Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December Hair Photos

As you will recall from previous posts, my New Year's Resolution this year is to try my best to resist the urge to cut my hair, with the ultimate goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

Here are the December 9, 02008 photos. During November, I passed the one-year mark since my last haircut. Sometimes I feel as if my hair is actually starting to look better, almost as if it's a style rather than just a mess. But really, that's all self-delusion. The truth is: It's a mess. But at least now I can mostly keep it out of my eyes. So in that sense, it's improving.

As a best-case scenario, I may be on pace for meeting the 10-inch minimum by May of 02009. I'm really not sure that I can manage to last that long. Time will tell.

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A (Brief) Hopeful Thought For the Day

I have recently been thinking of how nice it would be for the Most Dangerous Person in the World to no longer be the President of the United States of America. Obviously, there are basically two different scenarios whereby this could come true:
  • The POTUS could become significantly less dangerous.
  • Someone else could become even more dangerous, thereby surpassing the POTUS.
Here's hoping the first of these scenarios comes to pass.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Worst...Hair...Ever! (A double shot)

As you will recall from previous posts, my New Year's Resolution this year is to try my best to resist the urge to cut my hair, with the ultimate goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

Here are the October 6, 02008 photos, followed by the November 5, 02008 photos. My apologies for posting them so late. And my apologies for how horrifying they are.

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth


Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September Hair Photos

As you will recall from previous posts, my New Year's Resolution this year is to try my best to resist the urge to cut my hair, with the ultimate goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

Last week, my hair started really annoying me because it keeps getting into my eyes. Grrrrr...

Anyway, here are the September 2, 02008 photos. My apologies for posting them so late.

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth


For those few of you who will get the reference, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror a couple of days ago while I was wearing a baseball cap. Suddenly, I'm thinking of dressing up as a member of the Baseball Furies for Halloween.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Neologism (and a half), After Much Rambling Buildup

Surely there are people who spend their time trying to devise neologisms (new words or expressions). I suspect that there is a whole subculture of these linguistic hobbyists. I think it's fair to say that the most blatant (and for a time, the most famous (and possibly the most prolific)) of these neologists in recent memory was Rich Hall. His "sniglets" (words that don't appear in the dictionary but should) were featured for a time on Saturday Night Live and he published a few volumes of them, which I believe were bestsellers.

[Note: Hall was a cast member of Saturday Night Live during at least one of what I think of as "The Forgotten Years". In recent years, when I have sporadically caught reruns of SNL on E!, I don't believe I have ever seen one of the episodes from this era rerun. These were actually my favorite SNL years (probably more than for any other reason because they're the years when I started watching, and they therefore have a real nostalgic value for me). Besides Rich Hall, the cast of this era included Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brad Hall, Eddie Murphy (although I don't think Hall and Murphy actually shared a season), Tim Kazurinsky, Gary Kroeger, Mary Gross, Martin Short, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Billy Crystal. Some of these people went on to stellar careers, some faded from the public eye. All were great in their own way, and it's a shame that those SNL episodes don't seem to be in syndication.]

Anyway, as I've mentioned before, I've been trying to think on a 10,000 year scale instead of thinking in terms of decades or centuries. This is daunting. Especially if you also think in terms of trying to leave some sort of literary legacy. Which I do. ("Odd," you might say, given that I have never published a novel nor is there any real reason to believe that I will ever manage to do so. I won't dispute that it's odd. I also will freely admit that I have no such grandiose aspirations for what I post on my blog. It's easy to spew out lots of words if you are not trying to write for the ages.)

When I took my first real stab at writing a novel, I was not seriously thinking in 10,000 year terms. But I was thinking much more vaguely in terms of literary "immortality". And to some degree, this really acted as a hindrance to me, though perhaps not in the sense that you would expect. I wasn't frozen with fear at the prospect of trying to write something great. Instead, I was stymied by the certainty (certainty!) that much of what we deal with in our daily lives is (in the longish term) mere ephemera.

What will last?

"Telephone" will be an obsolete term soon. "Internet" will probably be obsolete even sooner. Already there's a generation of people for whom "Walkman" is meaningless, I'm sure. It's been superseded by "iPod" or "MP3 player", both of which will be virtually forgotten within 50 years. I'm pretty confident in saying that. Heck, even "computer" may fairly quickly become an archaic term, as what we think of as a computer becomes obsolete, replaced by some sort of I-don't-know-what. When faced with this knowledge, and motivated by the desire to write something timeless, what's an author to do?

In my case, the answer is challenging, and limiting: try your best to avoid including references to those things that you're sure will soon be memories, soon thereafter be quaint curiosities, and soon thereafter be lost to the realm of human experience. Limiting, indeed! If the phone is off limits, surely e-mail is too. IM and text messaging -- meaningless and (to me in my novelistic aspirational mindset) useless! What's an LP? What's an album? What in the world does vinyl have to do with music?

Anyway, the more I try to think on a 10,000 year scale, the more convinced I become that the idea of literary immortality is an unattainable goal. Here's what else I've concluded about the exercise: 1) Your best shot at literary longevity is inextricably linked with accepting anonymity. 2) The shorter your contribution (assuming it's really good), the longer it is likely to last.

So, if you want to leave a lasting literary legacy, your best bet is to accept that it will not be associated with your name for very long, and to make it as snappy as possible. Aphorisms, proverbs, and neologisms are really the way to go, if "immortality" is your goal.

Neologisms are actually probably the worst of these three forms, for the simple reason that the others can be translated to other languages with ease and (assuming they're really effective) they won't lose any value in the translation.

So, after there's no longer any such thing as a "penny" and after Ben Franklin is completely forgotten, "a penny saved is a penny earned" can still have meaning to any culture (and in any language) that has grasped the concept and adapted the saying to its particular vernacular. "Penny" is just a variable, easily replaced by "dollar" "yen", "peso", or "yumyum". "Save" and "earn" are simple concepts, easily translatable into almost any language. Assuming it still has cultural value, "a penny saved is a penny earned" can easily be imagined as having the potential to outlast the English language.

Neologisms are a trickier business. A neologism is only a neologism for a short time. If it catches on (a big if, always), it soon ceases to be a neologism and instead simply becomes a word. Words are really tied to the language in which they originate, with rare exceptions. ("OK" has somehow become fairly universal.) Generally speaking, if the language dies, so does the word. This doesn't even take into account the natural evolution of language that dictates the constant, gradual alteration in meaning that occurs to many (if not most or all) words. If you originate a new word with a particular meaning today and in 50 years the word is still used, but with a somewhat different connotation (or worse, a somewhat different denotation), can you still take credit for it? How about in 300 years, when your original definition is so far removed from the current one that there isn't even any readily obvious connection between what it was and what it has become?

I mentioned Rich Hall earlier. Turns out he was apparently Matt Groening's inspiration for the character of Moe Szyslak. Mentioning Matt Groening is a handy tool for tying neologisms to literary legacies. (I am, of course, using a very broad definition of "literary", here.) If we were placing bets, my money would be on "d'oh" as Groening's lasting literary legacy. I'm guessing that people will widely respect and appreciate (perhaps revere) The Simpsons (and, I hope, Futurama) for a few decades to come. I suspect that in 100 years, those shows will be as well known and loved as are the films of Harold Lloyd today. Which is to say that there will be a small group of devotees who fight hard to keep the legacy alive, while the vast majority of the population will suddenly be overcome by a blank stare (at best) when presented with a reference to them. By contrast, I'm guessing that "d'oh" stands a very good chance of lasting and being widely used as an expression of anger or frustration or revealed stupidity for at least a couple of hundred years. If I had to put my money on how long "d'oh" will be in common parlance, I'd bet somewhere between 300 and 600 years. (That's me being extremely optimistic, which is rare.)

Assuming "d'oh" lasts that long, will Groening's name be associated with it in any way? Not a chance! But it will still be his legacy, and I'm pretty sure that if it does last that long, it'll likely be his only (directly attributable) contribution to whatever has become of society.

Which is great!

I don't think Jose Saramago or Toni Morrison or Kenzaburo Oe or V.S. Naipaul or Orhan Pamuk is likely to have inserted anything so powerful as that one word quite so far into the future. This is not a commentary on their literary genius. Merely a thought about what likely lasts and what likely doesn't through the coming centuries.

It's fair to say that I am not one of those neologism hobbyists I mentioned at the start of this entry. It's also fair to say that I do not have any expectation that my offerings in this field will catch on, let alone last. However, having stated as much, I figure I might as well throw a neologism or two out there into the internet as see if I get any traction at all.

So, without further ado, one and a half neologisms for your consideration:

intrarogative - adj. Characterized by self doubt. n. One who is characterized by self doubt.
intrarogative question - n. A question, typically rhetorical and usually pessimistic, about one's own place in the universe.

I am an intrarogative (I think), always questioning my own choices in life, rarely certain that I have acted as wisely as I should have done.

"Why me?" is the mother of all intrarogative questions. Others include: "How did I get here?", "Why did this happen to me?", and even vaguer questions like "What else can go wrong?".

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Olympics

First, Michael Phelps was spectacular. There's no denying that. What he did was amazing. Congratulations to him and his teammates. (Note: The most impressive moment of all of the swimming events that I saw was Lezak chasing down and passing Bernard in that 4 x 100 m freestyle relay.)

However, given the coverage and praise that has been heaped upon Phelps, Usain Bolt has not gotten nearly enough attention in the television coverage here in the U.S.

Once again (as happens every time the Olympics comes around), I am reminded that our televised Olympics coverage really is way too America-centric. I wonder what the coverage in Jamaica has been like. I hope Bolt has been getting his due there!

Unfortunately, it seems that half the commentary I have heard about Bolt has been disparaging remarks about his poor sportsmanship (exuberance) and showboating (premature celebration). I feel somewhat cheated by not seeing what he would have done in the 100 m if he had really given it his all. But I will not pile on with the criticism. He left me wanting more. That's all.

Here's my take on Bolt: What he did in the 100 meter race may have been the most jaw-dropping performance I have ever seen in sport. It was utterly astonishing! Basically, the guy coasted for the last 15 meters and he still beat the rest the best in the world have ever offered.

Here's the analogy that came to mind when I saw it: Imagine a 50 meter freestyle race, in the final round of the Olympics, in which someone was so far ahead of the field that he could roll over and take his last two or three strokes on his back, still win the race, and still break the world record. It's unthinkable!

The 100 meter run record is a slow dropper. In the last 25 years, the world record in the event has now dropped, on average, just under 0.01 seconds per year. In the last year, Bolt has been responsible for fully 1/5 of that entire drop. And in establishing the new record in Beijing, he wasn't really trying! The guy didn't push until the end. Not even close. He knew he was going to win, and he relaxed. It was absolutely phenomenal.

For comparison purposes, consider that in the last 25 years, the 100 meter dash record time has dropped by just 2.4%.

The 50 meter freestyle long course record time has dropped by 5.51%.
The 100 meter butterfly long course record time has dropped by 5.69%.
The 100 meter breaststroke long course record time has dropped by 5.69%. (This shocks me! Given the complete change that the stroke has undergone, I would have though this would be more like a 10-15% drop.)
The 100 meter freestyle long course record time has dropped by 4.68%.

But winning the 100 meter run wasn't the end of it. Bolt then went on to break the 200 meter running record, which has been an even slower dropper than the 100 meter running record! In almost 29 years, the record for the 200 has now dropped by just 2.1%. Based on these record progressions, it's entirely reasonable to assume that runners are closer to reaching the limits of performance than are swimmers. And Bolt has shown that he is closer than anyone, although watching his performances, it's very difficult to assume that he has come close to reaching his own potential.

Again, I'm not saying that Phelps has not been absolutely spectacular. He has. Period. And in terms of what he has done to shatter records, it's absolutely true that Phelps is head and shoulders above anything Bolt has done. For example, in the 200 meter butterfly, Phelps has singlehandedly dropped the record by as much in just over 7 years as it had been previously dropped in just under 25 years. That's incredible! But in terms of strictly what's happened in Beijing, I would argue that Bolt's performance has been every bit as astonishing as Phelps' performance.

(And just for a bit of snarky nostalgia, I'll throw this in: Michael Phelps will always be an underage drunk driver to me.)

---

There's an often uttered saying in the sports world: "That's why they play the games."

The idea is that on any given day, anyone can be beaten. However, with the women's beach volleyball competition, I really felt as much as ever that there was a foregone conclusion in play.

I could hardly have been less enthusiastic about my role as a spectator in this event. As the tournament was happening, I watched minutes here and there, but I made no real effort to tune in and pay attention. I would stop watching matches long before their conclusions, paying little attention to where the scores stood. I simply assumed that May-Treanor and Walsh would prevail. And, of course, they did not disappoint.

There was no surprise in learning that they had gotten to the gold medal match. There was no surprise in learning that they had not dropped a set. Did I watch the gold medal match? Yes. Start to finish, with almost no enthusiasm. I was awed! I won't deny that. What you're watching when you watch Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor play together is simply the best there has ever been, doing what they do best. You should be aware of it and you should marvel at it. It is a genuine privilege. But sadly, it's just not edge-of-your seat, "anything can happen" competition. It's as much like watching destiny unfold as the sports fan can experience.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Bell Ringer Joke Revisited

or:

If I'm Destined to Get a Pulitzer Prize for 02008, This is the Line of Thought That Will Earn It For Me

I'm pretty sure that it's been at least two decades since the idea of The Bell Ringer Joke started knocking around in my head. (I've mentioned the joke in a previous blog post.) There has been hope and despair, laughter and great disappointment, spread out over more than half my lifetime!

On Thursday morning, out of the blue, I had a few epiphanies regarding the joke for all of these years.

Epiphany #1: The first and second parts of the joke are spectacular, and if I had not been told at the time that I first heard them that there was a mysterious third part floating about in the ether, those two known parts would have been deeply satisfying. There would have been no disappointment associated with The Bell Ringer Joke whatsoever. The two parts stand together as a complete and brilliant story, riotously funny. Which is to say that the third part is only relevant if you know it exists. It is profoundly unnecessary to the success of the other two parts.

Having tracked down the missing third part, (since the internet made all such information readily available to all who seek it), I was precisely as disappointed by the third part as I had been warned I would be. For so many years, the rumor was not merely that there was a third part. Instead the rumor was that there was a third part and that it was a terrible disappointment to everyone who heard it. ("How bad could it be?", thought I, naively. The answer: Every bit as bad as everyone said it was.

This is why it took so many years to get to the third part: It was so bad that nobody who had heard it was willing to repeat it. In fact, there were claims of its being so bad that people completely excised it from their memories.)

-----

Epiphany #2: There is a reason why the third part is so horribly disappointing. And it's not really an intangible -- "you know it when you hear it" -- reason. On Thursday morning, I determined exactly why the third part is so disappointing. And I can articulate it simply. But first, as I tend to do so very frequently in this life, I feel the need to preface what I'm about to say.

Preface: I've never written a thesis on humor. I'm not very interested in doing so -- although I suppose if someone were to offer me a doctorate for doing so, I think there are certainly less appealing thesis topics to try to tackle.

I'm sure that many theses have been written on the topic of humor. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that The Bell Ringer Joke plays a fairly central role in at least a few of them. To be honest, I'm not terribly interested in reading any such theses. Although again, I suspect these would hardly be the most unpleasant theses to have to wade through.

It may well be the case that the more you try to figure out what makes something funny, the less funny it becomes. (This is the "dissecting a butterfly" argument, which applies also to poetry and beauty (and probably lots of other things).) That's not my point here. I'm not trying to provide a template that can be used to devise new jokes. Nor am I saying "if a joke doesn't fit this criterion, it's not funny". Rather, I'm pointing out where the disjoint is between the two successful parts of the joke and the unsuccessful third part.

So, here it is: The structure of the punch line in each of the two successful parts of the joke plays with the congruence of the literal and the figurative meanings of the idioms used. (In the first part, "I don't know, but his face rings a bell". In the second part, "I don't know, but he's a dead ringer for that other guy".)

This is not the same structure as the third part. The third part has nothing to do with bridging the literal/figurative gap. And for that matter, it has nothing to do with idiom. Frankly, I don't remember the third punch line, and I was so disgusted by it that I'm unwilling to look it up right now. But here's what I remember of it:

It was a pun.

Now, I've written before of my general distaste for the pun. I think it's a pathetic approach to humor. Rarely is it clever and almost never is it genuinely funny. That's my own bias, and I'll freely admit to that. However, that's not where my case against the third part rests.

Nor does it rest in my assertion that it is a horribly convoluted and horribly contrived pun. (Which it is!)

My case against the third punch line rests merely in its not being of the same type as the first two punch lines.

-----

If we can agree that the horrible third part should be thrown on the scrap heap [and I think all reasonable people can agree on this], we're left with the question of whether there should be a better third part that's properly designed and better fits with the other two parts. I am of the opinion that this is the case. Perhaps it's just based on years of frustration and pent up longing, but I really do believe that there should be a third part of the joke. That would provide closure, assuming that it's worthy of being matched with the others.

Epiphany #3: (This is the real shocker of the bunch.) I've been looking in the wrong place for the missing part. What's missing is not, in fact, the third part. What's missing is the first part! Logically, this makes sense.

The "second" guy is a dead ringer for the other guy. That's established by the fraternal relationship. The "first" guy's face rings a bell. Why? That deserves a set-up. Obviously, it's all in the telling, and it's easy enough to start out by establishing merely as a part of the narrative that the guy whose face rings a bell was taking over for a brother who died or retired or went missing. But I've come to understand that that's a cop out! "Easy enough" isn't necessarily right. Wouldn't it be better if there were a funny story to establish what happened to the first brother?

Of course it would!

So, now the task is not to establish not a new third part, but rather to establish a new first part, which would bump the other parts into the second and third slots. The end result is that you end up with a three-part joke (which, in my view, it deserves to be). And if it's built correctly, it will actually feel related to the other two parts, which is really what all of this longing and disappointment have been about.

-----
-----
-----


When I was in high school, I took a career assessment. The idea was that by asking a series of questions about a person's interests and personality tendencies, it was possible to make reasonable recommendations about what line of work that person might be best suited for. Much to my surprise, I was judged most suited to being a stand-up comedian.

Funny, that.

I think I could probably come up with a funny routine and get some laughs if I were to put some real effort into it. Doing an open mic night is something that I've long contemplated but never bothered to look into. Maybe I'll get to that before I die. Maybe not.

I don't think anyone who knows me actually thinks of me as being "Mr. Funny". I'm not a cut-up and I've never really put much effort into my joke-telling skills. I hardly ever actually tell a joke, and when I do, it tends to be a very simple joke--largely because I have such a terrible memory, it's just so difficult for me to remember any very complicated story jokes. I'm not terribly comfortable in front of crowds -- I get nervous. And I am naturally a very reserved person, largely keeping quiet and not saying a lot. I am not what you would call a raconteur. (I write at length, but I really don't talk a whole lot at all.)

All of this suggests that if you want me to provide you with a new joke, you're probably looking in the wrong place. However, that's just what I'm about to do.

Again, this must come with some warnings.

1) I'm actually just going to provide you with an outline of a joke -- a skeleton, if you will. In order to become a genuinely good joke, it would need some flesh on its bones. Part of that is simply having a joke teller who knows how to "sell" the story. But part of it is in the actual wording, and (at the moment) I'm just not ready to invest the effort in trying to perfectly craft it.

2) Part of what makes The Bell Ringer Joke so special is that it isn't in the least bit blue. That is, there's no bawdiness in it at all. Now, if you know me, you probably know that I rarely ever cuss. Frankly, I came to realise a lot of years ago that cussing is just a lazy habit. It's easy to do, hard to avoid once you establish the habit, and really doesn't accomplish much. So a long while ago, I decided to make an effort to get out of the habit. In realizing just how lazy a habit it is, I think I came to really appreciate people who don't use it as a crutch for expressing themselves. This has extended to an overall appreciation for civility and a bit of disdain for crassness. You may call me old-fashioned, or call me a prude, or accuse me of being against free speech. That's your right. But the truth is that I think people can do better and I believe that the Jerry Springerification of America is one of the worst things that has happened in our society during my lifetime. I'm not as old as some, but I'm old enough to remember when adults were generally responsible enough to not expose children (in public, anyway) to foul language. I think that was a better time.

This is not to say that I can't appreciate a well-placed cuss word. One of my favorite movie quotes of all time comes from Friday, when Smokey says, "You got knocked the f*** out!" That's a hilarious line! Part of it is Chris Tucker's delivery. But delivery alone does not make the line. If you take the F-bomb out, it just isn't funny, no matter how well delivered it is. I understand this, and I appreciate it. I'm not "above" foul language, I just think it's altogether too overused in today's society. The unfortunate downside of this is that it loses its power and just becomes so much noise instead of providing any real emphasis.

The reason why I mention this is that my joke, while quite tame by today's standards, is still considerably bluer than is appropriate to be a truly good match for the other two parts of The Bell Ringer Joke. This is part of its downfall. I'm putting this out there right up front because I want it to be absolutely clear that this is a flawed "attempt". There should be no confusion about this point. I am not providing this outline of a joke as a proposed addition to The Bell Ringer Joke. Rather, I'm putting this out there as a bad example of how easy it is to do better than what's currently out there, and as a provocation in hopes that somebody out there will take up the challenge of doing even better than this.

3) My outline does take the approach of using the literal/figurative interpretation of an idiom as the basis for its structure. So here are a couple of other parts of its downfall: (a) The literal interpretation isn't literal enough. (b) The idiom I have gone with is too obscure and outdated.

For the existing two successful parts of the joke, the literal interpretations of those punch lines are absolutely literal. My punch line is not truly literal. It's close, in its own way. But it's not quite there.

As for the idiom, I think "his face rings a bell" is very widely understood. I suspect the phrase "dead ringer" is probably a bit less widely understood (and probably becoming ever less widely understood with each passing year). But for now, I think it's probably in common enough parlance to count as being part of the general American vernacular, and will probably remain such for quite a long while. My idiom was probably pretty widely understood 30-50 years ago, but I think it has pretty rapidly dropped out of common usage, and I suspect that in 50 years, it will be considered archaic usage. If I am right about these things, my joke simply does not have the appropriately broad appeal that The Bell Ringer Joke deserves for all of its parts to have.

So, here's my sketch:

Just after the start of the year, the bishop was at the cathedral to interview candidates for the position of bell ringer. The ancient bell ringer had decided to finally take his pension. He had served for quite a lot of years. His back could no longer handle the constant pulling of the ropes and his legs could no longer handle the constant climbing of the stairs that were requisites of the job.

One candidate stood out among the rest. He was young, but had an impeccable résumé, great references, and was a member of the most well-respected family of bell ringers in all the land. His father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great great grandfather, as well as countless uncles, were all widely known to have served the church with distinction over many years. The man was hired, without audition, and the bishop left the cathedral with confidence in his choice.

The next day, as scheduled, the new bell ringer did his duty, ringing the bells exactly at the turn of the hour, every hour. Over the next months, he never missed a chime, never struck a wrong note, performed spectacularly for every mass, at every holiday. He was widely regarded as the best bell ringer in anyone's memory.

About ten months after the new bell ringer arrived, the church's old housekeeper retired and was replaced by a pretty young lady, who again had a wonderful résumé and unimpeachable references. The new housekeeper was diligent in doing her duty, and the church had never before been cleaner. Everything was spotless and sparkling. When the bishop came through on his annual visit, he was extremely impressed by what he saw and heard. He was even notified that church attendance had been steadily increasing in recent months, and was pleased.

But then one spring day, things started to go a little funny. In mid-afternoon, there was a surprise ringing of the bells. The priests had such faith in the bell ringer that they took this as a call to prayer, perhaps a special mass that they didn't realise was on the calendar. The quickly scrambled to prayer and did their duty.

A week later, there was another "special mass" at the same time of day.

And then the next week.

After that, the special masses started to occur still more frequently. It got to where there was a special mass every day, and their times started to vary.

One day, there were two special masses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

One of the younger priests couldn't take it any longer. He had consulted every calendar he could find and was convinced there was no justification for these unscheduled bell ringing sessions. "Glory be to God, and the more prayer the better. Nonetheless, we have a schedule for a reason", he told the head priest. So the next day, with the head priest's blessing, he snuck up the bell tower and hid in a little closet one floor below the bells. He showed up early, before the bell ringer arrived for the day. And he waited.

He heard the bell ringer arrive right on time. Every hour, on the hour, the bells were rung, just as scheduled. The priest said his prayers as scheduled, there in the closet. Then at about 3.30 he heard some light footsteps outside the door, heading up the stairs. "Who could that be?" he wondered. And he peeked out, too late to observe the visitor. But he did notice that the banister seemed slightly shinier than it had been earlier in the day.

A couple of minutes later, the priest started to hear some whispering voices, one female and one male. He heard some giggling, which gave way to muffled grunting. The grunts intermingled with squeaks and then moans, getting slightly louder as the minutes passed. Just as they were reaching their crescendo, the bell rang, almost completely drowning out a scream in praise of the glory of God, still 12 minutes before the hour!

The priest cracked open the door to the closet yet again and peered out, waiting for the visitor. When she did pass by, he saw that it was the pretty young housekeeper. She was tidying her hair and straightening her skirt as she headed downstairs. When the hour came, the bells rang on schedule, flawlessly. By this time, the snooping spy had already arrived at the office of the head priest to make a report on what he had seen.

Early the next day, a local man was surprised to see the head priest wandering through the city posting signs in shopkeepers' windows announcing that a new bell ringer was needed for the church, and applicants should come to the bell tower the following Thursday.

The man walked into one of the shops and asked the shopkeeper if she had spoken with the priest. She confirmed that she had.

"So what's the story?", he asked. "The bell ringer we had was so good! Everyone agreed he was the best in our city's history. And especially in recent days, he has had such a big smile on his face when I have seen him going to work. Always so cheery, like he really loved his job."

"Well," said the shopkeeper, "it seems they had to fire him for making time with the housekeeper."

This, of course, leads pretty naturally to the next part of the joke, with some slight adjustments for a proper segue:

The following Thursday, the bishop arrived at the base of the bell tower to perform the interviews, hoping to redeem himself for his previous lapse in judgment. When he got there, he was surprised to see only one applicant. "You look very familiar", said the bishop.

"The last bell ringer was my kid brother" responded the applicant.

"Ah, I see. I must say, I do have some reservations about hiring you", said the bishop.

"Please", said the applicant. "I must restore my family's honor. My brother was a bit of a black sheep, who had strayed from the flock. He was always a bit of a rebel, which is why he was home schooled. Unfortunately, he never really got proper exposure to society before he came here. As you can see, I graduated with honors from bell ringing college. I had perfect marks in all my classes, and my Theory professor has provided you with a letter of recommendation testifying that I was the best student he has had in forty years of teaching. Plus, unlike my brother, I am happily married and would never cheat on my wife. I am a good Catholic, and I want to serve God. Ringing bells is my way of doing this. Please give me the opportunity to restore my family's honor."

"You make a convincing argument," said the bishop, "but I cant help but notice that you have no arms. Won't that be a problem?"

"It's never been a problem before", responded the applicant. If you won't take my word for it, perhaps we can climb the tower and I can audition for you. It's almost time for the hour to turn, anyway."

[. . . .]

-----
-----
-----

As I said, my own contribution above is meant at least in part as a provocation. I'm sure it's not a great joke, and I'm sure someone out there can do better. I advise you to keep in mind the guidance I have provided in terms of what makes the existing third part such a failure, and in terms of the failure points that I have already identified in my own joke. And so, with that, I invite (I implore) you to put on your thinking cap and please try to outdo me. Please contribute your own "missing first part" of The Bell Ringer Joke. I'm sure someone out there can do a bang up job! And I am desperate to read your offerings. So please post them here as comments to my blog. I look forward to reading what you have to offer. I can't promise fame or fortune. But if you do really well, I can promise you undying gratitude!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to the Seventies (August Hair Photos)

As you will recall from previous posts, my New Year's Resolution this year is to try my best to resist the urge to cut my hair, with the ultimate goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

I'm officially one of the long-haired freaky people now.

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

I had been getting very pessimistic about managing to get to the 10 inch minimum. I was especially worried that for the hair at the front of my head to just get long enough to reach the back of my head to join the pony tail, it would have to get to at least 13 or 14 inches! That just is not going to happen.

But I recently took another look at the Locks of Love web site and discovered this little gem:

Hair that is shaved off and not in a ponytail or braid is not usable. If shaving your head, first divide hair into multiple ponytails to cut off.


There's my salvation! Instead of having to gather all of my hair into a single pony tail, I can separate it into multiple pony tails. This gives me new hope of actually seeing this thing through.

I figure my hair is at about 5 inches now. I'm hoping that puts me on pace for getting it cut sometime in the summer of 02009. If I'm really lucky, I might be able to get it done in the late spring. That's still a very long way to go, but I think it's within reason.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Career in Spelling Bees — Part 2 of Recollection of Childhood — and other things

I can't begin to tell you why I have been thinking of this recently, just that I have.

I remember in third grade, we had a classroom spelling bee, which I won. My winning word was "government". I remember pausing after the "R", considering whether the "N" belonged or not. It did not occur to me to ask for a repeated pronunciation or for alternate pronunciations, and it occurred to me that when I had heard the word spoken, it was most often the pronunciation in which the "N" is dropped — which is a legitimate alternate pronunciation in the dictionaries I consulted this morning before starting this blog entry. I opted to throw in the mysterious "N", and I won the bee. Surely my finest moment in this life.

Presumably, winning the classroom spelling bee would have qualified me to go on to compete against all of the other classroom champions in a school-wide bee. However, I have absolutely no recollection of any such thing. I would be almost willing to bet that it did not happen. Almost, but not quite.

Skip forward a year. No longer attending Fields Road Elementary School in Gaithersburg, MD. Fourth grade was spent at Peter W. Crump Elementary School in Montgomery, AL. This time, no recollection whatsoever of a classroom bee. (Again, me almost willing to bet that there was none.) But I do recall going to the auditorium for an all-grades bee. I believe participation was strictly voluntary, and I think it was after the school day had ended — but I wouldn't testify to or bet on that.

My first and only word: "eavesdrop".

I blew it.

However, that's not the interesting part of the story from my perspective, now. The interesting part is that, at the time, the word "eavesdrop" held absolutely no meaning for me. As far as I knew (as far as I know), that was the very first occasion on which I had ever heard the word. How strange is it that I could have gotten to age nine, living in American society, living in a house with an older sister, and managed to never hear the admonition (aimed at either myself or at someone else), "don't eavesdrop"?

-----

I've mentioned my horrible memory in previous posts. (My last "Recollection of Childhood" post garnered a comment, by an anonymous poster, that sounded vaguely like an insult. That poster called me "Captain Lou". That, of course, was an homage to "Captain Lou Albano", professional wrestler and professional wrestling manager extraordinaire. [Note: I think it's fair to say that I resembled Lou Albano in no way whatsoever, except that we shared a first name.] As if to illustrate my point (and, actually, the point of said anonymous poster) about my horrible memory, I do remember having been called "Captain Lou" by someone in my adolescence, but I can't recall who. Eric, maybe?

-----

In other news, Google has yet again re-indexed and the end result is that a copyright infringing web site is now receiving the traffic that should be sent my way for folks seeking my bleeding heart flower photograph:

Bleeding Heart Flower, bleeding heart, flower, pink, photography, nature, pretty, beautiful, liberal


This upsets me, and I have now sent two e-mails to the administrator of the offending site. Unfortunately, there seems to be absolutely no way to contact Google directly to get them to make adjustments to protect copyright owners from having their traffic diverted to scofflaws. Harumph. Anyway, I've just posted it again, in hopes of getting Google to re-index, thereby bringing the traffic back to me. And in case anyone is interested in buying the image on a t-shirt or mouse pad, such things are available at Cafe Press.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Repeal of Gravity Store, back from hiatus

I have had a recent fit of "creativity"--although you surely wouldn't have guessed it based on my lack of recent blog posts. Anyway, the result is that I recently re-launched my online store, with a boatload of new t-shirt designs. Won't you check them out? They're mostly humorous designs. (Although I guess humor is a subjective thing. They amuse me, anyway. Perhaps they will amuse you as well. Perhaps even enough that you'd be interested in buying some?)

Here's an example:

Schwa t-shirt

Of course, my old designs (previously posted here on my blog) are there as well, and I've also included both a t-shirt version and a mouse pad version of my "world famous" Bleeding Heart photograph. (I say "world famous" because the image has spent quite a lot of time as top image search result on Google for the search phrase "bleeding heart". I figure that's as close to world famous as anything I've ever been associated with is likely to get.)

More will come in the future.

Have a great day!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

July Hair Photos

As you will recall from previous posts, my New Year's Resolution this year is to try my best to resist the urge to cut my hair, with the ultimate goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

To my eye, the July pics (shot on July 1, 02008:) don't seem drastically different from the June pics. However, I have to live with this stuff on my head, and I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that my hair has, in fact, continued to grow. Anyway, here are the July photographs:

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Long Now and Why Nuclear Power is a Bad Idea (Maybe)

Oftentimes, it is a mystery to me why my brain goes off in a particular direction. I have written before, on this blog, about having read an interesting book entitled The Clock of the Long Now. Having read that book is the reason why I try to use a 5-digit year in writing dates (for example, 02008 instead of 2008). It's a technique for trying to train myself to think on a longer term time scale. To think in terms of millennia instead of decades or centuries. I haven't yet fully trained myself on the 5-digit years (which is why sometimes I'll post a blog entry that mentions a 4-digit year and then go back and edit it afterwards--and I suspect there are times when the 4-digit year has simply slipped past my notice).

Anyway, I've recently been thinking about nuclear power, but I've been thinking about it with that "long now" mindset. So, where previously I had mostly taken the view that nuclear power is actually a good idea (better for the environment than burning fossil fuels, for example), I've recently been thinking about how fundamentally bad an idea it is. Not because of the potential for nuclear accidents (such as Three Mile Island or Chernobyl). I think that in that sense, nuclear power is actually pretty safe. We've been powering submarines with nuclear fuel for decades and to the best of my knowledge, there's been no consequence in terms of life or limb--and surely there has been less damage to the oceans from all of those thousands of miles travelled in nuclear submarines than has been caused by more conventionally powered boats covering the same number of miles.

What's been on my mind about the hazards of nuclear fuel is just how long they take to degrade. If we assume that it takes nuclear fuel 10,000 years to become inert, think of just how long that is, in terms of human history.

Let's take a quick look back at what wasn't around 10,000 years ago.

10,000 years ago:

There was no Islam, no Christianity, no Judaism, no Buddhism, no Jainism, no Hinduism, no Taoism.

Zeus, Odin, Thor, Quetzalcoatl, and Ganesha had not yet been imagined, let alone risen to prominence and (in most cases) fallen from grace.

There was no religion that you've ever heard of. This is not to say that religion did not exist. Humankind has an extraordinary capacity for making up stories to explain the unexplainable (and the frightening). It is my belief that humankind's default instinct is to explain thunder (a large-scale scary phenomenon) by making up a god. If I'm right about that, then in its most basic form, religion probably predates just about anything else in the history of human thought. Doesn't mean it's sensible, just means it's old.

10,000 years ago:

There was no Rome, no Greece, no Egypt, no China, no Inca Empire, no Mayan culture. There were no Vikings or Mongols or Visigoths or Olmecs or Toltecs. 10,000 years ago predates every great civilization you've ever heard of (except perhaps for some imaginary ones).

While armed conflict between tribes has probably existed since before the fully modern human emerged, the oldest war you've ever heard of happened less than 10,000 years ago. (Again, excepting for fiction.)

While bullies and chieftains and kings have surely existed for as long as people have congregated in groups (and pack leaders are prominent in much less socially "advanced" species than our own), the oldest ruler you've ever heard of had not been born 10,000 years ago.

10,000 years ago:

The cow had not been domesticated. Sure, there was farming, but it was very primitive.

10,000 years ago predates the English language (modern English, Middle English, Old English). That long ago, there was no French, or Spanish, or Russian, or Basque, or Chinese, or Japanese, or Hindi, or Roman, or Greek, or Navajo, or Hebrew or Aramaic. You've never heard of any language as old as 10,000 years ago (except perhaps some imaginary ones--anybody know how long a time ago Huttese was supposed to exist in a galaxy far away?).

10,000 years ago, there was no Iliad or Odyssey. There was no Code of Hammurabi. There were no Bible, no Talmud, no hieroglyphics, no Sanskrit or cuneiform writing. The book had not been invented, nor had the scroll. Most likely, nothing resembling paper had been invented.

Not only was there no recorded music. There was no way of recording music. Musical notation had not been invented yet. I suspect it's probably fair to guess that people have been playing something akin to drums and bamboo flutes and maracas for at least a few tens of thousands of years. However, with the exception of those and similarly primitive examples, it's pretty safe to assume that almost every musical instrument you're familiar with has been invented in the last 10,000 years. Surely the guitar, piano, harpsichord, trumpet, violin, lute, serpent, tambourine, and cymbal are extremely new developments.

10,000 years ago, metalsmithing was likely not a widespread art. Stone knapping existed, and people made weapons. Hunting was a widespread practice.

Clothing existed, but probably not any clothing you'd be willing to wear in public.

The great pyramids of Egypt had not been built 10,000 years ago, nor had the ziggurats. The ruins of Catal Huyuk may be approaching 10,000 years old at this point.

And that brings me to the important word here: Ruins. There is no structure built by human hands that has remained intact for the last 10,000 years. The closer you get to that age, the more completely ruined are the fragments. I'm not saying that people that long ago were not inventive. I'm not saying that they were not clever or sophisticated or advanced (whatever that means). I'm not saying they were not industrious and capable of doing great things. I'm simply saying that 10,000 years is an extremely long time to expect anything to last. Societies rise and fall. Religions rise and fall. Buildings rise and fall.

What we know for sure about people from that long ago is basically what we can infer, simply from our own existence: 10,000 years ago, people were able to find food and eat it. They congregated in close enough proximity that they were able to find mates. They had sex and made babies and raised children. They migrated. In a nutshell, that's probably the majority of what we know, for certain, of human society 10,000 years ago.

What we know of human nature is probably as true today as it was then and it will probably remain just as true 10,000 years from now. What does that mean? For the purpose of this train of thought, it means this: people are inquisitive and imaginative. That alone is enough to establish the danger of trying to store nuclear waste anywhere.

It is hubris to believe that the USA (or any other current nation) will still exist in 10,000 years. It is extremely unlikely that anyone will still use any language that is currently spoken. At best, there will probably be just a few experts who can decipher any of our languages in any meaningful way.

In the intervening centuries, surely there will be periods of increasing war and increasing peace. Surely there will be periods of increasing tribalism and increasing unity.

It's reasonable to expect that archaeology will to some extent go in and out of fashion. But surely, as long as people continue to exist, people will be digging and exploring.

Where on Earth humankind will migrate is anybody's guess. Historically, societies have tended to rise in areas with easy access to water. However, there's no telling how influential our current and future technologies will be in changing that trend.

The end result of that is that there's no place on the planet that we can be sure won't be explored. Which means that you can't simply "hide" your nuclear waste and reasonably hope that it won't be discovered and cause harm.

And you can't simply put up a sign saying "DANGER" and hope it will be heeded. Going back to the death of languages and the pattern of birth and death of religions and beliefs, it's absurd to believe that a sign, no matter how carefully and strongly worded, will be heeded. In fact, it's probably the case that the more warning you post and the more effort you put into making your stash inaccessible, the more effort will be taken in the future to get at it. Human nature means that the more difficult you make it to get at a treasure, the more valuable the treasure will become in the minds of future generations. Even if they understand the warnings, they may think those warnings to be pure hyperbole. It's possible that people in 2,000 years will doubt our ability to create nuclear power just as much as we doubt the ancient Egyptians to have done so.

If someone today digs up a chest of doubloons (and you know that people are searching), nobody is harmed. If someone in the future digs up a mountain full of thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel, the downside is potentially pretty disastrous.

So what's the solution?

I have no idea. Ethically, our policy makers should probably be thinking about such things. I wonder whether they do.

I guess that we could simply take the short view: that our responsibility is limited to the few dozen generations that are likely to still have any philosophical or emotional or intellectual connection at all to us. If we take that view, then yes, we can reasonably think that we have the power to protect our descendants. But if we take the long view, that becomes an increasingly absurd idea.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Hair Continues Growing

It occurs to me that people who stumble upon these hair picture posts might not know what they're all about if I don't explain them with each new posting. So, for those of you who don't know, my New Year's Resolution this year is to try my best to resist the urge to cut my hair, with the ultimate goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

In just a few short months, my relationship with my hair has gone past the stage of bargaining and past the stage of forced submission. It's now at the stage where I wash it and dry it and brush it once a day to ensure that it doesn't get knotted. Beyond that, I am now allowing it to do as it sees fit. It's a big mess and it keeps getting bigger. Recently I looked in the mirror and was reminded of Andre the Giant in his heyday. Soon, I expect I will look like I ought to be on the cover of an MC5 album. Anyway, here are the June pics, shot on June 3, 02008:

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Speculation

It's been a while since I posted anything political. Tonight, I'll change that. Understand that it's late and I'm a bit sleepy. Here's what I'm thinking, since tonight's primary results came in, the primary season is over, and Hillary Clinton has made her "I will be making no decisions tonight" speech:

Part one: If Obama chooses to make Hillary his running mate, she will work hard to ensure that they win. The ticket will win. Hillary will take credit for delivering the victory. She will spend two years doing what is asked of her as Vice President, all the while "secretly" dealing with an exploratory committee to "help her decide" whether to run for the presidency in 02012. Meanwhile, she will be even more secretly praying for that assassin. [Oops! Is it impolitic of me to suggest such a thing?]

Two years into the Obama administration (assuming said assassin has not appeared), she will announce her candidacy for the presidency. She will claim credit for the Obama administration's successes and disavow its failures. For the next two years she will take every opportunity to pursue the presidency, regardless of Obama's intentions as regards the possibility of a second term for himself.

Part two: If Obama does not choose to make Hillary his running mate, she will halfheartedly "assist in any way possible" to ensure that the Democrats reclaim the White House. She will maintain her sour grapes, will wink to her supporters and continue to suggest in not so subtle terms that Obama can't win over her constituency. She will try her best to ensure that, at best, it's a crap shoot whether her supporters will turn out to vote for him in the general election. Either he will win or he won't. If he does, she will then have to start the next generation of her political calculations. If he doesn't win, she will take this as affirmation of her own rectitude and will revel in his defeat. At that point, her next campaign for the presidency will begin in earnest.

-----

Note: It would be absurd of me to claim that I am not cynical, just as it would be absurd of me to claim that I am not a pessimist. So keep that in mind when you evaluate my predictions. Also, bear in mind that I have a well-established history of making inaccurate predictions. (Heck, I even thought the Patriots would win the Super Bowl this year!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May Hair Photos, Late

Here are the hair photos I shot on May 2. Sorry they're so late to be posted. I have been terribly busy, and I have been having and trying to fix some technical issues on the blog. This partially has to do with my porting of the host, and partially (I think) with a glitch in Blogger's software. Anyway, here are the photos. Enjoy. (And I aim to get the June photos up much closer to the start of the month.)

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Monday, May 19, 2008

Technical Issues

My apologies to my visitors. The site is having some technical issues. Images are not automatically loading--at least not internally linked images. I will try to sort this out within the next few days. In the meantime, if you see a spot where there should be an image, you should be able to load it by right clicking and choosing to view it, using whatever command your browser allows for doing such.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Things Worth Sharing

There are a few things I would like to share with my readers today:

For the last couple of years, I have been enjoying listening to the tail end of the Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio, when I get out of the book store on Sunday afternoons. I don't think I've ever caught an entire episode, which is a shame. I was thrilled to hear a couple of months ago that they are making weekly Vinyl Cafe podcasts. It's a free subscription, so of course I subscribed as soon as I learned that the podcasts were happening. I'm a bit disappointed that the podcasts are not the entire shows. However, they're absolutely worth listening to. If you've never listened to the Vinyl Cafe, you really should give it a try! And with podcasts, it's easy to fit the listening into your schedule, rather than trying to fit your schedule around listening. This Stuart McLean fellow is a truly amazing storyteller. Really, a Canadian national treasure, in my opinion.

-----

If you've spent years using one of these:

Unsatisfying peeler
. . . (especially if you have found the experience rather unsatisfying, as have I), you really should make an effort to track down one of these:

Brilliant peeler
I don't know where we got ours, nor can I tell you who the manufacturer is, as it has no identifying marks on it that I can find. But here's the thing:

I don't really consider myself to be an Anglophile. Sure, I tend to use -ise instead of -ize. But that's simply a matter of finding it to be a much more elegant solution. And while I think it's wiser to use "zed" than "zee", I really only do so when it comes up in conversation with a Brit (which is extremely rarely). I have absolutely not adopted the British habit of (what in my opinion is) overuse of the word "brilliant". Instead, I have fallen into the dopey American habit of overusing "cool". However, in this one case, I have no better word to use than "brilliant". The orange-handled peeler pictured above is absolutely brilliant! It is somehow so vastly superior to the other style, that it seems somehow insulting to claim that they're really the same utensil. After years of hearing people say that there's a real difference between using a genuinely good tool and using a readily available tool, it's strange that this is the best example I have of experiencing the phenomenon for myself. Well, maybe the second best. Using the one instead of the other is akin to using a good dictionary instead of using a bad dictionary. And frankly, the difference is much starker than the superiority of the Mac over the PC. Gosh, that's weird to say! Anyway, bottom line: When I use the orange handled peeler, I end up wishing I had need to peel more! When I use the other style, I can hardly wait for the experience to be over. The orange handled peeler is an absolute joy to use! It is brilliant on potatoes and brilliant on carrots. If I objected to eating apple skins, I expect I would find it to be brilliant on apples too.

-----

We have two friends who recently gave birth, which means that they and their husbands recently went through the process of deciding what to name a child. Surely a daunting task. I neglected to mention to them the Name Voyager. Shame on me!!! The Name Voyager may or may not be helpful in choosing a child's name. I have found it useful in coming up with character names for writing fiction, at least. Whether you have need for it or not, I find it difficult to believe that you wouldn't appreciate its sheer beauty and elegance. It is a magnificent example of how it's possible to display complex data sets in our new digital world. In that respect, so far I have found its only rival to be Thinkmap's Visual Thesaurus.

-----

There was one more web site that I was eager to share with you, but it seems to have disappeared. So sad. Anyway, I hope you enjoy what I have shared today. Have a wonderful week!

A Walk in the Woods

I went into the town forest this afternoon, because it was such a spectacular day and I wanted to get out there and enjoy the weather. It was an interesting experience for several reasons.

First, I noticed lots of scat. I assume it's deer scat, but I'm no expert. This was interesting to me primarily because I have an established history of not noticing scat in the woods. So to notice so very many piles of it today was unusual.

scat, deer scat, poop
I suppose it might be moose scat, but I doubt it. It's rare to see a moose in this neck of the woods. I think they mostly only come down this far south when they're forced to (by flooding, for example).

I spent most of my hike climbing. I ascended over 400 vertical feet, covering a distance of just about 0.7 miles. That's pretty steep, especially when you do as I did and pretty much just aim up, instead of aiming for the most convenient paths. I saw several frisbee golf holes as I was hiking today. I had either not known or forgotten that there is a frisbee golf course up there. Nice to know. Maybe we'll go frisbee golfing one of these days. I think we still have our discs somewhere.

When I got to the top of the hill, I heard this odd mewling noise coming from some pine trees. I first figured that there must be some sort of baby bird up there calling for food. Then I started to think that wasn't right, as I couldn't see a nest and there didn't seem to be a mama bird anywhere in sight. So I started to consider other options. It was definitely not the sound of the wind whistling through the trees. However, it did turn out to be an interesting result of the wind hitting the trees. What I discovered after some observation was that branches of two of the trees were touching each other, and as the trees swayed, one branch was "playing" the other like a bow playing a violin string.

I had started out thinking that this was not mosquito season. Why I though that is something for which I have no explanation. I sure was wrong! There are lots of mosquitoes, they are quite large and very thirsty, and they seem to think I am quite tasty. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the wildlife I saw today was in the form of mosquitoes.

Mosquito
So, now I get to hope I didn't catch the Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) that seems to have been popular among the mosquitoes here in New Hampshire in recent years.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April Hair Pics

Apologies for my tardiness in posting this. I've been keeping very busy and I've been burdened by a persistent cold which has lasted all month, so far. These photos are being posted well behind schedule, but they were actually taken right on schedule (April 2). I was feeling genuinely sick on that day, so I didn't make any effort to focus the camera well or ensure proper exposure.

That does not explain the change in hair style.

What does explain the change in hair style is that sometime in March I came to the realisation that when it is long, my hair will not submit to my will. So instead of slathering in the goop to try to keep it down, I decided instead to allow it to do what it will. So basically I just towel dry and shake now. It's a different look. More wild. But somehow, I think it's a bit less ridiculous than what happens when I brush my hair.

On with the photos:

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Watching Hair Grow

As I mentioned in a previous post, my New Year's Resolution for 02008 is as follows:

To at least make a valiant attempt at resisting the urge to cut my hair, with the eventual goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

In the last month, my hair has definitely crossed over into the silly range. I think it's hovering on the ridiculous precipice, but I don't think it's quite crossed over. Certainly, it will have done so a month from now.

Here are the March 2, 02008 photos:

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

The last time I shaved was on February 1. That has nothing to do with the resolution. It has more to do with its being winter, and my having gotten through the itchy time, which is what usually keeps me from not shaving. I fully expect to shave by the end of this month. That will, of course, serve to amplify the difference between the March and April photos.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pledge of Allegiance--a Brief Recollection of Childhood

For some reason, I've recently been thinking much more about my elementary school years. I had gone quite a lot of years without having thought much at all about them. Interesting that I should have recently started remembering bits of childhood that I thought were forgotten. Strange that I've actually been pondering them.

I remember that we used to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every school day. I participated with as much vigor as did each of my classmates. It was a recitation that was learned by rote. Participation was expected, and there was no question as to whether to participate or not. (That came later.)

What strikes me as the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that, as far as I can recall (and I firmly believe this to be true), we were never taught what it actually means. Big words involved there!

Why were we taught to use the word "allegiance" in kindergarten (or first grade at the latest), without being taught its definition? We could all use it in the context of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but I really don't think that I could have used it in any other context at age 6 or 7 or 8.

I must admit, the distinguishing characteristic of a "republic" has been an elusive concept for me to grasp. I think I have it now, but I can't guarantee that I won't have forgotten it a year from now and need to look it up again.

What kind of craziness is involved in pledging allegiance first to a symbol and then to its object (either as a school-age child or as a grown-up)? I have no problem with reasoned pledging of allegiance to the republic. . . . But to a flag?!? That's just bizarre.

"Indivisible"...pretty self-explanatory, I guess. Unable to be divided. And I think I grasped that pretty early. But is it reasonable to expect young children to comprehend that without having it explained?

"Liberty" equals "freedom". But I don't think anyone ever told me so when I was a child. "Freedom" would surely have had deep conceptual meaning to me a lot earlier than "liberty" did. It's more common parlance.

"Pledge" equals "promise". Simple enough.

"Justice" equals "fairness". I think this was the most accessible definition of the bunch, but I really think it should have been explained and discussed in class, before we were ever expected to recite it on a daily basis. In practice, the daily recitation was a mindless exercise, until (years later) I (and I hope my classmates) got around to really pondering what it meant. Maybe everyone in my class got it right away. But I doubt that very much. I hope by now, all of my classmates have really pondered it. (The cynic in me kind of doubts it.)

Anyway, if you are a teacher or a parent of elementary school students who recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a regular basis, I suggest that you poll those children to determine whether they can explain, in their own words, what the Pledge of Allegiance means. If they can, great! If they can't, I strongly suggest that you make a point of discussing it with them.

And, of course, I invite you to share your results with me. I'm interested! I would also be curious to know whether your own experience (whether you have/teach children or not) parallels mine or not. I would be greatly heartened (and surprised) to learn that I was the only child who was clueless in those early years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cornish-Windsor Bridge (A New Photograph)

I went out yesterday for a little bit of photography. Here's a photograph of the Cornish-Windsor Bridge. [I guess Vermonters call it the Windsor-Cornish Bridge, which actually has a nicer ring to my ear, but since I'm living in New Hampshire, I'll call it "Cornish-Windsor".]

What you see is the Connecticut River, not nearly frozen over, but covered with a lot of floating ice. The long horizontal thing is the bridge: the longest wooden bridge in the U.S. and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. There's snow on the roof. In the background, I believe that's Mt. Ascutney (VT), but I could be wrong about that. I have no idea of what mountain it would be if it's not Ascutney, though.

Cornish-Windsor Bridge, Windsor-Cornish Bridge, covered bridge, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ascutney, Connecticut River, ice, snow, winter

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Friday, February 8, 2008

02008: A Nightmare Scenario

Since my last political post, three noteworthy (from my perspective) things have happened in the U.S. presidential nominating process:

  • John Edwards has dropped out of the race. That's OK with me. I'm sad it had to come to that, but the writing was on the wall, and it was obvious that the Democratic race was not available for him to win.
  • Super Duper Tuesday has come and gone, seemingly establishing that the Democratic race is too close to call (note the great discrepancy between CNN's delegate tracker--currently showing Hillary ahead by 96--and Newsweek's delegate tracker--currently showing Obama ahead by 4), and that Huckabee is still alive on the Republican side--although he's still in third place in the delegate count.
  • Most interesting of all is yesterday's announcement that Romney is out.

Why is this last bit so interesting? Because of the potential nightmare scenario it sets up. Before I describe my nightmare scenario, let's keep in mind what happened in the West Virginia caucus. Round 1: McCain was ahead. Round 2: Huckabee won, by virtue of Romney supporters deciding it was better to support Huckabee than to give McCain the victory.

Now for the nightmare scenario:

Suppose that the McCain supporters in the remaining states basically assume that it's a foregone conclusion that McCain will get the nomination. After all, he's established a pretty sizable lead and his closest competitor has dropped out. These voters may get complacent in the nominating contests, and just not show up to the polls.

Suppose that Huckabee supporters in those remaining states get energized by Huckabee's wins on Super Duper Tuesday and by the removal of Romney. They may all come out to vote.

Suppose that all of this "conservatives won't support a McCain candidacy" talk turns out to be true and that all of the Romney supporters in the remaining states decide it's better to go with Huckabee than to go with McCain.

Suppose a bunch of those McCain supporters decide to vote in the Democratic contests instead of the Republican ones. Remember, this is a group who wants McCain to not only win the Republican nomination, but also wants him to win the general election. The conventional wisdom is that in a McCain-Clinton race, the independents will break for McCain, whereas in a McCain-Obama race, the independents will be largely split--which is to say that Obama takes a large chunk of the independent voting block away from McCain. So the assumption is that McCain has a much easier time defeating Hillary than defeating Obama. So these primary ship-jumpers are most likely to support Hillary in the nominating process, in hopes that she will be crushed in the general election. Essentially, the fair assumption of the McCain supporters is that Republican voters will all rally around McCain ("conservative enough"or not) when faced with the choice between him and Hillary.

If all of this plays out, McCain may end up going into the convention without enough delegates to win. Hillary may end up going into the convention with an easy majority of delegates. Huckabee may be close enough to McCain that the Romney delegates can put him over the top. Suppose that they do just that (either instructed by Romney to do so, or actually using their own free will).

What we'd end up with is a Huckabee-Hillary contest. To me, that's a nightmare scenario. On the one side, you have a fundamentalist religious nut job. (Who, flawed as he is, is still far superior to Brownback, or Santorum--whose decision to not run is something I'm endlessly grateful for.) On the other side you have Hillary, who is at least as off-putting to me as is a fundamentalist religious nut job.

If this happens, where do I place my hopes? I guess in the possibility of a Michael Bloomberg independent candidacy. Do I know enough about him to support him? Not yet, but if he jumps in, there'll be plenty of time for that before the election. I just hope that if he does jump in, he doesn't somehow manage to turn out to be as unpalatable as Huckabee and Hillary are.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

New Year's Resolution, 02008

Cracking a nut is not really an art, and therefore no one would ever dare to call together an audience and crack nuts in front of them in order to entertain them. If he does it anyway and he succeeds in his intention, then it can certainly not be a matter of nut-cracking alone. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it becomes clear that we have ignored this art because we have mastered it too completely and this new nutcracker shows us its true nature for the first time, in which case it might even be useful for the effect if he were even less skilled at nut-cracking than most of us.

-Franz Kafka, as translated by Kevin Blahut
from the story
Josephine, the Singer
or
The Mouse People


I made a New Year's Resolution this year, and I actually did it at the start of the year. (I made last year's resolution in June.) My resolution for 02008:

To at least make a valiant attempt at resisting the urge to cut my hair, with the eventual goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

The last time I got a haircut was in November, so my hair has already grown longer than I'm accustomed to. The last time it was long enough (or close, anyway) to meet Locks of Love's 10-inch minimum length was in August of 01990. I moved onto the Penn campus, got my student ID photo taken (now that's a funny picture!), waited until the first Saturday morning, walked to the nearest barber shop, and got a respectable hair cut. If I recall correctly, I even had the barber give me a shave. Since that day, my hair has not been significantly longer than it is now.

I am aiming to shoot a series of self-portraits on or near the first of the month, each month until I either crack under the pressure (Beth has already started pointing and laughing) or succeed in achieving my goal.

Here are the February 1, 02008 photos:

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Photo of Autumn! (just a few months late)

Well, this past autumn was absolutely spectacular here in New Hampshire! (By far, the best we've seen since moving here.) However, I was largely lazy about taking my camera out to shoot it. Mostly, I just gazed in wonder, without any thought of my camera. I did take a few shots, though, and I think this one is the most interesting:

Tree, Color Change, Autumn, Night, Green, Orange

This shot was taken at night, using a compact fluorescent light source. As always, I welcome any feedback.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Star Wars, Nothing But Star Wars....

I recently watched all six of the Star Wars movies, in the order that George Lucas prefers. That is, episodes I-VI, rather than in the chronological order of their production. Here's what I came away with, as far as opinions are concerned:

1) The saga holds up very well, in terms of a narrative flow. To some degree, I think this is a bit of a feat. On the other hand, there was plenty of time between the production of Episodes VI and I, to ensure that the plot points were all ironed out in a way that keeps things consistent. I'm not really all that sure of just how much tinkering Lucas did to alter Episodes IV-VI to achieve that end. I did notice, with a bit of disgust, the insertion of the Christensen ghost and the appearance of celebratory Gungans at the end of Episode VI. Neither insertion improved the movie in any meaningful way.

2) Hayden Christensen is a phenomenally awful actor. He's dull on the grandest of scales, rivalling Kevin Costner--and that's no small anti-praise!

3) Episode VI is really quite a terrible film! Yes, it wraps up the story arc very neatly. But it's just not a good movie. I loved it as a kid, and I think it probably still has an enormous appeal for children--all those cute little Ewoks scurrying about. But as an adult viewer, I think it's a terrible disappointment.

4) Watching the films in sequence is quite a fun experience. It's a nifty way to spend a bunch of hours. My view is that the movies rank from best to worst in the following order: V, III, II, IV, I, and VI. Given that Christensen is in Episodes II and III, I'm really quite surprised that they both rank above the original movie (IV). But there it is. All opinion. I think those two really do stand out. I think episode V is the best by a pretty wide margin. The margins between III, II, and IV are pretty small. Then there's another fairly large quality drop to I. But the biggest gap of all is between VI and the rest. Every time I've watched it in recent years, I've been really shocked at how awful that final episode is. Too bad it's an essential link in the chain. If you stop watching at Episode V, I think you miss a lot of important stuff. Too bad it has to be couched in so much frivolous muck!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Responding to Some Early Democratic Primaries

Well, I must admit, I was fairly crushed by what the Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire did. Michigan was an aberration (thanks to Obama and Edwards and others choosing to stay off the ballot). Nevada was surprising, inasmuch as Edwards got such a teensy slice of the pie--but at least Obama likely came away with more delegates than Clinton.

I'm still supporting Edwards, in principle. However, it's become quite apparent that his chance of getting the nomination is approximately as good as is my chance of winning the general election. Which is to say, approximately nil.

So, I've got to say that my political spirits are greatly buoyed by yesterday's results from South Carolina. Why? Because my preference for Edwards over Obama is only about the width of a dime. Whereas my preference for either over Hillary is as vast as the Pacific Ocean.

I am unaffiliated with any political party, and yes, I do consider myself to be a true political independent. Nonetheless, it's fair to say that I should be a reliable vote for the Democratic nominee. However, unless something changes my mind, I will not vote Democrat if Hillary is the party's nominee. I absolutely can not stomach the idea of voting for Hillary.

I have been deeply bothered (sickened) by Bush 43's policies. I am terribly distraught about us now being a nation that invades and occupies other sovereign nations. Particularly when we have done so for no good reason, then justified it by applying yet another rationale, then continue to justify it by throwing an ever increasing number of excuses at it in hopes that one of them will stick. I am deeply upset by what Bush 43's administration has done to destroy our standing in the world. (This goes to that "moral authority" that was discussed in my last post.)

I firmly believe that the best thing our next president could possibly do for our national security would be to take the oath of office and then to immediately issue an apology to the world for what we've done to the Iraqi people. Admit that the invasion was misguided and unjustified. Correct the seemingly endless chain of distorted motives, restoring the historical truth that we went in because of faulty intelligence that said that there were weapons of mass destruction. Stress that the intelligence was faulty. Erase the post-applied lie that we went in to free the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's rule. Stress that that justification was a lie, fabricated when we discovered that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Repeat, unambiguously, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and make it clear that the new administration understands that truth. Erase the convenient lie that we're there to spread democracy. Explicitly state that Iraq had no connection whatsoever to the attacks of 9/11, thereby crushing that persistent implicit lie. Admit, officially, what we all know: That there was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda until we invaded Iraq and destroyed their infrastructure and occupied their land and otherwise did things that gave their millions of citizens very justifiable reasons for resenting America and being angry with, and yes, even hating Americans.

When the sitting POTUS has done that, then some degree of sincerity might show through when he/she then says that we want to try our best to put things right. And saying so should be the very next step in the process! We don't need to spread democracy to Iraq. We need to make reparations to the Iraqi people. We owe them as much, because we have done them wrong.

And the next step after that? Ask, request, plead!!! Beg the other nations of the world to do what they can to ensure the peace and stability of Iraq! Let them know that we want to get out. Plainly state that we understand that as long as there is a U.S. occupation in Iraq, there will be hostility and anger and fear and resentment, all at or just below the boiling point in Iraq. Make it clear that on behalf of the citizens of the U.S.A., the POTUS is begging for other nations (preferably nations that have not previously been part of the invasion/occupation) to volunteer to help the Iraqi people establish their own peace and functional government. Firmly establish that we are willing to provide funds or necessary equipment, but that our troops will be leaving. Promise that we will not maintain any military presence in Iraq; our mercenary forces (Blackwater, et al.) will leave; we want for Iraq to heal and to survive and to thrive. State, as official U.S. policy, that we hold no ill will towards the Iraqi people, and humbly request their forgiveness. Explain that we understand that we do not deserve their forgiveness and that we have absolutely not earned their trust. But ask for it anyway. Let them know that if they are able to forgive us, they will be setting an extremely admirable example for us and that we will be in their debt.

This is all fantasy. The next POTUS will do none of the above. I know this. To some degree, I actually understand it. Nonetheless, I firmly believe it would be the absolute best course.

Why did I go off on that huge tangent? Because I want to make it clear why I said that I should be a reliable vote for the Democratic nominee. It's not because I believe that the Democratic Party has a monopoly on good ideas. It's not because I stand behind the Democratic Party. It's because I am so deeply opposed to what the Bush 43 administration has done, and because I believe firmly that the Republican nominee will be altogether too close to Bush 43's position. Whoever the Democratic nominee is, I believe that he/she will be farther from wrong on Iraq than whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be.

I'm getting sleepy now, so I'm going to wrap this up quickly now. For those of you who may be Hillary supporters, you may be glad to know that I'm trying to understand where you're coming from. While I was at the book store today, I spotted a book on the new hardcovers table called Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary. On my lunch break, I started looking through it. And I think I'll be borrowing it just as soon as I finish the little Kafka volume that I'm currently reading. You see, part of me keeps desperately hoping that I will hear/see/read anything that could make me think that she's not an astonishingly horrible role model for my niece. That's really what it comes down to. I've admitted in the past to being an idealist. I want to live in a world where only respectable people get elected to public office. I fantasize about that world. And yes, I want a woman to be president. I think that would be wonderful! Just not that woman. I think we could do better. And we should aspire to do better!



Yeah, I'm bothered by some things about Obama. For example, I'm bothered by his admitted dabbling in hard drugs. (And I'm bothered by Bush 43's alcoholism and possible cocaine use (which, as far as I know, he has never admitted to nor denied) and I was bothered by Clinton's marijuana smoking (whether he inhaled or didn't).) I want for our leaders to be people who lead by example, and yes, to me that does mean people who seem to have behaved properly in both their public and private lives.

Ultimately, I would rather have my niece looking to Obama than looking to Hillary, as a role model. When we elect our first female president, I want her to be someone who seems worthy of respect. And the same is true for our first African American president. Right now, Obama seems to me far more worthy of respect than Hillary.