The three of us (Nita, Tom, and me) finally figured out how to sing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" without dying of ennui:

1. Any singer may insert "Five gold rings" at any time.

2. When this happens, all must join in, including the accompanist(s).

3. After completing "Five gold rings," singers pick up where they left off.

Tom upped the ante by inserting a rendition of "Trogdor was a man" just before the twelfth verse. I think we'll keep this one.

"If you know what's going to happen, it's not really music."
The more I learn about my brain (and brains in general), the less I trust it. Same goes for the mind (ditto, and double).

At the same time, I have to admire those little blobs of goo. Considering the messy way they developed, the enormous demands placed on them, and the skimpy maintenance and generous abuse we give them, they do amazingly well, usually. As long as we don't trust them too much.

They're a gift from the gods, and you know what that means.

Haiku

Dec. 18th, 2009 08:43 pm
Sky still above me;
Ground still underneath my feet;
What, I should worry?
Like many I was frothing at the mouth with fury at Joe Lieberman for blocking both the public option and the proposed Medicare expansion in the Senate's health reform bill. It was obscene, what he did: for decades he's had his face in the public trough and his ass on government-insurance paid exam tables, and now he wants to deprive us civilians of the coverage he's enjoyed all that time.

But as the saying goes, not everyone who shits on you is your enemy. Look at what the public option was after the insurance industry's whores in both houses got finished with it: as far from what we really wanted, single-payer health coverage, as a shopping cart is from a freight train. When you need a freight train and let yourself get talked down to a pickup truck, a wheelbarrow, and finally a shopping cart, you haven't compromised, you've lost, and there's no point in taking the shopping cart and trying to move freight with it. As others have pointed out, the public option when last seen was a plan that could attract only the indigent and uninsurable; it would have been a money pit, a case in point of the government's inability to do anything without screwing it up, an inexhaustible source of sound bytes for the 2010 and 2012 Republican campaigns.

It's a shame we're not going to have the kind of public health coverage you see in civilized countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and France; but in losing the public optionTM maybe we've dodged a bullet.
A true story, not mine, posted for a friend.

Once upon a time, I had a calling in science and mathematics. I attended--to protect people's privacy, let's call it Einstein Technical University--and got my math degree there. Along the way I learned a lot about computers, the aesthetics of emotion, santur playing, and, among other things, one of the flavors of real science--let's call it quantum chronometrics, or QC.

The social environment at ETU was terrible: social ineptness, an undergraduate male-to-female student ratio greater than five to one, catastrophic personal dynamics. There were enormous, complex pressures on female students. People smarter than I could write long essays about those dynamics; you can imagine most of the effects.

I struggled, like most students there. Many gave up and left. Just graduating in four years put me in the top third of my entering class. I'm not bragging; there were plenty of people who were not just smarter than I, but much much smarter than I, in many areas--including QC.

One woman I met--let's call her Colleen--was adept at QC. You could tell she would get published in Nature before she turned thirty. She became a graduate student and did amazing work.

Colleen faced several pressures. Being a woman in science was one; another, very large, was that she was queer. I knew one of her partners well; they were very much in love.

But she was queer.

And it was too much.

And she stepped in front of a train, because it was too much.

A life was lost. That would be a tragedy no matter what Colleen might have accomplished; but her scientific accomplishments were great before she ended her life; they would only have grown. And Colleen was far more than the sum of her accomplishments.

Her tragedy is repeated every day.

Queer Americans kill themselves at unquantifiable rates--unquantifiable because we rarely can tell why people kill themselves. But we do know that so far this year the two or three percent of teenage Americans who identify as queer have made about thirty thousand more attempts at suicide than a similar number of straight teens. Moreover, we know that precursors to suicide, such as suicidal ideation, are higher in queer teens' attempts than they are in straight teens'.

In short: LGBT folk are being driven to suicide.

The solution to that is treating LGBT Americans as equal members of society.

A prerequisite for this is treating LGBT Americans with legal equality.

If you oppose that, you are helping people die.

This isn't an abstraction to me; this is a fact as plain as the nose on your face.

Colleen was a hero to me. Her death was and is, more than a decade later, a deeply felt personal loss.

I will never, ever apologize for my feelings about this, not once, not ever again.

While we wait, people die.
Lately it's been dragged across my path how everyone I really like has at least one annoying streak. Chatting with a friend the other evening -- she said something that annoyed me, I can't even remember what it was but I'll swear she did it on purpose -- and it only increased my affection for her.

This is partly because I like most things strong -- coffee, chocolate, wine, curry. I like a bit of a challenge, I don't like anything or anyone that is too agreeable. (Did someone just slug me? Oh, it was only this coffee. Damn, this coffee is good!)

Or maybe it's because everyone has an annoying streak -- some have little else -- and I just notice it more in people I like.

Whatever. If you ever get the feeling that you annoy me, you're in good company. I'm inclined to add "my friends' annoying streaks" to persimmons in autumn, peaches in summer, beer, capsaicin, and other evidence for the existence of a benevolent deity.

I'll let Gerard Manley Hopkins have the last word:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
 For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
  For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
 Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
  And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
 Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
  With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
   Praise him.
Not the San Francisco of Rush Limbaugh's fantasies, but a neighborhood in the southwest quarter of the city, where SF is indistinguishable from LA. We were working in a bank after hours, tweaking some badly-planned remodeling (it'll need to be tweaked again -- is anybody in charge here?) when, around 9:00 p.m., a couple of cops came in.

"Oh shit," we thought, "some fool tripped an alarm." But no, the cops were responding to a report of someone masturbating in front of the bank, or maybe in front of the food store next door.

It wasn't any of us, I'm sure -- not the electricians, not the painter, not the furniture guys, not the carpet guy, not the project manager, not my boss, and not me -- though it did remind me that it was time for a break.

But I had to wonder. This bank has been raping the country for years. It almost went under after overindulging in mortgage-based securities, and now your TARP dollars are paying for not only its executives' bonuses but this idiotic remodeling, the object of which is to make every $THISBANK branch look exactly like every other $THISBANK branch, and the execution of which includes painting a work area that's going to be demolished the day after tomorrow. And the cops are chasing somebody for masturbating in front of it?
Bill Maher tweets: "If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot."

Smallpox.
Polio.
Measles.
Mumps.
Whooping cough.

Those are five diseases Bill Maher and I will never see in real life. One has been eradicated; the others are practically extinct in the developed world. That was done by vaccinating people. In fact, vaccinating people was the only way to do it.

For some reason, Bill Maher is reluctant to see the current H1N1 swine flu added to the list. Go figure. Maybe he wants to help clean out the gene pool.
"It would fill a room. But so would a two-headed monkey."

-- event director Lisa De Pasquale, explaining why organizers of next year's Conservative Political Action Conference rejected a request by WorldNetDaily to host a panel on the Birther issue.

WND then asked if it could host a panel on how homosexuality causes train crashes, how Obama is secretly planning to harvest personal information from Facebook, or how soy makes you gay.

(Actually, I made up that last part -- but the topics are all from items WND has published.)
The story about a mathematical model of a zombie epidemic collided in my mind with Rick Santorum's recent shriek that if the Defense of Marriage Act were repealed, "gay marriage, like a grassfire, would spread across America!"

Well, now. Could it? As near as anyone can tell, homosexuals are at most 10% of the population -- probably less. Unlike zombies, homosexuals do not convert others to their own kind (nor do they have an unappeasable hunger for human brains, so Santorum should be safe from both groups*). So their numbers can be expected to remain static. Theoretically, they could make up at most 10% of all couples -- but probably less.

Grassfire? What kind of grassfire do you have when the most that could possibly ignite would be two blades out of every twenty?

But reason and reality were never Santorum's strong points, were they? And why should they be, when he can whip up passions and raise money with hot air like this?



_____________
*I can see the headline now: ZOMBIE ATTACKS SANTORUM; STARVES TO DEATH.

'nuff said

Aug. 15th, 2009 07:40 pm
"It is degenerate in that it tends to reverse the existing order. It is essentially immoral in that it will undignify marriage. It is ruinous to the progress of civilization in that it conduces to undermine religion."

--Dr. Cyrus Townsend Brady, arguing against women's suffrage, 1915.
Nice restatement of a timeless moral truth here, abbreviated "DBAD."

Don't miss the quote from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Can we get this tacked up on every church bulletin board?

I will add that this moral truth (in a word, eudaemonism) goes back at least as far as Socrates, who proved (in Gorgias) that to do injustice is a greater evil than to suffer it; that one who does evil is to be pitied, not envied, especially if he escapes punishment.
Where I work, [REDACTED] Bank has been a major customer for years. Their jobs were not usually very big, but there were enough of them to keep our cash flow in good shape.

Until last year, of course, when the entire banking industry woke up with a hangover.

Now, with TARP money in hand, [REDACTED] Bank is our buddy again, with lots of things for us to do. Gee, this branch office looks kind of dowdy; wanna help remodel it? Let's put a new phone/data location here, here, and here. No, we don't want to re-use the old one, it's six inches too far away. We'll just close the branch for a couple of weekends and bring in the guy with the concrete saw and the jackhammer to dig trenches in the floor and put in conduit so we can have everything just exactly where we want it (and we do mean exactly). Yeah, this is costing big money. But that's okay, we have money.

What they have is my tax money (and yours). Tax that I paid on income that I earned by working, often at [REDACTED] Bank. [REDACTED] Bank gave it to my employer, my employer gave it to me, I gave it to the government -- and the government gave it to [REDACTED] Bank.

And here I am working for it again. I'm beginning to wonder why I'm not an anarchist.
Mostly, they take care of themselves -- these are the older kind of teenagers, and they're well-behaved, though voracious. And they bring tidings of the flaming bacon lance, extreme rice, and a Lovecraftian Chick Tract.
For [livejournal.com profile] zpdiduda (and maybe for [livejournal.com profile] unixronin too): a cutting torch made of bacon. Be sure to scroll down to the video.
A New Yorker article on Amazon's Kindle (available here) and an InfoWorld article on Wolfram Alpha (here) are stirring up this murky subject (or is it a hornet's nest?) in my head.
Read more... )
If Wolfram Alpha resolves a question into a statistical pattern that I flesh out and graph using Excel, can Wolfram lay claim to my copyright? What about Microsoft? If my graph is published in a book that Amazon puts out on Kindle, and then I do something that annoys Amazon, does Amazon have the right to throw every Kindle copy of my book, sold and unsold, down its memory hole?

I used to have a lot of opinions about intellectual property; then I realized that my opinions were embarrassingly more numerous than my facts, so I decided to shut up about it until I got smarter. So enlighten me, please. Would you buy a book on Kindle's terms? Is Wolfram|Alpha's copyright notice arrant nonsense? Is this where we're going anyway?
We sang this in high school chorus, around 1970:

Matona, mia cara, Mi follere canzon,
Cantar sotto finestra, Lantze bon compagnon.
Don don don, diri diri, don don don don.

Ti prego m'ascoltare, che mi cantar de bon,
E mi ti foller bene, come greco e capon.
Don don don, diri diri, don don don don.

Comandar alle cacce, cacciar, cacciar con le falcon,
Mi ti portar becacce, grasse come rognon.
Don don don, diri diri, don don don don.

Se mi non saper dire, tante belle razon,
Petrarcha mi non saper, Ne fonte d'Helicon.
Don don don, diri diri, don don don don.

Se ti mi foller bene, mi non esser poltron,
Mi ficcar tutta notte urtar, urtar, urtar come monton,
Don don don, diri diri, don don don don.


I had a strong suspicion that it was bad Italian and that there was some double entendre going on.

I didn't know the half of it.

The Italian's really bad and most of the entendre is less than double. Here's an attempt at translation into English as barbarous as the Italian:

Lady, my dear, me want song
Sing under window, lancer (soldier) good companion!
Don don don...

I beg you to listen to me, that me sing good,
And me want you lots, like Greek want capon.
Don don don...

Going to the hunt, hunt with falcon
Me bring you woodcock, fat as kidney.
Don don don...

Me not know how talk pretty,
Me not know Petrarch or Fount of Helicon.
Don don don...

If you loving me, me no be lazy,
Me fuck all night, thrust, thrust, thrust like ram,
Don don don....


"Like Greek want capon" is, as you probably guessed, both a reference to homosexuality and (at the time the lyrics were written) an ethnic slur.

We had a pretty fair idea, from the music, what "mi ficcar tutta notte" meant. But our director wisely chose not to enlighten us further.
The idiocy endemic to our border patrol officers seems to have spread to Ireland.

The victim in this case is no mere wannabe Fenian; she not only enjoys traveling to Ireland but actually enjoys Irish food. If claiming that in published articles isn't enough to get you in, I don't know what could be.

(Edited: fixed link (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] unixronin).)
A week or so back [livejournal.com profile] wordweaverlynn posted a link to Oxford University's "Top Ten Most Irritating Words." Of course the first thing I had to do was wrap them all in a paragraph, but...the Muse demanded more. Why, I'm not sure.

[Chorus:]
G C
At the end of the day, it's fairly unique,
D D
I personally think, at this moment in time,
G C
With all due respect, it's a nightmare, and
D D G
We shouldn't of, twenty-four seven, absolutely.
C D G
... You know, it's not ... rocket science.

I was sitting in a meeting at the end of the day
People going on in the same old way,
Making their points, keeping score,
And it came to me, I've heard this before,
A lot of it...every bit of it...many, many times.

[Chorus]

Here's the hotshot, with his shiny new plan,
Ramming it through as hard as he can,
Going on fifteen or twenty-five minutes,
Then some old fart goes and pokes a hole in it
"With all due respect...." bursts his bubble...lets all the air out...down in flames.

Marketing's got another proposal;
I personally think it belongs in the garbage disposal.
It's fairly unique, but at this moment in time
I'm only waiting for the clock to chime
Five o'clock...so near...and yet so far.

[Chorus]

That was my life, twenty-four-seven
So close to the top, so far from heaven
Then it hit me, what am I watching the clock FOR?
The thing that interests me here and now -- is the door!
Marked "EXIT"...right this way...it's not rocket science.

So I got up and I said farewell
My boss reared back, said "What the hell?"
I smiled, and maybe I shouldn't of
But I said, "Sorry, I've got to shove,
I'm outta here...absolutely...but going forward...have a nice day."

And that was the end of my office career,
And the start of several eventful years,
Now money's tight, and there are things I lack,
But one of 'em's a desire to ever go back
To sitting in meetings...playing buzzword bingo...it's a nightmare.

[Chorus]
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