29 August 2014

As part of the university's cost cutting measures....

A department of thirty people was yesterday reduced to seven. This was done just before the classes start up again.

Pray for those who suddenly los their jobs yesterday, and for those left behind, who must now do the work of the full thirty.

25 August 2014

I'm back, with some here and there

It flipped over and I am back. I'm still planning on keeping it light around here for the time being.

First and foremost, a hearty welcome to Dale Price, who has become my newest 'follower'. (That word just doesn't sound right. There must be an alternative.) I've followed Mr. Price for years and think of him as one of the best bloggers out there, so I am happy and humbled to see his icon on my list. In honour of the occasion, I am planning on doing a post or two on some woodworking (He expressed an interest in learning the craft over on his blog) which I hope to have up in a week or two.

***

Speaking of woodworking, Woodworking for Mere Mortals published one of the coolest sets of plans ever: Build your own Tardis.

I wonder which Doctor I would pretend to be? Probably Tom Baker. He's the first one I think of whenever anyone mentions Doctor Who.

***

Back to bloggers I admire: I never quite know what to make of John C. Wright when he does one of his posts about the wonders of the free market and the evils of eveything else. I admit his understanding of economics is stronger than mine, but his is his and mine is mine. My own opinion of the free market is pretty much the same as Winston Churchill's opinion of democracy: the worst system that could possibly be imagined, with the exception of every other system. Like any other system, it has its victims. There is a reason why so many of my left wing history teachers began their history of unions with coal mines. And that's only one way the system went bad. Too many times I have seen men acquire skills to support their families only to be made redundant by a shift in the impersonal market forces. I may be one of them. Supporters of the market will say something useless like get some more skills or find a new job. Yeah. Try it yourself. Let me know how it works out for you. I've already done it myself. It was always a move down, never up.

The best thing I can say about free markets and capitalism is that it is a real system that came from the way people actually interacted and did business with one another, and not some made up system created by someone who thought he knew better than everyone. I would say change it, but every suggestion I have heard turned out to be a cure worse than the disease. So I respect capitalism, but I do not love it, and I certainly do not trust it.

***

I've often quoted Zane Grey's statement that there's nothing nothing dumber than an educated man, once you get him out of whatever field he's educated in. I agreed, but I have been rethinking, and with all due respect to Mr Grey's wisdom, it is now my opinion that there is nothing dumber than an educated person within the field they are educated, because they see nothing outside it. It seems like education exists these days mainly for the purpose of sucking the fun out of everything.

Case in point: this review of Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie which features a green woman, a sentient tree, and a talking raccoon.

The female reviewer begins by saying how much she enjoyed the movie,so much so that she spends her entire first paragraph praising it, only to state that she wants to register some complaints. It's a fairly simple rhetorical ploy. Basically, she's stating her credentials, stating that she enjoyed it, but despite that she has some issues, therefore giving the impression that the issues must be serious and worth listening to. It works the opposite way, too. I saw the movie, thought it was a pleasant time killer with a nifty soundtrack, but I didn't get too much investment in the movie on account of, y'know, the whole green woman, sentient tree, talking raccoon thing. So when I take the time to say that this review is idiotic, it must mean that the review really is idiotic if it can move someone who has no emotional investment in the movie to come to its defense. See how it works?

By the way, the whole green woman, sentient tree and taling raccoon thing sounds like an internet meme ending with the words: your argument is invalid.

I couldn't get worked up enought o do a whole fisk, so just skimming: she doesn't like the word "bitch"- neither do I- didn't like Gamora's costume- neither hot nor cold, but you do realize this was a comic book movie? A genre with a target audience of fiften year old boys? Where generally the women look like Dolly Parton in Zero gravity? Wearing clothes that appear to have been spray painted on? In short, given that context, it was tame. She also hopes that the post credits teaser is not a lead in to a Howard the Duck movie. I'm completely with her on that one. She descries the lack of diversity- heard that one so often I stopped caring. The audience I saw it with was fairly diverse, and didn't seem to mind much. I expect they, like me, just want to see a good movie. As long as it's good, I don't care whether or not the lead is white, black, or green. Which reminds me: how is a movie featuring a green woman, (with a blue woman as well) a sentient tree and a talking raccoon not diverse? It's so diverse it has stuff that doesn't even exist.

She spends some time on the "whore" joke. Didn't laugh at it personally, but she reacts like it is a trigger word or whatever the current nonsense phrase is. She doesn't like the attitude or the message. But it's a joke, the message comes from the reviewer, not the movie. At least, that is what they taught me during the wasted years of my overlong idjumacation. Meaning resides in the reader/interpreter, not the writer/sender. The writer here uses that to make her own meaning, and, under current style scholarship, it is virutally impossible to logically refute her. However, it doesn't have to be refuted. Her reading is her reading, and there are always alternatives. In this case, the word "whore" is used by Drax, and the movie spares no effort to point out that Drax is a muscle bound idiot. So, if this joke i indicative of the culture, then the cutlure would be that of muscle bound idiots, would it not? And rather than affirming that this word is commonplace, the movie could be seen as saying that only idiots think this way, and the author's insistence on reading it her way tells us more about her than it does about the movie. So there.

At any rate, she got worked up over a movie featuring a green woman, a sentient tree, and a talking raccoon. Her argument is irrelevent.

***

So there you go. More to come when the spirit moves.

18 August 2014

Public service announcement.

I haven't blogged for a while, and won't be blogging anything substantial for a little while longer.  This is  because Elder came to stay at home with us for a few days, and in the space of three of those days she burned through almost all of our eighty Gigabyte monthly limit.   The internet is now shut off at home, and will be until we get a new month's worth of internet access, of which she will not get a bit.

That is all.  

6 August 2014

Music for today

The Feast of the Transfiguration.

5 August 2014

Eighteen years ago today...

...my father died.

I still miss him.

I sometimes regret that there were so many things we used to do together that we never did one last time. But I was young then, and my father was a healthy hearty man. We knew he would die sometime, but it seemed to be in some distant, unreal point. We had time before us.

Then cancer happened, and all our time dried up in a twinkling. The hearty man I knew became bed-ridden and sickly. There was no chance for last times. There could be no: "Hey Dad, let's go bowling one more time. Or golfing. Or fishing. Or..." I couldn't even ask him to tell me his stories one more time. Even his tongue fell still. He was in pain, facing his end with a quiet fortitude and dignity I doubt I'll ever be able to muster. All I could do was stay with him, keep him company, pray for him, and watch him go.

I learned a hard lesson about time that way. It is part of the reason why I try and get my mother out once a month and go off and have some fun with her. There will come a time that I don't have her around any more, and I don't want to regret that I let our last chances pass away.

4 August 2014

On minimalism and faith, or, Thoreau was a wanker

A recent post was put up over at The Art of Manliness discussing the idea of minimalism, and it comes to the conclusion that minimalism, or living a stripped down simplified life, may not be everything it is cracked up to be. This is a bit of a switch, because the owner of the site has previously published several articles suggesting that it is in fact everything it is cracked up to be. In this article, Brett (the site owner of Art of Manliness) reveals that he both enjoyed tales of how people simplified their life, and also felt a little bugged by them, in ways he couldn't quite put his finger on. And then, someone else put their finger on it.

As someone who has felt the call of simplicity repeatedly, but has never gone through with it (not enough money to live cheaply, ironically. More on that shortly.) I found this reversal curious. At the heart of this reversal lies this quotation from another author.

Wealth is not a number of dollars. It is not a number of material possessions. It’s having options and the ability to take on risk.

If you see someone on the street dressed like a middle-class person (say, in clean jeans and a striped shirt), how do you know whether they’re lower middle class or upper middle class? I think one of the best indicators is how much they’re carrying.

Lately I’ve been mostly on the lower end of middle class (although I’m kind of unusual along a couple axes). I think about this when I have to deal with my backpack, which is considered déclassé in places like art museums. My backpack has my three-year-old laptop. Because it’s three years old, the battery doesn’t last long and I also carry my power supply. It has my paper and pens, in case I want to write or draw, which is rarely. It has a cable to charge my old phone. It has gum and sometimes a snack. Sunscreen and a water bottle in summer. A raincoat and gloves in winter. Maybe a book in case I get bored.

If I were rich, I would carry a MacBook Air, an iPad mini as a reader, and my wallet. My wallet would serve as everything else that’s in my backpack now. Go out on the street and look, and I bet you’ll see that the richer people are carrying less.

As with carrying, so with owning in general. Poor people don’t have clutter because they’re too dumb to see the virtue of living simply; they have it to reduce risk.

When rich people present the idea that they’ve learned to live lightly as a paradoxical insight, they have the idea of wealth backwards. You can only have that kind of lightness through wealth.

If you buy food in bulk, you need a big fridge. If you can’t afford to replace all the appliances in your house, you need several junk drawers. If you can’t afford car repairs, you might need a half-gutted second car of a similar model up on blocks, where certain people will make fun of it and call you trailer trash.

Please, if you are rich, stop explaining the idea of freedom from stuff as if it’s a trick that even you have somehow mastered.

The only way to own very little and be safe is to be rich.


There is something noble about the call to simplicity, to shed one's possessions and live a freer, less cluttered and less busy lives. But the author is correct: Virtually everyone I know, and everyone I know of, who has made that move made it with a safety net.

This goes back to the great prophet of simplicity, Thoreau himself. Thoreau's famous experiment on Walden Pond was hardly an experiment at all: he was playing with loaded dice. He famously said he went to the pond to chase life into a corner, and live fully so that he would not find, when his time came to die, that he had in fact never really lived at all. He would simplify his life, and show others how to live. What form did this simplicity take? The land where he 'squatted' was actually owned by his friend Ralph Weirdo Emerson, so he was never in any danger of being forced to leave. Townspeople recalled that he would head home to his parents' house almost every night for dinner, so his food was free. In his book he details how he borrowed the tools he needed to build his house and farm his land, and then bragged that he was a more successful farmer than most of the professional farmers around! It doesn't take much to see that that, yeah, if you're not paying for land, or tools, or food, it may be a bit easier to be a success at farming. (Side note: Roy Underhill, star of the Woodwright Shop, once commented on Thoreau being that bane of all honest workers: a tool borrower. He went on to comment on how Thoreau's boast of how the axe he borrowed was sharper on its return to the owner than when he first got it is a little hollow, because Thoreau, in his ignorance, ruined the handle. He didn't know it, but anyone who knows much about tools- which Thoreau obviously didn't- can see how he did it in Walden.) After his time at Walden, Thoreau lived most of the remainder of his life in his parents' comfortable home, living comfortably off their dime.

Whether or not his theory was correct is up for debate, but in the end, the man was deceived in himself, and deceiving others. Far from being independent, his life at Walden, even as he described it in his book, was utterly dependent on possessions- if not his own, than those of others that he could borrow, or squat on, or eat. His simplicity merely made him a burden upon others- especially those whom he looked down upon, those who had possessions, as he put it, easier got than got rid of.He looked down upon them, and then asked to borrow their stuff.

The others I know of follow a similar pattern. The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, a site I visit quite often and daydream, has a newspage filled with testimonials from people who have bought and built from their plans. They follow a pattern. They had a three to four thousand square foot house, felt the call to downsize and simplify, and reduced to a house with less than two hundred square feet. Or, they built one of the tiny houses on trailers (putting a house on a trailer is an easy way to circumvent local building codes which quite often have minimum size limits on new houses) and then park them in a friends yard. They buy farmland and park their house there. All things which are good ideas at heart, but, as laudable as they may be, not everyone can do this, and that especially includes those who need it the most.

One of the best things about this simple life is the cheapness of it, so to speak. A small house is cheaper to build, cheaper to heat, cheaper to cool, cheaper to light. Because it uses fewer materials, if one has the money, one can splurge on the details and get high quality, if one has the means. But here we are starting to see the problem. According to the site's own figures, the cost of building the smallest house on a trailer is $57,000. According to their price generator, their largest house, built to minimum quality standards outside of Buffalo (I picked a place at random) would be over $88,000, plus the price of land. Cheaper. to be sure, cheaper still if one is capable of building it oneself- and I am capable of most of the framework and interior. It is cheaper than buying new, but you still need a large sum of money for materials and land, if you don't have a friend who will let you park or build on theirs; plus a place to stay while the house is being built; plus, if you are building it yourself, a car to take you there and back to build it while you build it on weekends while keeping your day job, so now gas and car maintenance need to be tossed in. And, if you ware not building the house near where you work or if you don't telecommute, because, say, land prices in your home city are outrageous in the extreme, you may need to find a new job in the new place. And so on. Simplicity would cost less, and in costing less it would clear up many of my problems, but I would have to fork out a large amount of cash to take advantage of that simplicity. And I don't have the cash in the first place because of those issues simplicity could cure.

Only those who have some financial security, or those who can take a huge leap of faith- the kind of leap that only true fools and great saints are capable of- can do this. I myself wish I had that kind of faith to take that leap. As I said, almost everyone I know or have heard about had a safety net underneath them. Someone or something stood ready to support them or catch them if something went wrong. I know of few who took an honest leap, and none of them had children or spouses. I wish I could take that leap. I wish I could tell my boss what I think of him and abandon this bloody ship before it sinks from underneath me, and leave secure in the faith that all will turn out well.

But I lack that faith. So I cling to this stupid job and this stupid home. I have a basement filled with crud that I don't toss because I might just need it someday. It would be a dream to break free of these shackles, but that is all it is: a dream for others. Not me. And I wish they would stop telling me anyone can do this.

2 August 2014

On Pretty women, maintaining custody of one's eyes, and the price of not doing so

I work at a university where I am constantly surrounded by young women, a great many of whom wear quite revealing outfits. I am occasionally asked how can I, as the saying goes, maintain custody of the eyes? The answer, quite simply, is that it is a self correcting problem. At this stage in my life, I have been surrounded by these women and their forerunners for so long that I really don't notice them, unless there is something very different about them.

Although I see pulchritudinous young women every day, as I said, almost none of them stand out in my mind. As I sit at my computer, I can think of three in recent years (out of thousands) who made any impression on me in any way. Let me explain why they stand out.

The first was a rather harmless one, and did nothing other than drive home that life sometimes come with bitter ironies. It was simply an old fool remembering when he was a young one. When I was young, around fourteen or so, my friends and I would discuss girls. There were days when we hardly discussed anything else. Sometimes what we discussed was what our ideal woman would be, mainly in terms of her physical attributes. We then grew up, went off, got married, had kids, divorces, alimony and all the wonders of modern married life. Except me. I somehow bucked the trend, lucked out and married a very real woman who suits me just fine. Reality, in the end, trumps fantasy for those who manage to emerge from teen fantasies and ultimately live in the real world.

But fantasy has a charm and memory of its own, a fact that was driven home one day a few years ago when I was working cash, and that long ago ideal woman walked up to my register.

It was as though she had been created to my specifications. In my mind I could just hear a foreman and worker going over their final inspection:

Foreman: Okay, let's go over this list one more time. Hair?

Worker: Check.

F: Eyes?

W: Check.

F: Face, skin and body?

W: Check, check and check.

F: Then it looks like we're done here.

W: Maybe. I was wondering if we should give her a slight Russian accent.

F: Does bear like that sort of thing?

W: Yes.

F: Throw it in, then.

Gazing upon her as I handled her purchase I could only reflect on how life isn't always fair. I was married, middle aged, fat and pathetic, and now she walks into my life? I felt some kind of nostalgia and a little rue that we all have to grow up and get old.

The second one was a little less- subtle, shall we say? Again, I was sitting down at my register on a very busy day when line control sent over my next customer just as I was finishing up on the previous one. I closed the till drawer, and looked over straight into about an acre and a half of cleavage. She was wearing a red dress with a neckline that plunged down to her navel at least, rather like that famous, or infamous, gown that Jennifer Lopez wore some years ago, except this woman was far more well endowed.

Unlike the other one, I was glad in this case that I was older rather than younger when this one shown up. Had she shown up when I was in my late teens or early twenties, I imagine my higher thought processes would have shut down and I would have stared at her like a drooling idiot. As it was my thoughts went along the lines of "oooo-kay" and I went to my task of ringing her up. That would have ben the end of it, but for a training session we chanced to have shortly before she came to my register.

The training was about unwanted attention by men on women. The university was getting complaints from women about the way men were looking at them and so the unversity created some rules about conduct and 'unwanted attention'. Long and the short of it: Any 'glance' that lasted longer than three seconds could be seen as unwanted attention and punishable. I don't know how this was enforceable, or how many women carried stopwatches so they could time the men accurately, but they thought they needed a policy, and that was the one up with which they came. What that broke down to for us was: don't stare. period. And I was fine with that.

But that meeting was fresh in my mind when this woman came to my register. It came to my mind when I wasn't even looking at her, and I heard the presenter's voice saying in my head: "Remember: no matter how she is dressed, she has a right not to be subjected to unwanted attention, so don't stare. Don't stare. Don't stare. Don't stare..." it became a loop in my mind, and had about the same effect as "don't think of pink elephants." So rather than helping me not to stare, the training ws the biggest thing driving me to stare. And as the "Don't stare, don't stare, don't stare" looped through my mind, another part of my mind, the part that never really grew up past fourteen began to say: "But why?"

Why indeed? Was it not fairly clear that this woman wanted attention? That if she did not want attention she was clearly wearing the wrong outfit? If she displays it, why should I not see it?

But, I also realized, the issue was not attention but unwanted attention. There are two parts of my attention. The first part is the attention itself. She may have wanted the first part, the attention, but not the second, which was me. What was unwanted about my attention was the fact that it was mine. A young beautiful woman, no matter how she is dressed, probably does not want the stare and ogle of a married, middle aged, fat, pathetic man. I imagine she also didn't want the attention of a very large percentage of the young men out there, and their attention can be brutal and demeaning, and women pay a heavy price for getting it, a point which was driven home to me by the last woman of the three. One of the most interesting things about her was that I did not even realize she was a woman at first.

I was working cash, but this time it was a slow day. I was the only one working on the register and had a small lineup of three or four people. I called the next customer over, and I saw the guy standing behind him, tall and skinny with baggy jeans, a lumberjack shirt and a baseball cap pulled low to cover his face. I dealt with customer and called the tall skinny guy over. As he put his books down upon the desk, I saw his hands, and it was then that I realized that this guy was not a guy but a woman. I glanced up at her face, and she turned her head for a second so I caught a glimpse of her under the cap. She had no makeup on, yet her skin was flawless and her features exquisite.

It was this strange combination that makes her stand out in my mind: Stunning, yet hiding it. The woman was very tall, at least as tall as I am (and I am over six feet tall) very thin, like a model is thin, and with perfect features, like a model. I would go out on a limb and say she was a model, although not a top model that even I would recognize. So why, then was she taking such care not to be noticed?

I came up with two explanations. The first was that she had a stalker, but that didn't seem quite right. It didn't fit her mannerisms precisely. The other explanation was that she may have a psychological disorder, I can't remember its name, but sometimes models and some other women become convinced that they are ugly, and try and hide their looks. Again, it didn't seem quite right.

Whatever the reason, I remembered her in my prayers for some time, and then I read something on another message board I sometimes visit. A man told the story of a female friend of his who was, in his words, gorgeous, and who went out one Saturday morning to do her grocery shopping. She tied her hair back in a ponytail, put on track pants and a loose hoodie and went off. Any idiot could have told be her dress that she was not seeking attention that day, but the guys of today aren't just any idiots. They're a bunch of pigs. Someone hit on her in the parking lot, telling her in graphic detail what he wanted to do to her. Then another two in the store, and then another in the parking lot again on her way out. By the time it was done she felt emotionally drained. She cancelled all her plans for the rest of the day, put on her jammies and sat one her couch and ate ice cream, because she just didn't want to face that crap again for the rest of the day.

As I read that story, the memory of that young girl came back to my mind. That fit in ways the other theories did not. She just didn't want to deal with the kind of garbage the guys of today (I won't call them men) put out.

Maintaining custody of the eyes is one thing, but we must also maintain custody of our mouths and of our person. If we don't we males become far less than men, less even than the animals which lack reason. And the women, they pay a heavy price for us being fools who are not in control of ourselves.

I'll come back and touch on this topic again another day.