Torgo χ

2020-10-31 (Saturday)

OBEY! OBEY! Look, LOOK into the spirals!! Hear and obey me! Buy my boooooks! Only theeeeey can make you haaaaappy! Buuuuy them!! I snuck dirty words into them, for yoooooouuuu! COLLECT THEM ALL!!

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Current Mood: controlling you
Current Music: theremins

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2020-10-30 (Friday)

For your consideration...

3 responses | respond...

2015-08-02 (Sunday)

Dear Log,

Quoting from William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014), chapter 79, called "the jackpot":

[The central character here is a ~18-year-old in small-town Tennessee? circa 2030. She is talking to Wilf, who is communicating backward in time from ~2095, via (at the moment) a "Wheelie Boy"-- a toy that's like an iPad mounted on a little Segway]

      She sat with him [the tablet-screen] on her lap, in the old wooden chair under the oak in the front yard.

      [...] Wilf Netherton was explaining the end of the world, or anyway of hers, this one, which seemed to have been the beginning of his.

      Wilf’s face, on the Wheelie’s tablet, had lit her way downstairs. She’d found Ben on the porch steps, guarding the house, and he’d been all embarrassed, getting up with his rifle and trying to remember where not to point it, and she’d seen he had a cap like Reece had had, with the pixilated camo that moved around. He hadn’t known whether to say hello to Wilf or not. She told him they were going to sit out under the tree and talk. He told her he’d let the others know where she was, but please not to go anywhere else, and not to mind any drones. So she’d gone out to the chair and sat in it with Wilf in the Wheelie Boy, and he’d started to explain what he called the jackpot.

      And first of all that it was no one thing. That it was multicausal, with no particular beginning and no end. More a climate than an event, so not the way apocalypse stories liked to have a big event, after which everybody ran around with guns, looking like Burton and his posse, or else were eaten alive by something caused by the big event. Not like that.

      It was androgenic, he said, and she knew from Ciencia Loca and National Geographic [two cable channels] that that meant because of people. Not that they’d known what they were doing, had meant to make problems, but they’d caused it anyway. And in fact the actual climate, the weather, caused by there being too much carbon, had been the driver for a lot of other things. How that got worse and never better, and was just expected to, ongoing. Because people in the past, clueless as to how that worked, had fucked it all up, then not been able to get it together to do anything about it, even after they knew, and now it was too late.

      So now, in her day, he said, they were headed into androgenic, systemic, multiplex, seriously bad shit, like she sort of already knew, figured everybody did, except for people who still said it wasn’t happening, and those people were mostly expecting the Second Coming anyway. She’d looked across the silver lawn, that Leon had cut with the push-mower whose cast-iron frame was held together with actual baling wire, to where moon shadows lay, past stunted boxwoods and the stump of a concrete birdbath they’d pretended was a dragon’s castle, while Wilf told her it killed 80 percent of every last person alive, over about forty years.

      And hearing that, she just wondered if it could mean anything, really, when somebody told you something like that. When it was his past and your future.

      What had they done, she’d asked him, her first question since he’d started, with all the bodies?

      The usual things, he’d said, because it was never all at once. Then, later, for a while, nothing, and then the assemblers. The assemblers, nanobots, had come later. The assemblers had also done things like excavating and cleaning the buried rivers of London, after they’d finished tidying the die-off. Had done everything she’d seen on her way to Cheapside. Had built the tower where she’d seen the woman prepare for her party and then be killed, built all the others in the grid of what he called shards, and cared for it all, constantly, in his time after the jackpot.

      It hurt him to talk about it, she felt, but she guessed he didn’t know how much, or how. She could tell he didn’t unpack this, much, or maybe ever. He said that people like Ash made their whole lives about it. Dressed in black and marked themselves, but for them it was more about other species, the other great dying, than the 80 percent.

      No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.

      The shadows on the lawn were black holes, bottomless, or like velvet had been spread, perfectly flat.

      But science, he said, had been the wild card, the twist. With everything stumbling deeper into a ditch of shit, history itself become a slaughterhouse, science had started popping. Not all at once, no one big heroic thing, but there were cleaner, cheaper energy sources, more effective ways to get carbon out of the air, new drugs that did what antibiotics had done before, nanotechnology that was more than just car paint that healed itself or camo crawling on a ball cap. Ways to print food that required much less in the way of actual food to begin with. So everything, however deeply fucked in general, was lit increasingly by the new, by things that made people blink and sit up, but then the rest of it would just go on, deeper into the ditch. A progress accompanied by constant violence, he said, by sufferings unimaginable. She felt him stretch past that, to the future where he lived, then pull himself there, quick, unwilling to describe the worst of what had happened, would happen.

      She looked at the moon. It would look the same, she guessed, through the decades he’d sketched for her.

      None of that, he said, had necessarily been as bad for very rich people. The richest had gotten richer, there being fewer to own whatever there was. Constant crisis had provided constant opportunity. That was where his world had come from, he said. At the deepest point of everything going to shit, population radically reduced, the survivors saw less carbon being dumped into the system, with what was still being produced eaten by these towers they’d built, which was the other thing the one she’d patrolled was there for, not just housing rich folks. And seeing that, for them, the survivors, was like seeing the bullet dodged.

      “The bullet was the eighty percent, who died?”

      And he just nodded, on the Wheelie’s screen, and went on, about how London, long since the natural home of everyone who owned the world but didn’t live in China, rose first, never entirely having fallen.

      “What about China?”

      The Wheelie Boy’s tablet creaked faintly, raising the angle of its camera. “They’d had a head start,” he said.

      “At what?”

      “At how the world would work, after the jackpot. This,” and the tablet creaked again, surveying her mother’s lawn, “is still ostensibly a democracy. A majority of empowered survivors, considering the jackpot, and no doubt their own positions, wanted none of that. Blamed it, in fact.”

      “Who runs it, then?”

      “Oligarchs, corporations, neomonarchists. Hereditary monarchies provided conveniently familiar armatures. Essentially feudal, according to its critics. Such as they are.”

      “The King of England?”

      “The City of London,” he said. “The Guilds of the City. In alliance with people like Lev’s father. Enabled by people like Lowbeer.”




      But she still didn’t get what the United States did either, in Wilf’s world. He made it sound like the nation-state equivalent of Conner, minus the sense of humor, but she supposed that might not be so far off, even today.

[Conner is a character who is a twitchy, amputee veteran, whose assistive technology is modded to have some mean capabilities. It is considered a local unruly pastime to pick barfights with him, with some amount of risk in presuming that somebody might come by and tell Conner to let the poor idiot go.]

      [Person from the future says:] "Records, during the deeper jackpot, are incomplete to nonexistent, and more so in the United States. There was a military government there, briefly, that erased huge swathes of data, seemingly at random, no one seems to know why."

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2015-04-13 (Monday)

Dear Log,

Russian Meme:

угадай страну по фотографии
(basically: guess which country this is in)

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2014-11-04 (Tuesday)

Dear Log,

Existentialism is an eating disorder that consists of replacing beer with caffeine.

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Current Music: Dajaé- U Got Me Up (Cajmere Underground Charleston Mix)


2014-07-26 (Saturday)

Dear Log,

"[Samuel] Johnson's aesthetic judgments are almost invariably subtle, or solid, or bold; they have always some good quality to recommend them— except one: they are never right."

—Lytton Strachey, 1906, in discussing Johnson's Lives of the Poets (1781)

(quoted widely, incl. Samuel Johnson by Joseph Wood Krutch (1963), p367; Lytton Strachey by Rolfe Arnold Scott-James (1955) p12; etc)

Current Music: Rodriguez- "Forget It"


2014-03-19 (Wednesday)

Dear Log,

In a book about the international banking collapse of 2007, there's a section about how quantifying risk is a fool's errand.

And in that section, there's this:

«I’m willing to make a bet. This is it: that somewhere near you, wherever and whoever you are, there is a killer. A killer you’ve never noticed as a killer; a killer you’ve never thought about as a real danger to you. I’m not talking about an invisible killer, like a virus or bacteria; I’m not talking about an obvious killer, like the idiot in the 4×4 roaring down the road outside or the mugger lurking by the broken streetlight, I’m talking about a killer who is plainly visible, whom you see every day, whom you’ve known your whole life, and to whom you never give a second’s thought. This killer kills more than a thousand men and women in the United Kingdom every year, year in and year out, yet you’ve never heard a word about the dangers it represents. Bear in mind that cars and road accidents—that’s drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, everybody—come to a total of less than 3,000 deaths a year. This killer is between a third and a half as dangerous as all the road traffic in the United Kingdom.

Give up? I’m talking about stairs. That’s right, humanity’s friend the humble stair. If stairs were invented today and a full analysis of their dangers were made, along with the gory statistics—the literally gory statistics—there would be an impassioned, sustained, and I’m pretty sure eventually successful campaign to have them banned on health and safety grounds. It’s happened to much safer things than stairs. Stairs are absolutely lethal. I even myself know someone killed by his own stairs, one of the 1,000-plus deaths in a typical year. Yet we don’t perceive stairs as being risky. They’re filed away in the part of our consciousness where daily objects live, not in the part which attends to dangers and threats and risks to life. We don’t see these things entirely rationally, and familiarity breeds not contempt but a lack of attention. Why? We don’t really know. Our intuitive understanding of risks and of numbers is limited. The explanations usually reached for are of the currently fashionable cod-evolutionary-psychology sort which reaches back to ancestral humanity on the African savanna. We are bad with risk because our hunter-gatherer ancestors blah blah blah. The long and the short of it is that we aren’t all that good with risk.»

I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, John Lanchester, 2009


2014-01-01 (Wednesday)

Dear Log,

John Lanchester's excellent book I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay very intelligibly explains the details of how US + UK banks imploded in that nameless Global Economic Crisis Of 2008 And Since. There is this paragraph, lonesomely tacked onto the end of one chapter:

«All of this—all the funny smells, the missed warning signals, the misaligned incentives, the distorted attitudes to risk, the arrogance of the masters of the universe, the complicity of regulators, the doziness of legislators—symptomized a culture, and also constituted one. It was the culture of the financial industry. It didn’t have to turn out like this. There are occasional frustrating glimpses of how things could have been different in both Britain and the United States. The common good and the interests of the financial industry are not identical—a fact that for the previous three decades has conveniently been forgotten. The financial culture could have been similar but the outcome different if it had not been for those failures of regulation and legislation; they were critical to allowing the culture to go too far and produce the credit crunch. We know that for sure because of the counterfactual example of a country which had a broadly similar Anglo-Saxon attitude to business yet did not go down the path of doctrinaire liberalization and laissez-faire when it came to legislating the financial industry: Canada. The OECD rates Canada’s banks as the safest in the world—the United States comes fortieth, two places behind Botswana, and the United Kingdom comes forty-fourth. Canada is the only one of the G8 countries not to have bailed out its banks. The reason is that Canada didn’t join the party. Its banks had higher capital requirements than elsewhere, the legacy in part of a scare about bank liquidity in the early 1990s which left Canada nurturing a realistic sense of the systemic risks, just at the point when other economies were yelling “Woo-hoo!” and tearing their regulatory clothes off. Other features of the Canadian banking system included lower levels of securitization and the use of securitization mainly as a way of increasing liquidity rather than as a tool for spreading the risks of CDS—and CDO-type instruments; very low levels of involvement in mortgage-backed securities; a law insisting that if anyone was borrowing more than 80 percent of the value of the home, he or she had to take out insurance on the debt; and no tax relief on mortgage interest. Most of all, it was a reluctance to join in the fiesta of laissez-faire, which no doubt owed a good deal to the Canadian national appetite for distinguishing itself from its hypercapitalist neighbor to the south. This, incidentally, did not come at the cost of falling behind in other areas: since 2004, Canadians’ average incomes have grown at 11 percent a year, compared with 5 percent in the United States. A country doesn’t have to have a frenetically overactive financial sector in order to have a thriving economy.»
— John Lanchester, in I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay [very much worth the read]

Current Music: Third Eye Blind- "Semi-Charmed Life"


2013-09-04 (Wednesday)

Dear All,

This is trick that a NORSE GOD— Eivind Josten — taught me as an exercise which has never failed to delight me:

Going for a walk around your neighborhood is nice, yes, but you *probably* end up actually just on the same two or three streets, not seeing the other stuff.
So: Hardcopy a map of your neighborhood from Google Maps (with just the street-map layer, not the satellite imaging layer).

["Hardcopy" might mean:
If you're super-sophisticated, hit PrintScreen, pasting into Gimp/Photoshop, tile the layers together, and hardcopy that.
If you're not big on Gimp/Photoshop, just hit printscreen as you scroll around parts of the neighborhood, paste into MSWord, hardcopy pieces, then *tape the actual pieces together* (and xerox that).
Folks, we're aiming for functional and easy, not a graphic design award]

NOW, have a highlighter-or-whatever on you as you go for a walk. Whenever you go for a walk, as you go around, look for streets that on the map you've never been down. Go down them! Then mark them on the map as done: highlight the street, or scribble over the line in red, whatever. Eventually you will have seen everything in your neighborhood, for as large an area that you consider your neighborhood.
Super-duper extra credit if you map the alleys and go down all of them.

For only the last few months of my time in Chicago did I find out that there's a nice upscale "organic"-etc store about two blocks from my house-- I had been trudging *miles* to the next one. If I had followed Eivind's advice, my life would have been immeasurably happier. Similarly, elsewhere, I was oblivious to a UNIVERSITY LIBRARY (well, community college's library) just a few blocks from me, but just out of eyeshot from the street-- but right there on the map's street grid, where I would have known about it years earlier if I had followed a map from Google maps

Using Google Street View might be useful-- or worthless-- or TOTALLY CHEATING! But okay, however you like it.

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2013-05-26 (Sunday)

Dear Log,

«For the Los Angeles grid is warped, like [an] assumed mathematical netherworld, and must be moved through in an illogical manner. As the surface is unpeeled, a deeper level is revealed, but just below that the surface level appears again. This effect leaves the [typical New York writer] seeing only quark smoke trails, the evidence of something richer that has been missed. »
—Steve Martin, "Hissy Fit", appearing in Pure Drivel [very much worth buying]


Dear Log,

I've added this to the top of my "new.js" template file:

// A personal note from the programmer:
//   Just because I code JavaScript doesn't mean I'm
//   complicit with the bigotry of the inventor of the language:
//             -- Sean M. Burke, <>, 2013-05-24

1 response | respond...

2013-05-20 (Monday)

Dear Log,

About my notes on phone interaction... You know, one tries to be "nice to the help", as one says about one's cook, about one's people who come by and straighten up one's house in town, one's house in the country, etc.

In dealing with scams, I keep it together. We both know it's a scam, so I tell them to please just go away and don't call back.

When I become unpleasant is when I am on the phone with my bank-- and when I say I'm talking to "my bank", I mean some company in India who my actual bank hired to handle the calls that come in. I think they're almost all about "I've lost my card, still looking, but can you freeze the account?", then "okay, I found it under the bed, can you reactivate it please?", or "okay, I really can't find it, can you shut down the account and mail me a new card for a new account?"

However, my bank has recently done some pretty shady things to me personally. By "my bank has done", I mean a bank's heuristics have altered the parameters of an account of mine (APR, credit limit, etc) on a card that I happen to not use much anyway, and then the automated process generates a form letter telling me this, which of course is mailed from the farthest point they can possibly mail it from. There is no "the person at the bank" involved. It's bots all the way down.

So when I am on the phone talking to the people working for my Large American Bank, I have coherent goals for the conversation, my agenda of things to tick off, including some things to ask the person to change (and finding out that they can't do much of anything in their job beyond the simple "Card: Freeze / Restore / Cancel-Replace" options).

I see no point in yelling or being insulting. It'd just rile me up. But in this kind of case, I see no particular reason to "be nice to the help". Granted, I do not waste time in bringing up how this bit of shadiness toward me is merely a mote in the larger pattern of to how this bank is under investigation for pretty blatant predatory lending and just plain fraud in a dozen different cities and states; and in at least one case (last I heard) an entire large city combined all grievances as a class action lawsuit.

But if I am brusque ("so, is there anything you can do here except read me the gibberish form letter that I incidentally have in my hand?"), it's because THEY ARE ANSWERING THE PHONES FOR THE MAFIA.

The fact that the mafia in question has a corporate logo, and letterhead, and whose offices occupy entire tall buildings, and who issues credit cards and prints up checks, and has an HR department that cuts you paychecks instead of slipping you envelopes of cash— that doesn't stop them from BEING THE MAFIA.  You know that you should be answering every call with "HELLO, MAFIA SPEAKING! HOW CAN WE GRIFT, MENACE, AND DEFRAUD YOU TODAY?"  You know it.  You can't un-know it.  Yes, they seem official because they have lawyers on staff.  OF COURSE THEY DO, THE MAFIA ALWAYS HAS LAWYERS!

IF YOU WORK FOR THE MAFIA, YOU HAVE TO QUIT.  "Easier said than done! I got kids to feed!"  I know.  I know.  But feed them from a safe job.  If you work for THE MAFIA, they're stealing from me— and they're stealing from you too, out of habit if nothing else.  Do this: personally log your clock-in and clock-out time, multiply by your wage, and you will see a problem.  You have to stop working for a company that is almost definitely stealing from you!  ...and which is, I point out, THE MAFIA.

Stay cool about it, and just say "No hard feelings, but I have an ailing sick aunt— in a distant city where everyone has the same last name as me and I can't give a forwarding address— you know, what with the economy and all."  BUT YOU HAVE TO QUIT.


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Current Music: Nancy Sinatra- These Boots Are Made for Walking

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2013-04-28 (Sunday)

Dear Log,

«Like other snack food companies, “we’re obviously sensitive to the demand for health-conscious options,” said Daren Metropoulos [who is with the company that's bringing back Twinkies in the US]. Look for the introduction of smaller portions of the classic snacks in 100-calorie packs, the better to attract moms. As for the increasingly aggressive nutrition police (see under: Bloomberg, Michael), they do have something of a point. “Everybody knows that a Mediterranean-type of diet and lifestyle is great,” said Evan Metropoulos. “But I don’t think a Twinkie once in a while is going to kill anybody.”»
"Twinkies Are Coming Back: The Metropoulos Brothers on the Brand", The Daily Beast



Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: metropolitan
Current Music: The Cult- Fire Woman


2013-04-21 (Sunday)

Dear Log,

As I was browsing Wikipedia BUT IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE OF GERMANITY, I noticed that German seems to have a native and monomorphemic word for radio: Funk(e).

This aufbepuzzled me.

(Example use: Rund­funk­empfangs­gerät, an expansive term used as a headword for sake of clarity: broadcast-radio-receiving-device. Cf. English headword: "radio (receiver)").

I looked into it. It's a word for "spark". (Given that radio started out using spark-gaps to make the signals, that makes good sense.)

Apparently "funk(e)" can be traced back to a form back in Western Germanic, which gave "Funk(e)" in German— and "funk" in Old English, meaning a spark, or a small fire.

It acquired the meaning of smoldering, such as you get from a small fire. It then lost its initial sense, and all you've got is two attributes of smoldering: and strong smell, and also smokey cloud (which I think survives only via metaphor in the idiom "in a funk").

How this meaning at point a ends up at the point b, "funk music", is left to the semantic workings of the hyperspace jumpgates of African American English.

Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: zappy
Current Music: "Tobias" - Arrested Development soundtrack


2013-02-06 (Wednesday)

Dear Log,

«I can do something, there's injustice involving a cake!»
"Duff Goldman, 'Ace Of Cakes' Chef, Offers To Bake Rejected Lesbian Couple's Wedding Cake For Free"

Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: Want donuts.
Current Music: Cake- "[Some People Like To Make Life a Little] Tougher Than It Is"

2 responses | respond...

2013-02-04 (Monday)

Dear Log,

The thing at Livejournal where you can write posts in raw HTML has changed. You turn on the box that says "disable autoformat", and it takes your stuff to be HTML (as opposed to long-lined plaintext, understands HTML, but now it inserts <br>'s wherever you have a newline. When I'm writing a paragraph of flowed HTML source, I don't want that, at all!

Apparently this all goes away if you start the message with <lj-raw> and have all your stuff, then end it with </lj-raw>

It's an easy workaround, but... still.

Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: brackish
Current Music: Seal- Crazy


2013-02-02 (Saturday)

Dear Every Designer Everywhere:



1 response | respond...

2012-11-03 (Saturday)

Dear Log,

Yes indeed, I'm a superstah because the file size of that post's images was 1,477 bytes for each of the first two and 12,980 bytes for each of the bottom two. That's bytes, not kilobytes or megabytes. And it's lossless compression— no jpeg jaggies around here, boyo!

I am simply wonderful.

(BTW, those could have been in color and would have been about as small. And in fact, they started out in color-- but as I tinkered with the content, black-and-white actually worked out better in making my point than a blue↔purple↔red gradient did. I don't know if the colorspace trouble was in the display, or perceptual.)


Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: pixed
Current Music: Cake- "Frank Sinatra"


Dear Log,

Oh, and by the way, the thing about journalists reporting a survey result while ignoring its margin of error, is reason #16 that I want to destroy the world.

Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: stabby
Current Music: Cake- "Frank Sinatra"


Dear Log,

So, there's chatter on the news about whoever's numbers, in whatever place, dropping from 49% to 48%, ohnoes!...

It drives me batty, because look in the corner of the screen and it'll say "±4%". Not 0.4%, oh my no. That tiny little footnote says 4%, and you know how the large print giveth and the small print giveth away!

Now, this is what a no-margin-of-error 49% looks like, zooming in on the range 40%-60% (which I'll let stand, even though I generally squint unhappily at a graph whose Y axis starts at anything other than 0)...

49% exactly (60%)

Now, this is what a no-margin-of-error 48% looks like:

48% exactly (60%)

Yes, it is White gaining a whole extra point on Black, and that's how they draw it.

But when they say a one point drop with a little "±4%" in the corner of the screen, that means that they're really saying that things went from this:

49% ±4% (60%)

to this:

48% ±4% (60%)

Suddenly it's kinda harder to make gripping news chatter about that. Because the data visualization just got kinda... confusing. Namely, got real. And if you say the numbers instead of confusingly showing them, well, you might as well be just reading lists of lotto numbers.

(Meta-details: I did an even gradient effect between 49-4 and 49+4 instead of a chromatic bell curve, and I pretended that there was precision on those numbers: 49.00 ± 4.00%. And I presumed that ±4% was with a p=0.00 instead of a p value of our pal 0.05%, for example. Also, your display's color correction management might tweak this all anyway.)

So, ya see, look for the "± x %" in the corner of whatever graph. It's the difference between this being news, or the opposite of news: something that leaves you less informed than before you read it.

* * *

A somewhat unrelated gripe of mine: When we tally votes or responses, we end up with integers for one response or another.  Sometimes we turn them into percentages, sometimes as fractions. Regardless, people report the one tally versus the other, and mention the difference as the lead. It is my imperial, autocratic, and kommissarial opinion that we should report the swing instead.

So, a change from 49% to 48% is a 1% change in the lead. But I think— just as a matter of perspective— that it's better to consider the swing: just .5% of people changed their opinions. Yes, these are identical assertions numerically, but this is how I would prefer it.

And when I hear "a sweeping High Court decision of 3 to 6!!", I grind my teeth. Yes, that does mean twice as many people went one way as another— but it also means that if just two people's minds had changed, it would gave gone the other way. A matter of two people out of nine is important, but suddenly seems not quite so epic as three against six.

But this swing-vs-lead thing is just me happening to like one numerical representation more than another.

It's the thing about margins of error that I consider to be a Real Problem with the way the news is reported.


Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: erroneous
Current Music: Grace Jones- Demolition Man


2012-10-28 (Sunday)

Dear Log,

No man has known hate, like the hate I have for the continued pathetic existence of the American Electoral College.

The excuses for it ever being created in the first place are dim, after-the-fact justifications, not even worthy of the level of Southern Baptist biblical apologists.

And the arguments against the electoral college are: everyone who has ever voted.

That the choice of President isn't a matter of popular vote, but is a perpetual Ohiomancy, is beyond forgiveness.

Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: exaspertronic
Current Music: (playlist in the supermarket)


2012-10-17 (Wednesday)

Dear Log,

[ This is Borges, the last few paragraphs of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". It's written in 1940, set in 1947 (!). I start with the paragraph where he tips his hand: ]

Almost immediately, reality yielded on more than one account. The truth is that it longed to yield: Ten years ago any symmetry with a resemblance of order - dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism - was sufficient to entrance the minds of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlön, to the minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet?

It is useless to answer that reality is also orderly. Perhaps it is, but in accordance with divine laws - I translate: inhuman laws - which we never quite grasp. Tlön is surely a labyrinth, but it is a labyrinth devised by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.

The contact and the habit of Tlön have disintegrated this world. Enchanted by its rigor, humanity forgets over and again that it is a rigor of chess masters, not of angels.

Already the schools have been invaded by the (conjectural) "primitive language" of Tlön; already the teaching of its harmonious history (filled with moving episodes) has wiped out the one which governed in my childhood; already a fictitious past occupies in our memories the place of another, a past of which we know nothing with certainty - not even a that it is false.

Numismatology, pharmacology and archeology have been reformed. I understand that biology and mathematics also await their avatars... A scattered dynasty of solitary men has changed the face of the world. Their task continues. If our forecasts are not in error, a hundred years from now someone will discover the hundred volumes of the Second Encyclopedia of Tlön.

Then English and French and mere Spanish will disappear from the globe. The world will be Tlön.

I pay no attention to all this and go on revising, in the still days at the Adrogue hotel, an uncertain Quevedian translation (which I do not intend to publish) of Browne's Urn Burial.


Current Mood: Uqbari
Current Music: David Byrne- Nineveh


2012-08-16 (Thursday)

Dear Log,

An odd fact: the grand chain of delicious Canadian pâtisseries, Tim Hortons, is spelled like that- no apostrophe. It was founded by a guy named Tim Horton. But it's not «Tim Horton’s». Apostrophe has fled them all!

Cf. «McDonald’s» in the US, from two people with that name, Richard and Maurice McDonald. One worries about «MacDonalds’».

And once, somewhere, I saw a note about a dialect group somewhere in the US (Buffalo?) where «s» was often appended to the name of every kind of big store: I'm going to «Safeway’s, Target’s, Walmart’s», etc.

Good arguments for a domain-specific erasure of apostrophes is trouble in English placenames. Is it Pike’s Peak? Pikes Peak? Etc.


Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: strophic
Current Music: The Gershwinses- They Can't Take That Away from Me


2012-04-10 (Tuesday)

Dear Log,

I very often direct people to this brilliant essay, by the already brilliant essayist (and occasional novelist) Mark Twain: "Bible Teaching and Religious Practice". Twain wrote it circa 1890. He died in 1910; and this essay and many others weren't published until years afterward.

There is minor variance in wording between the original manuscript and how it was first published years later (1923?), after his death (1910). This is briefly discussed in the editorial notes (p. 591) at the end of the 1973 edition (or later editions by the same editor) of: Mark Twain, What Is Man?: And Other Philosophical Writings, editor Paul Baender, University of California Press. Twain didn't put a title on this essay— the title "Bible Teaching and Religious Practice" was added when it was first published. Many of his essays were similarly (un)titled. I think "Bible Teaching and Religious Practice" sounds dry compared to the titles he gave essays (when he did), but this is the name that it is known by today. I post it here in its entirety. It's a bit over 1,700 words.

Two notes: The "within our century" means within the 19th century. And, importantly: In saying "The Christian Bible is a drug store"— the relevant feature of a drug store at that time was that its walls were covered with shelves containing a hundred or more small drawers and vials, all distinctly labeled— but, from a distance, they would all seem identical, and perfectly and tidily aligned. Each drawer or vial might contain a drug on its own, or might be simply an ingredient that would be mixed with others, according to the doctor's directions to the pharmacist. (A Google Images search will show you what I mean.)

“Bible Teaching and Religious Practice”
Mark Twain, (from Europe and Elsewhere and A Pen Warmed Up In Hell)

    Religion had its share in the changes of civilization and national character, of course. What share? The lion’s. In the history of the human race this has always been the case, will always be the case, to the end of time, no doubt; or at least until man by the slow processes of evolution shall develop into something really fine and high— some billions of years hence, say.

    The Christian Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes. For eighteen hundred years these changes were slight— scarcely noticeable. The practice was allopathic— allopathic in its rudest and crudest form. The dull and ignorant physician day and night, and all the days and all the nights, drenched his patient with vast and hideous doses of the most repulsive drugs to be found in the store’s stock; he bled him, cupped him, purged him, puked him, salivated him, never gave his system a chance to rally, nor nature a chance to help. He kept him religion sick for eighteen centuries, and allowed him not a well day during all that time. The stock in the store was made up of about equal portions of baleful and debilitating poisons, and healing and comforting medicines; but the practice of the time confined the physician to the use of the former; by consequence, he could only damage his patient, and that is what he did.

    Not until far within our century was any considerable change in the practice introduced; and then mainly, or in effect only, in Great Britain and the United States. In the other countries to-day, the patient either still takes the ancient treatment or does not call the physician at all. In the English-speaking countries the changes observable in our century were forced by that very thing just referred to— the revolt of the patient against the system; they were not projected by the physician. The patient fell to doctoring himself, and the physician’s practice began to fall off. He modified his method to get back his trade. He did it gradually, reluctantly; and never yielded more at a time than the pressure compelled. At first he relinquished the daily dose of hell and damnation, and administered it every other day only; next he allowed another day to pass; then another and presently another; when he had restricted it at last to Sundays, and imagined that now there would surely be a truce, the homeopath arrived on the field and made him abandon hell and damnation altogether, and administered Christ’s love, and comfort, and charity and compassion in its stead. These had been in the drug store all the time, gold labeled and conspicuous among the long shelfloads of repulsive purges and vomits and poisons, and so the practice was to blame that they had remained unused, not the pharmacy. To the ecclesiastical physician of fifty years ago, his predecessor for eighteen centuries was a quack; to the ecclesiastical physician of to-day, his predecessor of fifty years ago was a quack. To the every-man-his-own-ecclesiastical-doctor of— when?— what will the ecclesiastical physician of to-day be? Unless evolution, which has been a truth ever since the globes, suns, and planets of the solar system were but wandering films of meteor dust, shall reach a limit and become a lie, there is but one fate in store for him.

    The methods of the priest and the parson have been very curious, their history is very entertaining. In all the ages the Roman Church has owned slaves, bought and sold slaves, authorized and encouraged her children to trade in them. Long after some Christian peoples had freed their slaves the Church still held on to hers. If any could know, to absolute certainty, that all this was right, and according to God’s will and desire, surely it was she, since she was God’s specially appointed representative in the earth and sole authorized and infallible expounder of his Bible. There were the texts; there was no mistaking their meaning; she was right, she was doing in this thing what the Bible had mapped out for her to do. So unassailable was her position that in all the centuries she had no word to say against human slavery. Yet now at last, in our immediate day, we hear a Pope saying slave trading is wrong, and we see him sending an expedition to Africa to stop it. The texts remain: it is the practice that has changed. Why? Because the world has corrected the Bible. The Church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession— and take the credit of the correction. As she will presently do in this instance.

    Christian England supported slavery and encouraged it for two hundred and fifty years, and her church’s consecrated ministers looked on, sometimes taking an active hand, the rest of the time indifferent. England’s interest in the business may be called a Christian interest, a Christian industry. She had her full share in its revival after a long period of inactivity, and his revival was a Christian monopoly; that is to say, it was in the hands of Christian countries exclusively. English parliaments aided the slave traffic and protected it; two English kings held stock in slave-catching companies. The first regular English slave hunter— John Hawkins, of still revered memory— made such successful havoc, on his second voyage, in the matter of surprising and burning villages, and maiming, slaughtering, capturing, and selling their unoffending inhabitants, that his delighted queen conferred the chivalric honor of knighthood on him— a rank which had acquired its chief esteem and distinction in other and earlier fields of Christian effort. The new knight, with characteristic English frankness and brusque simplicity, chose as his device the figure of a negro slave, kneeling and in chains. Sir John’s work was the invention of Christians, was to remain a bloody and awful monopoly in the hands of Christians for a quarter of a millennium, was to destroy homes, separate families, enslave friendless men and women, and break a myriad of human hearts, to the end that Christian nations might be prosperous and comfortable, Christian churches be built, and the gospel of the meek and merciful Redeemer be spread abroad in the earth; and so in the name of his ship, unsuspected but eloquent and clear, lay hidden prophecy. She was called the Jesus.

    But at last in England, an illegitimate Christian rose against slavery. It is curious that when a Christian rises against a rooted wrong at all, he is usually an illegitimate Christian, member of some despised and bastard sect. There was a bitter struggle, but in the end the slave trade had to go— and went. The Biblical authorization remained, but the practice changed.

    Then— the usual thing happened; the visiting English critic among us began straightway to hold up his pious hands in horror at our slavery. His distress was unappeasable, his words full of bitterness and contempt. It is true we had not so many as fifteen hundred thousand slaves for him to worry about, while his England still owned twelve millions, in her foreign possessions; but that fact did not modify his wail any, or stay his tears, or soften his censure. The fact that every time we had tried to get rid of our slavery in previous generations, but had always been obstructed, balked, and defeated by England, was a matter of no consequence to him; it was ancient history, and not worth the telling.

    Our own conversion came at last. We began to stir against slavery. Hearts grew soft, here, there, and yonder. There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one— the pulpit. It yielded at last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession— at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery text remained; the practice changed, that was all.

    During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.

    Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch— the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do. The parson wanted more blood, more shame, more brutalities; it was the unconsecrated laity that stayed his hand. In Scotland the parson killed the witch after the magistrate had pronounced her innocent; and when the merciful legislature proposed to sweep the hideous laws against witches from the statute book, it was the parson who came imploring, with tears and imprecations, that they be suffered to stand.

    There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

    Is it not well worthy of note that of all the multitude of texts through which man has driven his annihilating pen he has never once made the mistake of obliterating a good and useful one? It does certainly seem to suggest that if man continues in the direction of enlightenment, his religious practice may, in the end, attain some semblance of human decency.

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2012-03-16 (Friday)

Dear Log,

Yesterday I went to a police station here, to file a report about someone having tried to use my credit card from my wallet that I lost. This is my first time even seeing a cop here in Canæda, much less a police station.

It looked like a demo / showroom model of a police station. It was SHINY. I sat in the ATRIUM and filled out a form.

The "police service" people had neither the demeanor nor attire of the Terminator-1000 / LAPD.

The officers looked like they each were given not only a generous monthly allowance for their uniform, but also a stipend for eyeglass frames and *coiffure*, with mandatory quarterly make-overs.

There was a rack, near the door, of pamphlets. One of them the heading "Complaints" and I picked it up and it said worried stern things, about how any police misconduct is taken extremely seriously by both the station and the Chancelors of Police or whatever, and so if you have any trouble, for the benefit of yourself and the community, please contact us about...

And flip over that cardstock pamphlet, and it says "Compliments"!, and about how the station and the Decons Of Policery are always very welcoming of anything you have to say about particular ways in which we in the Edmonton Police Service can focus on what helped you most, so...

There was another pamphlet about how March is Fraud Prevention Month. "There is no shortage of schemes and scams that fraudsters use to try to get people to part with their money. Be aware of the potential risks!..."

There was a high-screen monitor flipping thru an informational slideshow, and I glanced at it briefly. It was NOT a panic-inducing thing about "ZOMBIES WITH 'SHARPS' ARE GONNA LEAP OUT AND GIVE YOU THE HEP-C!" [f/ photo of needle in neck, to give me nightmares for life]. Instead, at the moment I glanced at it: "Our most recent study found that 71% of people who end up in prostitution were sexually abused as children and received no counseling for it".

Folks, I'm from LA. When I walk into a police station, I expect to see arc-weld marks on the floor from a recent "seige situation". I don't expect sociology.

And the only kind of "spatter" at this station was maybe a bit of a coffee stain on a desk because somebody forgot to use their coaster.


Current Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Current Mood: atrial
Current Music: Counting Crows- "Mister Jones" (on-hold music)

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