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Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0430)

NYC, 108°, April 30, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

Thank Heaven for Jon Stewart

This "GayWatch" segment of the Daily Show is effing brilliant. I mean, really. It's guys like Jon Stewart that make me occasionally believe we might somehow survive all of this.

By way of the priceless Crooks and Liars.

Sometimes a Cracked Notion (#1)

I tell you, I get so many crackpot notions it's hard to keep track of them all. It's hard having a mind that comes up with (what feel like) brilliant solutions to problems that either don't exist, or are not particularly amenable to my particular Strokes of Genius. These things hang around in my head -- impossible to get rid of -- like a case of ideational crabs. Herewith, therefore, a little intellectual Kwell:

* "Brother Blog, Sister Blog" *

I came up with this one while engaged in a discussion about how liberals should be nicer to religious lefties -- i.e., being nasty to religious lefties is obviously bad for a coordinated response to the right-wing. Naturally I agreed with this notion, but I also thought it was a two-way street. For example, it's kind of hard to feel like "working together" when religious-lefties get mad at gay-lefties for constantly bringing up gay marriage as an issue.

So then I started thinking, you know, there ought to be a way to help us work out these things. These sorts of things are relatively easy to work out between individuals, people you know, etc. At least it's that way for me. It's when you talk at each other in blocs that things get messy.

So what if, I thought, somebody set up a kind of "dating service" for blogs? The idea would be for lefty blogs with varying causes of primary interest to hook-up and try to find some other lefties with whom they have significant differences, and then try to publicly work out those differences, for the edification of other lefties.

Use the example above. Some religious-lefty blogger who believes gay marriage is either morally wrong or a "distraction from more important matters" (poverty, social injustice, whatever) goes to this "blog dating service" site and tries to hook up with a gay-lefty blogger who believes religion should be totally eliminated from political discussions. The two of them make an agreement that they will become each other's Brother or Sister Blog, and that they will devote some portion of their blogs to conducting a public "working out of their differences". They pledge, at the beginning of their "sibling relationship", that they will eventually arrive at some sort of mutual statement that they both can sign on to. This mutual statement will serve as a kind of agreement regarding how the Brother/Sister Bloggers will move forward together. The public course of the discussion, and the final statement of how they will move forward together would serve as a guide for others who have the same sort of problems with their fellow lefties.

* "How the American Republic Will End" *

The American Republic will end someday. It's just that we don't know how or when. This crackpot notion involves a website where people can give their detailed descriptions of how they define "the end of the American Republic", and describe how that end will come about. The point isn't to come up with ideas on how to make it happen, of course; the point is to get people to think about the unthinkable such that they can maybe help put off the end for as long as possible. The worst thing we could do, of course, is to assume that the Republic will go on and on, like a self-winding watch, without us ever having to pay attention to it. If we are constantly considering the possibility that we might lose what we have, we might be more on the look-out for really dangerous signs that The End is Near.

* "O, Chef Villain of the Future!" *

I think there ought to be a website where people compose missives to the future, the future being defined here as the post-apocalyptic world.

As you know, Bob, our Eloid friends in the future will be dumbheads who don't have any libraries or archives in the caves where they live. In fact, without a little help from us, they will not be able to name those villains here in our present who behaved in ways that brought about the crap world of the future. The idea here would be to lay it out for our friends of the future, put the info in an easily-opened time capsule. You can't make it too hard to find and get into -- Men of the Future might not have eyes or thumbs.

We'd name, for example, the people who worked so hard to make global warming into "a matter scientific debate" -- clowns like Michael Crichton -- when the vast majority of scientists agree the human race is having an effect on our planet's climate. Kind of a Daily Howler for the End-Time set. It won't do them much good as they starve to death on the Gobi-like wastelands of the Yukon, but they nevertheless might appreciate having pictures of people like Crichton to spit on. Just for the hell of it. Assuming they can summon up any saliva for that purpose, of course.

* The End? *

Don't count on it. Things like this come to me all the time. If I have to suffer with them, I can't see any reason why you shouldn't have to as well.

Good Monday Morning!

First, some classic Wolcott for a Monday morning chuckle. He's out there in California attending the LA Times Book Festival. At a panel discussion Wolcott was at, "mystery writer and illiterate blogger Roger L. Simon" got fed up with panel-member Arianna Huffington's left-wing politics: 

"Arianna stepped forward in high dudgeon to complain that some in the media were pronouncing the war a success after the Iraqi elections. No one had been saying this war was about democracy before it was fought, she insisted. At that point I walked out."

He probably had to pee.

I've seen this before with men in my age bracket suffering from strong opinions and a full bladder. They rise in a huff, as if registering a protest, then, when safely out of view, race down the stairs for the nearest urinal.

I'd say politics and urine never mix, except they do.

Next, a possible item for the They Finally Get It file, a bit of a cheer-up from Washington Post staff writer, Charles Babington, "Unexpectedly, Capitol Hill Democrats Stand Firm". Reading all the way to the end, we find my very own Senator letting the morning sun break above the horizon:

"When we undertook this, we didn't think public opinion would be on our side," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "But it is."

Yeah. A lot of shlubs out here have been telling you guys this would happen. Do what you think is right, and the support of the public will follow. I suppose the bright-side way to go at things here is to ponder the possibility that leadership is a thing that's best learned when you are in the minority. It's no sweat lording it over people when you are in power, but lording it over people is not the same thing as leadership -- real leadership comes of having to face the kind of adversity the Democrats have had to face since 2000. It's nice to see the Democrats in Washington finally getting something of a clue here.

Okay, of course it would be better if the country were not in the grip of Republicans, but this is Monday morning after all and if a little bright-siding isn't appropriate at the beginning of another work week, when the hell is it?

Have a smashing good week, fellow worklings!

Crap-Hole Bosses

I am desperately disappointed in my fellow mud-headed typical American subordinates. In the old days, when we got a guy like John Bolton up there he would within minutes symbolize for us every crappy, malevolent, incompetent, arrogant boss we'd ever suffered under and we'd be glad to see him made to pay. What's the matter with us these days? This guy is a poster boy for every son-of-a-bitch we ever worked for. I tell you, if we had half the 'nads of our populist ancestors this guy would already be out on his can.

And here's something even worse. These Bush people can't see a problem here. These Republicans don't see what the fuss is about. Cheney for instance is 100% behind this guy. Hey! Arrogant, loud-mouthed, "kiss up, kick down" kind of guy? Just the ticket! Know why? Because if any of these people ever had to work for a crappy, malevolent, "kiss up, kick down" type of boss -- which I doubt -- the memory of that experience has disappeared down their gaping memory holes.

Guys like this are crap-holes. That's all. That's all you need to know. If there was any justice in this world -- which we know there isn't, but let's just pretend for a moment there is -- then guys like this would finally, finally get what's coming to them. Which is to say: a swift kick in the butt out the door.

Having an crap-hole for a boss matters. It affects your life in a thousand terrible ways, including you having to quit a job you would otherwise love were it not for this absolute dick you have for a boss. You've got a red-blooded American right to enjoy seeing this guy go down.

Why don't the Republicans know that? Why don't they know it in their bones?

Let me explain it again: We're Americans. We hate an arrogant son-of-a-bitch reaming us out when everybody down there to the plant knows the guy is an incompetent gas-bag. He craps up the workplace everyday he comes in. This guy is an archetype in our cultural heritage. We are supposed to enjoy it when guys like him get taken down a peg or two. This is our birthright as Americans.

Get it right finally, will you? Sheesh.

Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0423)

NYC, 108°, April 23, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

Single Northern Cardinal Sks LTR

Got a new friend in the neighborhood. Seems like a good guy. He doesn't come by my house much on account of he's, um, allergic to my cat. Anyway, he's having a little trouble with the ladies so I offered to help him out.

Hi. My name is Ozzie. I'm maybe one years old. I have a nice territory in the East Village. My interests include flying, singing, long walks on tar beach, and collecting twigs and strips of paper. Interested in meeting a nice northern cardinal lady about my age, with an eye toward settling down. Love kids. My favorite date is exchanging songs, flitting from branch to branch after a pretty lady, extending my crest for her, and giving her food from my beak. Come by my territory some time and say hello.

He's a great guy, ladies. Honest. Oh, maybe he has a little trouble with first impressions. The other morning a very pretty lady cardinal stopped by his territory and he spent about 1/2 an hour wooing her but I guess he was a bit too shy or something because the lady finally took off. Poor Ozzie. He sat there up on the top of the building watching her go. He sang a bit more. Hopped about a bit. Sang some more, but then he flew right back to his favorite highest branch and starting singing for any other ladies that might be in the neighborhood. You got to like a guy who gets right back in the saddle like that. Give him a chance, ladies. You won't be sorry. I'm sure of it.

Finally! The GOP Health Care Plan

You guys have probably already figured this one out. I'm sometimes a little slow on the uptake. My mind wanders a twilight landscape.

Like most of you, I've been concerned and upset by all this talk of "taking care of the judges", and Ann Coulter's stuff about liberals, and Santorum's and the new Pope's stuff about gay people, and the religious right's stuff about atheists and feminists, and all that kind of stuff. And what with all the news about protest marches (riots?) going on in China over the Japanese textbook thing... Somehow it all put in my mind of the infamous Unit 731.

Unit 731 was one of the outfits responsible for much of the human medical experimentation that was done by the Japanese military in the late 1930s through the end of the war. Most of the, um, "work" was performed on Korean and Chinese prisoners, but there were some downed American airmen who died from the ministrations of Japanese military surgeons and "researchers" as well.

Here's the funny thing about human experimentation. Whenever I meet someone who tells me, "Oh, I'm a human vivisectionist", I always ask them, "Gosh, how can you bring yourself to do that kind of work?" The answer is always the same, of course: "Oh, well, it's not as if we look on a patient as being one of us."

... [M]ilitary medical personnel no longer concerned themselves with the well-being of their patients, especially those who were of foreign nationality. The humane treatment meted out to Russian prisoners during the Russo-Japanese War as well as German prisoners captured in World War I was no longer a benchmark for Japanese medics.[fn] This approach was abandoned in the third decade of the 20th century. Instead, when engaging knowingly in unethical practices, military medical personnel believed they were performing these experiments on inferiors. They felt free to try any test of stamina, for instance, to determine the minimum quantity of food necessary to sustain life for these "creatures,"[fn] or to undertake any form of surgery on these "test animals"[fn] that their imagination provided.

(Military Medical Ethics, Vol 2, Chapter 16, "Japanese Biomedical Experimentation During the World-War-II Era", by Sheldon H. Harris, PhD., p.10.)

So at first I was freaking out about all this de-Americanization the Republicans were doing to me and all my compatriots. I mean, this sort of behavior is what eventually gets you into the vivisection trade. And, you know, doing other stuff like seeing if you can transfuse horse blood into people. By the way, it doesn't work. Don't try it.

Oh, and you can also get yourself to the point of deliberately infecting them with anthrax which, I will admit, would be pretty handy for various Patriot Act purposes.

Oh! Handy! Pardon the pun!

But then it hit me.

One of the reasons health care costs are so high in this country is because the drug companies have to spend so much on Research and Development, and because there are so many government safety regulations, and because of frivolous law suits, and because of dead-beats who crap out on their $50,000 medical bills just because that amount of money wipes them out financially. I mean really!

It's brilliant! This de-Americanization of judges, liberals, gays, atheists, feminists, and so on. You guys already saw this coming, right? Like I said, I'm slow sometimes.

It's the Republicans finally getting their long-awaited Health Care plan off the ground! Think of the money we'll save! No more R & D costs -- just round up a few faggoty liberals, run your drug tests, or try out your new and nifty Republicans-only surgical procedures, and hey, if things don't go just the way you'd planned them, who cares? Just tweak the drugs or the surgical techniques a bit and try them out on a fresh batch of atheistical judge-types.

Boy, I really have to hand (hand!) it to those Republicans. I never would have thought of it. Lots of good test results. Never any government regulations. No unpaid medical bills to further burden our shiny new bankruptcy system, and best of all... No frivolous lawsuits!!

And at long last I finally understand the old saw: "Hate the sin; love the sinner." They love us on account of when we croak, we render up such good experimental results.

And, yes, it's true... I'll likely be one of the human experimentation subjects. But I'm a liberal. I'm a progressive. I don't mind doing my part to help others. It takes a village to hold you down while they remove your stomach.

The Cream Myth

A party conversation, April 16, 2005:

(Dialogue is an approximation. Some inebriation may be involved.)

C: You remember that show we taped?
T: What show?
C: The one with the birds. Stealing the cream.
T: Oh, yeah. Don't know if we taped it, though.
C (facing M): These birds, over in England, they... On people's porches, the milkman would leave people's milk? The bottles had little tin-foil tops on them and these birds learned how to peck through the foil covers and drink the cream. That was before the war. And then when the war came along they stopped delivering people's milk. For the whole war. Five years later they started again, and these birds, their life spans were only like one year or something, but after five years, when they started delivering the milk again, the birds knew how to peck through the foil and get the cream.
M: Wow. It's like there was a Bird Library. They went to the Bird Library and looked up how to get the cream.
C: Right. Somehow the knowledge was preserved.
M: Or they had legends. Bird legends.
T: Right. (after a brief pause.) The Cream Myth.

The Many Faces of Psychological Research in the 21st Century, Jane S. Halonen, Stephen F. Davis, Editors (2005?), Chapter 13, "Comparative Psychology and Animal Learning", by Jesse E. Purdy and Michael Domjan:

In 1949, Fisher and Hinde reported on birds (blue tits) that had been robbing cream from milk bottles delivered to the doors of English homes. Observers speculated that a single blue tit had discovered, probably quite by accident, how to peck through a bottle cap and consume the rich cream that floated on top of the milk. The occurrence of milk theft then gradually spread throughout the whole of England and into Europe through some form of social learning.

The Aggressor's Way, 2nd Edition (2004), by Francis Hardy:

The small British bird, the blue tit, has the annoying habit of pecking the covers of milk bottles that are delivered outside the doors of many UK homes, and then drinking the milk from the tops of the bottles. This practice was first reported in 1921 near Southampton in southern England, and observations over the years have shown that the habit has been slowly spreading from this area ever since. The evidence suggests that the technique was probably discovered by one particularly innovative bird and has been spreading by simple imitation. Of course, no one knows the exact circumstances of the initial discovery of this new source of food but it could have been a simple case of serendipity - as for example a bird pecking at an insect which had settled on a milk bottle cover and then finding that its beak went through the cover and into the delicious tasting liquid underneath. Many blue tits in the UK are now adept at exploiting this rich source of food - particularly in hard winters when more conventional food is scarce - and there is evidence that other bird species, such as the house sparrow and marsh tit, are also taking up the habit.

The Living Company, by Arie de Geus, 1999:

The United Kingdom has a long standing system of delivering milk in bottles to the door. At the beginning of the 20th century these milk bottles had no top. Birds had easy access to the cream which settled in the top of the bottle. Two different species of British garden birds, the blue tits and red robins, learned to siphon up cream from the bottles and tap this new, rich food source.

This innovation, in itself, was already quite an achievement. But it also had an evolutionary effect. The cream was much richer than the usual food sources of these birds, and the two species underwent some adaptation of their digestive systems to cope with the unusual nutrients. This internal adaptation almost certainly took place through Darwinian selection.

Then, between the two world wars, the UK dairy distributors closed access to the food source by placing aluminium seals on their bottles.

By the early 1950's the entire blue tit population of the UK, about a million birds, had learned how to pierce the aluminium seals. Regaining access to this rich food source provided an important victory for the blue tit family as a whole; it gave them an advantage in the battle for survival. Conversely, the robins, as a family, never regained access to the cream. Occasionally, an individual robin learns how to pierce the seals of the milk bottle. But the knowledge never passes to the rest of the species.

In short, the blue tits went through an extraordinarily successful institutional learning process. The robins failed, even though individual robins had been as innovative as individual blue tits. Moreover, the difference could not be attributed to their ability to communicate. As songbirds, both the blue tits and the robins had the same wide range of means of communication: colour, behaviour, movements, and song. The explanation could be found only in the social propagation process: the way blue tits spread their skill from one individual to members of the species as a whole.

In spring, the blue tits live in couples until they have reared their young. By early summer, when the young blue tits are flying and feeding on their own, we see birds moving from garden to garden in flocks of eight to ten individuals. These flocks seem to remain intact, moving together around the countryside, and the period of mobility lasts for two to three months.

Robins, by contrast, are territorial birds. A male robin will not allow another male to enter its territory. When threatened, the robin sends a warning, as if to say "Keep the hell out of here." In general, red robins tend to communicate with each other in an antagonistic manner, with fixed boundaries that they do not cross.

Birds that flock, seem to learn faster. They increase their chances to survive and evolve more quickly.

"Bonkers About Birds":

Fact Eighteen: Blue tits used to open milk bottle tops to drink the cream. They stopping when semi-skimmed milk became popular.

The Final Empire: The Collapse of Civilization and the Seed of the Future, by WM. H. Kötke, Book Two: The Seed of the Future, Part I. Creating a Whole Life, Chapter 13: The Principles of Life, "The Moral Basis of the Life of the Earth":

In Southampton, in 1921, a blue tit was observed to peck through the foil cap of a milk bottle, tear the foil back and drink from the bottle. The spread of this habit was recorded at regular intervals from 1930 to 1947. There are eleven species to which this habit has spread but it is most frequently confined to great tits, coal tits and blue tits. After the first observation of this "milk poaching," the habit was seen to spread rapidly through England where sometimes flocks of tits would follow milk delivery people through the neighborhoods waiting for the milk bottles to be put on people's porches. The detailed studies of this phenomenon show that the habit was independently "discovered" by individual tits 89 times in the British Isles. In the view of morphic resonance, this habit pattern resonated within the tit species and the pattern was then increasingly manifest by individual tits. During World War II milk deliveries in England stopped for the duration that was longer than the normal tit life span, yet when milk deliveries commenced again, tits all over England again began to take up the habit. After the war, "It seems certain that the habit was started in many different places by many individuals," researchers said. The habit also spread to Sweden, Denmark and Holland.

The Co-Intelligence Institute, "More on Morphogenetic Fields":

Experiment 1: In the 1920s Harvard University psychologist William McDougall did experiments for 15 years in which rats learned to escape from a tank. The first generation of rats averaged 200 mistakes before they learned the right way out; the last generation 20 mistakes. McDougall concluded that, contrary to accepted genetic science, such acquired knowledge could be inherited.

Experiment 2: In later efforts to duplicate McDougall's experiments in Australia, similar rats made fewer mistakes right from the start. Later generations of rats did better even when they were not descendents of the earlier rats. This wasn't genetics at work. It was something else. Nobody tested it further.

"Experiment" 3: In the 1920s in Southampton, England, a bird called the blue tit discovered it could tear the tops of milk bottles on doorsteps and drink the cream. Soon this skill showed up in blue tits over a hundred miles away, which is odd in that they seldom fly further than 15 miles. Amateur bird-watchers caught on and traced the expansion of the habit. It spread faster and faster until by 1947 it was universal throughout Britain. In a parallel development, the habit had spread to blue tits in Holland, Sweden and Denmark. German occupation cut off milk deliveries in Holland for eight years -- five years longer than the life of a blue tit. Then, in 1948 the milk started to be delivered. Within months blue tits all over Holland were drinking cream, a habit that had taken decades to take hold before the war. Where did they get this knowledge?


What is going on here?

Sheldrake has hypothesized a field of morphic ("pattern-related") resonance in which patterns of knowledge, structure or behavior of a certain kind of thing (whether a salt crystal or a human mind) become increasingly embedded as a "habit," an ingrained pattern of information which influences and is accessible to other members of that category of thing. In commenting on the rat experiments, Sheldrake said: "If rats are taught a new trick in Manchester, then rats of the same breed all over the world should show a tendency to learn the same trick more rapidly, even in the absence of any known type of physical connection or communication. The greater the number of rats that learn it, the easier it should become for their successors."

A minority of biologists have been suggesting the possibility of morphogenetic (form-generating) fields for decades. Sheldrake's unique contribution has been to create a testable hypothesis regarding such fields. Despite the fact that it seems to violate all broadly-accepted principles of science, the experimental evidence is rapidly mounting that, indeed, something of this kind is at work.

The Cream Myth: From the mind of Man, or from bird brains?

(Assuming there's a difference, of course.)

Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0416)

NYC, 108°, April 16, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

Intelligent Designs

A while ago, I was listening to a discussion on the radio about Intelligent Design ("ID") theory, and someone -- I think it was Al Franken -- said something along the lines of, "Well, that theory means you believe biological evolution on Earth was designed by an advanced, alien civilization, right?"

Whoever he was talking to -- a proponent of the ID theory -- paused, confused, then ducked the question in some manner I cannot now recall. Meanwhile, I'm going: DOI-YOI-YOI-YOI-YOING!!!!!!!.

Which is my feeble textual expression of the famous double-take John Cleese does in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when he first espies the approach of the Giant Rabbit.

I guess I'd never thought of thinking of ID theory in that way. But after all, they don't say the intelligence behind the design has to be God. In fact, they seem to go to very great lengths to avoid saying that. They just say "an intelligence" and leave all the wink-wink, nod-nod, 'nuff-said stuff to others. But if it is a theory, and if it postulates an intelligence behind evolution, then they cannot deny the possibility that that intelligence springs from an alien civilization with a technology millions, maybe billions of years ahead of ours.

Hey! In that case, sure! Let's have an Intelligent Design theory with early precursor texts on the discipline by Arthur C. Clarke and many others! I look forward to speculation on alien intelligent design appearing soon at all the ID websites.

Which brings us to the estimable Sir John Marks Templeton who says:

There is here no knockdown argument for design and purpose, but certainly there are strong hints of ultimate realities beyond the cosmos. One of the strongest hints, in our opinion, relates to the new understanding of the creativity of the cosmos, its capacity for so-called self-organization. ... From a theological perspective it is indeed tempting to see this remarkable self-organizing tendency as an expression of the intimate nature of the Creator's activity and identification with our universe.

Are we sure it's the Creator, Sir John? Being scientists, we need to consider the plural, neh? Perhaps the best, most non-prejudicial thing to do is to write: "the Creator(s)".

You'll all know Sir John, I'm sure, from either his eponymously named mutual fund, or from the famous Templeton Prize. But the Templeton Foundation does not just award prizes; it funds research as well.

The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise. Using "the humble approach," the Foundation typically seeks to focus the methods and resources of scientific inquiry on topical areas which have spiritual and theological significance ranging across the disciplines from cosmology to healthcare....

I actually, atheist though I am, think this is great stuff. Good on you, Sir John. For example, just the other day I read in Science magazine about how the alpha constant might not be quite so constant:

Scientists debate whether the laws of physics have remained the same since the universe began or have changed over time. Much of the controversy has centered on a constant called alpha, or the fine structure constant. Alpha is at the core of electromagnetism, the theory of how light and matter interact. If alpha is changing, then so are such fundamental rules as the speed of light, and that would spell doom for Einsteinian relativity.

The debate over alpha started in 2001 when a team led by Michael Murphy, an astrophysicist at Cambridge University, U.K., analyzed light from a few quasars, the super-bright hearts of galaxies. Murphy's team was shocked to find a slight shift in the metallic fingerprint of quasar light that had traveled billions of miles (and therefore billions of years) to Earth. Because alpha determines the position of visible lines within this fingerprint, the researchers argued that the shift was caused by an increase in alpha of about 0.001% since the big bang. But another team of physicists challenged the theory in 2004 after they found no evidence for a shift in alpha by measuring the constant to great accuracy with an atomic clock.

Now Murphy's team has answered the challenge. Using the most powerful light telescope in the world, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the team fingerprinted light from 143 quasars, the largest survey to date. According to their analysis, presented 11 April at the Physics2005 conference in Warwick, U.K., alpha has indeed been on the rise. Murphy says the new measurement is 10 times more sensitive than the atomic clock experiment.

You can read more about all that by visiting (post-)Dr. Murphy's page, and there you will also discover that his research is partially funded by... The John Templeton Foundation.

We can't know, of course, why Sir John's outfit is putting up the money for (post-)Dr. Murphy's research. Based on what we do know, however, we can probably assume that somebody thinks that studying the possibility of changing universal constants will lead to some sort of evidence of God.

Which, you know, I think is great. As long as the research is intriguing, and the experiments are rigorously performed, and so long as it's their own money and not mine, who the hell cares why the money is put up? And I'll tell you what, I'm in a hell of a lot better position, as an atheist, if they do prove God exists than a believer would be. I mean, then I could go, "Oh. Okay. What do you know? There's a God." The believers, on the other hand, would have a cataclysmic crisis of faith, which is to say they wouldn't have any faith at all anymore. How can you have faith in the existence of something that you already know exists? I'd stay away from the subject, were I them. But, hey, it's no skin off my nose.

The horror for me would be if everything the most obnoxious, radically-right, fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstoner types say about God turns out to be true. You know, being a mortal, if my situation gets so god-awful I can't stand it anymore, I can at least kill myself and flee into the eternal peace of oblivion. If, however, I am immortal and I am faced with an eternal being that demands I love him no matter how despicably he behaves... well, where you going to go then? There's Hell, I guess, but from what I hear that ain't no picnic. You're looking at eternity, pal, either burning in Hell or sucking up to a right-wing nightmare. (For more on this, see: Michael Tolkin's The Rapture.)

So, let me just say that if Sir John or his ilk do discover a God, I hope to Him He's the decent sort of Fellow a lot of decent people I know seem to believe in. Keep it up, Sir John. Keep funding that legitimate research. Of course the fan in me hopes that what you find is the Alien Civilization, but I could take a decent and truly loving God, in a pinch.

See, here's the real evidence of Intelligent Design, in my opinion. We live in a culture where crackpot millionaires spend their own money methodically researching out-there questions, and maybe in the process they find answers that will take us to places we never dreamed of being able to go. Coming up with a culture like that takes some brains.

Well, except I guess if we are going to be completely honest, we have to admit that the culture out of which Sir John springs wasn't really designed or anything.

It just sort of, you know, evolved.

On Being an Acquired Taste

I'm informed my blog is an acquired taste. This seems about right to me. It has always been the case that there is one group of people who really hate what I write, and another group of people who like my writing very much. See, here's the deal. My whole life, people have responded that way to me in the flesh. I try to invest a goodly amount of myself in what I write -- I don't always succeed, but that's what I try to do -- so it only makes sense people would respond to my writing in the same manner they respond to me.

I wish I could say I wear all of this as a badge of honor or something. I actually find it kind of annoying that I irritate so many people. But what can you do? I'm bored by writing that doesn't show something of the writer. I've got to see something of his passions. That's pretty much the standard to which I hold the blogs I read (note that there are all sorts of ways for bloggers to invest themselves in their work -- it doesn't necessarily have to involve writing). Personal passions are pretty much, in my opinion, the whole reason for blogging, and for reading blogs. I know others have their own reasons for blogging, but this is mine. There are a lot of very popular blogs I don't read anymore. I can't bear them. They do not meet My Exacting Standards as described above.

To the degree that those who hate my work hate it not because it's bad writing (which it sometimes is... I'm working on making it better), but because they hate what I write, or hate what I think, or -- in short  -- hate me, then I guess I can appreciate that response. It means I got some of me across, no matter how distasteful you might have found it.

So, thank you to those who come here more or less regularly. I deeply appreciate your visits. And I promise I will try to build on and improve what I'm trying to do.

And thank you to those whose blogs I regularly follow. Thank you for investing yourselves in your work. It seems I have acquired a taste for you.

Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0409)

NYC, 108°, April 9, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

Brand New Gay Stereotype, Gratis

Let me introduce you, America, to a brand new gay stereotype you can have, free of charge.

This New Typical Homo (hereinafter, for the time being, "NTH") started wondering about himself when he was in, oh, I dunno, junior high school maybe, but he pretty much kept it to himself because your average NTH isn't stupid. He got a lot more clued-in about himself when he was in high school. Inside he was majoring in sex-(with)-Ed, but on the outside he was keeping things cool. See, your run-of-the-mill NTH gets smarter as the days pass. He has no choice. And he learns to be self-reliant, too. You got to know how to get through things on your own sometimes. Being a young fag, as the Scoutmasters used to say, builds character.

But after all, your joe-blow NTH isn't superman. He's like the rest of us, and he starts getting a little bit tired of all the bullshit. That's the thing, see. One thing your average homo is pretty good at -- not just your NTHs -- is getting fed-up with all the bullshit. So after a while, it's not exactly like he decides to bail out on the bullshit or anything. It just sort of... happens. He's spent the last five or ten years of his life living one of the most intense lies anybody should ever have to live and he just gets, you know, tired of it.

And so once he's lost all patience with his own bullshit, he starts losing patience with everybody else's bullshit too. Pretty soon, you better not lie to him or act phony or anything, or he'll call you out. Right there in front of everybody.

Know why? Because he's fearless. Once you give up on the bullshit, you realize that just about the only way they can really hurt you is with a baseball bat or a gun. Oh, sure, they can fire you, or throw you out of the house, or even find some way to not rent you an apartment. But what the hell does any of that matter if the trade-off is having to sell your soul back into the slavery of bullshit?

That's the thing about honesty and courage. Once you catch those diseases, there are very few cures. Oh, some people get old and worn-out and can't manage it in their last few years. So what else is new? But lessons learned when you are young stay with you, and so a lot of the time you just keep soldiering on being honest and brave.

So what you end up with is some kid who will both tell you the truth and demand it from you, and who will step up and do what needs to be done when it needs to get done.

I'm no good at coming up with names for new gay stereotypes for America to start chewing on, but we have to call this new cat something besides NTH, so I'm just going to call him what he is: a straight-shooter.

Yeah, go ahead and make your nasty jokes. I'll tell you what. The puns are intended.

Your typical straight-shooter, that'd be a guy like Robert Stout. Heh. "Stout". Perfect name for the first publicly identified example of the new straight-shooter gay stereotype.

Actually, he's Sgt. Robert Stout, of the 9th Engineer Battalion based in Schweinfurt, Germany. Well, that's where they are now. Earlier, they spent a year in Iraq where Sgt. Stout was wounded by grenade shrapnel in his arm, face and legs. He was operating a machine gun on top of an armored Humvee when it happened, just a year ago this coming May. Now that he's all fixed up and is showing off his shiny new Purple Heart for Mr. & Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, he wants to return to his unit but of course he mentioned he was a homo and so now the Army wants him cashiered.

I think when Sgt. Stout gets finished with his career in the service (or has it finished for him), he ought to go into politics. That's what we want in our politicians, right? Straight-shooters? People with courage and who will tell you the truth? That's what we always keep saying to each other anyway. "We want straight-shooters who are brave and will tell us the truth!"

I'll bet you one whole American dollar that Sgt. Stout would make a classier politician, by far, than the miserable, gutless, lying, manipulative cowards we've got in the Republican Congress right now. By a factor of ten, I'd say. Maybe twelve.

Let me tell you something. Growing up a fag in America makes a man out of you. That's the truth out of which you're new gay stereotype will grow. You're so fucking good at gay stereotypes, America. Let's just see if you have the balls for this one.

Celiacs Rock

Finally wandered into the new Whole Foods at Union Square and discovered that, thanks to all of you out there who responded to the United Corpuscular Appeal... you did respond, right? I know you did.

Whatever. In any case, the new Whole Foods just a few blocks from my house is now carrying Bard's Tale Beer! Refrigerated, too. Bit pricey, $11 per six-pack, but that's about what it cost me at Bierkraft over in Brooklyn. So! No more expeditions to Brooklyn just to buy gluten-free beer!

Just in time for Summer!

Update: I just checked Bard's Tale's "Availability Page" for New York and I discovered they have two distributers, one for the City and one for the rest of the state! Plus, a bunch more restaurants (including, it looks like, the Outback Steakhouse chain) and a bunch more retail outfits! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!

Freedom of Association

Furnaces of the Krell

One summer evening, back when I could still drink real beer and when the New York City chapter of the Raseffarians still met, I found myself sitting with my fellow raseffers in the back garden of the pub known as d.b.a. The group had located itself in a part of the garden that was way too close to the tavern's air-conditioning units. It being a warmish evening, the units were cycling on and off. When they cycled on, the noise was impressive.

That night I happened to be sitting next to or near (I can't be expected to remember everything!!) the Nobel Prize nominated pnh. After the air conditioning unit had cycled on for about the fourth or fifth time, Patrick muttered, "It's like the furnaces of the Krell around here."

I remember the moment so clearly partly because it made me laugh, and partly because it was so true. Damn, it really was like the furnaces of the Krell.

Monsters From the Id

You remember the invisible monster from Forbidden Planet. You will especially remember the part when the monster's footprints appear in sand, and when the inconceivably great weight of its insubstantiality bends the steps on the stairway up into the spaceship.

The movie, as all be-beanied scholars will know, is the love-child product of same-sex marriage between Freud and Shakespeare. Don't ask which one carried it to term. No one knows and no one cares except you.

I like the part when the spacemen point their special concentric circle ray gun at the creature and it lights up like, um, a free-hand sketch of a monster they didn't have enough money left in the budget to actually build.

Anyways, this was a Monster from Dr. Morbius's Id, see? You know how I know? Here's how (.wav). I can think of a lot of things the monster from my particular id would look like. Fortunately, I'm a terrible pen-and-ink man so you will be spared. If you really want to know, get a concentric circle ray gun and shoot me in the head with it.

Freud As a Founding Father

Freud had a cigar-like finger in a lot of things. A lot of people don't know this, but one time? At the Constitutional Convention? He descended from the Universal Unconscious as a kind of misty Zeitgeist and exerted some sort of astral influence on the Founding Fathers. They couldn't really understand what he was on about because he didn't have any lips so they got the words all screwed up. Instead of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego, they heard the "President", the "Congress", and the "Judiciary". If you say all three fast, about three times in a row, you can sort of see how they got it wrong. Well, no you can't. But anyways.

There's an obscure passage in one of the Lost Federalist Papers (known cryptically as The Oxford Companion to the Mind):

Sigmund Freud supposed that three components make up the psychic [ed: Federal] structure: the id [ed: President], the ego [ed: Congress], and the super-ego [ed: Judiciary]. The id represents instincts and innate needs. The super-ego, manifest in conscience, shame, and guilt, is the agency by which the influence of parents and others is prolonged. Their judgments and prohibitions are internalized by the process of introjection in early childhood before the child is able to question them. The ego has been differentiated from the id through the influence of the external world, to whose demands it adapts. In so adapting it has to reconcile the forces of the id and super-ego in such a way as to maximize pleasure and minimize unpleasure....

The Republican Ego and Id

This hidden structure is usually, well, you know, hidden. It only reveals itself when the country is turning into what we here in New York call "a ment-ull case". Like, you know, right about now.

Looking closely, we discover that Bush really is all about being a dick. On account of he is the hidden id, at last revealed. The Congress distinguishes itself by adapting itself to the influence of the external world, which is to say it sucks the radical-right's dick. And the Judiciary... well, the Judiciary...

The Judiciary As Superego

Dr. Morbius was a pretty smart guy, all right. He was all up on the Krell and everything. Only he was kind of an egomaniac, see? And because he was such an egomaniac, it really pissed him off that the superego spacemen all of a sudden showed up with Leslie Nielsen in charge! No superego for Dr. Morbius! So he becomes something worse than an egomaniac, he becomes an idiomaniac, on account of he can't control his urges any more.

Okay, so now we have DeLay and Cornyn and Bush and the entire Republican Axis of Idio-Ego Evil rising up on their heels and wanting to kill the superego spacemen Judiciary. Here comes the huge, murderous, invisible creature from the Id trying to tear the superego spacemen Judiciary all apart.

See? It all makes sense when you think about it.

The Fall of the Krell

Heh. The Krell probably thought they were indestructible. They probably thought they'd go on forever, just like we think that about ourselves.

Ha! Were they  wrong. And now all that's left of them are great furnaces churning away pointlessly in the bowels of a faraway planet.

In Conclusion

How will we rescue the Honey West of Democracy? Beats the hell out of me. We are confronted with a primordial force -- the bastard love-child of Shakespeare and Freud. Frankly, I'm not sure even Leslie Nielsen in a pair of trim stretch pants could save us. The Republican Creature is getting ready to tear us limb from limb.

Maybe if we took control of the Ego in '06, and the Id in '08? That's my idea, anyway. Who knows? It's so crazy and out-there, it just might work.

Diabetic Kitty Litter Box

Say hello to Young Jeff.

"Keep effing with me. If you want to die."

Also known as Jeff, Jeffrey, Jefferson, Goob (short for "Good boy"), Goobs, Gooberson, Dood, Dooderson, and so forth.

Young Jeff is a gimp like me, only he's got it worse. He's a diabetic, has been for six years. The biggest hassle, of course, is having to give him his insulin shot twice a day. As part of monitoring his sugar, you are supposed to "dip urine" -- i.e., use test strips like Keto-Diastix to discover the amount of sugar being dumped into the pee -- and that's the second biggest hassle.

It's easier now that I only have the one cat, but even so collecting pee from a cat is a pain in the neck. The vets tell you to start with a clean cat box, sprinkle just a bit of litter in it, then wait for the cat to use it. The problem is that the cat will often end up standing in his own pee (nice!). Then, for extra fun, his little wet feets track his pee around the house after he leaves the box.

If you have a cat with a scientific mind -- smart enough to understand that pee flows downhill -- you might be able to get away with putting something under one end of the box to tilt it slightly. This can lead to the cat either squatting at the uphill end of the box, in which case the pee flows away from him (assuming he hasn't squatted such that his downhill foot is in the path of the pee), or squatting at the downhill end of the box so that his feet get soaked.

So, eventually, I invented a better way for me and Jeff.

We went to the vet today. He was there for his check-up and I was there to get fleeced. I mentioned my diabetic kitty litter box invention to the vet and she thought it was a brilliant solution to the eternal problem of collecting cat pee, so I decided I would share it.

First, if you don't already have one, buy one of those "lift & sift" cat boxes. The set will have two pans, plus a sifting-insert.

Where I live, they are about $20. In fact, you really need two of the sifting-inserts. If you can't find one at a yard-sale, or if you don't have an extra one around, you might have to buy two "lift & sift" cat box sets. Maybe a neighbor has an extra one? You won't be buying cat litter anymore, so if buying a second "lift & sift" set seems like a waste of money, think of the bags of cat litter you won't have to buy anymore.

Second, get some sort of fine mesh screen -- like what's used in a screen door. I use the nylon stuff just because it's easier to work with, and I think it probably survives the ordeal better than the metal screening does. The piece needs to be big enough to fit inside one of the cat pans and have a little left over.

Third, buy some aquarium gravel. I find 2 or 3 of the 5-pound bags is sufficient. Where I live, it's about $4 for a 5-pound bag.

Okay, so, building it:

  1. Put the first sifter inside one of the cat pans.
  2. Press the netting down into the sifter.
  3. Press the second sifter down over the netting to hold the netting in place.
  4. Trim away excess netting.
  5. Pour aquarium gravel into pan until the top sifter is covered by, I dunno, an inch of gravel. Whatever seems right for your cat. The two sifters with the netting sandwiched between them is now called the "gravel unit".
  6. Place cat pan with the gravel unit inside it in your cat's usual peeing place. Eagerly await his verdict.

If the contraption passes muster and your cat actually pees in it, lift the gravel unit out of the pan (shaking it a couple of times to remove excess drips of pee) and set the gravel unit into the second (unused) cat pan. Now kitty has a fresh box to use and you have a pan with plenty of pee in it for dipping. After testing the pee, just dump it in the toilet and flush, then rinse the pan out using hot water with a few splashes of bleach in it. Set the pan aside to dry and await its turn back in the saddle.

To clean the rock, once a week or so prepare a two-gallon solution of water & ammonia (I use the "sudsy" type of ammonia). In the bathroom, pour half the bucket into the litter box, over the gravel unit. Repeatedly lift the gravel unit out of the water, then dip it back in until the water seems plenty dirty. Lift the gravel unit out, set it aside (bathtub?), and pour the dirty water in the toilet, then put the gravel unit back in and repeat procedure with the rest of the ammonia water. I usually repeat the whole process again, using a two-gallon bucketful of clean and fresh rinse water.

Make sure you do the hot ammonia-wash cleaning once a week. Otherwise, eventually, you get little Evil Things growing in the rock. Not to mention the smell.

For poop, get one of those hand-scoops with spaces big enough to let all the gravel fall through. Because of my guy's diet, he hardly ever has runny poop, so it almost always scoops out clean (rattle the scoop to get rid of all "clinging" rock). If the poop is rockless, I just flush it down the toilet. Don't flush poop with rock clinging to it down your toilet. Dispose of it in some other way.

Change the rock out completely whenever it seems necessary to do so.  Every few months? I dunno. I've been doing this for about 9 months and I've changed the rocks once.

A visiting friend who has his own (not diabetic) cat remarked that he might adopt my system even though he has no particular interest in collecting his cat's pee. He calculates my way is better for the environment. I suppose that's possible, but I haven't exactly commissioned a study on it or anything.

Anyway, HTH.

Hitting the Wall And Bouncing Off It

By way of the 2004 Sack of Jawea Award winning site (and currently the leading candidate for 2005), Give, Get, Take, and Have, I hereby violate my announced posting schedule because sometimes you just have to.

Herewith, Transgressive Rocky (Flash required).

Visit to A Verifiable Planet

Couple of nights ago, some friends and I went up to the American Museum of Natural History to attend the Fifth Annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate. The topic for the evening was "The Enigma of Alien Solar Systems". It was a joy for many reasons, on many levels, but pardon me ma'am, that weren't no debate.

Before it started one of my friends said, "I hope they do a 'Resolved'. I love it when they do a 'Resolved'". I am deeply influenced by what others think, and so I concurred.

But this was more along the line of a panel discussion, and a very distinguished and interesting panel it was, too. Moving from house-left to house-right, from the observationals to the theoreticals:

The event was held in the LeFrak Theater adjoining the Museum. A lovely space. We remarked they could do plays in it. "Science plays!" we enthused. My friend raised her arms over her head and made a circle, demonstrating her theory of planet formation. "I am Neptune," she gravitationally contracted.

For an account of the event more newsful than I can summon up, see this article from www.space.com.

Sitting there, I felt I was in heaven, and as the evening progressed it dawned on me why. Yes, yes, I love hearing about all this stuff. It's interesting. I'm a science fiction fan. And I'm a fan of science (years-long member in good standing of the AAAS and the American Museum of Natural History), but none of that really accounts for what I was feeling.

There I was with 700 people in a lovingly restored theater attached to one of the most amazing museums in the world, listening as five very accomplished scientists and an enthused moderator discussed stuff they knew so far, and what they might guess, about alien solar systems. And I thought: I wish I lived in a whole world like this -- a world where people actually cared about verifiable stuff. The world we live in is so not that.

As human beans, we have this drive to ubiquitously know stuff. Sadly, there is a relatively common perversion of that drive -- a perversion which I call the drive to be right. The problem with the drive to be right is that it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with actually being right; it has more to do with compelling others to believe that you are -- or perhaps more to the point, compelling others to keep quiet about it even if they think you are wrong. The drive to be right is about power; the drive to know is about verifiable truth. Gee, I wonder which world I would want to live in: one driven by power, or one driven by verifiable truth? I'll get back to you.

Okay, I'm back to you: I want to live in a world where verifiable truth matters -- not just in the LeFrak Theater, not just in science, but in politics, too, and in my daily life.

The daily life part is more or less under control. A little white lie now and again, for some moderately good cause in the name of friendship or what-all, that's okay. But you lie to me once in any significant way and you get a warning to never do it again. You lie to me again, it's over. Liars can't be trusted and if I can't trust you, then you are only a part of my life to the degree I am absolutely forced to deal with you. And I mean forced.

But in politics, well... I have great hopes. I'm afraid that's the most I can say. The problem is, you -- "you" being the body politic -- don't seem to care that much about the verifiable truth. You can actually verify what the corporatists and politicians tell you, you know. Yes, you can, you can actually do that, but too many of you don't. You don't care about living in a world of verifiable truths. You are happy living in a world that is about power.

We all know the famous quote by Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out..." and so on. You know how that story ends. This thing gets quoted time and again in the belief, I suppose, that it will have some sort of "bring it on home" effect on people, but my sense is that most people believe that the marker will never really land on their square. So what if they took all those other people? They'll never get to me. I'm Normal.

Okay, well, I guess there's a certain amount of justifiable calculated risk in that belief. Why would you worry about who they are taking away when you have your mortgage to worry about, and, by the way, things aren't going so well down at the plant, there may be lay-offs, and the wife is really beginning to get on your nerves lately about that broken dishwasher, and Johnny is looking a little stoned lately as he keeps getting home late for dinner. Most people are betting they can spend their time worrying about that sort of stuff instead of what the aristocracy faction is doing to the country.

The problem is, it's probably a safe bet. The aristocracy faction is going to go only as far as it thinks it can, lest its actions begin to threaten its power. They are going to mess with the middle-class only so far, and no further. So, yeah, probably it's a safe bet. It's an immoral bet, and a foolish bet, and a bet that threatens our democracy, but according to the limited risk/benefit parameters of the particular bet, yeah, it's probably a safe one.

In short, you are happy living in a world driven by power -- well, happy as long as the power is exercised against people other than yourselves. What can I say? I guess just this: stop pretending you care about living in a democracy, because you don't.

See, even if the bet works out for you, all that you've really accomplished is to turn yourself into a medieval serf. Of course you have to worry about the mortgage and the job and all the rest of it, but unless you are satisfied with being nothing more than a serf, you have to take a little time each week to inform yourself with verifiable stuff. You can probably get by with a couple hours a week of actually paying attention to what the aristocracy faction is up to, but if that's all the time you can spend at it, you better be careful about what you are going to use for your sources of verifiable stuff. If you are short on time, I recommend Media Matters for America. It's a site run by an ex-member of the aristocracy faction so he's hip to how these guys who claim to be on your side are actually beating up on you. And remember this: You don't have to read everything there is to read; you only have to read enough to get your head on straight. The rest will take care of itself.

Meanwhile, I'm going back to La-La-LeFrak-Theater-Planet where I can sit in a whole room full of people who care about finding out verifiable stuff. Let me know when you are ready to get with the democracy program. This stuff really isn't that hard, you know, though I do admit that should you take up this practice of caring about the verifiable truth, you may have to face the horrifying prospect of occasionally finding out some of what you think is wrong. Yes, I know. This can feel like you are about to die some terrible death or something. Clue: you're not.

Saturday Morning Spring Vigil (0402)

NYC, 108°, April 2, 2005, 6:45 a.m.

In Memory

May 2006

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