Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A modest proposal

I know that the authority in such matters says that it falls on June 31, but I propose that this election day be known as Weasel Stomping Day. It was all I could do to keep from humming this cheery tune as I filled in the bubbles at my local polling place. I've had it in my head for days.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Caring capitalism

The Economics of Caring vs. Uncaring:
Which entities produce greater consumer satisfaction: for-profit enterprises such as supermarkets, computer makers and clothing stores, or nonprofit entities such as public schools, post offices and motor vehicle departments?
First, nonprofit entities do not necessarily aim to satisfy consumers, so this question is nonsense on its face. It's like asking which entities produce greater child satisfaction: clowns, or parents? Put another way, it's not meaningful to apply the same measure of success to organizations that have different goals.

Second, good results are not directly proportional to satisfaction. Again, clowning or parenting?

I agree that there has been great good that has come from the good old profit motive. The example of a potato farmer is perfect, indeed. Money can motivate people to do otherwise unrewarding tasks.

That said, I think the greatest goods in the world have not been motivated by profits. Profits facilitate goodness far more than actually motivate people. People looking for a cure for cancer are being paid, and they may even get rich, but I doubt that's why they do it.

He uses household electrification as an example of something great that happened in the 20th century. I find that amusing because that change was not motivated by profits; it came out of government intervention.
Private utility companies, who supplied electric power to most of the nation's consumers, argued that it was too expensive to string electric lines to isolated rural farmsteads. Anyway, they said, most farmers, were too poor to be able to afford electricity.
Ultimately, I think this is a Coke or Pepsi question. If you think the best thing that happened to humanity is the iPod, there's no question that capitalism is the driving force behind the best in life. If, on the other hand, you think humanity's best are things money can't buy, capitalism is kind of cold and calculating.

Friday, April 28, 2006

White board for the road

The white board has on it today (my last day of work):
This is a line from the song M. T. A. which is actually a bit before my time. In my case, it's literally true, but what I had in mind was actually what comes before that in the song.
Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
Too subtle? Probably not for the coworker who reads and leaves anonymous comments.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Won't someone think of the children?

A recent post over at Obsidian Wings reminds me of a story from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the series of books, not the movie).

In the story, a race was facing an energy crisis (which we are facing also, but that's beside the point). Their solution to the problem was a fantastic piece of technology that would steal energy from themselves in the past, where, as they recalled, there was always tons of energy floating around unused. This seemed like a great idea, but it also seemed that no matter how they tried, they could never get all the energy they wanted. Finally they discovered those bastards in the future were doing the same thing to them.

When our government spends more than we pay in taxes, we are essentially passing that bill on to be paid later. It's the story above in reverse. We steal money from the future. We're sticking our children with a much larger problem than they'd otherwise face, and we really ought to know better because we are those children. That's how long this has been happening.

Will we give to our children the same problems our parents gave to us?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Bedtime story.

Whenever something inexplicable happened around the house, my daughter would say that a raccoon did it. Mommy's keys are missing? A raccoon took them. A pile of clothes are mysteriously cast from the couch to the carpet? A raccoon did it. She got this from a kid at school who had brought it from home and infected the whole class with it. Before learning that, my only explanation was that a raccoon had put the idea in her head.

Lately, the raccoon has been replaced with a leprechaun, but the leprechaun is far more sinister than the raccoon. My daughter wants to fight the leprechaun. Before bed tonight, she told me, when the leprechaun comes in her room, she will get out of bed and hit it. She'll kick it. She said she'd shoot it and put fire on it.

Daddy's wise reply: "no shooting in the house, sweetie."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A little organization.

I see that folks searching for something like "my mom died" frequently find my post titled, "My mom died." I don't know why they're searching for that, but I figured they might want more than the brief rundown of the week's events in that post, so I've updated it with a link to my Mom retrospective, which has links to many other posts that I've written since Mom's death.

Just keeping things tidy (a task that makes me wonder if my blog would be better as a wiki). Otherwise, nothing new to see here.

Wise white board.

I hope you haven't been holding your breath since my last white board post. Doesn't it get kind of sweaty after a while?

My white board now reads:


Meditate on this deeply.

Friday, March 31, 2006


The post that draws the most viewers to my blog is "The elite milestone." which comes up when people search for "31337" images via Google. I get about 20 hits a day that way. (Unfortunately, they go to the February 2005 archive page.)

And what is this big draw? It's a picture of an odometer reading "31337".

(If you're confused about the significance of 31337, see the 31337 entry at Urban Dictionary.)

Back when I posted that, I said that'd be cool for me to do someday, but what I actually thought was that there's no way I'd remember it. As it turned out, not long after that, I got a used car with fewer than 31337 miles on it, and since that post is constantly splattered all over my activity logs, I could hardly forget.

Not only did I not forget, I practically counted the minutes. I did arithmetic. I planned ahead. When just the right moment arrived, I was navigating a bumpy off ramp going a little too fast in traffic that was (not unexpectedly) too close for comfort. This is the picture I got:


Drat! Try again:


A tenth of a mile too late. You can see what I was aiming for. Having done all the preparation and risked my life to take a picture of my dashboard when I really should have been watching the road, I feel justified in using my meager image manipulation skills to doctor up the image I rightfully should have had. Behold:


So for all you 31337 searchers out there, this one's for you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A movie star's relation to the mint.

I was half watching a talk show, waiting for Natalie Portman to appear, when Denzel Washington comes on to talk about his recently released movie. My daughter, making conversation as she likes to do, asks me who that is. That's Denzel Washington, I tell her.

We do a little back and forth confirming that she understands this man's name is, indeed, Denzel Washington, and she leaves.

She returns a minute later with a quarter in her hand, and she holds it up, "heads" side facing me. "Is this is Washington?" I'm stunned (and proud) that she's made the connection. That's George Washington, I tell her.

She doesn't quite understand that these two men with the same name are not the same man. I try to explain by pointing out that she and her brother both have the same last name. I'm not sure she got it, but I'm still tickled that she knows who's on a quarter.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My daughter, my advocate.

We went to The Cheesecake Factory for lunch the other day, and while we were inside, the valets who took our car changed shifts. The guy who was there when we got outside looked for someone else's car while carrying our keys, and then he looked for our car but couldn't find it. As we stood and waited, another family, tired of waiting, spotted their own car, took their own keys, left the payment at the stand, and left.

Still we waited. Another valet drove up. He was there to run an errand, not to work, but he saw what was going on and stopped to help. The guy who parked our car, he explained, had marked the ticket "row C", which is not normally how they mark tickets. They didn't know which row was supposed to be "C" any more than we did.

As he's talking to us, my daughter interrupts. "That's my dad's car," she says. "He needs it to go to work."

Not long after, they found the car, and we were off. I'm sure I wouldn't be telling this story if my five-year-old daughter hadn't made perfectly clear how important it was.

(P. S. We tried to tip—heavily—the errand-running valet, but he wouldn't have it. He wouldn't even let us pay for the valet service. I bet my daughter could have made him, but we wouldn't want to get all heavy handed.)

Outrage of the minute.

I'm very grumpy that an event whose purpose is to honor excellence in a particular type of entertainment contained nothing—nothing—to honor what I think is really important. I'm shocked and appalled. Obviously, this means they do not share my strong American values and are therefore not properly Americans.

Friday, March 24, 2006


First, let me say, "ditto." Approximately, I mean.

Second, since I now have my template open, it might be high time for some other changes, kind of like how, when you've got your CO's gut sliced open in front of you, you might as well toss in some marbles. Another anniversary is coming up, and maybe I should update that list of best posts (if, indeed, it's true that I wrote anything better this year than the year before). I've already tossed the zombie thing. If you have suggestions for how exactly to clutter my sidebar or otherwise fix what ain't broken, let me know.

Third, and related to first, it's pretty much common knowledge now that I've been laid off my job. My last day is April 28. I'm dreaming of a train ride.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Knowledge vs. Belief

My mom's dad told me that before he joined the Navy, he knew the Earth was round, but he didn't really believe it. The first time he saw a ship on the horizon rise straight out of the water, he believed in the curvature of the Earth in a way he never had before.

When I was in college, I took a physics class in which we learned about light in mathematical detail. I understood the concepts well enough to manipulate them. I could explain it, and I could analyze it. I could do the math. I didn't really believe it until I performed an experiment that only made sense if light propagates in waves. My eyes grew wide. Light! Is in waves! For days afterward, I raved to my friends about my revelation.

There are things we know but don't really believe.

People fear death—even people who think there is an afterlife and that they'll be happy there. They don't really believe in their afterlife.

Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.

This is a point I saw best made in Tuesdays with Morrie (which, as I recall, was absent from the movie version, so read the book). Everyone knows they're going to die, but few really believe it. People who believe they'll die do not behave the way most people behave.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this except to say that it's one challenge of life to reconcile knowledge with belief. Often times I know what I think without knowing what I believe. When it comes to simple binary questions ("will you die?"), it seems obvious that knowledge and belief can be in direct conflict, not merely a little uncoordinated.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dreaming ahead of myself.

When I was in college once, I fell asleep in class and dreamed that the class was almost over. I woke and looked at my watch to find there was still 40 minutes left. Naturally, I fell back to sleep.

This morning I dreamed it was Thursday. In my dream, I was surprised that it was Thursday, but still, it was Thursday. That was at 4:30 when I was letting the dogs out for their late night lawn sprinkling.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A school-related experience my parents didn't have.

My wife sat down with my daughter and her class roster. She read the names off to our four-year-old and asked, in each case, is this a boy or a girl? When I was a kid, my parents could look at the names of the kids in my class and know their sexes in all but a few cases (such as kids named things like Kyle). Now it's reversed. In all but a few cases, we have to ask.

Don't mistake me here. I'm glad she's in a class with many colors and cultures. I want her to grow up and not find this situation as foreign as her dad does.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Five years old.


This is my daughter this morning on her fifth birthday. Five years ago today she broke Mommy's water, and we drove to the hospital in the snow. It wasn't until my wife talked to her sister that we realized what day it was, a holiday we'd hoped to avoid.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Pregnancy rates on contraception

I took the table of contraception effectiveness numbers from this page and plugged them into a spreadsheet to answer the following question:
If a woman is sexually active from age 18 until menopause (age 50.5), how many pregnancies can she expect with various methods?
I computed this for both typical use and ideal conditions.

The most effective method was male sterilization. In the ideal, it's the same as the pill, and typical use is only a tiny bit worse than the ideal (how exactly someone misuses this method, I have no idea). In any case, typically expect .05 pregnancies over the woman's lifetime if she has sex only with sterilized men (.03, ideal).

A typical user of the pill will get pregnant 1.6 times (again, ideally, .03 times).

Latex condoms with spermicide will get one pregnant 4.6 times, typically, but ideally only .98 times.

Methods of birth control that don't involve anything but calendars and discipline will ideally produce a little over one child and typically produce anywhere from 4.6 to 8.1 children.

A woman who does nothing to control birth will likely be involved in about 27 of them, assuming she survives them all. Frankly, while this question allows for the hypothetical woman to become pregnant at 50 years of age, I have a hard time with the notion on a practical level.

So, what have we learned?
  • To avoid pregnancy and have a sex life, our hypothetical woman's best shot is sterilization (male sterilization).
  • Abstinence is ideal for pregnancy prevention, of course, as long as our hypothetical woman doesn't get raped. (And, I mean "ideal" in the sense that the "ideal" cure for a headache is amputation.)
  • Without sterilization, an active sex life carries a pretty significant probability of eventual pregnancy.
I have in my head a couple who get married at the age of 18, don't want children, use the pill the whole time, and probably get a child anyway. At this point, it would be pretty easy to lead into an argument about abortion, but I leave that to another post, and maybe even another person.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Tell your senators to censure President Bush

I read last night that Russ Feingold plans to submit a resolution censuring President Bush for warrantless surveillance. That post at Obsidian Wings suggested contacting senators to register our interest in this.

I copied contact information for my senators (Barack Obama and Dick Durbin) into my address book and planned to call them in the morning on my way to work.

This morning I discovered I'd forgotten to sync my phone to my computer, so my dreams of just entering in my senators' names and giving them a ring were shattered. I had to call 411 instead.

In each case, the 411 operators I talked to weren't familiar with the senators. "Is that B-A-M-A?"

Senator Obama's office didn't have a statement. That was pretty much that. I'd never called a senator's office before, and I completely forgot to mention that I had a statement of my own. Perhaps it's enough to make it known that I'm paying attention. The woman I talked to said that watching Senator Obama's home page might ultimately yield the answers I sought.

Senator Durbin's office didn't have a statement either, but they asked what my position was, so that was nice. They also told me that Senator Durbin's Washington office usually tracks the answers to the question I was asking a lot better, and would I like that phone number? It saved me another call to 411. The Washington office asked my ZIP code, but otherwise it was the same conversation.

Contact your senator too. Even if you're calling long distance, it's a short call. Each time I got a live human on the phone right away.

See also:Post script: Frist calls for censure vote "this afternoon or tonight." So if you haven't already registered your opinion, it may be too late. Who knew the government could act so fast?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Brag book: 12 weeks old.

This is my son, who was tragically born without a neck, yawning with enthusiasm.


For more baby face goodness, see my son asleep, awake, and smiling. (All were taken with my Treo 650 because our good camera was broken.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Taxing for security

Deinonychus antirrhopus has a post that I'll summarize like so:
  1. Congress gives every state a certain minimum in security money.
  2. States with hardly any security problems have a surplus to spend on them and so spend on tangential security issues.
  3. Congress has no incentive to fix this.
  4. The solution is to make states spend on their own security.
I agree with the problem assessment.

I disagree with the proposed solution.
  • Some states with great threats do not have correspondingly great budgets to address them. For example, Alaska isn't raking in the dough, but its pipeline is vulnerable and valuable.
  • Pushing the cost to the states doesn't solve the incentive problem. The feds who wrote the minimum grant laws will be the same ones writing the "you must spend" laws. Furthermore, security is always a tough problem for a legislator. It can potentially cost a lot of money, and—if you're lucky—you'll never need it.
  • The right place for national security is at the national level. If Louisiana has to take care of its own hurricane problems and can't (because its tax revenues are also somewhat below average and hurricanes are, shall we say, expensive), then gas prices go up in other parts of the country. I'd rather pay the feds to fix the problem for me than rely on the taxpayers in another state.
The discussion over there also veered off into the perceived effectiveness of government in general and a bit of finger pointing. If you want all the gory details, by all means, do not settle for my simple summary. There's interesting reading to be had by following the links.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Yeah, but calculus is beyond me.

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

I've been preoccupied off and on with how well I'll be able to help my children with their school work. Of course, I think that regardless of what they're studying, I should be able to pick up the text and answer any question after a quick read, but what I'd really like is to be able to do all their homework without any review. I suspect my best shot at this may be in math.

Thanks to this post at Raging Red for pointing me to this reassuring test.

There's no shame in having forgotten all the boring and useless things from the old concrete and tile classrooms, but in addition to learning about isosceles triangles, food pyramids, and social circles, I'd like my children to learn that these subjects are supposed to stay with them until they're as old and square as their father.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Not less safe.

We are not "less safe" now than we were on September 11. I say that not because I think we are safer but because I think the state of diminished safety is not best described by the words "less safe."

If the attacks of September 11 demonstrated our vulnerability, and we consider that situation to have deteriorated since, then the way to say that is to refer to us as "more vulnerable." Saying instead that we are "less safe" implies that we are safe, just not as much. Were we safe on September 11? If so, then maybe we really are still safe, but not as much. If not, I don't see a good way to describe a more vulnerable state with the word "safe" in it anywhere.

This is blatant Newspeak. Someone saying "less safe" is unwilling to admit vulnerability. The word has been eliminated. They could do almost as well saying "more unsafe" (or "plusunsafe"), but "less safe" is more misleading. It has the word we want to hear—safe—unfettered by prefixes and the idea that our safety is anything other than pure.

I'm not sure how this came be such a pet peeve that I'm now writing what amounts to a grammar flame—unprovoked, even. Nevertheless it grates on me even more than when people misspell "millennium" (a pet peeve with an actual story behind it).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ultimate Blogger to the rescue!

Forgive me reader, for I have neglected. It's been two weeks since my last post.

I'm in a slump. I could blame the newborn or the depression brought on by our leadership destroying our country. I could blame space aliens. The aliens could be fascist anarchists, and it still wouldn't change the fact that I don't have a post.

Well, gentle reader, The Ultimate Blogger 2 is here to help. Last year, I applied and was rejected, but I played anyway, from the sidelines, and it resulted in some of my finest work.

Who do I have to thank for bringing this salvation to my attention? Nobody. With the kind of devotion only found in brainless machinery or zombies, my computer has been anonymously hammering at the old Ultimate Blogger RSS feed ever since the last competition ended. Their new season announcement popped up as if the thing had been active all along.

It turned out last year that the competition didn't fit my expectations (and didn't play to my strengths), so I'm going to save time by not applying, but I'd still like to do my little side show.

That is, if the fascist anarchist newborn space alien national leadership allows it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Christ and Caesar sitting in a tree!

On an earlier post, my sister had this to say:
One of my current Sociology instructors has already covered with us that religion was created as a result of a need of the upper class to explain why they are more privledged than the rest of society and to institutionalize/perpetuate their status in society.
I would hope that religion predates the aristocracy bending it to their ends, but that's still a good segue to "Let There Be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics", an article I read a while back and have been wanting to work into a post ever since. Read the whole thing, of course, but here's a pretty good quote:
The group that bridled most against these pessimistic elements of Smith and Ricardo was the evangelicals. These were middle-class reformers who wanted to reshape Protestant doctrine. For them it was unthinkable that capitalism led to class conflict, for that would mean that God had created a world at war with itself. The evangelicals believed in a providential God, one who built a logical and orderly universe, and they saw the new industrial economy as a fulfillment of God's plan. The free market, they believed, was a perfectly designed instrument to reward good Christian behavior and to punish and humiliate the unrepentant.
The article also discusses the question of whether most economists today are spinning theories that apply only to a fantasy land. In this, I guess they'd be kind of like mathematicians except less aware of how abstract their work is.

As long as I'm phoning it in with a dazzling array of quotes and hardly any original thoughts, I'll leave you with a couple of others.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to. — Dorothy Parker

God shows his contempt for wealth by the kind of person he selects to receive it. — Austin O'Malley

This is an impressive crowd: the Have's and Have-more's. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base. — President George W. Bush

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Three things that are not true.

The only thing you can dry with a dish towel is dishes.

The only thing you can dry with a hand towel is hands.

The only thing you can dry with a beach towel is beaches.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Concrete evidence of belief in God.

An anonymous user remarks on my God-shaped hole post:
Actually, there is a somewhat complex philosophical argument purported by Descarte that follows this "God-shaped hole" line of reasoning. Not so much "everybody thinks there is one" but more, the mere fact that the humans' capability to fathom a perfect creator exists at all -- if there weren't a creator, would we have the ability to wonder?
Far be it from me to argue with the man who brought us "I think, therefore I am", but the brief summary of the complex argument looks like baloney. I'm not a philosopher, but I don't see how our capacity to do any particular thing can be seen as evidence of God (or lunch). We're not babel fish. To my mind, considering the possible existence of a creator is pretty pedestrian compared to some our other thoughts, and this "look what we can do" thing sounds a bit too much like "dude, we are so! awesome! that our creator can be none other than the awesomest ever." I reject that argument too, primarily because of what it implies about me, given some of the supremely stupid things I've created. It's not a rigorous refutation, I'll grant.

Um, anyway, where was I? I think that belief in God comes only through faith. There is no logical argument to prove or disprove, and applying logic to the problem is kind of like trying to catch a pound of sailing mercury with tweezers (except more fun, like Pac-Man).

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bone to pick

[This is a "repost" of something I wrote before beginning this blog. As such, some of its links are already stale, but the argument is as fresh as a daisy.]

About three weeks ago, I ran across an article which was complaining that a web site owner was directing his fans to donate to homeless dogs. The article wasn't saying that dogs shouldn't have homes, but "with 800 million people suffering from hunger, I think we have slightly more pressing issues to worry about."

I've heard this argument one way or another many times. "How can you give your money to provide computers to low-income households when you could give it to provide food for starving children?" On the face of it, it sounds legitimate, but this line of reasoning leads to the "One Most Worthy Cause" problem.

Note, I didn't come up with this idea, I'm just propagating it. After one of these appeals to give to one cause over another, someone replied and pointed out the problem with the line of reasoning. It resonated with me, and now I get this twitch in my brain every time I hear the argument.

Anyway, the problem is this: if you cannot justify giving to a "lesser" cause when a "greater" one exists, then there must be just One Cause above all the others, to which all money must go. Which is more important? Starving children, or children with cancer? Pretend there's a way to decide. Then you have to let one of them go until the more worthy cause is "solved."

I've been getting into this site lately called 'whatsbetter.com', which shows you two things, and you pick which is better. The choice that came up right now is "Butterfinger" vs. "Really Old Game Shows". So, often times it's apples and oranges, but you're still encouraged to make a choice. The site scores all the votes by all the visitors and ranks all the (thousands of) items. It has a list of the top ten and the bottom ten. The worst right now is "Child pornography", and above that are "syphilis" and "colon cancer". Seventh from bottom is "testicular cancer". Yuck.

Anyway, let's say that this really is the list of the worst things. Given the "One Most Worthy Cause" line of reasoning, you can't donate to curing syphilis or testicular cancer until colon cancer is wiped out. If there's a charity to help the problem of child pornography, you have to donate to that, and cancer research stops.

By the way, when I looked at this a few weeks ago, "AIDS" was worse than "children with cancer", and we have to take care of them both before getting to "terrorism."

I don't want to feel guilty about not donating to children when I donate to protect civil liberties (for instance). To some extent, I think that's apples and oranges (do I want more/better children but no civil liberties, or are liberties more important than the lives of children?). In any case, I don't think anyone should feel guilty donating to dogs.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

God-shaped hole

When I was a college student, there was once a guy on the quad talking about God. One of the things he said was that one of the most compelling arguments for the existence of God is the fact that so many people in so many cultures and countries seem to believe in one. It's as if humanity has a God-shaped hole to fill.

I thought to myself, this is his most compelling argument?

The existence of desire does not imply the existence of possible satisfaction. I may have a cheeseburger-shaped hole in my belly, but that does not imply the existence of a cheeseburger. If I were a caveman with this same burning sensation in my gullet, I could not use it to prove that cheeseburgers just are somewhere for my consumption.

And perhaps that cheeseburger-shaped hole I feel is not really in the shape of a cheeseburger after all. Perhaps the only thing that will really satiate is soylent green. Is God made of people? I don't know. I do know that if people could feed themselves by imagining food, there'd be no more hunger, and if my brain worked like the guy preaching God on the quad, I wouldn't have much imagination.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The sad story of James Frey

I don't know much about James Frey. I haven't read his book, and I haven't seen him interviewed. Certainly I've heard of the book, but the segment about it I saw on the Oprah Winfrey show frustratingly did not tell me what the book was about. There were all these people singing its praises, but I had no idea what the story was. Maybe I just missed that part, but it turned me off anyway. My past experiences with anyone promoting something without the very basics of specifics have been basically, specifically, bad. It felt like they were trying to fool me somehow.

I did read the long article about his book at The Smoking Gun. Long story short, they could not verify the majority of the events in the book, but the few things they were able to corroborate at all were very different from how the book describes them.

According to the article, Frey has said repeatedly that everything in the book is true. I've talked to one person who says that he hasn't said that but rather has always acknowledged that the memoir is a little different from life. I don't know which is true, but the line I'm hearing from Frey today is "I wrote it as I remembered it" and now future printings are going to contain an author's note about it. The differences between the book and the life as described by The Smoking Gun are not standard minor memoir embellishments, in my opinion.

Ultimately, what bothers me about this is summed up in a harsh (and funny) book review I got from this post at Hissy Cat:
A Million Little Pieces is the dregs of a degraded genre, the rehab memoir. Rehab stories provide a way for pampered trust-fund brats like Frey to claim victim status. These swine already have money, security and position and now want to corner the market in suffering and scars, the consolation prizes of the truly lost. It's a fitting literary metonymy for the Bush era: the rich have decided to steal it all, even the tears of the losers.
The Smoking Gun also mentions how greatly this cheater has prospered. The review has more to say also about Frey's writing style. Since I haven't read Frey's work myself, I found this useful for appreciating some of the satire that's followed:
For all Frey's childish impersonation of the laconic Hemingway style, this is one of the most heavily padded pieces of prose I've seen since I stopped reading first-year student essays. Frey manages to puff up this simple story to book length thanks to one simple gimmick: he repeats. Repeats the beginnings of sentences. Repeats the beginnings of phrases. And the endings. Endings of phrases. Phrases and sentences.

And while his prose is repeating, his tale is descending. Descending into Bathos. Bathos in which he wallows. Wallows. In bathos. Bathos, bathos, bathos.
Most of the fun I've found from this, I found through this post at Feministe:And that's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An anniversary.

A year ago today, my mother died. I've grieved over that in the year, reminded of her at various times (and what seemed like all of the time), but I think there's still more to do. I don't think I've fully comprehended what I've lost. I don't think I understand what I had or what I never had.

I can't tell whether I'm putting it off or just taking my time. A year seems like a long time to let go until I remember how long I had what's gone.

I try to remember that lots of people in the world have lost their parents. It doesn't seem possible that this horrendous state of affairs is as common as it is, but I'm hardly alone in having had to say goodbye to my mother. I'm actually kind of lucky that I got to say goodbye when she was still alive to hear it. It's hard to feel that luck sometimes, but I am still grateful for the good things about her death.

I don't think that we as a family could have done any better. She died at home, surrounded by people who loved her. Her mother held her hand as she passed. We should all be so lucky when our time runs out.

You can't stop at just one.

Let's say you're against torture, but you want to accommodate the hypothetical ticking time bomb scenario. You know the one: there's a tremendous bomb set to go off in a major city in the near future, and there is someone in custody who knows where it is. Torture is used to compel this person to divulge the location of the ticking bomb in the short time available. To allow this exception, you write the law so that it says "no torture" except when there's an emergency which demands it.

Israel had a law like this in January 1999:

Now let's say you have someone in custody who you suspect has done something wrong. Is there a ticking bomb? You can't tell for sure, but there could be. You and the prisoner both know that if there is a ticking bomb, torture will ensue. So if there is a ticking bomb, you can be darn sure the prisoner won't tell you about it, but you really have to know—right away—whether there is an imminent threat. How do you get the truth quickly in an emergency situation? Wait, I have the law right here...oh, yeah. "Pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

I'm not making this up. From Why ticking-bomb torture stinks:
The only democracy that has experimented with the ticking-bomb scenario is Israel. It sanctioned the use of "moderate psychological and physical force" in such cases. The experiment proved unsuccessful and illustrates an insidious danger. Torture can grow. Israel found it impossible to limit torture to the terrorist alone and ended up applying force to those it believed knew or could lead security forces to the terrorist. Eventually the Israeli Supreme Court found that the exceptional use of torture in ticking-bomb cases wasn't working, It was an exception that was becoming commonplace and the court put an end to it. It is also salutary to note that at least one prisoner died under interrogation, raising questions about the concept of non-lethal torture. Any form of torture risks the life of the person tortured, by way of heart failure or otherwise.
(Emphasis added.)

The court's decision was in September 1999, and it said something else I agree with:
If the Shin Bet believes it must torture a suspect to reveal the location of a "ticking bomb," the torturer would be put on trial, but a court might accept the argument that physical force was necessary.
If it really is a case of torture or die, make that case to a jury. If you're not sure a jury of your peers will sanction your actions, perhaps you should reconsider them.

One other thing I've always wondered about: does the ticking time bomb scenario apply to innocents? If you have someone who had nothing to do with the bomb plot but knows where the bomb, is it justifiable to torture that person? If terrorists abducted your child to keep you from telling the authorities about a plot you learned about, would you tell the authorities anyway? What if the authorities tortured you?

This gets pretty deep into lesser of two evils territory. Where is the line? Can you only torture the bomber? The bomber's assistants? People who had nothing to do with the bomb but are sympathetic to the bomber?

These are hard questions. But to help you answer them, I've brought a pair of pliers and a blow torch...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Loafing Lagomorph

Loafing lagomorph
This is our rabbit, Vanilla, laying about as though she has nothing better to do. I think "Loafing Lagomorph" would be a good name for a blog (much better than "Drunken Lagomorph"), but nobody agrees.

(Toehold repetitious posting watch: an earlier blog name suggestion.)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Trustworthy Presidents.

When discussing the recent NSA unwarranted wiretapping story, Rob Corddry of The Daily Show said:
Jon, I think at this point, the Bush administration has earned the right to be trusted on these things. I mean, come on. They've been telling us they're credible for five years. I think it's high time we believed it.
It's no secret that I don't trust President Bush, but some people do. Even if I did trust this particular president, however, I would still think this program is a bad idea.

The problem with collecting data isn't so much who is getting it but who will get it. To approve of this idea, I'd have to not merely trust this president with it, I'd have to trust them all. I think it's safe to say that not every president in our history has been worthy of that kind of trust, and likewise I doubt that every president in our future will be worthy of that kind of trust.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

My son sure does remind me...

I think about Mom when I'm burping my new son. This is mostly because Mom thought that burping and farting were hilarious, and baby burps are especially entertaining, in my opinion. A seven pound baby can make a burp that will frighten small animals, and they always come out so casually (even if they are assisted). So this is just the kind of surprising burp that Mom would have most appreciated.

More than that, however, she really would have wanted to see her grandson. She made no bones about wanting grandchildren from my sister and me. I'm glad she got to see my daughter before she died, but it's a bit sad now that she's missing the second grandchild she would have wanted to meet.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Premium Baby Chow

We've just switched our son to a hypoallergenic baby formula that our daughter had when she was a baby. He's clearly miserable about something, and he's making everyone else miserable as a result (with hour-long crying jags and a disinclination to sleep).

The stuff is expensive. Worst case scenario, he eats every two hours, and we keep buying it at Walgreens, and it will cost about $201.50 a month. Now, he doesn't really eat every two hours, and we can probably find a place cheaper (and less convenient) than Walgreens, but he's also going to eat more as he gets bigger. Our daughter doubled her birth weight by three months, and it's safe to say her tummy grew along the way.

The stuff brings back memories. This is the formula smell I remember from four years ago. I sat down for the first feeding with it, and the first whiff was a memory moment. Then, as now, I was chief bottle washer, and I smelled that odor every single day.

I recall hanging around the store in the early morning, waiting for it to open, so I could get some formula to my daughter before she woke up. I remember the nightly routine of the washing of the bottles (now, thankfully, made easier with a washing machine). I knew how many there were. I knew how many were clean. I knew how many we needed in a day, and I did the arithmetic on these numbers several times a day.

Anyway, I expect this stuff to keep yanking me back four years for a while, and I'm looking forward to it. If it also grants peace to my boy (and his family), that'll be worth the price too.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Newborn difficulties

The two toughest tasks my newborn son has on any given day are burping and pooping, and I'm not sure which is the hardest.

My first impulse is to say that burping is harder because he can't do it on his own. He only burps with assistance. On the other hand, the burps come easy with that little help from his parents. A belch that trembles trees just floats out.

Pooping is always a strain. He gets no help from us, and he obviously has trouble with it.

When he has gas or a bowel movement, it's about the same. He's tense, he squirms, and it's written all over his face that he's uncomfortable.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How to learn a language.

On a recent outing with my talkative daughter, she spotted a car with baby decorations in the window, and this launched her into a discussion of the stone cold fact that she is not a baby (and we therefore will not be getting baby decorations for the windows of our car). She enumerated her achievements as a big girl to further emphasize her point.

Among her distinctions, she said, she learned to talk.

How kids learn language is a pretty interesting topic. She's nowhere near having a conversation about it on Daddy's level, but this got me interested anyway. It can't hurt to ask her. She just did it recently, after all, so maybe she has some insight.

"Yeah," I said, "you learned to talk. How'd you do that?"

She answered immediately, "I just got better."

Can't argue with that. She elaborated, "you and Mommy teach me." This girl really knows her stuff. She still mixes up "got" and "have," but she certainly knows how she got what she has.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Live principled or die trying.

There was once a religion that believed that sex—all sex—was sinful. People who believe in total celibacy, obviously, do not reproduce. The only way the Shakers replaced their numbers was through conversion and adoption.

That these people all but vanished from the Earth does not constitute a great mystery.

You might say, though, that the Shakers had a choice. They could continue being Shakers as they had been (and vanish from the Earth), or they could be Shakers but without that silly celibacy schtick. Would those still be Shakers?

I'm thinking about this as it relates to recent events in America. There seems to be a notion that the only way we can survive in the face of terrorism is to abandon our principles: spy on Americans, torture people, etc. It's the same choice the Shakers faced. Stay true to your principles and die or live on sans principles.

The people of America are well within their power to decide that torture is something they'd like to see more of. I don't think, however, that the resulting country would still properly be called America. Would George Washington see that as America?

Of course, the framers didn't believe in a thing like the income tax either. That's why we needed an amendment to authorize Congress to tax income. So the America of George Washington has, in some sense, departed this world already. Maybe this "my America is the real America" idea is just another lament for "the good old days."

Still, I think these things are choices the country must make about who we are, and I'm continuously surprised at how the country makes them.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

I think the last time I made a New Year's Resolution was when I resolved to stop using a tab to start paragraphs in email. I'd stuck to the practice for something like a decade in the face of mounting evidence that everyone separates paragraphs with a double space, and I'd had enough.

It's not much of a life change, I'll grant, but it stuck like no other resolution has. I could look through my email archive and find right when the change happened by looking at my outgoing mail (but I won't) because I don't think I lapsed once.

Last night we had the whole family (sans rodent and rabbit) watching fireworks on TV with instant replays courtesy of TiVo. Two red-eye feedings later, and I'm only semi-coherent.

Anyway, Happy New Year!