Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Hands Off the Wheel

This afternoon, as I neaten and eat and type and such, I have running in the background the Indianapolis 500, largely due to the participation of Danica Patrick, 5' rookie, raven-haired beauty,* and flavor of the month who, as a 23-year-old rookie, today became the first woman to lead a lap the storied race.

Anyway, at about the mid-point the network was showing an in-car view of a racer sliding ass first into the wall. The announcer pointed out that just before impact the driver let go of the wheel. The observation was made that at 200 miles per hour, to leave one's hands on the wheel as one hits the wall is to all but ensure broken wrists.

There's a potent metaphor in there somewhere.

* Beauty is not a relative thing, in this case, as these photos attest.

Who Cares?

No, I'm done maundering for this afternoon, especially since a whole slew of Moon's dearest friends are in town from Philly, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and lord knows who else and are congregating in the next couple of hours at one of Pittsburgh's seediest bars toward which I will begin walking as soon as I've done with my current load of laundry (see, I told you I was being productive today). Anyway, "who cares?" alludes to a new phenomenon in my brief blogging experience.

Now that I've been posting on whatever random crap runs through my mind for nearing six months, I've built up a sizeable body of work. Because blogs are all about interlinking, and over time I've earned my share of links on others' sites, blogs appreciate an unrepresentative cachet with Google, which rates sites in proportion to the number of sites that link thereto. One of my distinct pleasures is looking at my Site Meter account from time to time to see whose finding me, especially via various Google searches. Today, I found two especially random ones that amused me. First, there's "dashboard circuit board for chevy cavalier '03" and then there's "bralessness at college." Ah, I'm glad to be giving back to the blogosphere.

Lazy Day

Not today, mind you. I'm talking about the sort of day that laughs, or perhaps sneers, at the idea of writing much of anything. I'm talking about yesterday.

A lazy day where only laziness precludes self-loathing, laziness as aggressor and defense mechanism against itself, like an all-day tug of war between right and left arms, each faltering in equal degree, strength bleeding away as though ticking.

Another wasted day in a lifetime of too few days. Another day of waiting for nothing identifiable. But I'll know it when I see it, right? Of course, even were that true, there's simply no chance of seeing it from a disheveled living room that smells of cigarette smoke and kitty litter all but used up. Stale memories crowding the corners, caught in cobwebs, whispering, a modest panic, an avowed intention to linger, torment for torment's sake.

The sun sets but it is no darker in the apartment than the afternoon was. There are things, regions, that even the sun cannot illuminate.

A day of realizing, too late, that the lights are off and the apartment bed-time obscure. The cats stir, look about, hold my eyes with palpable disapproval, then resume their chins to paws postures; their lot is to sleep without regret, to accede to the passage of time without ambivalence, but they know my lot differs, and fault me my inactivity as I might fault their industry were I to come home one evening to find them washing dishes.

How late until it's all right to start a movie? And when my laziness stalls even past that time, until suddenly the movie will run beyond Saturday Night Live, and who cares about either -- movie or SNL -- at the end of the day? Which is of course why they are the perfect (in)activities to crown a house-bound day: purposeless, not in any way mistakable for worthy the time they occupy like cultural squatters emitting a fog of ignorance and apathy, entertainments, we glibly call them, and the church a few blocks away chimes away another hour, the shadows curl and suggest with protean malice an end of days.

But of course then follows sleep, blissful overdue sleep, 1:30 AM because to go to bed earlier would be to leave the day incomplete and risk its perseverence into the next . . . better to exhaust one's ennui in one agonizing sitting and will the next day to begin on a different note.

And of course it has. It usually does. Real life rarely allows for the abject squandering of two days running. But the sting remains, like an ache in the back of my throat suggesting tears barely restrained, and I welcome it: only when it fades will I find myself once again stewing in a stinking pool of my own ennui, once again traversing this occasional obligation to stagnation.

Taciturn. Today.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Secular Reproductionists Unite!!!

Great Tom Tomorrow send-up of the intelligent design (non)debate.

(Hat tip Robin by way of Matt).

Fear, Ascendant

Standing in line this morning at a Brueggers (sadly, with the departure of Schwartz's a couple of years back, the closest thing to a real bagel to be found downtown -- and no, most of you don't know from real bagels), I watched the employees laconically go about their work, the baby-faced young black woman with her pendulous breasts hanging out the sides of her unflattering apron, the young man with the reddish beard neatly trimmed who politely addressed each invitation to the "next guest" (please), and with the time their indifferent pace afforded me allowed my mind to wander back to my own days in food service.

In college I waited tables and bartended, but in high school I worked a movie theatre and a couple of delicatessans, among other things. One deli in particular comes to mind: oddly, I can't remember the name, though I think it was Laurel Market. It was a very high-class, gourmet, everything made on premises sort of place. We baked bread overnight, sliced it to order on an ancient machine that always terrified me with its ratcheting hum and its inscrutable, shuddering ability to neatly slice the softest of loaves. We bought our bagels elsewhere, I should mention, but they were real bagels, good bagels, difficult to find even in north Jersey.

Our coolers were stocked with obscure iced teas, juices, and carbonated beverages, years ahead of the mass market proliferation of same, and our sandwiches were to die for: fresh meats, often roasted in-house, cut to order on fresh-baked bread. We measured out our meats and cheeses like corporate delis do, except unlike them our portions were meaningful; a sandwich was a meal, and a damned good one. Even as a vegetarian, everything was so fresh and wholesome that I grew comfortable removing roasts from blood-lined pans, peeling away string, and slicing it into twists and paper-thin sheets of redolent beef, handling the oozy liverwurst, wiping my hands free of the residue of roast turkey on a wet rag and smiling welcomely at the next person in line, like as not a diminutive, well-to-do Jewish woman in her fifties . . .

But now no one wipes his hands. Why would he? He's wearing plastic.

Clean freaks and various phobics among you surely aren't going to agree with me, but I miss the days when I trusted my deli to hire people who would keep their hands clean enough to handle my food safely. And as a vegetarian, that requires an additional leap of faith most people needn't worry about: I can taste the residue of meat on cheese, can tell when my egg has been fried on a part of the grill used to cook meat, I know, and yet I'd infinitely prefer a world in which there's enough mutual respect that we can trust each other to care for our own hands, to worry about the passage of germs not just for our own protection but for that of our friends, family, and our clientele.

But some of it has to do with this underlying weirdness pervading society about germs in general, and I find it terribly interesting that the phenomenon seems to have gathered force since we identified HIV and AIDS. Of course, HIV can't pass from simple hand to hand contact, and is virtually incommunicable by blood, since exposure to oxygen does a number on the virus. And as for the other stuff people worry about passing, first, cellophane gloves probably aren't going to do much of anything for you, and second, your body's designed to repel these things, which are all around us, in the cleanest bathrooms, in the air conditioned air we breathe, and all the plastic gloves, HEPA filters, and antibacterial soap in the world isn't going to do a damned thing about it.

Indeed, AIDS provides a perfect illustration of this: AIDS, of course, kills you by exposing the body to opportunistic diseases and viruses, because it eviscerates its victim's immune system in various dimensions. If we succeed in our misguided effort to place ourselves in a hermetically sealed bubble, then no AIDS patient should take ill. But they do. Just as we do. In similar proportion to when the man making your bagel, or your dentist for that matter, worked with the skin of his hands exposed to the subject of his work.

Decks instead of porches. Television instead of book circles. The internet instead of coffee houses. How many layers must we place between each other before we lose all sense of other people? And how much of an impact will this endless intermediation have on our essential humanity? How is it that those things so many of us search for these days entail the abandonment of so many other things?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Political Cost of Listening to Constituents

Funny title, right? Well, according to Bush 43, that's exactly what's coming. This article has the Prez on record as follows (emphasis added).

President Bush, facing an uphill battle on Social Security in Congress, worked Tuesday to persuade moderate Republicans to resist pressure from constituents and support his ideas for changing the nation's retirement system.

"I fully recognize some in Washington, you know, don't particularly want to address this issue," Bush said in an auditorium at Greece Athena Middle and High School. I recognize some of them say, `Well, this is, this is a partisan thing. You know, we don't want to make one party look good at the expense of another."

So when did we start caring about playing politics and partisanship to paint one part with a big red brush? Just curious. Here's the seemingly inconsistent part:

"I think more and more people recognize there's a problem and people are going to say `Go do something about it.' And those who obstruct reform -- no matter what party they're in -- will pay a political price, in my judgment," Bush said.

Either this is another of Bush's endless non sequiturs, or he appears to be saying that the political price to be paid is not that of losing the votes of constituents, or at least not directly. But what price would matter more to legislators? After all, it's not like the GOP cries havoc on those who stray from the party line. It's just those pesky moderate republican constituents, who are so negligent as to vote their consciences.

Orwell keeps looking more and more prescient.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Dreaming of Locusts

Friday night was a great deal of fun. Last night was very, very difficult. And then finally, exhausted from want of sleep and the fatigue incurred by trying to be a good friend to someone struggling with various demons, I went to bed last night around 1AM and slept nearly twelve hours. I awoke recharged, a bit astonished that I had remained asleep for the full run of an entire half-day, and still reeling in the grips of the closest thing to a nightmare I can remember having.

Typically, I avoid the word "nightmare" because I find myself transported time and again by dreams others might find unpleasant, invigorated, challenged by the act of decryption, not in the overwrought Freudian sense but proceeding from the simple belief that dreams are where our mind exorcises its troubles and exercises its most prevalent preoccupations. How can one fault that enterprise, disregard it, write it off? I can't, and I have a broad-based patience for whatever slithers out from beneath the rocks my subconsious mind chooses to roll over in the darkest hours that precede dawn.

I wish I could remember more.

It's nighttime in Bloomfield, that much I know. I am with my friends, my closest friends and those I see most frequently, my party friends, my Pittsburgh friends, the diminished remainder of those friends to whom I owe my decision to attend law school in Pittsburgh when better schools in far away locations beckoned, and we are piecing together an evening out, but we are scattered, diffuse physically and with regard to what we intend to do. Some of us are at a house that, while unfamiliar to me, seems to belong to someone central to our group, as we are all passingly comfortable inside and out, and treat the home as our own. Outside there is a terraced back yard. I seem to be moving back and forth, inside and out, without any clear intention or guiding principle. We're drinking, but not heavily; everyone is composed. It appears to be turning into one of those evenings that pass with us never entirely leaving the phase in which we aim to decide to do something; evenings we end up passing in someone's livingroom, the clock ticking, the shows on the television changing according to their own unaccountable whim, waiting for someone to suggest an activity interesting enough to draw a quorum. Intransigent nights, some of which end up being among the best nights, the most intimate.

Things fracture on this occasion though, and suddenly, somehow, fewer people are at the house, some of the group evidently having gone to Sharp Edge, a tavern at the southeast end of Bloomfield where it borders East Liberty. Others remain, and the clock has tolled past 11. Somebody recommends the Castle, a nearby Bloomfield institution, a boxing bar qua Shadyside service-industry after-hours hangout that years ago we used to frequent regularly.

I suggest that it's been so long that we might not be able to get in. The club, in virtue of its odd location in a brownstone cheek-by-jowl with residential houses in a densely sleepy neighborhood off Liberty Avenue, is guarded by a doorman, and only people who are recognized, who are known to the staff, typically are admitted. Or so it was a couple of years ago; perhaps now entry has been democratized. I sort of doubt it. Anyway, I note that, at best, only a few of us will be recognized, and only then if the staff hasn't turned over completely. Even if those few might gain admission, serious questions remain as to whether our diminished cachet would suffice to gain admission for the several non-Castle veterans in our company, who would, in effect, be guests considered in light of us.

This idea, as so many others have before it, fizzles for whatever reason. Then everyone disappears.

I begin to walk the mile or so to the Sharp Edge, in search of companionship and a beer. Bloomfield is darker than usual, but Liberty Avenue is in fact more crowded than usual, looking more like Walnut ot Ellsworth Avenues in Shadyside of a Saturday night. I shouldn't even be on Liberty; there are quicker ways to walk from where I've been to Sharp Edge, but here I am just the same.

A crowd approaches, and I recall that this is the annual weekend when a rather frightening, apocalyptic Christian cult takes to the streets. It's a cult, I recall, I've run-in with before. I see a pack of them, denoted by oddly white-trimmed outfits, festive and raucous, approaching on the sidewalk, and eyeing me voraciously. I am afraid, looking for a way to escape their path. No opportunities presenting themselves, however, I brace myself, admonishing myself for my surely irrational fear.

Until I am surrounded by them, their white-haired leader or deputy sneering hungrily at me, their words blurring together and my body being pushed steadily towards an unmarked doorway I've failed to notice, which opens like an incandescent mouth prizing the night-blackened brick wall in which it is set. Inside is frenzied activity, light -- and is that flame?

I don't know how, but I realize they remember me, that I represent for them unfinished business, that I never should have left the house on such a perilous night, that my error may have been fatal, or maybe -- just maybe -- even worse.

My escape is something I cannot recall, but I find myself free of the mob, adrenaline-stiffened with the knowledge that they are not done with me, the cultmembers, that they are hot on my heels, that I must go to ground if I hope to survive the night unharmed. I make a phone call. A sympathetic friend picks me up, but he will not be able to help me for long, we both seem to understand.

I call another friend, someone from outside my pack of long-term, most intimate pack -- a colleague, in fact, married with children. She agrees, amazingly, to meet me at a designated location and to aid my flight.

The cult is only dangerous during this one weekend, I seem to understand: if I can disappear for a few days, get out of the city, I can survive. Like locusts, however, their few days' reign leaves in its wake swaths of carnage, and I will be counted among their victims if I cannot escape.

My friend arrives, and wrests me from the sudden apparition of the cult leader, who is on a porch at the rendezvous address. Although he makes no effort to restrain me, his words are narcotic, laden with danger and the promise of ultimate prevalence, absolute confidence, serpentine, sibilant self-assurance. I cannot win. I am fighting destiny. I must accept my fate, give myself over to my pursuers, have faith that the outcome is nothing like I have imagined, and inescapable in any event.

My friend, however, is having none of it, and she drags me away, my eyes unflagging on the leaders', my heart racing in strain against the competing imperatives of abject, exhausting flight and weeping submission. I am nothing without my rescuers.

She installs me in her car, and, my head evidently cleared, I explain to her that I need safe transit out of Pittsburgh, far away from the stalking ubiquity of the cult, where I can evade notice. They will pursue, but only in the city have they the resources to unearth me. They lack the numbers to successfully find me in the breadth of the state, the region, in just a few days.

Next I know I am waking in her car, in Reading. We go to a restaurant, where two rock-climbing acquaintances also have sought a meal. One seems sympathetic, good-natured, but the one I know least, having only seen him on the trail a couple of times, eyes me, hirsute and inscrutable face, like prey. I hear my friend on the phone with her husband, attempting to explain the necessity of her absence, the danger to me; from what I can discern, he's having none of it, and I want to take the phone, assure him that my only motive is survival, that his wife's action, in every way, is a rescue. Nothing more.

But still, the climber watches me, makes little effort to participate in the strained small talk I am exchanging absently with the more familiar climber: dissonant exchange regarding rock conditions, climbing areas, goals achieved and newly established, the eternal unfolding of new challenges in an open-ended sport that knows nothing of true satisfaction, like a road unfolding indefinitely.

My friend is no longer on the phone, the climbers have left, I feel safe. And I awaken to Sunday morning, shaking, moist -- but even so invigorated. I remain utterly thrilled that my dreams have regained their import, and have become, instead of the dull continuation of my day they had been for the preceding year, the host of new nightly adventures, redeeming my sleep time in the way that the endless variety of an ever-startling world redeems my waking hours.

And I am happy for the many wonderful friends who populate my many peculiar worlds, waking and sleeping.

Sunday Reading

Yesterday, I raved about the Times. Today, I'm not so pleased. An old friend, who referred to the Sunday Times as her "woobie," nonetheless opined of that edition of the Grey Lady that it was basically equivalent to Cosmo in all its fashion advertising and its dearth of hard news. The Op/Ed page, however, has some real gems today.

First, Frank Rich, whose Sunday columns I'm growing to like ever more, does a great job of putting the Newsweek debacle into perspective. In a column entitled "It's All Newsweek's Fault" he argues that while Newsweek's reportage on the flushing of the Koran before detainees to arouse a particular degree of misery in Islamic prisoners might have been flawed, it hardly reflects innacuracy with regard to the military's general conduct toward Iraqi and Afghani detainees, the excesses of which have been reported extensively over the past year or so and which are entirely undeniable.

Let's stipulate flatly that Newsweek made a serious error. For the sake of argument, let's even posit that the many other similar accounts of Koran desecration (with and without toilets) by American interrogators over the past two years are fantasy - even though they've been given credence by the International Committee of the Red Cross and have turned up repeatedly in legal depositions by torture victims and in newspapers as various as The Denver Post and The Financial Times. Let's also ignore the May 1 New York Times report that a former American interrogator at Guantánamo has corroborated a detainee's account of guards tossing Korans into a pile and stepping on them, thereby prompting a hunger strike. Why don't we just go all the way and erase those photographs of female guards sexually humiliating Muslims (among other heinous crimes) at Abu Ghraib?

Even with all that evidence off the table, there is still an overwhelming record, much of it in government documents, that American interrogators have abused Muslim detainees with methods specifically chosen to hit their religious hot buttons. A Defense Department memo of October 2002 (published in full in Mark Danner's book "Torture and Truth") authorized such Muslim-baiting practices as depriving prisoners of "published religious items or materials" and forcing the removal of beards and clothing. A cable signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez called for interrogators to "exploit Arab fear of dogs." (Muslims view them as unclean.) Even a weak-kneed government investigation of prison abuses (and deaths) in Iraq and Afghanistan issued in March by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III of the Navy authenticated two cases in which female interrogators "touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs."

About the Newsweek matter Donald Rumsfeld had a moral to bequeath the land. "People need to be careful what they say," he said, channeling Ari Fleischer, and added, "just as people need to be careful what they do." How true. If one of his right-hand men, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, hadn't been barnstorming American churches making internationally publicized pronouncements that his own Christian God is "a real god" and Islam's god is "an idol," maybe anti-American sentiment in the Middle East, at record highs even before the Newsweek incident, would have been a shade less lethal. If higher-ups had been called to account for the abuses of Abu Ghraib, maybe Newsweek might have had as little traction in the Arab world as The Onion.

Hallelujah, seriously. This tempest in a teapot is as diversionary as the crucifixion of Dan Rather for misreporting an almost certainly true story. The reporter became the story, and we forgot to address the true premises at the heart of the story. Given the narrow escape CBS's sloppiness provided the administration in that case, why wouldn't we expect them to employ the same culpability loophole in the current case. The entire column is an excellent read. But if you prefer the shorter version, this cartoon (toggle to the fourth of fifteen) pretty much sums it up.

Meanwhile, David Brooks bemoans the Senate's diminishing cadre of moderates for their ineffectuality in averting the disaster almost certain to commence this week when the GOP endeavors, in all likelihood successfully, to radically shift the balance of power in the Senate humbly abdicating much of its power and constitutional mandate to the aggrandizement of the most irresponsible, power-hungry executive since Nixon. "Trench warfare" is coming, he says.

The leaders of both parties sound like the cheerful generals at the start of World War I, who had their own happy fantasies of victory before Christmas. Neither party is prepared for the quagmire and for how the public will react.

As we descend down this path, the moderates are being serenaded for their valiant efforts to find a compromise. I'm all for valiant efforts, but why do the independent types always have to be so ineffectual? Why do they always have to play their accustomed role: well-intentioned roadkill?

The answer, to be blunt, is that some of the moderates are moderates out of conviction. They do have courage. But many moderates are simply people who feel cross-pressured by different political forces, and their instinctive response is to shrink from pressure. They lack spirit to take risks, to actually lead.

Without attempting to undermine this cursory observation by my own research, which would be boring and require work, I nonetheless have serious questions about the way Brooks frames this criticism. Aside from the breadth of the generalization, which is sort of astonishing, Brooks's conclusion begs various questions, such as what is risk-taking in this context when a near supermajority of the American people would not have the Senate eliminate the filibuster. Moreover, what is conviction, and courage? Of course, Brooks doesn't name the names which would enable us to assess the validity of the perjorative terms he throws around.

Even so, he's of course right that moderates are not winning the day. The question is, are the democrats really being immoderate in forcing the GOP to decide whether to make the naked powergrab that the "nuclear option" entails? I would submit that one could be a moderate Democrat and reject any compromise that results in the seating on the federal appellate bench of various ideologues with dubious intellectual and jurisprudential credentials. If the Republicans want to enshrine with lifetime tenure various Grinches, let them do it in the light of day, without any Democrat imprimatur. And when the first of the moderate Republicans start seeing the values they hold dear under attack at the hands of these extremists, perhaps they'll vote their interests for a change.

This illustrates a more general problem for the left, I think: whether to set up camp within its ideological home, batten the hatches, and ride out what might be a decade-plus storm of revanchist backlask against the Clinton era, or fight for precisely the incremental concessions that aren't that might enable the right to stay in power for the foreseeable future, its most radical goals obfuscated by the compromises of the left.

It isn't going to be pretty, but increasingly I find myself believing that all out war is the only way. Let the right exhaust what minimal credibility it still retains among its base until finally nobody knows what it stands for anymore. That day isn't so far off, and then, perhaps, a truly progressive revolution can begin that will radically improve this country's life domestically and its reputation abroad.

Or maybe I'm just so fed up I can't see straight anymore. Who knows.

And while we're on the topic of left-wing causes, novelist Robin Cook has changed his mind: in light of the heretofore quiet breakthrough represented by the decryption of the human genome, he has come to believe single-payer nationalized health care is the only way to go.

As a doctor I have always been against health insurance except for catastrophic care and for the very poor. It has been my experience that the doctor-patient relationship is the most personal and rewarding for both the patient and the doctor when a clear, direct fiduciary relationship exists. In such a circumstance, both individuals value the encounter more, which invariably leads to more time, more attention to potentially important details, and a higher level of patient compliance and satisfaction - all of which invariably result in a better outcome.

But with the end of pooling risk within defined groups, there is only one solution to the problem of paying for health care in the United States: to pool risk for the entire nation. (Under the rubric of health care I mean a comprehensive package that includes preventive care, acute care and catastrophic care.) Although I never thought I'd advocate a government-sponsored, obviously non-profit, tax-supported, universal access, single-payer plan, I've changed my mind: the sooner we move to such a system, the better off we will be. Only with universal health care will we be able to pool risk for the entire country and share what nature has dealt us; only then will there be no motivation for anyone or any organization to ferret out an individual's confidential, genetic makeup.

There are plenty of compelling arguments for a national, single-payer, universal access plan - like every developed industrialized country has one. But those arguments have so far seemed insufficient. And none of them is nearly as cogent and persuasive as the growing impact of genomics and bioinformatics. Of course, far too many wealthy stakeholders in the current system (thanks to 15 percent of our gross domestic product being thrown at health care) are eager to lobby members of Congress to keep things as they are. The basic challenge is to blast the public and their elected representatives out of their shared apathy toward what the decipherment of the human genome has brought.

Not that the convictions of smart people with relevant experience ever have much of an effect on the formation of policy, these days. But it's nice to dream.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Saturday Reading

I particularly enjoyed this morning's New York Times, and in lieu of anything terribly original, I'm going to share with you the various items that drew my attention and engendered some sort of strong response, pro-, con-, or just tickled. They are arranged in ascending order of importance (to me).

Freud and Schwarzenegger Can't Both Be Wrong: With this unrevealing title, one might expect some sort of article about Austrians or something. Who would expect a tribute to the smoking of fine cigars? Nevertheless, that's what you get here, including a delightful bit on cigar smoking etiquette, right down to the virtues of keeping handy a silk smoking jacket.

Plan to Let F.B.I. Track Mail in Terrorism Inquiries: Yet another in an endless series of encroachments on our freedoms with express preclusion of judicial review. It's getting tiresome reminding this administration of the importance to the constitutional scheme of separation of powers. Checks and balances doesn't just manifest in judges deciding whether legislation is constitutional. The principle, in fact, is most alive where law enforcement officers are denied the opportunity to track our activities absent the imprimatur of a judge who authorizes such probing upon some required showing of cause warranting the intrusion. Oh well, eh?

Taking Luck Seriously: I don't really know Matt Miller, but invoking Rawls' classic suggestion that one should design an ideal society beginning from the premise, in effect true for all of humanity at birth, that you will have to live in that society but won't know where within that society you will be stationed until you wake up one day in the middle of the storm, this short opinion piece provides a very readable and thought provoking discussion of the degree to which liberals and conservatives attribute the success or failure of any individual to the lucky accidents of birth, inherited traits, and so on. Consider:

Try too hard to wipe out the inequities spawned by luck, and you banish luck's societal benefits and go down the road of communism. But harness a healthy awe for luck, and you expand the bounds of empathy in ways that make a living wage for poor workers and great schools for poor children national imperatives. What we're led to is the public agenda missing today, built around passionate commitments - by both liberals and conservatives - to (1) equal opportunity and (2) a minimally decent life, achieved in ways that harness market forces for public purposes.


So the conservative view of the decent minimum comes to this: "You're lucky to be in America; you're lucky to have a job; you're lucky to have the emergency room." A better idea would be "basic health coverage and $9 to $10 an hour, without putting the full burden of this on employers." Turns out we can have such a society for a penny on the national dollar (1% of G.D.P.), and still leave government smaller (21% of G.D.P.) than it was under President Ronald Reagan.

This last proposal intrigues me. It approximately comports with what I imagine, but still. Anyway, by utilizing Rawls and Friedman, this sub for Maureen Dowd restores some robustness to column inches typically wasted on Dowd's fatuous nattering. Maybe she'll stay on book leave for the indefinite future. That'd be nice.

In Rare Threat, Bush Vows Veto of Stem Cell Bill: In this article, the Times reports that Bush has expressed his intention to veto any bill emerging from the House (and, ostensibly, from the Senate as well, though I don't expect Bush to be entirely on top of the mechanical aspects of his job since his respect for separation of powers is passingly minimal) that in any way liberalizes embryonic stem cell research.

"I'm a strong supporter of adult stem cell research, of course. But I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, is - I'm against that," said Mr. Bush, speaking in the Oval Office during a brief appearance with the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it."

Of course, to veto legislation is the president's constitutional prerogative, should the need arise, and I wouldn't fault him his exercise thereof in any context he chooses. He is the duly elected chief executive of these United States, and this is among his enumerated powers. That said, I nonetheless find it intriguing how flagrantly this flouts his supposed veneration of majority will, a frequent talking point in the ongoing battle over the judicial appointment process. If a mere simple majority of the Senate should be sufficient to approve whatever jack-booted revanchist the Republicans see fit to seat upon the federal bench, why shouldn't a majority of the entire Congress be sufficient to pass a bill reflecting the obvious majority will of the people to explore more vigorously therapeutic applications for embryonic stem cells, strictly by utilizing frozen embryonic cells that otherwise will be discarded like so much trash?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Common Errors in English

A new friend directed me to this site, to share a compendious resource in our shared campaign not so much to rid the world of poor English (that ship has sailed, folks, and growing up means learning not to jump off the dock in vain pursuit) but to bask in the minority status of us prescriptive grammarians who still take a great deal of pride in writing and speaking with clarity and the concomitant respect for the irregular elegance of English in its most eloquent incarnations. The guy's a bit of a wanker, what with all his rules and kvetching about the inconvenience of extensive publicity, but the page of errors is, just the same, a pleasant harbor in an endless storm of English in the least common denominator form preferred by talking heads, politicians, and entirely too many of the people around us, even in the most learned of fields.

UPDATE: In the above, I have changed "we prescriptive grammarians" to "us prescriptive grammarians" after a persuasive email exchange with thoughtful reader, Stewart Pollock. I'm taking on faith his observation that my original formulation was ungrammatical, because I don't actually know very much about the formal rules of grammar. To the extent I write grammatically, it's attributable to practice and intuition, as I explained to Stewart. The only disadvantage to this approach is that I can't really argue in my own defense when things like this arise. But then I'm still doing all right, so I lack the motivation to actually learn the terminology and the reasons that lie at the heart of correct grammar. Which of course makes plain that I can't really be a "prescriptive grammarian," since my prescriptions are couched in the name of preference and intuition, even when these phenomena float me toward the correct answer. I guess that just makes me a writing snob. So be it. Anyway, thanks Stewart, for your kind words and your informative criticism.

The Local Paper Takes Up Blogging and Its Repurcussions

This post could be more timely, but then my new job could be less engrossing and demanding. Not that I'd like it to be; I'm as happy as a pig in shit, to be honest. But still, I miss killing time here, and I'll try to get back to it with at least somewhat greater regularity (although I fear I won't be back to the rate of posting I was at a month or two ago, given the new gig and the resumption of climbing, etc.).

In any case, the Post-Gazette did a thoughtful article this week concerning blogging and its various repurcussions, variations on the whole dooce-ing thing, etc. Check it out.

The Allure of Hands

Hands -- large and small, callus and supple, thick and aquiline, balletic and grasping gaspingly -- are the single most compelling argument for intelligent design I can imagine. Imagine the delicacy of the human hand, its dextrous articulation in even the most physically enfeebled or effete among us: an infant minutely encircling a father's finger with his own pudgy digits, Stephen Hawking piloting his chair with movements of his twisting, gnarled hand so fine as to be imperceptible at any distance, a centenarian weeding her garden, turning down her bed, or operating a remote control console.

How many operations, minute by minute, second by second, that only a man or a woman among all living things could hope to effectuate manually do we blithely take for granted? How much physical lyricism is there in the mere (!) act of typing these words, bringing to life in a medium recognizable to others these abstract maunderings, in fits of ten, twenty, thirty words, the staccato cooperation of my fingers wholly unconscious, as I watch these words emerge as though by magic on this screen, the blur of my dancing hands an undistracting and peripheral matter, wholly outside me?

And if this isn't enough, imagine those who use their hands to truly extraordinary ends, achieving an astounding variety of ends as unconsciously as I type: Zulieka playing her violin, Brian Setzer on his guitar, an artisan creating a cast to hold and shape an earth metal of intractable hardness at ordinary temperatures, a jeweler setting a diamond, a television repairman soldering a loose connection back into place, a woman on the corner deftly picking her nose, Dali painstakingly rendering in photorealistic detail the impossible landscapes of his inimitable imagination, a mechanic adjusting an old timing chain into its proper alignment, a surgeon inserting delicate instruments through a hole no bigger than a nighttime star in the base of a human skull to effectuate profound improvements in a patient's motor function, a single finger plying virtuously the folds and corrugations and hollows of a lover's interior.

Running a finger absently along my own fine eyebrow for a moment as I review a few of these words, I find myself defiantly rejecting the notion that such perfection might be the product of biological chance, while my mind, puppetmaster of my hands' dexterity, rejects the whimsy of my defiance, its latent romaticism, its unverifiable premises, if premises properly understood they even are.

I wear a single ring. And should I ever don another, more powerfully symbolic ring, I will shed the current one, which has adorned me well for three years now. I wouldn't crowd my hands, wouldn't restrain them; one ring is enough.

At a local tavern a few weeks ago, I sat with two friends, one beside me and another alone on the opposite side of the table. Behind him, her back to us, sat a woman with a straight back, a fine neck, an impossibly thin waist and immaculately styled hair. Inexorably, my attention insistently returned to her in its every idle minute for the better part of an hour until I became self-conscious about my eyes' constant wandering back. As much as any sitting form might, what I could see of her suggested a conventionally attractive specimen, thin, well proportioned, healthy. But it wasn't this that drew my attention, since in our orientation toward each other the prospect of her more comprehensive beauty was merely implied.

Rather, it was the fluttering flight of her right hand into and out of view above or beside her delicate shoulder. Sometimes it held a cigarette, but other times it winged about, a dancing girl to decorate the margin's of a master's stage. I couldn't look away for more than a few seconds. The fingers were long and straight, the nails modestly short but impeccably lacquered in the mode of serious professional women everywhere, its attachment at the wrist at once sturdy and fragile, an undisturbed curve rather than a jumble of angles and ill-suited shapes -- the very essence of femininity. I imagined her hand lying gently on the nape of my neck to hold me near, resting affably on my upper harm to impel my attention, interwoven with my own knuckly and scarred instrument in quiet acceptance, resting amorously on my thigh under a table of friends, slithering playfully into the waist of my jeans later, at home, alone.

When finally she stood my suspicions about her greater form were vindicated: she did, indeed, have an exquisite body, and carried herself as gracefully as her hand had insisted she would, proud and indifferent to the attention her elegant shape and movement commanded. I never saw her face, however, and I remember only the most general contours and proportions of her form and outfit.

But her fingers, holding her cigarette courteously high to allow the smoke to drift over her companions's head, her hand tattoing the noise-polluted air with an artistry that defied distraction, this I remember as though it were my own.

Hitler Has Left the Building

Could we please, puh-leeeeeeeze, stop it with the Hitler comparisons?

Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said Democrats have abused the filibuster.

"The audacity of some members to stand up and say 'How dare you break this rule,'" Santorum said on the Senate floor Thursday.

"It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying, 'I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.'"

Democrats are guilty of this too, for the record. And under the circumstances I reserve the right to call American politicians of my choosing "fascists" to the extent they warrant it. But Hitler himself -- it's becoming so gauche, and it's inevitably facile.

In other news, and a propos, on NPR yesterday and this morning I heard probably a half dozen different politicos refer to the "rights" of the President and the "rights" of the Senate. All right, I'm going to say this very carefully, and very slowly, and I'm very serious: ours is a government of enumerated powers, and consequently enumerated powers is precisely, and entirely, what our elected and appointed officials enjoy. Nothing more, nothing less.

How utterly ironic that in a debate everyone wishes to frame as constitutionally imperative such a profound misunderstanding, or misrepresentation, not just of constitutional law but also of constitutional theory should emerge as a rhetorical bludgeon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

You Can Take the Boy Out of England . . .

David, who makes more fun of his own writing than anybody else, reveals his inner Englishman with an absolutely lovely post about his return to bike commuting, and the recently delightful commuting weather we've been enjoying.

Well, I haven't been enjoying it, because I haven't settled in here at the new office and building enough to pin down where I can securely store my steed during the day. Anyway, David's post makes me realize the urgency of my problem; I need to sort this out, and soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Recommended Reading

In the past two days, I've begun my new job. Needless to say, I've been a bit busy, and consequently have found little time to blog (gasp!), or to peruse blogs (double gasp!!). This evening, in my office waiting for my ride to call, finally I got to look around.

Here's what I found: an absolutely excellent rumination on the intractable political choices being asked of principled Christians. Candor and nuance -- rare, and excoriated (remember Kerry?), respectively -- are the spice of discourse. Thanks, Brian.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Way We Are, The Way They Were

Revere, guest posting at Majikthise, provides a thought-provoking framework in which to compare and contrast the resistance of the baby boomer generation during the sixties with the current ideological schism between right and left.

[T]he split is not generational as it was then. The draft had something to do with that, but not everything. There was a cultural discontinuity that occurred in the 1960s that excluded the older generation. Today our children are not so very different than we are. That's not where the split is now. The people who are different are the religious right. On November 3 half the country woke up to find the other half of the country not only strangers, in some deep and unsettling way, but also threatening. Threatening to cultural moorings.

He concludes with this worrisome observation:

[U]nlike the parents of the 60s generation, since our split is not generational, we won't just die out. The split will reproduce itself in our children and the other side's children. That is where the battleground will be. Focus on the Family, with its preoccupation with religious (i.e., ideological) education, values imparted in the home and public education signals where the struggle will take place. That's the meaning of the gay marriage debate, evolution, religion in the schools. It is a struggle about reproducing ideologies in the next generation.

The discussion doesn't get significantly more probing than these excerpts, but even so it comprises a series of really obvious, yet relatively unremarked (in my limited experience, anyway), observations. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


USA Today reports that former Homeland Security Director (and Pennsylvania Governor) Tom Ridge (whom Moon had the good fortune to meet a couple of years ago) has publicly acknowledged that the Homeland Security Council, at the Bush administration's insistence, raised the terror alert in response to "flimsy" evidence or in situations that Ridge and his staff believed did not require elevations in our alert status.

This, of course, begs the question: when? Of course, we all recall cynically suspecting the timing of various terror alerts during the presidential election, as they often seemed closely to coincide with the emergence of information besmirching the administration and its corporate patrons.

Jon at WarForever has some answers.

Plain Old Good Writing

The Phantom Professor, who I learned this morning through Orin Kerr has been let go from her adjuncting position due to her blogging activities, tells an absolutely lovely story about an absolutely lovely story one of her students wrote her. There's a lot to this post. What I like most is how, even as she's relating the story and talking about what made it a skillful work, she's following and toying with the very same narrative rules against which she's assessing (and favorably) the former student's work. The whole thing is well worth your time.

Hall of Pain

Prodigal resumption of climbing last Thursday. Back on the bike after a ten-day hiatus Friday. Climbing outside Saturday, then yesterday triangle commute on the bike plus another gym climbing session.

Inventory of things that hurt:

* Flesh at the base of my left thumb (shredded it Saturday)
* Right middle finger
* Really, all of my last-segment knuckles
* Most of my spine, in various ways
* My trapezius muscles (big time)
* Left wrist
* Both forearms (big time)
* Oh, right wrist, too
* Right hip
* Left knee
* Right bicep
* Left big toe

New membership at the gym: $130
Gas and sundries for Saturday West Virginia trip: $40
Advanced healing band aid: $1

Having finally found my way back to deriving pleasure from driving my body to the very brink of collapse: Priceless.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Will to Powerlessness

If he didn't, Dante should have identified a ring for those with titanic ambition and a retiring will. Perhaps, if I could stop planning my next dozen or so enterprises for ten minutes or so, I could actually complete one before me.

But if it's the journey rather than the destination, then I may well be the only enlightened being you know. Or don't. Or not.

On the bike, there is the journey, and there is the destination, and I find a delightful balance between keeping the latter in mind while embracing the former, in all its gasping sweaty traffic menacing glory. On rock, there is the top and each move, in turn, between me and the end of the line. There is fear, and risk, and a bracing sense of singular focus. As on the bike.

But in virtually all other things -- often even sex, regrettably -- there is paralyzing possibility like the staccato glare of a thousand sudden photo flashes in a moonless midnight forest, paralysis, a warding off, and the synesthetic wounds in red and green blotting out the night's revelation.

I stand still. I count my fingers and toes, and again. I lower my arms and my sleeves whisper against the washboard of my ribcage, the sound diffusing to explore a limitless sensory vacuum. Sightless, I feel nothing, do nothing.

Where are Christo and Jeanne-Claude When You Need Them? How About High School Math?

The metric system just took another hit today, in this article discussing a Swiss ski resort's effort to preserve an alpine glacier from the lately steroidal summer thaw by blanketing it in some sort of synthetic, fleece-like material.

The article is rife with more fuzzy math than you can shake a stick at (e.g., 1% annual reduction = 100-year lifespan, while 5% annual reduction = 50-year lifespan), but the most offensive thing is obviously wrong, obviously deliberate, and thus reprehensible as a journalistic shortcut, if not as a cultural practice -- and I quote:

"A thin protective layer of artificial textiles, including polyester, was laid over an area of 3-4,000 square meters (yards). The fleece-like material, hard to distinguish with the naked eye from snow, will reflect the rays of the sun."

I'm sorry, did you just equate meters and yards? It's not even all that close!!!

In fact, the first reference this search produced is a clearinghouse of straightforward area conversions.

This site indicates that 3,000 to 4,000 square meters is equal to 3587.97 to 4783.96 square yards.

Lazy. Pathetic.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Care of MySpace

Today, I find in my MySpace inbox this message from a putatively Russian woman whose profile contains no photograph (as though it matters):

Greetings! Very that you will answer this letter would be desirable to trust. I from Russia.. I hope you does not frighten distance between us:):)........ If it is pleasant to you kind and devoted people, it means, that it will be easier to us to communicate and we shall like each other. I have written to several men, but they have not answered me and consequently I very much hope, that you will answer me. My box: [email address] By the way my name [Anna]... I not so like mentality of Russian men and consequently I have decided to find second half abroad. I want to tell at once to you, that my intentions are very serious, in search of second half. I write to you in hope, that we can be good friends and it is possible more! I very interesting and cheerful person so speak my familiar. To you it will not be boring with me))))))). I very much love a life! Therefore I try to not spend the vital energy for such things as lie, envy treachery. I think, that each person is incorporated kindly, but not each person is able to dispose correctly it. Write to me and I shall send you the photo. For me the external beauty of the person is not so important, for me the internal beauty of the person is more important. It is soul and kind heart........

"Consequently?" Not bad for someone with such an apparently poor grasp of the language. How did we ever survive before the internet?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More Legislative Time Wasting

CNN reports:

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) -- Texas lawmakers sent a message to the state's high school cheerleaders Wednesday: no more booty-shaking at the game.

The state's House of Representatives voted 85-55 to approve a bill that would forbid sexy cheers and give the Texas Education Agency authority to punish schools that allow "overtly sexually suggestive" routines at football games and other events.

I have only one question: why don't they stop futzing around with half-measures and outlaw breasts. For that matter, they could outlaw all reproductive organs. If nothing else, it'd be a hell of a lot more expedient.

Just for the record, Texas schools have much bigger problems than cheerleaders shakin' it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What Are They Thinking?

BlogStar Tony Pierce writes in an elegantly terse, melancholy post that he's just been let go by his employer.

This resonates oddly with the elaborate window-washing apparatus I'm watching from my window as it hangs from a neighboring building. Perhaps in other cities it's common, but here it's not: a huge crane atop the building telescopes out and lowers a massive scaffold on which two men stand and do their jobs. The octagonal building tapers inward for a few stories toward its roof, and sometimes, when I look at the right moment, I can see the scaffold hanging free from the building, far away from any wall, pendulous over the street fifty stories below.

The image serves as an occasional reminder, as does Tony's unfortunate situation, that we're all always hanging over some gaping maw, or poised below some Damocleian sword hanging by a fraying thread. And that this is okay. It's just what we do, try not to look up or down, go about our business, smile around the lump in our throat borne of an instinctual terror so perpetual, so permanent that we no longer even notice. Because accepting this terror, and being afraid, are very different things; the former is immanent, ontological, while the latter is immediate, a sort of epistemic matter. And I'm confident that Tony isn't afraid; lord know's he shouldn't be.

Here's hoping that he takes this opportunity to do something more glam, more worthy of his considerable talents. Seriously, Tony: make it count; go bungee jumping, take a walking tour of Tibet, write (another) book, join the circus.

Just keep doing it right, Tony -- whatever "it" is -- and you'll be in fine shape.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Deaf Mutes and Gunplay

This isn't really funny, but it's hard not to laugh at the numerous non sequiturs contained, perhaps inevitably, in this local article.

To make a long story short, there's this deaf-mute guy (DMG), living with his deaf-mute parents (both of them), and visiting the same house were DMG's sister and brother-in-law, both (!) of whom also were unable to hear or speak. I was shocked enough about the genetic uniformity of the whole DM family, but only as I wrote this did it occur to me that the brother-in-law is legally, but not biologically, related, which makes the whole thing even more surreal.

Anyway, the family was arguing, presumably in sign language, over selling the family home, when DMG shot his sister and b-i-l dead with a 20-gauge shotgun (again, ! -- that's a big-ass gun, suitable for hunting eighteen-wheelers).

There are too many odd lines to identify favorites, but I'll leave you with one of the odder ones: "DeLuca said Simich Sr. and his wife tried to get help from the next-door neighbor but had difficulty explaining what had happened." This after they ran from the house; the article didn't explain how they knew to do so, so one can only assume they were in the room.

This reminds me of the tremendous difficulty my hometown weekly newspaper had, five or so years back, when an old friend of mine back when he was a very young man died as a woman on a California highway. The obituary manifested the most adorable pronoun difficulties one might imagine in such a situation, as it wrestled with whether to write about the him the town remembered or the her she had since become.

Some things are just hard to write about, and my sympathies go out to the reporter who, I'm sure, did her best.

Creation and Intelligent Design: We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Or Are We?*

Binky, over at BloodlessCoup, in a painfully short post entitle "Ye Gods and Little Fishes," pithily calls attention to this story, which -- make no mistake -- certainly warrants our attention.

The article sums up the situation thus:

Evolution is going on trial in Kansas.

Eighty years after a famed courtroom battle in Tennessee pitted religious beliefs about the origins of life against the theories of British scientist Charles Darwin, Kansas is holding its own hearings on what school children should be taught about how life on Earth began.

The Kansas Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin on Thursday in the capitol Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.

Many prominent U.S. scientific groups have denounced the debate as founded on fallacy and have promised to boycott the hearings, which opponents say are part of a larger nationwide effort by religious interests to gain control over government.

"I feel like I'm in a time warp here," said Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray who has agreed to defend evolution as valid science. "To debate evolution is similar to debating whether the Earth is round. It is an absurd proposition."

I'm certainly not going to defend the format of the proposed debate. Furthrmore, I am whole heartedly committed to seeing evolution continue to be an integral part of school science curricula, since whether it explains life's origin on Earth or not, it certainly explains quite a lot going back hundreds of millions of years. Nothing any intelligent design advocate has argued convinces me to buy the absurd conclusion that the fossil record is some contrivance of a Creator to test our faith or otherwise create the illusion that the earth is older than the 6,000 or so years to which Christian orthodoxy would have us subscribe.

That said, however, a while back Brian and an ongoing discussion on topic at DCH led me to read Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, which ably criticizes the utter failure of Darwinism writ large, and particular its contemporary exponents, to account for the origin of complex life processes.

I've now read something like two-thirds of the book, which makes a pretty compelling case (to this non-scientist with some significant science in his background) that Darwin breaks down when it comes to accounting for the complex cellular and molecular structures and processes necessary to the formation of life as we understand it, which are, as he styles it, "irreducibly complex" (that is to say, like a mousetrap, presenting an intractable problem for natural selection inasmuch as no benefits accrue from intermediate steps, thus nature would have no reason to select for the many biochemical processes on which all terrestrial life depends). His critique is all the more resonant for his indifference to the identity or nature of the "designer" he believes must have played an integral role in the instantiation of terrestrial life, and for the fact that he is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University instead of a pundit, minister, or wingnut politician.

My point in rejecting the liberal orthodoxy that we must detest anything that even vaguely sounds like a new Scopes debacle, I suppose, is that with the way states like Kansas go about it, with their unabashed ulterior objective to promote Christianity to a predominately Christian school body, I can't embrace the so-called "debate" they propose because, plainly, the policy makers in question have no real interest in it. But if someone were to argue rationally, in something like an a-religious enlightenment-informed way, that books like the one I'm reading be taught to encourage discussion of the legitimate questions regarding, and flaws contained within, Darwin's seminal theory, I'd be all for it. For that first-principle iconoclasm, that unwillingness to go down with problematic theories rather than open one's mind to difficult alternatives, is the root of scientific inquiry. And last I checked, it's the scientific method, not dogma, that we're supposed to be teaching our children in public school. And best I can tell, both sides of this debate tend toward the dogmatic, which disserves our children and our society.

* Pun shamelessly derivative of Binky's Toto joke.

UPDATE: More on this fascinating topic here and especially here.

Originalism, the Lost Constitution, and Other Fascinating Topics

Filed under recommended reading, Randy Barnett, Volokh Conspiracy libertarian and Boston College law professor, is debating Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago law professor, on the meaning, import, and relevance of originalism and its antagonists (about which, at present, there is some dispute as to terminology). If you enjoy this sort of thing, this week promises to be a lot of fun. Already, the two days of posts at the Legal Affairs debate site provide plenty of food for thought.

I also encourage non-lawyers to check this out. The questions under consideration bear directly on both the general judicial confirmation SNAFU as well as the imminent battle over the naming and confirmation of the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, not to mention the next chief, a separate confirmation process if one of the current justices is tapped for the job. The discussion, at least so far, is very illuminating, quite measured, and entirely accessible for a lay audience.

(Do Not) Come Home *

I would not care to be a pretty girl.
To have everything you think you want
binds you to your own myopic fallibility,
denies you invention borne of necessity.

Unless we are all stubborn and
must get everything we think we want
to reveal the intrinsic fallacy
of inherited desire
in which case the pretty girl
(who most rapidly exhausts
her false yearnings)
races ahead of those who have yet
to learn that what they want knows nothing
of what will make them happy.

Desire a beastly tyrant --
and the pretty girl
who slips her chains
a few lives closer
to unberdening's enlightenment, nirvana.

I will invite you home only
if you promise to say no.

* Very much a work in progress

Monday, May 02, 2005

There Is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity

All right, a quick show of hands: who thinks Jennifer Wilbanks, the "runaway bride" who has supplanted real news about relevant foreign and domestic occurrences lo this last week or so, would face prosecution if hers hadn't become, through media saturation, a sort of 'federal' case? That is to say, haven't others fled altars with varying degrees of honesty, over the years?

The problem is, in the past, local police officials didn't have an army of safe-story-idea-starved journalists jabbing microphones in their faces asking them what they're going to do about it. Not content to waste precious air time on a stupid non-story, apparently now we'll have to make sure to waste taxpayer money as well.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Counting Gods

last night a verse i stumbled across haunted me for an hour before i could escape long enough to drift off. today, during the long drive home from new jersey, the same poem kept me company as i counted . . .


Numbers from one to ten, however, are called
"God." In other words, counting to ten you would
say, "God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God, God,
God." It is possible to distinguish among these
numbers by the tone in which each is pronounced.
"God," for example, corresponding to our "five,"
is pitched relatively high on the musical scale,
and accordingly sounds an inquisitive, even plaintive,
note. It is in sharp contrast to the number corre-
sponding to our "ten," which has a slightly accented,
basso finality, thus: "God."

--Annie Dillard, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel

So count to "God" and discover the timbers and tones of your own cardinal numbers. It's an engrossing pastime.

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