My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Read Everything

Tomorrow ends my favorite part-time job ever. As many of you know, I took a job at the Barnes & Noble in Saginaw, MI to a) get me out of the house since all of my teaching assignments are now online and b) for the discount. I cannot express how much I enjoyed this position and the other individuals with whom I’ve worked.

There is just something sublimely enchanting to be constantly engulfed in literary tomes and speaking with fellow booklovers about history, alternate worlds and realities, poetry, science, travel, the love of language, and the need for intellectual stimulation. And to watch a child dive soul-first into a book warms my heart deeper than almost anything else. I will miss seeing that on a regular basis.

If there is one thing that I can take away from my time there, other than the hundreds of books that I purchased, it’s that you should always read everything. Honesty comes in the average, so if you make it a habit to read each and every book that you can get your hands on, you will find the closest possible thing to the truth. Moreover, if knowledge truly is power, and the quickest way is reading, than bookstores are the source for nearly infinite power and honesty. So please, seek out your local bookstore, immerse yourself, and read everything.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Loose Lips

From the apparent usefulness of the social virtues, it has readily been inferred by skeptics, both ancient and modern, that all moral distinctions arise from education, and were, at first, invented, and afterwards encouraged ... in order to render men tractable, and subdue their natural ferocity and selfishness, which incapacitated them for society - David Hume

These shared limitations of morality - these defining characteristics of our societal structure - allow our civility to exist. Beyond laying the groundwork for law, they help us to understand one another. Social virtues and moral distinctions work to transcend religion, culture, and class. The hallmark of a structured society becomes compromised when one of these moral codes is broken. Scorn and punishment come quickly and often with great vengeance, either through demand of restitution or, once the punishment or scorn has run its course, expulsion.

The cliché is the standard in westerns: someone killed someone and revenge must be taken in blood. There is a similar theme in real life, although recompense in civilized societies has become the norm. This tradeoff exists because we seem to be incapable of simply dealing with our own affairs. We are petty, insecure, trivial, and needy. The desire to feel that we are bigger than ourselves undermines our actual potential. At the same time, in considering that humility is the quickest overlooked virtue, we can hear the voice of Freud echo through life declaring that the ego is not master in its own house. We are all small creatures longing to be big. And in return for a momentary increase in stature, we are willing to cast aside our shared functionalist interpretations of social or cultural entities and do as we wish.

As much as I would like to preach the gospel of forgiveness or tell a story about carrying your faults, I am not currently in the position to change the rules. Instead, I am now faced with dealing out punishment for a blatantly broken social virtue, and it is difficult to reconcile my own humility and ego while faced with the task at hand. Something must be done, a price must be paid, and the scorned must become an example. My job is to complete the circle and restore what Hume underscored as our societal natural balance. In this task, I am both reluctantly ardent and callously humble.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Once upon a time a peasant had a horse. This horse ran away,so the peasant's neighbors came to console him for his bad luck. He answered: "Maybe".

The day after the horse came back, leading 6 wild horses with it. The neighbors came to congratulate him on such good luck. The peasant said: "Maybe".

The day after, his son tried to saddle and ride on one of the wild horses, but he fell down and broke his leg. Once again the neighbors came to share that misfortune. The peasant said: "Maybe".

The day after, soldiers came to conscript the youth of the village, but the peasant's son was not chosen because of his broken leg. When the neighbors came to congratulate, the peasant said again: "Maybe".

- Huai Nan Tzu

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Entry for June 21, 2008

I posted a blog the other day on same sex marriages and have a quick follow-up. I do feel sorry for the future children of these couples. Not because I think that they will be any less loved or supported in their lives, but because of my own childhood memories. You see, it was always hard enough for me to make one coffee mug or macaroni card for Mothers Day or Fathers Day, so I can’t imagine having to make two. And you just know that one is invariably going to be better than the other one. Then you have to choose which mom or which dad is going to receive the better one and how you’ll explain the choice to them.. .. ..really, it’s a lot of pressure for a young child. So a word of advice to these future children of gay parents: Make one parent the coffee cup and the other the card. Do not try to make duplicate items. There, I feel much better now.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Entry for June 19, 2008

I think that we should all be very proud that we are part of a cosmic system of energy degradation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Democratic Digression

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. - Sir Winston Churchill

Our system, our Democracy, stays in place because of one simple reason: it works satisfactorily.

But I think that it is occasionally important to go over the actual process. History is littered with attempts at governments installed in the hope that they would look after the masses. For a good bit of this time there was a belief in the “divine right of kings” to rule over us. This absolute monarchy style was destined to fail due to a lack of available good kings.

We as a species have tried thousands of different ways of governing ourselves in the hope that we will find a moralistic government that is both stable and benevolent. The problem with all of these previously tried systems is that they relied heavily on continued maintenance by those who would pursue the founding principle of compassion. In short, those who put a leader in charge willingly wish to see that leader treat them well. The problem then arises when that leader is either unchecked in power, or is able to slowly rot the system through the slow creep of authoritarianism or through their failure to live up the job.

Our Declaration of Independence may list our inalienable rights as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, but it is built upon a system that must immediately limit those rights in order to maintain them. Still, few rebel even though everyone complains. Living standards, crime, and personal freedom are, historically, at an all time high. And it’s not because our voters are any smarter. Our last two elections proved that. So why does our system work better than all others tried so far?

It is because our original system was built upon the backs of generations that put the welfare of their countrymen over themselves. It is the only practical difference and the reason we have the system that we do. We are a nation created for each other. Thus, there must be a constant renewal of the connection between responsibility and authority. Or, as Thomas Jefferson told James Madison in a letter (Jan. 30, 1787), “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”.

To vote is to wield authority and continued success is not a matter of chance. To allow unchecked authority in either the electorate or the elected officials removes the responsibility and is the sign of the end of a government. So we must encourage the occasional social responsibility to remind us why it is that we allow ourselves to be governed by and for others. We as citizens must understand that our responsibility is to the state first in order to maintain the freedom of others. But before you accuse me of communism, remember that we cannot install moral virtue at the end of a gun; we cannot force social responsibility at the end of a speech. It must be given in lives, blood, loss, and pain. There is no other historical proof that a governed population can find within themselves the ability to govern each other without individual sacrifice. So it does not matter what political system is in question.

So what are morals? At their most primitive, morals are what come out of our instinct to survive. They are the ability of an individual to see beyond themselves. Think of morals as the willingness of a mother who would die protecting someone else’s children. They are earned, maintained, and spread through channels all connected to the state and the freedoms that it may or may not allow.

True democratic governance can and never will exist. Defined, it is simply representative government with equality placed at the forefront above all else. It is a system that theoretically exists to give everyone equal say. And it can never be a reality because the average voter, representative, or appointed individual can never grasp the potential of their own power or understand the lasting ramifications of their actions. It is at best a system that allows for some individuals to have a direct influence on the daily lives of others, but only in limited scope and with varying success. At the worst, it is a system that allows the electorate to believe that they are indeed free when in actuality they consist in nothing more than a quasi-democratic organization built to support its own continuance. We are a nation held together by the belief that we are one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Should Gay People Have the Same Rights?

I mistakenly flipped on the TV today to check the weather because it looked like it could storm and stopped by one of the 24-hour news networks on my way to the Weather Channel. The blonde behind the desk, smiling prettily and looking overly intelligent in her pastels and hoop earrings, said the phrase, “Should gay people have the same rights as the rest of us?”. Now I immediately want to forgive her because she is a) reading off of a teleprompter and b) a moron not paid to think for herself.

So here, let me answer that question:

If you believe that women, people who are a color other than white, and non-Christians should have equal rights, then you have to give the equal rights to gay people as well. Those strange religious nutjobs (and it’s always the religious nutjobs) who think that gay is either a lifestyle or against the Word of God should look back into their own history at how their religion was once used to explain why blacks should be slaves, non-Christians should be treated differently, and why women should be subservient. Strangely enough, they don’t see the connection. They cannot look at this class of people, who they want to separated from everyone else, and see the same parallels drawn between this new hatred and the old prejudice done in the name of their God. So for any religious people, who happen to read my blog, let me explain something to you: Your bible can be used to say anything and people who use it to tell others that who is less of a human are bigots preaching hate.

Want proof? Let’s go through a quick exercise:

Do you believe that black people should be white people’s slaves?

Well, Jesus said it was ok. In Luke 12:43-48 Jesus explains the proper way to treat your slaves. Jesus condone slavery enough to make some ground rules for their enslavement. Don’t believe me? Search the KKK’s website and you’ll find that, along with a whole host of other quotes from the Bible on how slavery is alright.

Now if you truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then slavery is a good thing. If you don’t believe that slavery is a good thing, then you do not believe that the Bible is the word of God. The only way to get out of this quandary is to say that the Bible is not to be taken literally, but then the same would apply for the rules governing homosexuals too.

Back to our point, should gay people have the same rights as the rest of us? Only if you believe that we are all equal. If you don’t, you probably see slavery, oppression of women, and exclusion of those of different religions as you, as all ordained by God. If you don’t, please know that that is exactly how the rest of us view you. And history has proven time and time again, that you and your Christian approved bigotry and hatred will not be tolerated.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why Aren’t Computers Better?

I’m tired of having to fight my computer to get it to do what I believe that it should do automatically. And there is absolutely no good excuse for it. If anything else was this temperamental or troublesome, you would learn to do without it. For instance, if you purchased a microwave at Sears, took it home, spent 12 hours removing useless parts and adding essential things that didn’t come with it, you would be livid if you attempted to finally use it and received the error message “cannot compute potato” when you tried to pop a bag of popcorn. Immediately you would tear the microwave out of the wall, do 90mph back to Sears, and pummel the sales clerk to death while screaming, "I only wanted a fucking bag of popcorn!!!!" But we don’t. We accept computer problems as some sort of strange quirk to the privilege of owning a machine that lets us do the technologically advanced task of communicating with each other.

This isn’t anything new either. From the very beginning, both the PCs and Macs required users to spend countless hours installing, repairing, rebuilding, and upgrading both their software and hardware just so that their computer was the equivalent of a phone, calculator, or pen and paper. And before someone out there starts in with the increased speed argument, let me remind you of the wasted, precious days you spent trying to get that increased speed to actually work. I believe that if you averaged out all of the time that you’ve spent fighting with your computer versus the time that it would have taken to do whatever it was manually, you would have saved time never learning how to turn your computer on. But those were the good old days where computers resembled frontloading washing machines, yet weren’t as useful. If a single computer had managed something like getting the stain out of a shirt, it would have been hailed as a miracle, canonized, and reproduced into small statues for all of us to worship.

Now we cannot do without them. Endless information is available at any hour with only a few keystrokes, you can contact almost anyone anywhere, and everything from having your finances automatically managed to performing remote surgery on a needy patient can all be done from the convenient little screen in front of you. Yet they are still the same unreliable pieces of crap that we’ve always had. It’s like they’ve learned to bribe us with information so that we will live with their faults. We’ve traded our lives for Myspace quizzes, useless Wikipedia information, and joke emails that really aren’t that funny.

I have learned that there is no difference between our bond with computers and long-term domestic abuse. The more computers abuse us, the more we think that we deserve it for asking too much of them. We want them to treat us better, but understand that if this is what it takes, we’re willing to sacrifice. And if not, we will wait patiently and hope that someday we will meet a nice computer who knows how to treat us with equal love and respect.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mordor's Kitchen

As we prepare to move away from our small two-story apartment in Saginaw, I am moved by how the worst kitchen that I have ever had the displeasure of working in has been the one that has turned me into an excellent amateur cook. I can differentiate between four different levels of roux (I’m still learning what to do with them), can taste the difference between the quality of ingredients, and am comfortable making a full four-course meal by myself. I am, by my own admission, a completely different person in the kitchen. It is the only place on the planet that I lose my temper. I am a man possessed. Mordor-bent on perfection. Every recipe guarded, researched, and reworked. I am proud enough to say that most of my regular menu trumps most restaurants and the biggest compliment that I’ve heard came from a friend a couple weeks ago, when at an extremely nice restaurant exclaimed, "I think you make this better". In short, I am a damn good cook and I got so working in the shitty kitchen ever.

What’s wrong with the kitchen? It is four feet from counter to counter and eight feet long. There is an electric stove with uncorrectable crooked burners, an oven that cannot hold a temperature and whose door cannot be opened all the way, small cabinets, a dishwasher that can be heard from the front yard, and a refrigerator from the bargain bin at Goodwill. The counters are inadequate in every definition of the word and the kitchen itself can only handle two people if they are working in perfect unison. Add to that the insufficient lighting, laughable ventilation, and substandard storage for anyone who does not wish to exist only on soup and rice, and you have a cook’s worst nightmare. This kitchen is where I learned technique, where I made recipe after recipe trying to perfect dishes, and where I feel the most comfortable cooking. I will deeply miss this shit-hole.

Monday, June 09, 2008

I Hereby Give Up Plastic Water Bottles

Over the last couple of months I've been slowly weening myself off of buying water in plastic bottles. This is hard because I happen to love San Pellegrino and buy it by the case. But from now on I plan on buying and consuming only the glass bottles when I have to, or doing without.

Below is one of the many articles that has sparked this change:

Thirst for bottled water unleashes flood of environmental concerns

By Krisy Gashler, The Ithaca (N.Y.) Journal

Once reserved for Perrier-sipping elitists, bottled water has become a drink of the masses.

Sales have quadrupled in the last 20 years, and rose almost 8% last year alone.
Marian Brown, an assistant to the provost at Ithaca College who works on sustainability initiatives, has watched this growth with dismay.

"More and more people, more and more entities on campus, even for special events, were starting to think, 'Gosh, let's do bottled water,' instead of putting out (pitchers) of water," Brown said. "It's like, 'God no, they're making it worse!'"

The problem isn't the water — it's the use of resources. It takes a lot of oil to make all those little bottles and ship them, sometimes halfway around the world. But Tom Lauria, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association, said bottled water isn't the environmental bad guy.

Sales on the rise

There's no question that sales of bottled water are increasing.
According to Lauria's bottled water association, in 1990, 2.2 billion total gallons of bottled water were sold worldwide. In 2007, it was 8.8 billion.

In just the last year, wholesale dollar sales for bottled water grew 7.8%, to $11.7 billion in 2007, according to the bottled water trade group.

Increased purchasing of bottled water is good news, Lauria said, because much of the sales growth is coming from people making a health-conscious decision not to buy soda and sugary juices.

"We're finding that most of that growth is in category switching," Lauria said, citing consumer research. "People are making a decision at lunch to buy bottled water as opposed to something else. Some people want to reduce caffeine, sugar, many reasons."

The Container Recycling Institute found that between 1997 and 2005, sales of carbonated drinks remained relatively flat while sales of noncarbonated drinks, including bottled water, almost tripled.

Plastic water bottles produced for U.S. consumption take 1.5 million barrels of oil per year, according to a 2007 resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. That much energy could power 250,000 homes or fuel 100,000 cars for a year, according to the resolution.

Cornell University professor and environmentalist Doug James said the irony of bottled water is that it's marketed as clean and healthy when its production contributes to unnecessary environmental degradation.

"Fiji water, for example," he said. "A one-liter bottle is taken out of the aquifer of this little island, and shipped all the way across the world, producing like half a pound of greenhouse gases so you can have this one-liter bottle of water."

The taste question

Another obvious issue in the consumption of bottled water is taste.
In some areas, tap water simply isn't drinkable, Brown said, and in those situations, bottled water is a useful resource.

Other consumers simply prefer the taste of bottled water, Lauria said.
"Consumers have lots of preferences and some people want mineral water for taste," he said. "Everyone has their own reasons for buying products. And some people have a preference for bottled water."

But, Brown argues, perceptions about the taste of tap water and realities about the taste of tap water can be very different things.

To test her hypothesis that tap water tastes as least as good as bottled water, Brown has been conducting a series of taste tests at Ithaca College in the past year.
In five blind taste tests over the last year, the tap water has won four times, she said.

The growth in advertising and consumption of bottled water has occurred "frankly, since the big soda companies bought up water," she said. "They would buy up the Dasanis, and they would buy up the Poland Springs, and you get into the huge marketing machines of the major soda industries, Coke and Pepsi, notably, and they take it to a whole different field."

Water and waste

Then there's the waste stream.

In roughly the last 10 years, the amount of polyethylene terephthalate plastic bottles being recycled increased from about 775 million pounds in 1995 to about 1,170 million in 2005, according to the Container Recycling Institute.

But during the same time period, the amount of PET bottles going into landfills skyrocketed from 1,175 million to 3,900 million pounds.

Water bottles are a big part of that problem, Brown says, because there are so many more of them, and because in many states, water bottles don't have a redemption value like soda and beer bottles do.

Lauria said the focus on water bottles is unfair because they make up "less than one-third of one percent" of the entire U.S. waste stream.

"There are many other plastic objects that are in our lives that no one seems to be concerned about and yet it all needs to be recycled," he said. "As you recycle bottled water you should also recycle many other products that are in your refrigerator when you're done with them."

Brown said that better recycling rates of water bottles would certainly help, but even better would be for people to stop using bottled water when tap water will do just fine.

"Even if we can do a good job of separating and recycling water bottles, it still comes down to the fact that it's completely unnecessary," she said. "From a cost standpoint alone, people should be starting to think about, 'I'm paying $1.19 or whatever it is for a bottle of water that I could get free out of my drinking water tap?'"

Hidden costs of water

Strictly speaking, tap water isn't free — it costs about $0.00002 per ounce.
But single-serve bottled water costs between 1,000 and 4,000 times more, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Some cities, including San Francisco, Albuquerque, Minneapolis, and Seattle, have banned city purchase of single-serve bottled water because of waste impact from the bottles and because it's viewed as an unnecessary cost to taxpayers.

On the waste reduction hierarchy, reduce and reuse should be above recycle, said Tompkins County Solid Waste manager Barb Eckstrom.

Even so, bottled water can provide a healthier choice in situations, like sports events, where people are going to buy drinks anyway, she said.

Brown reiterated that clearly "there is a place for bottled water."

"But for so many of us here in the Finger Lakes we're so blessed with excellent water systems, we need to at all costs preserve and maintain (them)," she said.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Chocolate is Exquisite, What a Pity it Isn't Illegal

The White House and several Republicans who have continuously backed the justification for the Iraq War, the amplified power of the Executive Branch, and the general creep of authoritarianism across the political spectrum are now quickly backing off of their positions and have decided to take a very awkward stance. In the beginning, they were absolute in their beliefs. To disagree with their neoconservative ideals was tantamount to patriotic heresy. Everything was going perfectly, justified, and right. Now, as truth is shown the light, they have gone to contending that what they did was not illegal, only incompetent. This tactic speaks to the complete degradation of their argument. Not only are they out of all logical defenses, they have also resigned themselves to simply trying to convince everyone that they are not criminals.

The problem with this new debate over whether or not their actions were unlawful is twofold. Firstly, by immediately taking a “last stand” approach on the lowest common denominator of the argument (the legality of their actions), they are conceding all of their actions were incorrect, hazardous, and wrong. The second part is that the press was almost completely complicit in the Neoconservative agenda in the aftermath to 9-11. The press cannot report en masse that they were deficient in their jobs as reporters without using up the last of their own political capital and losing the general public’s trust. In short, if they report the abject across-the-board failure of the outgoing Right Wing they are also, through their (non)action, admitting their own incompetence.

What we are left with is two groups who are telling us, directly and indirectly, that they are only a shade better than a common criminal.