Sunday, August 19, 2007

Places to go, people to see, things to do...

I've got a life to go and live.

In deference to my compulsivity, I've deleted my sitemeter and turned off comments. Friends are always welcome to email.

Dissatisfaction is a limited currency I've siphoned off too often, rather than employed to more tangible, satisfying ends. But I've other projects afoot which require my attention, and investment.

Best wishes,


Monday, August 13, 2007

A quick couple of (other people's) thoughts on identity.

My favorite scripture:

For what is inside of you is what is outside of you,
and the one who fashions you on the outside
is the one who shaped the inside of you.
And what you see outside of you, you see inside of you;
it is visible and it is your garment.

Thunder, Perfect Mind
Nag Hammadi library

What a lovely description of the parallel between identity and world view.

It's taken out of context, however:

You who are vanquished, judge them (who vanquish you)
before they give judgment against you,
because the judge and partiality exist in you.
If you are condemned by this one, who will acquit you?
Or, if you are acquitted by him, who will be able to detain you?
For what is inside of you is what is outside of you,
and the one who fashions you on the outside
is the one who shaped the inside of you.
And what you see outside of you, you see inside of you;
it is visible and it is your garment.

Scriptural tips on identity preservation.

I'm not too hip on King James, but the Gnostics were wise.

We are constructs.

The Reckoning

All profits disappear: the gain
Of ease, the hoarded, secret sum;
And now grim digits of old pain
Return to litter up our home.

We hunt the cause of ruin, add,
Subtract, and put ourselves in pawn;
For all our scratching on the pad,
We cannot trace the error down.

What we are seeking is a fare
One way, a chance to be secure:
The lack that keeps us what we are,
The penny that usurps the poor.

Theodore Roethke

I'll probably be out for a few days.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Feeling nostalgic.

There's nothing like feeling stymied by circumstance that makes me nostalgic for the days when everything in the world seemed fresh and full of possibility; I've been too busy lately.

There are a number of us (my friends and I) who are mid-transition. I see ThyGoddess has left a cryptic farewell on her blog (which I trust is a good thing), and I've been wondering if it's time to try something different myself. I'm indecisive - not really ready/prepared to say goodbye, just acknowledging that I'm not around much, and I'm unlikely to be around much for awhile. If I want things to be different than they have been, though, I have to do differently than I have done.

Anyhow, I may not make it back for awhile. In the meantime, though, I did borrow my son's camera so I could snap a few photos as I've been traveling around. I thought I'd post a few of them here, so my friends would know where I've been.

Pony Express Trail Road (note the good quality of the road, Arch).

Boulder Mountain (actually a plateau - up the side, then on top).

Vacation with the kids [the fire dancers (from the Illuminares festival) were taken by a friend with a better camera].

See ya' around.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eight airports, six airplanes...

300 highway miles, 200 off-road miles, in three days: sometimes, life is brutal.

The airline hub system, for all its convenience, leaves something to be desired - bad weather in Minneapolis suddenly means flight delays all over the country. My airline most resembling the Keystone Cops award? Delta: they changed a gate from here, to there, back to here, back to there.

Gate Agent: All I'm trying to find out is what flight’s at C32?

Whoever gate agents talk to: No. C32 is on G42.

Gate Agent: I'm not asking you who's on G42.

Whoever gate agents talk to: G42’s on C32.

Gate Agent: One gate at a time!

Whoever gate agents talk to: Well, don't change the gates around.

Gate Agent: I'm not changing nothing!

Whoever gate agents talk to: Take it easy, buddy.

Gate Agent: I'm only asking you, what flight’s on c56?

Whoever gate agents talk to: That's right.

Gate Agent: Ok.

Whoever gate agents talk to: All right.

On the other hand, I was driving along the shore of Lake Superior yesterday morning,

and spent my late afternoon here:

How many people are lucky enough to experience a juxtaposition like that in a single day?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

July 4th, 2007: How we miss the problems of yesteryear.

The Republic is in piss-poor shape. Whatever little moral authority the US had continues to erode under the stewardship of a duplicitous and corrupt administration, gas prices are up, the fault lines under the economic landscape are rumbling, our enemies continue to coalesce against us (being provided with a baffling kind of encouragement that has proven this administration's trademark), there are distressing indications that our environment might (maybe) be warming up in a potentially catastrophic way, and we recently finished one of the most unexciting NBA finals in history. People have lost such fate in our government that a shocking number of them seem to believe that the CIA (or somebody) framed Al Qaeda, and flew those damn planes into the WTC themselves. I don’t even want to know how many people still believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. And I have yet to find a candidate I feel enthusiastic about.

But frankly, we’ve lived in a time of unparalleled prosperity. This nation has survived the horrors of the civil war, two world wars, Vietnam and the cold war. We never had to live with the horrors of the dust bowl, or the depression. We complain about the shocking cost of a form of medical care our ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed of, the high price of petrol (which, when inflation-adjusted, actually looks pretty damn affordable), and the loss of US business supremacy in a world whose economy dwarfs whatever came before. We continue our national struggles with racism, sexism, and classism in a country where I can still order more calories from the dollar menu at the local fast food joint than many people see in an entire day.

We may never have had it so good. So from where does this perception of deprivation arise? My guess is that its related to a media-advertising driven capitalism where competition for our collective attention is fiercely fought, and sensationalism and catastrophe are pandered in the service of selling you cheeseburgers and automobiles. That I'd even suggest such a problem is a testament to the opulence of the times.

But I would like to encourage everyone to take a step back, today, and consider: things may never have been better than they are right now. Today is the good old days of tomorrow, and people will look back through rosy-hued lenses, and share fond memories of the times when the watermelons sliced at the annual picnic still had rounded corners. Though the nature of our struggles continues to evolve and the problems we face may be dire, that we continue to struggle should come as no surprise – we always have, and we always will.

As proof that things are not much different today than they were fifty years ago, I bring you a song: The Merry Minuet. Sheldon Hamick wrote the song in 1958, and the Kingston Trio released their rendition in 1959 – 48 years ago. My brother and I memorized the words and used to sing it on car trips in the early seventies. Listen to the lyrics and share with me a little nostalgia about the worldwide problems of days past – and today.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why yes, as a matter of fact, I AM too sexy for my shirt!

Catnapping did me the singular honor of dedicating an illustration to me on Wikifray.

Chrysippus crow
saved up his loot,
and bought hisself
a brand new suit.

A slave to fashion,
this dandy fella
found one that came with
a matching umbrella.

How she knew about my weakness for animal print, I can't begin to imagine.

I'm at a loss for words. [An extraordinarily rare event!]. Thanks, Catnapping!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Paranoia about feeds

Hmm. Beleaguered at work these days and not inclined to write too much. Also not inclined to get around too much, but like to keep tabs on things occasionally. Something did catch my attention today on my comment feed (well two things, really, though the first one was just a curiosity thing – on the aggregator I use, you can’t tell who is saying what to whom). I clicked out off of the aggregated feed and the person owning the blog I was visiting wrote a lengthy post referring (in an unhappy way) to my visit. I wrote a long response, but he’s since packed up all his toys and gone home, I guess.

I’m not inclined to get into it too much unless he wants to discuss things here. So dude, the floor is yours if you want it (if you visit here)*.

In the mean time, (another) word about feebite: it’s an aggregator. You can use it in handy ways if you want to feed comments or posts from one place to another (for example, on wiki it’s used to aggregate comments from various contributor blogs onto a dummy blog, and then that’s fed back to wiki’s front page). Here, I’m using it if anyone wants to leave a comment on one of my posts and not have it show up on wiki (it also, FYI, has the advantage of having truly anonymous comments – no IP logging to match comments to). So far, nobody’s chosen to use it but me. (I’m thinking I’ll keep it there anyway, however, since Feedbite actually started allowing anonymous comments in response to something I’d said.).

If aggregators bother you, then you can easily toggle your feeds to the “off” position (Go to the “settings” section of your blog and hit the “site feed” tab). If you don’t like people reading what you’re saying without being able to see them (on an IP logger) but are ok if someone wants to include you in an aggregator (which is handy, if you don’t want to bother running off to check everybody’s blog individually to see if they’re saying anything), you can choose “short” feeds (first couple of lines). Then, people can there’s action, but to read the entire comment or post they have to click to your blog and you’ll see who’s reading. A number of wiki contributors have done this.

If people reading what you’re writing bothers you on this public and eminently accessible internet, then I don’t know what to tell you. It does make me wonder what it is you think you’re up to when you’re blogging, however.

Beyond that, I dunno what to say. If people want to be “sneaky” (and some do), they use an anonymous IP portal**. If I were inclined to be “sneaky”, then I wouldn’t bother clicking to someone’s page through the aggregated feed. I did “hide” it awhile back, though, when I found out (actually, someone else found out) they’re accessible through search engines. Now the feed is not. I am aware, however, that “hiding” doesn’t mean making something inaccessible (can be backtracked through the referring link).

All the above aside, relationships formed through online interaction are certainly interesting, no? So easy to take offense (and give it), when you’re not looking at the person you’re interacting with. This is the third time someone has reacted vehemently to having their blog on my (now hidden, accessed by no-one but me unless backtracked to) feedbite aggregator.

Is it paranoia, ignorance, or are feeds really offensive in some way I can’t fathom?

I’m inclined to write more about online relationships at some point, but only when I get a little more time. In the mean time, I kind’ve hope people have me on comment feed and will see I’ve posted. Otherwise, pretty much the only people visiting here are coming off a google image search (“Caribbean sunset”, if you’re curious), and I’m just muttering to myself. Again.

*Or email me and I’ll send it to you. [I’m one of those people who keep their email address accessible through their profile, you know?]

**Funny, those – even they can give some hints about the person visiting. For example, language can be listed “English, US” or “English, UK”. I was getting a lot of those latter ones for awhile, but they’ve dropped right off, which either means whomever was using it stopped visiting or they’re using an aggregator of their own (not like I really care).

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kilgore Trout, R.I.P.

There are few human beings that make me proud to be a member of the same species. The foremost among them died today.

Kurt Vonnegut is in heaven now*, and the world is a little sadder, and darker, and things make a little less sense.

*If you don't know the quote, don't bother telling me about his humanism/atheism.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Welcome to the machine, son.

My son (18) sent me a text from work today (target, pronounced "Tarzhay" for all you plebes):

Hope coffee with [my friend, in town fr. Southern Utah] went well, just on lunch. So damn sick of easter crap lol. Sold one of those scam credit cards today, managers seem pleased.

My son discovered the interest rate on those credit cards the other day - he was genuinely shocked (which made me feel all optimistic about his future financial well-being).

My reply:

Coffee was great. Glad to hear your evil corporate masters are pleased with your participation in the commercial blasphemy of this pagan, er, Christian holiday. Does Walmart have a credit card? [Bwaahahahahaaa!]

All hail the machine!
y-chromosome donor parental unit

I'm also starting to get all hopeful about the odds he'll attend (and graduate) college next year - only college students and graduates get to make jokes about evil American corporate empires and laugh without sounding rueful. [Crossing my fingers, as I type with one hand]

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Mmmmmm - Fuzzy Gams.

This post initially written as a reponse to this post on the incomparable DawnCoyote's blog, but since it's considered rude to post a multipage comment, I thought I'd shuffle it over here and link to it instead. Her post was actually a followup to this thread on Wikifray (dizzy yet?).

Anyhoo, here 'tis.

When I was in high school, I dated a girl for a while who was a little hirsute. Her cheeks were covered in peach fuzz (not whiskers), and I found the idea of all those follicles, with the sensitivity to touch their presence implied, undeniably hot. She didn’t appreciate it at all when I mentioned my appreciation to her. What a lost opportunity! She’s probably availed herself of the laser by now, and she may never know what she was missing. [I’ve a friend who is transgendered. She talked once about the impact hormone therapy exerted on tactile sensation. She said her entire skin had turned into a giant sex organ.]

All those follicles, all that promise, unacknowledged – suppressed in a shame response dictated by internalization of sexist ideals that, from where I was coming from, didn’t even begin to make sense. What a shame - we could’ve had such fun! She was a Pentecostal, which was a rare bird in Provo Utah in the early eighties. I went to church with her, a couple of times. It was, uhm, enlightening.

Acknowledged ambivalence is a sign of psychological maturity, dear. Confidence either means you’ve thought things through enough you were able to reconcile it comfortably, or you’ve refused to think about it, and you can confidently play out your feelings of ambivalence over time – flip-flopping on issues, rather than maintaining a nuanced impression that has simultaneous desirable and undesirable qualities. Moral conviction is a form of confidence; God save me from morally resolute deniers.

Reading the blamers IS uncomfortable, especially for us penis-wielding types. Reading through that thread, there are some uncomfortable points well made. Though I have made the argument that sexism impacts men as well as women, one commenter notes the implications of such impact are on the order of inconvenience, versus raping/killing, etc. While I might be inclined to argue there’s an underestimation of impact there (thinking about the venerable manly tradition of honorable placement in dangerous situations, such as military service), I must say that in most circumstances, the point is apt.

It seems that the radical feminists only concern themselves with one part of what, for most, is actually a two-part argument. In addition to recognizing and discussing remedies for the various ways in which women are subjugated and objectified, there’s the question about what you, yourself are going to do about it (I think the radfem position is that answer to the second question is identical to the first). So, a woman who was objectified and disempowered, but who has learned to wield the power ceded by men in the course of that objectification, has more to give up than your run-of-the-mill hirsute, uncomely lesbian. Attractive women then get it from both sides – objectified and shamed because of the power they hold (though really given) over men, and shamed for availing themselves of that power. It’s a no-win for the “hot babes” of the world. What a blessing to be born in a physically awkward, esthetically unpleasant and sexually repugnant body! It adds a certain clean simplicity to your life, and you never have to question whether or not the person you’re with is with you for your looks, or “who you are.”

There is something about the blamers that bothers me, though, and it’s the same thing that turns the feminism/attractiveness thing into a no-winner for someone who is both desirable and progressively thoughtful. When you quit with the boy/girl game playing – quit wearing makeup, fixing your hair, dressing provocatively etc., the central theme in your life continued to be the manner in which men looked at you/treated you. It’s the flip side of the same coin – avoidance vs. embracing. But that continues to be a morally inferior position, in the same way that teetotalers continue to be vulnerable to alcohol, or preachers vulnerable to immoral behavior. By continuing to rail against the patriarchy, the blamers continue to reinforce the concept of a patriarchy. We’ll know we’ve gotten past this, as a culture, when the idea of a patriarchy no longer makes sense - just like you’ll know you’ve gotten past the sexism thing when you make decisions about your manner of dress, or behavior, with complete disregard for the behavior of others.

Your description of the man looking at you is telling. This guy wasn’t content with esthetic appreciation, it was a dominance move – he wanted you to know. So that really is a violation, albeit a subtle one. Guys are well aware they are doing this (and actually do something similar in spirit to other guys, though the message in that case is threat/dominance). Responding to that gaze with returned hunger, or anger, fear or disgust feeds the intent behind it – a sexualized dominance move. What does one do about such a provocation? I don’t know the answer, unless it is to remain indifferent. It strikes me that indifference is the proof you’ve either not internalized the gaze, or you’ve grown past that internalization. Confidence means you no longer have to feel threatened.

[Maybe martial arts classes?]

But all that being said, there’s no denying the appeal of the objectification – the appeal of the power in an involuntary response, reinforcing the idea that I am so potent/hot, that people cannot help but respond to me: the appeal of being able to avoid vulnerability while in an intimate position. There is a slavering, hungering part of me that would like to see you squirming like a bug on a pin, overwhelmed by the intensity of your arousal as you sit looking at porn, or thinking of me – objectifying me in the same manner I might want to objectify you. Is this my inner-misogynist rearing his ugly, Neanderthal-like head? Or is this merely my limbic system reminding me of the undeniable procreative imperative, for the moment circumventing the modulating effect of my cortex and jolting me with the raw energy of promised biological satiation?

Hard to say, though denying that this aspect of your post is hot hardly seems like a solution to me. Denial is not liberating. Denial is a conscious abdication, in the face of overwhelming challenge; If denial is what the blamers advocate, then they have also become part of the problem. We’ll recognize the viability of a solution when acceptance of a mindset means the problem no longer makes sense.

I think the blamers are also invested in the Patriarchy. Railing against it gives them power – a power they’d lose if the patriarchy vanished. I don’t think they want to give up their titillating rebellion, any more than many Christians want to give up on Evil – evil can create or intensify so much fun! Part of the intense charge in “progressive” sex is the idea that you’re engaging in something that might be considered shameful. The intensity of the moment when the minister yields to the wiles of the vixen parishioner far surpasses the intensity of (perhaps stale) marital conjugation – now imagine the intensity of you add sodomy to the menu! I’m afraid to speculate what the analogue might be in the community of blamers (or at least afraid to voice my speculations – insert tacky porn soundtrack here).

Christian erotica, eh? I’m glad there are Christians able to acknowledge the virtues of tingly body parts. I’m sort of fond of Christians, and some of what they say makes sense. ”By their fruits ye shall know them” is one that strikes me as helpful, from time to time. One of the fruits of the patriarchy is the forbidden one – an idea that’s provided at least as much titillation and entertainment as shame. But the fruits of the patriarchy are too-often bitter. The fruits of the blamers - arguments like eliminating men from humanity - strike me as fruit both sour and foul. Objectification indeed.

Embracing the tactics of ones opponent is hardly consistent with the pursuit of a morally superior position.

Bondage gear?

PS. If I get aroused when I see the brilliance of someone’s mind, or am taken with the eloquence of their poetry or prose, am I objectifying them? Not like I’m going to make a conscious effort to avoid any sexualized appreciation, or anything – just curious about your thoughts.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Anonymous Commenting on FeedBite!

So I got an anonymous comment on my last post stating they would add an option for anonymous commenting on Feedbite. I said I'd stick with it, so long as they added that feature and did not require registration.

And they did!

How often do you get responsiveness like that?

So, the feature stays - use it to make comments that don't appear on Wikifray, or content yourself with the knowledge you could, if you wanted to.

How could I remove the feature after that stunning display of client service?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Going, going....

So, after hearing some disgruntled comments about comments appearing on wikifray, I set up the Feedbite links below. Since then, the number of people who've used the links to leave comments without appearing on wikifray is...


Of course, it's entirely possible I haven't written anything worth commenting on. Still, I think it's going to have to go.

Last chance: list your objections (on feedbite is fine with me), if you have them. If not, why waste the space?

I heard my ornithologist friend was visiting Southern Utah this year,

so I offered to consult my parents on the topic of birds to watch for (my parents are avid birdwatchers). I spoke to them last night, after taking my children down for dinner.

My mother took her well-worn, dog-eared and note-filled copy of “Birds of North America” (some early 1960’s edition, I’m sure) with her whenever we were traveling. “Oooh, oooh, stop the car! It’s a Lazuli Bunting!" was a common enough exclamation whenever we were on a car trip, or taking a drive up one of the canyons. Or going to the dentist; perpetually late, mom never hesitated to stop the car and admire some rare avian or another. Dad accommodated when he could, I think more in appreciation of her enthusiasm than to see whatever she’d spied (my brother and I were less appreciative. Not being in control of the car, however, there was little we could do about it). There is always at least one set of binoculars in the glovebox of my parents’ car.

So they were happy to suggest my friend visit Lytle Ranch, if at all possible, in Southwestern Utah. There are migratory birds there that can be seen nowhere else in the state (and few places elsewhere, apparently). Dad suggested my friend watch for Hooded Orioles and Phainopepla. Mom directed me to the local birder website, where one can find not only a Lytle Ranch fieldguide, but guides to various other locations as well.

I remember mom directing my attention to hovering kestrels, Blue Herons, teaching me the difference between a scrub jay and a Stellar’s jay, pointing out the differences between the silhouette of a hawk versus an eagle in flight, and shocking various houseguests with her freezer full of brightly plumed birds which had brained themselves on their plate windows. She put me on the lookout for burrowing owls, when I visit the west desert, and was quick to note the sighting of a nest of barn owls on a route I frequently take (I believe I saw one, taking off suddenly from a fencepost as I drove past. Mostly, it left the impression of something very, very big winging away in a flurry of abrupt motion).

Mom got the results from her latest CT scan yesterday. The nodule on her lung, which had been dormant, perhaps due to her efforts (IV vitamin C, radical diet stuff) has grown from 8 mm to over 2 cm, and smaller ones have proliferated. She’s weighing her options, and considering a trip to a clinic in Mexico. She’s no more spare lung to take – they’ve taken lower lobes on both sides already.

It’s impossible to anticipate the permanent absence of someone who has always been there. Mom hovers around the periphery of things most of the time, swooping in to take center stage at only the most unfortunate moments, when she wants to share something with her grandchildren: something they will neither understand nor appreciate, though I hoped they’d eventually come to recognize the value of her desire to share, across that peculiar gulf that seems to separate my mother from the vast majority of people. She harnesses more intellectual firepower than my father, and has only learned late in life to temper her enthusiastic desire to share whatever obscure passion she happens to be pursuing: not so much out of respect for the listener’s limitations, but more as the late-learned impact of her eccentricity on her relationships.

She has a brightly burning mind, and her lack of appreciation of larger society is more than counterbalanced by the intensity of her examination of the areas in which she finds satisfaction. It is difficult for me to imagine how such a thing could be extinguished, and all the insights, observations and trivia will fall silent, except in the memories of the people who love her.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

So this is a Nor’easter

I’m impressed. I’m also snowbound, and my flight’s been cancelled.

It took me over two hours this afternoon to make the return leg of a trip I’d made in 20 minutes this morning.

I was able to order a pizza earlier tonight; neither rain, nor sleet, nor blizzard will daunt the intrepid Domino’s man. I went out to the lobby area of my motel a little while later, and saw a couple of people had persuaded the desk manager to break out some of their continental breakfast supplies. I gave them the rest of the pie, so I got to feel like a good guy after feeling like a bad guy (for eating pizza). If this kept up for three weeks, I wonder if Donner-like strategies would start occuring to people.

Impressive accumulations – I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get out of here. I’m reluctant to give up my little motel room, but I may end up staying in the airport, if the flight scheduled for tomorrow afternoon ends up getting cancelled after I surrender my card key and rental car.

I hope the power holds out.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Doesn’t everybody diet in the Spring?

I lost a lot of weight awhile back, but I’ve some of it back on (you know, stress, domestic laziness, tobacco-abstinent), so I’m back on the diet bandwagon in anticipation of summer.

I lost all my weight before by refusing to diet (though I didn't have much time to exercise, either). I decided diets are all about satiety, so I took all of the simple carbs away (incl. White flour, though I’ll continue to eat whole wheat flour), and most of the fats. I decided my body needed to reacquaint itself with glycogen production and utilization, and sugars were the absolute worst thing I could eat.

Splenda had just come out, and I developed a set of recipes that proved to be tremendously helpful. This was my most successful – I ate about a thousand of these (gotta’ have something to grab on the go, or when I’m craving carbs/have the munchies, etc.).

Killer diet bran muffins

Break up two bananas and microwave for two minutes. Mash with fork.
Add: 2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 ¼ cups milk
three beaten eggs (egg substitute works fine)
Two cups all bran cereal
½ cup TVP (of the “Bob’s Red Mill” variety)
Raisins to suit
Let soak for a couple of minutes

Add 1 ¼ cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup (or more, if you like them sweeter) Splenda
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Cinnamon to cover the top of the bowl

Use cooking spray (preferably the “baking” variety with the added flour) and fill a dozen muffin cups (a little overfull is fine). Bake at 400 for about 25 minutes.

Particularly tasty with some of that liquid butter-substitute, hot out of the oven.

These muffins need to be refrigerated (sugar acts a little like a preservative, apparently, because these will mold in a couple days if left out).

Can substitute dried cranberries or diced apple (or both) for raisins.

I’ll figure out the protein / carbs later, but trust me when I say: they’ll do the trick when you’re jonesing for carbs (particularly if you make them a little on the sweet side), and when you’ve eaten one you feel like you’ve eaten something.

I love TVP: instant protein (satiety, remember?) and you can slip it into a lot of things. I’d add equal amounts TVP and water to oatmeal while I was cooking it (hardly notice it, especially if you’re adding Splenda, Raisins and Cinnamon) – about ¼ cup (each) per serving.

Another (I made again last night) is…

Fat-Free Clam Dip

1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1 cup fat free sour cream (gotta’ be the brand in the cow-print container).
2 cans minced clams, mostly (but not completely) drained.
Worcester sauce and Season Salt to taste (maybe a little regular salt, if the season salt is getting to be too much).

Sometimes for variety, I’d add a couple tablespoons of my favorite (sweet) chili sauce (Homade, which despite the evocatively inappropriate-seeming name, is available most everywhere).

Fantastic on cut vegetables.

I’ll post a couple pancake recipes later.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

[Note taped to the front door, at eye-level]

I'm taking a break from blogging, for a bit. There are some things in my life that require my attention, at the moment, and I find my engagement here is distracting from what I must do there.

I'll be back soon enough.

In the mean time, I'll leave you with something I linked in a comment to Schad on Wikifray - one of my favorite SouthPark moments.


Monday, February 12, 2007

A mall located about a mile from my house was the scene of a shooting: six people dead.

Earlier tonight, about a mile from my home, a man walked into a shopping mall and started shooting. At last report, there are six people dead (including the shooter) and several critically wounded. An off-duty police officer from a neighboring community was in the mall at the time, and shot and killed the man. No information yet on the shooter’s identity, or the identities of his victims.

At least 20 shots were fired, with the man stopping and reloading several times. It appears his primary weapon was a shotgun – the deadliest weapon at short range.

I’m glad I wasn’t eating dinner at Trolley Square tonight.

**CBS story, with a few more details, here, and here's another. The man was 18-years-old. I'm sure videogames will be blamed again.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

What war does to people.

[Disclosure - I found this quite disturbing].

We put people in situations where they end up making inhuman accomodations in order to survive; then we question their character, because they seem so dishonorable compared to what we'd like to believe we'd be, were we in their shoes.

In any case, it's very bad news for everybody involved.

I found it here (credit where it's due, and all that).

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

ParentingTrauma Revisited

The sky’s clear over Atlanta this afternoon, and as I land, I’m wondering how far Birmingham and Montgomery are from the Atlanta airport: nearly equidistant at about 150 miles, according to the mapping/gps software on my laptop. I wonder if I might ever take the time to visit some friends thereabouts, if they were receptive.

The sun’s down by the time I take off for Burlington, Vermont, where I understand it’s much colder. I’ll be taking the ferry across Lake Champlain tonight, and sleeping in New York. I’ll drive along Cumberland Bay, which always makes me think of my then three to five-year-old son sitting on my lap, watching “Shining Time Station”, while someone was singing about “Cumberland Downs.” Memories of my children always seem kind’ve sad, these days. I miss the times when my son was small enough to sit on my lap (he towers over me, these days). I love him just as much now, but you get to be closer to them when they’re younger. My daughter is much more petite, and almost fits on my lap still at 13. But she’s growing up, and the times of watching television with my arm cradling around her are about over.

When my children were young, I was a much more avid sports fan than I am now. It was the era of John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek, and I watched as many Jazz games as I could catch. Rick Majerus had come to the University of Utah, and quickly built a basketball dynasty, of sorts. During my second year of graduate school, the Jazz were looking particularly hot, and I had some reason to hope this might be the year they finally reached the championship. But I had a lot going on that year – I was still working a lot (medical education, mostly), the coursework during that second year was taxing, and I had a half-time internship at the University Counseling Center competing with all of my other obligations. Plus, my daughter was born that year. I didn’t have a lot of time to watch basketball.

We’d been trying to conceive for some time, and had finally graduated from Clomid to Metrodin – a significant escalation in the fertility follies, courtesy a new specialist; we joked my son was a gift from God (the odds against that pregnancy are pretty staggering), while my daughter was a (pricey) gift of modern medical science. From the time of her birth, though, her health was a little shaky (and still is). Her mother had been unable to breastfeed, and she had such horrid constipation on milk-based formula that we thought we’d try soy. The result was several months of diarrhea, and she wasn’t gaining weight like she should’ve. Talking it over with her pediatrician, we decided to switch back to a milk-based formula and give it another go.

There was a basketball game on that night we were going to change formulas again – I think we were playing the Rockets. I don’t remember with certainty, but what I do remember is the game went into triple-overtime. This turned out to be significant – I told my wife I’d go to the store and pick up some Similac after the game, but the game didn’t end until nearly midnight. My daughter had already had her last feeding and gone to bed. I brought a can home, and my aggravated wife said she’d make the switch in the morning.

My daughter was five months old at the time. She’d never had horrid colic like my son and was sleeping fairly well, though she’d wake up around 5 am. We’d make her a bottle, but were able to get her back down for a couple of hours with the assistance of a marvelous new invention: the battery-powered baby swing. When I went to work that morning, I didn’t think twice when I saw her asleep, rocking in her swing, because that’s what I saw every morning when I went to work. Her mom was nursing a cold. She was grateful for whatever extra sleep she could get.

I was working at the VA that day, and got a call from my wife at about 11:00 am. She’d been awakened by a phone call, and was puzzled our daughter hadn’t gotten fussy while she was talking. When she went to check on her, she was still in the swing, but her color had gone gray and she was horrified to find her only minimally responsive. When her mom picked her up, she found my daughter covered with a diarrhea of a peculiar character – orange jelly (which I learned soon thereafter is a grave symptom, in an infant). I told her to take her immediately to the doctor, but when she did, the doctor directed her immediately to the emergency room at the nearby children’s hospital; she didn’t dare wait for an ambulance. I met them there.

The immediate concern was an intestinal torsion (a section of bowel loops, crimping off both ends and cutting off blood supply - the bowel becomes necrotic very quickly), and an abdominal X-ray showed her bowels had shut down completely. They were able to revive her with oxygen, thankfully, though she was obviously in acute distress. Her mother was unable to tolerate the trauma, so I was the one holding my daughter’s hands during the medical tests that followed (the upper and lower GI studies being the most invasive), rocking her, singing to her, trying to comfort her.

By the time the lower GI was conducted, peristalsis had resumed (no torsion), which was a tremendous relief. Nobody could tell us what had happened, however. They performed a spinal tap to check for meningitis (negative). The ICU physician, a rather large and overwhelming man, was convinced she’d experienced what he called a “dive reflex” event and gone into shock (when some sea animals dive, their bodies expel the blood from, and shut down, their bowel). The gastroenterologists scoffed. We kept telling people about the change in formula, but nobody (including the gastroenterologists) gave any credence to the idea such a catastrophic medical event could’ve been due to an allergy.

They kept her in ICU for five days, without incident, and then on the medical unit for two more. Physicians consistently grilled my wife and I. They took samples of our formula and had them analyzed. Eventually, they decided she should just go home, but just to be on the safe side, they decided to challenge her with some Similac in the hospital before we took her. They gave her two teaspoons. In the course of about twenty minutes, I watched my daughter slip into unconsciousness again.

What I didn’t realize at the time, BTW, is that medical staff had become suspicious of us. It wasn’t until years later that I realized some of the questioning, and probably the lab analysis of our formula, were conducted not only as an investigation of my daughter’s condition, but also as the initial steps in an investigation of her parents. Someone was concerned about the possibility of Munchausen’s by proxy (in a stroke of amazing coincidence, I got some partial verification of this from the spouse of one of the treating physicians, who started in the same graduate program several years later). When we took her to an allergist, she was appalled by the amount of formula they used in their challenge. My take: they wanted to be absolutely sure, before they began lowering the boom on us.

My daughter had a milk-protein allergy, which (as is usually the case, apparently) also meant cross-reactivity to eggs, nuts and soy. We made her baby food ourselves, in the blender. She eventually outgrew the milk, egg and soy allergy, but we have reason to fear challenging her on nuts. Her allergist indicated this is the one she’d be least likely to outgrow, and when she was about eight, she ate some honey-nut cheerios at a neighbors house; her mouth and throat broke out in a mass of little sores and blisters. Also, while she was getting her abdominal X-ray during that crisis, they brought a young child into the same treatment room in anaphylaxis. She’d been in the waiting area for some unrelated reason, and a stranger had given her one of their peanut M&M’s. Our observation of that child’s distress left and the difficulty they had reviving her left quite an impression.

From a more detached perspective, the experience was instructive on a number of levels. I became involved in some cases of alleged Munchausen’s by Proxy several years later, and I soon realized the bullet I’d dodged not only so far as my daughter’s medical crisis was concerned, but also in the trauma of a hospital-instigated CPS investigation.

As I became more involved in cases of child abuse and neglect, I had ample reason (and opportunity) to reflect on (and observe) the nature and impact of abuse on children. If it were only the physical injury the child suffered, one would expect that many of the children from that hospital would be psychologically damaged by the experience of their medical treatment. Instead, what you find is children who are sometimes surprisingly well-adjusted who have experienced repetitive injury and medical trauma, while others who experience abuse-related injury of much less significance are often quite scarred. Medical treatment can be horribly invasive – my daughter’s certainly was. That it takes place in the larger context of caretaking seems to make all the difference.

A friend read my post the other day, in which I contrasted my daughter’s medical studies that day and sexual abuse, and asked about it – why I’d make such a contrast, or where such a thought had come from. I don’t know that I’ll ever really get past the trauma of that experience, but I’m not really sure I want to. Each day since has been a rare and precious gift.

I still find it staggering that I almost certainly owe her life to my appreciation of a basketball team, and a game that took a triple-overtime for the Jazz to win. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure – something about the importance of caring for the caretaker, or something, but I’m not gifted enough to articulate it.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Loose associations:

When words won’t suffice:

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck fuck.


Arousal/attribution ad nauseam: Few things demonstrate attachment as much as someone showing up on your blog and spouting epithets: just because they care enough to do so.

The opposite of love is indifference. The opposite of hate is indifference. How can anyone not understand the relationship between love and hate when there are so many divorced couples running around? Are they not paying attention?

Israel: I disagree – Israel does have the right to exist; it just doesn’t have the right to exist in, uhm, Israel. What we should have done: purchased Baja California for our Jewish friends and let them set up shop there. It would’ve benefited both Mexico and “New Israel” economically (and probably socially), and certainly stabilized things in the Middle East.

Besides – wouldn’t you rather live in Baja? It’s not too late – they could start building settlements next week*!

Online relationships: There is no reason to believe they are not just as potent as flesh/blood relationships. Projection vs. perception: These days, I’m in the perception camp. While on the one hand you might think the unidimensional quality of online interaction means the degree of projection going on dramatically increases, it’s possible that much of what’s absent is noise and distraction.

Perception, though, is a tricky thing. I see people rubbing each other the wrong way in a dramatic way, and it’s pretty clearly related to feelings of kinship they wish they didn’t have. See above point on arousal/attribution.

Writing posts: I think writing posts is like catching a wave: timing and momentum are critical. You know how you can feel a post coalescing in the back of your head? You observe something and then it percolates on the backburner for awhile, until suddenly you can smell a fine stew being cooked up.

For me, lately, this has been happening while I’m driving – like, on extended road trips. I’m either going to have to start dictating, however, or cultivate a way of remembering the momentum, along with the ideas. By the time I get around to writing, I’m stuck with a bunch of half-baked concepts and a hollow bewilderment surrounding what, exactly, I had been thinking.

Which is why I haven’t posted anything on Wikifray in a month. And why I’ll be posting this. What’s one more off-topic, I figure?

Switters: I don’t get it. Not the humor, but the critics (and the critics of his defenders). That some find him unfunny: not surprising. The world has never lacked for concrete thinkers of the humor impaired variety. Think Switters unfunny? There’s plenty of room for differences in taste. Think Switters bigoted? That’s just insulting – also insulting to those of us who find him funny (guilt by appreciation?). One might find “The Protocols” funny, if one were of a particularly dark bent, and were able to find that level of paranoia and hate (and the people who promulgate it) funny. If one were to find it funny because of the arguments contained therein were funny, then that might mean something else.

Ghassan apparently doesn’t know how to distinguish the two.

What do you think Mel Brooks was laughing at? Or Vonnegut? They clearly thought something was funny. Are they anti-Semitic?

Online relationships part deux: We seem to be less forgiving of the foibles of people online than IRL. I think it’s easier to treat people badly when you never have to look them in the face. Also, we take a leap of faith when we interpret someone’s behavior. Silly to think some of those leaps aren’t misguided, but where’s the corrective mechanism? In person, I can see whether someone’s apology is accompanied by a frown, or a smirk.

Personal: Got my daughter for today and tomorrow. I took her out for brunch, and was subjected to her characteristic rapid-fire barrage of observations, stories and jokes. [Sample here.] It's always like that - I never tire of it. I marvel we’re genetically related at all. She just came in to share a funny line from her latest teen read; “What is it with you and Jesus: does he, like, turn you on?”

A couple of teens were caught making out in a church basement. “No kissing ‘till you’re eighteen” I say. “No way!” she shouts, so I respond “Fine! Twenty then!” and tickle her. It’s an old joke.

Spanking and abuse: Children, even infants, are incredibly perceptive. The difficulty with enforcing child abuse statutes is that it’s impossible to define abuse in an objective way. When my daughter was five months old, she was subjected to both an upper and lower GI. When my son was a toddler, I tripped while carrying him and he ended up with a mild concussion. The implications for these injuries are far different than if I’d smacked my son on the head with a frying pan, or had forced something up my infant daughter’s anus for purposes of some obscene gratification.

Anti-spanking legislation is just another example of priorities being set out of convenience. Child abuse statutes typically include physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and emotional maltreatment. You know how hard it is to substantiate a case of emotional maltreatment? In Utah, the only times I saw it happen were when a parent threatened suicide in front of their kid, and one particularly egregious case in which a preschool-aged girl actually began to identify herself using terms like “spoiled little cunt.” The damaging aspect of abuse – all abuse – is in the ephemeral “emotional maltreatment” dimension.

Short answer: parents modulate environmental input in such a way that children are not overwhelmed, and it is this role in which children internalize what they’re receiving as part of identity formation. Think about that for awhile, and then think about the implications of sexual abuse, or neglect (which is far more problematic, identity development-wise, than physical abuse). We learned to take care of ourselves like our parents were taking care of us. Psychopathology is a gift of love given to children by their parents. [Lorna Benjamin, again. That was a great class.]

Spanking, in itself, is not (in my opinion) problematic. From an ethical standpoint, I understand the argument; why should it be acceptable to treat a defenseless child in a manner that would result in criminal charges, if the victim were an adult?

The answer is: Why is it legally acceptable for that surgeon to slice open my abdomen, when the same behavior would land someone else in jail?

Context makes all the difference. I once had to soak a very antisocial guinea-pig’s paw in a mixture of Epsom-water and hydrogen peroxide every day for about a month [long story]. By the time the month was over, we’d bonded. Even that guinea pig got the difference. My kids didn’t like it when I took their Bandaids off, either. That they knew I was doing it as part of caretaking made all the difference.

But some people have an awfully peculiar and problematic take on what constitutes appropriate caretaking. And there’s the rub, isn’t it**?

*If a free-and-clear title to Baja were not an acceptable solution, I would wonder to what degree the concept of Israel’s right to exist had been pure varnish, to gloss over their desire to regain holy ground. This is a different position – one I believe is far less defensible.

**Could be a metaphor for editorial discretion on the Fray.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Terrible news...

I took a psychopathology class from a curmudgeonly and fascinating woman named Lorna Benjamin once. She wanted to change the world for the better. She was on a one-woman crusade to change the manner in which psychologists view psychopathology. She revived the concept of a circumplex model (this would be Tim Leary’s good idea – the one he didn’t pursue because he got, well, distracted). It’s a rare pleasure to be taking a class like that from someone who not only knows the material, but knows the material behind the material. Lorna was a tough cookie (and probably still is – the past tense is just because I haven’t seen her in over a decade). She didn’t graduate a student for years and years after she got there; picking her to chair your committee was reportedly the height of rash vanity.

Lorna spent one of her precious class periods talking about the meaning of life – a subject integral to the topic of psychopathology. She also spent time talking about the role of will in the development and course of psychopathology. It was her opinion that there are brilliant people walking around maintaining ego-integrity through sheer force of will. She may be right – I didn’t find out until years later that one of the most brilliant, compassionate and gifted therapists I worked with suffered from psychotic depression; nearly intractable psychotic depression, actually. She told me about it, sitting in her office one day. She told me about how the medication she took gave her migraines, and how sometimes it was a tough decision just to stay alive. Lorna knew her well – she may have been in that class with me. I confess I can’t remember. She was finishing as I was starting, so most of our overlap was subsequent, and in a different setting. Maybe I’ll write about her another time.

Lorna’s discussion about the meaning of life revolved around the pictures or her grandchildren she circulated around the class that day. My son was still a toddler, then. I talked about what it was like being a parent – anguish and ecstasy. Everything else has paled, in comparison.

So once I found the substance for my latest in a series of trite comments today, and came back to the blog to post it, I found Topazz’s message about Isonomist’s son – the 19-year-old son whose Leukemia had recently returned. Isonomist – a Fray friend, and someone I care for, and respect. Topazz related her son had a cerebral aneurysm today, and is not expected to live.

Perhaps it was related to his chemotherapy. Perhaps Leukemia predisposes one to aneurysm: I have no idea. All I know is my brave friend from New York, who has been facing the potential death of her son from leukemia, is now facing the imminent death of her son – a son she describes as brilliant and unique. A son she describes in the way I might describe my own son.

So, I’m grieving tonight for Isonomist, a good friend I’ve never met, and imagining the way I would feel were he my son, or daughter, and how one more death on this planet of billions can shake the universe from it’s moorings. And I’m trusting in her will, to keep her bound in the face of the most awful of pressures, even though she lose an essential piece of her being.

Everything that ever was remains crystallized in the fabric of the past, and the people we love remain connected to us – even when separated by distance, or time, or unbreachable gulf of circumstance, or even death: and continue to influence us because they’re never really gone from us – they’re part of who we are. And a comfort when they’re gone, I hope; seems a bond so strong should leave more than a void in absence.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I'm glad it's not just me.

I was going to write a post about this but I kept putting it off.

Oh well - maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The statistics for visitors from the last 1324 minutes are not yet available.

Sitemeter (the free version, anyhow) sucks. The longer I've had it, the longer my lag time has gotten. While I'm suspicious this might be related to where I fit on their priority list, being a free user and all, I'm also thinking this demonstration of their concern (or capability - does it matter which?) doesn't constitute a very persuasive appeal to upgrade my service.

I'm not that thrilled with Activemeter either, however. Anybody know any good alternatives?

New blog of the day.

Came across one from the comments section of Lentenstuffe's blog. Lovely writing, from the British informal school. She's a hoot.

Representative quote:
“First they came for the hairdressers, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a hairdresser.
Then they came for the Take Away owners, I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Take Away owner.
Then they came for me, but I had fucking starved to death with a 6ft afro”

So, I suggest you check out the serial insomniac at Stuff.

Since ZB's acquired this (temporary, I hope) most irritating habit of stuffing his fingers in his ears, squinching his eyes shut and shouting a litany of curses while he deletes my comments as quickly as I write them, I thought I'd quit banging my head against the proverbial wall and see who was saying what. Glad I did.

Pride is so unbecoming...

So, on Galatea's new blog, she posts the following haiku:

So few want the truth
I will take mine with candor
Never blanketed

To which I responded:

So few can balance
truth and sophistic critique
I’ll take flattery

Just thought I'd pretend to be highlighting Galatea's new blog, while really just showcasing my own supposed cleverness.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Land of the free...

Chalk one up against good ol' boy justice. Nah, there's negligible police and prosecutorial misconduct, right?

Sometimes I wonder which has cause more harm: evil-doers, or people who believe they are doing the noble thing? I'm confident not a single prosecutor or police officer believed they were convicting an innocent person - they just "bent the rules" a little to better protect the innocent, I'm sure.

It's a cultural epidemic, apparently.

I wonder how they would've felt if the person being convicted were a mountain gorrilla, instead of a (almost invariably) black man?

Empathy and shame are most peculiar things.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What is it about animals that makes this so sad?

I came across this today. Something about the innocence and trust of animals - kinship, but not so close as to trigger identification in a way that might get in the way [thinking about how people often seem more moved by the plight of animals than children].

If we're stewards, what kind of a job are we doing?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Nostalgic recycle: Axe-grinding Social Scientists

So, I haven’t really posted much lately – I’ve been busy, traveling, working etc. I decided that if my friends are going to continue visiting even when I’m dormant, however, I ought to put something out, in the spirit of being a good host and all. So, as I’m glancing through my laptop hard drive, I thought I’d throw a post or two up I was proud of. Here’s a blast from the past I wrote in response to this top-post by hiztoria. Just for a nostalgic diversion.

If science is one of the languages of racism, can we counter racism using only the language of ethics?

Scientists, knowingly or unwittingly, have provided empirical support for racist attitudes since undertaking the study of individual differences. From time to time, we look back and deconstruct the assumptions that led to those conclusions. Does brain size correlate with IQ? Well, yes it does. Does this make people with bigger heads invariably smarter? No, it certainly does not. The impact evolution has had on our brains relates to surface area, which has been magnified both by a larger head and by deepening of the sulci. Men tend to have bigger heads than women. We know, however, that men are not more intelligent than women in any meaningful sense at all. Tall people tend to have bigger heads, too. If the association were that strong, all our NBA players would be Mensa candidates, wouldn't they?

We cannot even agree on what IQ is, or how it is best measured. Cognitive psychologists have long debated a multiple-factor model of intelligence versus a single factor model (g). In either case, however, we are attempting to infer potential from a set of learned skills. Does individual experience impact a person's performance on an IQ test? Of course, just as cultural influences impact every person's unique set of individual experiences.

In a pragmatic sense, psychologists both recognize this and accept it; IQ is intended to predict academic performance. The academic environment is also culture-bound, and any attempt to accurately predict performance there will involve some preferential assessment of skills that generalize to that culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in the inflation of IQ scores across generations (which, coincidentally, keeps a lot of psychometricians busily employed norming new tests versions). People are not becoming, magically, more intelligent at all. We are, however, becoming more facile with abstract and symbolic tasks through everyday practice. These are the tasks you find on an IQ test. These are also the tasks we encounter with much greater frequency in our modern world, compared to our forebears.

I believe it is human nature for people to promote their own strengths, and by association, the strengths of groups they belong to. This is probably as deeply rooted as the drive to compete for scarce resources. We look to our own, first. It's naïve to believe that scientists will stop being blinded by their own biases, and stop finding flawed empirical justifications for these. Egalitarian idealists should continue in their efforts to debunk not the differences themselves, but the faulty reasoning that involves the interpretation of these differences. It was only 60 years ago that there was an institutional test that discriminated against people who weren't exposed to commercial advertising ("What's 99 and 44/100% pure?"). It made sense at the time [still does, actually, if you believe that cognitive priming is what constitutes "g." The assumption just doesn't take differential exposure into account. A pure measure of priming would involve an utterly novel task across everyone measured. Good luck coming up with that!]

But I think you're mistaken when you say "idealistic notions of human equality are not to be found in science." Science, in the sense that it involves data collection and analysis, is supposed to be blind to relative assignment of worth. Without science, all that's left is moral reasoning (which, in this case, seems preferable) and heuristic biases based on individual observations (which is the most primary rationalization for bigotry). Heuristic biases appear to be an aspect of human nature, and I'm afraid that no amount of wishful thinking will alter this. Without idealistic science, how would we form rational arguments that conflict with conclusions based on individual observation?

While I agree with your sentiment, I disagree with your conclusion. Even you say that "…it's human nature which drives toward group identity/divisions, culture being just the instantiated demarcation of that drive." While we can rail against the unfairness of human nature, it is unwise to act as though our nature were different. So long as there are observable differences between people that can demarcate groups, and so long as there are inequities in resources, we will have people jockeying to forward their interests above that of others. It's the idealistic social scientists that are trying to instill a sense of larger community and deconstruct those self-perpetuating barriers that maintain racism (or classism, or any of the other constructs people with resources invent or perpetuate to justify the status quo). They are the missionaries of your humanistic faith. I like to consider myself one of them.

But you're right, in that deconstruction of justifications for prejudice will not be enough, in the end, to combat unequal distribution of resources and institutionalized exploitation. Our nature is full of other characteristics we consider undesirable in this cultural context, though they could (arguably) be desirable in others. We quell these, utilizing our capacity for flexibility and adaptation to find preferable alternatives, despite their underlying presence. Perhaps we should start looking at the factors that are perpetuating the competitive atmosphere that allows this less desirable aspect of human nature to flourish (competition over cooperation). And that, I'm afraid, will have to be done by axe-grinding, idealistic social scientists.

Friday, January 12, 2007

About that whole adaptability/stasis thing...

I think it's strange to hear people making the appeal to moral intuitions as if they alone constitute an argument. There's some evidence to show that our inherent repulsion about things like this isn't very deeply grounded in some innate moral wisdom. Rather, it's often full of inconsistencies, and one finds that its roots are in memes long bygone (cf Peter Singer and infanticide). Flitcraft/AlexaBlue from this conversation.

Everything AlexaBlue says here is true. However, sometimes things seem inconsistent because we have not yet discerned an overarching theme that defines commonalities that aren't obvious. Easy to assume irrationality (or, I suppose, purely associative logic), but it strikes me completely discounting intuitive reasoning on the basis of observed inconsistency (as though this is magically free of bias) is arrogant.

Anyhow, I was thinking this is related to what I was arguing about Ghost's question. I can't formulate a cohesive opinion about the actual case under discussion, beyond wanting to validate "gut reactions" to some extent, which puts me into the default position taken by Archaeopteryx in the thread.

There is a certain arrogance reminiscent, however, to situations like forced sterilization of people with Down's syndrome, or compulsory education of native peoples in boarding schools, or arguments that black people ought not be provided a larger context (education) in which to view their lot, because they'd just find it depressing.

Not that the situations are equivalent on relevant dimensions, but that the discomfort we might feel is both valid, and worthy of consideration. The judgments we’re inclined to cast on these parents and doctors is akin to the judgments cast on this child by her parents and doctors. Though familiarity and kinship might certainly provide a clearer image of the picture, proximity can also be distorting, due to the manner in which ones best interest tends to compete with another's comfort, at times.

How would the conversation go if they wanted to give the girl a clitorectomy?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

So my daughter called this afternoon,

while I was waiting to board my plane at the airport in Spokane. In her typical, demanding tone, she explained she had an assignment due and needed me to pick her up at that moment so she could come over to use my computer (hers went belly-up the other day). She was quite unimpressed by the undeniable limits of geography.

I agreed to pick her up on the way to the airport, however. She came over, said hello to her brother (he’s been ill), and completed her assignment. We had dinner together (my son eating very little).

On the way home, she told be about a school assignment – she’d been told to write a letter to an adult she feels close to. Rather than choosing her mother, or me, she chose her brother – explaining, when she saw my puzzled look, that he’s 18 now, and 18 is an adult. Quite right. She asked me to give this to him, and I did – but I diverted it here for a minute first, and here it is.

Dear XXXX,

I couldn’t be happier to have you as a big brother. When I get trouble from people at school or from home, I know I can call you and you’d make it all seem alright. You make it alright. You make me laugh and occasionally bug me, but its all worth it. You’re important to me and I wish we could have more time together. I remember every single time we did something together. I remember, on my birthday last year, you took me shopping and spent almost all you money on me. I still sleep with that stuffed Snoopie! Hehe! When you moved out, things didn’t feel right. When things go wrong, I know I can talk to you because I know you’ll help me. I love you!! Youre the best big brother anyone could even ask for! I know we can get on each others nerves sometimes, but its our jobs, haha! Wherever you end up and whatever happens, you’ll still be my big brother and I’ll be your little sister, who is awesome, I might add!!! I love you!!!!!

XXXXXX X. ((your awesome little sister))

She's the one I was visiting the andrology lab about.

Andrology Blues

There was a time in my life when I became acquainted with a hospital "andrology lab". It's a very clinical place, where a nurse (who seems to have a perpetual, barely suppressed smirk on her face) leads you back to a nondescript room, distinguishable from all of the other hospital rooms by the presence of a rather broken-down (and probably very unsanitary) couch. After she hands you a plastic sample cup and instructs you to hand it to a laboratory assistant down the hall and around the corner (once a sample has been deposited therein), she asks, "Would you like visual materials?" and directs you to a nondescript portfolio containing a small collection of outdated popular soft porn publications, from which many of the (presumably most stimulating) pictures have been torn out.

It's a fairly depressing and sort of humiliating experience that does not predispose one to "perform", as it were, unless a peculiar mix of clinical atmosphere, cheap tawdriness and embarrassment is what does it for you.

So in order to make the experience more palatable, I decided to treat it like a date. Over the course of my adventures with fertility science, I kept a number of such “dates” with myself.

If it ever happens to you, I suggest bringing your own porn.

Oh, and don’t sit on the couch.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Same as it ever was...

Response to DawnCoyote's post on Wikifray.

My father remembers once, when he was a kid, it snowed in Sandy, Utah on the Fourth of July - enough to cover the ground (though of course it melted in short order).

The difficulty is, it's easy enough to point at an anomaly, or even a set of anomalies, and argue variously 1) I've never seen it, so it must mean the end of things as we know it, or 2) it's just not all that significant, when you take the long (like, thousands of years) view. Compounding this are the climate models that only seem to be doing a marginal job at prediction up to this point, and the disparity in dire predictions (ice age versus Venutian summer days).

But while I'm sympathetic to the people who (almost invariably rightly) want to resist catastrophization, there is a terrifying danger in routinely dismissing doomsayers - especially when they constitute the vast majority of reputable scientists who know a whit about climatology.

I think people fatigue easily when you confront them with an overwhelming problem they feel powerless to deal with – it’s a too-familiar scenario among us depressives that fosters learned helplessness. If you think about things like catastrophic climate change too much, it sort of saps your motivation to busy yourself in the pesky details of everyday life – like, going to work, paying bills, buying stuff etc. If you ignore them completely, you face an increasingly predictable situation in which you face true catastrophe unprepared.

So I guess I’m not surprised to see people coming down on all sides of this issue – it’s so human. On the other hand, the climate models seem to be saying that, if there’s anything productive to be done, it’s going to require a vast, coordinated effort. Given the variety of dysfunctional coping strategies being expressed and the manner in which this interferes with cooperative, organized response, the more thoughtful and educated among us are getting more and more depressed about the whole problem (when they allow themselves to think about it at all). Well, and those survivalists up in Montana are starting to make all kinds of sense to a much wider variety of people than I even anticipated – leading to a real-estate boom thereabouts, I’m sure, and inflationary pricing on things like water purifiers, solar panels and 50-gallon drums of wheat.

Perhaps most distressing to me is the smug attitude of some of the same Christians who seem almost happy about the perpetual unrest in the middle-east; it’s all happening just like they said it would, in the bible (as though predicting future catastrophes without timeframes would ever prove to be false – duh). This also interferes with effective problem-solving, though it does seem to vindicate the Mormons, who’ve been extolling the virtues of having a year’s supply of food etc. ever since they were starving in great numbers, out on what used to be an arid plain.

Oh, and believing that Jesus was coming again, well, like next week. I’m sure it was an attractive fantasy, given living conditions at the time.

While it’s encouraging to think (as B-A would point out with smug satisfaction, I’m sure) that humans, more or less, have been around for several million years, and there’s no reason to think we’ll be extinct very soon, the rational comeback is that there’s also no reason to think we can reasonably expect to survive in large numbers, should the dreaded catastrophe actually strike. Which it will – because even if the climate models prove inexplicably wrong, eventually a meteor will hit, or nuclear war, or something, if only we wait long enough (Evangelical Christians take heart!).

So, I try not to think about it too much. And though I try in small ways to behave in a responsible manner, I’m not over-estimating the miniscule impact I could have on any global phenomenon. It’s not like I can afford to quite driving, or anything, and as environmentally unconscionable as it might be – I like the air conditioning in my house.

I’m not sure that the current events, even in the face of likely impending catastrophe, really change things as much as it might seem anyway. Frankly, we’ve always lived on borrowed time, under the threat of our eventual personal extinction, and facing the real, rarely acknowledged possibility of widespread catastrophe.

Existentialism never made as much sense as it does right now. We should be trying to find solutions to problems, instead of ignoring them, and helping each other out as much as we can, because it is an intrinsically worthwhile set of activities to be engaging in. If there’s any hope for humanity at all, it’s that enough people will continue to view such things as inherently worthwhile, instead of being lulled into paralysis by the belief that destruction is inevitable (or might be a good thing), or denial.

As Vonnegut so aptly notes, we’ve just lost the luxury of not knowing what’s actually going on, which is no fun at all. It’s a good time to appreciate what we have, and busy ourselves trying to preserve it.

Same as it ever was.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

One more thought on Shadows

For SplendidIreny (et al)

IN THE END (from the movie Shortbus)
by Scott Matthews

We all bear the scars,
Yes, we all feign a laugh.
We all sigh in the dark,
Get cut off before we start.
And as the first act begins,
You realize they’re all waiting
For a fall, for a flaw,
For the end.

There’s a path stained with tears.
Could you talk to quiet my fears?
Could you pull me aside
Just to acknowledge that I’ve tried?
And as your last breath begins,
Contently take it in
‘Cause we all get it in the end.

(Chorus) And as your last breath begins,
You find your demons’ your best friend
And we all get it in the end.

We all get it in the end.
Yes, we all get it in the end.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The holidays, and other unrelated thoughts.

I haven’t had time to write - it’s been a strange, and frantic time. Had a mini Christmas gift-exchange with my kids, and a departing houseguest, on the 23rd. Spent Christmas alone with my son – my daughter was with her mom. Christmas Eve, I let him open two presents early: first, a DVD – Southpark’s “Passion of the Jew” and two others (alas, they didn’t include the Mormon episode in this religious-themed selection), then, the fourth season of Family Guy. Twice during the latter he and I couldn’t stop laughing. First time, “I say, are those two pigs vomiting up there?” Second, an elaborate, pantomimed workup by Quagmire, ending in the spoken punch line; “…and that’s the hand that started all the trouble. Got your nose!” [the last to Stewie].

Christmas day, I watched him play with his new videogame system (a wii – he’s going to have to wait a little while for the PS-3), wearing my new sheepskin slippers (oh, you should be so lucky…) and robe. Southpark, Family Guy, Zelda, and new slippers – the stuff of Christmas. Someday I’ll buy an ebelskiver pan and complete the scene. Two days later, I was off (again) to New York for a few frantic workdays.

I was alone for New Year’s. It’s going to be a big year.

Mitt’s going to announce today formation of a “study group” examining a potential run on the presidency. I’m still saying a little agnostic prayer for a strong Democrat to emerge from the wings. The beauty of being agnostic is that you can still pray, to whomever or whatever strikes your fancy, if it suits you at that moment.

Congratulations to Boise State – the “U” is no longer the only mid-major to crack the BCS. These guys get to finish the season undefeated. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch them take on Florida? Or even Ohio State?

I still peruse the Fray occasionally – sometimes from my PDA, if I’m out and about. Ghost asked a seemingly superficial question that sparked a good discussion – about why the quest for immortality is portrayed as a villainous goal. My take (from deep within the bowels of the theoretical framework in which I’m trapped. Trapped, I say!): from the moment of birth, we are at our peak of adaptive potential. We spend the rest of our lives sacrificing adaptive potential for economical adaptation. In order to achieve immortality, we would have to artificially (perpetually) increase our cognitive potential, or become cognitively static – incapable of further adaptation (including memory formation).

This is a psychologically repugnant scenario – attempts to maintain an unnatural stasis are one way of defining or describing psychopathology. One component of characterological disorders is incorporation of other people into one’s psychological economy in the service of circumventing adaptive ego change (portrayed in metaphorical form by the various human-morphed monsters from literature and increasingly popular movies). Delusional thinking reflects cognitive stasis. Dementia reflects mnemonic stasis. Once a psychological or neurological mechanism becomes immune to external influence, the resulting molar behavior is pathological. Or, evil. So, the quest for immortality being invariably associated with villains reflects the pathology associated with psychological stasis. The other explanations offered involving resources etc. are all metaphors for the above (the manner in which stasis is perpetuated at the expense of others).

Oh, and I see the term “sociopath” is being misused (again). Diagnostic criteria (which completely suck anyway) aside, there is only one character I’m aware of that one could convincingly argue is sociopathic, and he hasn’t been actively contributing since before I came onto BOTF (though I was accused of being him, more than once). The looniest of the rest are variously narcissists or histrionic* (the latter indiscriminately attention-seeking, usually in an irritatingly dramatic way). Frankly, nobody should object to narcissists anyway – one of the paths to narcissism involves, in part, realization that you really do know more than the people around you. Narcissists are fun to debate with, and usually have interesting things to say. They’re nearly impossible to persuade, however, independent of the strength of your argument - which can be vexing. But what fun the Fray without curmudgeonly characters barking on in their superior tone about the various topics posed by articles (hah!) or presented on one of the “non-topical” boards?

On the other hand, on a board full of narcissists, people with more pedestrian neuroses feel like a breath of fresh air…

There are ways, some quite dramatic, one can effectively challenge a narcissist. Seems there are a couple players here and there who’ve got it down. They will never be forgiven for it.

Maybe I’ll write something some time about the difference between primary and secondary (compensatory) narcissism, or “hard” and “soft” narcissists.

Last thought (speaking of narcissists…): Christopher Hitchens was dead-on in his article against Saddam’s execution (potentially questionable motives aside). The death penalty dehumanizes all who participate, even passively. Besides, if one removes all of the colorful attributions and looks purely at behavior, intent and outcome, the man bears a distressing resemblance to some of our own, lauded leaders – something we should all be alarmed by, were we not so busily trying not to notice.

*Note - Fray personnae only. Not intended to reflect on the person behind the personnae. Usually.