30 July, 2008

Ghost in the Shell

"It is entirely unprecedented that evolution should
provide a species with an organ which it does not
know how to use; a luxury organ"
    –A.Koestler
 
I don’t want to spend the rest of my life
Looking at the barrel of an Armalite
I don’t want to spend the rest of my days
Keeping out of trouble like the soldiers say
I don’t want to spend my time in hell
Looking at the walls of a prison cell
I don’t ever want to play the part
Of a statistic on a government chart
             Invisible Sun, The Police 

In computer science lingo, a ‘shell’ is a structure which allows you to interface with the computer without directly accessing the program behind it. What most people think of when they think of Windows is the GUI (graphical user interface), not the whole operating system. The GUI is a shell. It protects the operating system. I think a lot of people wear masks, and some of us put on entire suits of armor. That is the way I look at what I did. I never learned to deal with emotions as a child. I grew up in a dysfunctional family that did not know how to deal with the honest expression of emotion. All I knew about emotions was that, if I acted the way I felt, they seemed to get in the way of getting what I wanted.
I think it is at this point that many sociopaths would learn to control the expression of emotions in order to manipulate their environment. I wasn’t a sociopath, so I just learned to stuff them down. I think learning how to deal with emotions is what we are doing when we are ‘developing a thick skin.’ We learn to accept and express our emotions without letting them cause a melt-down, a run-time error, or systems crash. I never learned how to deal with them, so I developed my ‘shell.’ But a good programmer (and I wasn’t; I was a child) would instead look towards making a robust program that isn’t as prone to crashing. An interface is somewhat of a cheat, and a dangerous one, at that. If something gets inside the shell, there is usually no protection, because all of the defenses were put into the shell. 
My shell, my suit of armor, was an interface of stoicism with which I interacted with my environment without having to deal with all the messy syntax of my emotions. I rationalized that I was making the best use of my intellect. I think it was Hume, but maybe it was Blackburn, who said that we are self correcting creatures, that we adapt to our environment. To some extent I have to disagree with this assertion. I don’t think that we always adapt to the sensory input.
We don’t always change the way we look at things when new evidence suggests our original calculations were wrong. I think sometimes we choose to ignore something that is right in front of our faces because it fails to match what we believe is true. That is why the term ‘rationalization’ leaves such a dirty taste in your mouth, even though supposedly we are rational creatures and that is supposed to be a good thing. Rationalization means to use the power of our mind to deny reality, instead of to understand it. 
Though this armor allowed me to do some pretty incredible things throughout my military career I ask myself now what it cost me. I think there is a reason that we have emotions, and it is necessary for many more functions than being able to cry at the end of Old Yeller. My (perceived) lack of emotions allowed me to focus only upon my mission without regard to how I felt about anything. Cognitively, I told myself that what I was doing was right, and it didn’t matter how I felt about it. I told myself that it was an important part of being able to be cool under pressure. And it works; except it is a lie.
The emotions are there, whether we acknowledge them or not. I don’t think anything short of severing the limbic system from our cerebral cortex could remove emotions from us The frontal lobotomy of yesteryear may have served to sever us from the effects of emotion, the memories of emotion, and the thoughts of emotion, but even that drastic incision did not remove emotion from us. My attempt (my proud attempt) to contain my emotions behind a firewall of stoicism was basically an attempt at a software (or virtual) frontal lobotomy, rather than hardware (or physical). I tried to reprogram myself to not feel, but I couldn’t change the way I was wired. 
It was a long time between the realization of my error and when I finally broke out of my self-imposed emotional gulag. The armor I wore so proudly to demonstrate the triumph of reason over emotion had become pitted and scarred inside from the emotions eating away at me; but it was familiar. It was tarnished and discolored on the outside, also, because in the end, I was afraid to polish it for fear that the pressure would crack the weakened alloy and I would be exposed, vulnerable and unprotected. In the end, that was the choice I had to make: to be exposed and endangered rather than feebly protected, because I felt that I would be trapped inside if I didn’t get it off of me. It burned with the caustic emotions that I had vainly tried to subvert to my will.
Skin takes a while to develop resiliency, but it can happen. We can develop skin that protects us, and it is better than armor, because skin has the ability to bend. I can admit now that I am weak, where once I deluded myself I was strong. I revel now in my vulnerability, instead of taking false pride in my emotional detachment. I feel like I have scrubbed off the residual layers of filth and death and I lay exposed but clean. Like a burn victim, occasionally I have to scrub off the newly formed scabs of the minor damages done to me so that the whole of my skin will develop scar free. It hurts, but I think it is necessary. There is even part of me that enjoys the pain, because it means I am feeling.
I need to work on the emotional weight I place on some things, perhaps, but I have a lot of catching up to do. Sometimes the beauty of the world makes me weep, not so much in bitterness at how much time I had wasted, but in appreciation that I finally seem to have arrived at where I want to be. My emotional skin is thin, and sensitive to many things, and I am sure this makes me difficult to deal with in certain situations.
But it is real.

29 July, 2008

“You left her at the altar when she was pregnant.”
“But that was ages ago!”
“Women remember that stuff.”
  —Run, Fatboy, Run

They started roofing my apartment at 0730 this morning. Holy shit sounds like the 101st airborne just landed on my roof and started river dancing.
I need to get out of here today. But first I need to finish watching H&K Escape from Guantanamo so I can get it turned back in.
I found my title, so I can go re-title and register my car. Yay for red tape.
Y’all have a good day now, ya hear?
“Fuck you! Donuts are awesome!”
–Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo

27 July, 2008

The halo effect

Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing.      – Camille Pissaro
My roof is leaking and the rain’s drippin’ on my head
Drip drop a drippity drop
I said my roof is leaking and the rain’s drippin’ on my head
Drip drop a drippity drop
So if my woman don’t love me, I might as well be dead
       Army Cadence (at doubletime) 

Though the honeymoon is over with my new digs, I am still pretty happy with it.  I notice the little things that I always have trouble seeing when I first move in.  Stains on the carpet, holes in the screens, leaky refrigerator.  Little things.
Lessons for stress free existence:
  1. Don’t sweat the small shit.
  2. It is all small shit.
  3. When in doubt, see rule # 1.
I still really like living on the second floor.  It is so quiet here, also.  The amount of space is wonderful.  The kitchen rocks.  My bedroom is too big, but it seems odd even counting that as a bad thing.  It is just space I would rather have somewhere else.  People have too much stuff in their bedrooms, I think.  I don’t need that much space.
I made the best beef stroganoff ever this evening.  I used a marsala wine instead of regular red, and I liked the extra kick it gave.  I think next time I will braise the beef tips in smaller batches instead of all at once; I might dredge them first in flour so they get a nice crust and then it will also thicken the sauce instead of adding flour.  I am in love with mushrooms.
I really like having a swimming pool so close.  The other one is too small anyway, which I found out when they had this one closed to get it ready for the pool party they had this weekend.  I walked all the way to the other one only to find out it is made for splashing and not for swimming.  The YMCA is not far from where I will work, and they have an olympic sized pool.  I might get a membership so I can keep swimming over the winter.
I didn’t go to the party.  It might have been a good opportunity to meet a bunch of new people, but that is just too many new people all at once.  I can handle people in small groups, but large groups stress me out.
They are reroofing all of the buildings.  I hope they don’t get to mine until after I start work, but I am betting they will get to it next week.  I don’t sleep late, anyway, but it is nice to have the option.
In Bruges is a wonderful movie.  I love Focus Films.  They are almost always original and well seasoned with brilliant dialogue.
Ping pong balls are some of the cheapest cat toys ever.  My kitten is fiercer than a mountain lion and cuddlier than a koala bear.  She also loves ping pong balls.
It’s the small things that make or break us, it seems.

22 July, 2008

Playing doctor

When I took Albert in to the vet Monday morning they told me they thought the wound was caused by a wolf worm, a parasite whose larva grows inside the host until it busts out like alien. They said it was treatable, they just had to open up the wound deep enough to dig the parasite out.
Um. Ew.
Luckily, it was a sterile procedure and I couldn’t be in the room. I could dig shrapnel out of my own leg while it was spurting arterial blood. I could give mouth to mouth to a Brother who had just hurled because of a nerve agent attack. I could cut off my nose to spite my face. But I am a big pussy when it comes to animals.
Oddly, they never seem to feel pain like we do. They feel it once, and then let it go. I aspire to this kind of pain management, but I only skirt the edges. A yoga master I am not.
So they took Albert away after weighing her and laughingly telling me that I needed to change her name (implying that I didn’t know how to recognize a vagina when I saw one).
In my defense it has been quite a few years since I’ve seen one. And you should see this fur pattern. She is cleverly disguised as a male, I assure you. She might be bi.
Anyway, they took her and a short time later the nurse came back with her and the vet came in. They told me that there was no worm in the wound, but that it left behind a lot of necrotic tissue, which they cleaned. This left a volcano looking wound in her jaw that about made me retch. The doc made a big show of showing me the wound and talking about what came out of it and describing the technique he used to dig out the gangrene.
Of course, this was better than the field expedient method by which I was trained to remove necrotic tissue, but this was my cat they were talking about, not my leg. I told you I was a big pussy.
I talked to the vet about the way she holds her head to the side and if it was the wound or whether it showed neurological damage. He said that in a very few cases the worm does enter the nervous system and cause problems, but there was no way to tell if this was the case at this stage.
They repeatedly told me how sweet a little kitten she was and, though I am sure they tell this to almost everyone, I knew it was the absolute truth with Albert.
We talked about how to keep the wound clean and what to look for; they even hooked me up with a bottle of saline solution so I could keep it irrigated. They had found worms in her stool, so they gave her a worming medicine and told me to keep Brenna and her away from the feces for a while so they do not infect each other or reinfect herself. They gave her her first shot against feline leukemia et al. She was a trooper.
I got amoxycillin and a dropper so that I could feed her antibiotics for a week until the wound healed. She is not a fan of the stuff, and I am pretty sure she doesn’t like having the dropper pushed into her mouth, but she sure is cute the face she makes when she tastes the stuff. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I can’t help it.
The bill was a little horrendous, but she is worth it. I can eat pasta this month. I am glad she will be healthy, even if she has had permanent damage done to her. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, either. We fit.
Brenna was a little pissed that I had brought her back. I think she thought I had obeyed her wishes to not let this interloper into the house. She went back to spitting and snarling at Albert and giving me a dirty look and a cold shoulder. After that she retreated to the back bedroom which I had set up to be just hers for a while until Albert got settled.
I am thinking of continuing to call Albert Albert. I am sure she won’t mind. I am also starting to think Angelina would be a nice name, but it doesn’t fit with her other names. Luckily there is no birth certificate to fill out.
Brenna eventually came out of her back room, but that is another story.

20 July, 2008

Enter Albert

Last week I decided to get a playmate for Brenna.  I am afraid it has been hard on her not to be able to go outside when she pleases and, though I am sure she will get used to being indoors only, I thought she might like to have some company.
I looked up pet rescue shelters on Friday and found that Madison only had the police department.  I suppose I could have gone in to Huntsville for more options, but all I really care about is that I am helping a cat.  I am not really picky about sex or color or anything like that.  Which is good, because Madison currently only had one cat impounded.  It was a kitten that had been picked up as a stray.  It was only about five weeks old.  It was all fur and bones and felt like it had a matt of fur by its jaw.
The police said they thought it might have brain damage because it held its head sideways sometimes when it looked like it was staring off into space.  I had never heard of an autistic cat, but it didn’t bother me much.  The cat seemed friendly, even though it trembled when I picked it up.  I paid the fifteen dollar adoption fee and promised to have her neutered when she reached sexual maturity.
I took her home and set up a small living area in the large half bath I have here so that I could keep Brenna away while she got used to me.  I sat with her for an hour or so while she explored, ate, and pooped.  I pet her gently when she wandered near me and was amazed that she would flop down and roll onto her back.  I had never had a kitten that wanted its belly rubbed so easily.  It wasn’t an act of submission, that I could see.  She just wanted a tummy rub.  And I am easily trained.
Later that night I worried that she might be deaf because, though she is skittish, she didn’t seem phased by the noise I made hammering on my new bookcases.  This is her exploring the box in which the bookcase came. 
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Originally I had pegged her for a boy, because she has a hair pattern that looks like two little testicles between her anus and what I took to be her penis.  So, I named her Albert, after one of my heros, ’cause she had this crazy hair and she looks like she studies things carefully.  Full name was Albert O. Finnegan.  (cats should have a full name)
We bonded pretty well, and she already loves me as you can tell in this pic.  I think it shows how beautiful she will be when she matures.
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That night, though, when she was scratching at what i thought was just a mass of hair, it ruptured and the most god-awful stench came out of it along with pus.  I thought it had been a boil, then, so I cleaned and irrigated the wound and then called my little brother to get his advice.  He did a lot of veterinary work in preparation for his duties as a SF medic, so he knows more than me.
He told me just to monitor the wound and only worry if she ran a fever, got lethargic, the boil reappeared or the stench did not dissipate.  She was not very lethargic.  Not quite the rambunctious kitty she is now, but still quite active in her environment.  She didn’t know what to think about this other kitten.
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I began to see her exhibit the sideways head more often (see below), and I thought maybe it was due to the boil.  I thought maybe it just gave her pain to turn her head so she held it like that to look around.  The O in her name stands for Owl, even though I thought it might go away after the wound healed.  But the stench did not dissipate.  And she had no compunctions about rubbing all over me, which was kind of sweet but pretty gross.  I slept on the floor with her that night and she kept getting up on the pillow by my face.  But she was purring so loudly I couldn’t push her away.  She was so excited to have a home.
  100_0365.jpg

The vets informed me (when I took her this morning) that I might need to change her name.  They thought it was pretty funny.  They didn’t give me a discount for making them laugh, though.

18 July, 2008

My cat, Brenna, loved moving packing to no end.  Having the house filled with boxes to explore was really the cats meow, so to speak.  But she didn’t meow very much.  She was sneaky.  There really should be the theme from Jaws playing as you look at this. 
(which reminds me; I want to design a digital camera that allows me to embed a short voice note into the picture I just took)
She had to look out to see what I was laughing about.  There was only so much paper rustling and purring that I could stand before full throated laughter ensued.  It disturbed the zen like qualtiy of her hunt, I guess.  Difficult to stalk the wiley shadow when some oaf is guffawing in the background.
I went to KC to visit my brother and his family over the Fourth of July weekend.  I had a really good time playing with my nieces and seeing one of the best fireworks displays ever.  We also barbecued, went swimming, played games, saw a watermelon blow up in Mike’s firehouse, and ate tasty vittles.  Shannon gave me one of the best recipes for chicken enchiladas.  It was my initiating meal here.
Here (clockwise from left) Shannon (SIL) Abigail, Allyson and I play Sorry!  You can’t see me, of course, but you can see how all my pieces are already safe.  I pωn children’s board games, and I am not ashamed to admit it.
This is the skyline of the city that I miss sometimes, but not so much I would want to do my youth over again.   Kansas City is a very beautiful city, though.  More fountains than any other city besides Rome.  I didn’t get a chance to go to the Plaza for pictures.  Maybe I will visit over Christmas and get some photos of the lights.
Below is a shot from the amusement park I went to as a child, "Worlds of Fun."  It is a blast.  My little brother and I went last time we were both in KC.  Here you can see one of the ginormous hills of (what I believe is) the Orient Express as well as the Detonator in the background.  I didn’t go this trip, but we passed this on the way to Mike’s station. 
I tried to get photos of the watermelon covered office after the explosion, but they didn’t come out well.  Boy was the other Captain pissed, though.  Bit of drama in the KCFD, I guess.  My brothers crew thought it was pretty damn funny.  So did we.
Yet another picture of my cat and her neverending love of bags and boxes.  Most cats come running when they hear a can opener or a bag of treats being shaken.  Brenna, if I want her to come running, all I have to do is open the zipper on my duffel or bookbag.  Quite a multitasking cat toy.
Besides a bag lover and burrower, Brenna spends a lot of time on her haunches, like a groundhog.  Here you can see the little bow tie and cummerbund that makes her look so dignified.  Here she was trying to help me hold the measuring tape as I decided where to put my new bookcases.
She was not sure what to make of all the noises coming out of the utility room where her litter box used to be, so I put a chair there so she could see the clothes being washed.
That should be enough for now.  I finally found my cable, so I can upload some of the pictures I have been taking.  Maybe next time I’ll tell you about this little fellow:

16 July, 2008

Magic words

Of all the things that parents (are supposed to) teach their children I would submit that teaching them to ‘use their words’ is the most important.  The ability to properly communicate ones needs and desires is integral to any interpersonal relationship, no matter how inconsequential.  An ability to communicate well might be the deciding factor in whether someone chooses violence, passive aggressiveness, or assertiveness.  But in order to choose communication, people have to trust that communication will bring a successful resolution to whatever conflict they currently face.  They have to believe that their words will have the desired effect.
It is a fine line that must be walked in order to teach children that words can make a difference in the world without allowing them the fantasy that words make an automatic difference.  But that is, in effect, what we teach our children.  The ancients believed in certain Words of power which would imbue them with the power to control the very forces of nature.  But even in a society which has advanced past the practice of arcane rituals to ensure a good crop, we still teach them at the dinner table.  The example might be outdated, since I am unsure of how many families sit down to dinner together any more, but that is where I was taught this ritual.  I am sure you will recognize this scene.
Billy:  Pass the butter.
Mother:  What’s the magic word?
Billy:  Please?
Now, it is not my intention to say that we should not teach our children how to be polite.  On the contrary I think the standards of polite behavior should be more strictly enforced, but that is not what is transpiring in the above dialogue.  Billy is not learning etiquette; he thinks he is learning magic words.  Of course, it will be argued that it is just a figure of speech but I would be disinclined to agree.  Kids know what magic is, and if they are forever denied what they seek until they speak a ‘magic word’ what other conclusion can they reach but what is constantly reinforced?
If the jury needs further proof, I direct their attention to any retail outlet across the nation where a child is asking for something.
Child:  Can I have (insert virtually anything)?
Parent:  No
Child:  PuhLEASE?!?!
The child believes that the magic word can transform a no into a yes.  It is not the child’s fault; it is only doing what it has been taught.  And if the parent EVER gives in to this tactic, it will only reinforce in the child’s mind that this is the way it works.
It was a belief in magic words that caused Demi Moore’s character, Lieutenant Commander Galloway in A Few Good Men, to ‘strenuously object’ in the courtroom, much to the derision of the bench and the ridicule of her own camp.  She should have been taught, at a young age, that there are no magic words which will change reality from what you do not want it to be into what you wish it to be.
Authority figures may be swayed by our arguments but they will rarely acquiesce to our pleas (and is the homonym merely a coincidence?  I think not) alone.  There are no magic words.  And if human authority is immune to our supplication, Nature is even more so.  She will not listen to even our most eloquent argument, let alone our most impassioned (or spoiled) demand.  Words can be used in a conflict to negotiate a compromise with other humans, but reality does not compromise, and we shouldn’t teach our children that there is a chance it will. 

15 July, 2008

On morality

The concept of morality seems to have been confused in modern day language. The fact that there is a group which is ludicrously labeled ‘the Moral Majority’ in my country would lead one to believe that everyone else who is not blessed to belong to that group has no morality whatsoever, that we belong instead to the ‘immoral minority’. I use the term ‘minority’ only with tongue in cheek to contrast their pompous name and I suspect that, in the final count, there are more of us than them.
Normally, when one is accused of being immoral, it is because ones actions have been contrary to the established mores of a society or a particular group. The particular person or persons who have engaged in the deviant behavior are outside the boundaries of what the larger organization has set for ‘good’ behavior. Quite often, the restrictions that the deviant(s) have ignored are sexual in nature. Both Orwell and Rand described eloquently the amount of control a society can exert over the individual when the society is in charge of determining proper sexual etiquette.
Since pretty much anything that leads to sexual gratification other than that which can lead to procreation is considered sodomy, I will freely assume that the majority of sexually active adults have committed it, which makes us all criminals. Though sodomy laws are categorically ignored, at least for heterosexuals, it should give one pause to consider why the law is there in the first place. What would cause a government to want to be able to label someone a criminal who has done nothing more than perform oral sex on his or her partner? To convict of a crime even the recipient of that oral sex is ridiculous, but it is, by law, possible. To label someone as immoral, however, for whatever reason, is a misnomer; it is quite impossible to be immoral.
The word moral, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, has four primary definitions. They are:
1. Of or relating to the principles of right and wrong.
2. Capable of right or wrong action
3. Probable but not proved (as in a moral certainty)
4. Perceived or psychological, rather than tangible or practical (as in a moral victory)
In the movie K-Pax, Kevin Spacey’s character says something to the effect of, "Every creature in the universe knows the difference between right and wrong." He says this with such a beatific smile on his face that one cannot help but to get a warm fuzzy about the nature of the universe. However, upon further reflection, it is clear that it cannot be a true statement unless we adjust slightly our definitions of right and wrong.
Every creature in the universe does seem to know what to do in order to survive. The plant does not reach towards the sun in an aesthetic appreciation for the beauty of the sun; the plant does so because it instinctively knows that it needs the sunlight to live. It is true that every creature is born with the instinct to survive. It is in the plants nature, indeed the nature of every living creature, to try and survive. Seneca said that a "happy life is one which is lived in accordance with its nature."
I submit that few could argue that happiness and survival when paired together are not a good thing. Therefore we could say that what promotes life is right action, and what discourages life is wrong action. However, most animals cannot make a choice between doing something that is good for their life, and something that is bad for it. Animals are controlled by their instinct and their environment. They have no choice but to live in accordance with their nature, unless Man trains them otherwise.
Man is a moral animal. This does not mean that he is good, it means that he is capable of right or wrong action. Only Man is capable of choosing wrong action. But our ability to choose to do that which is bad for our own life, which technically should be wrong, allows us to embrace our true nobility. We can choose a higher value than our own individual life for which to dedicate ourselves. We can rise above our instincts and place our life on the line for our children, our beliefs, our nation, or a stranger in need of help.
Some of the most gallant acts that Man has ever performed were in direct contradiction to what was best for his own individual life. On the other hand, some of the most heinous crimes committed by Man against each other were not directly bad for his own life, but for the species in general. We could alter our definition of good and bad to include that which leads to the survival and success of the species as a good thing. But choosing to rise above our instincts for a higher purpose does not make us moral. The ability to choose is what makes us moral.
The phrase ‘a moral certainty’ refers to the fact that mature people understand that most things they know to be true stand at least a minute possibility of being wrong. Having a moral certainty legally means that you would act on the information as if it were a fact. The difference is that ever since Columbus proved the world was not flat, and Galileo was proved correct that the Earth indeed revolved around the sun (contrary to the claims of the church that had burned him to death for daring to question them), reasonable humans have admitted that knowledge is, at best, flawed. Isaac Bonewitz codified this concept in his "Law of Infinite Data" which most people recognize as, "The more you know, the less you understand."
The devil once went for a walk with a friend. They saw a man ahead of them stoop down and pick up something from the ground. ‘What did that man find?’ asked the friend. ‘A piece of truth,’ said the devil. ‘Doesn’t that disturb you?’ asked the friend. ‘No,’ said the devil, ‘I shall let him make a belief out of it.’" ("The Devil and His Friend," p. 39, The Song of the Bird, Anthony de Mello) People who refuse to acknowledge that they might be wrong have a certainty which can only be called immoral, because only a god could claim infallibility. Alfred North Whitehead said it this way: "All truths are half truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil." (p. 193, Peripheral Visions, Mary Catherine Bateson) It is ironic that these are the people that insist that someone else’s behavior is immoral. But even having an immoral certainty does not make someone immoral, because they still have the ability to choose between right and wrong.
A moral victory is defined as an intangible victory rather than a practical one; it is fighting a losing fight because of the principle of the matter. Unlike a Pyrrhic victory, in which a victory is not worth the cost, a moral victory is a defeat that is worth it. For instance, if my lady’s Honor were offended by the Hell’s Angels, and I challenged them to fisticuffs, I might get my ass kicked, but I would have won on principle. I would have had a moral victory. Sometimes you have to fight a losing battle just because it needs to be fought. I would not, however, say that my victory is intangible. I believe that Honor is very tangible. I can feel it every time I look in the mirror, provided I have earned it. Honor is the shield of all other virtues. Rob Roy MacGregor said that "Honor is a gift one gives to themselves" and though that gift may not be taxable, it is still something that I hold dear.
Standing up for my lady’s Honor or laying down my life for my Brothers or my beliefs is only possible if I have a moral code. A moral code is a value system that is based on a hierarchy of values. In Ryukyu Kempo, for instance, we were taught the value system for the use of violence. Based on a samurai motto, it was:
1. Walk away before you cause pain.
2. Cause pain before you injure.
3. Injure before you maim.
4. Maim before you kill.
5. Kill before you are killed.
6. If you must kill, make it a clean kill.
A value system rates what we hold to be good (the benefit) from highest to lowest, and rates what we hold to be bad (the cost) from lowest to highest. Though we can not always predetermine that our actions will adhere to our code, thinking clearly about what we hold to be true prior to our beliefs being tested will give us maximum prospect to act in accordance with our values. It is mental training, in an effort to program ourselves to do the right thing. Nevertheless, it is still up to us to choose what is the right thing.
We have to decide what to value before we can choose the best right, or to choose the lesser of two evils. I used to think the world was made up of black and white issues. Some would argue that the world is made up of nothing but shads of grey, and I can understand that assertion. It does not give us authority for moral relativism, though. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and if you can’t decide, you have to go back and check your premises. Because the grey, if we look close enough, is actually made up of pixels that are only black and white. We just have to make the effort to think about it. Many people allow their religion to dictate what they think is right or wrong. Some people never consider it at all. As the esteemed lyricist Neil Pert said, "You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
The inability to decide between what is good and what is evil would preclude our ability to make a choice about it. The difficulty of choosing does not remove from us the responsibility to choose. If we could not choose, we would not be capable of right or wrong action, we would only be capable of action. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden knew nothing of Good and Evil until they tasted of the forbidden fruit. They were incapable of choosing, and so they were incapable of right or wrong action. They were the most immoral beings ever written about. I hesitate to call them human. All of us have a choice. We may choose poorly, and we may make mistakes. We may choose to do what everyone else believes is the wrong thing. (Even if a million people disagree with you, there is still a one in a million chance you are right. The question is, do you feel lucky?) Going against the mores of society may make us pariahs, and it may even make us criminals, but it does not make us immoral. We may choose to do the wrong thing, even though we know it is wrong, because it is our choice. And it is our ability to choose which makes us moral creatures.

14 July, 2008

Oh yeah. My last major outlay of funds for the move. I figure the convenience of having my own washer and dryer plus the savings from not having to use the coin-op (plus the fact there is no coin-op in sight) was worth the money. I did want to upgrade to an LCD TV, but that can wait. Besides, for every month I don’t buy a new TV the price goes down. And I need clean clothes now.
I almost bought a set of the Neptunes from Maytag because they were pre-leased(and therefore a bit cheaper), but I did some quick research and people have had a lot of trouble with them.  So I bought a set like this instead:
How sexy is that?  I suppose it is not very manly to get excited about washers and dryers (you should see me in an antique shop), but I am pleased with the purchase.  These get very high ratings across the board.  Plus it is a front loader, and I am sick of getting little holes in my t-shirts from the standard washers.I haven’t owned a washer and dryer for 12 years.  Yay!  I am excited to be able to hang my clothes up while they are still hot from the drier.  Ooh!  And warm towels.  >melt<

I really feel like I should be wearing a salmon colored shirt at this point.  But I like to get excited over stuff that makes my life better.  Laundry is just one of those things I have to do, so there is nothing effeminate about getting excited about it, right?  It is a machine, after all.  Machines are manly…  But the fact I recognize that salmon is more than just a fish might be questionable.
I am actually using a ninety days same as cash deal from Aarons Rents.  It is surprisingly not much more expensive (about $125) than buying it directly from Sears, and I get free delivery and hook-up and maintenance within the ninety days.  Since I would spend almost that much in laundry fees and drive time and stuff until I saved up the cash to pay in full, I justified the use of semi-credit.  I always thought ninety days same as cash was a lot more expensive.  I think I will look into it for when I upgrade my TV.
They deliver it tonight after 4.  I need to clean out the utility room.  But right now I think I’ll go for a swim.
Life is good.

For want of a nail

I have probably spent more on tires for this car than it is worth. Where I lived in Independence, some punks went on a spree of spiking peoples tires and I lost three tires in four months. Plus when I replaced the first one I went ahead and bought a whole new set because I figured it could use new tires. So that is six tires.
Today I went to take some boxes to the compactor and I saw that I have a flat. I hope it is just a tread puncture and not malice.  The punks in Independence were evil enough to spike the sidewall, where it cannot be repaired. I guess I’ll walk my happy ass up to the nearest gas station and grab a can of fix a flat and see if Pan likes me today. I wish I would have seen this when I went out for a run this morning. I could have made a detour and bought a can then.
Oh, well, at least I wasn’t on someone else’s schedule. I have time to react.
I need to register my car down here. I am gonna see if I can’t milk one more year out of it. [Plus it will help me establish residency.] If I can wait a few more months to buy another car I can pay cash. I’d have to finance right now, and I don’t really want to do that. I am looking at a better class of cars now that I will be gainfully employed and not just a starving college student.
Anyway. Gotta take that first step if I want to sit down after the last. Later.

I think I should rename my kitty Cato

I am working on my office, and it has some boxes in it that belong in the kitchen. Hey, my brother worked for free, who am I to gripe about a few misplaced boxes? It is because the little hulk would grab so many boxes at once, he would just put them wherever the top of the stack was labeled.
Most of the lights are off, because I have the windows open and I am wearing just shorts and I don’t want to feel like I am on parade; semi-nude housekeeping and all that. But I can find my way around the apartment well enough in the dark already.
If you have ever seen the Pink Panther (movie, not cartoon), you might remember how Peter Sellers was always being attacked at odd moments by his sidekick. This is what my cat is doing to me. She stalks me; she’ll let me walk through a room just to attack me on the way out. And since she is almost jet black, she gets me by surprise just about every time.
She is declawed, so her attacks are nothing more than furry little flurries of smooth paws and purring, and then she runs off to another part of the apartment to await her next opportunity.
I love her moxie.

13 July, 2008

Little things

If you think small things do not make a difference,
try spending the night a room with mosquitoes.
–His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Loving the free and feelin’ spirit
Of huggin’ a tree when you get near it
Diggin’ the snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin’ the line (draggin’ the line)
I feel fine I’m talkin’ bout peace of mind
I’m gonna take my time I’m gettin’ the good sign
          -Draggin the Line, Tommy James and the Shondells
Things I like:
  • When I see someone let someone into traffic
  • The way food prices are marked by units at my grocery store so I can easily compare for value.
  • Iced green tea with honey on my patio that smells like jasmine in bloom.
  • Hearing a favorite song on the radio, even though I have the disk.
  • Babies laughing
  • Cats purring
  • The smell of onion, garlic and butter sauteing in my kitchen.
  • Sunsets
  • Sunrises
  • Finishing a good book.
  • Marking things off my to-do list
  • Making new friends
  • Hearing from old friends
  • Walk-in closets
    I swear, the closet is almost as big as my living area in Korea
  • Good food
  • New recipes
  • Farmers markets
  • Neverending lists of things I like.

12 July, 2008

Diver down

Well, the clothes are put away. Somewhat. I didn’t say anything about neatly. But some of the things I learned in discrete math last semester actually validate my methods of organizing. Instead of doing one thing, doing it well, and then moving on (a depth first approach) I tend to do things in shotgun blasts, breadth first (and really, its the width that counts, right?).
Instead of unpacking and refolding and putting away one box at a time, I unpack all the boxes at once and then put everything away at once and then refold it. But until I get to refolding it, it is put away and out of sight and out of the box.
I guess I just have an interlaced personality when it comes right down to it.
And if you understood what that meant, welcome to the geek squad.
I finally hit the swimming pool. Holy hell it was nice. I went at 7 pm and the water was absolutely perfect. Lord it has been many blue moons since I swam for exercise. I have lost a lot of endurance (I’m just old) over the years. I’d still pit myself against anyone in their late 20s, but I am glad I am not going up against those young punks straight out of boot camp any more.
This crusty old staff sergeant is just a little too crusty.
I have continued to meet my neighbors, something my little brother admonished me regularly to do while he was here. I think he knows that I am still a little shy. I have worked very hard to become gregarious, but inside sometimes I am still that shy little boy who didn’t feel worthy of love or friendship. All the affirmations in the world only go so far, you know?
I met Amp, my downstairs neighbor who has a daughter. I met Shirley, my other downstairs neighbor, who has a son. Shirley told me where the best grocery stores were and how to find the Gazebo.
Oh, yea! They have free concerts in the park every Monday in the old town square. Tomorrow is Jazz! They don’t call me jazzy jeff for nothing. Well, they really don’t call me jazzy jeff for anything, but that is beside the point. The point is I will be hearing some live Jazz this time tomorrow night.
Perhaps pictures will be in order, if it is not too dark.
The drum circle today was a bust. I went to the park, no one was there. I left. I sent a message to the group, but haven’t checked my groups.google.com space yet to see if I have received an explanation. I almost didn’t want to go, either, because I was feeling all reclusive, and I made myself go. I would call them fuckers but they are drummers, so I forgive them.
There are so many documentaries to watch! I have Discovery Science and Investigation Discover and History International and the NASA channel, et cetera. And the Encore and Starz packs that came with digital cable plays some decent movies. I might just do away with blockbuster for a while (go to one movie at a time, perhaps).
Tonight I will begin the bookcases. I have a lot of books. I need more bookcases now that I have more room for them.
I will get another kitten soon, if nothing changes. I feel sorry for Brenna not being able to go outside and play, and I don’t feel like I can give her enough attention. Maybe I can find one at the pound that is already fixed and declawed. One can hope.

11 July, 2008

Hmm...wetter than I expected

HAHA!  What a wonderful storm we just had!  
Thunder and lightning galore.  Just like home.
I love a good storm.  But I would still not want to see this outside my window:


Fuck. That.  I have seen enough tornadoes to last two lifetimes and an abortion.
I am a little bit pissed off today, but I will use the energy to get organized.  If I milk it I will have all my clothes put away by tomorrow.
Tomorrow I have my first drum circle in like five years.  I hope I can remember some rhythms.  I’ll remember soon enough.  Gods how I have missed it.
Most of my jasmine plants got infected with aphid farming ants.  Little fuckers.  I guess it happened when I had them sitting out in the open to get acclimated to heat.  I lost half my plants because I didn’t feel like picking off all the eggs.  The remaining stems I trimmed and wired together so that the trunks would merge.  In a year or so I should have a jasmine bonsai with a trunk about an inch in diameter.  Not normally an impressive girth, but pretty good for a two year old bonsai.
Did not swim this morning, and cannot right now.  Will do it tonight.  I have two pools from which to choose.  

10 July, 2008

Day is Done

  • Desk put together………………………………†
  • Desktop computer reassembled and initialized………………………………†
  • Empty boxes moved to compactor………………………………†
  • Immediate vicinity recon………………………………†
  • Blockbuster, grocery store, Wal-mart located………………………………†
  • Wireless network configured in new location………………………………†
  • Load of dishes in dishwasher (LAZY!) ………………………………†
  • Tivo reconfigured for HD channels………………………………†
  • Popsicles frozen and tasty………………………………†
  • Sweet tea in fridge………………………………†
  • Dining room set up………………………………†
  • Kitchen unpacked and put away………………………………†
  • Cuddle/romp time with Brenna (such a good cat)………………………………†
  • Meet some neighbors………………………………†
I still need to make a few meals before I finalize my kitchen; I have never had this much cabinet space, and so I have a lot of options and haven’t figured out the most efficient set up yet.
But for now I’m gonna go outside and have some ice cold tea in the shade.
I’m keeping the faith.
Addendum: The symbols I used at the end of my list items are not crucifixes. I used an archaic symbol used in chess notation for check. Checkmate looks like this: ‡
Ha.  Tricked ya into learning something new.  You're welcome

Sweet Home, Alabama

July 10 is historically a day for new beginnings in my life. On this day 23 years ago I started basic training at Ft. Sill, OK. It was about this hot, but I have more hair now.
I have arrived in Alabama and taken possession of my new abode. I have gotten the internet and cable hooked up (twice as many channels plus HD for 8 dollars less; competition is a good thing) and put my bed and stereo together.
Brenna is asleep in the corner; she is happy to have a stable floor under her and not be confined to her carrier for ten hours a day. She was very, very good, overall. She likes her new home. it is huge and with many places to explore.
Most of my plants made it unscathed, thought he ficus got burned pretty badly. The jasmine is still blooming, and it gives a nice housewarming to the apartment.
My brother is a saint. I couldn’t have done it without him. It was such a pleasure spending some time with him, also. We had some of the best barbecue in the world last night after he asked the guy at the truck rental place where they liked to eat. Heavenly hush puppies. He is on his way back to Kansas as I write this.
I had a great time in KC over the holiday, as well, but didn’t have time to write about it online with the move. I made notes in my offline journal, and maybe I’ll get around to writing a bit about it here. I have some pictures.
I am being lazy today; the last week has been very long.
I am excited to start a new chapter.

01 July, 2008

Just a spoon full of sugar

The place looks naked without the drapes. Did Scarlett O’Hara give any consideration to the modesty of the walls before she made that dress?
Last night I got everything else off my walls (but my speakers) and all the nail holes patched. This morning I am cleaning the blinds and windows. I’ll put the screen back into the window that I use as a cat door. Then I’ll clean the stove racks. The stove is already clean.
I think I’ll just by new drip pans rather than waste too much time scrubbing these. 5 bucks; my time is worth it.
I had to put in a new sconce in the bathroom since I couldn’t find a cover to fit the one that stray cat broke. I like the new one; I think I’ll change all the fixtures when I get to the new place. It is amazing what a difference it makes.
I’ll do a couple loads of laundry as soon as the time gets late enough. I don’t want to start a load at 0630 in the morning. Just because I am up and running doesn’t mean I have to wake my neighbors.
My cat is driving me nuts; she goes insane when I am packing; very aggressive. I can understand that she wants to explore everything but holy shit she gets pissed when I won’t let her stay in the box. I tried just making her a box just for her, but of course she wants to be in the one I am currently packing. I am glad she is declawed or else I would have gotten scratched already. She can be a little bitch. I put her outside to run her wild out, but that is not going to be a solution down south. I have to put her on a leash to take her outside. Yeah, like that will happen.
I go to KC this morning after I pick up a rental car. I get to see my nieces. They seem excited. It makes me feel good. I will try to talk my brother in to letting me take them to see Ironman or Hulk.
I finally got some mail back from my daughter. (yay!) I haven’t heard from her since spring break. She cut off her hair. Not like Britney, but just now instead of hair down to her waist she has shoulder length hair. I don’t fault her, really. Long hair is a burden which is why all long haired women should be pampered by their men. You can tell them I said so.
Reviews
  • 10,000 BC: Not worth it; the effects weren’t that good, the story was lame, and it borrowed way too heavily from other modern movies (300, specifically). Better to see Clan of the Cave Bear
  • Ninja Gaiden Σ:
  • Fucking awesome. The game play is as good or better than Devil May Cry 4, the graphics are incredible, the story line is good, and it is a huge game. I’ve invested six hours already and I am only 1/3 of the way through it. Makes me want to play Prince of Persia: Two Thrones again. Damn chariot race.
  • Flash Point: is a very good action movie with some great fight choreography; I especially like the grappling action and am glad to see a little UFC inspired fight sequences. The story is nothing new but, hey, it’s an action flick.
  • Amarok is probably the greatest media player I have ever used. I really love the dynamic playlists and the way it downloads the lyrics for me automatically. For windows users, you can get a plug-in for the media player that does much the same thing, but I have never tried it.
  • I ♥ Linux, but I can’t get anything to work with Wine; so if anyone is a guru, hook me up and tell me what I need to do. I admit, I haven’t researched that much. I will be able to figure it out when it becomes necessary, but right now I just boot into XP if I want to use an XP program.