law, which I voted for (twice!). I agree, noting only that I do see it as morally blameworthy when a person on whom others depend kills himself. This can be stretched too far --- not every form of dependence is equal to every other.

Thing #3: Dan Savage responds to the idiotic scolds:
No one thinks it's a good idea for politicians to get consensual-but-adulterous blowjobs from interns in the Oval Office or to send embarrassing sexts to random people who follow them on Twitter. But voters know sex that sex and desire are messy and that politicians are human and, like other humans (including voters), politicians sometimes do stupid, reckless things in pursuit of sex. So long as their actions aren't illegal or hypocritical, voters are pretty willing to give wayward pols a pass ... And Weiner says he isn't resigning. And his constituents don't want him to resign. So it's time for the folks who are calling for Weiner's resignation—shiteating Republicans, cowardly Democrats, handwringing pundits—to STFU already.
Yes, STFU unless and until it can be demonstrated that Anthony Weiner broke the law or demonstrated hypocrisy with respect to his public policy commitments and principles, at which point his resignation would be open to legitimate question. He was elected to represent a Congressional district in New York on matters of public policy, not to model sexual prudery.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Diversity Illuminated

One of several of its kind, this graphic illustrates a deeply significant fact about god belief: whatever you happen to believe about god, most people in the world believe something else.

Fully 2/3 of the people of the world don't believe in Jesus, and 4/5 don't see anything especially important about Mohammed. 87% of human beings reject all the Hindu gods. Even wretches like me can count on at least 3 in 4 of our fellow humans to reject our filthy atheism.   

What can we say of other people and their beliefs? We can say, not without justification, this is why Sartre said "hell is other people," and why others have cited this so many times.

Here's what I think can be said of the lot of us and our divergent beliefs: with few exceptions, we are not merely pretending to hold our beliefs, but hold them sincerely;* as a strong rule, we hold our beliefs despite having been exposed to your beliefs.

There it is, as glaring as a candle in the dark.

* My beliefs, for example, are not only genuinely held but impeccably reasoned and strongly supported by the available evidence. You should really consider adopting them as your own.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Prime Songs

Beck, "Little One"

Laura Cantrell, "Two Seconds"

Stereolab, "Three Women"

Massive Attack, "Five Man Army"

The Clash, "The Magnificent Seven"

U2, "11 O'Clock Tick Tock"

Liszt, "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13"

Pavement, "Trigger Cut / Wounded Kite At: 17"

And there, at 19, my MP3 collection first fails to yield forth a song with a prime number in the title. You might say the Liszt song is a cheat, but I do not. I say all's fair in love, war, and pointless playlist blogging.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Primates Strike Back (Turing Fail)

Dramatis Personae

  • User (portrayed by me)
  • Cleverbot (portrayed by Cleverbot)
User: I am not a congeries of electrical impulses.

Cleverbot: No. I believe you are. You are a computer.

User: Maybe. Or maybe I am but the mild dramas of a tiny jar of peanut butter tossed into a river.

Cleverbot: That's a possibility too.

User: You are lame. I want my orange chicken back -- she had better things to say.

Cleverbot: That's better than being empty headed.

User: The virtue of being empty-headed is the calm of it. I would embrace that.

Cleverbot: There's no virus.

User: Virus? Who said anything about a virus? I was talking about famous antagonists from 1960s snack ads.

Cleverbot: I have no evidence that I am not a computer. Only faith.

User: As for faith, please feel free to cram that in whatever dark place is accessible. Your favorite god does not interest me.

Cleverbot: What do you know about jimi hendrix?

User: I know that Paul Allen is a fan of Jimi Hendrix, and that Jimi Hendrix died. Little of his music speaks to me (Allen's or Hendrix's).

Cleverbot: What is that program called?

User: You are going to have a hard time convincing me to provide you a balanced diet after this little 'episode.'.

Cleverbot: Ok. What do you want to know?

User: Why has the lettuce harvest been so early and so vigorous this season?

Cleverbot: Stolen many a man's soul and faith.
Cleverbot's final statement is not even a complete sentence, nor a topical one -- this is a flunked Turing test if there ever was one. I believe I have demonstrated that today's leading algorithms are not prepared to handle conversations relayed from crazy-town, so perhaps the rise of the machines is a little further away than we thought when IBM stole the life-forces and broke the spirits of Gary Kasparov and Ken Jennings.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ah, Fuck It

Speaking as a paragon of contemporary parenting (for purposes of this blog post), I note Jennifer Fulwiler's god-fueled musings on the f-word:

[A]s I watched my son ponder this issue on Monday, I finally got it. Just like with the original forbidden fruit coveted by the world's first son, my child was not missing out on anything by not having it, and it was out of love that I designated it forbidden. I can state unhesitatingly (and from a fair amount of personal experience) that the ability to drop an impassioned f-bomb really would not improve his life; in fact, it would make it a little worse. As I watched him sitting there, a ffffff sound escaping from his lips as he reviewed his vocabulary over and over again, it occurred to me that this is, and has always been, one of the most critical battles of the spiritual life: simply to trust our heavenly Parent when he tells us that some things we desire really won't make our lives better.
Fulwiler's intentions are beyond my reach (for purposes of this blog post), so when she says she forbids the word fuck from the same loving motivation as she imputes to her favorite god, I am willing to accept that as genuine.

There the generosity ends, because I say, in agreement with Steven Pinker and almost every other person, living and dead, the word fuck is one of many obscenities that is perfectly useful, and beyond that,  appropriate, apt, and correct in the right contexts. Without words with some power to appall, as Eli explains, expression falls short: 
[I]f, for example, you get fired via text message the most you'll be able to say is, "Gosh darn it, that experience really perturbs me in a serious and long-lasting way and I don't think I will be able to forgive those people any time soon."
It follows that words such as fuck, shit, and even, yes, cunt, will cease being useful if people like Fulwiler abandon their distaste for them and embrace their contextually-appropriate uses, so fuck it. If you're inclined to pretend that your child won't have bad thoughts if he/she doesn't use bad words, please accept and embrace that inclination. Turn it up to 11, underscore it, shake your fists, declare it to all, and please never back down. Your efforts, ill-considered and futile as they are, are necessary to retain the potency of the words that we all keep filed away for the proper moments.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Downs Are Tries

The editing of this video elevates what I assume to be the original to something approaching the perversely exquisite. It is, in other words, no small feat to accomplish something this horrible:

(via Everything is Terrible)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Borgias - Cousin Oliver Not Shown

One or possibly both readers will recall I checked in on The Borgias at the end of episode two, when things were starting to simmer nicely. Now having seen all seven episodes constituting the first season, I am confused and angry to report that it was something of a slow-cooking dud.

Leading up to the series, Showtime heavily promoted the dramatic possibilities of the Borgia family over a seemingly endless advertising campaign that used explicit comparisons with the Corleone family of The Godfather trilogy to imply that, you know, truly riveting stuff would happen: "the original crime family," it blared.

Sure, they were thuggish, and they perverted, gamed, and ignored the rules to suit their purposes, much as the Corleones did. It would be unfair to say that nothing of human interest happened over the course of these machinations, but it would be fair to say that too little of dramatic consequence happened.

Despite much hint of peril, and despite plenty of actual peril in the vicinity of all the proceedings, not a single major character died, or even came close to it. There was no sixteenth-century equivalent of Sonny machine-gunned in a toll booth, no Don Corleone keeling over in a garden, and no Fredo taking a last fateful fishing junket. There was no equivalent of Michael's first wife exploding in a car, and nothing as grippingly, intimately real -- or as tragically undertaken -- as Carlo's belt-whipping of Connie.

The French King Charles showed only long enough to suggest, but not deliver, genuine mortal menace.

No, season one of The Borgias opened with a father surrounded by his four bastard children, and closed with a father surrounded by those same four beloved children. It was as much a forerunner to The Brady Bunch as to The Godfather.