Friday, March 6, 2009

Relocation station!

This post is just to provide a handy link to my other blog, Never Cry Over Spilled Guts. (That's spilled guts in the "spill the beans" sense, plus a terrible pun on spilled milk.) I've had it for a lot longer than this blog, and it's got a lot more stuff on it. Some of the stuff is what I like to call "brainvomit"--things with a lot of excess emotions or made with laziness that I mostly posted just to get them out of my brain and into words, where they'd seem easier to get a handle on. Thus you may run across the occasional post that is very much not PG, or even PG-13. I tend to go on and on a lot because I enjoy the shiny things words can do, but at the end of the day I try not to take shiny words too seriously. So if it provides you with any amusement, I am pleased!

Monday, December 15, 2008

sounds of the season

Yesterday was an unseasonably beautiful day, so it was with a light heart that I took the bus down to State street. My goal was to get all my major gift shopping (which consists of books, books and more books) done in one fell swoop. The shopping for minor gifts I can take care of a little closer to the holiday. Me, actually buying gifts to give to other people for a change! Parts of turning slowly into a grownup are kind of fun. :)

Of course, I was not the only one who had that idea. State street is a tourist destination even for locals, as landmark businesses put up gaudy Xmas-themed display windows so that people from out of town or parents with children in tow can have something shiny to photograph one another standing in front of. In theory I suppose the displays also entice people into the stores to buy things, but I've never been so enticed myself, so I can't be sure.

Let's face it. Holiday shopping can be fun to do, but it is extremely boring to read about someone else's holiday shopping. Or even read about somebody else watching yet a third party's holiday shopping. So instead, I'm going to write about the people who provide the real sounds of the season--sounds that last all winter and all summer too, if you're in a place where they can be heard. People who need gifts as much as or more than anybody, but for whom we are all unlikely to get them. Because however many we bought, it would never ever ever be enough.

Much more interesting than the shoppers down on State street were the street people. Whether slurring the same sentence over and over to ask for money, making beautiful music to ask for money, or anything in between, downtown Chicago has a sound as distinctive as its skyline, in part because of them. Many more than you'd usually see even on a weekday, these folks were there to get what they could from the shoppers the same way the shoppers were there to get what they could of the sights and stores. Firstly, there were the drum kids. These are four or five young men with drumsticks and upturned buckets who usually perform on the sidewalk near the Art Institute in summer. They are awesome at drumming, and I did regret not having any cash to give them. There was also a guy with a trumpet playing carols. Who had been replaced, by the time I left the store, by a guy singing them in a surprisingly classical-sounding tenor. Another man, on a different corner, tried his hand at Xmas music with a saxophone but wasn't quite as good. Then there were four or five people begging, either sitting cross-legged on the ground or sitting in lawn chairs with blankets wrapped around their legs. They would hold up signs bearing crudely-written messages like "JUST HUNGRY" or "please help - God bless", or by calling out their message repeatedly; "please help me out with a couple dollars, I got no place to stay, please help..."

Normally, downtown on a winter weekday during business rush hours, you'll find one person begging per two-to-three square block area. Street performers, that is, those who play instruments, sing, or drum on upturned buckets, are less common. They occur maybe once in a six-to-seven square block area, and are most likely to be found on the east side of the river--basically where someone coming from the financial distract would have to cross a bridge in order to get to the Metra station. In fact, the heaviest concentration of street people is always between the most populous office buildings and the major mass transit stations. I assume that people who take Metra (the trains that go out to the suburbs) have looser pockets than people who take the CTA (which stays inside the city limits). This could be because people who live in the suburbs, on average, make more money than whose who live within the city limits, or maybe that street people simply think they do. Then again, if a significant portion of your living comes from begging, you probably can't afford to have illusions about that sort of thing.

My favorite of all of them is a man me and Dave call "bridge guy". (I'm not counting Bernie, since he's not a performer; he's more like a kind of a friend I don't see very often anymore cause I don't work in his neighborhood. Man, I hope he's okay. Weather is evil today and he's not getting any younger.) Bridge Guy works the Madison street bridge by the Lyric Opera center like it's his regular job. Over the years, working at different places and passing the bridge at different times, I'm pretty sure he sits on the bridge Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, morning and evening rush. Doubtless he's got another gig somewhere else in the city on the other days. Weekends I think he may follow other events around the city. The first time we saw Pearl Jam at the United Center, he was outside with his drums, going ba-ba-badadada-dum "Pearl Jam!" Alas, I didn't see him on State street. Who knows, maybe he was there Saturday, and I missed him.

The concentration is higher overall in the summer, but the ratio changes too. That is, in the summer, you're more likely to see a guy playing a tamborine or a saxophone, or just calling something loud and repetitive to get your attention. The "pay to make the guy go away" principle is used differently by different people, but in the summer everyone is a little more casual and more innovative because they don't have quite as much to lose. Whereas in the winter, you're more likely to see a lady all bundled up against the cold, holding an equally bundled-up toddler, calling out loudly in front of a retail location from which people are likely to emerge holding change or small bills. There, the presence of the child is supposed to guilt you into giving, because who wants to see a child have to be cold or hungry?

It's an ecological thing, when you think about it. There's a certain amount of money that people are willing or able to part with on sight. There's a greater number of people who desperately need that money in order to obtain food and shelter. And a much, much greater number who don't necessarily need it to keep from starving or freezing, but would be able to reduce the hardship of their situation slightly if they had it. The people who need it less desperately are able to ask for it more convincingly, and so get a greater proportion of the total charity dollars available at street level. But the thing to keep in mind when you're out on the sidewalk in winter (or summer) is that you, the non-street-person, really have no way of knowing who is which.

When I first started coming downtown on a regular basis, back in the day, I couldn't say no to anyone. Couldn't bear to. How could I possibly hold back something somebody else obviously needs, when it won't make my life all that much worse not to have it? What kind of a horrible person could say no? What if I was in their situation, and I had to watch me say no to me over and over?

Those feelings never really go away. They just get shoved backwards, covered over.

First by distrust. Say you give some money to a lady with a kid who says she needs it for the bus, then she drags the kid a few steps further along the street to have her ask the next person the exact same thing. And the one after that, and the one after that too. Then you think about it, and you think, "well, if she'd asked me for $80 to take him to the doctor, I wouldn't have had it, and maybe she's got to lie in order to get people to believe her." Or maybe she's already got a job and just goes around begging for extra money for booze or whatever. Eventually you realize that no matter how creepy somebody looks, they could very easily be using their begging income for totally legit purposes. And no matter how honestly distressed they look, they could be using that money for something you'd disapproave of. So you can't use your preferred ways for them to spend the money as a reason to give or not give, not really. Because you're only human, not omniscient, and you have no way of knowing. If your conscience won't let you allow the possibility of them spending it on something you'd rather they not have, but also won't let you do nothing, you get them food. A lot of people do this. Me, I like giving 'em money, when I give. Because I figure a person needs a lot more things than food in life, and if I'm giving them enough of the benefit of the doubt to give anything, I'd rather let them choose and hope for the best.

Second by habituation. You get used to seeing street people around, until you stop really seeing them. They become part of the landscape, as much as the cars on the street or the trains on the tracks. So you don't feel them tugging on your conscience because you don't see people, just stationary objects to be avoided. A certain amount of this is unavoidable. But at the same time it is the most dehumanizing for everybody. It's bad enough when you're part of a stream of people all heading from one place to another, ignoring one another out of politeness. Day after day of that and it does make you kind of lonely, just another face in the crowd. But in that situation, if two people bump into each other, they both apologize and smile at each other before moving on. Or if someone drops a glove, three people will say, "hey, sir/ma'am, you dropped this!" and pick it up for them. But a street person in the middle of a crowd of commuters might as well be invisible. Which, if any of my much milder experiences with social invisibility are a baseline, is probably fun for about the first three minutes, ironic for the next seven, relentlessly soul-crushing for the following eight to twelve hours. After which the soul-crushing continues but you are too angry or numb or exhausted to notice. And yet, if you, me, the non-beggar individual in question were to give money or food or something to everyone who asked for it, we'd be broke very quickly. Maybe not to the point where we were out on the street begging ourselves. But definitely to the point where we or the people for whom we have accepted responsibility would be deprived of things we actually did need.

All of which to say, if you're in a situation where you think you can strike up a conversation with a street person but also have a reasonable way to end it when it gets uncomfortable, do it. It is important to be alert, though, even though it's a rare beggar who will actually do something crazy. Just like it's a very rare regular commuter who will actually do something dangerous. I think the proportions aren't as far off as people seem to think.
Beggars are generally pretty lonely people. Lonely and very proud, in a brittle sort of way. It takes an immense pride or a grudge, somewhere in there, to be able to ask strangers for money every day and not crumble under their mass mute rejection. Add to that the hope buried deep in the mind of every human being that every person we see who seems better off than ourselves is secretly a super-rich benefactor who will shower us with wealth and take away all our problems if only we can ask in the right way. You see how this can make for some extremely sticky situations if you haven't planned your conversation exit strategy in advance.

A dollar or two bucks or whatever is good for a start; it normalizes the situation so that they're not left hanging thinking you're going to give them something when you actually aren't. So do start the conversation off with some money, or a sandwich or whatever your conscience lets you give. Unless they're your local neighborhood bum and you and they both know that you see them all the time and you're totally going to hook them up next time, in which case it's not as rude. (Provided you actually DO hook them up next time.) Because even if somebody makes their living begging on the street, it's important to occasionally be able to talk to someone who looks you in the eye and treats you like a human.

As for when you should give, conversation or no conversation, that I can't tell you. Everybody's got their own strategy. When I worked in Bernie's neighborhood I'd give him a dollar or so every time I saw him and had it on me, and didn't give other people squat. Now I work in a neighborhood where we don't so much have a regular guy, so I give more haphazardly, to whomever's around and catches my eye when I happen to have an extra buck on me. Or not. I figure if I behave randomly I'm not altering the economic homeostasis too much. That is, I by myself am not driving out anyone who was there already, nor am I drawing in anybody who wasn't going to be coming in anyway. All I can do is keep an even keel, be nice to people when I get the chance to do so, and hope the tiny amounts of assistance I provide go where they are most needed.

But man, sometimes Christmastime in the city is depressing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

primetime social standards, or, why Liadens should watch more TV

An original is a Code unto herself.
~Liaden proverb

As I'm sure my sisters can witness, I've been reading a lot of Steve Miller & Sharon Lee lately. As a consequence I've spent a lot of idle brain-time (for example, while standing over a copy machine for hours at a time, getting a crick in my shoulder from repetitive paper-shuffling) pondering the differences between the world I live in and the Liaden universe. What sort of things make it so immersive and attractive, and how similar social necessities are addressed differently here versus there.

There are different measures one must use when considering relationships with others as individuals, versus those same people as members of a group. The proper ways to respond to various circumstances, the duties and privileges attending one's role in a relationship, are slightly distinct for each. Furthermore, virtually none of the parameters of such duties and privileges are things made explicit in our culture. With the arguable exception of the workplace, where relationships-as-members may be defined by an employee manual, company code of conduct, etc. Otherwise, persons learn normal cultural expectations of behavior in a sink-or-swim immersion course. Because the cultural norm is at best loosely defined, the quirks of individuals may be compared and contrasted only against one another on a case-by-case basis.

Now, a Liaden, or many another character in the worlds of fiction, would have little difficulty distinguishing between the many roles of the individuals with whom they relate most closely. they would say, This individual upholds such-and-such melant'i, of which this or that aspect pertains to the current situation. If a Liaden were concerned about how to properly serve the interests of clan, kin, and allies given limited resources, she would need only to study the Liaden Code of Proper Conduct in its many volumes to enlighten her as to the most appropriate path. (And in most extreme uncertainty, an intrepid seeker could dare to elicit the advice of one Kareen yos'Phelium--the editor, reviser and expander of the Code, mother of one, and stickler extraordinaire.) There would thus, in Liaden society, be an explicit standard of behavior, an absolute baseline against which all action might be judged.

That our culture does not have an equivalent of a Code of Proper Conduct is by and large, to my eye, a good thing. A very very good thing. For while it would make people like me a lot more comfortable in knowing where we stand, it would give many jerks needless weaponry against those who are honest yet unsubtle. I would rather life be more difficult and confusing for me than have it be wretched and helplessly miserable for a much larger number of largely blameless persons.

The closest thing we have to a Code, I suppose, is the collective attitudes and mores of the characters on primetime sitcoms. No joke, there. The tenor of the cultural norms provided therein neatly fits the phrase "lowest common denominator". Sitcoms, like any representative art form, may be considered to serve two purposes for the viewer--an exoteric, or revealed function and an esoteric, or hidden function. Let us take as given, as an aspect of its definition directly extrapolated from its name, that a sitcom is a comedic piece in which the driving force of the story is the complexities of a social situation. Hence, situation comedy; sitcom. Inherently an aspect of our cultural understanding of social behavior.

The exoteric function of sitcoms is to entertain, amuse, distract. Following the Greek tradition of the comedy, comic main characters are persons equal or lower in social status than the average viewer. Modern usage has transformed this into moral equality rather than economic. For example, the Bluth family in the series Arrested Development. They possess (at some points) a great deal of money and a certain amount of social power, but are made morally equivalent to viewers through their arrogance, stupidity, and dysfunctional treatment of one another. Watching the exaggerated misfortunes and bunglings of our equals lets us laugh, and provides relief from the strain of facing similar troubles in real life.

The esoteric function of sitcoms is didactic. The way characters behave in primetime is the way that network executives believe the average viewers are least likely to object to seeing characters behave. Primetime is, by definition, the part of the programming schedule with the largest viewership. The rise and fall of programs in and out of that coveted timeslot is determined, in turn, by ratings--a statistic which itself measures viewership. It is rather like a real-time democracy among those who own televisions. A vast majority of persons who are part of this viewing public are aware of this process, even if they could not fully articulate their awareness. Therefore one may take it as a known, a cultural commonplace, that the social norms understood collectively by the characters on primetime sitcoms, are a very good approximation of the social norms prevalent in our society as a whole. I say prevalent, because this situation is also understood to be informal.

Now, in any society, a stigma attaches to a person who deviates overmuch from social norms, whether by falling short or by demonstrating too much zeal.

In Liaden society, a person who was lax or ignorant of Code could take on the shame of being considered barbaric, unreliable, stupid--qualities usually ascribed to foreigners. (As witness the phrase, "rag-mannered as a Terran.") A person who erred in the other direction would take on the stigma of being too stuffy, uninspired, or waspish. In other words, they would suffer the more genteel shame of a person too unimaginative or too cold-hearted to vary outside the accepted structure.

In our society, the stigmas are almost reversed. Television, and with it the "original" versions of the current acceptable social paradigms, is something brought into people's homes. The expectation is that a person will watch television on her own and later discuss it with friends, or watch it along with friends and discuss it as they watch. The group will thereby add nuance and interpretation, confirm some aspects of the "original" norms and reject others. Thus, it logically follows that a person who adheres too exactly or too enthusiastically to social norms as they are practiced on television is considered barbaric, not socially integrated, or inept. A person whose ignorance or even knowing refusal not to practice TV-sanctioned behavior patterns is given the benefit of the doubt, provided she shows herself willing to correct errors once made aware of them, and so long as her eccentricities fall within widely acceptable limits. A lack of knowledge of TV standards of behavior might, for example, indicate a social life so rich and active that the person's social group has evolved from the standard into behaviors far beyond the meager efforts of one's own group.

Then again, there is always the remote possibility that the person is an alien, newly beamed down from outer space, or a foreigner whose channels are all different and holds no passion for Americana, or a lost wolf-child who has bumbled through life seemingly without the benefit of any television whatsoever. Based on the occasions when I have fallen into the role of lost wolf-child in that sense, I would surmise that humans, Liadens and all other thinking beings are equally frightened and off-put by the discovery that you and they have no common source of culturally expected behaviors. Whether they sketch a hasty bow and retreat (Liaden style), or nod and smile in a frozen sort of fashion while edging unobtrusively towards the door (American style), there is no help for the situation. One must pick up Volume One and turn to the index or plop down in front of the set and start surfing, or risk remaining a pariah for life.

But do not despair, children of the children of the counter-culture! For even lacking in a large and opinionated social group to facilitate the process, one's individual responses to the standard have been known to suffice. So long as there is a response, preferably one which reveals an ironic and nuanced understanding of the social values and obligations of duty inherent in the standard, this is enough to allow strangers to judge one's character. If for example, your favorite Simpsons character is Nelson Muntz's mother, but you put up a spirited defense of your unusual choice and remain conscious of the irony, then few social groups will fail to accept you with open benefits of the doubt!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


People always post their crazy political opinions on their blogs, right? That's what blogs are for. That, and letting your friends and relatives know you're still alive.

Hi, everybody! I'm still alive! Sick and such, but if I take my antibiotics like a good girl hopefully it will clear up soon. I hope you all are well, also.

Recently got an email forward which my spam filter picked up, even though it was from someone I know. Once I'd restored it to its proper place (and chided my spam filter for its insolence) I read a radio transcript/article which seems to me the mirror image of some of the left-wing stuff I read online for chuckles. Same logical fallacies, appeals to emotion, judicious use of small facts to make enormous implications. Except this stuff is not meant to give its readers chuckles, not even painfully satirical chuckles of the "aw, c'mon, I may not like this person, but you can't be that hard on them" variety. You are supposed to take it deadly seriously, and this bugs me.

George Soros – His Utopia, Our Nightmare
By Julie Roys

He’s one of the most powerful men in the world. But chances are, you’ve never heard of him. That’s because he prefers to work behind the scenes – decimating financial systems, manipulating democracies, and weakening the United States .
His name is George Soros and his accomplishments read like a page from the rich and devious. This billionaire former hedge-fund manager is known in Europe as the man who broke the Bank of England. Some also charge his speculation precipitated the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. He’s been banned from doing business in China and has been fined for insider trading in France.
But what’s most disconcerting for Americans is that Mr. Soros is using his billions to shape U.S. politics. According to the New York Times, Soros is the world’s single largest donor. But his giving is not philanthropic; it’s political and coercive. In fact, one blogger writes that Soros “runs the Democratic Party like his personal brothel and bankrolls it as well."

As it turns out, I have heard of him. Till now I'd heard mostly positive things, so I'm probably the sort of person this message was trying to reach. But my fallacious rhetoric alarms start to go beep! beep! right around the third sentence. We have here appeals to emotion and negative buzzwords designed to set up Soros as a straw man. We even have an unnamed "blogger" cited, not because they brought a relevant item of fact to the discussion, but because of their skill at creating a powerful insult.

(more from Roys)

Soros’ tactics are alarming. But what’s even more alarming is the vision he’s trying to foist on America and the rest of the world. Soros wants to tear down what he calls the “fascist” tyranny of the United States and replace it with what he calls a “Global Open Society.” In 2003, he said it’s necessary to “puncture the bubble of American supremacy.” And in his latest book, he writes that “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States .”
The world order Soros advocates would be governed by the United Nations: national sovereignties would be weakened, if not abolished altogether. This so-called Open Society would be a democracy, but also would include certain mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth. Citizens would be expected to sacrifice for the common good – even if that would mean compromising their personal beliefs. Beliefs would be
considered merely choices, not truth. In fact, if there’s one thing Soros really hates, it’s the notion of Universal Truth.
For Christians, Soros’ utopia reads more like an apocalyptic nightmare. His global government sounds eerily like something out of Revelation. And, his distaste for truth could spell persecution for Christians who don’t conform.

I've read and heard enough liberal denunciations of George Bush that I am exceedingly familiar with the structure of such a "straw man" argument. Remember when people were saying "oh, McCain says he's so honorable, but did you know he has a black baby?" Trying to imply that he was an adulterer, when in fact he and his wife had adopted a Sudanese baby? And then the nattering nabobs would take their tiny, correct but wildly misinterpreted fact and build a whole tower of terror on it, saying that McCain's presidency would result in the stars falling from the sky and suchlike nonsense.
So here is the pattern in a nutshell:
1. Make grandiose claims of evil intent and/or deeds.
2. Follow them up with a few out-of-context facts, or ones which provide tenuous support of the grandiose claims, check.
3. Finish it off with some scare tactics about how this evil person is going to ruin everything for every one. Check, check, and doublecheck.

Not a sentence of this article goes by without some inflammatory adjective ("coercive"), noun ("hedge-fund manager") or verb ("foist"), to pick a few less extreme examples. This article does mention some facts, but then chooses to interpret those facts in the most alarming way possible. As the interpretation builds, the picture becomes more and more alarming, and the danger-words come thick and fast, so that pretty soon it's hard to see anything else.

To look more closely at some of the factual claims, I'll do some follow-up linking, which is really easy to do on the Internet.

Black Wednesday, the Bank of England thing, came about because a faction in Parliament was able to pressure the rest of Parliament into signing on to a European Union financial agreement before they were economically stable enough to do so. Soros is mentioned in the wikipedia article as someone who was able to profit off the English government's screw-up because he recognized quickly what was happening and had the money to take advantage of the situation.

In the manipulating democracies department, here are some instances I was able to find. He helped fund a group which worked to carry out the Rose Revolution in Georgia. That nation was rising up against a corrupt government and succeeded in creating a regime change without violence. He helped fund a group which opposes the socialist President Robert Mugabwe of Zimbabwe and his party. Here's a story about the Zimbabwe situation.

Getting banned from doing business in China, now. Maybe that's bad. Dad always liked the new version of the Chinese Communist Party. In his view, it's run by the same generation of kids who survived the horrors of Maoism and are dedicated to preventing that sort of thing from happening to their people again. But of course lots of people are banned from doing business in China. Yahoo, I think. Wal-Mart wasn't allowed to open stores there until they agreed to let their workers unionize. The only thing I've been able to find easily about Soros + China is that he thinks their economy will improve while ours slides.

Notice how, when I throw in a word like "socialist" or a phrase like "corrupt government", it evokes an emotional response? These emotional responses are fnords. Reading a paragraph full of fnords is like getting a bunch of mosquito bites on your mind. All of a sudden it's tough to think about anything except the itch. Every now and then, if you want to have moving rhetoric, sure, it helps to throw in a fnord. But if a writer or speaker decides to pack every single sentence with them, it makes me angry. Like they think they can batter my brain into submission with a thousand little itches of fear and worry.

And there are so many, many other ways to impart spin.

For example, you can choose which pieces of secondary information to bring in to support your argument. When I was talking about China above, I brought up Wal-Mart as an example of someone who had had trouble doing business in China. This is because us Americans know Wal-Mart as a store whose prices are attractive, but its treatment of employees is sometimes despicable. The implication there was "maybe George Soros is as bad as Wal-Mart, if China's banning him." However, we are also used to thinking of China as bad guys because they do engage in religious persecution of Christians and others, because they are Communists, and because they are in an uncomfortably strong position relative to us economically. The irony of framing the argument so as to make China look like good guys, compared to Soros and Wal-Mart, is meant to make it easier to imagine Soros as a good guy. I did this without insulting anyone but Wal-Mart, and without calling anybody names.

This all comes back to my disapproval of wholesale fnordery. To stand any chance whatsoever of convincing people who disagree with oneself, it is wise to be extremely careful which rhetorical strategies one employs. If someone else already agrees with you and you massively fnord them, it will give them warm fuzzy victory-like feelings, for being on the same side as a thing of such emotional force and vigor. If, however, someone disagrees with you and you massively fnord them, it may make them believe that you hate and despise them and wish them only shame and suffering.

What, then, is the real purpose of wholesale fnording? I hope it is only designed to be used upon those who are already in agreement with the fnorder. I will engage in some hyperboly here to illustrate my point!

Think about the usual situation in which one reads a document like this one, the process. I'm sitting at my computer, bored. I want something to wake me up a little bit and make me feel ways about stuff. Maybe I run across an article like this one about how George Soros, if he gets his wicked way, will bring about the Apocalypse and throw all Christians in jail for refusing to pay for state mandated abortions in cases where women get impregnated consensually on their wedding nights by their new husbands. Or maybe I run across one saying how evil President Bush is in a secret conspiracy to reprogram your mind through your Playstation so that you will be forced to amass enormous credit card debt in order to purchase an SUV powered by whale blubber, whose windshield wipers squirt dolphin tears.

Whichever my political persuasion, what have I actually just done?

I have gone to my computer and read words which excited emotions in me. These words raised my heart rate, got my juices flowing, and gave me delicious fnordy buzz-words, so that I can say them to others who will also get a "buzz" out of them. The most slickly packaged of these are also illustrated, so that you can get an even stronger buzz!

It is titillation. Like cheap romance novels and cartoons, like car commercials which promise wealth and power and attractiveness to those who buy. Except these slingers of lazily-composed rhetoric believe quite seriously in their own pronouncements. They do not consider themselves lazy, nor does it occur to them that what they provide is mere titillation. They seem to believe--and wish you to believe--that they are harbingers of truth, that they are courageously speaking out against evil. They are not. They are scarerists. People who scare themselves into believing that scaring you is going to help get rid of possible evils.

Whether the things and people denounced by people like Roys are, in fact, evil is not something their writings actually consider. Scarerists are concerned only with what can be made to appear evil.

Scarerism, however, is eville. It can devour whole cows in the pasture. It will devour your youngest child!


Laugh at scarerists whenever they come your way! Look up the facts to which they tangentially allude! Arm yourself, leg yourself, teeth yourself, brace yourself! What was tomorrow yesterday is today! Never is too late to say never!


(this message was brought to you by two pairs of pants media LP. two pairs of pants media does not condone scarerism. it does, however, practice it.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

a tale of timely asscystance

Long time no posty! This past week I've been working hard at my temp job at the accounting company, which really is the only interesting activity I've had since leaving the stupid restaurant. (Those temperamental chefs and their excellent food and lack of appreciation of my awesomeness. Hmph.) But I had a scary time yesterday that I want to share with y'all. Don't worry, the ending is a fairly happy one.

For the past week or so, maybe couple of weeks, I'd been having occasional sharp pains on the lower left side of my abdomen. At first I thought it was the return of Mr. T (the name I gave my ulcer & h. pylori infection back in the day), but it was in the wrong spot. I got progressively more hypochondriac about it. Every time I got stabby or twingey feelings I would start to imagine all the horrible things that might be going on in there. I would go to WebMD and check various ones of my symptoms, which would set me to more nailbiting.

Yesterday it was worse than it had been before. I was getting panicky, and in the middle of the day ended up going to my team's manager and saying I needed to leave and go get myself seen by a doctor. (Later in the day I would say to Dave, "Dangit, I was hoping I'd get through at least one job without crying in front of my immediate superior!" To which he said, "Yeah, but this time you had a really good reason. Crying because you're in pain and need to go to the doctor is something anybody would understand and no one would think less of you for.") So I did. I went home, collected Dave, and headed off to the emergency room of the local hospital, which is only a few blocks from our apartment.

I've gotta say, despite all the problems with the money side of this country's healthcare system, the people who do the actual healthcaring are awesome. The nurse who took my blood sample found a hand vein on the first try, which almost never happens since my veins are sneaky. Every couple of hours while I was waiting to get taken to a test or hear a result either a nurse or one of the medical interns would stop by to say, "unfortunately, no results are back yet" or "you were shceduled for this test half an hour ago, and the other one an hour from now, but we're pretty backed up so I'm not sure when exactly it'll be." But even though they usually didn't have anything concrete to tell me, they let me know I hadn't been forgotten.

Which makes all the difference when you're sitting in a room in Pediatrics (the regular ER rooms were full) listening to the kid in the next room. For a long time he fought playfully and loudly with his little brother, then made an unholy hue and cry over an undoubtedly scary but necessary procedure of some kind. So they ran the whole gamut from saying "RRAWR! I'm fighting you with my razor claws!" to yelling, "Hey, manager! Can I get some more orange juice?!" to screaming, "Mamacita, m'ayuda! No more, no more, no more!" Which last part probably didn't last as long as it felt like. But afterwards the nurse and the kid's mom both comforted him and told him he was a very good boy and it was done, there was no more now. His cough had sounded terrible, so I hope whatever it was worked.

The funniest thing that happened was that each time I came back from having a test done, about fifteen to thirty minutes later a nurse would show up and say, "I'm here to take you up for an ultrasound." "But I just came from there! In fact, you helped the lady who was transporting me push me up a ramp," I said. "Oh," she replied, rolled her eyes and exchanged a bemused look with me. "I thought you looked familiar."

When I wasn't listening to the neighbors or the walkie-talkies of techs and docs passing in the halls, I read the book I'd brought along. It's one Pearl lent me called War Before Civilization. Really excellent book--easy to read, unlike a lot of anthropology, and frank about what the historical and archaeological record shows human conflicts to have been like through the ages. Apparently, people of all eras like peace better but make war when they are attacked, feel they don't have a choice, really really need food, want to avenge murders or retaliate from thefts--pretty much the same reasons individuals fight. And in no era of human history were people ever kidding about war. Even when "battles" were ritualized and less deadly, the real killing had just been moved to secret midnight raids and surprise attacks. And there's just something about reading about prehistoric times that makes me really, really grateful for twentieth-century medicine and the fact that I can have access to it. I mentioned this to Dave, who chuckled and said, "Twenty-first century medicine, even." Which made me giggle, and pretend I was examining myself: "All right, ma'am. Can you touch your nose? Good. Can you walk in a straight line? Excellent. Now, what century is it?"

I got a pelvic exam, an ultrasound and a CT scan. Good news, my digestive tract is fine and most of my lady-junk appears to be in working order. All that's wrong with me is a small cyst on my left ovary, about 1.2cm. The doc said even if it bursts, which such cysts are known to do, it won't actually harm me, just give me horrible searing pain for a couple of days. There's always the chance of a cyst twisting around and pinching off the blood flow to the ovary, but he said it's much less likely to happen with one this small. Just in case though--since I wouldn't be able to tell one horrible pain from another--I should head back to the nearest ER if I experience any. Seems sensible! Also, I apparently have a freakishly large appendix. It isn't inflamed or hurty or anything--several different docs, nurses and techs over the course of the evening had poked or scanned or stethoscoped right on top of it with nary a twinge. It's just twice as "thick" as an appendix is supposed to be. Who knows, maybe I was born with it. But if I get horrible, searing pain on the right side, just as on the left, I should also head back to the ER.

Thus ends my tale of silly medical paranoia and surprisingly excellent medical treatment despite my lack of health insurance. Now the only medical thing I need to fear is the bill which will be arriving in the mail pretty soon. But I hear hsopitals have very reasonable payment plans these days. It'll probably end up costing less than a used car!

Friday, August 15, 2008

the caffeine poem etc

It has come to my attention that I need to post the caffeine poem on here so everybody can see and hopefully giggle at it. This came about as I was singing a couple of my songs for Pearl and Mom and Greg and Julie just a few minutes ago, Amber and Grandma already having gone sensibly to sleep. Seems Julie actually remembered that there was a caffeine poem, which to me is simply too big of a compliment to ignore.

Wrote this puppy my junior year of high school, I think, after learning the chemical formula for caffeine in chemistry class. Who says you never learn anything useful in school?

Ode to Caffeine
based upon its chemical formula

It tells me what to say and do
Without it, I do not believe
My consciousness could still conceive.

Shows me the beautiful and true
It drives my mind to calculate
And drives my heart to palpitate.

Adds zest to any tasty brew!
My eyes are bloodshot - my hands shake -
I need another coffee break.

And since I've got a couple other good-uns by heart, I might as well put them here.

Less instantly memorable, but still something I recite to myself when in need of a mood booster. More or less inspired by Lois Bujold. It isn't a sonnet--the rhythm starts out totally random, and it's unrhymed. Note in what context it shifts into iambic pentameter (da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA da-DA), the traditional rhythm for a sonnet, however. I did that kind of on purpose, but unless you're a poetry geek, I have to point it out. Then you're like "ohh, that kinda makes sense."

the needs of modern escapist fiction

You need to write novels that can be read
on the train by bored administrative
assistants like yourself, that they can sink
into like a child in bathwater, nose
not quite breaking the surface. You open
your eyes, as if surprised that eyes still work
to tame that rippling landscape, where the sun
pours in along the curtain like spun gold.
Submerged, you can recall the breathless hope
(puff out your cheeks, let streams of bubbles go)
that light would strike the water with a splash
and come up lions, bursting into life--
Appearing, just as bubbles disappear
when they rejoin their native element.

Now this next one was inspired by my main man, Talcott Parsons. He is the bomb, although I must say I haven't much use for the school of sociological thought that took up his mantle. To my eye, he used the insane level of terminological exactitude in the service of real insight, insight that saw straight through to the core of his science. He simply wanted his ideas to be unmistakable, defined with the greatest possible rigor and examined with all necessary thoroughness. The problem is that everybody seems to take up the rigor and thoroughness, and completely lose sight of the ideas. The quote that heads up the poem is the closest he comes to a casual metaphor, and inspired the poem directly.

The basic idea is that no matter how much you know, how much you define, there is always something vitally important to whatever you're doing that is not covered by your definitions. In this poem I personify that part of truth. A part which (as Talcott points out) can only be described in negatives.

residual categories
Any logically defined system...may be visualized as an illuminated spot surrounded by darkness. ...The logical name for the darkness is residual categories. The only statements that may be made about such truths are negative ones; "it is not so-and-so." But it is not to be inferred that because such statements are negative they are therefore unimportant.
~Talcott Parsons, from The Structure of Social Action vol 1

will the woman who never kicked your dog
open the door
she won't step in the moonlight on the rug
you won't know whether she thinks about flowers
you won't know whether she is

not measuring the circumference of her thumb
she will gather what is not your pride
it billows in the breeze from a window
that faces away from the moon
she will draw it from over your brows
by a process none can verify

or repeat
you will not watch what falls unfolded at your feet

and all unaware
you will nibble her thumbnail
for she will split the peel
of what is not an orange,

Rise, and reel across the room
to what is not a door
to cast your helpless mouth into an empty sky.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

the spider song

I was looking for more blues, but this is just a sort of soft jazz thing. Funny and not funny, comfy and creepy at the same time. I think it should be performed with just a bass in the background, but since I don't have a bass, I'll see what I can do with a guitar later.

they may perform a public service
but spiders always make me nervous
eight legs to cling, four fangs to sink in
I have to wonder what they’re thinking

businesslike, not really vicious
spiders think that I’m delicious

when I’m in the shower, wet and naked
they’ll smell my blood and come to take it
just up above and right behind me
oh tell me, love, how do they find me

they used up one of their eight wishes
spiders think that I’m delicious

when I am in my bed and sleeping
across my skin a spider’s creeping
leaves trails of bite marks up my arm
like picture postcards sent back home

a tourist spot, yeah that’s what this is
spiders think that I’m delicious

I look into your eyes and wonder
what new disguise the spider’s under
will I be sorry that I faced you
or will I start to need to taste you

a spider’s kiss, it never misses
spiders think that I’m delicious