Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This weeks unexpected bliss:

Stilton cheese with blueberries.

My son, a fan of Wallace and Gromit , is determined to acquire and sample Wensleydale* cheese, which Wallace has mentioned a couple of times. We were unable to find any, but I did find several varieties of Stilton (also mentioned), and this one in particular caught my eye. I bought a $9 chunk, which isn’t really that much, at $25 per pound.

White, crumbly, with the blueberries swirled in; it’s sweet, but retains a strong aged flavor.

“I’m crackers for cheese, Gromit!”

For a snippet on Wensleydale, and the salutory impact this reference exerted on a struggling dairy, look here.


I saw someone expend a formidable amount of mental energy the other day defending the appropriateness of a dehumanizing term: islamofascist*. It struck me that we use terms like these to dehumanize people who we’re accusing of dehumanizing people; for instance: terrorist, sociopath, narcissist, perpetrator, pedophile. What a lot of effort we expend to disavow the kinship of our shared humanity.

It strikes me that mirroring dehumanization is an unproductive social act.

*From BOTF – here. The next post, by Makbara, seems to have been a meta response (if its not, it should be). Makbara, if you did write that as a response, I stand in awe of your ability to sling that many cunningly ordered words together in 18 minutes.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My nephew's latest musical project.

Sound clip here. He's the guitar player, and co-writes the songs with the drummer. It's a very rough mix - he threw 4 together to shuffle my way on Thanksgiving. No singer yet - just him on guitar, a bass, drums and violin.

Full song is here.

I'll let you know when they come up with a band name.


The American Heritage Dictionary (online version – but of course) defines damnation as:

1. The act of damning or the condition of being damned.
2. a. Condemnation to everlasting punishment; doom.
b. Everlasting punishment.
3. Failure or ruination incurred by adverse criticism.

Damned is defined here:
1. Condemned, especially to eternal punishment.
2. Informal. Deserving condemnation; detestable: this damned weather.
3. Used as an intensive: a damned fool.

The idea of damnation is that you could commit and act so egregious as to take precedence over all other counterbalancing acts. A damning act is one that defines us.

That a single act could define us relates to both the concept of shame, and subsequent cognitive dissonance regarding a behavior we might initially have seen as uncharacteristic of ourselves. Though I might believe myself to be a good person, I might commit an immoral act that violates my assumptions about who I am. When faced with such a conflict, my choices are to either alter my behavior [redemption] or alter my belief about myself [damnation], or the act I committed [rationalization].

If I commit murder, I might first look for mitigating aspects of the situation, so I am not left considering myself to be a “murderer.” I might have killed on the battlefield (good soldier), I might have killed by mistake (unfortunate accident), or for self-defense, or when my capacities were diminished by emotional strain, intoxication, or psychiatric condition.

Without a situational mitigation, I am left with an unfortunate dilemma – I can either alter my beliefs about murder (e.g. I’ve released their soul to heavenly splendor) or myself (I’m a rapacious bastard, and I like that I’m a rapacious bastard – makes me the meanest mutherfucker in town). In the former of these two, I’ve sacrificed my connection to reality in an attempt to preserve positive self-concept – implementation of psychotic reasoning. In the latter, I’ve damned myself; I’ve disowned the greater part of myself – my self-conceptualization prior to the act – and forced instead a self-definition that excludes my core morality.

We all behave in uncharacteristic ways at times. In fact, it’s one of the inevitable aspects of correcting ourselves. When I behave in an uncharacteristic manner, I’m challenging the manner in which I’ve previously been defining myself. Optimally, this represents a growth experience – I explore a previously undeveloped aspect of myself, and then subsequently find some way to integrate this into my larger self-concept. In this way, I broaden my repertoire of adaptive responses. Should I stray too far, however – lock my children in the car and push it down the boat ramp, for example, or kill my ex-wife and her lover in a fit of jealous rage, then I’ve not broadened my repertoire at all – I’ve limited it. Once I’ve damned myself, and forced a schism between where I am now and where I was then, I’ve lost access to those things that were previously rewarding – that seemed to define me. The gulf between the aspects of myself seems unbreachable.

Other people, of course, also play a role in this process. Once I’ve committed an uncharacteristic, and potentially damning act, I might consult my friends. If they are good friends, they’ll attempt to reflect me in my entirety – both the person I have been, and the person who committed the act, and help my find ways to reconcile the two conceptualizations of myself. Less true friends, however, will sacrifice my best interest for their own emotional comfort. They will respond to the vicarious shame by either minimizing what I’ve done, or by damning me for it. In these instances, they are refusing to provide me with a reflection of myself that encompasses both the before and after, because some aspect of the act has made them so uncomfortable, they cannot go there with me.

So, the process of redemption then, from this framework, involves an integration between aspects of myself that seem irreconcilable, while damnation involves reinforcement of a schism between my self-concept before and after I committed whatever egregious act. The role you play, in either the damnation or redemption of others, depends on the degree to which you are able to avoid projecting your own feelings of shame onto a person in a specific situation, and your ability to communicate a unified impression of that person back to them.

We must tend to our own gardens, before we can offer assistance to others.

For ourselves, then, redemption consists not on reinforcing the schism between the seemingly irreconcilable aspects of ourselves by denying one or the other, or withdrawing from the conflict, but by actively attempting to reconcile the two. We must tend to the entire garden, not allow part to become fallow while we direct our attention exclusively elsewhere*.

[This same framework also applies to the process of countertransference in psychotherapy.]

*This conceptualization seems to fly in the face of traditional (ie. Catholic) views on the subject, but I believe its closer to the original conceptual intent than what is traditionally purveyed. It seems we're always at the mercy of people who are unable to bridge the gulfs in themselves, and are therefore unable to assist us in our attempts to do the same. It's a very unchristian view of the matter, however, from the perspective of new testament philosophy.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Loose association of the day.

I visited Waitsfield Vermont the other day. For some reason, the town name (and the rain on the surrounding green fields, I suppose) got me thinking about a certain Irish poet and writer of my acquaintance.

Are all the residents of Waitsfield Tom Waits fans, do you think?

Flying in First Class.

Yesterday, I found myself confronted with an attractive woman in my seat as I boarded a connecting flight in Cincinnati. She’d just met an old friend, seated next to my assigned seat, and proposed a trade. Would I mind sitting in first class?

Turns out, I didn’t mind at all.

First class travel is an entirely different experience. The seats are comfortable, and you don’t have to worry about the obese woman sweating through her corduroy pants at the point of juncture with your leg (one leg of my trip out). You can see the in-flight movie.

The passengers are noticeably different. My seat-mate chose to watch the movie (the latest Pirates of the Caribbean – I was working), and I was a little startled and amused to see her emotional reactions (holding her hands to her face, little gasps etc.) to the special-effects enhanced drama it seems most have become inured to. A bunch of business types were in the front two rows, bantering about the day’s college football games, and joking about getting cell-phone updates in-flight. (I don’t know if they did, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) One of them presented the stewardess with an origami flower (made from an airline napkin) shortly before we landed. She beamed at his cleverness. He beamed back at her.

This is the stewardess we shared among the twelve or so of us. She offers pre-flight drinks, makes the rounds with the snack basket (which offers an actual variety), the coffee cup they provide you with holds more coffee, she apologizes for not having your preferred sweetener, and bemoans the lack of an actual sandwich to offer when she realizes you haven’t had time to eat all day.

Looking at the entitled passengers, and how they took their experience in first-class for granted, got me thinking about class differentiation.

I remember research reviewed in a physiological psychology class on rats raised in enriched environments – about how their cortexes are much larger, they learn new tasks faster, they are more socially interactive, less aggressive, and have a proliferation of cholinergic receptor sites (associated with intelligence) compared to their deprived counterparts. I thought about rats raised in deprived conditions – how they’re prone to attack each other, and tend to be (anthropomorphizing admitted) brutish, stupid, discontented and short-lived.

And I thought about children I’ve worked with – raised in front of televisions, social interaction limited primarily to school, tending to be less intelligent, more aggressive, and unhappy.

My father was raised in a blue-collar home through the depression. Yet the three surviving boys all earned advanced degrees (their sister married instead – a successful dentist. She ran his office until he retired). Though the difference between Coach and First Class may appear to be economic, that distinction is conveniently artificial – the discriminating factor is environmental. They were raised in a family where there was a concerted effort to provide the children with options and stimulation. The lack of money, while hard, also necessitated cooperative efforts to achieve super-ordinate goals. This is the stuff of bonding, and an avenue to self-efficacy.

The ability to make choices – to exercise options, or assert yourself, or modify your environment to suit your transient desires; this is a critical difference between first class, and coach. This is also a critical difference between the children of many first-class passengers, and the children of those riding Coach. Or Greyhound. The first-class passengers assume the world will conform to their desires. The Coach passengers make no such assumption, and will have such corrected by the harried airline staff if they do.

The experience of underprivileged children in this country, as egregious as conditions can sometimes get, pales in comparison to the rest of the world. I had an interesting conversation with my neighbor the other day. He was raised in Ramallah, and still has many friends and family members in Lebanon. He talked about the continuing shelling of the refugee camps, and how an extended family of 18 was killed the other day. He talked about the ridiculous assertion that a warning precedes the shelling; the camp residents have no place to escape to.

And I thought about the impact of all the violence, and the drastic limitation of options, that characterizes the lives of the children living in such places. My neighbor talked about the ridiculous idea that actions such as those make anyone safer, and of course we talked about the war. What we didn’t talk about was the manner in which such an environment sets the stage for problems down the road, as the traumatized children raised under such pathogenic conditions become traumatized adults.

And it makes me angry, because we know better. We’re astute enough to study the impact the war in Sierra Leone has had on the chimp population in the area (devastating – perhaps unrecoverably so), yet we acknowledge too infrequently the impact such an environment exerts on the people who live there – it’s too overwhelming to think about. We continue to justify engaging in widespread destruction (which is so easy, really), and then pretend bafflement when those same tactics are used against our efforts to rebuild some of what’s been lost – as though that isn’t a predictable consequence of our own actions. We refuse to adequately fund public education in our own country, or to provide inadequately supervised youth with attractive alternatives to television, videogames, Myspace, drug use or delinquency.

My first-class seat-mate had a powerful, observable reaction to Hollywood special effects in a relatively tame movie; proof enough of a background free of personal involvement in violence and despair. We should all live in such a world, but we can't provide it for ourselves; we have to provide it for each other.

In defense of paternalism:

Excerpt from this evening's conversation with my dear friend:

"Well of course she should call the police. Calling the police is the most compassionate thing she could do in that moment, because you know what it would do to him if he hurt her. Right?"

She knows.

None of us are as cohesive as we pretend. Refusing to collude with another's self-betrayal in a moment of extremis is an act of compassion.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Old blog:

is here.

New blog of the day.

Adopt a microbe

Too cute.


So – my mother, who is prone to providing unwanted advice, pressed this into my hand after dinner on Sunday. She wanted me to give it to my son. I think, instead, I’ll post it for your bemusement. The following is verbatim. Imagine the impact this might have on a teen who is, for various reasons, lacking alternative sources of information. I won’t bother refuting all the inaccurate or misleading statements – who has time?

“Choose you this day, whom you will serve.”

The usual feelings of invincibility possessed by teenagers, lead them to believe
It won’t happen to me.” As a matter of fact, these things happen with alarming regularity.

92% of LDS teens say they have seen at least 1 “R” rated movie in the last year. A common statement is: “There was just a little bit of bad stuff in it.” SO: If you had a bowl of delicious soup with just a little cockroach in it, would you eat it?

Teens say “Media does not affect me.” Of course it does. Nike sales soared 378% when Michael Jordan said to wear them, and Nike paid him 27 million dollars to say it.

57% of high school kids do not list parents, relatives, historical figures, literary figures, religious leaders (including Christ) as their heroes. They list, in order, movie stars, rock stars and athletes.

The internet has become a pernicious in-home source of animalized sex which installs itself on out computers.

In interviewing 14 year olds who had seen a very popular PG rated movie no less than 5 times, (they were considered “experts”), they were asked if the movie contained any four letter words. They said they thought there were three or four. Actually, there were101. Asked if there were any sexual overtones in the film, they said “no”. Actually there were 7 sexual conversations and one sexual scene.

In 1991, the most common four-letter work in “R” rated movies was the F word. The #2 word was the SH word. All thigh school kids list those same two words as the most common profanity at school. The use of profanity has increased 650% among high school kids since the motion picture industry changed its code in the 1960’s to allow vulgar language.

When a movie star went on TV to encourage women to start smoking a specific cigarette, the sales to women of that particular cigarette increased 312%.

Epidemic world wide. Used to be only two major sexually transmitted diseases (gonorrhea and syphilis) Now there are over 50. Some are incurable (Herpes and AIDS) and some cause death (AIDS).

No 1 communicable disease in the world is gonorrhea (now possibly CMV)
40-50% of infected women are under age 20.
15-19 is the peak age for occurrence in women
20-24 is the peak age for occurrence in men
It is sexist. 50-60% of the infected women do not know they have it until it has caused pelvic inflammatory disease, which is one of the leading causes of infertility. After only one infection 20% are sterile. After three infections, 75% are sterile, because of blocked fallopian tubes and scarring.

12,000 high school kids every DAY become infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Some are infected with a disease which lasts a whole lifetime, and they are capable of transmitting that disease for life. Teen pregnancy can only occur during 72 hours of every month, and affects only 50% of the population (girls). However, STD’s can happen any time to either sex.

Once a person has had a sexual encounter with anyone besides a disease-free spouse, it will require 4 chaste years before that person can be sure he is not going to turn up with something awful. Some diseases take that long to manifest themselves.

Some of the most beautiful words in the English language are the names of some of the worst diseases – and some create horrible problems for unborn babies. Listeria monocytogenes, Chlamydia, cytomegalovirus are examples.

Chlamydia: One in two people in the US has it, so you have a 50% chance of contracting this awful bacteria which is the most common STD in the US right now. Like gonorrhea, which is also “curable” it leaves 20-25% of women sterile after only one infections. Transmission to a baby during bright causes serious infections in the infant.

HPV (human papillo virus) There is no cure for this one. It causes venereal warts which last a lifetime. These increase the risk of uterine and certical cancer, and cancer of the penis in men. There is no such thing as “safe sex”. 300,000 of these little viral critters fit into the period at the end of this sentence. How much accidental contact is it going to take to cause an infection? It’s a virus. It will infect everybody it comes into contact with.

Herpes: Both Herpes Type 1 and Type 2 are on the increase and are no longer limited to just the lips, or just the genital area. Both types are found in both places. If is uncurable and results in repeated outbreaks of not one, but dozens of fever-blister-like sores in the most private of places. A mother who has an active case of herpes must have her baby by Ceserean section because if she has a vaginal biurth, the baby bears a 50% chance of contracting herpes, and 50% of the babies who get it, die, in spite of treatment.

This is the number 1 public health problem in the nation, although the rate is going down every week between 70 and 120 Utah teens gets pregnancy.

In 1989, one in every 4-5 babies born in the US was born to a single mother. By 1995, if was 1 in 3.

1/3 of all abortions are performed on teenagers. In Utah in 1991, 18% of pregnant teens chose abortion. Very few chose adoption.

Pregnancy before agte 18:
Increases the risk of birth injury to the baby 5 times.
Doubles the risk of toxemia (pregnancy-induced hypertension)
Doubles the risk of the baby dying.
Increases the divorce rate for pregnant couples who marry 3 times.
Only 6% of teen fathers take any responsibility financially or any other way for their babies.
It costs the government $68.5 million a day to help families whose first child was born during the teen years or without marriage.

Over 90% who do not abort the pregnancy, keep the babies and raise them in poverty. A high percentage of our nation’s children are being raised by uneducated, single mothers, living in poverty. Some children are abused or neglected by mothers too young to understand their responsibility. And those mothers have given up their youth, their proms, their high school graduation, etc. And they have a baby not sealed in the covenant.

Guys will give “love” in order to get sex. Girls will give sex in order to get “love”. Sex is not love and is a shabby substitution for it. A girl or guy needs to “prove their love” like a moose needs a hatrack. No definition of “love” includes exploitation of the other person, or insisting upon destroying that person physically, emotionally, financially, educationally, or spiritually. True love is protective.

Most birth defects are not controllable. Some are. A baby is born with a birth defect every 2 minutes. The most common question in the delivery room is: “Doctor, is my baby alright?” In one out of every 13 cases, the answer is “no.”

The saddest birth defects that our nations children have to live with are those 100% preventable defects caused by their parents.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (leading cause of mental retardation in the U.S.)
Prematurity due to sexually transmitted disease, or teen mother.
Small for gestational age babies because of maternal smoking
Addicted babies born to addicted mothers.

One neonatologist calls these behaviors ‘the earliest forms of child abuse’.


So, I rented Hard Candy last night. Interesting movie – a “tables turned” scenario in which the predatory pedophile photographer becomes the victim of the protagonist fourteen-year-old putative victim. She tortures him, subjects him to a pseudo-castration, and eventually coerces him into suicide. She’s the hero.

And it struck me – this is the essence of sado-porn. Anything is acceptable, given the right context. We’re supposed to be cheering for the young heroine, as she drugs the adult man, ties him down, plays out what he believes is a castration surgery, and then pretends to dispose of his testicles in the garbage disposal. Watching this movie, it’s apparent that any act, no matter how grotesque, sadistic, or violent can be not only acceptable, but laudable. The audience, horrified at the depravity of the victim, is supposed to cheer.

More overtly horrifying examples of contextual manipulation come to mind. The Sharon Tate murder, for example, or the social milieu that must have made Auschwitz possible, or perhaps the gassing of the Kurds, or Pol Pot’s antics in Cambodia; horrifying acts deemed laudable within a carefully created context.

Any given act can be considered socially desirable, given the right context: the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oklahoma City or the World Trade Center.

The destruction of Iraq, the corrosive impact of the Homeland Security Act, or the election of a petty, brutal little man to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world.

What separates the heroes and the villains? When does is an act of sadistic aggression, or wholesale destruction, become unacceptable, regardless of provocation? Apparently, the answer is never. When pushed sufficiently to the edge, any act becomes acceptable.

If this premise is accepted by a sufficiently large group of people, then they are fodder for manipulation. So long as there is a sufficiently persuasive despot who can instill a sufficient degree of fear and paranoia, any act of aggression can be recast as an act of self-defense.

The protagonist in Hard Candy is afforded the license of the righteous victim, and we identify with her.

A movie is such a little thing, isn’t it? A contrived scenario, whose purpose is to titillate, or entertain. This is just one little piece of sado-porn: extreme dehumanization of a dehumanizing villain. But this is the same phenomenon that promotes genocide – we only find the impulse laudable, because of the context from which we are viewing it.

This is the point on which there is no separation between the political right and the political left – no-one questions the process, only the context in which the impulse to objectify and destroy the villain is employed. Both parties condone vigilante justice, so long as they can identify with their respective victims, and the context in which victimization is viewed can be manipulated to justify a like response.

And until we recognize this, the substantive differences between political philosophies amount to so much window-dressing.

Link to long Switters thread on Wag.

81 Replies!

Well, maybe half of those are mine, but still!


Anon and "Misterioso" were priceless. Thanks guys! [Shaking head in wonder]

The end of my dream.

I’ve lost a day or two. Life has been unusually stressful, and I’ve regressed – found ways to distract myself from things that (urgently) need doing. In the mean time – mom’s chemotherapy (insulin-potentiated – lower doses of the same drugs, but not covered by insurance or Medicare, because it’s “experimental”) has left her so anemic her doc is urgently pressing for a blood transfusion. (She refuses – doesn’t trust the blood supply. We might be able to talk her into family donations, once we all figure out what our blood types are.)

So, I’ve been finding increasingly creative ways to keep from doing my work, but still not sleeping much, of course. And tonight I fell asleep in front of my computer.

And had a prolonged dream – I remember it was so vivid (that’s the nicotine patches giving a shout-out I’m sure – the damn things really throw slumberland into Technicolor). I can’t remember most of it, except it’s intensity.

But I remember the end of my dream. I’m leaving my house – not the one I just moved out of, or the one I just moved into, but the one we lived in before; The one where the memories were good - twelve or thirteen years of good memories. We were usually broke, and we faced real challenges – my daughter’s infant health problems, the years of fertility treatments, the majority of my graduate school. But we had good times, too – my wife and I playing “Mickey’s World of Illusion” until late into the night, after we’d bought the Genesis for my son, or the Canasta marathons, or twelve thousand showings of The Brave Little Toaster, my son’s favorite movie.

My wife threw me a surprise birthday party in that house once – invited my faculty mentors, my friends from graduate school, and my family. She threw some Halloween parties there too – games for the kids and their parents (like, donuts hanging from the ceiling, and couples vying to be first to eat theirs – with their hands ties behind their back). I miss her, the way she was back then. I miss her air of openness, and innocence, and playfulness.

But that was before the hardest years – the years when she was missing, much of the time. I’d get the call from my son, first once or twice a week, then every day, and later, her absence was communicated in silent commentary. First she’d call and say she was on her way home (but never arrive), then she’d say she was going out for “ a little while”, and later, she quit calling altogether. I remember sitting with my son, in the cab of the U-haul truck, after we’d moved her into an apartment, saying “She’s excited” with a confused, hurt look on his face.

I remember how he resisted, when she asked to come home again. I was more conflicted, but I was also afraid she’d be dead soon, if I didn’t take her back. I remember how hard it was to try to put all of the hurt behind us, and heal the parts of our relationship that’d suffered so much. And I remembered how it felt, when she projected base motives on my attempts to reconcile, and my gradual acquiescence into the role of a eunuch martyr – no wants, no desires, and no real self.

The end of my dream: I’m leaving my house, in the afternoon. My wife is sad, but not talking about it much. My daughter is out back, sitting on a hammock we never had, acting peculiarly calm, but with that sadness I can always feel under the surface. I play the father role, saying goodbye to her – telling her I’ll miss her, but that I’ll be seeing her often. And I maintain it until I get around the hedge (which I tore out about our third year there – replaced with a chain-link fence I put up myself), and as I approached my car, I started to sob – quietly, at first, but then louder. I couldn’t stop. I just kept sobbing until I woke up.

That’s what I’ve been running away from this last two days – God, I miss her, my beautiful, compassionate, spitfire of a little girl. And I’ll miss my petite, energetically idiosyncratic and otherworldly mother. I miss my wife, before shame (both old and new) transformed her fierce love for her children, and husband, into brittle anger, and stifled whatever openness she’d managed to hold on to. I miss my son, when he was innocent, and his wounds were more obvious – less buried under the guise of teenage sarcasm and angst. I miss all those things we shared together as a family – the sense of shared purpose, and care for each other. I kept our family together for years and years. It nearly killed me. And I nearly never noticed.

Thank God I woke up, but waking up also means noticing how much I’ve lost – how much we've all lost.

I just nodded off there for a day or two – too sad to acknowledge it. But now I’m back.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Please pardon the rather sparse surroundings.

I've switched to Beta blogger (had to do it the hard way - free up the old URL, so I could snatch it up again). I'll have things switched over pronto.