Creative Destruction

February 3, 2008

Car Culture

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 7:50 pm

The movement of middle class whites from city centers to suburbs in the 1950s and beyond is one of the many effects cars and their infrastructure have wrought on social organization and landscape. Those of us born in the baby boom and after (most of us at this point in history) have a difficult time imagining any other possible way of living besides climbing in the car every day and driving where we go. A handful of U.S. cities have significant enough public transportation to enable some to forego owning car, and I know a few die-hards who try to ride bicycles everywhere, even in the winter.

Jim Kunstler has a phrase he repeats from time to time for the acute blindness most of us share regarding the inevitable changes to the economics of owning and operating automobiles: happy motoring. We act as though the era before cars — the one we can’t remember or fully imagine — is permanently behind us and the availability of cheap energy, whether gasoline, ethanol, or electricity, will never disappear. Peak oil experts tell a different story, and because of that, Kunstler has prophesied that the suburb is already dead but we don’t yet realize it. All that remains to be seen, of course. What’s clear right now at least is that we’ve put all of our eggs in this one particular basket, and until the basket is irrevocably ruined, we’ll continue to act like there will be no end to happy motoring.

In the meantime, a couple curious behaviors related to car culture have caught my attention. In Chicago, we get a couple heavy snows each winter that pretty much grind traffic to a halt. Many people park on the street, and when they dig their cars out, all sorts of things appear on the street to claim the cleared spot: lawn chairs, broken furniture, orange hazard cones, milk crates and boards, etc. The unspoken contract seems to be “I cleared this spot, now you respect my labor and don’t park here.” It can’t possibly be legal to stake out a parking place, and it only happens in the winter after a snow, but it seems pretty clear that one would have to be pretty foolish to remove the lawn furniture, park in the spot, and then leave one’s vehicle worth several thousands (at the least) unattended and vulnerable to whatever vandalism the person(s) who cleared the snow might inflict.

Personally, I would never stake out a spot, though I’ve been disappointed a few times to lose one I cleared, and if I did stake one out, I’d never go the extra step and vandalize the car of someone who moved my lawn furniture out of the way to park. Do I expect others to exercise that restraint? Not on your life. I’m undecided whether this tradition is basically harmless or an instance of hoarding in scarcity. Since I have a dedicated parking spot, I guess I don’t have to decide.

The other behavior having partly to do with car culture is the line of vehicles on the shoulder of the highway into O’Hare International Airport. It’s obvious, I think, that folks are waiting in their vehicles 1-2 miles away from the airport for a phone call from the person they’re picking up rather than circling the terminal or parking and walking to meet their party. It seems like a reasonable approach until one considers that these cars are waiting on the shoulder alongside a highway where people routinely travel 60-80 mph. Blocking the shoulder may not be much of a problem, but merging into traffic from a dead stop is not a maneuver I trust most people to execute either respectfully or safely.

I don’t attend to the local media closely enough to learn that police are ticketing drivers waiting along the highway or that City Hall declared a moratorium on claiming parking spots after snow removal. Perhaps these behaviors pose no particular issue for most. Of course, I’m wondering what will happen when the price of oil spikes and few can afford to rack up 25k+ miles per year. If it’s anything like the horribly stupid movie Blood Car, it won’t be pretty.

October 23, 2007

I Could Use A Favor Or Two

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 12:58 am

My father’s home is in the middle of the evacuation zone for Ramona, CA. And I’m just now hearing about it. I can’t reach him on his cell phone. He’s not registered on the Red Cross’ Safe And Well website. And I’m really fucking worried. So if any of you could say a prayer, light a candle, cast a spell, sacrifice a couple of goats, have the random fluctuations of the space/time continuum move aside or whatever method you use to communicate with Who/Whatever is actually out there, I’d appreciate it. So far, there’s no reported deaths from the Witch Fire. And I’d fucking love for it to stay that way.

Houses can be rebuilt. Business can be restored.

You only get one dad.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and frantically keep checking websites until either I find out something or I pass out at the keyboard.

[EDIT: 10.23.07 1103MDT]
Well, according to this map, and if it is accurate, my dad’s house remains. Missed him by about half a mile or so, but it remains. And when I make a call to my dad’s house, hoping that he has made it back by now, the phone rings rather than a busy signal. Which is another sign of confirmation, I hope. It wasn’t quite what I was wanting to know, but any information helps when you’re worried.

Still haven’t found my dad yet, but there are still no reported fatalities from the Witch Creek Fire so it’s just a matter of time. (But when I do get in touch with him, he’s grounded for a month for making me worry like this!)

Thanks to those folks at http://www.sdcountyemergency.com/ for taking time out of an already hectic night to put together information for the rest of us. And thanks to Bruce Webster over at And Still I Persist for the on-the-spot reporting even as the flames are headed towards his own home.

My candle is still lit over here. Yet now it is for the continued safety of the people throughout my old stomping grounds. Whether it be Ramona or Devore or Lake Arrowhead or Malibu or Santa Clarita or any of the other fires in the Southland, let folks stay safe.

And that goes triple for firefighters on the lines.

[EDIT: 10.23.07 2058MDT]
Finally got the chance to talk with my dad. He is currently in the evacuation center at Mira Loma High School. And he reported to me that, even with almost a million people displaced by the firestorm, the various agencies are still on top of things. FEMA, the Red Cross, CHP, San Diego County, veterinarians, animal shelters, and all the various and sundry city and community and town governments are working together very well. Aid is right there when it is needed.

For a direct quote: “Son, this is not like Katrina.”

Keep those candles lit for the people out there, and keep those prayers going for the firefighters, both those already there and those from all around the West that continue to stream into the area. No one is fully out of this thing yet.

July 8, 2007

Fox News Attack Dog

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Immigration,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 11:21 pm

I stumbled across Michelle Malkin on Fox News not once but twice in the past two days, which I take as a sign that I’m meant to blog about her. I’m unclear how long she has been appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, but it is clear after only a small bit of viewing that she’s been studying her betters — and learning. This excerpt on the subject of immigration is a good example:

At the outset, she frames the issue incorrectly, conflating immigration with crime and imploring her expert, immigration attorney Susan Church, to defend them as though they’re the same thing. Church’s initial response rightly unlinked the two issues and offered a better frame for discussing immigration, but things only went south one Malkin rejoined her. YouTube has another “debate” on the same subject with Geraldo Rivera, which I haven’t viewed. (Um, why was Geraldo Rivera of all people interviewed on immigration?)

I avoid watching Fox News, but on those occasions when it happens to be on in the room, I find it difficult to look away. Viewing Fox News is like seeing a train wreck as it happens, and the cult of personality surrounding some of its “journalists” is utterly astounding. Like Bill O’Reilly, Malkin routinely taunts, interrupts, baits, and insults her interview subjects. Why would anyone, knowing how interviewees are treated, be willing to be set up for such apparent slaughter?

As for presenting either news or commentary, The O’Reilly Factor fails miserably. Yet it succeeds as entertainment of the most base kind. On one side of the political aisle, folks gape in disbelief at what they’re witnessing. On the other side, folks jeer and hoot at the sight of the hosts’ “opponents” being eviscerated in debate. I’m still uncertain whether the Fox News hounds, yipping and nipping at everything and everyone, are simply chasing ratings. Can it be they really believe that the ideal of public debate is well served by the freak shows they put on?

February 24, 2007

Don’t Tell Your Kids They’re Smart

Filed under: Education,Personal Ramblings — Robert @ 11:23 pm

Instead, praise them for working hard or trying or being persistent.

Interesting stuff.

I can certainly testify that a child – at least, this child – does indeed respond to praise of intellect with a slackening of effort. “If I’m such a genius, things won’t be hard” – and then, of course, when they are hard, the result is frustration and avoidance. I’d be 1000% further advanced in my goals in life if I was 10% dumber and 100% more hard-working.

January 31, 2007

How I got here

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Personal Ramblings — Daran @ 8:49 am

In a comment, to my recent post David Byron said:

I’m not interested in how you got to this specific web page. I would be more interested in how people became attuned to the discrimination against men that goes on since that is what is unusual about people here.In particular I wonder how many have had a Child of the Glacier style experience, vs those who didn’t see any anti-male discrimination until they got hit with it like a brick as an adult (eg divorce). How many were aware of these issues and formulated them out of their own mind vs how many had to read about them from someone else to become aware.

I’m personally curious about how people found the two blogs I started. I’m also aware that there’s been little substantive blogging on FCB recently, on my part because of all the stuff I’ve been doing setting it up. So that post was intended to be nothing more than a bit of light entertainment pending something more substantial.

He asks a good question, though, and his own reply is worth reading. My earliest recollection of consciously observing (and objecting to) a gender norm dates to about the same age, I guess, as Adams was. That would put it in the early seventies. I noticed, (and remember complaining about to my parents), that bad things almost never happened to women in the action/adventure films I watched on TV. They never got killed on the battlefield or in the wild western shoot-out. They didn’t fall into pits of boiling lava, nor did they ever get eaten by dinosaurs. They might get captured by the baddies, but the baddies never did anything actually bad to them, and they always got rescued anyway. Men, by contrast, got casually wasted in their scores.

Even younger – six or seven I guess, I remember being very apprehensive of being put into a class with a male teacher. It wasn’t that any man had done anything bad to me, but that I simply had never been in the charge of any man except my Dad, and of course, he was away at work most of the day. Up until then, all my carers other than him had been female.

Other early childhood memories which may or may not have had a gender element were that I always felt in the shadow of my older sister, who was always physically bigger, more capable, more socially successful, and seemingly favoured by my parents. How much of that was gender, and how much was age and how much was my being Aspie is hard to tell.

I have a vague memory of wanting to do something girly, and meeting with the disapproval of my father, though I don’t remember what it was I wanted to do, or how he expressed that disapproval.

I also remember feeling totally unprotected in the face of the schoolyard bullying I was suffering, that nobody would take it seriously. (Of course, nobody had taken it seriously, that I was aware of. All they had done was pass the buck explicitly back to me.) I didn’t connect it to gender, though, but to childhood. I felt that, as a child, I wasn’t important enough to protect.

Like Hugh, I could never flirt as a teen or even a young adult. It wasn’t until my late 20′s that I ever flirted, and it was a real ‘Gosh, I can do this’ moment. Even now, I daren’t initiate.

Also in my late twenties/early thirties I had my first encounter with feminist hostility toward male-survivors I describe some of these incidents in this post, and in a couple of the comments.

What I never did, as Adams appears to have done at a very early age, is join the dots. Instead I swallowed the script as it has been fed to me: Women were the disfavoured sex; it was men who are violent toward women, not the other way about (my personal experiences of violence by women notwithstanding); men received favourable treatment in court. Etc. It wan’t until I found usenet in 1999 that I first encountered rightwing antifeminists/MRAs, the kind that David calls Chauvinists. What an eye-opener that was!

My first reaction was that their behaviour was appalling, and their purported facts seemed absurd. My second reaction when I tried to defend feminism from them, was that they were well prepared for the argument, and I wasn’t. I had to wise-up and educate myself. Some of their alleged facts stood up. Other’s turned out to be garbage, but many feminist claims fared no better. After a while, feminists and antifeminists came to look more and more like mirror images of each other, and I realised that I could not in good faith defend feminism while excoriating the Chauvinist antifems for their misogyny.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Crossposted between Creative Destruction, DaRain Man, and Feminist Critics. In order to shamelessly promote my new blogavoid turning Creative Destruction into just another feminist blog comments are closed there. Comments are open at Feminist Critics.)

January 29, 2007

How did you get here?

Filed under: Blogosphere,Navel Gazing,Personal Ramblings — Daran @ 12:52 pm

(Crossposted between all three blogs I write for.)

It all started for me with a link from The Register to Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog. I found him to be an interesting, somewhat out-of-the-box thinker, so began reading him regularly. Sometime later Lis Riba popped up to ask his advice on getting a high Google Rating for one of her pages. And so she became my second regular read in the blogosphere. High on her blogroll was Alas a Blog. (I knew there was a reason for giving your blog a name beginning with ‘A’.) Unable always to comment as freely as I would like there, I began to comment on Creative Destruction. Shortly thereafter, a messenger arrived at my door bearing a handwritten missive enscribed upon the finest vellum, and laid upon a silken pillow, exhorting me to become a blogger here. (It was either that, or Amp sent me an email, I don’t recall which.)

At that time, WordPress automatically gave you blog if you created an account with them, and obviously I needed an account to blog at CD, and so the blog that was to become DaRain Man was born. I started substantive blogging there after being evicted from Alas during a little flamewar, and I realised that I needed an independent platform of my own. Later when Aegis/HughRistik accepted my offer to co-blog, it was clear that our joint enterprise was going to outgrow the ‘personal blog’ concept. We decided go for a dedicated URL and hosted environment right from the start, rather than go through the agony of changing addresses later, when we were established. Hence Feminist Critics was born.

That’s my story, but how did you get here?

January 22, 2007

Really Serious Question

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 4:00 am

I believe I’ve mentioned to everyone [EDIT: At least everyone over at Left Off Colfax.] my severe and paralyzing fear of heights and/or falling.

What would be the interest out there in an event called “Throw Off Colfax From A Plane”? Any?

Because for this group, I’d do it. While I still have a bit of time until the registration deadline, I’d want to know if I have people willing to back me up (If only to pray that the ‘chute doesn’t open!) before I sign the dotted line.

And yes. I’m going into a panic attack just thinking about doing it.

December 12, 2006

Army Recruiting

Filed under: Content-lite,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 8:59 pm

I was at the mall earlier today and stopped by to speak with a couple Army recruiters. No one else was stepping up to speak with them, so I didn’t feel as though I would be intruding. The two fellows were young, probably late 20s, and quite respectful, calling me sir (though simultaneously scanning the crowd for eye contact or button-holing). Looking at me, I suspect they knew they would get no traction because I’m too old to enlist (I learned the cut-off age is 42, recently raised from 40).

They said they couldn’t speak for other branches of the military but insisted that in joining the Army, recruits could choose their own “jobs,” and as long as they passed through training without undue difficulty, would be happily ensconced in that role, presumably away from a vulnerable combat position. Helicopter pilot and military police were apparently the most sought after “jobs.” Interestingly, they reported that a fair number of interested young men couldn’t handle the skills necessary to obtain a fairly routine technical job, such as computer operator or aircraft maintenance specialist. At no point did they mention whether recruits who failed to qualify for safe “jobs” got recycled into the combat infantry pool, and I was too polite to ask the question directly.

I was also interested to learn that in the recruitment process, they have to be very clear that the Army isn’t like a video game where “players” get to go on a rampage and kill baddies. Apparently, there a fairly commonplace logical disconnect among a lot of young men that being in the Army gives you impunity to wreak mayhem and that that would be a cool thing to do.

I’m holding back on predictable (for me, anyway) spin and commentary and simply reporting what I learned in a brief encounter with Army recruiters. There was no controversy or rancor in my enchange with them, and I am not trolling for any now.

December 5, 2006

Steyn’s Folly

Filed under: Personal Ramblings,Reproductive Rights,War — Tuomas @ 1:35 pm

Why is the pop-pundit Mark Steyn so popular, in addition to his above-average writing and use of often genuinely funny witticisms?

Why is he — of all people — accepted as something of an authority on the conflict between Islam and the West?

Why do American (neo)conservatives worship him so?

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December 3, 2006

The Challenge of the Congo

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Personal Ramblings,War — Daran @ 11:04 pm

Tuomas’s recent post, or, more precisely, the news story to which he linked about the violent rapes of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of women in the Congo has been personally challenging to me on a number of levels.
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November 6, 2006

Murderball Meets Jackass

Filed under: Content-lite,Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 2:10 am

I rented the movie Murderball recently, which got high praise by most reviewers. The guys featured in the movie are a bit gonzo for me, but they appear to be having a hell of a lot of fun.

I see most movies on DVD these days, which loses the theatrical audience response but offers bonus features and is a lot cheaper. I was intrigued to find among the Murderball extras some material featuring a couple of the guys from the Jackass movies, which I have avoided seeing, interacting with the guys from Murderball. I described the stunts and games I saw to a friend who sees nearly every movie, and he said that the full-length Jackass movies were pretty much the same nonsense.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing out loud (which I rarely do in response to a movie at home — at the theater it’s much easier) at what I saw them doing, things like The Black Eye Game and Wheelchair Jousting. It was so predictably base and senseless, but funny.

My sense of humor runs high and low with very little middle ground. I love subtley and wordplay, but I howl at fart jokes. (I had tears streaming down my cheeks in the theater when I saw Eddie Murphy’s version of The Nutty Professor.) Go figure. So although I won’t exactly be rushing off to see Jackass, I guess it’s fair to say I laugh at that sort of nonsense, at least in the small dose I got in connection with Murderball.

October 6, 2006

Bears Will be Bears

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 3:09 pm

Sort of old by current standards of blogging, but I saw a report that sloth bears recently attacked and ate a macaque (a type of monkey) at a zoo in the Netherlands. All by itself, that’s somewhat unusual, as zoo animals are typically separated from each other and well enough fed and cared for that predatory behavior is unnecessary. Still, bears will sometimes do what bears do, and the food chain still being operational in nature, it’s not wholly unexpected that even animals in captivity will sometimes kill and eat other animals.

What interests me, though, is that the headline reads “Zoo visitors watch bears kill, eat monkey” as though the human onlookers have some particular importance to the story. I suppose they do, considering that the animals are kept in galleries on display for our amusement. There was apparently nothing amusing about witnessing nature in action, and zoo visitors were horrified by the bears’ behavior and the macaque’s shrieking resistance.

I wouldn’t want to see an animal attack, either, but also I wouldn’t be horrified by it. Predation is, after all, only natural. If the general public knew about or watched what goes on in a slaughterhouse or on a chicken farm so that they can in turn go to KFC or the grocery for their food, they would probably be similarly horrified. It’s worth remembering, I think, that we humans are at the top of the food chain, and therefore, the biggest predators in all of nature.

October 5, 2006

Products of Damaged Minds

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 12:41 am

The New York Times has a short editorial called “Three School Shootings” (login required) that uses recent school violence to argue somewhat obliquely against gun ownership. The most notable part to me is this:

The weapons were the same, and so was the conflict between the hideous assault of a damaged mind and the atmosphere of openness and trust that makes education possible.

This has all the hallmarks of a colorful, calculated juxtaposition that works as rhetoric but fails to provide enough context or content to do more than play on the readers’ emotions. The conclusion of the editorial is this:

But in these killings we see an open society threatened by the ubiquity of its weapons, in which one kind of freedom is allowed to trump all others. Most gun owners are respectable, law-abiding citizens. But that is no reason to acquit the guns.

I have to wonder if the NYT isn’t losing the forest through the trees. The methods and mechanisms of violence aren’t interchangeable, but neither are they the real point. The onus should be on the damaged minds that produce the motivations to realize such horrors. Further, the salient point isn’t one freedom (the right to own guns) trumping others (e.g., the right not to be shot by guns), it’s the first quote: damaged minds running free in an open society.

I don’t know what the incidence of criminally aberrant behavior is in the country or world compared to that found in history, recent or otherwise. Three school shootings within a week certainly rivets our attention, but is this just an unfortunate series of compressed events bound to happen given the fact that we’re nearly 300 million people in the U.S.? Even if we banned guns, or worse, became a totalitarian society, we still couldn’t ensure everyone’s safety in the face of some statistically inevitable number of people going berserk every week.

September 17, 2006

Being Pro-Life

Filed under: Personal Ramblings,Reproductive Rights — Robert @ 8:54 pm

Dawn Eden posted a link to a good quote from an article in Christianity Today by Amy Laura Hall about how Christians need to start supporting mothers if we want to consider ourselves truly “pro-life” – all mothers, not just the ones who are coming into motherhood the way we would describe as optimal.

Dawn’s link got me thinking about an experience I had at the hospital about four years ago. My then-very pregnant wife and I were touring the birthing wing at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital, preparatory to the delivery of Stephanie. The nice young lady giving us the tour took us around to the various rooms, showing us the various waiting and delivery rooms, getting us familiar with the hospital procedure, and letting us see how well-equipped their acute care facilities were for babies and moms who had difficulties. It was all very reassuring.

We were in a tour group of sorts, composed of all the women who were expecting to give birth in the next couple of months, along with their husbands and/or boyfriends. Except for one young woman, perhaps eighteen, who was all alone. All. Alone.

She was wearing a t-shirt from some atrociously untalented local band or another. She had piercings in every visible portion of her anatomy. I don’t know if her regalia was specifically Goth, but close enough for middle class bourgeouisie. Her hair was…I don’t even remember what her hair was, but it was a mess, OK? She was every parent’s nightmare child, complete with the swelling belly and ringless finger that informed us all that Steve the Drummer or whichever genetic champion she had chosen as a mate was not in the picture.

As we went around the stations, husbands supporting wives up tricky inclines and boyfriends holding doors for the parade of pregnant women, this girl tagged along, alone. She was paying attention to the tour but I wasn’t – I was pretty much preoccupied with my own internal litany of judgment. Didn’t she know what happened after sex? Was she unaware of the unmarried American male’s sterling track record of supporting his children? Didn’t, for God’s sake, she have any sense? Compare and contrast – look at all these smart women, with the husbands they’ve found for themselves. Look at me, at the good choices I’ve made! Gentle reader, if smug self-righteousness were dollar bills, I would have been eating at a fancy restaurant that night.

We were almost done with the tour when it happened. I do believe in God and I do believe in miracles – ask me about the flying car one of these days – but I am not one of those Christians who pipes up with “and then Jesus told me to just march right over there with a casserole!” He tends to speak to me in the still quiet hours of the night, with feelings, not with words.

Not this time. This time it was like a voice in my head. Was it God? Was it my own guilty conscience? I don’t know. Call it the Voice, because that’s what it was – a Voice, capital V, in my head. And the Voice didn’t seem interested in the bad choices of the t-shirt piercing Goth girl. The Voice had questions for ME.

“Where is she?”

(Abruptly, just like that.)

WTF? What do you mean?

“WHERE is this girl? WHERE is she standing?”

Uh…the hospital. The maternity ward.

“And WHAT is she doing here?”

Taking the tour…so she can see where her baby will be born, I guess.

“Where her WHAT will do WHAT?”

Where she’s going to have her baby! Jeez, Voice.

“So this girl who obviously has NO support and NO help has made the CHOICE to keep her child – to bring it into this world alive, on her own. Is that easy for her?”

What? Oh, Christ, no. That’s got to be a miserably hard prospect. Lost educational opportunties, a guarantee of a low standard of living, years of being tied to a helpless child.

“Could you do it, if you were her?”

Uh…I like to think that I would. Of course, when I was eighteen…good Lord. No, probably I would have caved to whatever idiot plan my peers told me to do. Abortion, most likely.

“Then who are YOU to judge HER? You have both made the same correct choice. For you, there was no cost. For her, the cost is EVERYTHING. And you stand in JUDGMENT? Of her CLOTHES? Of her HAIR? Of her SENSE?”

The Voice didn’t say anything after that. It didn’t need to. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more thoroughly chastened. I cried a little bit, but nobody saw because I was trailing the group at this point while my wife peered at the incubators and the wee little bassinets. I trailed along, Asshole of the Year.

Whatever else that girl had done wrong, she had scored a 100 percent on the Big Exam. She was making the right choice, and doing so in the face of asshole judgments from assholes like me. As Christians, we have to recognize the kind of moral clarity that trumps sensibilities and preferences. As people who welcome life, we have to accept that it isn’t always going to come in prettily-wrapped packages with a wedding ring on the bow and a prepaid Harvard scholarship lining the box. Life is going to be messy and ugly, and babies are going to be conceived by people who ought not to have done it – but having done it, we cannot let our judgment and our righteousness stand in the way of doing the right things.

If you are also pro-life, I encourage you to find yourself in this story. Not only so I won’t feel like such a unique specimen of Jerkus Homosapiensis – so that we can all start putting aside the things that are not crucial and start living up to the promise implicit in our philosophy.

If we want to be pro-life, we have to mean it.

September 13, 2006

Great … Another Thing to Worry About

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 2:55 pm

As if we don’t have enough dangers lurking around every corner, from faulty drugs to emergent disease vectors to crime to environmental toxins to bits of falling buildings — oh, and let’s not forget terrorism — how lousy would be be to be struck down by stray voltage emanating from city infrastructure? The Chicago Reader reports on one fellow’s ordeal when he took his dog out for a walk and the dog stepped on a sidewalk with live current. The dog made a complete recovery, but other animals have been killed and some people hospitalized.

Similar reports come from Boston and New York, where at least one woman was killed when she stepped on an electrified metal plate near a bakery. Whereas those cities have responded with legistation mandating that utility companies conduct routine inspections to locate and fix instances of stray voltage, Chicago seems to have dragged its feet, waiting, perhaps, until something really ugly occurs.

There are lots of miserable ways to go, many of which are absolutely random and unable to be protected against unless you want to live as a hermit. Am I now going to ensure that all my shoes have soles of nonconductive material? The idea will definitely cross my mind with the next shoe purchase I make.

September 1, 2006

Rush to Judgment

Filed under: Blogosphere,Content-lite,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 1:53 pm

We just can’t wait to pass judgment on the latest tidbit coughed up by the infosphere. The shortness of the news cycle has a lot to do with that. If news isn’t crisp and current, it is often considered unworthy of our attention, even if that news is only a month or two old. (Scientific studies, BTW, sometimes take years to complete and a few more months to report on. So when a study is published, it can’t really be considered stale only two months later.) I have a stack of newspapers I haven’t yet read dating back to May of this year. News contained there — total ephemera in my view — is already so out of date that it renders those pages practically worthless. What implication does that have for a 10-year-old newspaper, which without its immediate historical context is practically unreadable? Did all that newsgathering ever have any intrinsic value beyond its momentary ability to titilate?

Recent news in the case of the murder of JonBenet Ramsey is especially revealing: news outlets can’t help themselves from falling into the rush-to-judgment trap, even as they acknowledge it (see this article in the San Francisco Chronical). Even on this site, an embarrassing entry offers an apology (and calls for others to follow suit) to the subjects of an older rush to judgment by concluding immediately that the confession of a sad attention-seeker (recently determined to be a bogus confession) lets the previous suspects, tried in the court of public opinion, off the hook. Does the falsity of the confession place the originally adjudged suspects back in jeopardy? Is the apology invalidated?

August 30, 2006

Perchance To Dream

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 4:04 am

You know, as much as I’d love to rant about the maybe-not-secret-anymore secret hold on the porkbusting legislation in the Senate, or about the futility of letting ideology get in the way of doing business, I saw one thing today that has really made me start doing some serious planning.

To be specific, I saw this picture. In The Agora’s Joshua Clayborn and a friend. Standing on Uhuru Peak.

The summit of Kilimanjaro.

Oh, to dream a wonderful dream.
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August 23, 2006

The Eternal Madness of War

Filed under: Content-lite,Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 3:32 pm

Since Off Colfax posted his encomium to Pump Up the Volume, I’ve been thinking about a similar post on A Bridge on the River Kwai, which I recently saw on DVD. If I ever saw it as a kid, the only lasting impression was of the prisoners marching in columns whistling Col. Bogey’s March (a famous tune most everyone knows even if not by name).

After I got over wondering why Obi-Wan Kenobi was a prisoner of war during WWII, it struck me what a wonderful film it is, full of well-developed character archetypes. The story isn’t especially engaging: British POWs in Japan build a railroad bridge only for it to be blown up on its inaugural crossing. But the way the characters exhibit their particular worldviews and how they interact are the soul of the film.

The Japanese POW camp commander uses force and intimidation to achieve his goals, which doesn’t really work out for him. Although he mentions the Japanese warrior code, Bushido, which is based on determination, honor, loyalty, and dedication, his approach to running the camp is really more fascist. It’s also convenient for the narrative that his staff is mostly incompetent, which ultimately puts the Japanese commander in a bind when he is unable to succeed at building the bridge using his preferred methods.

The British commander, played by Alec Guinness (more familiar to most of us as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars), exemplifies quintessential British reserve through his principled resistance to force and his impassive and bureaucratic professional management skills. His efficiency and success at building the bridge stand in stark contrast to his utter lack of savvy at the end of the film with respect to military stratagems.

Two other major characters provide contrast to the apparent battle of wills between the two commanders: an American POW (played by William Holden) and a British commando in charge of blowing up the bridge. The American, whose dishonorable behavior is particularly unflattering, is heavily reminiscent of absurd characters from Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. The British commando (hard to believe such a thing existed), like the other British characters, is unflappable and ultimately unwavering in his dedication to duty. One particularly ironic scene occurs when the British commando compels the American to join the raid on the bridge. In most stories, springing such a well-laid trap would be milked for its drama, but the British officer is almost apologetic (though persistent) in responding to each of the American’s weaselly maneuvers.

The voice of reason through all of this is a British military physician, whose main function is to repeatedly call the entire charade into question as madness. It’s madness for the Japanese commander to mistreat POWs as a means of coercion. It’s madness for the British officers to suffer needlessly out of adherence to principle (The Geneva Conventions, interestingly). It’s madness for the British commander to consent to aiding the enemy by building the bridge. (British soldiers had lollygagged until the British officers were released from the sweatbox and set the men about building the bridge as a means of demonstrating British superiority, raising morale, and maintaining British military command structure.) And it’s madness that the British commandos blew up the bridge upon its completion. All in all, a very entertaining window into mid-20th-century warfare and military practice. The contrasts revealed between the characters and the stark irony of the ultimate destruction of the newly built bridge led me to the realization that the objects and practices of war do in fact add up to a strange sort of insanity, something not altogether different from what a circumspect review of our current wars would undoubtedly also reveal.

August 16, 2006

Can of Worms: Global Warming

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 4:10 pm

We haven’t yet had a post on the subject of global warming, though it’s been in the news and on folks’ minds a lot recently. I have long been of the opinion that we need a longer span of time to observe a geological process, as distinguished from normal weather and climatic variations. However, it doesn’t require a perspective in geological time to observe that humans have significantly altered the environment on a planetary scale. At issue for global warming are carbon and methane emissions (greenhouse gasses), not all of which are manmade but which have collectively altered the composition of the atmosphere fairly rapidly since the beginning of the Industrial Era.

I came across a book by Bill McKibben called The End of Nature, published in 1989. The ecology movement had been underway since the 1970s, but the book was still before our general awareness of potential ecological disaster. McKibben reports that scientists (in particular, Svante Arrhenius) have studied the effects of “evaporating our coal mines into the air” since the 1880s and even then created models that predicted with remarkable accuracy the rise in global average temperatures that have been confirmed in the past two decades.

Though I’m only 50 pages into the book thus far, this remark by McKibben caught my eye in particular, which is more about our rapacious consumption of fossil fuels than about global warming:

It is as if someone had scrimped and saved his entire life, and then spent every cent on one fantastic week’s debauch … We are living on our capital, as we began to realize during the gas crises of the 1970s. But it is more than waste, more than a binge. We are spending that capital in such a way as to alter the atmosphere. It is like taking that week’s fling and, in the process, contracting a horrid disease.

August 12, 2006

Fathers and Daughters

Filed under: Content-lite,Humor,Personal Ramblings — Robert @ 7:50 pm

The infiltration of my daughter’s subconscious mind is complete.

Today while playing quietly by herself, she began talking to herself (as is her wont). She said, verbatim quote:

“I’m building a castle. A castle of DOOOOOOOM!”

That’s my girl.

August 1, 2006

Mel Gibson Sucks

Filed under: Current Events,Personal Ramblings — Robert @ 5:20 pm

I’m heartbroken about Mel Gibson. I defended him for a long time against accusations of anti-Semitism, and it was a defensible position.

But after what he said, it isn’t defensible anymore. I was wrong; he WAS an anti-Semite all that time. He DID agree with his dad. He was just more clever about hiding it than his old man was.

About the only valid defense left for Mel is that, perhaps, he’s conflicted in his beliefs. Maybe he only partly believes the things he said – maybe that’s why when he’s sober and collected he says one thing, but when he’s drunk and angry he says something different. Maybe. In any event, that’s between him and God to work out.

I suspect that people defending him right now are similarly heartbroken. After you invest a lot of emotional energy in defending something against what you perceive to be a wrongful attack, it’s very difficult to move that energy from the “noble crusade” column to the “stupid mistake” column. Not everyone can do it quickly, and so I hope we can have a charitable attitude towards those who may be struggling to justify their own past actions now.

I’ve always been a strong advocate for Jewish-Christian friendship and reconciliation, and it kills me that Gibson’s idiocy is going to damage the prospects for that in the short and medium terms. I’m sorry I ever defended him, and I wish that he had done a much poorer job of concealing his views, so that he would have been “outed” a long time ago.

May 7, 2006

Introducing Daran

Filed under: First Post,Navel Gazing,New Author,Personal Ramblings — Daran @ 7:29 pm

Thanks to ampersand and the others for the invite, though in Amp’s case I suspect that it’s part of a cunning plan to get rid of me from Alas…

About me? Ho, hum, well I’m 41 years old. I was born in England, but moved to Scotland sixteen years ago. Politically I’m a liberal, which means different things on different sides of the Atlantic, but both hats fit. My interests are eclectic, but I am particularly interested in gender issues, where I often find myself opposed to both feminist and antifeminist schools of thought.

My hobbies are drumming, juggling, and riding the unicyle. I don’t do any of them very well.

April 29, 2006

Attack of the Ants

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Robert @ 4:03 pm

A few days ago my wife made some really outstanding chocolate cookies. Last night I had a few (*cough*) in my office. Apparently some crumbs went "rogue" and fell, unnoticed, behind some boxes scattered on the floor.

Today I grabbed a sandwich for lunch. A green pepper fell out of it and was on the floor; when I noticed it had fallen, I leaned down to pick it up and recoiled – ants! Dozens of 'em, Mr. Rico!

I prepared to engage when I realized – one or two random ants finding my green pepper, I could see. But it had only been there a few minutes. Where had they come from? I cast my gaze farther afield – and there, swarming in their hundreds, were little ant-mountains on top of the cookie fragments. Ewww!

This is why God invented little handy battery-powered vacuum cleaners, however. A few minutes of cleaning (which the floor needed, anyway) and the little ant raiding party was no more. I'll be engaging in tactical ant-squashing over the next few hours, undoubtedly, as ants-come-lately follow the scent trail to where the cookies used to be. Wish me luck as I commit to battle.

We fight the ant infestation we have, not the ant infestation we'd like to have.

UPDATE:

Q. What does my office have in common with the Pink Panther movies?
A. "Dead ant, dead ant, dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant…deadantdeadantdeadantant"

UPDATE 2:

A small squad of six highly-trained, stealthy ants crept onto the battlefield. Ignoring the corpses of their fallen brothers-in-arms, they ant-handled one last remaining crumb onto their collective shoulders and started maneuvering it out of the conflict zone. They didn't see the shadow looming. They didn't see the pencil descending like the hand of an angry God. All they saw was the carpet suddenly looming large as they were crushed, as though beneath the awful weight of their own crime.

Don't steal my food.

April 27, 2006

Geek Moment

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 4:47 am

I just have a bit more time before diving back into Kingdom Hearts 2 in lieu of sleep, but I must say one thing…

(more…)

April 20, 2006

Street-Level Advertising

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 12:28 am

I've noticed a few new developments in street-level advertising in Chicago. They're not innovative so much as intrusive.

Those that struck me the most are screens built into bus stop shelters by the French company JC Decaux. I saw one today running an endless loop of the Mission Impossible 3 movie trailer (in the center of the 3' x 5' poster).

I've also noticed the return of graffiti to Chicago. (I noticed its absence a couple years ago. Well, it's changed.) I don't know that that's a good or bad thing, but I find it curious that it isn't erased or covered up instantly. A few of the places I routinely travel past on the Red Line have been graffiti strewn for a few months now.

The local ABC affiliate recently put in a new studio at street level, behind a couple layers of glass, where mouth breathers can line up on the sidewalk and watch the evening news broadcast (as though there were something to see — there's no audio). This isn't a new thing, of course. Following examples in NYC, the NBC affiliate in Chicago did the same thing a year or more ago, though the proximity to the street isn't so immediate. The NBC affiliate has a large news crawl that grates on me, whereas the ABC affiliate has a huge, 3D, BRIGHT, multicolor display that doesn't provide news but merely attracts attention with those silly kaleidoscopic news graphics that ooze excitement without actually having any. Plus, there are two long, multicolor displays for news crawls, but the ABC affiliate apparently hasn't programmed them with anything yet but its own identifiers.

I generally feel the need to retreat from the media. For example, I instinctively retreat to the opposite corner of the elevators from the Captivate screens in the building where I work. I don't want to be someone's sales mark all day long, nor a captive audience. But it's getting harder and harder to turn away. I learned recently that Phillips has applied for a patent for technology to defeat various ways to bypass advertising. It's really getting ugly out there. Soon, I suspect there will be a computer chip with an optical interface implanted in the skull at birth to force feed us the stuff I'm desperately trying to ignore.

April 19, 2006

Ugh.

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 1:49 am

I just clicked onto Duncan’s site and I have to say I started swearing vehemently.

Click here to see the image first-hand. And my comment is below the fold. (more…)

April 5, 2006

United 93

Filed under: Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:38 pm

Universal Studios is coming out later this month (April 28) with its movie dramatization of events on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

United 93

I can't speak for anyone else, but I find this a wholly improper approach to both entertainment and the historical event. There is probably a fair amount of information known only to the Dept. of Homeland Security about whatever happened on that flight. Can the moviemakers possibly know what really happened or it is an Oliver Stone type of revisionist history?

As if the trauma of events that day weren't enough to be etched in our minds, the last thing we need is a glossy, Hollywood movie version with predictable character drama, poignant loss, and depictions of American courage. I suspect that lots of folks will want to see it "out of respect," much like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ drew many folks into the theater who hadn't seen a film in years.

Naturally, if there is some money to be made, some studio is going to exploit the opportunity. I don't think such a tacky approach to entertainment should be supressed, nor do I think it worthwhile to call for a boycott, but you certainly won't find my butt in the movie theater watching.

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