24 December 2007

Thing Four

Thing four is instant messaging. How did we ever live without such an indispensable tool before the tidal wave of IM programs swept over us in the 1990s? I remember with great fondness how I used to chat with my friends, including EB and Marshwiggle, on ICQ back when it first came out. Then, AIM and MSN Messenger, of course, and eventually the Google Chat client. There was something empowering and delightful about being able to communicate instantaneously in a written format. It also made roleplaying online much easier, but that is a whole different thing to be thankful for. :-)

I am currently on my third job that involves extensive use of instant message clients. My first job that required IM was at the student newspaper where I served as online editor for a single, lonely, enraging academic year when I was a junior. It came in very handy when I had system-related questions for the techies and the former editor... and also when I was just lonely and bored and wanted to chat with a pretty girl while the incredibly buggy scripts ran on my Mac G4.

I dated the woman who would become my wife over IM for almost a year while I was teaching at a mission school near Four Corners between my undergraduate and graduate programs. The mission's phone line was expensive and unreliable, but the Internet uplink was essentially free and hardly every went down. It was a very, very good way to stay close to the woman I loved.

At my most recent two jobs, chat clients have been simply indispensible. I literally could not have done my job without them. When I worked for a news-gathering service based out of Washington D.C., it was four months before I met any of my colleagues in person, although I worked with 5-10 different people every day to get our products put together. Everything we did was via IM. In my current job at the call center, I am able to provide excellent, value-added customer service in real time because of the intraoffice IM client there.

And last but not least, instant messaging is also an excellent medium for bugging people about things that they should be doing without being too confrontational. For instance, Marshwiggle popped me up via intraoffice IM the other day (yes, he works in the same company I do, more or less) and said, "Hello, sirs. I would like one of your two day weeks, please." This was his way of letting me know he had noticed my absence of "things I like" posts during the week after my power went off. If he would have e-mailed me about it, I might not have responded as well as I did to his subtle hints. :-)

There is much more that I could say about IM clients and the communicative genre of instant messages, but I should probably just close this particular topic with a simple reiteration of my original point: IM is a wonderful thing.

11 December 2007

Thing Three

I began to write this -- ironically enough -- over at my mother-in-law's house because we were out of power. But then, our power came back on and I had to go home and cleanse the freezer of its odiferous chicken juices, and then I was behind on sleep and WAY behind at work, and one thing led to another, and here it is nearly two weeks later, and I'm only now getting around to posting this. So, in summary: here is Thing Number Three.

Power.

As Evil Bender and the Lizard Queen, among thousands -- maybe millions -- of other people across the midwest and southwest could tell you today, power is an amazing thing. Yes, we gripe about the rates, and yes we gripe about the outages, but deep down, we are very pleased with this tool that enables our daily activities to be so pleasant.

I think I forget just how grateful I am for electric current in my house until I suddenly lose it. Then, I realize how nice it is to be able to store perishable food in my kitchen, to take a hot shower, to read by the light of an incandescent bulb at low, medium, or high strength... to say nothing of posting on the Internets.

Electricity, like many of the trappings of our modern existence, is something that requires more organization and planning than most of us realize. And it is much more fragile than we realize, too. A few blown transformers are all it takes to drastically disrupt a city's daily routine. So, I suppose that in some ways, I am equally thankful when my electricity goes out, because it reminds me of what a wonderfully designed house of cards our modern, technologically advanced society is.

10 December 2007

Thing Number Two

Hot tea.

It's an amazing thing, fresh steeped in the morning, and much less abrasive than the flavor of most coffee.

If you're not familiar with the story of tea and its meanings in both Eastern and Western culture, you might be interested in reading The Book of Tea, which discusses these things as an aside to a fascinating account of tea's significance in Shintoism. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup. It is the only Asiatic ceremonial which commands universal esteem. The white man has scoffed at our religion and our morals, but has accepted the brown beverage without hesitation. The afternoon tea is now an important function in Western society. In the delicate clatter of trays and saucers, in the soft rustle of feminine hospitality, in the common catechism about cream and sugar, we know that the Worship of Tea is established beyond question. The philosophic resignation of the guest to the fate awaiting him in the dubious decoction proclaims that in this single instance the Oriental spirit reigns supreme.

Without question, I enjoy my morning tea. But as I drink it, I sometimes also imagine I taste in it the agonized labor of generations of Asians slaving to produce a product to be sold, enjoyed, and profited from by a despotic people on the far side of the world. So I guess tea sometimes leaves a bitter aftertaste in more ways than one.

09 December 2007

A Week of Things I Like

I've decided to post a different one of my favorite things every day this week. Too often, I focus on the negative and unpleasant things in life. This is my attempt to focus on some of the wonderful things I enjoy each day.

Thing 1: The scene in Casablanca where Victor Laszlo leads the whole bar in drowning out "Die Wacht am Rhein" with "La Marseillaise." One of the greatest moments in cinema, and one that never fails to give me goosebumps. I think the reason I like it so much is because it highlights the power of people united against evil.

It's funny -- Most of the time, displays of nationalism seem undesirable to me, since they tend to polarize people and create an "us/them" mentality. Sometimes, this mentality even arises within the nation itself, between ultra-loyalists and more moderate patriots. That's what I call "a house divided against itself."

So why is this time different? Why do I love, love LOVE this scene so much? I think it is because there is a small group of bullies who get overcome by the people they are attempting to bully. The Germans in this film are very aware of their political power, and I find it inspiring that the crowd at Rick's is willing to stand up against that power. They are immediately punished for it, of course, when the bar is summarily closed (because the commandant is shocked -- SHOCKED -- to learn that there is gambling going on there... right before an employee comes up and hands him his winnings for the evening).

But that willingness to fight against evil is something that no amount of closing bars can destroy.

Great flick. :-)

04 December 2007

My two cents

I heartily oppose arguing on the Internet, as you probably know if you are one of my readers (I know this because there are not a lot of them). The recent heated conflagration between the owners of two blogs I read, however, has made me want to add a little context to their discussion. I offer nothing like a Hegelian synthesis of ideas (indeed, I'm not sure this particular discussion can have anything like a resolution), but I would like to share a few thoughts with anyone who cares.

Evil Bender's response to I Samuel 15 is a rational one -- I would expect nothing less from him:
Even assuming that every adult had absolutely earned complete destruction, what harm had the children and the animals done? I’ve never been able to understand how such commandments are compatible a all-good, all-powerful divine being. After all, genocide is clearly wrong when humans instigate it: if morality means anything, it must mean that it is also wrong when God engages in it.


EB's response contains these underlying assumptions:

  • People and animals must not be destroyed unless they have earned destruction through wrongdoing
  • People and animals are inherently innocent and must be actively evil in order to merit destruction
  • At least some of the adults of the Amalekites probably had not done sufficient enough evil to merit destruction
  • All children are innocent and therefore do not merit destruction
  • All animals are innocent and therefore do not merit destruction
  • Therefore, evil is a learned activity and can be avoided by those who wish
  • The Hebrew God should abide by universal moral standards* if we are to consider Him a truly good God
  • Genocide** is a universal moral evil in every place and time, without exception
    (*No definition is given here for these universal moral standards, so I will have to assume they at least roughly correspond with the ideals of 18th-21st century Western humanism: basically, not hindering the rights of others to freely have and pursue life, liberty, property, and happiness)
    (**Since "genocide" is a 20th-century term and concept, I feel like I should be invoking Godwin's Law when I see it applied to a document that is at least 3,000 years old, but it is nonetheless convenient as shorthand for "destroying the all of the Amalekites and all of their possessions")


Schumm's response is one that basically defines morality as whatever God wants it to be. Consequently, his God is one who requires either absolute devotion or eternal punishment for those who refuse to submit to His will, no matter how whimsical it may happen to be:
It matters not if God is good if He is allpowerful- the definition of an all powerful God necessitates servitude or punishment. Good becomes a definition solely up to His whim or discretion. In order for there to be someone to hear and defend our accusations of injustice against God, we would have to appeal to an arbitrator independent of God, one who has the power to issue a ruling God has to abide by.


Schumm has these underlying assumptions:

  • There is no universal morality apart from the discretions and whims of almighty God
  • Omnipotence means that God must either enslave or punish
  • It is impossible to accuse God of injustice since there is no higher authority than Him
  • God's goodness is therefore completely arbitrary and established per force, with no room for any questioning by humanity
  • God can do anything He wants and it will be a moral action by default, no matter what it is


I have some serious concerns with both of these viewpoints, but before I get into those, I would like to provide a little bit of context for I Samuel 15.


Exodus 17:8-16
8 Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim.
9 So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand."
10 Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
11 So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.
12 But Moses' hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.
13 So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."
15 Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner;
16 and he said, "The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation."


Numbers 24:20
20 And he* looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said,
"Amalek was the first of the nations,
But his end shall be destruction."
(*"He" here is Balaam, prophesying in the power of YHWH)


Deuteronomy 25:17-19
17 "Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt,
18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.
19 "Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget."
(This is Moses speaking at the time of the second giving of the Law, after Israel had repented from the sin they committed while he was up on Mount Sinai)


Esther 3:1
1 After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him.
(If the name "Haman" sounds familliar, it is because he was the one who, according to the book of Esther, very nearly succeeded in wiping out the Israelites from the face of the earth. He appears to be descended from the royal family of the Amalekites, whom King Saul did not kill -- see I Samuel 15)


I do not pretend to understand the purposes of God, but here are a few of my thoughts regarding the "genocide" of I Samuel 15. Please remember that I am a professing Christian, and so my comments are, of course, the remarks of someone inside what he believes to be an internally consistent system.


1.) On the Rightness of Destroying the Amalekites

Jesus said, "Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (Jn. 3:19). King David said, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). The prophet Isaiah said, "No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly; They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity" (Isa. 59:4). St. Paul said, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

It is incorrect, in the broadest sense, to refer to any of the Amalekites as "innocent," since both the Jewish and Christian scriptures seem to indicate that they, as humans, are sinful and flawed and therefore seek their own way rather than God's. It would seem that even the children have sinful natures, according to these texts.

In a slightly more specific sense, it is also incorrect to refer to the Amalekite nation as "innocent." This is the same tribe that sneak-attacked the Israelite people when they were weak and wandering in the wilderness. God did not simply wake up one day and say, "Hot damn, let's kill us some Amalekites!" Rather, there were concrete historical and cultural reasons that made the elimination of the Amalekite people a necessity. For one thing, the two nations were constantly at odds. For another, the culture of the Amalekites was one of the many in the region that would draw the Israelites' attention to polytheistic, idolatrous rituals and ultimately threaten their "chosen-ness," which the Abrahamic convenant made an absolute necessity in order for God's promises to be fulfilled to His chosen people.*
(*Note that strangers who wished to cast their lot with God's chosen people were allowed to do so -- including any of the Amalekites who wished to become part of Israel. That is why there are Levitical laws dealing with "the stranger in your midst.")

In addition, before the Israelites even entered the land of Caanan, God promised His people that He would give them an ultimate, permanent victory against the Amalekites. At that point, it would have made Him a liar if he had NOT ordered the Israelites to go out against Amalek.

The animals are a little more problematic, as they really are incapable of sin. The Levitical laws make it clear that no animal is to experience undue suffering. Nonetheless, animals are property, not people, in the Judeo-Christian worldview. God made it clear that He did not want his people to profit materially from the destruction of the Amalekite culture... and He even reprimanded Saul for sacrificing some of the cattle he had kept alive. The animals that were killed were destined either to be slaughtered or to continue laboring for their Amalekite masters if the Israelites had not killed them, so I am not sure that excessive concern for the animals is very appropriate here.


2.) The Nature of God and Morality

The prophet Micah said, "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8) Moses said, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). Jesus said the greatest commandment was, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND," and the second one, which is like the first, is "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF" (Mt. 22:37, 39). James, Jesus's brother, said, "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James 1:17).

God is the source of goodness, and we are made in His image. I believe this is where our fundamental notions of right and wrong come from. We know what is good, and we know when we have been wronged. To argue about whether goodness exists because of God or whether it exists independently seems to me to be little more than Platonic sophistry. It also overlooks the real point: God is good, and that does not change.

God commands justice and righteous behavior all through the Bible, but this is especially evident in the Old Testament. Many of the laws that some people take as signs of God's harsh rules are in place to prevent people from taking advantage of one another. And whenever God summarizes the most important rules, they are always twofold: love God, and treat your fellow humans right. The second of these sounds a lot like Evil Bender's concept of morality. So the real question, then, is how the Amalek incident fits into this directive.

If God were a human, I would have absolutely no problem with decrying the destruction of the Amalekites. But I would only do this because he had:
1.) No moral ground for the action, since he would be destroying those who were just as flawed as he was;
2.) No good justification for the action, since he is a mere human and cannot tell whether it is better for the Amalekites to die or to go on thriving; and
3.) Absolutely no authority for the action.

God is good and humans are not. He is blameless, and no human is. He would be justified in wiping us all out at any moment. That He tolerates our flawed existence on earth is a sign of His grace and desire for us to come to know Him.

God is all-knowing. He sees the consequences of every action and reaction, right down to end of the chain. Therefore, he has the necessary knowledge to decide when, where, and how things should happen to achieve the optimal outcome. After the Amalekites ambushed Israel in the desert and the Israelites were reeling from nearly being wiped out in the wilderness, God promised that the Amalekites would pay. And at the right time, God kept his word by commanding Saul to go out to battle against the enemy tribe. God's plans are not half-baked.

The Amalekites attacked God's chosen people, whom He had promised to protect. Moreover, they continued to attack them in every generation. If you were God and had an obligation to protect the Israelite nation in a pre-diplomatic age, how would you handle it without violating the Amalekites' free will and turning them into automatons? If there was a better solution, wouldn't He have found it?

So this turned out to be a lot longer than I thought, and I will wager that almost no one who reads it will be completely satisfied (including me), but it helped me to think through this question, so I am happy.

13 November 2007

LolBible!

Hehe -- one of the funniest things I have seen all day is the lolcats translation of the Song of Solomon. Give it a glance -- worth the click, in my very humble opinion.

And while you're there, why not translate a few chapters yourself?

04 November 2007

A letter to Mortgage Company A

We have been trying to get a little mortgage issue straightened out for about the past three months, ever since receiving a check for $679.00 for overpayment of our home insurance premiums. Took us a while, but we finally got it resolved. I was a little peeved that I was the one who had to do the work to give Mortgage Company A their money back, but I work at a call center, so I know that complaints are no fun for anyone. Nevertheless, I did want to make my displeasure known, so I wrote this. The names have been changed to protect my hinder quarters from a lawsuit. Enjoy.
Sunday, November 4, 2007

To: Mortgage Company A
From: luaphacim

Re: Returning Funds Withdrawn in Error from Escrow Account
Account Number: 123456789
Name: Mr. and Mrs. luaphacim

To Whom It May Concern:

The following events have transpired over the past few months, resulting in almost immeasurable consternation for both me and my lovely bride of two years, seven months, and twenty days. I appreciate your attention to this matter and hope that it can be brought to a quick resolution.

On July 9, 2007, we bought a home, taking out an FHA loan from MORTGAGE COMPANY A to do so. It is a nice home, with plenty of room and some pretty good amenities. For instance, the sellers threw in a free refrigerator which, unfortunately, leaks like a diabetic racehorse. However, as we do not believe in looking gift refrigerators in the mouth, we are quite satisfied with our purchase.

At our closing, $679.00 was taken from our closing costs and paid to INSURANCE COMPANY X as our first year of premium for our home owner’s insurance.

On or around July 18, 2007, a withdrawal of $679.00 was made from our MORTGAGE COMPANY A escrow account and sent to INSURANCE COMPANY X for our first year of home owner’s insurance, leaving our escrow account with a negative balance. Since we had also paid for our first year of insurance at closing, this was a double payment. I do not have a degree in finance or anything, but I suspect that this is not supposed to happen to an escrow account. Ever.

On August 6, 2007, INSURANCE COMPANY X Insurance sent us a check in the amount of $679.00 to reimburse us for overpayment of our premiums. Naturally, since we did not know that MORTGAGE COMPANY A had made the erroneous withdrawal from our escrow account, this caused us some degree of confusion and concern. My wife and I made several calls to INSURANCE COMPANY X in order to find out why this check had been sent, and we eventually found that one of the checks had come from MORTGAGE COMPANY A.

We made a number of efforts to communicate with our local MORTGAGE COMPANY A personnel about this error, but they repeatedly told us that they would have to “wait to hear back from the national office,” or some such thing. Please do not take this as a complaint about them, though – they were very helpful with a number of things. Just not this one, really.

On September 1, 2007, MORTGAGE COMPANY A sold our souls home loan to MORTGAGE COMPANY B, which is a company dedicated to a diverse workforce and the good of humanity and so forth. At least, that is what I have gathered from being on hold with them for nearly an hour and listening to their never-ending loop of propaganda recordings.

On September 13, 2007, we received our MORTGAGE COMPANY A annual escrow account disclosure statement informing us that we had an escrow balance of -$132.76. At this point, we realized that something was seriously screwy with our account at your company. We were not sure whether the negative balance had been transferred over to our account with MORTGAGE COMPANY B, so we waited to see our next statement from them.

Our next MORTGAGE COMPANY B statement showed a positive escrow balance, so MORTGAGE COMPANY A clearly needs to receive the $679.00 to reconcile our account. We have therefore enclosed a check in that amount.

At your earliest convenience, please send us a letter stating that:

• You have received the enclosed check
• Our account with you has been reconciled and no further payments will be necessary

Please send this letter to:
Mr. luaphacim
1234 Main St
Someplace, KS 65432

If we do not receive this letter within a reasonable period of time, we will request a stop-pay on the enclosed check because of failure to render services. In other words: we mean business.

In addition, in consideration of the significant amount of time and effort my wife and I have expended because of MORTGAGE COMPANY A’s error, I would like to make the following demands as compensation. I understand that I will almost certainly not receive any of these demands, but it makes me feel better to demand them, so please humor me.

• A service fee of $30.90. My wife and I have spent well over six hours trying to resolve this problem, and I would like to think our time is worth at least minimum wage.
• A bag of microwave popcorn. This is useful and necessary for the watching of movies in our new family room area with the track lighting. Did I mention that our new house is totally sweet?
• A year’s worth of free rides on a Shetland pony, preferably one named “Buck.” This is a humorous name for a pony, and I think you will agree that pony rides are inherently awesome.
• U.S. military intervention to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Seriously.
• A George Foreman Grill. My doctor says I am obese, and I hear that George Foreman Grills are a great way to become magically skinny.

Please submit this list to your compliance department for consideration and so that they can laugh at my pitiful efforts to be recompensed for my valuable time, which could have been spent writing a magnificent novel or learning Japanese or on something equally edifying. I could probably make empty threats about reporting MORTGAGE COMPANY A to the Kansas Office of the State Bank Commissioner, 700 SW Jackson Street, Suite 300, Topeka KS 66603-3714, but I think we both know I am not really too serious about this, so I will not do so.

Eagerly awaiting your response, I remain your humble servant,

luaphacim

01 November 2007

Scribblings

I spent a number of very fruitless hours wrestling with a computer system several weeks ago. Basically, I was trying to see whether the new dividend scale would crash our system or not (the answer was yes it would -- surprise, surprise, surprise).

While waiting for the system to cycle forward (a process that takes anywhere between 30 seconds and three minutes per transaction), I tried my hand at some extemporaneous poetry. I had been reading Madam Murasaki's Tale of Genji that week, and I was curious about what kind of poetry I would be able to compose at a moment's notice, since that is one of the things Genji is so renowned for (besides being indescribably beautiful and unfaithful to every one of his innumerable paramours, but that is beside the point).

It's kind of tricky, because most of the poetry is highly allusive and layered with naturalistic images, and I am familiar with neither Japanese poetry nor Japanese nature imagery. I did, however, make my poems two lines long, which is more or less what Genji does in the novel, too. So that's something, anyway.

Here are a couple of the poems I came up with between cycles. Please note that they are not very good.



Waning, cloud-cloaked rays of sunlight, dim at day's end,
Promise that tomorrow will hold sufficient troubles of its own.



Squirrels scuttling through overgrown grass-
Neglected lawn teems with life.


14 October 2007

Weddings

I have taken the past two Fridays off. It has been nice -- I've had a cough, and that always seems to make me tired, so the extra day of "rest" has been beneficial. Well, at least it was beneficial when I was able to rest... but the reason I got these days off was because of weddings.

Weddings are a funny thing. I have never been a lover of ceremony, and they are almost pure ceremony. The only consolation is that my friends tend to be people who do not like ceremony very much. Last week, for example, the wedding ceremony itself only lasted about 15 or 20 minutes... and that was only because the bride's father stalled in giving her away. Then, there was a good meal, and then we were done, which was nice. Long, drawn-out parties are another thing I have never liked much.

When I was married, the reception was too big and too expensive for my tastes, but I wasn't paying, and I wanted to make my in-laws (and lovely wifey) happy, so I did not oppose the extravagance and long evening all that vigorously. Still, it could have made a decent down payment on a house...

My older brother officiated at the wedding last week, and in his message, he managed to condense all the good Christian theology I have ever heard at weddings into a message that lasted about five minutes. That is something I admire about him: he has much better summative powers than I do. He got the whole bit in: marriage is a sacred ordinance, it was honored by Christ's first miracle at Cana, it is a beautiful metaphor for Christ's relationship with the church, and it predates government and even the Church catholic. It was much better than many wedding messages I have heard, especially this one that was essentially a 45-minute exegesis of the entire chapter of I Corinthians 13.

Ultimately, I am not sure what to think about weddings. I think they tend toward unhealthy excess and brideolatry. In short, they fetishize -- and are fetishized by -- the participants in some ways that can be very damaging, I think. What's more, they are often more or less meaningless. Four months after my wedding, for instance, my brother-in-law got married, and the reverend at their wedding said as many nice things about marriage as our officiant did. If anything, she was more religious about the whole thing than our elder was. And recently, that marriage melted down and is now over in the eyes of the state.

So I'm not necessarily sure that weddings are all that great. But they certainly do provide an excellent chance to escape from my daily task of feeding myself into the horrible customer service machine as is my wont. That, at least, is worth something.

(Sorry about the disjointedness of this post -- I am tired and slightly sick still. At least it's a post!)

15 August 2007

Busy with work...

And helping Schumms move, which was delightful! :-)

Until I can post something substantial, here's a survey:

What Be Your Nerd Type?
Your Result: Literature Nerd
 

Does sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea/chocolate, and a book you can read for hours even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance? Then you fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and its (NOT "it's"!!!! Stupid Survey!!!) eloquence; and you may like to read/write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society, however you can probably be overly-critical of works.

It's okay. I understand.

Drama Nerd
 
Science/Math Nerd
 
Gamer/Computer Nerd
 
Musician
 
Social Nerd
 
Anime Nerd
 
Artistic Nerd
 
What Be Your Nerd Type?
Quizzes for MySpace

06 August 2007

Sick Day

I vomited at work today. Twice. Consequently, my gracious supervisor granted me half a day's unpaid leave, and I have been squandering said leave for four and a half glorious hours.

I suppose I should take a little bit of time to explain what I do so that you will know what exactly I am getting a break from. I am part of a company that does Service Operations Outsourcing in the insurance and financial industries. In simpler terms, that means I work at a service center that takes phone calls and processes customer requests. Mostly, I throw energy and patience at problems that are ultimately the fault of our monstrously inadequate computer systems. For instance, when we mistakenly draft someone's bank account for four times the actual premium, I get to clean up the mess. It's delightful work.

I have been struck of late by the importance of simplicity. I have also been struck by my seeming inability to do anything simply. For instance, at work, when I could be doing the bare minimum and sending the necessary form letters without considering my audience, I often let empathy prevent me from doing so. They hired me to be part of a machine, not an emotionally complicated person.

I suspect that my sickness today may have had as much to do with momentary dis-ease at work as it did with any disease. I must become better at detaching, or there might be more of these unfortunate experiences in the future.

As another result of my sick day, I have decided to delete a couple of other, smaller blogs that never get updated anymore. I figure that if I can't update one, I certainly can't update three. And the Internet needs less information on it, anyway. I also made a couple of changes to this blog -- hopefully, ones that are indicative of where it will go in the future. I am becoming increasingly interested in what it means to be part of a large organization, and "Noises From the Machine" seems like an apt title for where I want to experiment in the coming months in this space.

Of course, it's possible that everything in this post is a mere product of delirium and that tomorrow I will regret the changes I have made and the posts I have deleted on my other blogs. But the wonderful thing about this medium is that I can make them again if I want, but better. :-)

Sleep for now...

29 July 2007

Hiatus

You have surely noticed my hiatus from this blog. I don't know how soon, or even whether, I will take up my position in the blogosphere again. There is much to do and little time, and we must work the works of him who sent us as long as it is day. (HARR.)

I will say that I have been recently struck once more by the enormous value of friends and interaction between humans. Perhaps my position as a tooth on the cog of a highly automated, relatively impersonal industrial machine has led me to notice this, or perhaps it's just the time I have had to step back and take a look at my life and my experiences; I'm not sure.

I want to write... but I'm also not sure whether I should bother, sometimes. We'll have to see how my time allotments shape up.

04 July 2007

E. B. White on Faith in Government

I've never been one to take part in the Blogging Against Things meme, but some of E. B. White's essay, "Bedfellows," reminded me today of some ideas put forth by my esteemed friends Evil Bender and The Lizard Queen. I decided to shamelessly copy some of my favorite essayist's words on President Eisenhower's declaration that prayer was a fundamental part of democracy:
A President should pray whenever and wherever he feels like it (most Presidents have prayed hard and long, and some of them in desperation and agony), but I don't think a President should advertise prayer. That is a different thing. Democracy, if I understand it at all, is a society in which the unbeliever feels undisturbed and at home. If there were only half a dozen unbelievers in America, their well-being would be a test of our democracy, their tranquility would be its proof. The repeated suggestion by the present administration that religious faith is a precondition of the American way of life is disturbing to me and, I am willing to bet, to a good many other citizens. President Eisenhower spoke of the tremendous favorable mail he received in response to his inaugural prayer in 1953. What he perhaps did not realize is that the persons who felt fidgety or disquieted about the matter were not likely to write in about it, lest they appear irreverent, irreligious, unfaithful, or even un-American. [...]

I hope that belief never is made to appear mandatory. One of our founders, in 1787, said, "Even the diseases of the people should be represented." Those were strange, noble words, and they have endured. They were on television yesterday. I distrust the slightest hint of a standard for political rectitude, knowing that it will open the way for persons in authority to set arbitrary standards of human behavior.
While I don't agree with White on everything, I think he hits the nail on the head in this essay. As a person who holds firmly to the Christian faith, I obviously see value in religious conviction. But I also see how perverted and twisted religion inevitably becomes when it is tangled with politics, and that makes me a strong opponent of any sort of theocracy, regardless of how well-intentioned it may be.

If you've got some extra time, I'd heartily recommend reading the rest of this essay, "Bedfellows." Its main topic is is the ghost of Fred, White's dead dachsund, who haunts the writer's sickbed. Also, Democrats. :-) Good stuff.

10 June 2007

Things have picked up a bit...

The test went well (I'm licensed -- w00t), and we hopefully have another house lined up... we'll have to see how things go, but I'm excited about it. :-)

So now it's just a matter of getting through the inspections, moving, and settling down a little bit.

Also, life is really good. I wish I could think of more things to write, but that's about the extent of my thoughts at the moment.

05 June 2007

Arachnophobia

... And there's an infestation of brown recluses in the house we're negotiating to buy.

We are looking for new houses.

In other news, I'll be taking the Series 6 exam on Friday, if the Lord wills, so I'll be licensed to sell open-ended funds on the primary market. w00t. :-)

28 May 2007

What Kind of Reader Are You?

I wasn't really expecting this; I've always considered myself fairly democratic when it comes to books:

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Book Snob

You like to think you're one of the literati, but actually you're just a snob who can read. You read mostly for the social credit you can get out of it.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Dedicated Reader
Literate Good Citizen
Non-Reader
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz


C'est la vie, I reckon.

25 May 2007

...And the fact that He's Paul Freakin' McCartney doesn't matter?!

From the Associated Press:
Paul McCartney snagged Natalie Portman to star in his new music video - thanks to his fashion designer-daughter, Stella.

Portman, 25, makes a cameo as a ghost in the video for "Dance Tonight," a track from McCartney's new studio album, "Memory Almost Full." The video had its world premiere Wednesday on YouTube.com.

"The connection with Natalie came from my daughter Stella, who makes non-leather shoes that Natalie buys, so I just thought, 'Well, I'll ring her up and just see if she'll do it.' So I rang her up and said, 'Hey, I'm Stella's dad!' " the 64-year-old former Beatle said in a statement posted on his website.
How lame is that, Sir Paul? "Hi, you buy shoes from my daughter DUURRRRR."

Try something like "Hi, I am one of the two remaining Beatles -- you know, the band that essentially made rock 'n' roll in America -- would you like to play a 'futurist electronic ghost' in my next music video?" It won't give you nearly so much of the "friend's creepy father" vibe.

21 May 2007

...And my life keeps being a dervish of excitement

Got hooded Saturday morning, had the fam to a picnic in the afternoon, made an offer on a house in the evening, and had it accepted that night. Sunday, I led music at church, hung out with EJ, DJ, and the four wild things, and slept for four hours before staying up late to grade.

Today was spent mostly studying for my NASD Series 6 license (which, as I understand it, will give me the right to break mutual funds and annuities or something) and working on a futile PowerPoint presentation to give to my training buddies, who will return the "favor" in kind. In other words, another productive day in Corporate America (and, like every day lately, I got paid more than I have ever received for any day spent molding America's next generation into good, upstanding citizens). In better news, I just posted my grades (for the last time EVER).

If all goes well, I will have a house and a picket fence and a lawn and a decrepit old toolshed on or before June 22. American dream, here I come. :-|

16 May 2007

Sweet Moses, Yes!

Yeah, so this is pretty much the best news this month: Spielberg and Jackson Tackle Tintin. You read that right. Soon your favorite Belgian-drawn sleuth and mine will hit the big screen in glorious 3-D animation. The best quote in this brief: "They look exactly like real people — but real Herge people!" Fantastic!

OK, so my job is going pretty well. I should be grading, but this popped up in my gmail account's header, and I HAD to share. :-)

06 May 2007

Got a Job

I'll be working in the call center of a securities company. Not a lot of money, but certainly more than I'm making right now.

The tricky part: I start training the Monday of finals week. I already found a friend to proctor an exam I have to give that week, so now I just have to attend to the simple matter of getting the rest of the semester over with in five days instead of 14.

If you're a praying person, I'd appreciate your prayers. Otherwise, give me lucky vibes or something. :-)

26 April 2007

Rain in April: Poetry Edition

Although some of my esteemed colleagues have celebrated April as National Poetry Month, I have been remiss in doing so. I keep meaning to, but time is always short, and on top of that, my taste in poetry, like my sense of fashion, is sorely lacking in a number of ways.

But it's raining today, and that brings to mind a couple of poems that I simply must share. The first is what might possibly be the first major poem in modern English, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Here are the first 18 lines of the prologue:
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Then, of course, there's always my man T.S. Eliot, who wrote that wonderful account of the crisis of modernity, The Waste Land. It, too, begins with an account of April's showers, albeit a much bleaker one:
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
So, whether you're feeling Eliotish or Chaucery, I hope you have a good day, and if you're someplace near rain, may it inspire you to think good thoughts.

21 April 2007

I have been tagged...

And not in the urban way (with spraypaint). My old friend, Evil Bender, has bought into the meme, and so, I suppose, must I.

Why Do I Blog?

Not surprisingly (if you know me, anyway), that's not a question with a short answer (very few are). I have therefore divided this into a few different subsections for easier comprehension.


The Sites

I began blogging before it was awesome to do so: 1999, to be exact. At first, my blog was just a regularly updated, old-fashioned HTML page on my university personal site. I would sometimes link to stuff from Something Awful, where I used to be a goon before memberships cost money. After a while, I added The Onion and Fark to my list of frequently linked sites. This was when I had spare time.

As I became busier with singing, working, writing, and other pursuits, I moved my online persona to a series of forums where I was also a moderator (the one for The Collegian, for example). I was a beta user on Blogger during my junior year, but I quickly gave it up with the addition of more duties in the college honors program and at the newspaper.

I found more time again when I served a stint at a small mission school in Arizona, but my roommate hooked me up with a subdomain of his site. After I moved, I ran out of time again upon beginning grad school, and I didn't begin blogging again until just last year.


Why I Started Again

I got another job in journalism, and that made me start thinking about national and world news items. My natural response was to add my own opinions. This was helped along by my learning that Evil Bender had begun a blog. I shared many of his views, but not others, and I thought my blog might make a nice counterpoint to his sometimes. A few other old friends, Marshwiggle, little.hoot.owl, and Gye Nyame, also had blogs, so the medium served the dual purpose of letting me catch up with them again, at least in some very limited manner. As an added bonus, I've gotten to meet some really cool new virtual friends like The Lizard Queen in the process.


My Subject Matter

Not an easy thing to describe. I'm sometimes political, but more often just ridiculous. I've made attempts at a more-or-less creative blog, with limited success. At the moment, I'm in a state of flux in my life; I'm about to graduate, and with that comes much instability. I really don't know if I'll continue after moving past school or not. Part of me wants to, but another part wants to cut the online cord completely. Already, I've added somethingawful.com, fark.com, and theonion.com to my list of blocked sites in my Hosts file on my home computer, and I can honestly say I haven't missed them at all. So maybe I'll eventually add Blogger to the list? I really don't know.

Above all, my online philosophy is that I really don't have anything to say that hasn't been said a hundred times by clearer and more eloquent writers, so what I write doesn't especially matter. I don't know how true that is, but it seems like a pretty logical and realistic approach. It helps me not to have dashed hopes, anyway.

If I must tag someone new, I guess I'll tag Marshwiggle, little.hoot.owl, and Gye Nyame.

20 April 2007

And another one bites the dust...

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

The Mexican golden boy of the Bush administration is about to be gone, by all accounts. His dismal performance before the Senate has convinced everyone -- even Arlen Specter -- that he needs to be fired for being a terrible liar. The Toronto Globe and Mail has the story:
U.S. Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, President George W. Bush's long-time friend and trusted legal adviser, was clinging to his job yesterday after failing to persuade skeptical senators that he wasn't lying.
One can't help but wonder why so many members of our upstanding Christian president's staff end up getting in trouble for lying like sociopaths.

18 April 2007

I have no words worth describing this...

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

I'm trying to think of something to say about this indescribable thing, but I'm failing miserably. Go to the site, see the video, and weep.

(The squirrel's name is apparently MC Nuts.)

16 April 2007

The Perils of the Information Age

This Associated Press article should serve as a warning to those who would argue that new technology is inarguably superior to what came before:
The state Mental Health Department agreed to pay a Los Angeles hotel $877 million in 2005 to hold a two-day training conference, according to state records. $877 million? For a two-day conference?

It's wrong -- not even close. The actual contract was $36,200 and the agency spent only about $21,000, invoices show.

Inclusion of the dramatically higher amount in a vast computerized index of state contracts was an honest mistake, the result of a worker typing a billing code where the contract's value should have been listed, officials say. An attempted fix created a duplicate listing, leading to confusion rather than clarity.

Those problems point to a larger issue: The database set up to provide a window into how California spends billions of taxpayer dollars is badly flawed. The inventory of tens of thousands of contracts and purchases is littered with typographical errors and jargon, undercut by omissions and weakened by uncertainty over what gets listed, when and by whom, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. ...

Indeed, big mistakes can occur with a missed keyboard stoke and there is no comprehensive way for General Services to find and correct them. The agency says the responsibility for accuracy rests with each state department, in what amounts to an "honor system."

"DGS clearly would not be able to tell that there is 100 percent compliance unless we monitored and double-checked each of those hundreds of thousands of entries," spokesman Bill Branch said.

There isn't anything close to 100 percent compliance, AP found while reviewing entries on thousands of contracts.

For example, computer records show in September 2004 the Conservation Department agreed to pay $32,000 to Arrow Restaurant Equipment for a coffee maker. The department has no record of such a deal.

That's because it wasn't a Conservation Department contract. It was the Sierra Conservation Center, a unit of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. And it wasn't for one coffee maker, but 20 commercial-sized machines.
As I have argued before, technology cannot be inherently good or evil, efficient or inefficient. There certainly can be technologies that are less conducive to efficiency, as well as technologies that are more useful for people with immoral actions in mind, but the technology is only so efficient, good, and useful as its operators are.

Indeed, in some ways, this database technology is more dangerous than the systems that preceded it; a single slip of the finger can result in disastrously high or low figures being recorded in the state's budget (or at least estimates designed to help determine the budget).

I see this in a part-time technology-based job I have, too -- people constantly make small mistakes that they never would have the opportunity to make if they were working with hard copies.

No, I'm not a technophobe, but I think it's pretty clear that the information age is not without its pitfalls. And human fallibility almost guarantees that we those pitfalls will get a lot of use, regardless of how important accuracy is. Quality-control programs can only help so much...

Never before have so many minimum-wage workers been able to screw up so much by doing so little wrong.

12 April 2007

Stem Cell Followup

There were a couple of interesting responses to my last post; I'll post Marshwiggle's here, along with some of my thoughts on the issues he raises.

Please note Bush's support for the alternative bill using adult stem cell research before condemning him as antiscientific. In the meantime, please point out one cure that embryonic research has been able to accomplish that adult cells have not?

You may have a point about fertility clinics. Perhaps the prolife movement can address that after the abortion clinic problem is taken care of. :) In the meantime, the idea of growing humans for body parts, especially children/embryos that have no say in the matter is surely raising troubling morality issues for you?
The problem with old tissue is that it often is not nearly as flexible as new tissue. That's why relying solely on adult stem cells is somewhat problematic. Besides, to dismiss a readily available source for research -- particularly when the "murder," if it is one, has already been committed by perfectly legal fertility clinics -- seems a bit short-sighted to me.

It also was not my intention to declare all-out jihad on fertility clinics; I think EB has a good point when he observes:
In the end, fertility clinics are a moral good because they let the infertile have children. Letting embryos be wasted when they could be saving lives seems like a political move designed to appease the base, not any real morality or science.
As for showing you progress of the research on adult vs. embryonic stem cells, I'm afraid that I don't know enough about the matter to do so. But I would remark that embryonic stem cell research is bound to be at least six years behind adult stem cell research, for obvious political reasons, so perhaps it isn't fair to call for such evidence yet (and, indeed, won't be until scientists are allowed to investigate the question).

If I thought what was happening was, in fact, growing humans for body parts, I would have some fairly substantial objections to it. But I don't necessarily think that, for the reason I stated above: Any "murder," if there is one, is over and done with (legally, I might add) long before researchers become involved. And, as EB observes, there is perhaps room to argue over whether there was a murder in the first place:
I think most people recognize that calling the combination of a sperm and egg, frozen and perpetually waiting for a womb or to be thrown out--to call that small group of cells a person is problematic.

Given the complete inability for those cells to become a human being without a womb, I would argue that at very least humanity can't start until successful implantation in the uterus.
I'm not saying I want to abort as many fetuses as possible and then use their tissue for devious scientific experiments on raising the dead and so forth. I do, however, think we should give embryonic stem cell research much more open-minded consideration than we currently are.

It's also worth noting that the number of senators who approve of such research is steadily growing and is now only four votes away from what is needed to override a veto (yesterday's vote was 63-34). If that trend continues, or if an embryonic research-friendly prez is elected in 2008, I suppose the overwhelming voice of public opinion will make this a moot discussion.

Congress and Stem Cells

The Senate struck a blow for science yesterday, albeit a futile one:
In a largely symbolic act, the Senate voted Wednesday to lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. President Bush has vowed to veto the measure, as he did last year, and backers acknowledged they don't have the votes to override him.
I don't really understand the objections that lawmakers have to embryonic stem cell research, especially since it would use embryos that are created by fertility clinics and then not implanted. It seems wasteful not to do research on them.

Speaking of which, why don't conservatives speak out more often against fertility clinics, if they really are convinced that life begins at conception? Wouldn't that mean that fertility clinics are guiltier of orchestrating mass slaughter than abortion clinics are? After all, abortion clinics don't actively create embryos that they know will never develop and be born, whereas fertility clinics must do that. Eh.

04 April 2007

In Case You Were Wondering...

The exam this morning went really, really well, and now my brain is tired.

I skipped Beowulf and spent the afternoon snuggling and napping with my sweetie.

Life is sunshine and bunnies today.

31 March 2007

Radical Thoughts from Emily

From perhaps the greatest American poet of the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson:
Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you're straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —
I won't say anything about the Iraq war or the gay marriage debate; never fear. :-)

On Tennyson's "Ulysses"

As I prepare for my exam, I'm reading a lot of literature, which makes me extremely happy. I had forgotten how wonderful it was to lose myself in compelling stories and beautiful words. This is so much better than writing a thesis. :-)

Here are the final lines of Tennyson's "Ulysses," in which the aging hero allows his mind to drift again on a voyage with his brave mariners -- this time in a deeper, darker sea. I'd always thought of The Odyssey as having a happy ending, but this poem belies the myth of rest after striving. At the same time, it promises a greater striving and a fuller adventure.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The topic of these lines, of course, is the voyage of mortals into the realm of immortality, but I think it is also a fitting metaphor for life changes like the ones I will soon be experiencing.

I'm excited to see what my voyage will bring.

30 March 2007

Silence

I'm still alive, though silent for the moment. I'll maybe get around to posting some more after my exam on Wednesday. Prayers and kind wishes are appreciated. :-)

22 March 2007

On Christianity and Radicalism

I saw my dear friend Gye Nyame yesterday (and today, for that matter -- :-) ), and he posed this question: Is Christianity -- that is, the teachings of Christ and of the Bible -- fundamentally radical, or is it fundamentally conservative?

Upon reflection, I must say that this question is something of a red herring. I believe that Christianity, like many things, is a both/and, not a neither/nor. Here are some of my reasons for concluding this (please forgive the format; I'm still getting my thoughts together on this subject):

Conservative:
* Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament Law, not to destroy it (Matt. 5:17-19)
* Christ did not seek to change the political establishment -- indeed, he fled when his followers were going to make him an earthly ruler (John 6:14-15)
* Christ frequently quoted from the Law and the Prophets, the traditional texts of his culture; he appealed to tradition as an authority, even when going up against the Devil (Luke 4:4)
* Paul advocates the practice of women covering their heads in church because it is an established tradition (I Cor. 11:16)
* Paul commands that slaves should obey their masters, not that they should rise up against oppression (Eph. 6:5)

Radical:
* John the Baptist calls the religious leaders a "brood of vipers," and Jesus later does the same (Matt. 3:7-12:34)
* Christ calls out the religious powers that be in the temple during Passover week, condemning them with seven woes (Matt. 23:1)
* Christ makes himself a whip and drives the money changers out of the temple for making the house of God into a den of thieves (Jn. 2:12-23, Lk. 19:45-46)
* Paul proclaims the equality of all believers regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, or disability :-) (Gal. 3:28)

Christianity must question the status quo within itself, but it isn't supposed to condemn non-Christians. It is a religion whose founders cast out hypocrisy and sought justice. Although it draws on tradition, it does not deify them -- Christ, for instance, said the Sabbath was made for man, not vice versa.

When practiced in the spirit that Christ and the early fathers taught, Christianity can have the best of both worlds.

What do you think, dear reader?

16 March 2007

Some Interesting Rhetoric

As you've probably heard, the Christian Seniors Association recently had some inflammatory things to say about Congressman Pete Stark, whom they attack for admitting that he is "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being." You can read more at the blog of Evil Bender, whom I don't always agree with, but whose views on basing governments on religious ideologies are pretty close to mine.

While I have little to add about the rights of atheists in the public sphere, I do have some opinions about this quote from CSA Executive Director James Lafferty:
"We have long recognized that all of this hot air about 'separation of church and state' has been a veiled effort to intimidate and silence religious voices in public policy matters."
Let's take a look at some of Lafferty's rhetorical moves.

1.) He begins by establishing his own legitimacy by representing himself as but a single member of a large movement. He lends himself historical credibility by emphasizing that his group has "long recognized" the obvious trickery that his ideological oponents engage in.

2.) He trivializes his opponents' viewpoints by characterizing them as "hot air," thus shutting off all avenues of productive discussion and setting up a binary-based ad hominem environment for the discourse.

3.) He uses "scare quotes" to further trivialize his opponents' concerns and imply that they are ill-founded at best. Interestingly, he does not mention that this particular phrase comes from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, a Deist who was the third president of the United States and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as one of the foremost proponents of religious freedom in the early days of the nation.

4.) He criticizes his anonymous adversaries for their underhanded, "veiled" tactics, and in a neat reversal of actual circumstances, he further accuses them of attempting to silence and intimidate any and all who wish to espouse religious ideals while making public policy. It is significant that he implicitly claims to support religious freedom while simultaneously complaining that a member of Congress has revealed himself to be of a particular religious persuasion. The message here, apparently, is that it's all right to have religious freedom unless you are using it in a way that is unacceptable to James Lafferty.

This series of rhetorical moves is astounding in its unquestioning self-validation and its othering of anyone whose ideology differs from the speaker's. Quite frankly, I don't much like it.

12 March 2007

On Race and Politics

The first time Aaron walked into my sophomore English classroom, I smelled trouble. He was wearing a durag and baggy pants, and an intricate network of tattoos snaked around his left forearm. I needed to know very little about him before making my judgment that he would be a problem student. He was black, he was wearing urban attire; that was enough.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably shocked. Luaphacim, you say, how could you be so utterly racist? How could you judge this young man on the color of his skin rather than the quality of his character?

Rest assured, gentle reader, that my judgment was not intentional. In fact, as soon as I noticed it in my head, I strove to banish it. But my point is that it was there, even if only for a very short time. Regardless of my ideological stance, regardless of my good intentions, and regardless of my several good friends who are black, I unfairly categorized Aaron without giving it a second thought -- or even a first one.

This is why I am suspicious of anyone who claims that we can ever, ever, ever have a "color-blind" political atmosphere in this country. Case in point: Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike van Winkle recently wrote a column entitled "Time to transcend skin-deep politics." A noble call, certainly. But how attainable is it? He writes:
All participants in our national discussion have a stake in the outcome. So it is imperative that we resist the temptation to categorize the candidates running for office and see them as representative of particular groups and limited interests.

It is also imperative that the candidates reach beyond the narrow definitions the press wants to assign them and appeal instead to the broader public interest.

Obama and Clinton's appearance in Selma was a wonderful tribute to the progress our society has made. But a greater test will be whether we can transcend skin-deep politics over the next 20 months.
I agree that candidates should not allow themselves to be pigeonholed, but I also question van Winkle's assumption that there is somehow something wrong with politicians who take actions to serve the part of their constituency that looks most like them. After all, that's what rich white politicians have been doing for years; why shouldn't women and black politicians behave in the same manner? To me, this smells like a classic case of being scared to death that a black politician might actually *gasp* do something that is good for his black constituents if he is elected.

On a somewhat related note, Hillary Clinton wants desperately to be black, but is a miserable failure. Ouch, it makes me cringe. Interestingly, as Chicago Trib columnist Eric Zorn points out, Obama can pull off the kind of Black English / Standard English code-switching that Hillary is trying here:
Sen. Barack Obama seems to calibrate his accent depending on whether he's speaking to a largely white audience--when he rates about a 2 on the Eminem Scale--or a largely black audience--when he hits about a 6.
Hey, if you've got communicative prowess, flaunt it, I say.

In other Obama news, he is being smart about the extremely offensive implications by FOX's Roger Ailes that Obama is a terrorist. Obama, in the kind of classy move his supporters have come to expect, has chosen to let the comment slide, even though I think many in his camp are taking up the offense for him. I'm not with him on every political issue, but he makes me respect him more every day.

In case you were wondering, I was completely wrong about Aaron. He was far from being a problem student -- and equally far from fulfilling all my expectations about his interests and concerns. He was one of three people in the class who would admit to owning more than one d20, he has a pretty decent dwarfish paladin on WoW, and he works 40 hours per week to put himself through school, where he makes straight A's. He also did a top-notch paper on King Arthur's weaponry in Le Morte d'Artur. He spoke often in class, was unfailingly kind and considerate towards me and his classmates, and from what I could tell, did everything he could to live out his Christian convictions in a quiet, non-hypocritical fashion.

And yet there are still times when I shy away from young black men for no other reason than their urban attire. Oh, to be free from unfounded assumptions. :-(

07 March 2007

Rectum? Dang Near Killed 'im!

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

OK, so this story is mostly just an excuse to use that punchline as a headline. But the story is fascinating, in a weird sort of way. An Iraqi national apparently was stopped at LAX because of some, er, non-standard things discovered in a body cavity search:
Airport security agents initially considered the odd assortment of objects in al-Maliki's rectum alarming enough to order an extra search of the flight he was planning to take...

Al-Maliki told investigators the objects he had in his body were there for therapeutic purposes, and that he had forgotten to remove them before reaching the security checkpoint. They were described as a half-inch magnet wrapped with a piece of gum in a napkin and then coiled with wire, and some kind of round, polished stone.

"I believe we're about as confused as you until we finish the investigation," said Ethel McGuire, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office.
Al-Maliki had paid for his one-way flight in cash, and he refused to discuss his purpose for travel with anyone. If nothing else in this situation had set off alarm bells, one thinks that probably would.

It's hard to know what to conclude about this story. On the one hand, it seems pretty clear at this point that carrying an odd assortment of objects in one's body is not necessarily a terrorist act. On the other hand, I guess it's a good thing that the TSA noticed?

03 March 2007

The Sociolinguistics of Seven Words You Can't Say on TV

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

A post by Evil Bender sparked my curiosity yesterday. Apparently, Patrick Ishmael did a fairly unscientific study on the profanity quotients of conservative and liberal bloggers and found that the libs used George Carlin's "infamous '7 Dirty Words'" about 18 times as frequently as the cons did. Big surprise, huh.

This made me start to wonder about the origins of said dirty words. I have often heard that most of our taboo words are Germanic in origin, so I decided to test this claim by doing some etymological checks on the Dirty Seven. My goal in doing this is not to titillate, scandalize, or flout norms; it is, rather, to examine this discussion in terms of its historical and sociolinguistic implications. If you are offended by the presence of dirty words, please scroll down past the chunk of bold text.

All of my information comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, which is considered by most experts to be the final word in etymological concerns.

Shit -- From the Old English (OE) verb "scítan." OE is a form of old German, brought over by Angles and Saxons during the eighth and ninth centuries. It was the dominant language of England until the invasion of William of Normandy in 1066.

Piss -- Onomatopoeic word that developed along parallel lines in the Germanic and Romance languages.

Fuck -- Hard to trace; has been a taboo word for so long that written records of it were quite scarce until the sixteenth century. Thus, its exact origins are difficult to trace. There is a synonymous German verb, "ficken," which could be the source. Regardless, this word is almost certainly not from the French.

Cunt -- Corresponds to the Old Norse (ON: a sister language to OE) "kunta" and the Germanic "kunte." Is used with great regularity in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Normally glossed as "pudendum").

Cocksucker -- Not surprisingly, there is no OED entry for this word. However, here are the etymologies for its constituents: Cock -- ON "kokkr" and French "coq"; Suck -- OE "súcan," corresponding to Latin "sugere."

Motherfucker -- A compound of the sort that is extremely common in OE. "Fuck" is probably of Germanic origin, and "mother" is a fairly common word in Indo-European languages, which suggests that it has changed relatively little since the beginning of this particular branch of language had its origins. This means that it can be traced to either Germanic or Latin/French.

Tits -- From the OE "tit."




END OF PROFANE WORD LIST

Thus, we see that all of Carlin's infamous seven do, indeed, have either unquestionably Germanic origins or at least a possibility of Germanic origins. So what?

This is a textbook case of linguistic dominance. When a new dominant language comes into a nation (as French did in 1066 when William invaded), the old language gets pushed to the margins and reworked as substandard. A significant part of this substandardization is relegating many of the old language's words to profanity. Meanwhile, the conquering language and culture forcibly take the positions of honor and respect.

Here is a list of some acceptable replacements for the seven words you can't say on TV:

Bowel movement -- French
Urinate -- Latin
Excrement -- French
Intercourse -- Latin
Vagina -- Latin
Penis -- Latin
Scoundrel -- French
Villain -- French
Rogue -- French
Breasts -- Germanic

Note that only one of these "replacement" words comes from Germanic.

What we have, then, is a conquering language asserting itself as the norm while forcibly pushing the language of the colonized "other" into the realm of transgressive speech.

For various reasons, French eventually became less and less important in England until, by the fifteenth century, it was displaced by English as the official language of the court and the Parliament. Nevertheless, the marks of Norman French dominance remain firmly rooted in the langauge, to the extent that hyperconservative bloggers continue to obsess over them.

What implications does this have for us today?

First, we should bear in mind that profanity is what it is primarily because the dominant cultural forces dictate that it should be so. Words are tools, and we must decide how to use them. Conversely, we must also realize that no amount of gratuitous profanity can eliminate a word's stigmatized history. Yes, some profane expressions can be subverted and normalized, but not all, I think.

Second, we should realize the consequences of pushing things out of the mainstream and into the corners of our culture. The Normans, for example, succeeded in making Germanic Old English a vulgar, less prestigious form of communication, but they could not eliminate the language's role in English society and culture. Germanic words shifted functions, but they couldn't be eliminated altogether. Similarly, if we strive to marginalize Muslims in American culture, we may wind up getting something that we haven't bargained for -- like, for instance, a militantly anti-American group that is willing to take drastic actions to assert its social validity.

Thirdly, if Patrick Ishmael were to include this blog in his search, he would get at least eight "positives," regardless of the fact that I have avoided using any of the "dirty seven" gratuitously. Doing a Google site search on particular domain names ignores matters like communicative appropriateness, which is another reason that his methodology is flawed.

Essentially, what Ishmael has done with this "study" is what most conservative bloggers seem to delight in: polarizing and binarizing everyone who reads it. I really wish people would think more about these things instead of responding so quickly with a "heck yes, your right Pat ok lol" or a "wtf your so wrong >:("

Edit -- A late realization: this makes the phrase "pardon my French" sadly inaccurate. :-(

01 March 2007

On Today's Headlines

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

A couple of interesting stories I ran across today:

Board members take over Minuteman border group:
The Rev. Marvin L. Stewart, a Veterans Affairs accounts receivable technician and minister who heads the My Lord's Salvation Ministries Inc., told The Washington Times this week that he had taken over the Minuteman Project because of 'gross mismanagement' by James Gilchrist, the group's chairman, and others.
He said Minuteman Project leaders have not been able to account for $400,000 of the $750,000 that a direct-mail company helped raised last year for the organization.
I'm not a bit surprised. These guys have always felt really shady to me, and not just because their ideology is based on a completely mythical conception of U.S. history, either.

Gilchrist and his buddy, Chris Simcox, started what amounts to vigilante border-patrolling (albeit within the confines of the law) and fence-building in order to stem the dangerous Brown Tide from the wretched nation to our south.

They have never exactly shown a very great regard for things like traditional procedure, and as soon as xenophobic patriotic-minded Americans began sending in money to patrol the border and build their much-vaunted fence, alarm bells started going off in my head. These people are mavericks, and while mavericks might make great poker-players and Louis L'Amour characters, one does not normally associate "good accounting practices" with that particular persona.

So now we have: 1.) a group that will almost certainly fall apart over this matter, 2.) a missing $400,000, and 3.) a lot of upset national isolationists.

Trying so hard not to laugh...


The other story: IBM Heiress' Ex-Partner Sues For Stake In Family Fortune
A gay woman who claims she was both the daughter and "wife" of multimillionaire IBM heiress Olive Watson is suing for a stake in the Watson family fortune.

Patricia Spado was Watson's domestic partner for more than 10 years until 1992, when the couple split up, according to court records. Before the breakup, Watson -- the daughter of IBM founder Thomas Watson Jr. -- legally adopted Spado in Maine in order to circumvent state laws that forbid them to marry.

At the time, Spado was 44 years old and Olive Watson was 43. Spado contends that the unusual arrangements were intentionally designed to allow her to become Watson's legal heir. Since Spado was legally adopted by Watson, she is technically Thomas Watson Jr.'s granddaughter.


Of course, that also means she is entitled to a grandchild's chunk of the family wealth. The Watson grandchildren do not take kindly to this fact and are suing.

A simple domestic partnership statute could help to avert messes like this. Just sayin'.

26 February 2007

TSA Backscatter Tech

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

The big story in transportation security this weekend was the implementation of the first backscatter X-rays. These, as you recall, were condemned by some privacy advocates. The Christian Science Monitor got the ACLU's view on the device:
Privacy advocates remain wary of backscatter technology. Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program for the American Civil Liberties Union, likens it to a "virtual strip search." He hasn't seen a demonstration of the latest version of the technology, but he saw an earlier one at a Los Angeles city jail.

"The one I saw was very graphic, almost like a nude picture," he says. The technology has not been installed at airports until now because of questions about privacy and how well it can detect possible weapons, adds Mr. Steinhardt. "Utility is ... important here. People are being asked to trade their privacy for security. But first show us there is some security [benefit]."
Nonetheless, as the New York Times reports, the Transportation Safety Administration is taking steps to ensure a relative amount of privacy:
Security officials examining the head-to-toe images work in a closed booth, hidden from public view, agency officials said. Special “privacy” software intentionally blurs the image, creating an outline of a body that is clear enough to see a collarbone, bellybutton or weapon, but flattens details of revealing contours.
To give you some idea of what's under discussion, here are some pics.

This is the body scan before it's run through the special blurring software. In other words, this is an image that no one would normally see.


This is the body scan after it's cartoonified. This type of image will be viewed by screeeners.

A few comments:

1.) I'm not sure why the blurring technology is even needed; the first pic has all the sexiness of walking in on your mom in the shower. The dummy effect -- no hair, no eyes, weird mouth -- makes this about the same as looking at an unclothed mannequin. It's funny to me that privacy-conscious people would have a problem with people viewing an image like this but would have no problem with being patted down or strip-searched BY THE VERY SAME PEOPLE.

2.) I really think that the only reason this has caught the media's attention is because the establishment is run by randy men who have always dreamed of finding a working version of those incredibly disappointing X-Ray Glasses that they used to naively -- and furtively -- order from the backs of comic books.

3.) Cheers to the ACLU for trying to ensure that the technology doesn't violate privacy, but you guys ought to take a look at the real thing before commenting on it. I'm hearing shades of "I haven't acutally read this, but..." And we know how well that particular line of thought normally goes over with the ACLU. Just sayin'.

20 February 2007

How Are You In Love?

Wifey's Results:

How You Are In Love

You fall in love quickly and easily. And very often.

You give completely and unconditionally in relationships.

You tend to get very attached when you're with someone. You want to see your love all the time.

You love your partner unconditionally and don't try to make them change.

You stay in love for a long time, even if you aren't loved back. When you fall, you fall hard.

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Wow. I guess I'm pretty boring.

Your Linguistic Profile:
70% General American English
5% Dixie
5% Midwestern
5% Upper Midwestern
5% Yankee

19 February 2007

Man sues IBM over firing, says he's an Internet addict - CNN.com

Interesting AP story:
A man who was fired by IBM for visiting an adult chat room at work is suing the company for $5 million, claiming he is an Internet addict who deserves treatment and sympathy rather than dismissal.
A few observations:

First, who still visits chat rooms, for crying out loud?! I didn't know they still existed.

Second: Everyone's messed up. Everyone has challenges and problems. That's not your employer's fault. If you've got PTSD, get counseling; don't steal time and productivity from the company, and certainly don't flip out when your employer fires you for your unacceptable behavior at work, using company resources.

Third: I would really like to know how this offense is any more severe than, say, posting in a gardening blog at work. I know people who are addicted to some much less offensive-seeming things than "adult chat rooms," and I would hope that IBM has a uniform policy about firing people for misuse of company time and resources, rather than simply witch-hunting teh s3xx0r addicts. In the article, they claim to have a standard policy for all employees, but one wonders how objectively it is applied.