Monday, August 31, 2009


Seinfeld really is one of the better comedy shows in television history. The more times I watch the show, the more I notice the meticulous care that went into every detail, from the choice of clothing to the design of the set. I used to think Seinfeld was not such a great actor himself, but I've changed my mind. He's actually very good, but declines to overact, unlike lesser actors. In addition, Seinfeld had a knack for getting outstanding performances from all of his costars and even minor actors in the supporting cast. I've watched the same actors in other shows where they did not seem as good. Jason-Alexander, who plays the underdog "George Costanza," was the most important actor on the show as well as the most versatile. I can't see the show working without George.

Although the actors were all top-notch, the key to the show's success lies in the writing. It's ingenious. The action unfolds with such a perfect timing that it appears natural and organic, although every aspect is planned and every detail has a purpose. It's also concerned with moral issues, although it pretends otherwise. The "show about nothing" is actually about everything.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gay Marriage

When I was young, I never imagined that gay marriage would one day become a serious political issue and that Presidential candidates would define their positions on this issue on live national television, without saying a single word derogatory against gays. It blows my mind. Many preconceptions have been swept away like so much refuse. I believe it does say something positive about the United States and about Western civilization in general, that we can talk about sexual orientation in a rational way that makes sense. I'm just glad that the issue is on the table, so to speak. Whether gay marriage becomes recognized by the federal government in my lifetime, progress has been made--a huge amount of progress at that. This is of benefit to everyone. Some people believe only gays benefit. Everyone benefits, because the more happiness, the better. Humans are interconnected like nodes on a network or bricks in a wall. Every individual exerts a certain amount of influence upon the entire community. If some become content, then more are likely to become so in the future. Gays are members of straight families. They are your co-workers, neighbors, teachers, police, soldiers, et cetera. When some benefit, all benefit.

There was an article in the Associated Press about a disappointed bed and breakfast owner in Vermont who had expected crowds of gay couples to visit Vermount to get married. He has only booked one couple, so far.

The news takes time to digest, first of all. Many gays grew up in a world where it was a foregone assumption that marriage was not in the cards. It will take time to adjust to the idea of gay marriage, not just for straight people, but gay as well, although younger people will have a much easier time adjusting. Marriage is not the sort of thing anyone wants to rush into, least of all because of a change in law. It carries responsibilities and risks. If the federal government extends recognition of gay marriage, which brings Social Security and many other important benefits, then that will help a great deal. Then you might very well see an increase in gay marriages.

By necessity, in the past, gay couples learned to develop their own valuation for their relationships, independent of society's. One of the first lessons I had to learn as a young man was to stop being so concerned with what the rest of the world thought about homosexuality. If they say you must be other than what you are, then they are wrong, and you are right. No one can be other than what they are. If we could, then I would not be human at all, but an elf versed in necromancy and divination, and I would reveal both the hidden past and the future of the world on my blog to those who cared to read me.

When I grew up, gay relationships existed outside of the law and to a large extent even outside of society itself. We lived in an underground community, although there were bridges to the wider community. It was not possible to obtain approval or recognition of our relationships by the wider community, only within the subculture. We learned to conceal relationships, rather than be open about them with others. For instance, when in public, no hand-holding, no hugging. That was reserved for private. Secrecy and discretion were important. Marriage blows the lid off of this construction. To say the least, it takes getting used to. But I think it is good for everyone. Openness is better than secrecy. It is better to live in a world where people can be who they are, rather than putting forth an artificial image, as happened often in the past. Where subterfuge in necessary, both the deceiver and the deceived suffer, but the deceiver most of all, because subterfuge wastes precious energy and time and incurs certain risks.

I observe that homosexuality is on its way to normalization and is even becoming mundane, and I'm glad. It was never all that difficult to understand in my view. If you begin with the observation that life itself is irrational, then everything else follows. Sex is an irrational act by an irrational being. Why should we want to do it? An even more interesting question is, why are we here? I don't think anyone knows all the answers, least of all those who assert with absolute certainty that they do.

Today, most of my friends are straight, not gay, which seems contrary to what one might expect. I prefer straight couples for friends, though, because there's no element of jealousy. I suspect that they like my partner and me for similar reasons. For straight couples, a gay couple is a safe bet. The wife is not going to wind up in bed with one of the guys, and the husband would have to be gay to do so. There's never a problem.

When socializing with other gay couples, there is a risk that, over the years, some one among the four might succumb in a moment of weakness to temptation, and say or do something that crosses the line. This is more dangerous due to the lack of marriage bonds for gay couples, which renders our relationships dissoluble in an instant. Single gay men in particular are not my favorite choice of a friend, and I say that based upon experience, even though we are likely to have much in common. In general, I prefer to invite a liberal straight couple over for dinner.

Because of my socialization with straight people, I realize that most people, today, have no problem with homosexuality. The subject almost never arises. In their view, there's more for them, if you see what I mean. We are not competing with them for a scarce resource, and that's the bottom line. If we were competing, it might be a different matter. Being gay is something of a novelty these days, and I perceive that as friends, we represent a trophy that denotes coolness, enlightenment. That's a flattering change from the hostile past, and fine by me, although the reality is, we are all the same at heart. We are human first, gay second. That is important to remember. Most traits about a person are universal. What you find in one person, you will find in many.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gordian III

One of the more popular Emperors in Roman history due to his family ties, this teenager reigned but a brief time. Literate and learned, he inherited a library of 60,000 manuscripts from his martyred family. Books published in modern times are priced like ordinary commodities. Where ancient texts are concerned, however, it is quite a different matter. In many instances, historians writing the history of the ancient world have been forced to rely upon a few sources or even a single one, and these sources vary a great deal in accuracy. Therefore, a single significant new text from Plato or Aristotle, for incidence, could be worth many millions of dollars. Gordian the Third's library, if discovered intact and containing important texts, could exceed the value of any single treasure--diamond or work of art--in the world. The value would be priceless, and any self-respecting government in the world would want to have its secrets. Men are curious about their ancestors.

Ancient observers should have foreseen the doom approaching the Roman Empire, because there were many signs as the Empire continued its long and steady decline. Someone with foresight may have taken measures to preserve for posterity the literature of the age within a time capsule, much the same as later generations have done. There may be coffers filled with manuscripts hidden in the dry and preserving climate of Egypt. Maybe one day such a capsule will be unearthed and rock the academic world. But beware of frauds.

As for the young Emperor Gordian III, he met his doom at the age of nineteen in a war waged in what is now Iraq.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Venter Makes Bold Predictions

Biologist Dr. Craig Venter is known for talking and thinking big, but if he delivers on a substantial portion of his predictions as published in the Daily Mail, then we should put his mug on the one dollar bill, because he will be a hero of civilization.

According to C.V., future generations may derive energy from the living, rather than the dead. Living microorganisms will produce energy that we now get from fossil fuels. Cheaper energy is all that stands between civilization and improved living conditions for all. Energy that does not produce substantial pollution would be a godsend.

Also, science may be able to halt and even reverse global warming. However, that does raise the specter of a new means of warfare. By changing the composition of the atmosphere, a landlocked, mountainous nation could attempt to harm by proxy a nation with developed coastlines. It would be a crime comparable to the very worst in the annals of warfare, but instead of a crime against just humanity, it would be a crime against the planet itself and all living organisms.

The Wisdom of Hesiod

That book of Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days proved to be a spectacular investment on my part. I was curious what a writer who lived eight hundred years before the birth of Christ would have to say. There is no doubt that any man who gathers up all of Hesiod's wisdom will become an unstoppable force. Here are some of his pearls of wisdom:

"The 21st of the month is best after sunrise; it is worse toward evening. The middle 9th is a better day toward evening; but the first 9th is altogether harmless for men."

Aha! Hesiod divined the secrets of Numerology. Just as I've always suspected, there are good numbers and bad numbers!

"When your private parts are covered with semen indoors, do not let them be seen as you go near the hearth-fire, but avoid it."

I would certainly hope so.

"Never urinate in the waters of rivers that flow to the sea."

It is impolite to those that dwell downstream.

"Invite to dinner him who is friendly, and leave your enemy be."

I only wish I had known this before. All this time, I've been inviting my enemies to dinner and leaving my friends be.

Well, these are only examples of his sage instruction. Thank you, Hesiod. So much.


Although Hesiod presents an easy target for modern sarcasm, I am not serious, and would never consign his books to the garbage. Don't worry! I haven't had a good excuse to wax sarcastic in quite some time, and I needed to work out some of the irritation I had endured with Hesiod. Especially Theogony. Brother! It's not easy for me to read anyway, these days, with all the television shows competing for my attention, but trying to read Theogony really slowed me down. I was reading about three pages a day, if that, and sometimes less than a page.

Hesiod was an old, dear, quaint fellow, and I read him not so much for instruction, but to satisfy my curiosity about how people lived in those days. From that angle, Hesiod was a delight, especially Works and Days. Theogony I found impenetrable, just like Numbers in the Bible. Too many "begats" and not enough action. I liked Works and Days better. Hesiod is a learned man addressing simple men and therefore has no reservation against stating the obvious. What appears obvious to a modern was not always so to an ancient, particularly the rustics who composed Hesiod's audience.

Here's an interesting insight into marriage customs of the time:
In due season bring a wife into your house, when you are neither many years short of thirty nor many beyond it: this is your seasonable marriage. As for the woman, she should have four years of menstruation and be married in the fifth. Marry a virgin so that you may teach her good ways; and for preference marry her who lives near you, with all circumspection in case your marriage is a joke to the neighbors. For a man acquires nothing better than the good wife, and nothing worse than the bad one, the glutton, who singes a man without a brand, strong though he may be, and consigns him to premature old age.

In other words, be careful and know the person before you marry her. In Hesiod's time, just as today, men were marrying women based upon looks alone. I think the advice on "a seasonable age" for both the woman and the man is designed to encourage large families. The ancients always wanted large families, the better to protect against neighboring hostile tribes. Hesiod expected men to wait until thirty to marry, because prior to that, they liked to play the field, which encompassed same-sex as well as opposite-sex relationships.

Considering the history of Ancient Greece, it is probable that Hesiod gave advice concerning same-sex relationships, as well. According to the translator, many ancient manuscripts were partial scraps. The manuscripts may have been censored by prudish monks. What we possess are, in many cases, fragments of copies of copies, translated or not. The closest Hesiod comes to advice for gays concerns men who have "a dear friend that is like a brother," and there he offers little other than "repay any wrongs with vengeance that harms twice as much," which sounds foolish, and "always forgive the transgressor who tries to make amends," which sounds more reasonable. He notes that those who change their friends often should reflect upon their own disposition rather than blaming others, which seems reasonable for his time, although nowadays, we change locations so often that it may not be convenient to maintain long-distance friendships.

Teachers I've Known

In the tenth grade, I transferred from a public school to a small, Christian private school. A minority of people argue that such schools are better. I would say that sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren't. It depends on the school.

As for the Christian component, it was not overbearing. We had a chaplain on campus who taught the smaller kids and acted as the vice principal, but he was out of touch with the students. He disliked me from the first, because I disliked those orders of his that I thought were harsh or unnecessary. He felt that I should go along without a murmur in every event, which was a fundamental disagreement between us. After a few incidents and the intervention of the principal, a ceasefire was arranged. Over time, the chaplain learned that I was easier to manage than the others, just as long as he did not act overbearing. It was just a question of style. He tweaked his style and learned to smile once in a while, instead of frowning all the time as he had been in the habit of doing. Before I left the school, we shook hands and wished each other well, and I think that was a satisfactory outcome.

Our principal was pretty good. I liked him. A lifelong bachelor, he was probably gay, but a conservative Christian and closeted gay, if you can wrap your mind around that. He had a photo of himself shaking hands with a Republican President. I liked him because he was kind and understanding, yet also firm enough to keep order. A softie, he wasn't. He also knew more than your average squirrel and taught me a thing or two whenever he substituted for a missing teacher, which was often in our school. His specialty was language, and he knew grammar through and through. I always viewed him as the knight in shining armor, among everyone else in the school. Without exception, all the teachers liked him, and I suspect the parents and students did, too.

Most of the ills of the school were the result of an insufficient budget. The principal did the best he could, but salaries were nowhere near what teachers could earn in public schools. This meant that we got unlicensed teachers who had not yet completed their education, as well as the dregs of the surrounding schools, those who had been fired from other schools for misconduct or a disagreement of some sort or another. The student body was composed of the same sort, including yours truly.

I had an alcoholic French teacher, for instance, who showed up to class sloshed once in a while. Her favorite expression, which punctuated any bad French translation offered by a student, was "merdez-moo!" which supposedly meant "bulls---". This was repeated enough times that I remember and sometimes use the phrase to this day, although not in my writing, because readers wouldn't understand. Her story was that her only son had put a bullet in his brain. She was over the hill, divorced and alone and figured nothing really mattered all that much anymore. She liked me and, in my senior year, would sometimes loan me the keys to her car to pick up food from Taco Bell at lunch. I don't remember ever abusing her trust, although I was tempted. It just seemed too easy to do and I felt she had had enough trouble, all things considered. The boys liked her, but instead of studying French, they preferred to study her camel-toe in class. You can say, "she should have been fired," but that is easier said than done. It is not such a simple matter to replace a French teacher. However, the other teachers disapproved of her, as you can well imagine, and gossip made the rounds, increasing in nastiness until she had to be fired. I think that women can be harsh critics of other women, even more often than of men, for some reason having to do with competition. Yes, she deserved to be fired, but then again, so did some of the male teachers. After that, I think the school went without a foreign language for a while. It didn't make all that much difference to the academic integrity of the school.

Another teacher was a grumpy old man who had issues with anger. If anyone deserved to be fired, it was him most of all. He taught social studies and history, but knew next to nothing and did little more than read from the textbook. I have no idea why he ever entered the profession of teaching, other than unemployment. He was one of the worst teachers I ever had, and I pitied the many boys who ran afoul of the old man's temper. The man knew better than to assault female students, because that would have resulted in serious complications. He was known to seize a boy by the collar, shake him, throw him to the floor, slap and claw like an animal, and scream in his face like a drill sergeant. Sometimes the boy might have said or done nothing at all to deserve this treatment, if it is ever deserved. I was a victim of his wrath once, but only once, but I don't remember the circumstances, and believe that he was lighter on me than on others, just screaming and nothing else. I learned to place myself in a strategic location in the classroom. Like most ogres, his vision was poor, so I placed myself far in the back behind a taller person. I wore dark colors, gray or black, like a ninja, and got into the habit of slouching deep in my chair to appear smaller and less conspicuous. The main thing was staying out of his sight and not saying anything at all or making any kind of noise or any kind of movement. I slept with eyes open in his class, daydreaming until it was over. It was not necessary to pay attention, because his tests were all open-book, and everyone always passed, usually with an "A". The man might have had a problem with his temper, but he was no fool. He didn't want students to make any serious complaints that might jeopardize his job.

Sometimes, a boy appealed to the principal. In such a case, the principal would visit the classroom to ask the teacher for more information, but in reality he was studying the faces of the students to determine whether the teacher had "gone off" again or whether the boy really had been provocative, as sometimes happened. This teacher was given warnings several times. His outbursts did become less frequent, although he remained grumpy and unapproachable. He had a stroke and was forced to resign due to medical issues. I think he died soon after. No one missed him, although some of us remembered his classes as being easy and even entertaining in their own way. As I thought all of the classes were equally easy, I was glad he was gone.

Another teacher I remember was a short, balding, middle-aged man who moonlighted as a gumshoe for suspicious wives and husbands. He was popular among the students, because the boys liked to work for him. He paid the boys minimum wage to sit in a car for hours and just watch people, which is a pretty easy job, but with the boys at my school, I imagine they goofed off rather than do a good job of watching anyone. I wanted to join these stakeouts, but the teacher had already had grievous experiences hiring students, and was not willing to take a chance on any new people. I believe he lost a couple of clients due to botched investigations.

At any rate, one day he became fed up and decided to quit. I think he was displeased with the students who worked for him, because I don't remember the girls or myself giving him any problems in class. The way he went about quitting was unique among teachers. He did not just give two weeks' notice and bow out in silence. Instead, he came to class one day and told all of us how rotten we were, and how he despaired of ever teaching us anything, because we were all a bunch of dunderheads, although he used a profane term. Indeed, his entire lecture was punctuated with profanity. He said we were all going to be losers in life and there was no hope at all, and he was washing his hands of us. He said we would all end up bagging groceries for a living or digging ditches. He abandoned all pretense of teaching, using the entire class period to insult the students, although he didn't insult his fellow teachers or the principal. In his view, the students were to blame for everything.

Late in his monologue, he was interrupted by the principal, who suggested in a quiet voice that he leave the premises. He wanted no dispute with our principal, who was considered a good man by all. In fact, I think the intervention of the principal was like an intervention from Heaven itself, because the man had second thoughts, and began to regret his words. Before he left, he apologized to the class and said he didn't mean any of what he had said earlier.

Although he didn't teach a formal lesson, he did teach us an important lesson, all the same. A lesson of how not to quit a job. He admitted to this with disarming candor, "I've burned my bridges here at this school, but I hope none of you do as I have done, because it's probably not the brightest thing for a man to do." I never followed his tact in later life. Wherever possible, before leaving a job, I gave two weeks' notice and tried to maintain a civil tone. There is no point in wasting breath on people that in all likelihood one will never see again. Just say good-bye and collect the last check. Work is called business for a reason. It's not drama school. Collect the money and go. Case closed.

The other teachers were less colorful, which is to say normal and not all that noteworthy. They tried to teach their assigned classes, instead of using the classroom as a personal therapy session to deal with anger, depression or anxiety. One was a bright young attractive woman whose husband managed a grocery store, and I thought that might be of help vis-a-vis my getting a job. More than anything, I wanted to make money to pay for a car, the dream of all teenagers. Her husband's grocery store, moreover, paid a handsomer wage than the grocery store near my house. I asked her if she would recommend me to her husband. While she claimed that she did, no offer of an interview ever materialized.

Another teacher always seemed to be smiling. In retrospect, she was probably on some kind of psychiatric medication. I liked her and, because of her habit of smiling to everyone, I assumed for a long time that she also liked me. We had a misunderstanding one day that reversed my assumption. I was in the schoolyard minding my own business, but I had a cold and was taking medication for it, making no secret of the fact. She sneaked up on me from behind, seized my arm, and accused me of selling drugs. Of course, I showed her the tabs where the medicine had come from. Nevertheless, she took me to the principal's office, and either the principal or she called my parents. My parents were both at work, however. I am not sure how much time passed, possibly a day or two, but eventually it was confirmed that I was taking medication for my cold. This defused the situation, although I never received any apology. But after that incident, I realized that I was tainted by being a student at this school. With the possible exception of the fired French teacher, none of the teachers trusted any of us and they tended to think the worst of us in any event. That was an intrinsic part of the school's culture, a meme shared by all of the teachers to varying degrees. Some resisted this meme better than others, but it was pervasive and inescapable. Even the good teachers succumbed to it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meth or Math

In what may be a sign of aging, I misread this headline:

I thought it said "math ring," and I thought students were cheating on the SAT or GRE somehow. When I discovered it was meth, I lost interest. Boring. Math is the more interesting subject by far. Meth rhymes with death for a reason.

If the above article holds no interest for me, at least it jogged my thoughts on the subject of test-taking. My score on the SAT was not great. I made a 1200 on the second attempt, after months of practicing. Meanwhile, some of my friends scored in the 1300s. I even heard of a neighbor who scored pretty close to 1600, which used to be the perfect score, although the test has changed over time. On the strength of his SAT score, he went on to win a four-year scholarship to an Ivy League college, complete with a stipend to cover living expenses.

Although my score was high enough to allow entry into a state college, it precluded the Ivy League and any kind of scholarship. After a period of disappointment, I moved on. We can't choose our fate. Besides, brains aren't everything. Then, too, I thought about the majority of people who scored less than 1200. Did my score make me any better than them? If that were so, then my score also made me less than all those people who scored higher. So I put the number out of my thoughts.

When I was in middle school, I took a test in order to get into the gifted program. I squeaked by with a 89.7% score, where the cutoff was 89.5%. My best friend failed to get in, because he only scored an 89.3%. This was a huge disappointment for him, because he had ambition like I have philosophy. However, it was not as great a matter as he feared at the time. Thirty years later, he had established a successful career in law and is now a millionaire.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Concerning Iran

This cartoon by Mark Fiores concerning the election in Iran is great.

Tepid Support for Afghanistan

Is it just me, or is this a tepid endorsement of the war? I can't imagine how the writer could have made a less persuasive case. Almost every paragraph contains the seed of doubt. This may be a case of British sarcasm deceiving American credulity. If so, my bad.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Universe as a Body

I've been reading Hesiod's "Theogony", and after a chapter on gods and the origin of things, I got to thinking about theology. I decided to write a new theology. Behold the theology of "Omni". Remember that in theology, logic is unnecessary. Theology only explains. It does not need to make sense.

What if each human being is a part of a collective body that includes all things? The Universe, instead of being an assembly of particles, may be a vast, single, living, conscious and self-aware organism. I may be unaware of the greater entity, just as a cell in my body is unaware of me. The individual cell serves the perceived interest of the greater entity even to the detriment of its own interest. "E pluribus unum."

The Universe operates in an environment larger than the one we have seen. We see only its body. As within ourselves, irrationality is in the core nature of the Universe, which explains the bizarre effects noted in quantum theory.

If the greater unit were perfect, then we, the smaller components, would also be perfect, but we are not, and the Universe, which comprises us and everything else, is not, either. The being suffers from its own peculiar species of ailments, just as we do. This leads to disturbances such as black holes. The Universe is neither omnipotent nor omniscient. As we suffer, so does the Universe suffer from problems for which it has no solutions. There is a plan, which evolves as do plans within the human mind, but this plan is not infallible.

A Tale of Two Stories

Two stories are making the rounds in the media. Both concern individuals who claim, with different degrees of validity, that they were attacked because they are gay. Which receives the most coverage? Guess.

The former Survivor celebrity garners the most media attention by a ratio of 50:1.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Braggart

I remember the Braggart with amusement. He was taller than me and certainly stronger due to his weightlifting. He had close-cropped hair and walked with a military bearing, chest out. Much of what he said was either boastful or designed to make another person look inferior, which is why I came to think of him as the Braggart. He would only smile if another was in distress. Never was he pleased if others were doing well, unless the other was his supervisor. He paid close attention to his supervisor and tried to please him.

With me, he waged psychological warfare. To anything I said, he would have an acid remark. For instance, when I considered donating to the company blood drive, he expressed his hope that the nurse would rip up my veins with the needle. Upon suspecting I was gay, he remarked to a colleague, "homosexuality is sick--what's next, incest and bestiality?" while looking straight into my eyes. I refused to be baited.

Another time, the Braggart planted the seed of suspicion in our supervisor's mind that I had stolen from our supervisor's desk a book. I did not make a denial, because I was not accused outright. The rumor made the rounds, but nothing more came of it. To this day, I am of the opinion that the Braggart stole the book and blamed me for the theft. But no matter. Sometimes, small matters appear large due to their proximity to us.

Another time, the Braggart hid in ambush for me behind a cubicle wall, and as I walked past, he jumped out and barked like a dog, laughing at my surprise. To this, I said in a loud voice, "What are you trying to do, give me a heart attack here?" Others poked their heads above the cubicle walls to look. Embarrassed, the Braggart never tried that particular trick again.

Over time, my general policy of avoidance paid dividends. The Braggart attacked me less and less, because I was not fun sport. He could expect little or no reaction from me. His attacks seemed ineffectual and sometimes earned an admonishment from others. Therefore, he relaxed over time and no longer thought of me as his enemy. Meanwhile, my competence became clearer to others, including our supervisor, as I completed numerous and varied work assignments. As time passed, he came to ask me questions and ask for my advice, which pleased me. I must admit, I was not quite as helpful to him as I could have been, say, with a colleague that I respected. But there were other times that I did come to his rescue, just for the satisfaction of hearing him thank me within earshot of our supervisor.

I knew that, besides being an oaf, the Braggart was a lousy programmer. My competence was like a knife twisting in his side. He could not be happy in this job that we were doing. One day a senior programmer who had been around forever and knew everything about everything exploded in the Braggart's face. He yelled at the Braggart that he was stupid as hell, besides being a damned fool. After the old man had left, the Braggart complained to our supervisor over the harsh words he had been dealt.

The Braggart survived much longer than I expected, thriving upon the sympathy of higher-ups, but he did not out-survive me. My supervisors found one excuse or another to transfer him to another department. He did not perform well in the new position either. Later he left the company. I understand that his marriage fell apart as well due to his marital infidelity, leaving him with a substantial monthly alimony bill.

The moral of the story is that it is not necessary to confront every belligerent. Sometimes, if one steps aside, they will continue on their path until they careen straight over a precipice.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

James Buchanan, First Gay President?

After watching the History Channel's "Presidents" miniseries of shows, I'm persuaded that James Buchanan, our 15th U.S. President, was gay.

A lifelong bachelor, he lived with a man for many years, and the two of them were referred to as "Aunt Nancies." They hobnobbed with a group of other dandies. No conclusive evidence, I grant, but one is unlikely to find conclusive evidence; had there been any, he would have been denied the Presidency.

It is possible that Buchanan went along with slavery in part due to blackmail by those Washington insiders who knew incriminating details about his personal life. This leads me to the following observation.

In societies where homosexuality is not tolerated, gays are subject to blackmail. This offers another argument in favor of toleration. Gays will always be with us. If they can be open about their sexuality, then they are just as safe from blackmail as their heterosexual counterparts. To bring this issue home, gays serving in the U.S. military are subject to blackmail at this time due to the so-called "Don't Ask / Don't Tell" policy. It would be wise to eliminate that policy along with all of the other policies that seek to meddle in the sex lives of our troops. Otherwise, blackmail remains a potent risk.

Getting back to the issue of James Buchanan, I do not believe that he was our first gay President, as the show suggested. He was our second.


Profitability has long been a dominant force in the world. Men do what makes money, not necessarily what is good for all.

If a means could be found to harness the power of fusion energy, and energy became so abundant as to be almost free of cost, then the system of commerce might become obsolete. Imagine a world that is fully automated, with all tasks being performed by robots that manufacture and repair themselves. What need would humans then have to sell their labor? Instead, we could each do the work that we love to do, or not as the case may be, without ever a thought of profit. This flies in the face of the assumption made by many, that greed is a necessary component of human nature. Is it?

Computer Problems Can Be Life or Death

This article on CNN demonstrates that computer problems can make the difference between life and death.

What was the precise nature of the "computer problems" in this legal case? It would be interesting to know. Other professionals could then take measures to prevent a similar scenario from arising in the future. Too often the mainstream media makes the assumption that nobody cares about the technical details. Details matter a great deal in this technological world of ours.

I'm reminded of the media's handling of scientific research papers. Often they provide just the conclusions of the researchers. Such conclusions may go too far. In order to evaluate scientific research, readers require additional information about the experiments performed. Not all research is created equal, and just because a new scientific finding issues forth from a prestigious institution does not make it golden.

The New York Times has superior writing than any television-oriented company like CNN, where I found the article above. This is why I prefer to click on articles that are from newspapers, rather than television. I'm not sure why newspapers make their content available free of charge on the web, but I'm glad that they do. I hope that a system can be developed whereby quality newspapers like the NYT can survive and be profitable.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The History Channel's "Evolve" Series

I've been watching the History Channel's 11-part "Evolve" series, each of which covers a different aspect of evolution--size, flight, skin, sex, and so on. I liked the concept of the show and had high hopes for it.

The show plays more like a music video than a science documentary. On the hypothesis that their audience suffers from ADD, "Evolve" does not allow any one human being to speak for more than thirty seconds. The show zips from clip to clip, possibly because the producers are terrified that their audience will get bored with the science. Well, the science is not boring, but their writing is. They are forever stating the obvious. For instance, in the "Flight" episode, they define what it means to fly. Ever seen a bird before? All right then. Also, there is distracting muzak playing in the background. I found myself listening to the muzak rather than the narrative and soon became lost. Finally, the producers employ a number of fancy tricks using digital technology, which better suits music videos. It seems to me that their graphic technicians are showing off just for the sake of showing off. Technology has its place, but should be used in moderation.

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a documentary with a learned host, like David Attenborough. Gray hair is a plus. A host functions like a teacher, which is how most of us got our education in the first place. A teacher is a good thing. Don't discard the teacher! Nothing is better than a good teacher!

"Evolve" is by no means alone. Many of the latest science documentaries have this tawdry music video flavor about them. If this keeps up, it could prove a boon for the book market.

The Gay Travel Agency

Once upon a time, I was browsing through a gay newspaper when I saw a big, splashy ad for a sweepstakes for a free one-week vacation for two to the Carribean. I entered and won. As the official winner, my name was printed in the paper in another advertisement.

The terms of the sweepstakes were that I could choose to take the vacation anytime. All I had to do was call them up and book the trip. So I did. The travel agent asked me when I wanted to take my vacation. I said, "Whenever. Anytime at all that is available, how about that?"

"Fred handles the sweepstakes, but I'm afraid he's not in the office right at the moment. He'll call you back as soon as he gets in." Thus began a game of phone tag that persisted for weeks.

The travel agency was located a good fifty miles away, but I drove out there to speak to the gentlemen in person. Once again, Fred wasn't in the office, as luck would have it, but I had taken the day off from work and wasn't leaving until some sort of arrangement was worked out. When I made my position clear, that's when the story changed. "Oh, you waited too long to redeem your vacation prize. Sorry, but the offer has expired."

This is one reason that I no longer make a point of patronizing gay-owned businesses. All it takes is getting ripped off once to realize that all the talk about keeping dollars within the community is just self-serving propaganda for the gay business owner. Good for them, but not necessarily good for the gay customer.

At any rate, in what might have been a case of poetic justice, the travel agency went bust about three years later. I imagine their philosophy about how to treat people came back to haunt them later.

Save Money on Air Conditioning Costs

In a July 21st, 2009 interview on The Daily Show, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu offered a practical suggestion that people can use today in order to reduce energy costs. Choose white tiles for a roof, instead of black. The cost is nil, while the energy savings amount to at least five per cent, because the white tiles reflect solar energy back into space, saving on air conditioning costs.

Is Government Too Incompetent?

If government is too incompetent to run health care, as Republicans claim, then surely it cannot wage war, which is a vastly more complicated business. To be consistent, Republicans must oppose all foreign engagements and demand the instant withdrawal of U.S. troops. Because government is just too wasteful, isn't it? Besides, the military is a socialist institution, and socialism is bad. What we need is a private army funded by Republican donors--the same armchair generals that get excited over the prospect of killing foreigners.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kodak Easyshare and Backups

Kodak Easyshare has a backup option, but it will not allow you to backup to any other than a local drive. However, not every PC contains multiple drives. In fact, most don't. I prefer to backup to a networked drive, but Kodak won't let me:

When creating a backup, it is essential to store data on a separate and distinct PC. This is because a computer can be destroyed or stolen. A virus or other computer glitch can eradicate the entire file system. If you are backing up files to the same PC, it is not without value; but it carries greater risk than backing up to a different PC.

To preserve my photo album from destruction, I developed a method for backing up a photo album myself, which is a simple batch file that supports networked drives. This works on Windows XP, but I cannot vouch for any other version. If you wish to use this batch, you will have to customize it for your system.


@For /F "tokens=2,3,4 delims=/ " %%A in ('Date /t') do @(
Set Month=%%A
Set Day=%%B
Set Year=%%C

@echo DAY = %Day%
@echo Month = %Month%
@echo Year = %Year%

@echo This utility will backup the contents of c:\art\%Year%


if not exist c:\art\%Year% goto err_msg
if not exist \\GLORIOUSIGOR\kodak\%Year% md \\GLORIOUSIGOR\kodak\%Year%

Set source=c:\art\%Year%\*.*
set dest=\\GLORIOUSIGOR\kodak\%Year%

xcopy %source% %dest% /D /S /Y

echo Year has not been created on source computer yet!

  • Day and Month are unused, but I left them in there, because you may find useful this method of extracting the current system day, month, and year, if you like to write your own batches. I forget where I nicked this snippet of code.

  • The Xcopy command is instructed through the optional switches to not copy files which have already been copied, to copy subdirectories, and to go ahead and overwrite already existing files.

  • This batch expects that each year has its own directory, such that all photos from 2009 are stored in a directory named "2009". Otherwise, it can be a chore to locate specific dates, because Kodak defaults to storing photos in directories with a MM-DD-YYYY naming convention, dropping the leading zeroes. In past versions of Easyshare, there was an option for changing the naming convention, but I have not found it in the new version. The optimal naming convention is YYYY-MM-DD, without dropping leading zeroes. When sorted alphabetically, such a directory begins with the earliest and ends with the latest, which makes finding specific dates a breeze.

  • This batch can be adapted for multiple uses.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sen. Webb's Humanitarian Mission

Sen. Webb (D) has secured the release of an American imprisoned by the Burmese military dictatorship.

A certain amount of dialogue with totalitarian governments can be beneficial, even at the risk of appearing to condone them. In the absence of communication, there are few other viable options available.

The American prisoner, a man who went to Burma uninvited and visited Suu Kyi, implicating her in a so-called crime, was guilty of naivety and foolishness. What he did was a very American thing to do. Since the World Wars, Americans have had a crusader mentality which sometimes exceeds the bounds of reason. Probably he was in love with Suu Kyi, because she is an attractive and eloquent woman, besides being the leader of the democratic opposition. Unfortunately, the Burmese government has used this debacle as an excuse to extend Suu Kyi's confinement, which is a terrible outcome. The desire to help foreigners must be counter-balanced by an appreciation for the consequences.

We hear little about Burma, also called Myanmar, in the news, other than reports of repression and brutality directed toward the poor and toward Buddhist monks. China supports the military government in Burma, which is unethical. It is true that in the past, the U.S. has supported military dictatorships, such as the one that existed in Iran prior to the revolution. However, just because the U.S. has erred in the past does not mean it is all right for everyone to do the same. Follow what is good, not what is bad. Our support of the Shah in Iran proved to be counter-productive in the long run. China may one day discover that their support for Burma's military dictatorship is counter-productive, as well, because people have a long memory.

The Gay Christian Network

I found an interesting online article in the Washington Post's web site about the Gay Christian Network. Some of the comments are as good as the article itself. I am pleased to read articles like this. They were rare in my day. I grew up thinking that I was the "the only gay in the village," like Daffyd in the comedy show, "Little Britain."

When Jesus spoke of helping others and avoiding harming others, that was the message, alpha and omega. Dilution occurred when men placed their personal prejudices into religious theory and practice. This is why there is conflict today in certain religious communities over the issue of homosexuality. Sexual orientation is not a moral issue and never was. Men want to put themselves above others and think that they are better than others. This has always been the case, whether the matter is religion or something else, like ideology.

Religion does not have a monopoly on intolerance. Ideology can prove just as homophobic if not more so. In Communist Russia, homosexuality was considered a capitalist decadence and was grounds for imprisonment. Hitler murdered his close associate, Roehm, officially on the grounds of homosexuality. The Nazis placed homosexuals in concentration camps along with other minorities. Ayn Rand, the atheist behind the Objectivist movement, thought that gays should be treated psychologically just for being gay. So I do not believe that religion is the enemy of homosexuality. The cause of homophobia goes deeper within the human psyche than any belief system.

A common assumption is that those who are different are therefore bad, sick, or wrong. But this is not true. They are different, yes. Not bad. A simple concept, but even intelligent minds have difficulty with this simple concept. Intelligence is insufficient when uninformed by empathy for others. The same mistake that leads to racism also leads to homophobia.

Religion need not be the enemy of homosexuality. Neither must homosexuality be the enemy of religion. Gays can be as religious as any other group, have been in the past, and are today. This is an important point to consider for those religious communities that take issue with homosexuality. By being intolerant, a religious community bleeds numbers and influence and discredits their cause. It is counter-productive and begins a pointless battle that cannot be won.

If you believe in God, then that is all right. If you say, do not harm others, then that is something people will support. You may even make the world a better place! But if you say, I don't approve of your sexuality, then you have created an artificial conflict that must persist into perpetuity, because gays will continue to be born, even within the families of the faithful.

Avoid Stating the Obvious

A good rule of thumb for writers is to avoid stating the obvious. This is sometimes easier said than done, because what is obvious to one person may not be quite so obvious to another.

Yesterday, I wrote an article extolling the virtues of Wikipedia. I thought it was pretty good, explaining the advantages that Wikipedia has over Google and other search engines. Satisfied, I saved the piece, and then went to watch the July 14th, 2009 episode of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

In his monologue, Jon dropped a reference to Wikipedia. That's when it hit me like a cast-iron safe dropped from a fifth-floor window. Wikipedia is old news. Might as well gush over how great motorized transportation is. Duh! Everybody already knows. So, I ruthlessly deleted the piece, which had taken about an hour to write. Oh well. Good writing practice, if nothing else.

Here's a little something that people might not know about Wikipedia, though. If you're interested in exploring new career options, you can input a job title in Wikipedia, and it usually provides a detailed description along with external links that provide further information.

Friday, August 14, 2009

An Overview of Dungeon Crawl Utilities

The utilities I have written for use with Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup are simple batch files, fully compatible with Windows XP at minimum.

The charm of a batch file is that the end user can easily understand all of the things that the batch file does. No compiler is required, which makes modification a simple matter (all you need is Notepad). The technological barrier for the end user is low. If you understand the basics of a command line interpreter such as MS-DOS--and many computer users do, especially if they are into crawling--then you can use and modify these utilities without too much difficulty.

A section of my desktop with shortcuts to the following three batch files.

install-new-crawl.bat - does all the work of clearing out the old version, unpacking a new version, installing it, and cleaning up all the junk afterward. The biggest drawback is that it requires WinRar in order to function. If you do not have WinRar installed, you could substitute an alternative program to unpack the Zip archive. This batch is designed to handle the zips found on the Beta (test) version site. I only use the Beta version, these days, because I like exploring new features as soon as they are developed. Note: I have added the capability of appending mods to the option files.

regen.bat - a method of preserving characters from dreaded sudden death. This is what I use to run Crawl.

Cleanslate.bat - eliminates saved games that are no longer interesting. Otherwise, such characters will persist on the welcome screen, especially if you are using regen.bat to backup your saved games. Be aware that this batch eliminates all saved games, even in the backup directories. It is essentially just three delete statements, not much more. The simplest of all my batch files.

(A reward for sharing up-to-date versions of these utilities is that I had a backup waiting for me in the cloud when my hard drive crashed last month.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Modifying H. Sapiens

Scientists are learning more about the human genome. Here is yet another article on the insights they are gaining into our genetic traits. This is exciting stuff. Oh, to be alive a hundred years from now. I wonder what the world will be like then. Surely much different. Even the human race will be different. Everyone alive today will be regarded as primitive ancestors, much in the same way that we view our distant relatives on the evolutionary tree.

There are many traits in H. Sapiens that beg for alteration. The list is probably endless. The only thing that bothers me is that the technology could be used for evil as well as good, much like any technology, and it is likely that it will be used for evil, given our history. Governments will seek to modify the human genome in order to manufacture passive, conformist workers that never question authority. I see a world with castes, much like India, but entrenched by hard-coded racial attributes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Iranian Hardliners Claim Psychic Ability

I am duly impressed with the ability of hardliners in Iran to read minds. How else to explain that they conclude no rapes occurred among detainees, no less than one day after the issue was raised?

If an issue like this had arisen in the U.S., we would be dissecting every detail for months, and everyone would feel free to comment on the case. How many Iranians can say the same?

Iran's Supreme Leader has a mission in life. He wants to rehabilitate the Shah's image by appearing worse than the Shah. There is no other explanation for his behavior. All the rhetoric of the Islamic revolution is belied by the present-day oppression in Iran, which has been held back in a state of perpetual retardation since the Revolution.

Khomeini was a nut. I knew the moment I saw his image on television back in the 1970s. If Islam was all people needed in order to be ethical, Iran would be the freest nation on earth. Government requires a more sophisticated design than, "Just rely on Allah for everything." Allah is a bit soft-spoken, turns out. The mullahs pretend to hear his every word, while in reality they act however they please, ascribing celestial approval for the bloodiest deeds.

There is a great irony to be found in the fact that the conservative, fundamentalist variant of Islam, as implemented in Iranian law, is obsessed with the human form and seeks to keep women's bodies completely covered up. In Iran, morality police roam the streets and beat any couple engaged in a harmless kiss. Don't even ask what happens to homosexuals, when they are detected. Meanwhile, the righteous police rape, torture, and murder prisoners. How's that for morality? How does sexual conduct relate to ethics? There is no relation. No more than diet or preferred choice of beverage. Sex is an appetite of the body, nothing more.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Governor Rod has a Web Site

I swear the scandal in Illinois is a gift that keeps on giving. A vampire that rises from the grave, yanking the stake from its own heart. Governor B just won't stay quiet. Rather than be appalled, I'm amused. It's comical. He has a web site now. And he's talking. It might be interesting, I don't know, for the political science majors out there, especially grad students, to read his site daily for little insights that a former governor might have into the inner workings of government.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

On Being Analytical

If you possess an analytical personality, you can see the flaws in everything. Analytical minds make the best critics. Actually doing something, yourself--well, that's another toolbox. Select an enthusiastic personality if you want to get something done.

Enthusiasm is the antithesis of analysis. Enthused individuals leap into the fray with both feet. They don't necessarily land on their feet, but they do make that jump. Their motto is, "Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to do or die!"

Which is better, enthusiasm or analysis? Real-world circumstances determine which approach succeeds. Many people will disagree with me, because of the way that the world is, but for my part, I think analytical skills rule. I think that enthusiasm is a bad idea. If you do not stop and question, then how do you know you aren't serving improper ends? Many human beings serve the cause of evil without even being aware of it. They believe that they are doing good, or at least that their work carries with it no ethical baggage. But every action has implications and ramifications. The world is complex. Nothing is as simple as it seems.

However, a tendency to analyze can be taken to such extremes that nothing brings pleasure, and all is fraught with inadequacy. This is a common shortcoming among highly analytical minds. The exception, or flaw, is more interesting to an analytical mind because it imparts more information. Thus the analytical mind can get into the habit of magnifying the flaws in everything. Indeed, many of us work our entire adult lives in careers where it is our job to do precisely this. Our employer demands that we fix the problems, but doesn't care whether we study things that are already working fine.

This brings me back to a favorite proverb that has been traced to the priests of Apollo, who counseled moderation in all things, presumably including moderation itself, along with the tendency to analyze. There are moments when it is essential to shut down the critical faculties and go with the flow. Social gatherings are one such occasion. Analytical minds must learn the skill of STFU, or Stopping The Frequency of Utterances (that may be one possible definition) that dwell upon negative or critical aspects. Adopt an enthusiastic/spastic attitude, if only for the duration of the party.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Psychologists Reject Gay-to-Straight Therapy

This decision by the APA should put the insulting notions behind so-called "reparative therapy" to rest.

While I never engaged in a structured or organized form of "reparative therapy," I was taught that homosexuality was sick, wrong, et cetera, and this caused a great deal of dysfunction and confusion. I kept trying to be something I was not and to play roles that were not well-suited to me.

In high school, bullying was common. Gays received the lion's share of bullying. Nothing provokes a bully more than a boy with the slightest trace of otherness, which is associated with weakness.

The start of a school day inspired terror. The end of a school day, relief if nothing had happened, or else thoughts of suicide if something had. You would expect teachers to put a stop to bullying. I know I did. If a bully was beating the hell out of a smaller kid, then that was considered a good thing, because it was considered the way things ought to be. Reparative therapy, don't you know.

I remember blood on the gymnasium floor. I'll always remember the blood. In PhysEd class, which was a required course. The teacher was a redneck and turned a blind eye to bullies. When he noticed the blood, he compelled the victim to clean it up with a mop and a bucket in front of everyone else. I'll always remember that. The victim was a retarded effeminate black student who spoke with a lisp. Who was his assailant? Another black student. It was an attack based upon perceived sexual orientation.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Internet and Personal Names

Today I saw a sign in someone's yard in opposition to a local politician, displaying the man's name affixed to a .dot com. Above the url was one word: Recall.

The only reason his opponents were able to grab that url was that he was an older man, not a big wheeler and dealer, and serving in a small community. He neglected to consider the ramifications of failing to reserve an url on the Internet. Now his legal name is being employed on the Internet to malign him. This, I feel, is unfair, because it places a new burden upon those running for public office, or anyone, indeed, who achieves a certain level of notoriety.

If you want to oppose a person, you should be allowed to reserve the word "sucks" appended to their full legal name; but you should not be allowed to sit on the actual legal name. I base this reasoning on the expectation of users searching for a specific web site. If you enter "Joe Smith" in the Google search engine, you are probably a fan. If you enter "Joe Smith sucks," you're probably not. "Sucks" began as a vulgar connotation, but nowadays is used with less prejudice. You can find numerous critical web sites with "sucks" appended to the url. In the event that there are multiple individuals with the same name, the url should be allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis--but it should always go to the person who has the name registered upon their birth certificate.

In lieu of a law protecting individuals, I believe that political players should voluntarily abide by this straight-forward ethical position. Dirty tricks may succeed from time to time, but they also give insight into the nature of the perpetrator, as in the case of Cheney.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Coming Soon to a World Near You: Eugenics

In the future, it is likely that governments around the world will ban natural childbirth and institute mandatory sterilization of all males. Test tube babies will be the rule. Couples will select the genetic traits desired in their children. In some countries, the government may choose for them. There are arguments that can be made in favor of efficiency, improvement, and reduction of risk.

The main problem, as I see it, is that we may get things wrong. We may assume that certain traits are beneficial, when they have hidden drawbacks. Every engineer knows that by taking measures to eliminate a problem, sometimes new and unforeseen problems are created.

Let us say for instance that we wish to eliminate vulnerability to AIDS/HIV by tweaking the human immune system. We do so, and experience a few generations of improved resistance to AIDS. This seems all well and good. However, many years down the road, we may find people are developing cancer at an alarming rate. Will it be possible to correct existing human beings, once they've already been born? One cannot rule out the possibility, but it would seem difficult, at best.

Despite such potential problems, I am in favor of engineering a new breed, because by doing so, we can eliminate many pervasive and persistent problems from the world. For instance, no criminals need be born. That, in my opinion, should be the first modification. Every human being should be born with a conscience. Today, some are born without a conscience. Some individuals in Iran, for instance, think it is acceptable to work for a fascist government and brutalize civilians as part of their "job". Either their conscience is malfunctioning or nonexistent. One of the two. We need to create a stronger human conscience to the point where humans feel a great revulsion against harming other humans. This would reduce the chances of stupid wars breaking out, and clowns like Ahmadeinjad could never get started in the first place.

Notice how I've turned the argument against eugenics on its face. In the past, people associated eugenics with the Nazis and racism. However, let us hope that in the future, eugenics will be a tool employed to eliminate nazism, fascism and racism. Of course, things could go either way, couldn't they? If China masters the science behind eugenics before we do, then all bets are off. I would not put it past them. Expect a human race of conformist automatons who live only to serve the State. Art and literature would be devastated.

The United States has been neglecting science in favor of business scams and pointless wars. America needs to change into a society where college students prefer to study science to the exclusion of all other fields, including business. Business is irrelevant. It contributes nothing beyond mindless consumerism. Science is the only way forward. A nation that does not lead in science will be overtaken in more ways than one by a nation that does.

Any future program of eugenics should be voluntary, rather than compulsory, and there should be greater emphasis placed upon morality, such that human beings do not become viruses that prey upon their own kind nor serve a State that is itself a virus, like Iran. Only states like Iran and China would make eugenics compulsory. Iran would manufacture Islamobots, no doubt. We in the West have placed our confidence in diversity, and I think that is the best strategy overall to contend with a diverse planet.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mix and Match Traits

In the History Channel's "Evolve" series, scientists discuss the possibility that in the future, parents will select the traits they want to see in their test-tube babies. Natural childbirth will be regarded as unconscionable due to the risk of birth defects. This will be a brave new world, indeed. What I've mentioned is only the beginning. Once the human genome is fully cracked and 0wn3d, there will be many among us who opt to abandon the human form altogether in favor of a more perfect outward and inward form. Every one has a different version of what constitutes perfection, however, so expect a world strewn with monsters, gods, and odd things never before imagined. This is a scary technology, and we are probably not ready for it. Nevertheless, it's coming, probably a hundred years down the road.
techlorebyigor is my personal journal for ideas & opinions