August 29, 2003

I Love WiFi

Posted by shonk at 04:00 PM in Blogging | permalink | comment

As I type this on my laptop, I'm sitting in the Philadelphia airport, waiting for my flight to Toronto to board. AT&T Wireless has a free WiFi network in the airport, so I can post to the blog, surf the web and talk to my girlfriend on ICQ, all without paying or plugging anything in. God I love technology!

August 28, 2003

Michelle's Answers

Posted by shonk at 07:28 PM in Blogging | permalink | comment

Michelle answered my interview questions today. They're good answers, so check them out.

August 27, 2003

Paucity of posts

Posted by shonk at 11:04 PM in Bitching and Moaning | permalink | comment

You know, every day I think to myself that I'm going to make a real post. And everyday, I don't. Today my excuse is that my new computer came in and I'm having way too much fun playing with it. After I spent half an hour trying to get it to find the damn DHCP router, that is.

That, and pens keep blowing up on me. I'm a big fan of those Pilot rollerball pens, which write great and last a long time. The problem being that if you take them from high altitude to low altitude (or vice versa), they tend to leak ink. Usually all over my hands and/or face. The trouble is, I always seem to buy pens in Colorado, but I'm always using them in places like Tennessee or Philadelphia. Which is pretty stupid, when you consider that this has been happening to me for the last 4 years. The only thing worse is taking one on a plane - needless to say, knowing my track record, I'll probably do that on Friday when I fly up to Toronto. I wonder how my girlfriend would react to a giant black inkstain on my pants when we see eachother for the first time in months.

Anyway, each of the last two days I've ended up with black ink all over myself and had to throw away two pens. I may be forced to go back to the generic ballpoint just to save my clothes.

Picture Me Behind the Mike

Posted by shonk at 12:37 AM in Blogging | permalink | comment

Okay, my first interview victim is Michelle. Remember to copy and paste the rules above your answers.

1. Why do you keep a personal website?

2. What's your favorite way to spend an evening?

3. What do you think about self-portraits as an art form?

4. What's your first memory?

5. Why did you get your first tattoo?

August 24, 2003

More History

Posted by shonk at 06:08 PM in Language | permalink | comment

A new addendum to my Fuckin' History post:

fuck the word, featuring your guide, Larry.

Found Stuff

Posted by shonk at 02:32 AM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

That picture, at least, is still in my possession, but even at that it'll eventually get out, because that's exactly the kind of nutty stuff you'll find if you really go through your dead relatives' things. In which case it's both nostalgic and eye-opening. For example, when my grandfather died, my mother made a conscientous effort to go through all of his and my grandfather's albums, books, correspondance, memoirs, quilts, etc. and preserve everything that was valuable or important. Since my grandmother was heavily into geneology, quilting and a number of other creative endeavors, we really learned a lot about the family history. And, of course, old pictures tell innumerable stories of their own. The point is, you can learn a lot about a person from the stuff they leave behind, but, for me at least, you always feel like you're missing something. There are so many pictures that don't make any sense but seem like they ought to (why was this common-looking bridge important? Whose house was this?). If you could ask the person what those pictures or those scribbled notes meant, maybe you could learn even more. But, then again, maybe they wouldn't understand them either, the meaning either having been lost to memory or never having existed in the first place.

There's always that fear, though, that the things you leave behind will tell others more than you wanted them to know. More, even, than they wanted to know. Bill Hicks expresses this viewpoint on one of his albums when he says,

I have this fear that I'm going to die before my parents and they're going to discover that porno wing I've been adding onto for years. My mom'll be looking through a box of old pictures, saying, 'Isn't my baby so cute in his cub scout uniform, with his li'l short pants? ... I wonder what's in this box?' There'll be two funerals that day, and I'll be the only guy in history to go through the gates of heaven with his mom spanking him.

Which is, I guess, the upside to internet porn. No boxes, no VHS tapes.

Okay, so lost or thrown-away notes and pictures can serve as a sort of personal narrative, but industrial and structural scrap can definitely serve as a kind of social or cultural narrative. Most of which is pretty ugly, but the Land of Evermore Park in Wisconsin serves as a rather astonishing testament to the fact that it need not be. Dr. Evermor sounds like a certifiable wack-job, but I would definitely check out the park if I'm ever in Wisconsin. And the Forevertron strikes me as a sort of industrial by-product and re-imagining of a Victorian spaceship - a photographic negative of the Victorian worldview.

August 22, 2003

The Language of Love

Posted by shonk at 06:57 PM in Language | permalink | comment

I'm convinced we need to re-think this whole notion of French being the "Language of Love". Not necessarily because I hate the French (I don't really hate the French; I just don't like them too much), but because it's too cliched. And because 95% of the time I hear people speaking French, it sounds lecherous, not romantic. Plus, French already got the term lingua franca, so why should it get to be the Language of Love, too?

I've always thought Spanish and Italian sound much sexier than French. Part of that might be, I'll admit, that I find Spaniards and Italians more attractive, usually, than the French, but also because they don't feature that awful flat "r" that French has. Anyway, both Spanish and Italian sound really good.

Apparently some people are smitten by Tokien's made up language, Elvish, as the Language of Love. Well, at least when spoken by Liv Tyler. But I would have to agree - Welsh and Celtic, on which Elvish is largely based, can sound really good.

Others, apparently, are enamored with Quechua, which, despite its odd (to English-speakers) syntax, is not without its charms.

But, then again, I suppose any language can sound good if the right person is speaking it. I've even heard German can sound romantic (though I'm still suspicious of that claim). Which, I suppose, supports the claim that love is non-verbal. Though some would argue that "Grammar dictates the cognitive construction of mental images", that even our non-verbal communication is shaped by language (the same site, incidentally, makes the work I did last summer seem far more romantic and important than it probably really was; see this).

If you don't buy that, though, check out the list of "I love you" in 40 languages - if telling your girl/boy/hermaphrodite/sheep that you love him/her/it in Gujarati doesn't make his/her/its panties/shorts/fur wet, I don't know what will. Incidentally, I'm proud to say that I know "I love you" in at least one language not on that list. I chalk it up to good teaching.

Of course, the reason lists like the above are popular is because for some reason people think that the opposite sex creams itself over esoterica. I'm not convinced; I think it's "erotica" that has that effect, not "esoterica". In any case, there's a long literary history to love, which is somewhat more stimulating than the basic mechanics of sex. Give me "Liebestod" over gonorrhea any day. Which isn't to say I didn't do better on the second quiz in the above link than on the first. Which can mean only one thing: back to the books!

Interview Time

Posted by shonk at 02:04 AM in Blogging | permalink | 1 comment

Unlike most, I don't have an "About" page on my blog. Instead, I'm getting interviewed by Petya. She had some tough questions, but I'm not sure what they reveal about me.


1. Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.

2. I will respond; i'll ask you five questions.

3. You'll update your website with my five questions, and your five answers.

4. You'll include this explanation.

5. You'll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.

1. How would you spend your dream summer vacation?

That's a tough one, because I like both seeing lots of different places on a vacation and getting to know one place really well. They're very different experiences, but both exciting. However, since I'm convinced you can never really get to know a place unless you live there, I think I'd want to visit a broad variety of locales. Eat in cafes, people-watch, go to unpopular bars, listen to local bands, go to lots of museums. Ideally, several places in Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Asia and even Africa, though it's not known as a tourist destination aside from safaris. And I'd want to go with someone I loved so that we could share the experiences, both the roaches under the beds and great architecture, both the train delays and the Joycian epiphanies on the streets.

2. What foreign language would you like to learn?

For practical and literary reasons, Russian or Chinese. For sentimental reasons, Bulgarian. Don't make me choose.

3. If you could replace George W. Bush with any woman in history, who would that woman be?

Sappho. Both because I admire her work and because I think having a poet-president would be cool.

4. What gives you pleasure and makes you feel guilty at the same time?

Books. Reading them, buying them, stockpiling them. I love books because you can hold them, you can take them anywhere, they smell good, they're permanent, and they're both fun and educational (even fiction, which I think is often more "true" - whatever that means - than non-fiction). I feel guilty about reading, though, because I often do it to the exclusion of everything else, including socializing, studying, working and sleeping. I feel guilty buying them because I could get them for free at the library and save lots of money, but if I did that I wouldn't have them all readily accessible whenever I want to look up a passage or re-read a chapter at 4:00 in the morning. I feel guilty about stockpiling them primarily in my back when I move, since, at last count, I've got about 7 boxes of 'em (plus 5 bookcases).

5. What is the best advice your mom ever gave you?

"Don't let dishes pile up in your sink." Seriously, though, I think the best advice my mom ever gave me was "Women think differently than you do." Which wasn't intended to be a put-down on either women or myself, but just to let me know that women have a different perspectives, different values, different incentives. Which wasn't to imply that women are homogeneous in their thinking, just that they tend to think differently in similar ways. Honestly, I wish I'd remembered that advice more often than I did. And, of course, it really applies almost as well to all of humanity. Everybody thinks differently than everybody else, and a failure to recognize that is the cause of most disputes, I think.

Okay, now if anybody wants to be interviewed by me, just leave me a comment (no more than 5).

Other news:

Over there to the right, just below the book I'm currently reading, I've added a link to the list of books I've read since last September. Hope you find it handy (I'm not going to link to where you can get each one, but if you can't find one, let me know and I can probably point you in the right direction).

Oh, and speaking of reading, there's a 30 story building just outside my window with a big scrolling marquee flashing messages all night. Here's five minutes worth (seven scrolling letters at a time):



















I think you can see why I usually keep my blinds closed.

August 21, 2003

Random Thought

Posted by shonk at 12:31 AM in Politics | permalink | comment

These days, it's not PC to be fat (obesity kills!), skinny (anorexia kills!) or normal (conformity kills!). So what's the ideal body type? Aside from my own, that is.

Urban Eccentrics

Posted by shonk at 12:03 AM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

Despite the fact that I spend 23 hours a day either sleeping, reading or eating, I have had a few "big city experiences" (scare quotes added for those quivering in their suburbia purchased Timberlands). Most of the memorable ones revolve around what a friend of mine calls "urban eccentrics" - weird people you only see in big cities.

Actually, the term was originally coined as a euphamism for the all the gay guys that live near my buddy in a part of town that's close to a hip and upscale area, but is actually pretty low rent. However, it quickly became apparent that the aging, lower middle class gay guys and the sketchy gay priests did not, by any means, exhaust the possible forms of urban eccentricity, so the term has expanded to be thoroughly inclusive.

For example? Well, the guys I saw a couple hours ago in the gas station across the street. One was small, wearing faded, much-too-small and much-too-high jeans, jamming to the Muzak and tailoring his loud and frequent quips (like "This is my dinner!") to an uncaring and largely non-existent audience. For those who will understand the reference, he was like an older, smaller, unbearded Squeaks on speed. For the rest of you, that translates to something vaguely similar to Screech as portrayed on SNL. He was in front of me in line. The guy behind me was overweight, dressed in all black, had his long, seemingly braided, black hair up in some weird vertical ponytail that looked something like a rooster's comb after being tarred by sexually harassed hens, and wore both mascara and combat boots. Yes, you read correctly, mascara and combat boots.

These two guys sandwiching me in the line pretty much defined the term "urban eccentric". Of course, from anybody else's perspective, my Sewanee frat-boy uniform of khakis, flipflops and a party t-shirt probably appeared pretty damn eccentric, too. Since we were the only white people in the place, I wish I had a picture of the three of us lined up in a row to send to white supremacists as a counter-argument.

Or should I just go for the counter-counterculture statement next time and wear a bow tie and cordovan shoes?

August 20, 2003


Posted by shonk at 05:08 PM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

Okay, enough studying for one day. Now, sadly, I didn't actually write any blog entries during my long absence. Instead of writing one now, I'll go to an old standby and list a few quotes from books I've read recently:

" 'Bread and Circuses' " is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs, to an invader - the barbarians enter Rome."

- Jubal Harshaw, from
To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert A. Heinlein, pg. 227

"Widows are far better than brides. They don't tell, they won't yell, they don't swell, they rarely smell, and they're grateful as hell."

- Ira Johnson, from
To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert A. Heinlein, pg. 305

"There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to com into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back."

- The judge, from "Life-Line", by Robert A. Heinlein

"Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground - you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move."

- Anne Lamott, from
Bird by Bird, pgs. 28-9

And this, which I came across on IRCQuotes.Com (here) still remains, to me, one of the funniest things I've ever read:

*** _Codex ( has joined #C++

_Codex: How would you create a god class?

CyBBe: god class?

bealtine: amen

ZorbaBeta: class God { public void smite( Mortal *target ) const; };

ZorbaBeta: Mortal *gates = new BillGates(); God god; god.smite( gates ); // gates implicitly destroyed

ZorbaBeta: C:\CODE\WorldSim\killgates.cpp(5): Error C2813: Cast from BillGates* to Mortal* invalid. BillGates only derives from God.

ZorbaBeta: (stupid microsoft compiler!)

Which just goes to show what a huge geek I am.

Philadelphia, Part II

Posted by shonk at 02:08 PM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

Okay, I'm back in the saddle (so to speak). Internet has finally been installed in my apartment, and I'll hopefully be updating regularly from here on out. That being said, I promised myself I'd spend the afternoon studying for this huge, massively important test I'm taking on Tuesday. So any substantive updates will have to wait at least a few hours. Try to control your massive disappointment.

August 10, 2003


Posted by shonk at 08:24 PM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

After three days of driving, I'm finally in the outskirts of Philadelphia. Tomorrow I'll hopefully be able to pick up my apartment key and start moving my stuff in. Unfortunately, I have no idea when I'll have regular internet access, so who knows when the next real update will occur.


August 07, 2003

A Geek Tragedy

Posted by shonk at 11:11 PM in Geek Talk | permalink | comment

It has all the elements of a classic tragedy: well-meaning hero, tries to do good but ultimately destroyed by his own fatal weakness. In this case, we're talking about the finger callouses sustained by my girlfriend from spending too much time typing on her laptop. Which is melodramatic in and of itself, because fingertip callouses are like carpal tunnel lite. They're the Michelob Ultra of repetitive stress disorders. And yes, I'm jealous because the only callouses I have are from spending 23 hours a day horizontal (but usually clothed, sadly).

That last, by the way, is called self-depracation, and some people are against getting cheap laughs from it. Since pretty much my entire comedic repertoire is comprised of self-depracating jokes, you can understand why. Of course, I prefer to think of myself as fulfilling this bit:

The poetics of personal failure have failed. We msut [sic] make them work again.

Of course, I'd imagine it would be pretty hard for "we" to make personal failure work. I mean, wouldn't personal failure be an individual, not a collective, thing? That, and personal failure already reached its apex with Fitzgerald. And pedophiles.

But then there's the other side of the story. Like, for example, "In Praise of Self-Deprecation":

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.

Scruples are alien to the black panther.

Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.

The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.

The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly

live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer-whale's heart weighs one hundred kilos

but in other respects is light.

There is nothing more animal-like

than a clear conscience

on the third planet of the Sun.

And that's a good point, too. If you can't make fun of them, have you really come to understand your flaws? I say no. And if you don't understand your flaws, then you're cruising for a geek tragedy of your own, buster.

Plus, self-depracation can be pretty damn funny. Like Clarence Thomas, a Yale Law School grad, having a sign on his bookshelf saying: "Save America: Bomb Yale Law School" (from here). Of course, the tragedy of taking yourself way too goddamn seriously can be funny, too. Just see the Michael Teachings.

Why, you may be asking, did I google "self deprecation" and then write a post stringing together the funniest sites that came up? Because I'm pathetic and have nothing better to do than google for random phrases. Well, that's not really true (stop that snickering, you). Mainly it's because I'm dreading going to bed. You see, I'm getting up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to start the 1700 mile drive from Boulder to Philadelphia and, since I went to bed around 4:00 last night, I know I won't be able to sleep until well after midnight. So why lay in bed tossing and turning and unable to sleep when I could be filling my brain with useless information and then passing it on to unsuspecting (and largely fictional) readers? And I'm just tired enough to not recognize my incipient incoherence. Which is pretty much mandatory for blogs, isn't it?

And yes, the above means this may be the last update for a few days, or at least until I find an internet hookup somewhere on the road in middle America. Which is likely; I'm sort of like a heroin junky who always manages to get another fix. And the detox is killer.

Internet Explorer

Posted by shonk at 09:46 PM in Bitching and Moaning | permalink | comment

Well, for the first time, it's time for me to complain about Internet Explorer. Now, I know this is a common complaint among web developers, but you have to understand, this is my first real attempt at building a page. Okay, now the complaint is this: there's supposed to be a sidebar to the right of these entries, containing links to archives, other pages I like, the book I'm currently reading, etc. But, if you're using Internet Explorer, you may see this stuff at the very bottom of this page instead of to the right.

Why? Well, I'm not exactly sure, but here's a partial answer. In the main stylesheet, I've indicated that the blog entries are supposed to take up 60% of the total width of the window. Now, this leaves 40% for the sidebar, which is more than I would really like, but not too bad. Now, in IE, if the browser window is small enough, IE decides that 40% isn't enough for what's in the sidebar and kicks it down to the bottom of the page. What's the rationale for doing this? I have no idea, but I think it may have something to do with how IE wants to display the calendar (hopefully) at right. And, I should mention, Mozilla doesn't have this problem. So, in an attempt to fix it, I've reduced the width of the blog entries from 65% of the page to 60% as this allows a much smaller window to view the page and still see the sidebar on the side.

Gee, IE making more work for web developers (of which I am one only in the loosest possible sense) - who could've imagined?

Make a Link, Go To Jail

Posted by shonk at 05:32 PM in Politics | permalink | 1 comment

Does it bother anyone that you can go to prison for making a link on a webpage? Now, granted, I'm sure this guy was a nutball, and the real reason for tossing him in jail was because he advocated violent overthrow of the government or some such idea, but since when is offering information (or, in this case, merely telling people where such information is available) illegal? Should we throw chemistry teachers and librarians in jail now, too? After all, one of the chemistry professors at my university would tell people how to make synthetic cocaine, LSD and TNT. Not that anybody did, but he was imparting information which could have been used to break the law. And any decent library has such information available in its stacks. Hell, the U.S. Patent Office has lots of information about "conventional guided weapons with suspected Uranium warhead components" available (PDF; html translation here) on their website. And you don't see the Commerce Secretary going to prison.

The point is, telling people how to make bombs doesn't hurt people: people actually blowing them up in crowded areas does (newsflash: miners use explosives every day). And punishing an anarchist for telling people where to learn how to make bombs on his website while letting the chemistry professor, the librarian and the Commerce Secretary go free is totally arbitrary. So punish the people that actually blow up people and don't punish anybody for dispensing information. After all, the principle of free speech doesn't just apply to nice, government-approved people - it applies to everyone, says me.

Pallid Pirates

Posted by shonk at 04:35 AM in Music | permalink | comment

If you believe everything the RIAA says, you'd think the wide assortment of people swapping songs over P2P networks was scarier than Bluebeard breaking out the plank for a stowaway. If you live in reality, of course, you'd realize the filesharers are more akin to the motley crew on that Capitol One commercial. Which isn't to say that they aren't a menace, but probably more to taste than to musicians. In any case, while the RIAA is fighting the wrong battle, it's nice to see that someone gets it: Apple. Here, courtesy of Mac.Ars, is the summation of Apple's position on piracy, due to Peter Lowe, Apple's Director of Marketing for Applications and Services:

The way to go after illegal file sharing services is to compete with them...go after their weaknesses. The reason why people used these services is instant gratification: for most of the people who use file sharing, it is more about flexibility and not about free...we aim to take advantages of weaknesses of illegal sharing services: unreliable encoding; bad connection; no previews; wrong music; no album cover art; and at the end of the day, it is stealing. Which is bad karma! We fundamentally believe subscriptions are the wrong path ...that's not what consumers are doing offline...they want to buy downloads. If digital distribution is about one thing, it is about being simple as a CD player...and it needs to be consistent....take the "but" out of it

Now, whether filesharing is or is not immoral is still up for debate (clearly it's illegal, but I haven't the patience to go into whether or not it should be), as is its actual negative impact on the music industry (am I the only one to notice that people with lots of mp3's also buy lots of albums?). The point is, rather than suing some poor student for $98 billion isn't the way to make anybody agree with you, and even the super-system Poindexter probably has wet dreams about couldn't stop filesharing. So why not compete with the P2P networks, rather than try to get the government to shut them down? I mean, seriously, the government sure as hell doesn't stop people from smoking pot, and pot you can see and touch (and destroy, incidentally). Apple's got it right; P2P networks are buggy, don't let you preview (ever downloaded a mislabeled song?), don't include liner notes and cover art and, yes, are illegal (which is important, even if you think the law is a bad one. After all, who wants to face a $98 billion lawsuit from a mega-corporation, even if it will get settled for something more reasonable?). And people do feel guilty about using them. Maybe not everybody, but a lot of people. So fix those problems with a legal network, and a lot of people will be willing to pay for it. Not that innovative, but apparently a hell of a lot moreso than the standard. And there are those who still wonder why anybody would consider buying a Mac.


Posted by shonk at 01:11 AM in Bitching and Moaning | permalink | comment

My format has finally come out of generic hell and actually looks like I spent more than ten minutes on it (it doesn't look like I spent as much time as I actually did, but that's because I'm incompetent with CSS; thank god for W3Schools). Huge thanks to Petya for all the help. Мерси!

I spent all the time I might have spent writing an actual post in changing the look of the site, instead. Which is a good, since all I'm doing is packing my stuff to move, anyway. Gotta load up the U-Haul trailer tomorrow, then leave for Philly early Friday morning. It's going to be a long weekend.

August 05, 2003

Frustrated Catholics

Posted by shonk at 08:07 PM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

I keep coming up with what I think are good, or at least interesting, ideas, only to realize moments later that somebody else has already come up with the same idea. For example, I was thinking today that, if the Catholic Church had an inclination, it could be one of the greatest operational organizations in the world. And by operational organization, I mean anything from the CIA to Amnesty International. After all, the sheer excess of energy available to it due to the pent-up sex drives of its celibate clergy is pretty overwhelming when you try to quantify it. You can see evidence of this in the number of languages spoken by the Pope, the academic achievements of the Jesuits, the rather amazing efforts of missionaries and so on.

Just when I sat down to write about this revelation of mine, I realized that this energy has already been tapped throughout European history. You've got the sheer organizational prowess and deviousness of the Inquisition, the massive output of the scholastics and the rather incredible deeds of the missionary priests in the new world (for good as well as ill; just look up Father de las Casas for evidence of the former). In fact, there is perhaps no other organization in the world that could have accomplished some of these things (which isn't to say that all of them should have been accomplished); the manic ministrations of the massively sexually frustrated are hard to match.

Usually, when confronted by the reality that my idea is not a new one, I push on ahead, expanding on the original theory in hopes of stumbling across something original, or at least shocking, despite the evidence suggesting that either is unlikely. Needless to say, this time is no exception. After all, one need only read The Decameron or Don Quijote or the history of Alexander VI's papacy to know that celibacy amongst the clergy has, in large measure, been a myth throughout most of history and the "common man" knew it. Perhaps, then, the celibacy rule was in earlier times more of a guideline or a long-term goal than a strict rule of behavior. On the other hand, it isn't hard to argue that, as powerful as the Catholic Church was in, say, medieval Spain, it wasn't necessary for its clergy to strictly follow the rules in order to garner respect, wealth and power, whereas in modern times, when competition, especially from fundamentalist sects, is much stronger, the church must appear to follow its own rules more strictly. In fact, one could argue that it is only the modern world's obsession with hypocrisy (due, in part, to attractive alternatives) that has resulted in the sorts of crises seen most obviously in the Boston Archiocese. A crazy theory no doubt (and supported by no citations), but something worth thinking about.


Posted by shonk at 01:16 AM in Bitching and Moaning | permalink | comment

p>Just had to go through and fix a whole bunch of ASCII fuck-ups. Hopefully it won't happen again.

Oh, and I added a new plug-in, so now you can look to the right of your screen and always know what book I'm currently reading. Aren't you thrilled?

Existence Exists?

Posted by shonk at 12:13 AM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

In one of the bookstores mentioned the other night, my friend quoted a famous pseudo-philosopher's position on metaphysics: "Existence Exists" (no points if you know who the pseudo-philosopher is). My friend doesn't agree with this person's broader philosophic view, but claimed you "can't deny" this basic metaphysical statement. Being a bit contrary by nature, I did. Fortunately, the lady at the checkout counter called me up to pay before I had to explain why. I think I was going to go off on some absurd Idealist rant that I don't even agree with, which would have done nothing to help the situation.

Now, my flippant denial of the statement was intended more as a joke than anything, but I said it for a reason: "Existence Exists" doesn't really strike me as a particularly true (or at least well-formed) statement. I was going to give some reason why, but I've just googled it and found that someone else already stated most of my concerns here. I actually think there's something even more fundamentally fishy about "Existence Exists", but after struggling with it for almost two days and re-writing critiques at least ten times, I can't quite explain it. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Russell's Paradox. Any ideas?

August 04, 2003

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Posted by shonk at 12:06 PM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

Read the book on Saturday and, though I think I prefer the website (linked at right), I found these bits amusing:

There's a thin line that divides the man you were from the person shuffling around Ikea with a stupid big yellow bag and dead eyes. - pg. 35

'Why do your feminist principles always vaporize when one of us needs to get out of a warm bed and clomp downstairs at three o' clock in the morning?' - pg. 47

There's nothing so heartbreaking as a look of misery on a man with a mustache - as if his face hasn't got enough troubles. - pgs. 59-60

'There is no place for laughter in sex. Sex can survive almost anything else: guilt, the bleak specter of our own mortality, odd noises, imperfect weather conditions, ill-placed components of car interiors. Massive doses of alcohol and drugs which render you utterly unable to perform even the most basic procedures are not only no hindrance to sex but, in fact, increase its likelihood no end. The one thing guaranteed to stop sex dead in its tracks is a laugh. Everything nowadays tries to be a bit of a lark - "The Fun Way to Learn," "The Fun Way to Diet," "The Fun Way to Bank." Well, arse to that. Most stuff isn't fun; the world is eighty percent misery, suffering, injustice and gnawing existential bleakness. A further seventeen percent is sheer, suffocating boredom. That leaves us with a couple minutes of stolen "fun" a week, tops. Far better we spend that fun, I gently suggest, somewhere other than ruining a potentially serviceable bout of sex by guffawing the erotic frisson away. If you want a head-spinning whirlpool of desire, hunger, madness and ecstasy, then let's have sex - if you want a bit of fun, play bleeding Pictionary or something.' - pg. 208

Perceptive chap, eh?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Posted by shonk at 03:40 AM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

I'm sure you've all heard of Hunter S. Thompson's book. I'd seen the movie, obviously, and read some of his columns over at Page 2 but had never read the book until today. Enjoyable stuff, despite his crazy reputation. Some highlights:

When you bring an act into this town, you want to bring it heavy. Don't waste any time with cheap shucks and misdemeanors. Go straight for the jugular. Get right into felonies. - pg. 173

What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create ... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody - or at least some force - is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel. - pgs. 178-9

Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer? Agnew was right. The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits - a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage. - pg. 200

Not so crazy after all.

August 03, 2003

Sex Quotes

Posted by shonk at 09:55 PM in Words of Wisdom | permalink | comment

Just learned of this massive list. A sampling:

"I've never understood why women love cats. Cats are independent, they don't listen, they don't come in when you call, they like to stay out all night, and when they're home they like to be left alone and sleep. In other words, every quality that women hate in a man, they love in a cat."

"Of all sexual aberrations, chastity is the strangest." - Jacques Anatole Thibault.

"When authorities warn you of the sinfulness of sex, there is an important lesson to be learned. Do not have sex with the authorities." - Matt Groening, from "Basic Sex Facts For Today's Youngfolk" in Life In Hell.

"Le mariage est la seule guerre pendant laquelle on dort avec l'ennemi." (my translation: Marriage is the only war in which you sleep with the enemy).


Posted by shonk at 03:35 PM in Music | permalink | comment

While attending the last performance of the season of the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) in Breckenridge tonight, I noticed a few things that my egocentric nature compels me to share.

First, there are few things more annoying than someone repeatedly sniffing their nose while you're trying to listen to Mendelssohn. Part of the reason I noticed so many non-musical aspects of the experience was because this guy three seats down from me was constantly sniffing. *Sniff* *sniff* *sniff*...*sniff*, then repeat every 15 seconds. I don't know what the problem was, but it was loud enough that from 10 feet away I couldn't concentrate on what was otherwise a very enjoyable concert. And I don't mean to imply the guy didn't care about anybody around him, but if his nasal situation was really so horrific, why the hell is he going to a concert in the first place?

Second, there's no place on Earth that fulfills more stereotypes than a classical concert, especially this one. First of all, the audience is overwhelmingly white and middle-age or older. Being young and tall, I stuck out more than Dan Quayle at a Master P show. The performers also tend to be predominately white, but with a significant minority of Asians; blacks and hispanics are almost never seen onstage at one of these things. And, of course, lets not forget the utterly stereotypical gender distribution over instruments embodied by the NRO: Every double bass, tuba, trombone and percussion instrument was played by a male, along with all but one of the trumpets; on the other hand, every single flute, french horn and harp was played by a female, along with over 70% of the violins, violas and cellos. I mean, much as one might like to, it's hard to denigrate a stereotype when it's so bloody accurate.

Finally, is there any outfit less flattering to the female form than the orchestral uniform? The guys can look pretty snazzy in their tuxedos, but tux shirts and too-high, too-tight black pants make the women look like misshapen hermaphrodites. It's not like I'm going to a concert looking for eye candy, but could we at least acknowledge that the concertmaster has breasts and hips? Is that too much to ask?

Boulder and Taxes

Posted by shonk at 03:33 PM in Politics | permalink | comment

The City Council here in Boulder is trying, yet again, to do what it does best: raise taxes. Specifically, they want approval for two sales tax increases, one for open space and one for social services. These tax increases, well-intentioned though they may be, cannot work as intended, since the two are incompatible. That is to say, the more open space Boulder buys up, the less money it seems to have to pay for social services. Which makes it pretty difficult to keep a straight face when City Council members get started with their rhetoric about how important social services are to them.

The astute reader is complaining, at this point, that I've indicated a relationship between open space and an ability to pay for social services, but have not described any causality. Let me briefly sketch out the issues. First off, the city buys up undeveloped land around the city with the intent of keeping it undeveloped. Hence, "open space". Now, this has the effect of preventing the city from expanding laterally. Naturally, this means property values in the city increase, since the demand for land hasn't changed, but the supply has been decreased. As land gets more valuable, rents go up, which, since population hasn't changed, means local businesses make less money. As a result, some move, preferring to relocate to nearby towns, where rents are lower but Boulder customers can still drive in a few minutes. Similarly, new businesses, which tend not to have the money to pay high rents initially start up in the surrounding towns, not in Boulder.

Of course, in the above paragraph I stipulated that "population hasn't changed", but that is not entirely true. As property values increase, many renters find themselves unable to afford increasing rents and move to nearby towns. Newcomers find themselves similarly incapable of paying for housing in Boulder and buy or rent outside the city instead. One unintended consequence of Boulder's open space policy, then, is to increase traffic congestion, since more people are commuting from further away than before. Also, the influx of people into the nearby towns has a tendency to draw established or potential businesses away from Boulder, thereby working in concert with the negative incentives of higher rents. The end result is that people and businesses are, more and more, avoiding Boulder. The direct effect this has on the city (aside from congestion and "loss of community") is to decrease sales-tax revenues. Fewer businesses means fewer things being sold means fewer taxes being collected. Since those same sales taxes pay for social services, the choice is either to cut services or raise taxes. Guess which is favored by the City Council?

Unsurprisingly, it is not just open space that is driving people and businesses away from Boulder: there's an entire self-sustaining incentive structure encouraging this exodus. One might think that, with lateral expansion out of the question due to open space, Boulder might instead expand vertically. But no. The city enforces a maximum building height of 35 feet throughout the city, except in parts of downtown, where the limit is increased to 55 feet. What this means is that even moderately sized apartment buildings are out of the question. As such, those that might be able to afford a moderate apartment, but not a house are unable to live in Boulder. Commercial rents are similarly affected. Furthermore, the city has a law stating that no more than 3 unrelated adults may occupy a "single-family" residence. This means that, even if 6 adults could comfortably live in a house, they are legally forbidden from doing so. Again, this artificially raises rents (while simultaneously reducing property values), providing further incentive for living elsewhere. This becomes urban sprawl.

Now, as one might expect, the people most adversely affected by all these policies are those with lower incomes. Rich people can afford higher property values and higher taxes, but the poor and, increasingly, the middle class cannot. They are virtually forced to move away from the city. This has not gone unnoticed. One result was the passag of a law stating that 20% of any new residential development must be "low-income", meaning sales values are capped. This was initially a great boon to the intended benificiaries, as many would buy houses at these artificially reduced prices and then immediately turn around and sell them at market value, garnering themselves a tidy profit. The City Council, not pleased to see poor folks making profits, changed the law such that all these "low-income" properties were deed-restricted to the effect that they could never be sold for more than a certain maximum value (adjusted for inflation). Needless to say, they never sell for less than that maximum. The unfortunate effect of these deed restrictions is that they massively discourage capital improvements or even standard maintenance, since the cap is considerably lower than market value. In other words, the "low-income" homeowners have no incentive to improve or maintain their houses (other than pride), since doing so will not make them any money. As a result, most of the "low-income" houses in the city are rapidly becoming dilapidated.

Most housing developers, of course, have learned to steer well clear of Boulder. Aside from the lack of land and the height restrictions, the "low-income housing" rule means they must take a loss on 20% of their development in addition to having to fulfill further costly legal loopholes. Most don't even bother. This means the only new houses being built in the city are huge mansions being built on "scrape-off" lots by people with lots of money (a "scrape-off" lot is one purchased solely for the land under the currently existing house, which is demolished, or scraped off, to make way for the new 14,000 square-foot, $3 million home). Which, I suppose, wouldn't be so bad if not for two things: first, destroying (often) historical homes and driving away low- and middle-income residents in favor of the rich is entirely antithetical to the ethos that created these policies; and second, the wealthy, new residents tend to shop in the fancy, new stores being built virtually everywhere except in Boulder, meaning more congestion and fewer sales-tax revenues.

Which is why the City Council is stumping for higher taxes to buy more open space and pay for social services that help assuage rich-man's guilt but are rapidly becoming irrelevant as low-income families leave the city. Not surprisingly, Boulder's vagrant population is skyrocketing.

The moral of the story is that good intentions alone are far from sufficient to effectuate good results.


Posted by shonk at 03:12 PM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

I was away for the weekend, but did write a few things down. The next couple entries are from the last two days: the first from very late Friday night, so excuse its incoherence, and the second from Saturday.

August 01, 2003

Shock Troops

Posted by shonk at 07:10 PM in What the Fuck? | permalink | comment

We all know about the propensity America has to send in so-called "shock troops" as the first part of any plan to pound the shit out of little brown countries, right? Well, I was thinking today that, since this happens all the time, the shock troops probably aren't very shocking anymore. Maybe it's time for a different strategy. The next time, instead of the usual shock troops, the army should send in untanned, slightly overweight naked guys with shaved heads in groups of 8 or 10. They could invade in tightly packed but undisciplined formation and run away in the same manner as soon as they realize how dangerous the situation is. A few waves like that, and the enemy du jour is bound to be shocked nearly senseless.

Ego Stroking

Posted by shonk at 07:01 PM in Ramblings | permalink | comment

Last night, I met up with a friend I hadn't seen for nearly a year for a pleasant little Pearl Street get-together. Wait, hold on, let me preface this by saying that the Pearl Street aspect of things wasn't the determining factor in where we were going to meet. No, the important thing was to pick the part of town with the highest concentration of bookstores and ice cream carts. So it was really more of a bookstore crawl, which makes sense since we're both hopelessly addicted to purchasing books. That's not to say we don't occasionally read the books we buy, but the input/output ratio is a little lopsided.

Anyway, we meet in bookstore #1 which is huge, locally-owned and totally unsatisfactory. As usual (needless to say, we've done these sorts of bookstore crawls before), we leave quickly. Though not the only section I peruse, the philosophy section gives an excellent reason as to why: the number of New Age mystical books exceeds the number of actual philosophy books (and in this category I'm including everyone, even Hegel) by a staggering amount. Plus, since so many people in Boulder are obsessed with spiting chain stores, everything is hopelessly overpriced.

The next stop is a used bookstore several blocks away, in the unfashionably car-laden eastern end of Pearl Street, which gives me more than enough time to rant and rave about rocks, my plans and whatever else crosses my mind. I spend a lot of time trying to explain algebraic topology (Highlight: "Okay, so you pick a point at infinity...well, actually not at infinity, just really anywhere away from your manifold"). Needless to say, I am now drawing strange looks from passersby, especially as I begin illustrating my points with my hands while walking down this busy pedestrian mall. Of course, Pearl Street being what it is, I am occassionally drowned out by groups of spaced-out, hippyish people chanting and/or playing drums, buskers simultaneously putting on a show and trying to hustle people, and drunk people being drunk.

The first used bookstore we come to is, typically, closed, despite it being only 8:30 and the sign on the door clearly indicating that it is open until 9:00 on weekdays. The second is still open and, as we enter, I utterly forget the titles of all the books I've been meaning to get. As a result, I am able to escape with minimal damage: $6.99 for two Heinlein books that I realized (once I saw them) I'd been meaning to get anyway (Farnham's Freehold and Glory Road). My presence has a deleterious effect on my friend's wallet, however, as I suggest a couple of books that she ends up buying.

As we are walking back to the other end of Pearl Street, I get so engrossed in talking about my summer that it takes three not-so-subtle hints to remind me of the next item on the agenda: ice cream. It is abundantly clear by this point that the three beers I had before and with dinner are affecting me rather more than I had anticipated. I blame it on the altitude. Anyway, I get a strawberry sorbet on an utterly superfluous (and more expensive) waffle cone. Why was the waffle cone superfluous? Because the flavor of the sorbet totally overwhelms the taste of the waffle cone. In other words, I wasted a dollar. Anyway, aside from getting worked up about people crossing streets against the light, in the middle of traffic (which is not only rude, but highly inefficient), I make it back to my car.

After that, we ended up going to the Barnes & Noble across town, where I note that the blurb on the back of The Celestine Prophesy seems to promise rather more than the book can possibly deliver and my friend decides against getting it, claiming her mind needs to be "opener" before she can read it. Finally, my recent and totally unexplainable fascination with the Holy Grail and the Templars results in me spending another sixteen dollars on Hancock's The Sign and the Seal.

The moral of the story is twofold: first, I talk much more while walking than in any other situation; second, I'm 21 going on middle age. After all, I go out on the town with a friend I haven't seen in months, end up spending $27 on books and ice cream and am home by 10:45. In other words, pretty much exactly what my parents did last Friday night, except they got coffee instead of ice cream.

Fuckin' History

Posted by shonk at 12:48 PM in Language | permalink | comment

With all due apologies to Petya, I couldn't pass up re-posting this link. Apparently, since Larimer County can take pride in the fact that it doesn't smell like shit (as opposed to, say, Weld County, especially Greeley; no, really, just ask this girl or this one or anybody else in Colorado), its public defenders can instead fill legal briefs with the entire history of the word "fuck" (as opposed to, say, The History of Shit; leave it to a Frenchman to hypothesize shit as the basis of civilization). Needless to say, this is the first time I've ever seen the words "fuck", "Eminem" and "Supreme Court" all appear in the same document.

You'll be comforted to know that the defense attorney actually did a pretty good job of unearthing the history of the word, as indicated by this etymology and the Dictionary.Com definition (look for the "Word History" near the bottom). For those that enjoy reading etymologies of naughty words, you'll be disappointed that "shit" doesn't have nearly so interesting a history as "fuck"; it's pretty straightforward (as one might expect for a stolid, Anglo-Saxon word).

Speaking of fucking, is it really any surprise that the Catholic Church is still against homosexual marriage? Of course, that doesn't really have any effect on the priests, since they're not allowed to marry anyway. Seriously, though, I can't say as I understand the response. I mean, there's no way the Catholic Church could actually back down from their anti-homosexual stance without losing pretty much all their credibility in places like South America, which is one of their strongest areas (they're not the Episcopal Church, after all).

Not being Catholic, this sort of thing doesn't affect me in the slightest; I don't even necessarily believe in the institution of marriage, per se. Put it this way, whose business is it if you and another person decide you want to spend the rest of your lives together? The only organizations that really care now are the church and the state. Not being particularly religious myself, I'm not going to bother with the former and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why (other than a desire to control behavior) the latter should take any interest. Sure, marriage laws establish some defaults regarding dispersion of assets in the case of divorce, but such things are better handled by contracts, anyway (hence the reason pre-nups are such a good idea, especially for males and for either party in a marriage where incomes are radically asymmetrical). My point is, unless you are religious and the marriage sacrament is instrumental to your faith, legally getting married is rather superfluous (except for tax or immigration purposes). Some, of course, disagree.

On the other hand, there is a case to be made for avoiding the entire issue by just staying home and masturbating: you might live longer. Well, for guys anyway. For women, such behavior may actually increase their risk of getting breast cancer (as if that biological clock wasn't incentive enough). By pointing this out, I hope to do whatever small part I can to elucidate the sorts of subtle incentive structures that Ladder Theory utterly fails to take into account. Well, that and I wanted to make sure the words "fuck", "shit" "homosexual" and "masturbating" all made it into this post. After all, that's the way to draw in those hits from Google.

Now, isn't that the sort of useless but entertaining stuff you wish you could have learned in school?