Saturday, June 06, 2015

Playlist For Thinking Deep (?) Thoughts

I have a lot to ponder this week and to distract myself from the serious things I have to think about that actually affect my real life and the real world and the real people in it, I'm going to think about some stuff that doesn't really matter unless it really matters a lot.

Stuff like Is the rule that 'rules are meant to be broken' meant to be broken?

The maxim that 'rules are meant to be broken' and its corollary that the exception proves the rule are used over and over and misused every time.  The exception that proves the rule doesn't mean "the exception that makes the rule true," but uses 'proves' in the old-fashioned sense of tests: the exception tests the rule to see if it is, in fact, a rule.  If it doesn't apply in every situation, then it's not a rule. There are rules like mathematical concepts like that one that says A+B=B+A or whatever. That's a rule. There is no exception to it.

Similarly if rules are meant to be broken then we do not mean them to be rules at all.  I can't think of a single rule it would be a good idea to break.  The saying isn't used in situations where we mean an unjust rule; nobody seems to say it about things like 'separate but equal,' which would be a rule that was meant to be broken.  Instead, we use it to justify antisocial behavior that benefits us at the expense of society.  Think of everytime you've heard someone say "Rules are meant to be broken" or something like that. They're about to do something that makes them kind of a jerk, aren't they?

Speaking of jerks,

Who Is Eilert Lovborg Anyway?

Did you listen to that first song? Or at least read the title? I love songs that are about people I've never heard of, and then going to find out what the deal was with those people.

Eilert Lovberg is a character in the play Hedda Gabler. Hedda and her husband George are academics, middling along in their life and struggling to make a go of it. George wants a professorship, but then Eilert shows up.  Eilert turns out to be not only Hedda's ex-lover but a recovering alcoholic and the author of a best-selling work in the same field as George. George and Hedda, already worried about going broke, fear Eilert will get the professorship that George wants.  Eilert doesn't want that job, though: He's got a new girl, Thea, and he and his gal are working on a sequel to the bestseller.

Hedda, now jealous of Thea, encourages Eilert to go to a party with George. Eilert relapses, gets drunk, and loses his manuscript for the sequel.  George finds the manuscript but doesn't tell anyone.  Eilert tells Hedda about losing the manuscript, but Hedda, instead of saying it was found, encourages Eilert to kill himself.  She also burns the manuscript.

That escalated quickly!

Eilert commits suicide, and George and Hedda set out to reconstruct the sequel from Eilert's notes.

Hedda's role in Eilert's suicide is discovered; there are hints of blackmail, and so Hedda kills herself.

Hedda Gabler is often thought to be the first 'neurotic' character in literature -- meaning that she doesn't act rationally, and doesn't act randomly, but rather acts according to a hidden set of goals that only she understands, and which she finds more important than public, rational goals society claims to have.

Society's weird, though, and we form constructs about our very constructs, distancing ourselves from the things we say we want, or trying to impose on them an order that doesn't exist. I mean, for example:
Why is love the only emotion we are unsure of?

This has long been a pet peeve of mine.  Have you ever heard someone say "I think I'm in [any emotion other than love]"? No, you haven't.  There's never been a time that someone cut you off for a parking spot or you got fired or your kid did something funny and you responded "I think I'm angry/sad/happy." 

But love? We tell people they're not really in love, and we question whether we are in love, and we talk about how we didn't really know about love ever before this moment.

Maybe we do that because we are afraid of what love might make us do?

There was a stir a while back when an author looked at a 1997 study of closeness and made the rather bold claim that you can make someone fall in love with you just by asking (and answering) 36 questions.  She didn't seem to think love was so mysterious: "Love didn't happen to us. We're in love because we each made the choice to be." 

Reducing love to nothing more than a job interview doesn't seem so romantic, but I'm not sure that saying nobody really knows what it is or can be sure they are in it is so romantic, either.

Lightening up a bit, here, let's think about other things we say about the things we use. Like

 What are you supposed to call a book when it doesn't have any kind of physical form any more?

I often find myself thinking about the words we use for stuff we use.  Automobile, and the shorter auto, seems pretty self-explanatory, as are both film and movie.  And those words seems like they'll stick around even as those things change.  The self-driving car I wish existed RIGHT NOW FOR ME will be even of a more automatic mobile than the one I drive myself around in now.  A movie will always move.

But I say watch TV when I mean look at a movie on my laptop (although more and more I say watch Netflix or something like that); that's still pretty accurate, though -- the word "television," used to describe the console and the generally broadcast things on it, means "vision at a distance".

Every definition of the word "book" refers to the physical creation we think of as a book: pages, covers, etc.  The word still might apply just fine for ebooks; there are (e)pages and a physical casing for that book, still.  But what about audiobooks? I download an audiobook onto my phone and listen to it. No pages, no cover (unless I guess I count the phone?)

I suppose book has come to encompass the ideas within the book, a generic term for 'this set of words that tells you something,' rather than the physical thing people still like to carry around for some reason (I caught Sweetie reading one the other day!).

But that doesn't stop me from feeling awkward about audiobooks. I can't say I read a book when I listened to it and if someone says "Hey, did you like the book The Passage?" I feel dumb saying "Oh, yeah, I listened to that it was great."

And finally How come he's the 'waiter' when I am the one who is required to sit for a period of time before getting to do the thing I'm here for?

This one's kind of easy, though actually: originally, the term was used for servants to wait by the table to fetch stuff for their masters.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

I was just thinking...

It's the second-last week of school, and this week the school took the boys on field trips to the local Splash Park, and to the nature trails where I always go walking with Mr F and Mr Bunches.

But they sent home a math packet for Mr Bunches to work on at home with the help of his parents.

So effectively, the teachers have traded roles with me this week.

Here are two photos of things I like to think about instead of thinking about how I live in a world where people can pay $209 for a piece of cheese while other people starve and suffer.


is the exterior of the Milwaukee Art Museum's Brise Soleil. I went walking there yesterday when I took a break from work for a while to walk around in the sunshine. During the entire walk I was blissfully unaware that in less than 24 hours I would wake up and read a news story about how a bunch of stupid selfish mean people were selling cheese for $209 a pound.

And this

is a picture of an elephant I built using "Magna-Tiles" (TM) at the Middleton Public Library on Saturday, when I'd taken Mr F and Mr Bunches there.  We look for things to do for free, like go to the library, because I started a new job in January and money is tight.  Money is too tight for us to pay $209 for a pound of cheese, certainly.  But on Saturday I didn't even think that such a possibility could exist.  $209 for a piece of cheese! What a world we live in! 

Meanwhile, we are waiting to see if the State can give us a grant to help secure our house so that Mr F doesn't climb out the window and run away.  It takes about 2 1/2 years for that to be approved.  Until then, we duct-tape our windows shut and save our money up and don't leave him alone in the house at all, because the other day he tried to do that again.

$209 for a piece of cheese!

Did you know Wisconsin -- home to many cheeses, including the $209-per-piece cheese -- cut food stamps funding? Did you know they did it this year? Did you know that people who were getting as much as $96 per month (!) (they could afford a piece of cheese in just 2 1/4 months!) had their benefits cut to sixteen dollars per month?

I'd go back to bed and sleep this off if I could. But I can't. This is the world we live in.  So I'm just going to look at those pictures as much as I can and try not to wonder whether the beautiful savory melty taste of a $209 piece of cheese would still taste as good in Hell, which is where people who buy that cheese belong.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Why did they have to meet in person at all? I wonder this constantly in my own life and I DON'T have holographic projector communication devices. (Live blogging "The Clone Wars")

Andrew Leon and The Armchair Squid are doing this thing where they're going to blog about The Clone Wars.  I never take part in things, as a rule. But I have been looking for a new show to watch, having exhausted all current American Horror Stories and Bob's Burgers, and I decided I'd try this because Andrew's always telling me and other people to try things and I'm always not doing that.

So he blogged about Episode 1, "Ambush," and I decided to check it out, and live blog it.  So as I think of stuff I'm pausing the episode to note it.

1:38 in. George Lucas' creations have such dumb names.  "Count Dooku." "Toydarians." Oh, hey it's Yoda.

1:45. Yoda's a general?

3:30 Battle droids are shooting at an escape pod, Yoda's master plan being "Get out of the ambush by using an escape pod so the ship can go free but he can make it down to the planet," but then the pods don't launch all at once (to make it harder to shoot them all) but one at a time, in a line.  And then the droid shooting at the final one -- which is the one carrying Yoda? That's dumb: he'd have the best element of surprise in the first one -- misses, and then cracks a joke about how it's a bad shot because that's it's programming.

I thought at first Who would program a 'droid to be bad at its job but have a sense of humor about it?and then I remembered that the droids in Star Wars' universe are basically sentient, but are kept as slaves, and that made me sad.

Also, ever since I read this I've been suspicious of Imperial troops who are 'bad' at what they do.

3:44: AHA. Yoda agrees they got away but says they're going into another trap. SEE?

6:05: Why do the clones have different accents? One of them is Australian, it seems. I would be more worried about Yoda and three clones facing a 'full battalion' if I knew what a full battalion was.  It doesn't seem like Yoda's going to get the fair fight that hovering guy demanded Count Dooku's apprentice agree to.

8:29. More comic relief from the battle droids, still terrible (?) at the sole reason for their existence. But what made me pause here is how dumb the clones are. They have just watched as Yoda's plan has caused Dooku's forces to get out of their tanks, and have listened as Yoda has pointed out that size isn't what counts and that even though they (Yoda and his clone troopers) are smaller, they have larger minds. Then as Yoda heads off, the troopers agree they have no idea what he is talking about. I know it's supposed to be a funny moment but it jarred me out of the story. How are these troopers any improvement on the dunce robots?

9-10:00: Okay that was some pretty cool moves by Yoda but WHERE IS THE LIGHTSABER? I'm not watching Jedis for the acrobatics.

Also, the 'full battalion' turns out to be three tanks and about 20 foot soldiers, which doesn't seem that much. I thought 'battalion' would be at least 100 robots, given the stuff in the beginning about how 1 Jedi was the equivalent of 100 robots, which was some math I didn't follow: Dooku told the bird guy that he had 100 robots for every clone, but the flying king guy said that 1 Jedi is worth 100 robots, but if my math is correct that doesn't tip the odds much unless you have exactly 1 Jedi per clone.

10:08: Oh sorry those were only the advance troops. The full battalion is moving in. Judged too soon.  These clones are probably going to die just so Yoda can reach the rendezvous point to try to get an ally who's not a very good ally, given that he was thinking about going with Count Dooku.  But that's not the point. The point is: do you think you would die for a cause like a soldier would? We just watched Inglourious Basterds, and [SPOILER ALERT!] at the end the Basterds and Shosanna all died so that they could burn the Nazi high command in the theater and end the war.  It was pretty brave. I kept wondering if I would do that.  I mean, suppose you could go back in time and stop World War II early, but you would definitely die doing it. Would you do it? I think I would.  I hope I would.

11:00: One of the tougher robots has just said "Die Republic Dogs." It's weird to think that at this point the Empire was the rebels, and the Jedi were trying to save the Old Republic.  It's also weird to think that the Empire only lasted, what, 25 years?


Also that was one supercool trick he used.

15:00: Yoda has just reminded his guys that they may be clones but the Force resides in all life forms. I'm not clear on what "The Force" is, but does everyone have midichlorians and some just have more than others? Also, are clones treated as real citizens of the Republic or are they slaves, too?

15:24: I am surprised Andrew didn't say anything about this.  Yoda and the clones are watching a whole column of tanks and troops come into the canyon, and Yoda's got some sort of plan and figures they can win, and he says "Know the time to help me you will" and then leaps down into battle. OK, so why not tell them the exact plan? If Yoda can see the future, or just has a good idea how things are going to work out here, HE SHOULD TELL THEM. I know it's more surprising to see the battle unfold, but you don't have to tell us.  Just show a shot of Yoda saying here's the plan and they all huddle and then Yoda leaps.  It's INSANE that the general is going into battle without telling his troops the plan and just counting on this bunch -- who couldn't understand his little koan before! -- to figure things out.

15:40: Yoda jumps down in front of the whole army. They do not fire immediately. They say to block his escape, which they do not do, and then the leader orders the robots to prepare to fire. GET READY TO GET READY TO KILL HIM GUYS.

Then they report in, and the leader lady has to tell them to shoot him. I'm not sure 100 robots to every clone is enough.

THEN the leader says ready aim fire.

But he has to say it twice. 

16:47: The robots are too goofy. Yoda's attacking one and he's complaining about how he just got promoted.  But the clones! They're watching and one says "Doesn't look like the General needs help to me."  Good work, guys.

18:35: The clones figured it out, and used the same trick Hercules used on the hydra in the Disney version: drop a rock on things.  (I have watched Hercules a lot lately because the boys like to watch it a lot, so we see it about once a day. It holds up well.)

20:13: Why do the bad guys all use two lightsabers? And how come none of the other Jedi think to just pull their opponent's lightsabers from them? Yoda's all right.

And it's over. It wasn't bad.  It made Star Wars a bit too Saturday-morning-cartoonish instead of Saturday-afternoon-matinee-ish, but I guess it was worth watching another one in the future.

Your first look at Mr Bunches' Garden Of Hope. (Thinking The Lions)

Every year, Mr Bunches and I plant a garden and Mr F unwillingly helps out and/or spills the dirt from wherever he can because he likes dirt but hates gardening.

I, too, hate gardening, which is why I don't really garden, per se.  I do not mow my lawn. I do not weed my flowerbeds.  I am in year 12 of a five-year project to turn my backyard into a beautiful wild perennial garden.  There is even a rudimentary 'path' around the yard.  It is probably horrifying to my neighbors.

When I do garden, I am as likely to get distracted by a bookstore, kidnap babies, or almost die of bees  as I am to actually grow plants, and that is only in part because I am bad at growing plants, in the sense that I think plants should be able to grow by themselves, the way everything else (e.g., people, goats, that weird branch of the federal government that tracks your Sears card purchases to see if you are a terrorist) does, so I don't want to be out there helping them.  Watering? Weeding? Do kids need that stuff? No. And kids are the highest-maintenance things there are.  So plants need to learn to fend for themselves.

The other reason I am bad at gardening is that my yard is secretly filled with nuclear waste or something, because nothing grows except weeds, and that apple tree that the neighbors' dog bit in half years ago. It is doing fine.  Everything else I plant dies nearly instantly.  I have three pine trees that are turning brown.  A bush that had been around the entire time we lived here died this year.  Another two in the back yard are gone.  Even my tulips didn't bloom this year. That is, one did but it died pretty quickly.  All around me my neighbors have beautiful yards full of flowers and trees and things that are not Zombie Plants, and my yard is just a mass of weeds and, somewhere, a path.  Don't try to tell me that if I put some effort into it it would get better.  First off, I'm not going to put effort into it. It's plants.  They are everywhere.  Look around you! I bet there's a plant within eyesight right now.  You can't stop them! Unless you plant them in my yard.

Secondly, when I do put effort into it it goes badly, like the time I bought half a weed trimmer.  That is a true story.  I needed a weed trimmer because everything in our yard is a weed, probably even the path is weeds now, so I went to "Home Depot" (motto: do not under any circumstances ask where something is because nobody know, they'll just say aisle 12") to get a new weed trimmer, and they had an entire aisle (of course they did) devoted to weed trimmers, because we live in a country where where the city of Madison is debating whether or not to force the homeless people to go somewherre besides the downtown -- not help them, just move them -- but we can choose among 153,457 different makes of weed trimmer.  I would support a YOU SUCK tax that imposes a 10% surcharge on anything that I personally dislike or think is stupid, with the proceeds going to raise the minimum wage provide housing and counseling for the homeless, and maybe funding Kansas schools for the final month of the year so that our now-most-backwards state (congrats Alabama you're only 49th!) could educate their kids.

Anyway, I went to "Home Depot" and wandered around the aisle trying to find a weed trimmer that wasn't wifi-enabled or GPS linked or made out of chainsaws or whatever ridiculous level of armament we now employ against dandelions so that men can feel like men in their yards for an hour before tucking their polo shirt back into their khaki expandable waist shorts and going back in to watch simulcasts of ESPN radio shows on TV.  And I finally settled on the least expensive one, a small weed trimmer that cost about $40 and promised to trim weeds.  I knew it wouldn't be capable of fighting off Charlize Theron for fuel or whatever, but I didn't need all that, so I bought it, went home, opened up the box, and found that what I had purchased was the lower half of a weed trimmer that needed to be attached to the upper half (SOLD SEPARATELY!) before being used.  On the plus side, I could buy any number of a bunch of attachments to store in my 'man cave' in between bouts of drinking hops-infused homebrew and hitching up my khaki shorts.  On the minus side, I could not trim weeds without investing another forty bucks, and so I have not trimmed any weeds in two years.

I still have the weed trimmer half, though.  So if you bought the upper half mistakenly and were too p***ed off at Home Depot/America/Dad and Mom for ever making you garden as a kid to go get the other half, let me know and we'll work out a deal.

Anyway, for the past several years we've moved from planting the garden in a 'spare' flowerbed, where it was overtaken by weeds, to planting seedlings in cups in hopes of then transplanting them into the yard where they could be overtaken by weeds,  to this year, when we planted the seeds in buckets and stuff (TM) where they would be flooded by rainwater before they could ever hope to make it far enough to be overtaken by weeds.

A few weeks back, we went to the hardware store -- NOT "Home Depot," because fool me once, that's capitalism, fool me twice that's how Americans keep voting for the GOP -- and bought a set of seeds Mr Bunches picked out.  We then gathered up various buckets and flowerpots and stuff (TM) we had laying around, dug some dirt out of a random location by the wagon planter we made in the backyard out of an old wagon and some backyard (suck it, Martha Stewart!) and put the seeds into the pots.

We had them on the front porch, where immediately a guy trying to sell me aluminum siding knocked one off the porch the next day.  He rang the bell and as I was trying to unlock the multiple security systems that keep Mr F from running away, I saw him through the door's window picking up the pot.

"Would you mind putting that back?" I asked him as I got the door open.  He claimed it was already knocked over and that he was just putting it back up but whatever he was obviously casing the joint.

So much for the carrots!

The zucchini -- MR BUNCHES PICKED THEM NOT ME!-- was sitting on the front porch the next day when it rained.  Oh good rain, I thought. Crops need rain.  When the rain ended the zucchini was under 4" of water, as it had sat in the exact spot where some runoff from the roof had hit.  Most of the dirt was washed out by the torrential waterfall the zucchini had suffered through.  What little wasn't washed out was dumped over by Mr F who did I mention likes dirt?

That same fate -- a dumping by Mr F -- befell one of the flowers we'd planted, so we are left with exactly four hopes for a successful garden this year.  It would be our first ever, after last year's late season drought killed the corn plant that had sprouted two ears.

Here is what we've got so far:

These are sunflowers.  I know it looks like I took them in the middle of the night using a flash but I didn't.  That's just some weird effect caused by the superbright sun this morning, a superbright sun that somehow is completely failing to warm the Earth.  It's FORTY DEGREES.  On June 2.  Screw you, Wisconsin. As soon as I can I'm leaving you.

Here are radishes, which are not growing the recommended 2" apart from each other.  I don't line up my plants in neat little rows.  This isn't Nazi Germany.  Every day I pick a radish to see how they're doing.  They're pretty skinny.  I have low-carb radishes growing here.  I'm going to be a millionaire!

And this

is probably the kind of flower shown on the package.  To make sure I could later identify the flowers, you can see, I kept the packages by them.  To make sure that I couldn't, I inadvertently tore the name of the flowers off the top of the package.  So I will go out on a limb and say this is "probably a yellow flower."

The fourth plant, the pumpkins in the wagon planter, I was not allowed to take a picture of today because we were waiting for the bus and Mr Bunches, who is in mortal fear of missing the bus, would not go with me to look at it and would not let me go by myself to the backyard to see how it is doing. I'm sure it's fine. What could go wrong? *sees pack of weeds armed with crowbars moving slowly towards backyard. * Probably nothing.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

10 Minutes About: "The City And The City"

I have been trying to find a good blog or podcast about books, and it doesn't seem like there is a good one out there.  Not one I really want to listen to or read, anyway.  There are blogs that mention books and some of them are good (yes, yours, Andrew) but they're not exclusively about books the way some sites are about celebrity gossip or movies or such. There's a whole bunch of sites that talk about pop culture and which don't hardly ever mention books.  About the closest I can come is Buzzfeed's Books Feed (which means wading through pages of quizzes about which One Direction Harry Potter's Cat I am) or IO9, which only occasionally has books mentioned (about once a month, by my count.)

I bring this up because it's harder and harder to find books that I really want to read, and to read about books in general when I don't feel like reading a book.  And I find so few books that are really worth reading that I need as many sources as possible to find them.  

I found out about the book I'm reading right now, The City And The City, by China Mieville, through (I think) an IO9 article about scifi books for people who don't like scifi, or close enough to that.  They had Slaughterhouse-Five on there, which made my list of the top scifi books ever, and people forget that book is scifi.  So I read the list, and saw The City And The City on there, and the recommendation was something like "by the time you figure out what's going on, you won't even mind it's science fiction," which is a coin toss of a recommendation for me.

Books that make you work to figure out what is going on can either be phenomenally great (like my book Eclipse, if I say so myself), or can be incredibly stupid and offputting, like Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, one of the most overrated writers I've ever been suckered into paying money for a book from.  (I think that sentence makes sense? I wasn't sure how to end it.)  I was going to buy this one book recently because the review sounded good: a team of people goes into a forbidden zone and has to try to figure out what happened to the previous 12 or so teams, but then I read the Amazon reviews of the book, and many, MANY of them mentioned how it was really difficult to figure out what was going on, and not all of them seemed like they were saying that in a good way.  So I ended up never buying the book (and now I can't remember what it was and I don't want to use the 1:50 left in my 10 minutes looking it up.)

The City And The City isn't like that, at all.  It's confusing, but in a great way.  I got sucked into the story right away.  It's a murder mystery but it takes place in this weird city, Besz, and as the investigation starts there's a lot of talk about unseeing and crosshatching and various other terms getting thrown in, all of which slowly move the reader away from this is a murder mystery in a foreign city to hmmm what's going on here?  (My first guess was that they were all characters in a painting but I think I'm wrong about that, now that I'm about 25% through, and I don't currently have any guesses except that I think "Breach" might be an actual alien.)

That's 10 minutes.