Whatever we deny or embrace

25 03 2015

Sometimes a girl just wants a beer.

I don’t want to have to be bothered with the bodega owner’s religious beliefs, or the beer company’s political donations; I don’t want to have to run through some kind of checklist of acceptable/unacceptable views before I lay down my 10 bucks for a six-pack.

You see, all that time I spent spewing a not-inconsiderable number of words on the concept of “one law for all”, I was really just covering for my own laziness.

Okay, not entirely true, but if we decide to divvy up our laws and protections based on personal beliefs, then those of us who have strong beliefs (of whatever sort) are gonna end up wasting time trying to make sure we’re not paying for someone else’s loathsome agenda.

I don’t mind searching for fair trade coffee, say, and do try (although sometimes fail: Amazon) to buy products and services from companies which don’t mistreat their workers; connecting labor conditions to the purchase of things labored is a pretty direct relationship, and thus makes sense to me.

But beyond that direct economic relationship, I’m a raving pluralist, and thus neither want nor expect that everyone and every company which produces anything I could possible buy, use, or otherwise enjoy would line up with my own beliefs.

More than that, I think it would be bad if we only ever consorted with our own kind on every last thing.

How dull. How constricting. How small.

I do notice the expressed political or religious views of authors and actors and musicians, and yeah, it does affect my view of them—and I don’t like that. (I have yet to write the Play to End All Plays, but if I could get Brian Dennehy or Danny Aiello to star, I would be a fool to turn them down just because they’re conservative.) I don’t know these people, will never know these people, so if I’m watching a movie or listening to a song, why should their personal views have anything to do with my enjoyment of their performance?

Such tribalism is only human, I guess, but I don’t have to feed it; getting past tribalism is human, too.

Which is where one-law-for-all comes into play: it’s good for pluralism. When we enter the public sphere, each of us is by law equal to the other, which means that by law each can go where and do whatever anyone else can do*. It is a basic kind of justice.

(*Yes, there are some exceptions to this—“employees only” and “you must be this tall. . .” and all that—but the general rule stands.)

It is—horribly—clear that not everyone is treated equally and that injustice is a daily part of life. Still, that we are all to be equal under the law promises, if only in the breach, that each of us deserves to be a part of public life, that however different we may be from one another, we belong.

All right, I’m getting tired, my thoughts are wandering, and this argument is falling apart even as I make it, so lemme just jump to the end: having different laws for different groups disrupts that basic equality and obscures the basic standard of justice. Instead of being free to move about the country, one has to worry about getting/determining who to shut out.

And the second end: if we instantiate the lines we draw around ourselves, those lines come to matter more than anything else—more than the beer, the books, or the movies we could enjoy, more than ease of moving through our towns and our cities, more than the experience of being in the world.

I don’t want society to be a mush; I want us to be able to differ. And the best way to do that is to make sure that, whatever our differences, we are, by law, treated the same.

Language is a virus

20 03 2015

In honor of National Foreign Language week, a school in upstate New York decided to have students broadcast the Pledge of Allegiance in different languages.

Including Arabic.

Which, of course, upset some people.

The reading became the subject of angry talk throughout the school and a cascade of tweets both from students who criticized the reading and those who supported it.

The controversy has “divided the school in half,” according to [Pine Bush High School] Superintendent Joan Carbone. She described the reading as “something that was supposed to be good but turned out not to be.”

Early Wednesday afternoon, high school Principal Aaron Hopmayer made a building-wide announcement explaining the reading’s context and apologizing to students who took offense.

The apology appears to have done little to quell the situation; it may, in fact, have fueled resentment from students who feel the reading was appropriate.

Carbone said she had received complaints from district residents who had lost family members in Afghanistan and from Jewish parents who were equally outraged by the reading. (emphasis added)

Afghanistan, where the major languages are Dari and Pashto, and where the minor languages include Uzbek and Kyrgyz, but not Arabic. And who knew that merely speaking Arabic—itself a Semitic language—is anti-Semitic.

(By the way, nothing like reading the comments to remind oneself not to read the comments.)

Carbone apparently erred in allowing the Pledge broadcast in other languages—Dept of Ed regs require that it be read in English—but the OUTRAGE is less about the regs than the language itself.

It shouldn’t surprise me that a language can become a target—the US government is not the only one in the world which has attempted to snuff out a culture by snuffing out a language—but jeez. . . I. . . I don’t even know what to say.

Except: jeez.


h/t Huffington Post

Hanging on the telephone

19 03 2015

My phone is dying.

This is, of course, bullshit: I have an old landline that, were I to plug it into a working outlet, would work. It doesn’t do as much as cellphone can—it only sends and receives calls—but how did “better” tech come to mean “more fragile” tech?

Bullshit, I say. Bullshit!

Yet here I am, with an old, dying flip phone (the battery isn’t holding a charge), so I’m looking at new (-to-me) phones, and wondering what is the cheapest plan I can get.

I did look into getting a smartphone a coupla’ years ago, when my old plan expired, but the monthly cost would have been more than double what I was already (over) paying. I’m thinkin’ that if I can an old/refurbished phone—hey, even an old smartphone would be a leap in tech from what I’ve got—I can simultaneously avoid an overpriced plan: after all, the phone companies offer you a free/cheap new (otherwise crazy expensive) phone in exchange for a ruinous calling/data plan; get a cheap phone, get a cheap plan?

On the advice of friends, I’m looking at T-Mobile: they offer a 50 buck/month plan, plus the 12 bucks I’d pay for a used Samsung Galaxy S4. Verizon (which is what I currently have) is supposed to have great national coverage, but jeez, I only leave the state every coupla’ years, so why pay $70-80/month?

Maybe my old phone will rally—it’s faltered before, only to rebound—and I can hold off on spending more money on a tech which I rely upon and resent in about equal measure.

But if not, man, time to pony up.

If you don’t want to pay some more

18 03 2015

So. I made considerably more money this year than last—which is good, sure, that’s good.

But: this means that instead of getting a state tax refund, I’ll be paying. Which is not good.

Yeah, yeah, I choose to live in a high-tax locale, and I generally support redistribution blah blah, but I’m not going to let a little political hypocrisy get in the way of some personal complainin’.

Anyway, since I owe NY money, I’ll wait to file that return: it’s almost the same amount that I’m getting back from the feds, so right around the time that money comes in, it’ll be time to pay out. BASTARDS!!!

I do have one question, however: if I made so much more money, WHY AM I SO BROKE? Where did all that money go?


I’m watching everything

15 03 2015

So, CSI:Cyber has premiered.

Is it terrible? Of course it is.

Do I watch it? Of course I do.


I remain [perhaps overly] fond of Numb3rs. As mentioned [too many times] previously, I like the relationship between the brothers and between them and the father, I like the humor, I like their guest stars (Jay Baruchel and Josh Gad, in particular), and what I liked most of all was that and how they dealt with the misuse of force by the main character, Don. Yeah, the show got a little loopy at times in the sixth season, but since the sixth was also the last season, all was ended before the rot set it.

What I really did not like, however, was how David and Colby would—repeatedly—from 10 yards away from a suspect pull out their badges and yell, “FBI: stop right there!”

The suspect always runs. Always.

Guys, this happens every freakin’ time you walk up on someone. Can you not learn to wait until you’re right there before pulling the whole “we’re cops/you’re busted” routine?


Why hasn’t Cryptonomicon been made into a cable series yet?

It’s too involved for a single movie, or even a trilogy, but it would seem to be perfect for season or mini-season show on, I dunno, TNT or Netflix. I’m not necessarily a fan of all things Stephenson—I doubt I’ll ever get through Anathem–but Cryptonomicon is, relatively speaking, pretty straightforward.

Okay, so that relatively speaking does a lot of work, but imagine breaking up the episodes by different chapters or sections, and then offering the viewers a guide on how to watch it: You could watch episodes in the same order as they were presented in the book; you could isolate the WWII sections; isolate the 1990s sections; note those featuring the different characters; even include those bits on the details of cryptography (which I most assuredly would skip).

Stephenson can be annoying because of all of his digressions, but those same digressions are also why so many people like his books: they’re nerdy and overstuffed and repay repeated readings. (I watch the same shows over and over again; you can’t be surprised I re-read novels.) A well-done version of Cryptonomicon would be watched and re-watched and blogged about and argued about over and over and over again.

There would be some real issues to do with regarding language, and given all of the war scenes, it wouldn’t be cheap to film, but given Wikileaks and Snowden, this would be a great time to turn this text into television.

And man, I’d really love to see Bobby Shaftoe and Goto Dengo onscreen.

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

12 03 2015

My back is killing me.

Now, the initial reason has to do with introducing a new lift in my weight routine—my form was fine, but the initial weight was too heavy, hence the strain—but the strain is exacerbated by the fact that my current desk chair is. . . no longer adequate.

It’s been more-or-less fine for years, but over the years it’s moved more toward the “less” side of the spectrum. Because I’m working my second job from home, I’m spending a LOT of time in the chair, and thus have a lot of time to reflect on its inadequacies. And while I don’t expect a chair to fix my exercise mistakes, I also don’t want it to magnify the effects of those mistakes.

So: search for a chair. Search search search. Read the reviews read the reviews read the reviews, consider the features, select, delete, et cetera.

So: I’ve found what seems to be a decent chair. I like that the arms are padded (current chair? no) and flip back, I like (I think) the syncro-tilt, and I like the price.

The problem? There’s only one review. Positive, but still: one.

I’ve search for more reviews, but no luck. The price isn’t outrageous—130 bucks or so—but this is out of “what-the-hell” territory. There were a couple of other chairs I looked closely at, and the reviews were helpful in deciding to eliminate them: the negative/meh reviews were over twenty percent and a fair number of them were quite recent and about the same problem, while the in-depth 4- and 5-star reviews were all older. That there are negative reviews doesn’t bother me, but if out of 300-400 reviews a solid 25 percent are negative, well, I think I’ll look at something else.

(I bought a small vacuum cleaner recently, and in trying to figure out which of two to buy, that the negative reviews were recent and pointed toward the same problems with one machine pushed me toward the other. Which works fine, in case you’re wondering.)

Anyway, the specs on this chair seem decent, but then, so did those on the chairs I ultimately eliminated.  *Sigh*

I have to admit that were I to have the cash, I’d buy a Herman Miller. Not necessarily the Aeron chair—I’ve never sat in one, and you betta believe that before I plunk down a thousand bucks I’m plunking my ass in that chair—but this Eames lounge chair, and precisely because I have sat in it.

Sister, it is worth every penny.

When I was in grad school I took a course in human rights, which meant that, in doing research for my papers, I had to trudge from the Social Science tower over to one of the upper floors of the law library, where the human rights collection was located. It was there that I discovered this amazing chair, tucked in a windowed niche—and it was to there I returned, long after the class had finished, to sit and read and, on more than one occasion, doze.

(Sometimes it wouldn’t be there, and I’d find it had been dragged somewhere else on the floor. I clearly wasn’t the only person who liked that chair.)

I became a little obsessed, so much so that I finally flipped the chair over and ripped the fraying product manufacturer tag off. Then I went on a hunt through furniture store after furniture store—this was pre-internet—until a woman at a place in north Minneapolis said “oh, that’s a Herman Miller. There’s a store in [Edina? Hopkins? one of the nearby suburbs].” I then got on my bike (no car) and rode out to that store, frayed product tag in hand, and began the process of ordering myself a Herman Miller.

That was, oh, over twenty years ago, so it was nowhere near $1800 bucks, and that I’d buy it directly from this store  would mean I could probably get the cheapest version for less than 500 bucks. (I remember the person who worked with me as professional, helpful, and a bit bemused at the sight of this broke-ass grad student trying to figure out how to afford a freakin’ Eames chair.)

I didn’t buy the chair: incredibly, that I didn’t want the cheapest chair was kept me from following through on the purchase. No, I decided, I’d get a Herman Miller when I could [afford to] get exactly what I wanted.

I still have the product brochure, by the way, though the tag seems to have gone missing.

So, huh. Is there a point to this story? No, no point, other than, perhaps to point out (ha!) that I am willing to lay out crazy money for chair I know is comfortable.

But if I don’t know? Then 130 bucks seems a lot.

We are the champions of the world

8 03 2015

Might makes right—that is the basis of morality.

That’s not all there is to morality, but lack the might, and you lack the ability to determine the right.

(And as for God(s) as the basis of morality? What is he/she/they/it but Mighty? the Mightiest of the Mighty?)

Might makes right is also the basis of knowledge. Of course, what counts as “might” varies considerably across time and space: might could mean “ability to summon spirits” or “to discern the secrets of nature” or, of course, to point a sword or an axe or a gun at a person’s head and say “believe” or “recant”; it could also refer to people or resources or the production of results.

Thomas Kuhn referred, famously, to paradigms: scientists operate within a particular paradigm or set of theories of how the world works, and new scientists are inculcated with and succeed according to their ability to produce new knowledge based on elaboration of those theories. Over time, however, those elaborations may run into trouble: the theory leads to x result, but y is what is witnessed. There may be some way to accommodate these anomalies, but eventually the anomalies will overwhelm the paradigm; upon the presentation of a new theory which can account not only for the old knowledge, but also the anomalies, the paradigm will shift.

(Imre Lakatos attempted to meliorate the harshness of this shift (and to mediate between Kuhn and Karl Popper’s strict falsificationism) with a notion of “research programmes” and whether they are “progressive” or “degenerative”, but he, too, allows that new research programs may emerge.)

Older or established members of a field may not accept a new paradigm or research program, but, as Max Planck famously observed, “science advances one funeral at a time”. Einstein, one of the most intelligent men of the 20th century, perhaps ever, just as famously never accepted quantum theory (“God does not play dice with the universe”), but he couldn’t foil it; he is dead, and the theory lives.

What, then, is the paradigm or research program but a form of might? It declares what counts as true and false, what is considered evidence and how to make sense of that evidence, what counts as science—and thus knowledge—at all.

None of this is meant to be argumentative, but axiomatic. This doesn’t mean there is no knowledge or no true knowledge, but that what counts as knowledge and truth is bound up in the conditions of the production of said knowledge and truth. Knowledge depends upon what we say knowledge is (“intersubjective agreement”), and there are a lot of ways to say it.

I’m a fan of science, and consider its methods to be powerful in eliciting knowledge about the natural world. I don’t think it can tell me much about poetry, but if I want to understand how a fertilized egg can turn into a person, then I’ll turn to a biology textbook rather than, say, a book of poetry.

Even the most potent forms of knowledge—the mightiest of the mighty—have their limits (see: embryology won’t teach you much about rhyme and meter), and potency itself is no guarantee against the loss or overthrow of a particular form of knowledge, an insight long known by tyrants, torturers, and con men alike.

Knowledge, for all of its power (Bacon), is also fragile: because there is nothing necessary or autonomous about any one form of knowledge, it can be lost or shattered or tossed away—which means it must be tended, and, when conditions dictate, defended.

All of which is a very long way to saying that the notion of “Let the public decide what’s the truth” with regard to the existence of climate change is a terrible, terrible idea, and as an attack on science itself, deserves to to be driven back to the gaseous bog from whence it came.


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