Driver's Ed

Boston drivers are notorious for their lack of patience. If someone behind us beeps when a traffic light turns green, the Mrs. typically makes a comment to herself, or me if I'm in the car.

Yesterday, though, was different. We were at a T intersection, coming up the vertical part of the T and waiting to turn left. This particular intersection is tricky, and it should probably have a traffic light, but around here things often stay uncorrected like that a long time. (How long did it take for a signal to get installed at Packard's Corner?)

Without a light, we were forced to wait until the road was clear. A car came up behind us and before long the driver beeped the horn. Then again, then again. Beep. Beep, Beep. The Mrs. leaned out her window and yelled back at the other driver, "I can't go! There are cars turning in front of me!" (Her argument was bolstered at that exact moment by a car that turned and came past both of us. She gestured at it in case the other driver somehow hadn't seen it.) "If you don't feel like waiting, feel free to go past me!"

No more beeping.

Order of Optical Operations (Please Excuse My Dear Opthamologist)

You go to the eye-doctor, and they dilate the hell out of your eyes, so you can't see . . . and then they expect you to pick out a pair of fashionable frames that fit your face?

Instructions

I'm enjoying finding these random signs. I'll keep posting them as I find them. I spotted this one at Commonwealth Books downtown:
No nonsense, no apologies, to the point. But of course, in a better world such a sign would not be necessary.

I Stood Corrected

Next week my son's U-9 travel team will be playing in the Piscataway 33rd Annual Fall Classic Soccer Tournament, and they will be seasoned veterans, as they played their very first travel team games last year, in the 32nd Annual Fall Classic as wee little six and seven year olds; my favorite memory of last year's tournament happened during a wild rainstorm, and not a warm summer thunder shower, this was a cold pelting downpour, but we were playing our damndest, my son Ian pouncing on balls like a wildcat in goal and the rest of the team slogging through the mud, but one boy -- ironically the tallest on the team -- ran over to me on the sidelines and said, "Coach, I'm cold!" and so I told him all I could think of (remember, it was my first time coaching very young children) . . . I said, "Be a man, Danny, it's only rain," but he put me in my place with his reply: "But Coach, I'm not a man, I'm just a little boy."

Can Humans Handle Marijuana? Let's Hope So!

Obama enjoyed smoking pot, but since he became a politician, his line has been that people should go to jail for smoking pot. He didn't go to jail, but he felt like other people should go to jail for doing what he did. But now he is backing down from his draconian position a little bit, seeing the direction that the political winds are blowing. Two states have legalized pot, and more are permitting medicinal use of pot, because pot has many medicinal benefits for the human body, unlike alcohol.

I was amused to read all the hand-wringing the Obama Administration has had over Washington and Colorado's decision to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. There were conference calls between the Attorney General and state officials, memorandums published, press conferences, meetings and deliberations. Goodness gracious! Such a big deal. One would think that they were proposing to make liquor and firearms legal, or something dangerous like that. Everyone should know that marijuana is a non-toxic and non-addictive herb that is used for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes, spiritual purposes, or sometimes all of the above.

Reuters refers to freedom advocates as "marijuana advocates," which is a misnomer. Many people support legalization, yet do not "advocate" anything. I support aspirin being legal, but I don't use aspirin. I support most anything being legal, so long as there is little possibility harm will come of it. But in some cases, such as firearms, we find that people want these things legal even if there is a certain degree of risk. With marijuana, there is very little risk. There is less risk with marijuana than there is with aspirin. Aspirin can kill easily. There are no cases of death by marijuana. Not one.

Now if freedom advocates are wrong, and the prohibitionists are correct, and marijuana should remain illegal, then the human race is doomed. If humans cannot handle a non-toxic and non-addictive herb, then there is no possible way they can handle liquor, firearms, and the list goes on. How can we possibly handle motor vehicles, credit, employment, conscription, war, childbirth, accidents, or natural disasters? Least of all can the nations of the world handle nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. There is no hope for humans at all, following the logic that flows from Prohibition. Thus, we must develop contingency plans and send humans into outer space, because the planet is doomed. Another idea would be to imprison every human being to make sure they don't encounter anything dangerous, such as aspirin or shampoo, either of which can be ingested and cause sickness or even death. The prisoners could then be fed and cleaned by robots, and robots can be designed to maintain the robots. The government has been making great strides in putting people in prison. Our nation has the highest percentage in prison of all the nations in the world. A large number of those people in prison were involved in some manner or another with the lucrative illegal drug trade.

For my part, I think there are too many laws and too many lawyers today. What we need are people in politics who understand how things work--scientists and engineers. There do not seem to be many politicians around that understand how things work and why they work. Politicians are more interested in power and using the law to further their own ends, which are based not upon reason and understanding, but upon personal ambition, misinformation and misunderstanding.

Family Game Night Strategy

Sometimes early bankruptcy is the best thing that can happen to you in a game of Monopoly.

Buyback Blues

A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch a TV news report about turning in older electronic gadgets for cash. Today as I was doing some house cleaning I came across a couple of my older gadgets and decided to look them up. I like the idea that unused electronics can be reused or at least recycled instead of just being discarded.

One of the better-known sites for buying back used electronic items is Gazelle, which happens to be based locally. I went on the site to look up a smartphone, but it's not one of the brands they currently accept for trade. I looked for a different phone, but while they do take the brand, they don't take this particular model.

And so it went with an older iPod and a Palm PDA. It's sort of our modern equivalent of the old textbook buyback game from when I was in college. There may be other sites that would accept some of my items in trade, but I haven't explored further yet. I guess I tend to hold onto my electronics too long. Maybe I'll have better luck trying to sell them myself.

Syria

I'm not thrilled at the prospect of my country getting involved in Syria. In Syria, both sides are anti-American. I don't see that there is any advantage to be gained for the U.S. by getting involved. If the Syrian tyrant is removed from power or diminished, it is pretty clear that another anti-American despot will take over from him, more than likely an Islamist that wants to torture and kill infidels. One thing's for sure, there won't be any notion among the Syrians of gratitude or of repaying all the money we spend assisting them. The warlords spend money we don't have on wars we don't need. I don't see why the U.S. always has to foot the bill, especially when our economy is in shambles.

I don't know how many Americans remember the Afghan War of thirty years ago, when the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan. President Reagan praised the Afghan resistance--the Taliban and Bin Laden--as "Freedom Fighters," and the C.I.A. spent money arming them. My father was so brainwashed by U.S. propaganda that he composed poems praising the "Freedom Fighters." My father doesn't like to talk about that anymore, but he used to recite his poetry with great passion and conviction. After the freedom fighters won, they installed Islamic Sharia law and gave sanctuary to anti-American terrorists. In retrospect, the communist regime that the Soviets tried to preserve was not that bad. It was certainly better than the Taliban by any measure one would care to apply. The communists gave rights to women, such as the right to be educated, something the Islamists will never abide. Not only did the U.S. spend billions putting the Taliban in power, they also spent more billions removing them from power. The gist of it all is that the warlords do not take any clues from history. They are completely incapable of learning from past mistakes, like Afghanistan and Viet Nam, or else they don't care about their country and just want to grab money from the taxpayers. War in modern America is just a way for the military to justify its oversized budget.

Sometimes It Sucks to be in Rome

When I taught in Damascus, the high school history teacher had her students personally prioritize the concepts in the Bill of Rights; the American kids invariably had "freedom of speech" at the top of their list and the kids from the Middle East had freedom to practice religion at the top of theirs . . . and when the Arab kids were asked how much they valued freedom to criticize their government, most didn't give this right a lot of significance -- "What do I know about that?" one student said -- and this may explain some of what is going on in Egypt and the Middle East right now -- Walter Russell Mead explains it far better than I could (in two recent essays) -- but in America, though liberals and conservatives have no lack of antipathy for one another, we assume that both parties love America more than they hate each other . . . and thus, democracy works (grudgingly) but in the Middle East, when the "wrong" party won (The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) then the tribes aligned and the bloodshed began . . . and so it may be a long time, or never, that the dream of both conservative and liberal Americans happens in the Middle East, when these countries adopt middle-of-the-road freedoms and values, and decide that free speech, individual liberties, the right to vote, and checks and balances of a democratic system are worth more than tribal grabs for power and oppression . . . until then, it's going to be very difficult to decide who to back and who to fight, but the cost of screwing this up is very high in terms of human cost . . . if you want to get really depressed, read "City of the Lost," in the New Yorker, a description of the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, which is the second largest in the world and growing every day, hosting the enormous flood of Syrians fleeing the bloody civil war that has ravaged their country.

When in Rome, You Run Over the Geese

I was absolutely appalled by the behavior of a man in a construction pick-up vehicle last Friday evening; Catherine, the boys, and I were on our way to my brother-in-law's wedding in Hazlet, cruising down Route 516, when we came to a line of stopped vehicles -- and at the front was this white pick-up with an orange light on top of the cab . . . and in front of the pick-up was a small flock of Canada geese, taking their time crossing the road . . . and I should have mentioned earlier that the pick-up had New York plates, so I beeped at him, to indicate that he was now in New Jersey, and here in New Jersey we hate our plague of constantly defecating Canuck fowl, and we certainly don't stop traffic to let them wander in the road (and this guy stopped a good fifty yards from the geese, really giving them a wide berth, like they were some kind of endangered hummingbirds) and after I beeped, I tried to sneak past him in the shoulder, because I am familiar with the behavior of the Canada goose, and know that if you drive your car (or bike) straight at them, they get out of the way, but this guy in the pick-up -- this friend of all creatures great and small, turned and blocked the shoulder as well, so that I couldn't get by, and then, before things got really ugly, the geese vamoosed, and I'm thankful that they did because I was working myself into a righteous indignant rage that may have ended in fisticuffs, and I'm not sure my defense would have held water, that the reason I assaulted this guy was because he wouldn't run over some geese, and then he had the audacity to stop me from running over the aforementioned geese.

The CAPTCHA Insanity

Dear fellow bloggers, if you don't want comments on your blog, then just say so. I typed a fairly lengthy comment on one prominent Linux blog, only to be confounded by the blogger's spambot-trapping CAPTCHA. He's installed a virtual Fort Knox on his blog. I had to decipher not merely a distorted word, but also an out-of-focus picture with a three-digit number on it. In nine cases out of ten, I could not read either the word or the number. My vision is close to 20/20, but after a dozen failed attempts I conceded defeat. The blogger did not receive my comment and will never know that he turned away his reader. Contrast his policy with my own. I allow anonymous comments and have nothing more than the generic CAPTCHA. I'm not torturing people with cryptograms. Yeah, I receive a spam comment once in a blue moon, especially on that post I wrote about Namecheap (the worst web hosting company in existence today), but I delete them. If I notice an upsurge in spam, then I change my settings to hold new comments in the moderation queue, so that they are not published unless I approve them. That completely defeats spammers. And for the record, I do not censor people who disagree with me. I prefer to argue with them! I do censor profanity and vulgarity, because I don't think it's cute or clever, and that sort of thing can impact my search ranking on Google.

Please knock it off with the crypto CAPTCHA insanity!

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #3

I love that there are cars like this around my neighborhood:
The land barge above is a 1965 Chrysler 300 four-door hardtop. You know, "I got me a Chrysler, it's as big as a whale/and it's about to set sail..." This is quite possibly what they had in mind when they wrote the song.

I see a car like this sitting in a driveway and assume that someone inherited it from a grandparent. Clearly someone cares enough about it to invest in a garage for it. Maybe it wasn't in such great condition when they got it; it has definitely been repainted, because I can assure you that shade of blue is not a color Chrysler offered in '65. And those aftermarket exhaust pipes indicate that it has probably also undergone some engine modifications. Speaking of which, these things had enormous standard engines, with an even larger one available; either way, the owner is spending dearly on fuel.

I would prefer to see a car like this brought back to its original condition, but if the choice is between modified and sent to the scrap yard, I'll take modified. And this one is close enough to original that its alterations are not egregious.

After You Finish Infinite Jest, You Should Read Chuck Klosterman

I have already pointed out here that while I love to read Chuck Klosterman, he annoys me a bit, because he is such a clear, engaging and relatable writer (for folks of my generation) that his thoughts immediately become my own -- and then I wonder why I didn't think of these things first and clearly articulate them in writing before Klosterman did . . . but, of course, he is a professional and has time to read The Starr Report and books on Hitler, and he has time to rewatch Airplane! and meditate on Kareem Abdul Jabbar and he puts this thinking to good use (along with his comprehensive musical knowledge) in order to write about villains, in his new book I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villians (Real and Imagined) which only took me a day and a half to read (same as his last book) and is the perfect book to read after struggling for two months on Infinite Jest (though I feel like David Foster Wallace and Chuck Klosterman would have got along smashingly), and not only is the book very clever, but it's also very funny . . . after much thoughtful discourse on Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr, and Sharon Stone . . . Klosterman then describes Slick Willie like this: "He's the kind of man you could trust to lead the world, but not to drive your wife to the airport."

Twenty Pounds

With age comes the retirement of the pleasures of youth and discovery of other pleasures, those more suited to age. I came to the conclusion today that I need to lose twenty pounds. It was like a revelation to me, a certainty that that was the right thing to do. I feel that my old ticker will be better off for it. Having given up alcohol, the next logical step is to abandon candy and sweet drinks. People give these things to me sometimes, especially at work. I have to learn to either say no or else dispose of the unwanted gifts discreetly.

This Week in Awesome (8/24/13)

Whoops, pretty much forgot about this all weekend...

If you prefer your designs minimalist you should enjoy these posters, which are available to purchase. (Deadspin via Kempt)

Think about how many outfits James Bond has worn over the course of all the movies, then go have a look over here. (Laughing Squid)

How's the weather up there? (BuzzFeed)

Cats and boats? That just made my day. PB, what do you think? (Dappered Weekend Dossier)

And finally this week, it's easy to forget that any city is constantly changing and evolving. Being able to look back at how things were before helps put the past and present in perspective. The city of Boston has posted a batch of pictures showing the construction of many of the buildings around Government Center, and some of the demolition that had to occur to make way for them. (Note: some of the thumbnail images aren't loading on that page, but the full-size images appear if you click on the smaller ones.) (City of Boston archives on flickr via Universal Hub)

Ah, rekonq!

For months, I have been experiencing an annoying problem with my laptop. I have Linux Mint 14 KDE installed on it. I'm a big fan of Ubuntu derivatives, because I've experienced what the competition has to offer. I only have a 1.8ghz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 gigs RAM on this old laptop, but am able to do just about everything through the power of KDE. Some people say KDE is too bloated and slow, but I have not found this to be the case, with one exception. Blogger (this blog) does not like my laptop. I can read a post, usually. But if I try to write a post on my blog, then Firefox bogs down and eventually the system dies. Yes, the dreaded system crash where the computer is no longer responsive. Argh! What to do?

For a couple weeks now, I've been casting about for a replacement Linux distro. I thought maybe Open Suse, Mageia, PCLinuxOS, Manjaro, and the list goes on. And on. And on. A glance at Distro Watch boggles the mind. Why so many distros? Personally, I think many should merge, pool their talents rather than reinventing the wheel all the time. But that's another issue.

In the end, I decided I was looking at the problem the wrong way. The issue is not really with Linux Mint 14 or KDE. Granted, KDE is a little bit slower, especially during boot-time--it takes my slow laptop over a minute to boot. But that's no big deal. Once it's booted, everything is fine and dandy, again with the exception of Firefox on Blogger. Granted, my Firefox includes some heavy-duty add-ons, such as Flash, but I think that Blogger itself, which is run by Google, has some kind of memory-eating bug. Writing text on a blog almost completely devoid of graphics should not eat up the processor, not unless Google is doing about fifty things it shouldn't be doing. In my opinion, Google is the culprit here, not Firefox nor any of my add-ons. Probably Google wants to crash Firefox, to make their product Chrome look better.

Someone will have to pry this laptop from my cold, dead hands before Google Chrome gets installed on it. My solution, which I am verifying with this post, was to install rekonq, the forgotten web browser offered by KDE as a fast alternative to Firefox, Konqueror, et al. Now I can blog with no problem. Rekonq is easy to use and as fast as I want it to be. I am particularly glad that I can stay with Linux Mint KDE and not go through the pain of installing a brand new distro.

My only other beef with Ubuntu-derivatives centers around privacy concerns, but since I'm not a big shot or a secret agent, I don't think anybody is going to be too terribly interested in little old me. But definitely it is the case that Canonical has been getting too big for their britches. Putting ads on the freaking desktop is cheeky and makes me want to dump Ubuntu and try another distro. At the same time, I don't want to encounter a mountain of gotchas by using a distro that is not ready for prime time. There are a lot of distros listed on Distro Watch that are not ready for prime time. I sure hope that the other distro developers wake up and smell the coffee at long last. I don't see the reason that there are hundreds of distros hopping around, when they really need to merge and pool their efforts into solving problems. There is something to be said for teamwork and for not reinventing the wheel all the time.

A Sentence Wherein I Give Chase to a Small Pod of Dolphins on my Paddle-board and Actually Catch Up With Them

I often see dolphins from a distance while riding on my stand-up paddleboard, but I've never been able to close in on them, because dolphins swim fast (and I paddle slow) . . . but last Wednesday morning I gave chase to three cetaceans -- who I am assuming are lazy or crippled -- because I actually caught up to them; they circled my board for a few minutes, curious and close enough to whack with my paddle (not that I go around whacking dolphins with a paddle) and so I have this to report: despite the whole "intelligent and friendly" archetype, dolphins are big and scary in the wild, and also prone to surface behind you and creepily expel air from their blowhole.



Socrates and the Afterlife

Like many Greeks, Socrates believed in the afterlife, that is, that our individual consciousness will survive death, invisibly entering a realm outside of this world for a time before cycling back into a new human body. That must have been a great comfort to him while he was under sentence of death. I think he saw himself as a servant of the gods (my text says "God," but as his people were polytheist, I think the translator took liberties). He expected a reward of some kind or at least a better life after death, poor fellow. The belief has abiding appeal. There are many still today that do what they do because they think their reward will be great in Paradise. And it can be argued that in some cases this seems to be a beneficial illusion. That all illusions are harmful is a difficult argument with an uncertain outcome.

I can't say Socrates feels cheated now that he knows he was wrong, because he doesn't know anything, any more. He is ended. I don't accept the notion that individual consciousness survives death. I don't feel individual consciousness is all that special or deserving of preservation; it's just a complicated, beautiful machine, wondrous in its powers but temporal, fading and dying like a flower never to be seen again in this world. Beautiful things are created anew and destroyed all the time, everywhere. There is really no need in the scheme of things for human beings to be immortal. Reaching the top of the food chain has led to hubris among our people.

Socrates went around questioning people and tripping them up in logical arguments. He seems to have been a show-off and had no shortage of enemies. I don't find his arguments very persuasive, although he does raise good points. In the ancient world, I'm sure his arguments seemed strong, because there wasn't modern science or modern education around to refute them. He probably was a good speaker and a natural extrovert, to get so many followers. Although he disclaimed a desire for power or influence, I think his strongest desire was to appear wise and witty before these young men and to keep them interested. I think pride and his desire for attention and flattery were his downfall. He made political and social mistakes, apparently, because his enemies succeeded in persuading the citizens of Athens to condemn him to death. The sentence was surely unjust, which makes Socrates a martyr for freedom, specifically freedom of inquiry and perhaps freedom of speech.

The thought of science prolonging human life forever is not necessarily a comforting idea. The first people to consume the pills that grant immortality will probably be the worst people. They will seize the technology for their own and want a monopoly upon it, just as people seek sole possession of other treasures and powers.

An Educated Guess as to What I See in My Near Future

Soccer.

A Question For Your Consideration

Has anyone seen my hat?

Retro Video Unit (8/23/13)

I'd imagine everyone has seen this one, but that's no reason not to post it. "Sledgehammer" was pretty impressive technically when it premiered in 1986, and it's still a good song. (Isn't it about time for tab-collar shirts to make another comeback?)


Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Have you ever broken up with a website?

Until quite recently I was an avid reader of Jalopnik, a car news and enthusiast site. Their editorial approach and attitude are informative but also irreverent, and a thriving community of commenters always adds value to the stories the site posted. The rapid pace at which Jalopnik posts content meant I had to visit the site several times a day to keep up.

Jalopnik is part of a company called Gawker, which runs more than half a dozen other sites covering the media, celebrity gossip, computers and tech, sci-fi, and other topics. The design of all the sites is governed by a corporate template, which is redesigned frequently—too frequently, in my opinion.

The previous redesign resulted in a terrific look, with a wide text area and ample amounts of space between and on the sides of posts as they ran down the main page. Headlines were large and easy to read, and images were even larger. Information about the articles' authors and the categories of the stories was logically arranged and clearly presented just under the images, and it was quite attractive.

And then they broke something that didn't need fixing. Stories got crammed closer together, images shrank back to thumbnail size, the entire left third of the main page was given to a column of "top stories" links, which resulted in everything else being squeezed over to the right. Some stories have links to one or two related stories with thumbnail images, which intrudes on the text from the right side of the page and pushes it to the left. Article author and category/tag information has been shrunken down and is rendered in a gray text that now sits above stories rather than below; it's much more difficult to see against the site's light gray background. It's a complete disaster.

I've been reading and enjoying Jalopnik for at least five years, but this redesign is so dismal that I've decided to stop visiting. This isn't an easy decision; websites get redesigned all the time, but usually it's to make them better. This has the feeling of change merely for the sake of change, and even if that's not true, it still makes the site far less pleasant to view and read and, unfortunately, I've come to the conclusion that it's no longer worth my time.

It's hard to disengage from something that's become a habitual part of my daily web reading, but I visit a number of other car-related sites as well, so I won't miss anything important. I will miss the specific Jalopnik tone, but I guess I'll get over that with time. This happened once before with the tech site Engadget, and I've done fine without visiting that site. And of course, there will inevitably be another Gawker redesign at some point down the road, so perhaps they will eventually undo what they did this time around.

I Correct One of My Shortcomings

I recently wrote a post over at Gheorghe: The Blog about how I don't drink enough liquor and how this is rather unmanly of me, but I rectified this situation last Thursday night (with the help of my friend Mickey, who hosted the event) at an informal Scotch tasting seminar . . . or it turned out to be informal, although Mickey joked in the e-mail that the attire was to be semi-formal, and some people didn't realize this was a joke and dressed themselves to the nines . . . anyway, I learned a few things about Scotch (I like peat! I am also a patriot, and like Pine Barrens American Single Malt Whiskey better than I like the real stuff) and I also learned a few things about Highland Park football . . . Mickey had friends in town for their 45th high school reunion, and -- which is a true testament to high school sports -- they could talk about their days on the gridiron like they happened yesterday (I also learned that Highland Park may be the only school in the football universe that calls the odd holes to the right and the even holes to the left).


Here's For Bradley Manning

CNN published a strong rebuttal to Manning's harsh sentence that persuaded me. I think our government employees have been hobnobbing with despots around the globe too much. They have forgotten what America is about. They do not remember what country they live in. They need to be reminded, but how?

Until the government begins acting like a republic again, all talk about gun control must be postponed. The government for a long time has been doing too many things in secret. The national security state seems intent upon installing all the relics and organs of a police state. I don't think that America is at a stage where the citizens should be disarmed in any way. I hate guns and the random senseless violence that they enable. But I am now opposed to gun control. If anything, I think citizens should be encouraged to purchase firearms.

Dangerous precedents have been set by our government. It is clear that the people in government like to do illegal things whenever they feel they can get away with it. The warlords have an intense, unquenchable desire to spy upon Americans. Even now that the public knows that the NSA is spying on us, the NSA still continues to spy on us. They have been treating the Bill of Rights like their personal toilet paper roll. The feelings of certain warlords were hurt by Bradley, so they stripped him naked and left him in a cell by himself for months to get their little revenge. Now their revenge runs full course: 35 years, forfeiture of pay, and a dishonorable discharge. If Bradley Manning gets 35 years, how many years in prison should the Bush Administration get for lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? How about Obama for letting the NSA spy on Americans? Moral rectitude is expected of a judge, and our Presidents are judges by virtue of their influence, and in extremis, their power of pardon.

I think it would be both decent and politically prudent in Obama to grant Manning a pardon at some time, perhaps a few months from now or on his last day in office.

Manning's gender identity--I hesitate to use the word "disorder," which I feel may be viewed as pejorative, although it is the psychological terminology--is just a big red herring in this case. I don't like it, because it adds a note of confusion and appears to be a sympathy play, although it also seems to be true. A question arises as to motive. Did Manning act due to his internal pressures or out of idealism? Is the one punishable, and the other deserving of leniency? Does motive matter? Motives matter in sentencing. The problem with the Manning case is that the trial received so little media attention. Again, too much secrecy. Therefore, Manning must be assumed to be the purest idealist that ever walked the Earth, on a par with Socrates. Otherwise, the government would not have cloaked the trial in secrecy, would not have tortured Manning and tried to break him, and would not have sentenced him to 35 years. The government has a lot to hide and wants to keep the soldier under control.

I have to admit that there is a part of me that would like to see Manning free, living as the woman he wants to be, and on a talk show--maybe twenty talk shows. I would watch at least the first one with avid interest. I'm sure that's what the government definitely does not want. And after all, is it right that Manning should be rewarded for breaking his oaths and disobeying his officers? Is it right that Manning should garner attention and sympathy for merely being transgender? There does seem something amiss about that.

I think there is a real danger of encouraging soldiers to disobey their commanding officers. There is a part of me that believes Manning may suffer an injustice for the greater good of setting an example, so that other soldiers don't reveal classified information. But then the problem arises that we are creating an army like the one in Nazi Germany, where soldiers committed atrocities because to defy an officer's order would be unthinkable. I think disobedience should have a limited amount of toleration, or else soldiers can be made into robot-like killing machines. Do we want a robotic army that never thinks for itself, that never questions an officer, that does whatever a warlord tells it to do? Is that necessary or desirable? Such was the case in the latter days of the Roman Empire, when the army ruled the roost and civilian authority was reduced to providing a rhetorical and symbolic cover for despotism. These are difficult moral questions, questions about policy and governance. I think that some disobedience is certainly to be expected, because there are moral values superior to oaths, superior to commands that may be issued by a commanding officer. Sometimes officers get things wrong, and on rare occasions they get things terribly wrong. Should a soldier have a conscience? I think yes. To the extent that Manning acted out of conscience and more importantly, did not cause harm to his country or his fellow soldiers, he deserves leniency.

Back to the Shack

We hadn't been back to Shake Shack since it opened back in the winter, but I had definitely been thinking about going. Yesterday the Mrs. made the suggestion out of the blue, and of course I wasn't going to object.

We arrived right around 5 pm and there was no line, only a couple of people ahead of us. This is probably because it was early for dinner, the fuss had died down somewhat, and it's the time of year when many people are on vacation. The wait seemed about the same as we were leaving.

On my first visit the "house beer" brewed for Shake Shack by Brooklyn Brewing was not yet available, so I got to have that this round. It's perhaps somewhat reminiscent of Brooklyn Lager, but that's certainly not a bad thing. They also have Peak Organic Ale and a selection of bottled beers.

So if you haven't tried it yet, this is a good time to go. Don't forget to check the Custard Calendar (or just check the menu on the wall) for the special daily flavors, because you'll probably want dessert. It's frozen custard, which is kind of like a thicker, richer soft-serve (though my description isn't really doing it justice).

Mission Accomplished! (Sort of . . .)

I finally did it . . . on my third try, I finished David Foster Wallace's epic post-modern masterpiece, Infinite Jest . . . but I'm not sure that I actually understood it . . . from my perspective, the book takes a rather clinical look at addiction in it's myriad and nefarious forms . . . but it is also a wicked satire on popular culture and entertainment, AND -- I've done some reading (so not only do you have to wade through the 1000 plus pages of text and footnotes, but you also have to read a bunch of on-line essays once you're through, to make sense of the rather inconclusive ending . . . which becomes more conclusive when you re-read the first chapter again, because the first chapter takes place after the action in the novel) there is an obtuse plot about Quebecois separatists and a terroristically addictive piece of entertainment created by Hal Incandenza's auteur father that has fallen into the wrong hands; anyway, I am glad (Year of Glad) I read it, and I am also glad that I finished it before My Year of the Adult Depends Undergarment, and I also highly recommend reading it on a Kindle, because it is easier to navigate the endnotes (and you can look up some of the recondite terminology, although much of it isn't in a normal dictionary and requires the OED or a medical dictionary).

Summer To-Do Review

Summer break is winding down here in New Jersey, and so it's time to check-in on my Summer To-do List  . . . I did not brush-up on my Spanish while walking the dog, but I did listen to a bunch of Richard Pryor albums and learn how to download podcasts from iTunes, so I'm calling that one a wash . . . I've made some progress recording my album, and decided to tone down the effects and the reverb, so that's a victory . . . I moved the arbor vitae and Leyland cypress from the back property line to the side of the house, and gave the extras to my friend Dom, and the trees are doing well so I'm quite proud of that . . . I did not instal a fence on the back property line, but my wife got a bunch of estimates and got a really good price from one company, so that's a major success for me, because I avoided all the work on that project and it's going to get done, and in a professional fashion . . . I got some shelving units and organized the sporting goods in the study, attended the twentieth annual Outer Banks Fishing Trip, and I have nearly finished Infinite Jest, but I certainly haven't gotten my body fat percentage down to 12% -- in fact, I was nearly two hundred pounds when I got back from the Outer Banks Fishing Trip, so I need to do some serious exercise -- and I did not get new lenses for my glasses or restring my tennis racket . . . and while there is still time to complete these tasks, there's part of me that doesn't want to, because, as David Foster Wallace points out in Infinite Jest, "anhedonia's often associated with the crises that afflict extremely goal-oriented people who reach a certain age having achieved all or more than they'd hoped for," and David Foster Wallace achieved quite a bit on his To-Do list at a very young age and then went and committed suicide, so they guy has some credibility in this department, so perhaps I'll save a few things on my list for next summer (even though not getting new lenses for my glasses is getting rather dangerous).



Helpful

I saw this sign at a Stop & Shop a couple of nights ago:
It's nice to know they are looking out for their customers, trying to help us remember the things we need.

A Word to the Wise about Mamoun's Falafel


The venerable and renowned Mamoun's Falafel opened a location in New Brunswick, and, while I must admit that their falafel sandwich is incredibly delicious and without compare, you should still be warned . . . when I asked for hot sauce, the Middle Eastern dude behind the counter said, "Let me give it to you on the side" but he did not say: "The sauce is really f*cking hot and I'm going to give you a very generous portion of it in a little styrofoam container, so that you think to yourself this sauce probably isn't very hot . . . if it was that hot, then they wouldn't give you so much of it, because you'd only need a little bit to spice your falafel" and so, following this erroneous logic, I liberally applied the sauce to my sandwich and by the time I finished, my eyes were full of tears and my nose was running profusely (but, of course, I did finish the sandwich, as it was very delicious, despite all the weeping).

Car Stuff: Family History

Recently I had the opportunity to go through some old family photo albums. There are a few pictures of the cars my parents owned when I was growing up, which I brought home and scanned. These were not high-quality images to begin with, and are at least 40 years old, but at least they were kept in albums, which limits fading somewhat.

My parents got married in September 1960. For their honeymoon they drove to Florida. At the time the interstate highway system was a new endeavor, and route 95 was still either under construction or in the planning stages, so they took US 1 all the way.

Both my parents had cars at the time, but they sold both and pooled the money to buy a newer used car in hope of having a mechanically trouble-free trip. (As far as I know, they did.) This is the car they bought, a 1957 Chevrolet two-door sedan:
And that's my father, age 20, sitting on the roof while the car is parked on Daytona Beach.

I had always thought this car was a Bel Air due to its side trim, but I learned only recently from reading comments on Curbside Classic (but can't recall the specific post where I read them) that the Two-Ten, the middle model in the range that year, was available with the same trim, minus the horizontally ribbed metal panel that went inside the wedge area at the rear (Two-Tens with this side trim had the wedge area painted to match the car's roof, as seen here).

These Chevys were immensely popular cars when new, and have always been of the most popular choices for hot rodding or customizing (more so when I was growing up). Today it's probably more difficult to find an example that has been kept in original condition, though those definitely show up at car shows. There are far more interesting old cars, but few as well-known and recognizable.

Socrates

I like to read about the dialogues of Socrates, because he offers insight into ancient Greece, morality, and questions of our existence, but I never agree with him. His conclusions seem based upon false assumptions. He takes shortcuts in his reasoning. At the end of one of his arguments, I never feel satisfied. I don't feel he has answered all possible objections, not by a long shot. His uncritical followers always reply "Yes, Socrates," or "No, Socrates." I wish someone had been around to offer a rigorous rebuttal to his proofs. I would like to see how he would respond. I think if Socrates were resurrected and introduced to the modern world and especially modern science, his opinions would change.

An Ode to My Favorite (Politically Incorrect) T-Shirt


I recently pointed out that all of my clothing is disintegrating -- like a giant tub of old yogurt, it's all expiring at once -- and in this batch is one of my favorite t-shirts, and I'm fairly sure there's never going to be a t-shirt quite like this one (it was silk-screened long before Columbine and Sandy Hook) and so I want to memorialize it here for digital eternity: the front of the t-shirt says "SPOTSWOOD CHARGERS SOCCER" and the back has a telescopic circle and cross-hairs and sighted within the cross-hairs are a zebra, a ram, a bulldog, a tiger, and a stallion . . . which are the mascots of the teams that were in our division, which we were obviously in the process of shooting to kill.

This Week in Awesome (8/17/13)

Today I couldn't get back to sleep after getting up to walk the dog, but I'd had only five hours of sleep before getting up to walk the dog. Does not compute...

Probably the last Breaking Bad-related thing I will link to, but I reserve the right to change my mind. (Slate via TV Tattle)

If you're into etymology you will probably find this interesting. The only specific one I can remember from my time in school is "burnouts." (The Morning News via The Hairpin)

Are mashups the internet's most lasting contribution to our culture? Probably not, but some of them are still clever. (Laughing Squid)

I have recommended checking out Grantland in the past, and here's another reason why. (Note: probably of interest mainly to TV fans.)

And finally this week, another excellent TV-related article, definitely of interest to fans of Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire. Let the debate resume. (Oh look, I mentioned BB again after all...) (The Hollywood Reporter via TV Tattle)

Summer of Podcasts

Most of you probably know this, but you can download a multitude of podcasts for free on iTunes (it's especially easy if you "subscribe" to them) and one of my favorites is an episode of RadioLab called "The Bad Show," which takes a look at the dark side of human nature -- and, among other things, includes bits on Stanley Milgram's experiment (a new take!), serial killers, the inventor of mustard gas, and some notably evil Shakespeare characters . . . I especially like the comparison between Iago's explanation for why he manipulated Othello into strangling his lovely and faithful wife Desdemona (demand me nothing, what you know . . . you know) and the explanation of the serial killer Gary Leon Ridgeway -- a.k.a. the Green River River Killer -- who may have killed over ninety women, when his interrogator finally asks him "Why?" Ridgeway tells him: "I needed to kill because of that . . ."

FGM

I used initials for the title of this post, because the subject matter is gross. I don't normally blog about gross things, but I read something today that disturbed me. Someone wrote in an editorial that all we ever heard about in the West about Egypt concerned Cairo, but Cairo was not representative of Egypt, and that the West didn't understand how backward rural Egypt was. To illustrate this point, the writer pointed out that 96% of Egyptian women over the age of 45 (and 80% of teenage girls) have experienced female genital mutilation. I don't think there's any rational defence that can be made of FGM. How a population like Egypt's could ever nourish democracy, I don't know. Egypt might be ready for democracy a hundred years from now, but not today. If the Muslim Brotherhood had remained in power, I'm convinced we'd have another Iran in no time at all. Egypt remains mired in ignorance. The population does not know the difference between right and wrong, medicine and quackery, religion and superstition. I researched the topic further on Wikipedia and found that over a hundred million women have undergone FGM. It is true that Western doctors starting around the 19th century practiced FGM to address specific isolated cases, but the accounts are few and far between, and very far from the cultural norm. I think what Egypt needs is a dictatorship that is just benevolent enough to educate the population and introduce gradual reforms.

I'm Having Trouble With Step Two

To derive the hygienic benefits of a WaterPik Cordless Oral Flosser, you not only have to purchase it (at the dentist's recommendation) but you also have to fill it with water and use it.

Closet Annex

You all know I have a lot of clothing. Our apartment has minimal closet space, so I gradually gave up on the idea of being able to keep everything in one place. I bought a pop-up closet so I could store suits and other things I don't wear often in the basement. Later I added a second one for winter coats and other out of season items.

But I bought cheap ones, and I made the mistake of overloading them. Gradually their top frames warped from the weight, one tipped over, and the other blew out its back seam. A couple of months ago I bought two replacements from The Container Store that have heavier-weight canvas exterior shells. I put them in the basement and kind of forgot about them.

With the very pleasant weather we've been having this week, it's nice and comfortable in the basement, so I decided Thursday that I had procrastinated long enough, and headed downstairs to put the things together. While doing so I also set aside some things that I no longer want, and some things I want to try to sell. I also did a little reorganization of how I was storing things.

The new pop-ups have the same sort of frames as the old ones, so I decided to pay more attention to how much I put in them so they are not overloaded. My suits and sport coats are now hanging with enough space that they won't get wrinkled. Plus, after shifting everything around, I realized that I had enough usable pieces left over from the two old ones that I was able to cobble together a third unit, which I'm using to hold all the things that are going to be sold.

The new units also came with corrugated panels for the tops and bottoms, so it's possible to store things that are in boxes, like a couple of straw hats I have. Again I wouldn't use these "shelves" for anything heavy, but it's nice to have the additional area.

It felt good to do something productive, but I still have a lot of stuff downstairs that I have to deal with.

The Manning Trial

I have been following the Bradley Manning trial with interest. Based on what I've read in the media, I am of the opinion that perhaps Manning is guilty. He is a figure that excites sympathy, with his youth, small stature, gender identity issues and the grave charges he faced. We should admit that there is a degree of unreality to committing a supposed crime over the Internet. The psychological threshold is much less. One does not face another human being. This is why we have trolls and cyberbullies. Manning, in conducting his "espionage," didn't meet with any foreign agent. He never spoke to anyone, never got paid. He received no reward. For whatever reason, he flipped out, pressed the wrong buttons on his computer and transmitted a bunch of classified data electronically. It's a strange case. He was a part of the system. It's like he was a circuit board that failed and started sending data to the wrong register. Was it an act of conscience, a poor judgment call, a result of mental instability, or all of the above? At any rate, it's hard to conceive of Manning as deserving a lengthy prison sentence. But certainly the military can't permit an improper precedent to be set, whereby any soldier having a contrary viewpoint can take it upon themselves to disobey and what is far worse, to reveal classified information. That is a dangerous precedent indeed. What if Manning had done worse, and revealed information that got his fellow soldiers killed? On the other hand, as a citizen, I am rather pleased to have received a better view of what our government is really doing. I don't think it's right that the government does so many things in secret. Yes, secret action may be more effective, blah blah blah, but what place does undercover activity have in a government by the people, of the people and for the people? There is too much secrecy today. I think the less secrecy, the better. Dictatorships are what secrecy and spies are about. I think that sometimes the government wants to do things in secret because it knows that the people would not approve if they were to know, and that's wrong. Our leaders are human too, and sometimes they're wrong, which is why they require oversight by the people, and that oversight is more effective if it is informed.

A Deceptive List

My wife found a CrossFit routine on-line, and while I know very little about the program, I have learned this: if you repeat this innocuous little list of exercises three times over in a short period of time (it takes me twenty minutes to complete) you will get very sweaty, pray to a higher power at least once, and be tired for the rest of the day . . . here is the list . . .

1) 10 jump lunges;

2) 10 burpees (a squat thrust with an included push-up);

3) 10 jump squats;

4) 20 sit ups;

5) 20 mountain climbers;

6) 20 calf raises;

7) 30 Russian twists;

8) 30 jumping jacks;

9) 30 high knees;

10) 1 minute plank.

Stars & Barfs

Remember when I was talking about Bonobos? Here's something to haunt your dreams: they are also responsible for these:
Who would wear these pants, Keith Lockhart? Also, this guy might want to get his hemmed, or consider a shorter inseam.

Old School . . . Blech


The last TV show I watched in real time was Seinfeld . . . I remember frenetic discussions of the previous night's episode at cafeteria duty . . . and I also remember when Catherine and I taped "The Betrayal," otherwise know as "the backwards episode" because of the reverse chronology (you could mark the passage of time by looking at Kramer's giant lollipop) but when we tried to play the episode back, we started in the middle, and got confused by the reverse chronology (and the lame nature of VHS technology) and ended up skipping around on the tape and watching the episode forwards in tiny fragments . . . but we just got cable TV this summer -- it was cheaper to get it bundled with our FIOS than to not have it at all -- and I watched the season premier of Breaking Bad on Sunday night . . .  and because it's been so many years, I forgot how annoying it is to watch something in real time: you have to endure commercials and previews, you can't put on subtitles, there's no pausing so you can ask your wife pertinent questions or look up tangentially related details on the internet, and, worst of all, you have to wait until 9 PM to get started . . . I will try to make it through the final season because I love the show so much, and also so I can actually talk to people at work about the current plot twists, instead of running out of the room screaming, "DON'T SAY ANYTHING!" when anyone mentions Walter White, but after this one exception, then I am going back to my Netflix rabbit hole.

Let's Hear it For Figuring Things Out

I like to search the net once in a blue moon for mentions of this blog. Most hits seem to be content scrapers and related scum that are simply trolling for visitors in order to generate ad revenue or whatever. Recently though, I found a post on Reddit with ten comments. An anonymous Ubuntu user is sweating over whether my Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup cheat script is some kind of malware. I thought to myself, give me a break. This paranoia is probably why the script is not more widely used. I don't know whether I should care or not. There's probably nothing I can do about that.

It is not like my cheat script is a compiled .exe with unknown commands, like most Windows cheats. It is plain text source code. Any text editor can read it. The commands are just plain old Linux script language written in a clear and consistent structured style. There is nothing hidden or complicated about it. Script syntax is widely documented on numerous sites, but I think even without documentation, someone good with computers could probably figure it out without much effort. But that's just the thing. People don't want to put forth any effort at all to understanding even a simple script. Not a soul in the Reddit crowd took five minutes to examine the script and understand what it does. Instead they spent those same five minutes writing homilies about the dangers of installing programs from unknown sources and telling the user to format his drive and reinstall Ubuntu, about the worst advice I've ever heard. Contrast their attitude with mine. I spent probably sixty hours working out all the details of the script, unpaid of course, just a labor of love on my part and a desire to rise to the challenge. I did not know anything about Linux scripts when I began, but learned by googling for the syntax I needed. Perhaps it is a worthless skill, after all. I know Linux scripting language now, but nobody cares really, and it won't lead to a job of any kind. No amount of computer skills will lead to a job. One needs to already have a job in order to get a job in today's lousy job market. There is no financial incentive to learn anything at all. Some of us will continue learning just for the sake of learning, because we like to learn. But we're a minority.

Well, after publishing this post, guess what I'm going to do? Run regen.sh, of course. I use it, certainly not every day, but whenever I want to play Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, which may be about once a month or so. I haven't needed to make any changes since January of 2013. And the only reason I reinstall my operating system is because I feel like it, not because some know-nothings on Reddit think it's the thing to do.

Dog Days

Yesterday was our dog's 12th birthday. We know her exact date of birth because she was a racing dog and all their biographical data is carefully maintained.
She has slowed down somewhat with age; getting down and getting up again require visibly more effort for her. We've been giving her a joint supplement for over a year, and it helps to an extent. I ordered a different kind that is intended specifically for senior dogs, and as soon as her other one is finished in a couple more days we'll start her on the new one and see if there's any additional boost.

Her appetite has also decreased slightly, causing her to lose a couple of pounds and look more bony than she did before, so we've been augmenting her food with things like scrambled eggs and banana slices. Shredded cheese always works, too.

But for her age, her health is quite good. She still enjoys getting outside and sniffing as much of the neighborhood as possible, she enjoys her daily treats, and she enjoys sleeping on the couch. We've had her for seven years, and she's having the comfortable, lazy retirement she deserves. We think we're lucky we got her.

Coaching! What is it Good For?

You'll have to head on over to Gheorghe: The Blog today to get your daily fix of Dave; I brandish my vast and sagacious sporting knowledge in a piece titled "Put Me in Coach, I'm Ready to . . . Coach? Coach? Coach?"

Great Show, But . . .


I love the FX show Justified -- U.S. Marshall Raylin Givens picaresque adventures in Harlan County (where they know the difference between dynamite and road flares) and his predilection to shoot first and ask questions later make for some excellent TV . . . but as I watch, there is always an undercurrent running through my mind, and it is this: are there really that many good-looking people in Kentucky?

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #2

I've been grabbing pictures with my phone of old cars that I've come across, and now I have a use for them. I'll be posting them here on Mondays, though some weeks I will deviate and do something different.
I came across this relic of the 1980s in the parking lot of our local Ocean State Job Lot three or four months ago. It was the middle of the afternoon and the lot was pretty empty, but this car's owner has seemingly parked it strategically to avoid potential contact from an adjacent car door.

This is a Pontiac Safari; this basic vehicle was produced from model years 1977 to 1989, but the fact that its side says only Safari and it wears no other nameplate, such as Grand Safari, Bonneville Safari, or Parisienne Safari, indicates that it's from one of the final three years of production, 1987-89. By that point minivans had become quite popular for families that needed both passenger and cargo space. They were smaller and more efficient than older designs like this, while offering comparable interior space. Large wagons like this were fading away, but were kept in the lineup because they had long since earned back their tooling costs and any sales, even just a few thousand per year, were profitable.

But in the late 1970s, cars like this were everywhere. I used to get a ride to school sometimes from a classmate whose father had a version of this car in pale yellow, but without the fake wood adorning the sides. This car was also available at the time as a Chevrolet Caprice, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, or Buick Estate Wagon, and later I rode with another classmate who drove his mother's Buick version, white with the woodgrain sides and a plush red cloth interior, quite a classy ride.

The front fender of this car shows discoloration of the vinyl applique; it's possible the fender was replaced and this is from a different vehicle. The rear wheel opening also shows signs of some work, possibly body filler. But the wheel covers are nice and the dark blue looks good under all the dust; it wouldn't take too much effort to get this car cleaned up and looking sharp.

This One Wasn't as Popular

I am attending a "scotch tasting" event next week, and I'm a little nervous because I'm not a big liquor drinker . . . in fact, all I know about scotch is that it invariably makes me think of the George Thorogood cover of the old drinking song "One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer" . . . though Thorogood's lesser known sequel is more appropriate for my unrefined palate: "One Mojito, One Bay Breeze, and One Zima."


Let It Be

Emotions are a kind of short-circuit in the brain, a way of bypassing the usual logical reasoning process. I do think that people are logical, in general. I do not believe that humans are inherently irrational. But an emotion such as love, for instance, causes someone to overlook faults in the beloved. Perhaps that can be a good thing. Certainly it is for the beloved. I think logical reasoning has a lot going for it, though. Fear and anger are other ways of short-circuiting reason. These seem like primitive emotions. I dislike them in me when I sense them. There is something distasteful about fear or anger over things that may not really matter, actually, such as having someone hang up on you in the middle of a phone conversation, or receiving an insult. I would prefer to feel nothing at all, especially when the emotions are not necessary in our safe modern life. Perhaps in barbaric lands, fear and anger are useful to rouse a human to "fight or flight" in order to overcome an adversary. But in the civilized world, just how helpful are these emotions? Probably not that much on a day-to-day basis.

The way I learned to deal with these things is to let them be, but don't let them in the driver's seat. The trick is to refrain from any decision or speech while "under the influence" of an emotion, although surely there are exceptions when decisions are called for. One of my favorite lines from the Bible (or is it Shakespeare?) is "This, too, shall pass."

Everyone is going to feel some kind of emotion sometime, as it is a human trait. We are animals after all, curious and funny critters. Sometimes I observe that an animal such as the chimpanzee seems ridiculous in appearance or behavior, but then the thought occurs that perhaps I, too, seem ridiculous, if viewed from the perspective of an intelligent extraterrestrial. I find that as I get older, I do laugh at myself sometimes, and I don't always feel like I'm right. When I was young, in my teens, I almost always thought I was right. Then in my twenties, a little less, but usually I felt I was right. Now, sometimes I'm not so sure, and I listen more to other opinions and keep an open mind. I've observed that even the wisest people get things wrong sometimes, and often they get things part-right and part-wrong. Insufficient information and miscommunication are common problems.

Mr. Selfridge is a Unicorn

I love the show "Selfridge's." Mr. Selfridge is the boss of the department store, Selfridge's, in 1920's London. He's the rare boss, the hard to find boss, a unicorn. He's good-hearted, fair, firm, upright, honest, and with an intact and functioning conscience. It's wonderful to fantasize about working for a boss like that. I like to see him feeling guilty and trying to amend his misdeeds, because that means he intends good and realizes he made a mistake in judgement. We do perceive this world as through a glass darkly. In our hurried lives, sometimes the right path is not always clear. He's also handsome, charming, dynamic, and capable of changing his position when he realizes he's wrong. I haven't known many bosses that can do that trick, change their mind when they know they've made a mistake. Most will keep grinding away at their same mistakes over and over again, due to pride or complacency, instead of changing course in logical fashion.

I like the show because it depicts a company where the workers and the boss are on the same page and the people all come together somehow. There is teamwork and somehow the employer-employee relationship takes on a more familial tone. I think some jaded, cynical critics don't get the show because they can't relate with how appealing such a fantasy world is.

I love the theme music, as well. It evokes a bright sunny morning, full of hope and promise.

I do hope they don't go on and on about Mr. Selfridge's affairs with other women. I'm reminded of Tony Soprano and many other characters on television. Are no powerful men monogamous? I suppose monogamy bores the audience, while infidelity is rich in drama, considered the lifeblood of film. Or does film mirror reality? I wouldn't know.

This Week in Awesome (8/10/13)

We saw The To-Do List last night, which takes place in the summer of 1993 and has lots of good music from that time period... I was especially psyched to hear "I Don't Know Why I Love You" by The House of Love; look for it as a future Retro Video.

This week's time-lapse focuses on European architecture. Cool. (Vimeo Staff Picks)

I'm sure almost all of us can relate to the sentiment behind this. (Well Spent)

There have been plenty of Breaking Bad parodies floating around (the show's final eight episodes begin Sunday), but I particularly enjoyed this one. (Funny or Die via TV Tattle)

And finally this week, Nick Offerman helps you get caught up on your summer reading assignments. (Jimmy Kimmel Live)

This Time I Am Determined to Finish!

I am moonlighting (or daylighting, as David Foster Wallace calls it) a bit on Infinite Jest . . . and I know the last time I did this I ended up quitting the novel -- but it's four years later and I have learned my lesson, this time I am committed, but I just need a little break to read Brett Martin's new book with this double-coloned mouthful of a title: Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad . . . his thesis is that TV has entered a "third Golden Age" and that these new high quality cable shows are like nothing before -- they are neither episodic nor mini-series -- instead they resemble Victorian serialized fiction, like Dickens, and because of this format, they are much more beholden to the writers and creators -- rather than the actors and producers -- than any TV before, and these writer/creator folks happen to be moody, flawed, ambitious and brilliant men, and this personality type reflected in the "heroes" of these shows . . . characters such as Vic Mackey and Walter White and Don Draper and Tony Soprano and Jimmy McNulty.

Did You Know?

If you lie on the floor with your head scrunched against a little seat (in order to be in the room with the most A/C) and read for an extended period of time, then the back of your head and your neck can lose circulation and "fall asleep" -- I've had my arms, legs, and butt fall asleep, of course, but I never had this region fall asleep until yesterday, and it felt mildly psychedelic when the rear portion of my skull suffered the dreaded "pins and needles."

Retro Video Unit (8/9/13)

Some old songs have videos that I wasn't aware of, like this one from Toronto band Martha and the Muffins. Yes, it's "Echo Beach":


Silly Monkey

I've been getting catalogs from Bonobos lately. If you don't know, Bonobos is a men's clothing brand that started up a few years ago, promising to offer better-fitting pants. I believe they have succeeded, if you are under 35 or have a very athletic build.

Since then they have expanded their product line considerably, now offering a wide selection of dress and business casual shirts, suit separates, pants in a less trim fit, jeans, outerwear, and plenty of shoes and accessories. They seem to be aiming to position themselves as a one-stop shopping solution for men who want to step up their wardrobe without expending too much effort. Okay, fine. I admit that I am somewhat turned off by this approach, but I am an exception with regard to shopping. I haven't paid much attention to what Bonobos was doing because I felt that, as with many other brands' offerings, I have aged out of the target market.

That's not all. They opened a store on Newbury Street a while ago (last year, I think), but as with all their other brick-and-mortar locations, you can't actually buy anything there. It's what they call a "guideshop," where you can try on items, get advice, and then place an order for what you want. (Isn't that what Dell did back in the "Dude" days?) I don't know, I guess it eliminates having to keep a substantial inventory on hand, but this just seems needlessly complicated to me considering you can order from their website with free shipping and free returns and try on your purchases in the comfort of your home.

They got a fair bit of style-blog coverage a couple of years back when they launched a collection of American-made jeans priced at $125. I'm sure that seems like a lot to some of you, but compared to what else was available at the time, it was a reasonably impressive effort.

(You might remember that I wrote a while back about Lands' End's American-made jeans for $95, and suggested you use one of their plentiful coupon codes; those jeans have since been marked down to an eye-opening $55, and LE is currently offering an extra 30% off one item, which would bring them to less then $40! As of now all sizes are still available in both washes.)

But back to Bonobos. (Have I mentioned that I think that's a really stupid name for a clothing line?) I got a catalog a couple of days ago. I decided to give it a quick glance before putting it into the recycling container, and found these "weekday warrior" non-iron cotton pants:
That's right, the days of the week are embroidered into the inner waistband. Five colors, five work days. (I am highly disappointed because the catalog has a group shot of all five that I wanted to show you, but I can't get my scanner to work at the moment.) I guess it's just a goof. I mean, I hope so. I really do.

By the way, these cost $98 a pair, so if you really want to outfit yourself for the whole work week with day-labeled pants from Bonobos, it will set you back just under $500, which seems pretty silly to me.

Update: after some further fiddling, my printer decided it would scan to a flash drive but still not to my desktop, but I now have the image I originally wanted to share:

The Folly of Volunteering

I need to tone down my enthusiasm. I often find that I link to a site, promote it in forums, recommend it to friends--all for free naturally--and then sometime later, the site changes policy and jabs a thorn in my side (userstyles), or deletes my account without warning (project honeypot), or goes down for good (the 'tree). I have no luck with my recommendations AT ALL. I have no luck with volunteering my time or talents. Usually when I volunteer, I wind up in the end feeling like a fool. I think the best thing to recommend is a dead author. That way, one will never be disappointed.

Some Things SOUND Fun (But They Are Not)


In an attempt to shed some of the pounds I have put on during summer vacation, I have started doing a CrossFit work-out my wife found on-line . . . and I have learned that Russian Twists, though they sound fun and sexy, are neither.

U.S. Health Care--Doctors Don't Care

I think U.S. health care is abominable. I know a friend with asthma. To get a rescue inhaler, in order to avoid death by suffocation, requires a doctor's prescription, for no rational or ethical reason. The doctors just got together and decided they needed money every so often from asthma patients in order to pay for their golf fees. The lower-cost clinics in the area refuse to make any appointments earlier than one month in advance, so asthma patients must either die by suffocation, or cough up $100 for a fancy doctor's visit, enriching the doctors at the cost of two days' salary for a worker. Typically, the doctor tries to push some fancy new drug that the pharmaceutical company has bribed him to push. Time is wasted, health is wasted, and in the end the result is the same, the rescue inhaler must be obtained in order to live. Life-saving Albuterol thus costs $5 per dose in America, when it is free in the U.K. That is because in America, there is a strong belief among some in Social Darwinism, that death and dying and suffering are useful tools to get rid of undesirables. Republicans use laws and legal procedures in order to kill the poor by depriving them of health care by any means possible. Doctors conspire along with Republicans to make a bad situation worse by maintaining an absolute monopoly on the distribution of life-saving medicines.

Bezos Takeover of the Washington Post

I'm not thrilled about Amazon's Jeff Bezos taking over the Washington Post. Amazon doesn't treat its warehouse workers well. For instance, Bezos cuts down on electricity costs by forbidding air conditioning at the warehouses. I would expect that Bezos will apply his slave philosophy to the Post, not just mistreating current and former Post employees but also eradicating any editorials, opinions or articles concerning worker's rights. I think Bezos is foremost a person who thinks very little of workers, only as a means to an end, and is focused only on making money and accumulating prestige for himself. I'm surprised that anyone would view his latest acquisition as anything other than a move designed to make money and accumulate prestige for Bezos. His philosophy begins and ends with his bank balance. I expect the Post is going to be muzzled when it comes to any enterprises related to Bezos or his allies, and it will become the attack dog concerning any rivals of Bezos.

Outer Banks Fishing Trip Irony

My parents find nothing funnier than my annual Outer Banks Fishing Trip -- because I travel all the way to North Carolina and some of the best fishing grounds on the East Coast . . . but my fraternity brothers and I never fish -- instead we eat fish and drink beer and gamble and generally laze around on the beach, and I suppose actually fishing would otherwise interrupt this excellent break from all routine (aside from going to Tortuga's at 11:15 AM sharp every morning to get in line to storm the bar) . . . and before I left I promised my kids that I would do something fun with them when I got home, and -- of course -- they requested to go fishing.


Sale Still in Progress

Nearly a year ago, I posted some items for sale on Style Forum, mainly some nice pieces of outerwear that had belonged to my father-in-law. These were nice items, many of which still had tags on them. My father-in-law had a thing for outerwear, even though he lived in southern California; either he was planning to pull a Grizzly Adams and live in the wilderness, or possibly he thought he might end up moving back to the east coast someday.

I didn't get any responses initially, and kind of stopped thinking about it. Nearly two months later a guy contacted me with interest in two of the coats. Since he happened to be local, we arranged a time for him to come by the house and try them on. We worked out a deal for buying both items, and he went home happy.

A few days ago, someone else contacted me with an offer for one of the remaining items. By now I had really forgotten about it, but I had removed the others from the listing when they sold, so I knew that anything he was asking about was still available. He came over this evening and bought the coat.

There are still a few items left, including a vintage Burberry single-breasted trench coat and a vintage cashmere topcoat that I wore in college (that needs a little attention from a good tailor). Take a look at the listing, and if you're interested in anything get in touch.

You Can Say That on Cable

Stephen Colbert gives a demonstration (with a little help from Hugh Laurie) of why broadcast TV networks want to be freed from content restrictions.

(Edit: sorry about the autoplay business, let's try this instead.)

Dante's Cove and The Lair

Dante's Cove and The Lair are two gay supernatural soap operas that should have wide appeal to gay audiences. Dante's Cove has a prominent lesbian thread in addition to the primary gay male storyline, but I'm not sure whether lesbians would be satisfied with playing second fiddle, as it were, since there are now television shows and movies that are exclusively about lesbians. I believe the hope was that Dante's Cove could appeal to gay men, lesbians, and to a lesser extent even straight people, but I think gay men are the primary audience, with some lesbian interest but possibly no attention from the straight crowd.

Although I haven't taken a survey of straight people, I can judge whether they'd like it by asking myself a simple question. Would I continue watching Dante's Cove if there was no gay action? The answer is no. I do continue to watch True Blood despite the lack of gay action in most seasons, but the writing and production values are better. I just don't feel Dante's Cove is good enough to capture the straight audience, but gay males? Yes, because the men are hot. Lesbians? Some might like it, because there are hot women and strong women, too. But I wonder whether lesbians might prefer "The 'L' Word" instead. At any rate, the plot is rather thick. I would have recommended less blood, no dungeons, and more art, beauty and conversation. How about witchcraft lite, genteel witchcraft, rather than old-fashioned cackling medieval witchery?

Be that as it may, I love Dante's Cove and regret that the fourth season was never to be. The actors and actresses are gorgeous, the writing acceptable, the plot a bit silly (okay, more than a bit silly), and the music and camera work excellent. Production values are all good, nothing wretched or obviously out of place or laughable that I detected. Dante's Cove has sex appeal, although sometimes the producers annoy the audience by switching from a hot scene to a scene of an elderly man or woman in distress. I realize that their intention is to maintain the plot, but the plot is rather silly, and taking it too seriously is, I feel, a mistake. The plot should have been changed if it interferes with the audience's enjoyment.

The Lair is just about exclusively gay male, with no bones thrown to the lesbian or straight crowd at all. I have forgotten some of the plot, as it was a long time ago I watched it, but it was good also. I feel that Dante's Cove is better, because I appreciate the presence of strong women, and overall I find a complicated system of witchcraft more interesting and less predictable than mere crude bloodthirsty vampirism.

Update: I rewatched season 2 of Dante's Cove and was reminded that the show actually improves a great deal as it progresses. Season 2 is twice as good as season 1. It was almost as if the show's producers foresaw my advice. They dumped the dungeons, staunched the blood-letting, and minimized the gross scenes. Now the show is entering into its own as a full-fledged gay soap opera, with a tantalizing supernatural twist, all set on the fantasy landscape of a tropical island. And the cast, of course, is gorgeous. Their acting is much better, too, I must say. Season 2 has moving scenes that actually make me feel emotion. I think the entire cast is strong in this show.

Not Quite a Sniglet

I'm trying to coin a new word for when you do someone a favor, ostensibly for altruistic reasons, but actually because you need to vacate the vicinity so you can pass gas . . . a "fartvor"?


Patrick O'Brian Not Good with Gays

I'm on the sixteenth novel in Patrick O'Brian's twenty-book series concerning the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin. This is my second reading, and I've come to understand the work and the author better, I think. First of all, O'Brian is a very masculine writer. He dwells upon the technology of sailing with particular knowledge and insight. I could imagine him sailing a ship. Also, he minimizes the role of conversation. There isn't much talking in an O'Brian novel--his characters are almost all men, and his men tend to be terse and concise, a manly trait. The humor tends to remind me of The Three Stooges or at any rate, movies and television shows from his era. I really like the way that O'Brian paces his novel, having an instinctive grasp for what the reader wants to read. His style is unadorned, very readable, flowing into the mind without obstruction, and thick with period detail that gives the reader the distinct impression of experiencing the early 19th century. He tends to be impressionist, skipping episodes he finds boring or commonplace and reserving his attention for what he thinks the reader wants to know.

With his arsenal of factual knowledge, O'Brian seems a stickler for realism for the most part. The only times I've doubted his judgment has been when he used deux ex machina to pull one of his heroes out of the fire--for instance, when Stephen Maturin inherited a vast, unexpected sum of money making him wealthy enough to buy a frigate and much more. I dislike O'Brian's treatment of homosexuality, but it was relatively moderate for his generation. Unfortunately, O'Brian fell into the trap then common among novelists of making his villains, traitors in the British Admiralty, gay. This was very common in movies, television and fiction back in the 20th century, on up to 1990. Villains tended to be lesbian or gay, fitting right into common prejudices. I think O'Brian's case may be less forgiveable, because by his own admission, part of his success owed to his acceptance by his predecessor in historical novels, Mary Renault, who had a lesbian relationship for most of her adult life. She wrote glowing reviews and offered praise for his novels, and indeed one of the reasons I began reading O'Brian was because of Renault's recommendation. So I think he owed it to Mary to treat gays a little bit better than making them into villains. His treatment of women was scarcely better--none of the women in O'Brian's novels are very intelligent or capable of understanding anything of what the two heroes do. I think Diane would have been a good partner for Stephen Maturin's intelligence work, but he excluded her, I think because O'Brian didn't feel competent portraying the voices and deeds of women, just as he had precious little competence in portraying gays.

Outer Banks Fishing Trip XX

Another successful OBFT -- this was number twenty . . . and I am twenty for twenty (as are Whitney and Rob) although I was a bit nervous about making it down there -- train tickets doubled in price and airline tickets are through the roof -- so I drove . . . which turned out to be a good move, because quite a few flights were cancelled, leading to some travel adventures for Johnny, Marls, and Zman and a record number of cars in the Martha Wood Driveway . . . some things I remember: 1) some scatological humor at Whitney's place Wednesday night 2) a new frisbee beach game named KanJam, which caused me a minor injury (bruised thumb) and Chris a major injury (deep cut on the bridge of his nose) 3) several marathon corn-hole streaks 4) a major corn-hole partner defection 5) Whitney sabotaged my blog 6) Rob's new anti-strategic poker move -- named "the betfold" -- you simultaneously bet and throw in your hand 6) good food and drink at The Old Nag's head Cafe . . . and when one member of the group (who will go unnamed) forgot to pay his bar tab, we found out what a small town Kill Devil Hills really is . . . and not to mess with the locals, who might know Bruce 7) Johnny played Cliffy in a fabulous one on one football game 8) the old guys beat the "young" guys two to one in a very short touch football game . . . and we employed the zone 9) a typical game of Pig . . . Whitney hit the trifecta -- three sets of snake-eyes, doubles 3x in a row, and landed on one hundred points exactly - and so got to reante five times in two games 10) Marls and Whitney brought back fifteen rubber sharks from Tortuga's 11) Bruce told another joke too tasteless for the internet . . . and probably a bunch of stuff I'm forgetting because I'm still tired from the trip: thanks again Whitney, and it was great to see everyone.



Car Stuff: Random Sighting #1

I should have realized a long time ago that it was a good idea to include car stuff here. The car show posts and last week's celebration of the '61 Chrysler station wagon finally got it through to me.

As it happens, I have some pictures I've collected on my phone of interesting cars I have come across in various places, so that's where I'm going to start. I may also intersperse those with other content depending on how I'm feeling on a given Monday. All right then...
That's a 1965 Ford Falcon Futura convertible that I spotted on a street in Winthrop, MA last summer. The back bumper has clearly had more than incidental contact with a solid object, but otherwise the car looks pretty good for going on 50 years old.

Ford introduced the compact Falcon for the 1960 model year, right around the time General Motors was bringing out the Cheverolet Corvair and Chrysler was debuting the Valiant (which would soon become the Plymouth Valiant). By the time this car came out, all of the "Big Three" would also have intermediate-size models—bigger than the compacts, smaller than their full-size cars.

Ford also found huge success with the Mustang, which was a humble Falcon under the skin, just dressed up in nicer threads. The Mustang was so popular that people lost interest in the sportier Falcon models like this one. When the Falcon was redesigned for '66, it came only as a two-door or four-door sedan or a station wagon. The same thing happened with the redesign of the '67 Valiant (hardtops and convertibles wore their own sheet metal and became Barracudas) and the '68 Chevy Nova (the Camaro had come out in '67), and both the Valiant and Nova did away with their wagons as well.

Still, this is a nice-looking car, its mechanicals are dead simple, it would be a blast to run around in for the summer, and it shares a lot of parts with its Mustang sibling, for which there are all kinds of reproduction parts available. If you were looking for a way into vintage car ownership, a car like this would be a far less painful (and less expensive) way to start compared to many other choices (like, um a '61 Chrysler Town & Country?).

Lies, damned lies, statistics, and statistics that might actually be accurate and useful.

I learned from a Freakonomics Radio Podcast (Women are Not Men) that while women are catching up and even surpassing men educationally and economically, there are some things at which men still significantly outperform women . . . things such as drowning and getting struck by lightning (men overestimate their ability to swim and they are outside more than women and don't come in during storms) and barely twenty-four hours after I listened to these sobering statistics, I found myself swimming -- alone -- off the shore of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina as a storm rolled in . . . but I didn't come out of the water until it started raining so hard that it hurt my face, and once I got back into the Marth Wood Cottage, where I was spending the weekend with twenty other brilliant W&M men, we discussed what my cause of death would be if I was struck by lightning and drowned, and if we could pad the stats and attribute my death to both causes, but the important thing is that either way, it would have been a victory for Team Male.

This Week in Awesome (8/3/13)

Shark Week has arrived, as well as the runup to the final Breaking Bad episodes, so something for everyone coming up this week, more or less...

A trailer for a fake movie based on a cartoon that aired on MTV in the '90s. Got it? It's basically an excuse for Aubrey Plaza to bring to life an animated character to which she has an uncanny resemblance.(College Humor)

Speaking of MTV, they just marked their 32nd birthday, and boston dot com was nice enough to remind us of the first 15 videos they played back in 1981 (most people know what the first was, but I didn't know any of the others).

Do you like maps? I like maps. I even like maps of things that never got built. (Wired via Universal Hub; the blog from which that material came is here, if you're interested in more)

Speaking of Breaking Bad, someone went to a great deal of trouble to create this (admittedly very condensed) recap of what's happened on the show. (Laughing Squid)

And finally this week, I don't usually go in for this sort of thing, but these kids are amazing. (The Hairpin; more here)

Eat at Home

I've never gotten sick eating at home. Eating out, I've gotten food poisoning, the flu, colds, and the list goes on and on, and my mother has too. The basic problem with most restaurants is that they can't or won't pay their people enough to stay home when ill. Sick leave is non-existent. And their people are so desperately poor that they can't afford to miss a day of work, even if they feel bad. When one is earning less than ten dollars an hour, with no job security, no benefits, no sick leave and no medical care, and a variable and complicated work schedule, just how high on the list of priorities is washing hands? I would imagine that hands are seldom if ever washed in the vast majority of cases, and that those who do wash hands probably don't do so in an effective manner. Washing hands is a more complicated procedure than would seem to those that have not had medical training. Of course, nurses and doctors know just how important it is to wash hands, but they, too, neglect to wash thoroughly enough to avoid the transmission of germs, and if doctors and nurses have difficulty managing hand-washing, then your average minimum-wage employee most certainly will.

Drinking alcohol will increase the probability of getting sick, not just during the meal but for many days after. Alcohol has a negative impact on the immune system along with every other system of the body. Restaurants serve alcohol merely because the profit margin is many times larger than for other food items, and drinkers tend to spend more and scrutinize the bill less.