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Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006
1:02 am
Interesting piece on political Asymmetric Language:

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12:34 am
Edward Wilson on Charlie Rose last night said that Darwin was the most influential person that ever lived. I suppose the people who oppose Darwin and his ideas would have another specific person in mind for that distinction.

But James Watson on that same show talked about Darwin's writing - that when he's written so powerfully and so on and then throws in a bit a poetry at the end, you pay attention.

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Sunday, August 7th, 2005
9:50 pm - my grandma
I gave my grandma a farewell pat on the head.
They say funerals are for the living.
I was alive. So this funeral was for me.
But the funeral home
had applied hairspray to grandma's head.
And that made her hair hard, less bouncy.
Less eminently pattable.
Less bouncy. Like her.
She's different now.

Maybe it's time to grow up.

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Thursday, June 16th, 2005
1:21 am - dates
"There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted."

Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

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Saturday, May 7th, 2005
12:50 am - what would you do?
What would you do if you had a year left to live, but you were fully conscious and capable in your time left? This is related to my previous question of causes that you believe in, and I have personal reasons for asking (not what you may think).

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12:04 am - causes
I was wondering something, for anyone who would care to talk about it. Do you have a cause that you dedicate time to? Or significant amounts of money? Or effort? Or something else? I have a particular reason for asking, which I'll talk about later.

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Wednesday, May 4th, 2005
2:11 pm
The United States spends over $87 billion conducting a war in Iraq while the United Nations estimates that for less than half that amount we could provide clean water, adequate diets, sanitation services and basic education to every person on the planet.

And we wonder why terrorists attack us?

- John Perkins
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005
4:44 pm - Democracy
I have a question. What is democracy? We throw that term around all the time, but what does it mean? Does it mean just having ballot boxes? Well, obviously, the ballot boxes have to be representing something more. What?

To start, I think it's pretty clear that democracy comes in many forms and flavors, and is used on different levels for different purposes. We have referendums that ask voters to decide issues directly. We have elections for representatives that are proxied the responsibility and power to run part of society. In the Iraqi election, voters didn't even get to select those representatives, only parties. So what do all these things that we lump under the common term "democracy" have in common?

To fall back on a psuedo-slogan, it seems like these are all processes that allow "the people" to decide "stuff". The relationship of that "stuff" to "the people" differs depending on the system and it's motivating philosophy. It can range from a referendum asking direct questions to Iraq's election of only parties. Is there a line somewhere for the "stuff," beyond which it becomes too abstract to rightfully be considered a democracy?

Also, do we actually need ballot boxes? What if we have a system where the people express their wills with Gallup polls? What about with armed rebellion? Then it could be argued, what isn't a democracy? What about with money? We consider one-person-one-vote as sacred, but what if rich people think they should have two votes? Some people would say the US is already marching in that direction.

Which brings up the issue of media control in a democracy. As a voter, I get about 100% of my information about an issue or a candidate from the lens of mass media. And mass media needs money. So the naive conclusion is, money control media which controls the electorate. So the people end up being sheep. And they have no choice, I don't think.

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Thursday, April 7th, 2005
8:05 pm - standing in line to see the pope
The authorities in the Vatican stopped letting people stand on line to go view the pope's body a while back because the line had grown too long. I don't think they should've done that. Sure, the people who got in line at the very end (or even not the very end, judging from the sheer length of it) wouldn't have been able to get to pay their last respects to the pope, and the authorities should've made this clearly known, but they still should've kept the line open.

I remember reading an old magazine account of people lining up in Washington to view the casket of JFK. The reporter overheard this couple. The guy said to his wife, "Let's go, we're never going to get in before they close the doors.", and his wife said, "No, we should stay. It's the least we could do." There was another story of a family who was just ten feet away from the door when they closed up and said "No more, that's all."

For the people standing in line, some for twelve hours or more, I can't help but think that perhaps their salute to a man they considered great was in fact that very act of personal sacrifice. They stood in line for hours after getting off a plane from half way around the world, with very little chance of being to accomplish exactly what they set out to do. Maybe doing it was part of their mourning process and a statement to themselves and the world that what the pope stood is important enough to be worthy of such sacrifice.

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Friday, March 11th, 2005
4:04 pm - a 5 paragraph essay
The New York Times had a bunch of letters to the editor about the SAT's adding a new requirement - a five paragraph essay. The anti-essay points of view basically boiled down to "It'll force teachers to teach rigidly and stifle creativity." I would argue that today's technological and behavioral changes have made five paragraph essays more suitable.

Given today's average attention span, it seems like five paragraphs is about it. If your goal is to be read, I don't think you have much more opportunity than five paragraphs. Look at today's blogs. I don't think they go on for pages and pages (although to be honest, I haven't seen enough blogs to be able to say). Plus, I think somebody somewhere did research on how people reading in front of screens can't (and don't) read pages and pages of text.

For the average writer, expecting more than five paragraphs is probably both not practical and a bit unrealistic. If you're an average student, I would guess (condescendingly, sorry) that you don't have the attention span to write more than five paragraphs regularly. If you're in the workplace, your bosses and coworkers don't have time to read lots of stuff. And if you're a blogger, well, you have to deal with that attention span problem.

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Monday, February 28th, 2005
3:02 pm - small, local businesses
There was an editorial today that talked about how big corporations are driving small independent shops out of business, and the scorn of this trend seems almost universal. Why?

I mean, large chains are able to offer better selections, lower prices, and they can offer uniformity over, well, just about everywhere. McDonalds is McDonalds everywhere. Wal-mart is cheap and it's basically everywhere too. Amazon.com is offers all the books that my local brick-and-mortar small bookseller offers at lower prices. But I still go to my local bookseller to make use of their comfy couches to puruse books over iced mochas. So, are comfy couches and iced mochas rapidly becoming unaffordable book buying luxuries? Honestly, when I have a title in mind and want it for sure, I go to Amazon.com. But I do buy from the small local bookseller occasionally. And what I'm actually buying is the small thrill of being pleasantly surprised by something unexpectedly different and non-mainstream. But small bookshops, I don't think, can survive on that.

Then again, maybe most consumers aren't like me. Maybe they're like you.

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Saturday, February 19th, 2005
2:20 pm
I had a dream.

Anu and I were flying to London for some reason. We were sitting in the middle of the cabin on a British Airways flight, and it was getting a little warm. So Anu decided to turn on the air and twisted the little knob. No air. I twisted my little knob. No air. So we decided that it must be the whole row of seats that had no air.

So I called over the flight attendent guy and said "We don't seem to have any air. Can you fix it?" And he replied in a very Scottish accent, "I'm sorry, there's absolutely nothing I can do for you." So on a whim, I said to the guy, "Well, to make up for our loss of air, I think everyone in this row should get free drinks for the rest of the flight." He thought for a moment and then said "Ok, I guess we'll just have to do that for you! What can I get you?" "I'll have a vodka on the rocks." (Do they even drink vodka like that?)

So the guy left and came back with one of those plastic airline cups with some kind of slightly greenish transluscent liquid with ice cubes. He started passing it down the row to me. When it got to Anu, he took it, sniffed it and said "Wow, a hint of lemon!" I took it, gulped it down, and proudly proclaimed, "Bonus! This beats having air any day!"

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Thursday, February 17th, 2005
2:17 pm - bicycling weather
Perfect bicycling weather.
Wish I could box it up.
"Save it for later." says the sentimentalist.
"Sell it!" says the capitalist.
"Share it!" says the communist.
No, more like "Give it to the government!"
"Enjoy it while it lasts..." says the environmentalist.
"...Because it won't!" the environmentalist adds.
"...Because it brings you joy while it's here!" the Zen master adds.

Trapped inside.
Sunny days make the indoors a prison.
Then again, the indoors are a blessing
when it's raining outside.

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Wednesday, February 16th, 2005
12:27 am - i'm back, take 42
Charlie Rose is talking to a bunch of bloggers, and I think I've been enlightened. Yet again. For the nineteenth-million time, I'm back. Once again, I'm reaching the conclusion that I should talk about what I'm thinking, that it's for me and not other people. This time I really appreciate it. For real, this time.

Andrew Sullivan was asked what measured success in a blog, and that blog served ultimate niche. But really, it's for yourself, so you know what you were thinking at 12:30 in the morning on February 16. And as opposed to actual books and magazines pieces and stuff which are actually finished pieces for the world, this is just for you to record what you were thinking.

I kinda wish they hurry up and perfect telepathy. Then blogs, and all of writing or material expression, for that matter, won't be necessary. Because, for whatever reason you do it, what's going on in your head can be detected and recorded.

But hey, this isn't the first time I've felt a resurgence of desire to express myself, for whatever reason. This isn't the first time I've come to realization that this isn't for the world, it's for me, and anything else is just for ego. Each time, I think it'll stick. And then it doesn't. So in a sense, it's absense says something in the record of how I was. But not a very refined record since it's only a record by way of it's absense.

Which is kinda like terrorism. Actually, Charlie and the bloggers are now talking about how really cool blogs are able to beat mainstream media at reporting news items. Maybe, in a sense, that's the picture of success that I've always had in my head but couldn't even approach. Now they're talking about control over blogs and how blogs don't have much - it's one person's opinion.

I should read blogs more so I can find out stuff.

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Wednesday, January 26th, 2005
8:13 pm - Death with Dignity

If a Death with Dignity law comes to referendum in my state, I will vote for it. I do not know if I would ever use it myself. I remain seated through the credits of movies, even those I didn't like much, and after I've finished my drink, I chew the pulp from the lime. I suspect I'll want to stay for the duration. Perhaps I'll not mind terribly if someone offers me a hug.

- Garret Keizer
Harper's, February 2005, page 60

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Sunday, December 5th, 2004
12:53 am
"The only personal advantage that he can claim to possess is that he happens also to be a historian, and is therefore at least aware that he himself is a piece of sentient flotsam on the eddying surface of the stream of time."

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Wednesday, August 11th, 2004
11:39 am - shaving
You know, in all my life, until recently, I've never actually shaved with one of those non-electric shavers. What do they call those things? Straight-razors? No, that's what Jack the Ripper used to kill people - one of those truly frightening devices to have near your throat, yet totally intended for that purpose. The miracle of modern technology - Gillette Mach 3, the best a man can get - makes shaving almost civilized. Provided you go about it in a sufficiently zen manner.

I never had enough confidence in the steadiness of my hands to trust them with something like a blade near my throat. I had images of slicing through my jugular and my windpipe, gasping for air and spraying the entire bathroom with my blood as I suffocated and bled to death. With electric razors, you could fool yourself into thinking it wasn't really a blade, it was a tiny beard-hungry genie in there who would never even think of drawing blood.

This little fantasy served me well until one day my genie died, and the genie temp agency let me down. I picked up my razor and flipped the on switch. Nothing. I jiggled the plug. Nothing. I flipped the on switch back and forth several times, like the kid who thinks pushing the elevator button hundreds of times will make elevator come faster. Nothing.

Thinking perhaps the electric razor was totally jammed with little remnants of my old beard, I emptied out the beard collection reservoir in the razor - a task that admittedly I didn't do with sufficient frequency. A modest amount of beardage came out. I flipped the switch again. Still nothing.

Now it began to seem serious. I would have to do some serious cleaning. I went as far as disassembling the razor blades and the gear assembly and all that, looking for little bits of beard cloggage. I found next to none. Normally, I would've said, "Yay! I didn't have to clean!" But these were not normal times.

I plugged it back in, jiggled the plug, jiggled the cable, said a little prayer. Nothing. Oh man. Time for a new razor.

Normally, this would've been fine. I would've just gone down to the store and gotten a new razor. Problem is, there are no electric razor stores out here that I knew of. No genie temp agencies in the middle of nowhere.

Actually, I could've gone online and gotten one and waited a few days for it to get here. I think I could've lasted a few days looking a little scruffy. I could've gone the way of Anu and grown facial hair of convenience. In fact, I sort of did that last summer when I was in Taiwan for my grandfather's funeral, and local tradition involved not shaving during the mourning period. So I came back to the US looking scruffy. Uh oh.

I distinctly remember what I looked like. My idea of cool, long beardage evoked images of Gandalf the Wizard or Santa Claus. Aside from the fact that these images were all of *old* people who have long beards that were white and distinguished, I'd always thought of how cool it would be to have a long mane of hair grafted to the bottom of my face that I could stroke thoughtfully in that "Hmm...Very interesting..." kind of way.

I looked nothing like Gandalf or Santa Claus. I looked more like a homeless guy who just got out of a penitentiary. Instead of having a cool, stokable mane of facial hair, I had uneven patches of sandpaper on my chin. Not even good sandpaper. It was rough, but more like rough, course hair than hard, abrasive sandpaper. So much for volunteering my beard in the prison wood shop. So much for not shaving. That, plus I had meetings to go to with real people who might not exactly welcome the sight of a guy with sandpaper on his chin.

So I needed to shave, and my Norelco beard genie was dead or on strike. Plus, I had heard that manual razors give you a closer shave. I went down to the local Safeway and got a can of green beard goop and a Gillette Mach 3 (The best a man can get! How can you argue with that?). This felt like delayed development. Most people first encounter this grim ritual in the prime of their adolescence.

I got home and proceeded to stand in front of the bathroom mirror with my can of green beard goop and my Gillette Mach 3. There were no instructions. But how hard can this be? I mean, it's not like baking a cake! So I started doing what I saw them do in the movies. Inevitably, in the movies, you'd see them with little bits of tissue stuck to their faces. This scared me. But for some reason, I didn't care that much. I figured, if anyone asked me why my face was bleeding profusely, I'd just explain that I'd never used a manual razor before, and they'd understand.

The green beard goop goes on the chin sandpaper. Check. Dude! The goop gets all foamy! Excellent! The razor gets rinsed under some hot water that proceeds to get the room all steamy (presumably, a steamy room makes your beard softer and more obedient to the dictates of the Gillette Mach 3...) Check. Now the razor gets rubbed down the path of the sandpaper in the midst of the beard goop. Dude! I'm shaving! This is beautiful!

Periodically, the razor got all covered with white foamy beard goop. No problem. Rinse it off. While rinsing it, I noticed little clumps of beardage stuck to the blade. Excellent! That's the whole point, right? Water doesn't quite wash off the beardage? I'll just use my thumb to get the beardage unstuck...

Oops. The microsecond after reaching down and starting to rub off the beardage, the thought occurred to me, "Hey wait, these are sharp cutting blades! Maybe rubbing your finger across them isn't such a good idea!" That thought was accompanied immediately by pain, blood, and three parallel slits across the surface of my right thumb. Man. The irony of cutting your thumb but not your face while shaving for the first time.

Actually, I did end up cutting my face, but nothing nearly as bad as my wounded thumb. It came time to shave the sandpaper on my upper lip beneath my nose. I suppose most normal people would call that a mustache. I would never presume to give my upper lip stubble the noble title of mustache. To me, mustaches are long, cool, sculptable edifices of facial hair like what Salvador Dali had. Or at the very least, imposing tufts of facial hair like what walruses have.

What I had was stiff upper lip stubble that ended up becoming a razor cut magnet for my face. Somehow, the angle of the skin and beardage on my stiff upper lip was just so as to cause me to nick myself repeatedly. Yay! I cut my face shaving for the first time! I am now a man!

In retrospect, shaving with a manual blade and cutting yourself is kind of interesting. Lesson number one: You (or I, at least) have to do it slowly. Can't give in to the instant gratification desire to be clean shaven and rush it. It's almost Zen. (I don't know why I can say that, knowing almost nothing about being Zen...) Shaving every few days gives me that chance to slow down and do things carefully. I'm finding it very, um, meditative. You have to be focused. Can't let your mind wander, or you cut yourself.

Monks could have done this as spiritual practice. Although the Gillette Mach 3 may have been a bit before their time, for most of them in history. But hey! Monks for most of history would have been forced to use a Jack the Ripper straight razor or worse! So they would've had to be really careful and meditative about it, or else.

That makes me wonder something else. You see classic paintings of men, and a lot of them do have long beards. But not unkempt beards - just long ones. Does this mean they did in fact have to shave often to remove the bits of beardage that would grow outside their one true path of pleasing aesthetic facial hair? Or how about females who succumb to the cultural aesthetic of not having hair on their legs? Do they cut their legs or have other troubles? If you're a female or a male with a long beard (umkempt or otherwise), would you mind cluing me in? Dear readers, would you mind sharing your shaving stories?

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Friday, June 25th, 2004
2:12 pm
It must be the effect of springtime. I'm in a writing kind of mood again. I find that writing makes me happier. Not because of the actual act of putting pen to paper (more on that some other day), but because in the lead up to writing, I have to be observant and think about stuff. That gets to be fun. And when I haven't consciously stopped to think about anything, I have to start mining for stuff to write about.

I recently revisited the book that got me started on this path. I'm sure if I look, I'd find that I'm rediscovering many truths that I'd known before when I was immersed in this whole writing thing. But this time, I think there's a difference. I think I'm approaching it less algorithmically. Less self-consciously. At least I hope that's what I'm doing. Because now I see the value of approaching things like that.

The way I see it, what I produce now is closer in spirit to a readable piece than just random mental hiccupping. The book listed some practices that it thought would be helpful. In particular, it said not to be an editor. Or what I called, letting Self-Censorship Gnome run rampant. But, as I now realize, that's not an algorithm.

Self-censorship is not the same thing as thinking ideas through and being coherant on paper. Revising what I had written slightly is not self-censorship. It's acknowledging that maybe you didn't as fully or as richly capture on paper the inside of your head as you could have. It's a fine line between thinking that and actually thinking what went inside your head needs changing.

I guess I'll just do my best. It's kind of a Zen thing to have this not be about ego and about having to show the world something. I'm sure I'll struggle with it all.

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Saturday, June 5th, 2004
1:05 pm
Our military culture is very broken. This says a lot:


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Saturday, May 1st, 2004
9:47 pm
Friday night was the Nightline broadcast paying tribute to the servicemen and women killed in Iraq. You may have read about it in the paper if you didn't feel inclined to sit through the whole thing.

In case you didn't see it or read about it, it was 40 minutes of Ted reading the names and showing the pictures of each of the soldiers killed in Iraq. Originally, Ted was only going to do the names and pictures of people killed by hostile fire. He got a bit of flack for this, including, he said, a moving letter from the father of serviceman who was decorated for heroism but killed when his truck flipped over. He was also criticized by people like Bill O'Reilly for "politicizing" the war dead.

During the broadcast, at several points, my local ABC affiliate station that carried Nightline interjected a disclaimer about how this was solely a production of ABC News, how the station broadcasting this episode of Nightline isn't implying any particular point of view, and how everyone at the station continues to support our military service people all over the world.

At the beginning of the broadcast, Ted commented that this "wasn't about us." Taken in it's narrowest sense, I guess you could say this wasn't about ABC News and any political position. But in the broader sense, this was entirely about us. Ted ended the broadcast by saying this was Rorschach test for the viewers - people squeeze whatever meaning out of this that they bring into the discussion.

For me, superficially, I believe it's the right thing to do, to honor our war dead. For forty minutes, a respected American journalist took time out of his day to read their names. There were minimal commercials - just three breaks so our local ABC affiliate can air their disclaimer, and spots for the American Red Cross and Boys and Girls Town. Man, the revenue those capitalists must have had to sacrifice.

But as I continued to think about it, I became less sure of what's right. And I had plenty of time to mull over it as the tragic forty minute litany continued. The names began to blur together for me. My attention started gravitating towards the people with more unusual or interesting sounds names. The people who had longer names or a suffix like "Junior" or "the Third" got that extra fraction of a second of voicing by Ted. It really got kind of trivial that someone, because of how their name sounded, got to come up for air and grab my attention for a second.

Then I thought it some more. In a way, I guess it's kind of like the memorial for the Vietman War in Washington. The specific name of the war dead is important for the people who knew that person. The name is there for that person's family and acquaintances, so they can look up at it, leave flowers or a teddy bear on the ground, and take home a pencil rubbing.

For the rest of us, I think we're meant to look at it as a whole. We're supposed to marval at the number of names in front of us, knowing that each one was a life lost in war. No name is supposed to grip us any more than any other. For those of us like me who didn't know anyone in the war, the most we could have done is sit quietly and pay attention through the whole forty minute reading of names. I resisted the temptation to get up and get a drink. What kind of person wouldn't be able to hold off thirst long enough for a reading of the war dead? If being able to do that wasn't reasonable, doesn't that say something about the cost of the war?

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