Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First Line of PKD's Galactic Pot-Healer

His father had been a pot-healer before him. And so he, too, healed pots, in fact any kind of ceramic ware left over from the Old Days, before the war, when objects had not always been made out of plastic. A ceramic pot was a wonderful thing, and each that he healed became an object which he loved, which he never forgot; the shape of it, the texture of it and its glaze, remained with him on and on.

- Philip K. Dick, Galactic Pot-Healer

Dog Anthropologists

I love stuff like this. Alexandra Horowitz's book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know looks to examine why dogs act the way that they do.
Horowitz describes dogs as "anthropologists among us," because she realized, as she observed people and their dogs,
that she was watching "a complex dance requiring mutual cooperation, split-second communications and ­assessments of each other's abilities and desires. The slightest turn of a head or the point of a nose now seemed directed, meaningful.

Dogs sure do know how to subtly manipulate those that love them, there's no doubt about that.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Haiku Time!

the frog
observes the clouds
- Chiyo-ni (t. Patricia Donegan)

Get a Room!

I'm used to the boorishness of corporate sales, but this was taken to a new extreme the other day. As I was using the restroom, a sales rep entered a stall ON THE PHONE and continued to conduct a conference call with his pants around his ankles.

I'm not sure how he explained all of the background flushing to the other people on the call.

Quote of the Day

The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.

- Ursula K. LeGuin

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Great Moments in Early Developmental Milestones

Kelly had a great experience with Trey yesterday in their first Mommy and Baby Yoga class. Everyone was doing tummy time with the kids, and the teacher observed that Trey was listing his head to the side a bit like he wanted to flip over, stating that under two months was a bit too early for kids to flip over on purpose. As soon as she said this, Trey flipped over. Everyone laughed and Kelly put Trey back on his tummy.
And then he flipped over again. Everyone laughed and cheered this time.
Kelly put Trey on his tummy again, and he flipped over again, this time onto his other side.
This feat is rather early for a baby. Kelly and I suspect that Trey’s been watching too much of the Olympics with us.

Early Morning Metaphysical Questions

So I was awoken by Hunter at 2:30 this morning. Once the crying subsided, he informed me that he couldn't sleep because "I can't find my dreams," a phrase that could have sparked out a really interesting father & son conversation.

As it was, i just got him some cereal and sent him back to bed. It was just too freaking early. Another time, perhaps...

Monday, February 15, 2010

The State of the Bully State

The Soft-Kill Solution: New frontiers in pain compliance by Ando Arike in the March issue of Harper's neatly summarizes the history, recent developments, and trends in crowd control. It’s a fascinating story, and one that touches on many important facets of modern society. The essential problem is this, Arike states: a time when global capitalism begins to run up against long-predicted limits to growth… 6.7 billion [people currently live] in a world of looming resource scarcities, ecological collapse, and glaring inequalities of wealth; and elites are preparing to defend their power and profits.

Stated like this, the premise may sound cynically crackpot – the author would (and most likely will) be glibly dismissed on Fox News and spin as someone that “hates America” – but the many, many facts and events referenced in the article are proof enough that the problem is a real one. Real enough, in fact, to sprout a whole industry devoted to research and development of “less-than-lethal” weapons, the description of which takes up most of the article, touching upon some of my favorite modern-era US absurdities: the enclosed and barricaded “free-speech zones” and the use of Taser-enduced electroshocks as “pain compliance”. It’s an enlightening article and one that, like the best of Harpers articles, takes an unpleasant subject or truth and provides the necessary yet disturbing big picture.

The closing paragraph of the article is telling, and provides excellent context for the subject of non-lethal crowd control, so I hope he won’t mind if I quote it in full here. He closes by pointing out that no less than four former US secretaries of defense testified before Congress against the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention which would make the research of and use of things like “non-lethal calmative techniques” (read: spraying entire crowds with Prozac to calm them down) illegal. After noting that James Schlesinger said “The failure to use tear gas meant that the government only had recourse to the massive use of firepower to disperse the crowd,” Arike concludes:
It is striking, of course, that a former American defense official would so publicly identify with the leaders of an authoritarian Communist regime. Perhaps even more striking, though, is that the formulators of our policy of pain compliance feel so limited in their options—confronted by citizens calling for change, their only response is to seek control or death. There are many other possible responses, most of them far better attuned to the democratic ideals they espouse in other contexts. That pain compliance seems to them the best alternative to justice is an indictment not of the dreams of the protesters but of the nightmares of those who would control them.
A few follow up points: For more on the surprising acceptance of Tasers in American society despite their obvious dangers and misuses (Arike notes that “mounting evidence shows that the weapon is routinely used on people who pose little threat: those in handcuffs, in jail cells, in wheelchairs and hospital beds…”) Digby’s writing is an invaluable resource.

I should also note that I would love to link to Ando Arike's article, but Harper's only provides online copies of its magazine to its subscribers. And you really should be subcribing. It's the best magazine being published today. Top-notch investivative reporting, hysterical "state of the nation" exerpts, the infamous index, new short fiction, and an in-depth literary review section. What are you waiting for?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

First Line of Specimen Days

Walt said that the dead turned into grass, but there was no grass where they'd buried Simon.

- Michael Cunningham, Specimen Days.
This was a unique book. A novel consisting of three sections, basically unrelated except for some minor connections but all having a major connection to Walt Whitman's poetry. I'm not really sure what it's all about, but Cunningham is an excellent storyteller and kept me turning the pages well after I should have turned off the light and gone to bed. His writing is simple, with occasional moments of great beauty or humor. Witness a paragraph from section two:
She said a few quick good-nights to coworkers who were busy at their own phones and didn't seem to notice she was leaving before her own shift was over. She clipped on down the hall. Although she didn't like to dwell on it, the division's offices might have been designed for maximum grimness. Could the cubicle dividers be the color of a three-day-old corpse? Sure. Could greenish light buzz down on everyone from milky plastic ceiling panels? Absolutely. Could the smell of burnt coffee be blown through the air-conditioning ducts? No problem.

Mmmmm.... Coffee

Kelly made the most excellent discovery that Trader Joe's now carries New Mexico Pinon Coffee. At quite reasonable rates too! I highly recommend that all java lovers pick it up today. With its unique aroma and mellow, smooth flavor, NMPC has been a mail-order favorite around here for years.

In other caffeine related news, I was given a voucher for a free bag of Dunkin Donuts coffee after giving blood the other day. I hesitated to even use it, since the last time I had DD at home (after getting a bag as part of a yankee swap) was an awful experience: the coffee was acidic and bitter, no matter what I did to it. Well, the cheapskate side of me won out (can't turn away free coffee) and I'm happy to report that this bag is much better, almost as smooth as the coffee you get from the actual store.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why He Runs

Finished up Bernard Heinrich’s Why We Run recently, and while I’m ambivalent about the book as a whole, I’m going to recommend it anyways. Why, you ask? Because the best bits focus on fascinating biological and evolutionary running and endurance achievements in the natural world. Heinrich examines several of mother nature’s creatures for what they can teach us about running, including Camels as long-distance champions, Cheetahs and Antelopes as the speed demons, and so on. It’s riveting, and he presents the science in such a way that a layperson (such as myself) can keep up with no sweat. It’s only when he starts touching on his own running career that the book takes a strange turn. Basically, he lists out all of the biological reasons for why he trained the way he did, even going so far as to walk us through some of the stranger experiments he conducted (eating quarts of honey!) in his quest to break the 100K racing world record - which is 62.1 miles! But while these may work for him, his methods strike me as exceedingly strange. For instance, he claims he never stretches out, either before or after a race, and despite having surgery for a fractured kneecap during his race training, he only missed out on two weeks of training! This is not normal, and to me it distracted from what he was saying. To give you an antidote, I’d love to be able to run ultra long distances, but there’s no way my body would hold up to his training (due to shin and groin issues, mainly) much less take the abuse that he throws at it.

The fact that he did end up breaking the world record at the age of 41 is an impressive achievement. I’m just not sure if his advice is repeatable. But with that quibble, I highly recommend the book, especially the fascinating middle where he discusses the endurance techniques of the different animals.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I'm too busy...

And the constant stream of information doesn't make it any easier. It's why I've been trying to limit Internet and iPhone usage, and why I sympathize with George Packer's thoughts on Twitter. Money quote:
Garry Trudeau (who is not on Twitter) has his Washington “journotwit” Roland Hedley tweet at the end of “My Shorts R Bunching. Thoughts?,” “The time you spend reading this tweet is gone, lost forever, carrying you closer to death. Am trying not to abuse the privilege.”

Quote of the Day

"I have done that," my memory says. "I cannot have done that," retorts my pride. Eventually, memory yields. - Nietzsche, from Beyond Good and Evil, p. 68

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Laugh at the Awesomeness

...that is Mark Stale.

Probably the only thing I miss about getting the Sunday paper is laughing at the complete awfulness of 90% of the newspaper comix out there today.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trey's First Smile

The first of many, many more to come.

He Takes His Job Very Seriously

Hunter, the ring bearer at Chad's wedding, summer 2009.

Next Stop, Puppytown

Apparantly, dogs in Moscow have learned to ride subway trains in order to get from place to place.

“Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?” he asks. “They orient themselves in a number of ways,” Neuronov adds. “They figure out where they are by smell, by recognising the name of the station from the recorded announcer’s voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when it’s Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their ­biological clocks.”

Click through to read about the fun the dogs have while riding.

Combine this with the news about their olfactory vision, it's apparant that dogs have much more of an inner life than we give them credit for.