I look good in stripes...

I have recently been involved in a discussion on Facebook about "hateful atheism," which has led to some interesting conversations with friends off-line as well. I tend to find the hardline arguments on both sides to be pretty absurd, so lately I've been taking on the role of "referee." In this capacity, I have noticed that the two sides make frequent use of non sequiturs ("Illegal Procedure, Theists - 5 yard penalty..."). Another favorite illegal argument is the ad hominem attack on the previous poster ("Unnecessary Roughness, Atheists - declined, the play stands.")

What is most fascinating to me, however, is how often they use the very same arguments. For example:

"I am saving them from X!"
In this case, X could be hell, or it could be irrationality. Both camps assert that their agenda is based in concern for the other. To both, I have to say, "no one believes you." The hardest fighters in each camp seem to be motivated mostly by dislike of the other side. I will admit that I find the "holier-than-thou" Christian pretty irritating, but no more so than the "more-logical-than-thou" atheist. Be honest folks - you don't like people who differ from you, because you are convinced your position is correct.

"I am sick of being pushed around by them!"
Both sides make some pretty ludicrous arguments about how oppressed they are. Christians; there is no war on Christmas. It's the largest, most universally observed holiday in the world - get over yourselves. Atheists; Christianity is not putting an end to science, reason, or logic. They are alive and well, and they have more impact on daily life now than they ever have - get over yourselves.

"But their ideology is dangerous!"
Yes - Religion has spawned wars and witch hunts and abuse... and science and reason continue to give us bigger and better ways to kill each other and destroy our health and that of the planet. Just about every ideology worthy of the title is guilty of something shitty, past or present. Let the ideology that is without a skeleton or 20 in its closet cast the first stone.

Now, if both sides of a given dispute are using the same arguments, it might indicate that they have other things in common. I think the commonality here is faith. No atheist wants to discuss it, but it is just as difficult to categorically prove that god doesn't exist as it is to prove that he does. Certainly, they can show that it is very unlikely that such a being exists, but improbability is not proof when you are dealing with a universe that is believed to be infinite (or a finite local universe within a larger megauniverse which is infinite in nature, if you're really into this sort of thing...). Just as theists take it on faith that there is a god, atheists have faith in his absence. To the atheist who argues that at least his belief is bolstered by logic and the scientific method, the theist will reply that his belief is based on his own experiences of the holy spirit or whatever he choses to call it. Regardless of the support, these are cases of belief, not certainty. Instead of these futile attempts to convince the other side, we could talk about ways that theists and atheists and everyone in between could coexist more smoothly. But then there would be no need for a ref - what fun is that?

So, this is Christmas...

Friday is taking the hustle and bustle of Christmahanakwanzaka in stride. She likes her new hollowdaze dress well enough, but she was really hoping for an elf costume... maybe next year.

Actually, the reason she looks so calm in this picture is that she is high as a kite on Tramadol. She just got spayed yesterday, and her pain meds are keeping her very mellow. She's got a few days left on this prescription while her sutures heal, and I think it's making the craziness of the season much easier for her to handle. I recommend it for everyone at the holidays. The Tramadol I mean, not the spaying...

I have taken no end of shit from others in Flockhall for buying this little outfit. The very same people, mind you, who wanted desperately to dress her up for Halloween. I argued that she didn't need a halloween costume because she wasn't going trick-r-treating (she can't reach the doorbells) but she IS going to Grandma's house for Christmas, so a new outfit was a must. At least I stopped myself from getting the fuzzy red boots...

The Angries

I don't want to be angry anymore.

I thought this lying in the dark a few nights ago, waiting for sleep. It's hard to imagine me without anger; it's my idiom, my identity. I have a black belt in anger; it's an emotional Swiss army knife for me - it has so many uses. I'm the guy who is funny because he's angry; in fact, I have a radio show because I'm that funny/angry guy. When faced with difficulties, I use anger as fuel to get through. We've talked many times on this blog about my competitive nature - that savage gameface is based in anger. I can wring what I want out of customer service reps with anger. I have pried open bureaucratic puzzles using anger like a crowbar. I can deflect and ignore pain through anger. In fact, with anger, I can put up a shield that Montgomery Scott would envy.

Despite all of that it carries a downside that far outweighs its usefulness. Regardless of how scathing my ire might be toward the topic of the moment, I always reserve my greatest fury for myself. I am often moved to trembling rage at my own lack of focus and forgetfulness. For example - I brought a bottle of flavored water with me to work today. Once I got in the building and got to work, I realized I had left it in the car. For some inexplicable reason, I was enraged by this. I am not dying of thirst, and I could easily slip away from my desk for a few seconds to retrieve it, but instead I spent a few minutes berated myself for not remembering it.

This was a minor incident. You should see the personal fury that can arise when I misplace my car keys or wallet. Worse yet are the days when I can't remember where my sunglasses are. These spacey moments sometimes create a rage in me that, albeit brief and self-contained, is still ridiculously out of proportion to the moment. I have, thankfully, become adept at containing these fits so that no one has to endure their full brunt but me, but this is pale comfort.

It should be noted that not all of my anger is without merit. If you can read the news and you're not angry, you're not paying attention. Wars, the economy, intolerance, and the short-sighted wrangling of our elected officials is reason enough to make the blood boil. It's just that I don't dissipate it well. I stay angry, to my own detriment.

It is a trained response, I think. There is the proper, healthy anger that aids you in survival situations, and then there is the anger that takes the place of other, more useful responses. In our modern world, there is little opportunity for the former; the greatest threats to my survival each day are my own eating habits, not actual struggles for life. In most cases, the anger I feel could be more productively replaced with another response - compassion, humor, etc.

I know - I'm late to the party on this. I know that most of you are thinking, "Yes - and this is why you're a jackass, Linus." Sorry. I'm slow. Better late than never, right?

Facebook 1, Blog 0

Yikes - over a month without a post.

Is it because I'm too busy?
Is it because I'm working three jobs?
Is it because blogging is SO 2005?

Yeah, probably. But I'm going to blame it on Facebook.

I didn't understand Facebook at first. I've had a page for some time, but I never checked it unless I got an email telling me that someone had sent me a message on it. Even then I was irritated by it - I just didn't understand how people could spend any time on it. It always took me about 5 minutes to become bored by it, so I'd read my messages, remind the people who sent them that I could be reached on Gmail, and leave.

What irritated me about it was the way it turned the internet into a popularity contest on several levels. First, you have the question of friend count. Who has more than you, and why? Why is that person friends with her and not with you? Should I mine her friend list to increase my own? All pitiful things to ask yourself. Shouldn't your friends be more a matter of quality than quantity?

Then you have the daily contest of status updates. Should I be honest about what is actually on my mind, or is today a day for song lyrics, movie quotes, or your "Which Twilight Character are You?" quiz results? Score is kept in "likes" and comments, but it's not a simple process of addition. You must also figure in the content of the comments, subtracting half for those who both like and comment, and then you must consider the "likes" OF the comments - do you get those points, or do you share them with the commenter? I'm not sure - I believe the scoring system is actually based on a combination of the rules for the BCS rankings and Quidditch...

There are other arenas for Facebook combat as well. Pictures, for example - you can post, caption, tag, like, comment, untag, and generally bore everyone with the photos that aren't good enough to use as wallpaper on your phone. These fall into three broad categories; 1) profile pics so heavily 'shopped that your mom wouldn't recognize you, 2) horrible pics of you tagged by someone else, and 3) a category simply titled, "dude, we were so faded that night..." Incidentally, none of those albums are going to be particularly flattering to you twenty years from now when you run for office.

Despite how ridiculous I find this all to be, Facebook now occupies far too much of my time. For all its narcissism and shallow quantifications of net friend worth, it actually does what it claims to do - help people stay connected.

Do I think it might do that at the expense of face-to-face communication? Yes.
Do I worry that it is killing internet exchanges in longer formats? Absolutely.
Do I believe that it's creating an even more dysfunctional and self-aggrandizing generation than my own? Almost certainly, and that's saying something because let's face it, we Gen X babies are pretty much the poster children of me-theism. Never the less, it expands the neurological boundaries of our ability to establish network ties, allowing us to build "friendships" in numbers unknown to humans at any previous time in our existence. The ties are weak, certainly, but it is the sheer quantity that is remarkable - it has enabled humans to maintain sociality at a level beyond our cranial capacity. For that alone, it may be one of the most important things to arise on the internet so far.

So that's my excuse. I haven't blogged for over a month because I have become far too enthralled with Facebook. Sorry, but it's true. I'm sure that's not a shock to any of you - you probably got here via a Facebook link anyway...

Wandering the Wastes

I didn't get to bed on time. There was a thesis meeting, then work until 9:00pm, then an election party, then... Fallout: New Vegas.

I am not thrilled with this game - not yet, anyway. I keep playing it because I am hoping to recapture all the fun I had in Fallout 3 as the "Last, Best Hope of Humanity" and savior of the D.C. Wastes, Tyranthraxus Malabraxacor Jones (I have a naming issue - let it go). But this game is decidely NOT Fallout 3.

It looks like Fallout 3, but some of the mechanical changes they've made in this game make no sense. For example - the changes to the chems in the game are pretty silly. I used to love the moments just before entering a lair full or baddies - shooting up a cocktail of Med-x and Psycho, then popping Mentats, huffing some Ultrajet, taking a hit of Buffout, and washing it all down with vodka and a Nuka Cola. There is nothing quite like assaulting a lair full of slavers armed only with a shotgun, a supersledge, and a pharmacy in your veins...

Ok, I get that the chems were too powerful before, and reducing their duration while increasing their addictiveness is a way to address that, but it feels like they've taken it too far. Last night, my little weenie of a character, Skinhead McTavish, had only barely achieved 4th level and he was already addicted to scotch, Med-X, Psycho, Mentats, and Steady - and he was most decidely NOT the raging methhead of death I was hoping he'd be. In fact, he was pitiful. He was, at one point, killed by a pack of coyotes. COYOTES, for fuck's sake. The mighty Mr. Jones would be appalled.

I am also underwhelmed with the changes they've made to the healing substances in the game. I want my hit points back NOW, damn it, not slowly over the next 20 minutes. That is decidedly shitty, especially when some Powder Ganger is lobbing dynamite at your crippled ass.

As irritating as these changes may be, they are a small thing compared to the utter bullshit that is the "skill magazine." For those who don't know, when you read a magazine in the game it increases your score in certain game skills. For example, when you read an issue of Locksmith's Reader, the game reflects your new knowledge by increasing your lockpick skill by 10 points. This make perfect sense until you realize that it wears off, just like a chem. Now, I don't mean you forget it after a month or two - you forget it in about 5 minutes. How exactly does that work?

This is just a poorly concealed attempt to insert the tired-ass fantasy gaming concept of magical scrolls into the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout. It effectively turns magazines into spells that improve your skills long enough to get you past a tough door or to unlock an important safe, and then expire. While I understand the desire of the game designers to offer the players found items ("treasure" if you will) that are helpful enough to be interesting, but not so helpful that they imbalance the game, I can't understand why they went this route with it. You could easily come up with a way of increasing skill scores that is wrapped in techno-babble more appropriate to the setting. Perhaps instead of a magazine, the character finds an electronic lockpicking device, and it only has a few uses left on its battery... or they discover a bottle of lubricant that makes lock innards move more easily, but there is only enough for one application in the bottle. Given how easy it is to come up with clever, skill-specific ways to temporarily increase a players game skills, this generic "there is a magazine for everything" approach seems kind of phoned in.

In fact, the claim that Fallout is just "Oblivion with guns" seems truer to me all the time. Except that I hated Oblivion, and couldn't care about it long enough to accomplish anything in it. My total time investment in it was about 45 minutes, and it only lasted that long because Patrick Stewart was talking to me...

That said, I will, no doubt, continue to play New Vegas. I am, at heart, a Pipboy...

Not Just a Job

One of my jobs these days is tutoring student athletes. I took it for a number of reasons; I need the money, it looks good on resume/CV, it has flexible hours - but mostly it was for the money; the Pontifex Niger got to get paid. I am as poor as a church mouse these days, and not one of those non-denominational megachurches, either. Tutoring pays the least of my three jobs, but to my surprise, it's the best job I've had in a long time.

The students are all struggling to balance school with major sports commitments. They lift weights, they practice, they go to therapy for injuries, they watch game films, they attend meetings - and THEN they go do their homework. On the weekends they have games, so they often travel extensively. They are almost universally exhausted, and frequently they are not the most serious or attentive students.

Despite that, I really look forward to working with them. I have always enjoyed teaching, but this is a unique challenge. Usually, they come to see me because they are struggling in a subject. Most often it's Sociology, but I'm also helping some with Women's Studies, English Comp., and general academic writing. Their scholarships sometimes hang in the balance, so it's very rewarding for both of us when their grades begin to improve. Once they have a little taste of success, they start coming to tutoring sessions with more eagerness. They begin to see that they can master the material, and they start to see themselves differently. Many believe that they're "just an athlete," but once they begin to see Bs and As on their work they start to believe they can graduate. That kind of energy is infectious - even after putting in 12 hour days with them, I come home in a good mood.

The job is not without its frustrations, though. I am struck by how poorly some of them were prepared by their high schools - and not just high schools in the U.S. We like to bitch about the failings of the American education system, but I've seen international students who were no better off. It's easy to see that the battle between sports and academics began for most of them many years before they arrived at Black Vatican U. They need help now because someone years ago made the decision to let them slide, to pass them and let them just be jocks. It angers me, but I try to turn that anger into the energy to help them be better students.

This is just the latest in a long line of revelations that have pushed me to make some new choices. My exposure to the work of Jonathan Kozol, meeting Bill Ayers and hearing him speak, knowing Education majors like Mandy, G-Fresh, and SciFi Heroine, meeting all the candidates for State Superintendent during campaign events this year, and now this job - it's all pushing me toward Education as a career. Yes, I still want a PhD, but I think I have more to add to the field of Education than I ever would contribute to Sociology.

I have an appointment with a counselor in the College of Education next Wednesday. I'm looking into the Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Certification Program, to see how long it will take - I am still planning on leaving this town before next fall. If it can be done in that timeframe, I'm off to Financial Aid to see if I can afford it.

My Place

Soon my time at Black Vatican U must come to an end. I know - I've said that before, but this time, I mean it. Once this thesis is defended and I've taught a class or two, I will have mined this place for all it has to offer me, aside from future letters of recommendation. As I plan for this departure, I am troubled. I don't know where to go.

You see, I have plenty of experience in living where I am not wanted. Not me personally, but me as a liberal, a Democrat, a non-Christian, a queer ally, and one of those damned elitist academic types. After almost a decade of being a politcal and cultural outsider, I'd like to find a place to live where my views are closer to the median.

I want to teach, either at the secondary or post-secondary level, without having to constantly pander to fundies and fanatics. I want my taxes to primarily fund social programs that build local communities, and not the defense budget. I want to live in a place that respects and supports the arts, multiculturalism, and the practice of the world's religions. This place should have ethnic diversity, and it should be celebrated. I have no idea where this place is.

In fact, I've been thinking for years now that this place is no longer in the U.S. Throughout my adult life I've been consistently stepping to the Left, while much of America has been stumbling to the Right. Even as we elected a black Democrat to be POTUS I knew it was too little, too late. As the GOP and the Teabaggers shriek about Socialism and Fascism, I find that he's nowhere near as far Left as I'd like. I want him to socialize medicine, empower labor, regulate the hell out of banking, and put the nuts of the corporations in a vice. I'm not just marching to a different drummer here - I'm in a completely different parade.

When I try to match an actual country to my fantasies about this place, I always end up looking at places like Sweden or Holland. Do I really have to learn a new language and move overseas just to live among my kind?

Black and Bloody

The Pontifex Niger is not a crafty guy. He doesn't knit or crochet, nor does he needlepoint. In fact, he hasn't made a gift for anyone since he was 5, when the Montessori Nazi, Mrs. Detweiler, made him trace around his hand and then color it like a turkey. (My mom dragged it out for Thanksgiving every year until I was 14...)

This failing - my craftlessness - was a problem, as "craftsman" was on my list of skills that a well rounded Pontiff should have. In my ongoing quest to better serve the Flock, I had to learn how to make something with my bare hands (just to clarify - my years in the SCA taught me how to make armor and impact weapons out of plastic, leather, metal, and tons of duct tape, but it's hard to turn those into gifts unless you're celebrating "zombie apocalypse day"). Ideally, said gifts would be made of materials that were cheap, easy to acquire, utilitarian, and manly. I turned to my old friend Google, and there I rediscovered the miracle that is parachute cord.

Also known as para cord or 550 cord, it is an amazingly useful material. It's really handy in survival situations - it can replace a shoelace, lash up a rainfly, make a snare for food, or tie a splint on a broken bone. It is easy to work with, requiring nothing more than a knife and a lighter for most projects. It is also stupidly strong, it comes in a ton of colors, and there are plenty of pages on the net giving step by step instructions for projects. I began by acquiring a quantity of it in the colors of the Sable Primate - black and bloody.

Rather than make something for a human, who might not like it, and who would then feel obligated to act like they liked it, I decided to make something for the dog. The Papal Puppy can't talk (yet) so it is only the suspicious cast of her eyes that tells us how much she loved my first project - a dog collar. Despite being very strong and durable, para cord is quite soft and comfy. This is little Friday's favorite collar for a long day of rushing to the end of her leash and gagging herself.

Naturally, this collar needed a leash, and I decided to go all out with a two color round braid. It's a bit too long (about 9 feet), made of two continuous strands of para cord, with a self handle made by back braiding the ends. The round braid gives it a nice bit of elasticity, but it is still strong enough for just about any dog. I may be making a few of these as gifts for the dog people I know at the hollowdaze this year. This one has already gotten many compliments at puppy kindergarten.

Given the success of the doggy goods, it was time for a people project. I began a bracelet for SciFi Heroine, but another excellent opportunity presented itself. In exchange for (an incredibly large box of) fabulous homemade soap, I offered to make bracelets for Mayren and her husband. The bracelets pictured here were the result - it is fitting that the Number 1 fangirl of the Ministry should have the first two official Black Vatican Survival Bracelets. I used hemostats to get the weave really tight and even, and I think they turned out quite nicely.

Flush with my success, I returned to the bracelet for SciFi Heroine. I let her pick the colors (hence the deviation from black and bloody), and I tried a different pattern - a double weave that yields a wider, thicker bracelet. The result was much better than I expected, I must confess. Apparently, she likes it too, because I had to pry it off her wrist to get a pic of it - she's been wearing it constantly since I finished it. I am planning one for myself as my next project.

If Mrs. Detweiler could only see me now...

Friday Update

(See what I did with the title? It's about the puppy, and it's posted on a Friday... that's what makes it funny... ahem.)

Miss Friday is now officially the most successful competitor living in Flock Hall (Cabbage Shane is 2-0 in the MMA cage, but Friday is 3-0 in, um, terrier stuff). The blue ribbons at right were collected a few weekends ago at the 10th Cowboy Classic Terrier Trials in Douglas, WY. She won her division - bitches 4 to 6 months - in racing, hurdles, and conformation. I grant that the field was very small, but hey, a blue ribbon is a blue ribbon. She will be attending another rally in October, down in Colorado. In the meantime she's looking at some shoe deals, and the Milkbone people are in negotiations with her agent about putting her on the box...

In other news, a wave of nostalgia is sweeping Flock Hall - at least where the furniture is concerned. Some of you may remember the "Ghetto Fabulous Wall Unit" from Flock Hall 1.0 (shown here behind the papal guitars). A new wall-mounted television and a rearranged "situation room" spurred the desire to resurrect this grad school haute furnishing. After a quick meeting of the Black Vatican finance committee (involving a ceramic pig and a hammer) the materials were acquired and piled in a corner.

Professional technicians were flown in from Pisa for the precision stacking required to create this piece of PoMo/Decon anti-shelving. Here we see one of the stackologists making tiny adjustments to the footings. This piece is smaller than the original, which was 12 feet long and 6 feet high, but it still stands well over 5 feet high and 8 feet wide. It completely covers the north wall of the situation room, and provides secure locations for the cable box, router, modem, and PS3. There is also room for a Wii and 360 (hint hint, Crimbo is coming!).

Here we see the finished unit, complete with wall-mounted flat screen. Yes, it was expensive, but that's just how we roll here at Flock Hall. Ok, actually, that just how one of the inmates, Shane called Boy (not to be confused with Cabbage Shane), rolls. He takes his gaming seriously, and a big TV with HD capability was a must for him to fully enjoy his PS3 experience. He is quiet and seriously adicted to the new Starcraft, so he spends a lot of his time in his room with his PC. He also returns from work almost every night with either pizza or hot wings. Flock Hall needs more inmates like him...

Boy has has also recently added a really comfy recliner to the situation room, which is giving it a nice "man cave" feeling. I'm sitting in it as I compose this missive, and I feel like John Colicos commanding the Cylons. Or John Colicos commanding the IKS Klothos. Either way, it involves sitting in a big chair with your legs spread so wide everyone knows you're in charge... Yes, HSBP commands you to seek out the ragtag fugitive fleet... and bring me the blonde socialator, Cassiopeia, the dumb one...

Why Johnny can't vote...

Democracy only works if the people vote for their best interests. I know, this sounds like a no-brainer, but people frequently vote contrary to their own interests in support of a given ideology. For example - Teabaggers, who are mostly 40+ are voting for candidates who wish to abolish Social Security. I acknowledge that a candidate's platform is complicated and you shouldn't decide based on one issue, but it's hard to imagine a combination of positions that could outweigh not getting back all the money you've paid into Social Security over the course of your working life. There are other examples - Log Cabin Republicans spring to mind...

There are several ways to explain this phenomena. The optimistic explanation relies on an educated, informed populace. We assume that these voters have studied the platforms of the candidates, carefully weighed each, then chosen the one who most closely represents their interests. If this is the case, then democracy is functioning (assuming the candidates are being honest about their positions - but that's a topic for another day...).

Another explanation relies on an uninformed populace - or at the very least, a populace that is only informed selectively on certain topics. These voters are swayed by the 4th Estate and convinced to vote outside their best interests, usually by way of fear. This fear can take any form, and as we've seen of late, it doesn't even need to be a real threat - anchor/terror babies, Socialism/Communism/Fascism, non-citizen president, death panels, etc.

Even this would be tolerable if the goal of the press was an even-handed coverage of the events. They tell would-be journalists in college that their mission is exactly that. They are led to believe that their task is accurate reporting without bias. Unfortunately, the goal of the press is much simpler than that - profit. Since it is easier, as Alexis De Tocqueville pointed out, for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth, it is easier for the press to make money when it simplifies and sensationalizes. There is very little incentive to present the events in-depth, nor to present them with all of their complexities intact.

This is why so many people vote in baffling ways, and why our democracy doesn't bring the will of the people to fruition. I've come to the conclusion that the only solution to this issue is education, and it's not a cure - just a treatment. Even if we educate the citizenry to a very high level of critical thinking competency, they can only work with the data to which they have access.

So - there's your depressing ramble for the day. I welcome more positive views from the cyberFlock.

Bonfire of the Stupidities

The news this week has been dominated by Koran burning and all its ramifications. I’m not going to talk about that specifically – more than enough media coverage has already been given to Reverend Bushy McMuttonChops and his merry band of hillbillies for Jesus. No, instead, I’m going to step away from the religious elements of this case, and appeal to a higher ideal…

In 1644, the English Civil War was in full swing. Roundheads and Cavaliers were busily killing one another over conflicting ideas like the origin of governmental power, parliamentary representation, and the divine right of kings. The internet was notoriously slow in those days, so these ideas were largely promulgated by way of published books and pamphlets. (You remember books - those things that work like a Kindle but with only one file in memory...)

Naturally, each side of the conflict tried to regulate and prohibit said publishing – Parliamentarians opposed tracts advocating monarchy as god’s will, while the crown tried to stamp out any essay that advocated, say for instance, regicide. Parliament had already passed a law called the Licensing Order which restricted publishing quite severely. Basically, no one could print anything without the imprimatur of Parliament, and they tightly controlled any text they considered radical or polemic.

Despite being a devout parliamentarian himself, the great John Milton could not support the restriction, censoring, or destruction of books. In response he penned what is still considered one of the most compelling arguments of all time for free speech – Areopagitica.

Named for the Areopagus, the hill in Athens where the city elders and Archons met to discuss legal and philosophical matters, Areopagitica is an eloquent defense of the exchange of ideas that the written word represents. He speaks of the sanctity of books, of their inherent worth, saying, “For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

He argued, and rightly so I think, that any harm done to a book, regardless its content, is a harm done to freedom of thought and to reason. He writes, “[A]s good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye." Books, for Milton, were the distillation and avatars of reason.

Most importantly, Milton argued that no idea was too radical to be allowed to exist in print, saying, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” Well over a century before our Bill of Rights, Milton planted the seed that inspired our founding fathers to protect free speech. It’s the phrase – “according to conscience” - that elevates this above just the right to verbally be a jackass. It’s actually about debate and the pursuit of reason.

So regardless of a book’s contents, regardless of your feelings about it, regardless of the misanthropic, misogynistic, warmongering, mythology between the covers, I’m with Milton when he says, ‘Let her [Truth] and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?’

With that in mind, I’ll be the first to say that anyone who wants to burn a book that he owns has the right, but I believe that in doing so he violates a law higher than the Constitution. He offends reason itself.

Freedom

Today, I am free.

Free of my 8 to 5, Monday through Friday job.
Free of the business casual wardrobe.
Free to grow facial hair again.

Unfortunately, I'm also free of the encumbrance of disposable income...

To clarify, I still have a job. I need to finish up my thesis, and the full-time office gig was really putting a cramp in that process, so I'm back in the labs where I can write while I work.

It's not like the old days back in BS37, however. That lab was in a windowless basement, peopled by insomniacs, exchange students, the homeless, and for about 2 weeks each semester, the desperate (I'd guess the picture on the right was made circa 2006...). The carpet was old and stained by years worth of spilled finals coffee. There were no "work stations" - just rows of PCs on long tables, tethered to the outside world by a tangled rope of cords on the floor. There was nothing slick or clever about BS37 - it was simply the only 24-hour lab on campus. It was the place you went to drink vending machine coffee and crank out an all-nighter, and you were glad it existed.

Now, there are other 24-hour labs, including my current station in the ITC building. We have lost the condensing effect of having just one overnight lab. The old BS37 concentrated the sleepless of the university in one place - it was the guildhall of the shadow population, as was foretold in prophecy...

"And the vampire and the freak shall surf together, and they shall all be nourished by caffeine." II Laramites, 4:20

What this means for you, the nostalgic few who still read this blog, is that I will be able to post more frequently again. I even have the next few posts planned - a rant about book burning, a review of Mayren's beautiful handmade soaps, a couple video posts about life at Flock Hall, a new Sunday Sermon, and a few more posts about Friday the Wonder Dog.

Now, back to your usual Friday night activities.

Friday is Pissed

They say pets resemble their owners, so naturally my little girl is a determined, implacable beast, rarely satisfied with her surroundings, who is irked by the thickness of the humans around her.

Ok – I might be anthropomorphizing her a bit, but I believe Friday has good reason to be irritated. From her point of view, Black Vatican City is a backwater. Let me share a bit of what she has pointed out to me…

First, there is the lack of a decent pet shop in this town. Whenever we need equipment or supplies, we are forced to drive to either Cheyenne or Fort Collins in order to shop in a store with any sort of selection. I realize that Laramie has a smaller population than those cites, but based on the number of dogs I see at the dog park every afternoon, there is clearly a market here.

Speaking of the dog park – it’s a joke. A rectangle of chainlink does not a dog park make. It’s important that a dog park be escape proof – the point is to be able to let your dog go off lead without the worry of him getting lost. Now I realize that a two gate “airlock” type entry, like those on the dog parks back in my old ‘hood in the unHoly Lands of So Cal might be beyond the budget of this city, but is it too much to ask that the gate actually meet up with the fence so that dogs can’t slip through or under it? Our current gate won’t stop any determined dog under 30 pounds.

Another issue is the terrain of the park itself. In order for a dog park to be useful and safe, it needs to have a decent surface like grass or crushed bark that can be easily policed for droppings – not knee high weeds and dirt. Oh, and by the way, policing your dog’s droppings is not just a suggestion. Start picking them up people, or I’m going to pick them up for you, find out where you live, and use them to paint comments on your house about your daughter’s chastity.

Finally, there are simply too many dogs (and other animals, for that matter) who are homeless in this town - and probably in your town too. Statistics indicate that the majority of dogs in shelters are animals that have been surrendered/abandoned by their owners – that means some jackass went out, got a puppy, then got tired of it and dumped it. That might be ok for your weekly foray into the shallow end of the gene pool at the Buckhorn, but it’s not kosher with a dog. A dog is a 10-15 year commitment, one that the dog has no intention of giving up on - so don’t start unless you plan to finish. Every one of those dogs in the shelter is representative of a human failure, and every one of them that ends up dead is a testament to our thoughtlessness.

If you want to do something about this, there are many ways you can help. Donate to local shelters, report cases of neglect or abuse, spay or neuter your animal companions, and when it’s time for you to get a new one, adopt. If you could do just that much, I’m sure Friday would be much less disappointed in you all…

I Spare You the Details

Ordinarily, this blog is filled with anecdotes about the hijinks and shenanigans of your favorite faux religious leader, HSBP. Lately, however, the life of His Sinfulness has been so dull, so repetitive, so mind-numbingly quotidian, that posting the details is actually prohibited by law or the Geneva Convention or something. Over the years, desperation has driven me to post many things, but I draw the line at human rights violations.

Instead, we bring you Friday Furious with her interpretive dance, La Joie du Traitée (The Joy of the Treated).

New Inmate

Ok, so it's been forever since I posted. But look - PUPPY!
Her name is Friday, and she is a 12 week-old Jack Russell Terrier. It's not really her fault that I haven't been posting, but as you can see, she is very distracting, and she knows it. This is her "sincere" face. "But daddy, I really NEED another biscuit..."

Just getting a decent picture of her has been a real challenge. I went through over 50 still images and about 30 minutes of video footage just to find what I've posted here. Almost every shot was a blur, or too dark, or a picture of her licking/chewing the camera. In other words, she is a healthy, normal Jack Russell puppy.

When she is tired, she likes to crash on a lap. She is not concerned about which lap - any will do.

I am uploading a video of terrible quality to YouTube right now. It is honestly the only one that is even remotely watchable. My camera needs a lot of light to get a decent picture and this was shot at night, but it's still worth immortalizing as it was actually taken the night we brought her home.



As soon as I get up tomorrow I'll get it embedded for you - right now I have to get to bed so that I can be on time for another day in the salt mine - I mean, the office.

That could be the segue into a lengthy rant about my job, but I will spare you the details. The people, including my supervisor, are nice, but the computer systems are nightmarishly old and the students are sometimes less than civil. Suffice it to say that working for Dunder Mifflin would be preferable. Perhaps I'll bore you all with the details at a later date.

In the meantime, sleep well.

Place Holder Post

New job is hell - no time to tell you all about it until this weekend.

Got a new puppy. There are pics and video, but it's all raw footage in need of cleaning up - also postponed until this weekend.

This post will be replaced with an actual post very soon, probably on Saturday. Sorry for the lameness.

Confessions of a Census Taker

For the last few weeks I've been driving the back roads of our area, working for the US Census. My job was checking on vacant residences and buildings that aren't actually used as residences. Often I had to use my GPS to find buildings on roads like "Sawdust Trail," "Bobcat Ridge," "Warden Ridge," and "Ax Handle Road." All of these roads are some combination of dirt and gravel, they often don't have signs identifying them, and some of them are "seasonal," meaning they disappear or become impassable in the winter and reemerge each spring. These roads tend to migrate away from low patches - if there's a puddle in the existing road that looks too deep and muddy to drive through the locals will just drive around it, forging a new curve and slowly moving the road toward higher, drier ground.

I will miss this job. I got to set my own hours, I had minimal oversight so long as I produced, and they paid me fairly for my time, and generously for mileage. I drove through some of the most beautiful country that Albany county has to offer, and met some genuinely nice people along the way. Out in the fields around these roads I saw deer, antelope, prairie dogs, and hawks with relative frequency, fox and coyote less often, and people less still. I walked around homesteads that were established before Wyoming was a state, marked by crumpled and broken fence lines and houses that were as spooky as anything in a horror movie. I also saw how brush and the elements are slowly taking those places back.

I tend to bitch about Wyoming a lot, but mostly it's the cold that makes it miserable for me. Now that my allergies have subsided (mostly) I can admit, grudgingly, that it's kind of pretty around here. This time of year it's well worth getting off the paved roads for a bit and doing some exploring. Be careful, however - I have encountered some unsavory things out in the county as well.

The mosquitoes and other biting bugs are quite savage out there, especially near standing water. Although I never saw one, my nose told me that there were skunks around, and I'm sure there are rattlesnakes in this area, too. Up near Centennial, I nearly got run over by a deer that was sleeping under the porch of a cabin. I startled her as I walked up to knock on the door and she suddenly burst from the bushes when I was about 4 feet away. Good thing I have a strong heart.

As usual, the worst things that happened to me were caused by humans. The guy on that private quarry road was no fun at all, informing me that I was trespassing as he glared menacingly down at me from his huge rock hauler. There was also the family with the Tea Party signs in the windows of their mobile home who refused to answer the census questions because they "distrust the government, just like the founding fathers intended when they wrote the Bill of Rights." (I tried to explain to them that the Census is actually mandated by the Constitution, but they weren't interested in a history lesson just then...)

I also saw abject poverty that made parts of the county feel like a third world nation. I saw families living in housing so dilapidated that it was barely adequate for summer in Wyoming, much less the cold winds to come. I took census data from several women who were far too young to have that many children already, and I met more than one elderly person whose eagerness to chat spoke clearly about the loneliness of old age. One old ranch wife insisted on inviting me into her spotless kitchen to fill out the census form, and during that seven-minute interview I had to decline three offers of food and drink. She told me that my laugh reminded her of one of her boys, back when he was still working the ranch. I hated to leave.

If such a job existed, I could happily drive about EVERY day, looking for vaguely defined spots on a map. To really excel at it, I would need a better GPS device, a vehicle with higher clearance, and cell phone service with better coverage. I would also need a big bottle of insect repellant, and some binoculars would be good, too. If you hear of such a job, let me know; it's hard to go back to cubicle life when you've had the dashboard as your desk for a while.

Filthy Lucre

Blessed employment. I have achieved it again. (And no, it is not a result of the job interview I mentioned a few posts ago; I am relatively certain they wrote me off as a drooling idiot as soon as I left the room.)

I begin this new job on the 27th. I'll give more details on it once I get the lay of the land a bit, but for now it is sufficient to say that I am returning to the exciting world of Student Financial Aid. I am also returning to the exciting world of having money again, which is good, since real poverty was just around the corner.

I have to spend my first few paychecks getting my accounts built back up to comfortable levels, establishing a savings plan, and replacing all of the furniture and accouterment that is disappearing when my roommates move out. Once they all leave, the living room will be empty, save for a lonely little PS3 sitting in the corner with no TV to play it on...

After that, however, I will eventually have a tiny bit of disposable income, and I have plans. Vain, frivolous plans, like having the Popemobile detailed, buying new cassocks, and getting my back waxed - a pontiff has to treat himself once in a while.

Subtle

Today someone said to me, "you're a gentleman and a scholar."

It was said lightly, in passing. Naturally, I took it to heart and got all angsty over the possible meanings of it.

"Scholar" I will accept, as I am nothing if not a researcher. It was the "gentleman" part that gave me pause. I really wish I was a more gentle man. Back in my SCA days, a friend once described my fighting style as "subtle, like a chainsaw." Unfortunately, that is true of me in other ways, especially verbally. I mentioned this a couple posts back, and it has been on my mind ever since. I was given a t-shirt, custom printed just for me, by a friend years ago that sums up the issue quite well. It reads, "I love all humanity - it's people I can't stand."

Various schools of Buddhism use different techniques to instill gentleness, or "loving kindness" in their adherents. I should have been using one of them as my primary practice for years now. At the very least, I should have been doing something to knock the rough edges off.

Of course, age has a way of doing that for you; I'm actually not nearly so blunt as I used to be. I wish I could say it's the result of accumulated wisdom, but there is also the possibility that I'm just getting tired. Living a full court press all the time is exhausting. Regardless of the cause, at this rate, I will be truly gentle in another 60 or 70 years...

Interview

So... I had a job interview today, which I completely borked.

I ordinarily interview quite well, but today I looked like a moron. They began the interview by asking if I knew what they did. Rather than launching into what I had learned of their operation from their website and from seeing the results of their work crossing my desk in Financial Aid I said, "well, I've heard a lot of your spots on public radio..."

Slick, no? As they rehash the applicants later, I am sure to be remembered for that powerful opener, but not in the good way. I am so tired of being unemployed, but I'm even more tired of trying to sell myself to potential employers.

Perhaps it's time to return to my previous occupation. I'm sure some warehouse somewhere needs a forklift driver. And who wouldn't want a forklift driver with three humanities degrees?

I'm going to go drink over the draft of my thesis now.

Plant Sex Afterglow

Four things to report...

1) The annual plant orgy that makes it impossible for me to go outside appears to abating. I like to imagine them (the plants to which I am allergic) all kicking back smoking cigarettes and trying to decide if they should stay for breakfast or get out while the getting is good.

2) Last night, I was able to breathe well enough to go out for my first run in two weeks. Well, actually I am still unable to breathe through my nose, but my chest is clear enough. Thankfully, I don't seem to have lost much endurance - I was able to do the 25 minute workout without a break, and without residual soreness today. The barefoot/Vibram running style is making it possible for me to put in longer runs, more often. I easily could have run again today, but I didn't want to push it too quickly as I'm coming back from a layoff. I am torn between being glad that I discovered this running method, and wanting to firebomb Nike headquarters for convincing us all that we need thick-soled motion control shoes.

The good news is, I am no longer struggling with shinsplints and knee pain. The bad news is, this limits my running season even more. Without the protection of a thick sole, the ground will be WAY too cold to run on pretty early in the Fall. My guess is that by the middle of October it will be too cold to run outside, and it will stay that way until about April. My best hope is that I get one of the jobs at the university for which I have applied so that I'll have access to the indoor track, or I will have to buy a treadmill.

3) Vibram recently introduced a new shoe designed specifically for running - the Bikila. The line is named after the famous Ethiopian runner, Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic Marathon, barefoot. He not only won it, but he set a world record of 2:16:20 on the cobblestones of Rome. During my childhood, the pictures of him winning that race were iconic. They were later replaced with Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit, but those color photos never seemed to have the same impact as the grainy black and whites of Bikila leading all of the shod runners in the final miles at Rome.

I hope Vibram has the permission of Bikila's estate to name this shoe after him (Bikila died tragically in 1973 at the age of 41, from injuries sustained in a car accident 4 years earlier). I wonder if his four children are profiting from the sales of this $100 shoe...

The jury is still out on their durability, comfort, etc., but everyone agrees that the color combo for women (pictured) is truly hideous. Rumor has it that a red/white/grey and a blue/white/grey are available or soon will be. If they receive positive reviews, I might consider a pair when my current Vibrams (KSOs) wear out. I hope they have them in black by then...

4) I'm a huge, tactless jackass. Not news, I know, but I was reminded of it recently when a friend said to me, "I feel ok talking to you about this because I know you won't sugarcoat it."

If folks only come to me for tough love, I guess I'm ok with that, but here I was, thinking that I had made strides toward being more sensitive to others in conversation. Apparently, the sword that is my tongue is just as sharp as ever.

Bedtime Cocktail

Due to circumstances beyond my control - a wet spring, a head cold, and an outdoor campaign event - I have been quite ill for the last week. So ill that I haven't been running or lifting. This makes me cranky.

I don't generally accept illness. You see, I grew up in a house where the motto was "better living through chemistry." My mother is a nurse anesthetist turned academic, but her true calling in life is pharmacology, so she firmly believes there is a pill for most everything, and the rest requires a syringe. I was taught that one should not acknowledge one's symptoms - just medicate them away and go about your business. Your immune system likes to work behind the scenes - it's best when you don't micromanage it. Mom was also a master of drug interactions - she was an expert at concocting exactly the cocktail to suit all your symptoms at once, with no ill effects. On one Sunday afternoon in the '80s she successfully treated me for back spasms, a hangover, depression, and swimmer's ear, solely with the pills in her purse. That was a hell of a weekend, by the way...

Now that I no longer live near enough to my mother to request a concoction for every little sniffle, I have become my own mixologist. We here at the Hayfever Lounge take our nightcaps seriously, so I've put a lot of research into this. As a big man with Irish tolerances and epic allergies, I need something that can knock out my cough, stop the itchy nose and runny eyes, clear the congestion enough so I can lie down without feeling like I'm drowning, and overcome my daily caffeine intake (two 20oz diet Mt. Dews) so I can sleep. A tall order, I know, but the current "house special" is getting the job done. Here's the recipe...

Ingredients:
NielMed Sinus Rinse
NyQuil Liquicaps
Claritin
Afrin Nasal Spray
Theraflu Warming Relief formula
Ricola Cherry Honey Cough Drops
paper umbrella (optional)

First, rinse sinuses with neti pot and NeilMed Sinus Rinse. Spray two shots of Afrin in each newly cleared nostril. (Gagging slightly at this point is normal.) Throw back two Nyquil Liquicaps and a Claritin with a shot of Theraflu. (I find the "cherry lighter fluid" flavor mixes with and destroys the taste of the Afrin better than the "orange paint thinner" flavor.) Chase with a Ricola cough drop to stop the heaves.


Not quite what mom used to make, but we can never get those recipes right anyway, can we? The missing ingredient is always love...

After this, I recommend brushing your teeth and going straight to bed, as the onset can be quite sudden. Last night, I had one of these and sat down to play BioShock 2. About 10 minutes later I drooling on my chest and Big Daddy was stuck head-first in a corner, getting humped by splicers.

Remember kids, don't do drugs, and don't drink (cold meds) and drive. Stay in school.

The Addiction

On top of my allergies, I am experiencing my first summer cold in a long time. One of the Flockhall inmates shared it with us, then left for vacation; the bastard. I am simultaneously sweating and chilled, and I have a cough that is best described as "chunky" and "nasty-ass."

I've discovered that I am also suffering from the worst illness of all - civilization. Some events of late have conveyed to me in painful detail just how far removed I am from the natural state. I was, not that long ago, quite capable out in the world, but I am all soft underbelly now. I am, like so many in America, dying from our collective success.

We have succeeded in removing so many of the dangers (and excitements) from our lives, that our senses have become dulled, and our reflexes along with them. We are deadened, taking in the world around us through various filters - air conditioners, LCD monitors, UV glass in our cars, earbuds, shoes, etc. You could say that we are addicted to altering the experience. Unfortunately, the undiluted experience is what transforms. It's the friction that grinds away the rough edges, that forces us to grow. By dulling the experience we stagnate. We become soft, fat, overindulged, and whiny.

The solution? I'm not sure yet, but for starters I know I need to get outside more. That's hard to imagine right now, when everything that blooms is trying to kill me. I've already bored you all with my allergy woes in the past, so I won't go over it again. Suffice it to say that I will not be going outside for extended periods until I wake up without my throat feeling a skinned knee. Once that happens, however, some hiking and trail running is in order.

Blisters

If you've read my other blog in the last few days, you know that I gave myself a few blisters by going running barefoot. It was a very short run (only .6 mile), just to start the long process of toughening up my feet, but clearly I haven't been in direct contact with the ground for a very long time. I've been practicing the barefoot style of running, using very minimal shoes and striving for a high-cadence mid-foot stride, but I had not put my tootsies directly on the pavement until Tuesday.

Blisters are actually a good training tool for barefoot running. Assuming the pavement you are running on is not scorching hot, if you get blisters you know that your foot is not relaxed, or that you are pushing or twisting in some way with each step; it's an ouchy indicator of stride problems. If it hurts or leaves marks, you're doing it wrong.

The idea that pain can be diagnostic or instructive is foreign to modern Western sports training - the exercise and fitness industry tries to convince us all on a daily basis that a painless 20 minutes, 3 times a week is all it takes to look like a member of the Greek pantheon. It's a concept common to traditional martial arts, however. An example from Karate is the makiwara, or punching board. It's basically a square post sticking up out of the ground, padded at the top with a bundle of straw wrapped up in rope. It trains the karateka to make a proper fist, and to deliver a focused strike. Failing to do either of those things results in immediate feedback - it hurts. Hitting the makiwara correctly can hurt a bit too, but the first time you don't keep your fist tight or you don't land the punch squarely on the first two knuckles, you KNOW you did something wrong. Blisters are much the same for the barefoot runner

Based on the blisters I've got at the moment, my right foot was doing something very wrong. I have a blister on the ball of my foot that was practically crippling yesterday - today it's just irritating, but still enough to keep me from running. I have been fussing over these owies since I got them on Tuesday. They've been drained, trimmed, disinfected, and lotioned, but they will only heal so fast. Missing three days of running is unacceptable; there are races I want to be ready for later in the summer, I just moved up in my running program to 25 minute intervals, and I am close to meeting a couple of my goals on the Nike+ site... And that's when it hit me.

I miss running.

I am actually jonesing for a run.

I know - you're stunned. So am I. This is ME we're talking about here; Mister "I-didn't-train-with-weapons-for-years-to-run-from-shit."

When I was told that I had to run a 2 mile qualifier at the State Patrol Academy I asked the instructor why. He said it was to simulate chasing a suspect, to which I replied, "isn't that why we have cars?"

When I was asked to participate in a fundraiser at the University of Nebraska, I chose the 50 mile bike ride instead of the 5k run.

My zombie apocalypse preparedness plan has always been, "You go ahead - I'll hold them off until you come back with help."

Despite all this, I find myself grousing about not being able to run. I am beginning to doubt my foundations. I feel as though I might wake up tomorrow and say, "no, thanks - I don't like chocolate anymore. Also, I've given my life to Jesus and registered as a Republican."

To be honest, running is something I've always wanted to like. It appeals to my ideals about simple, natural fitness. It doesn't require a gym membership or thousands of dollars worth of special equipment, it's something we all learn to do when we're toddlers, and it's the foundation of so many other sports. It's also the ultimate form of self-reliance; if the world falls into utter Thunderdome chaos tomorrow, it's comforting to know that I will be able to get to the food riots and slave arenas in a timely fashion on my own two feet.

So you see, I like the idea of running - the problem for me has always been the running itself. I was actually pretty fast as a kid; I remember running the 40 in Jr. High football and having the second fastest time on the team. I ran the 220 in track and did pretty well (26 seconds flat in 9th grade). It was the longer distances, however, that screwed me up. I was told by well-meaning coaches to lengthen my stride when I wasn't sprinting, stretching my legs out in front of me so that I was heel-striking with every step. Years of shinsplints, bruised heels, knee pain, and clunky, motion-control shoes made me hate running.

Now I'm trying to run like a child again. Without heel strike, without padded shoes, and without so much concern for long, fluid leg motion. People who run with that motion are built like gazelles - long thin legs and low-fat bodies, and beautiful they are, but that's not me. My legs are more like tree trunks, thus I run more like... an Ent?

So, yeah - Treebeard, Quickbeam, and I are going to pick up a quick 3 miler when my foot heals...

Tennis is tougher than the World Cup

UPDATE: Isner finally defeated Mahut in 11 hours and five minutes: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68

This blog has seen several posts about competition. I contend that every game is an attempt to create a fair test that determines which side is best, given the victory conditions agreed upon for that game. This is the raison d'être of sporting contests - to answer that question.

That said, I am sick to fucking death of the World Cup. Games which end in a tie, have, by definition, failed to answer this basic question. In fact, games which are allowed to end in a tie, serve only one purpose - they extend the length of the tournament. All tournaments that use formats other than single elimination are designed to do this. They are perfectly suited for children's sports, actually. If, for example, you play a double elimination tournament in Little League, it guarantees that the kids get to play at least two games, no matter how badly they play. A round-robin tourney is even better - you can lose to every single team there (France...) but at least you get to be on the field a lot.

In the case of professional football players, this sort of gentleness is unnecessary - they are big boys, they can handle losing one game and going home. The fact that the "real" part of the tournament - the final 16 - is played with extra time and shootouts to bring the games to a conclusive end shows that FIFA is aware that ties are useless, and ultimately dissatisfying. It has been argued in the past that football is so taxing that making the early games in the tournament go into extra time would be too much for the players. This is nonsense - the truth is, the World Cup uses this format to make certain that about eleventy-jillion dollars are made during this month. The same is true of the sketchy ball they are using for this World Cup - it's not about the contest, it's about the benjamins.

As if to make my point crystal clear, we have the ongoing battle of France's Nicolas Mahut and John Isner of the United States, currently taking place at Wimbledon. These two guys have logged 10 hours of tennis, in a match that is now going into its third day. At the time I'm writing this, Isner and Mahut are tied at 59 games all in the fifth set. Isner has served 98 aces, while Mahut has served 94. The match has been stopped twice on account of fading light, and will resume tomorrow.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you don't accept ties. This is dramatic, exciting, record-breaking sport - as opposed to the boring, ho-hum crap the World Cup has offered up. You don't hear these guys complaining about it being too taxing; they are just going to keep playing until there is a winner! (Also - and this is completely unrelated to my beef with ties, just a personal note - I would like to point out that those goddamned plastic vuvuzela horns are not allowed in the stands at Wimbledon!)



Tennis doesn't mess with the ball. Tennis doesn't allow bad behavior, from fans or players, and most importantly, tennis doesn't accept ties. The World Cup folks could take a tip from tennis.

Couple the completely boring World Cup results (a full quarter of the games played so far have ended in ties, according to this results chart), the ball that everyone hates, and the general tendency of soccer players to fling themselves to the ground as though shot with a large calibre handgun whenever another player's sleeve brushes them, and you have a recipe for an embarrassingly lame tournament.

There - I said it. The World Cup is lame. I am prepared for the ire of the fans of the world's most popular game, but seriously, this is pretty sad.

InFamous

As promised, today's post is about the PS3's InFamous. In this superhero-fantasy-fulfillment you play Cole McGrath, former bike messenger and parkour god of Empire City. On a routine delivery run the package he is carrying explodes, killing thousands and unleashing a virulent plague on the city. Of course, the explosion doesn't kill Cole (everyone knows the safest place to be when terrifying new technologies explode is ground zero) and when he awakes he finds he is imbued with electrical powers.

It starts out small - he can shoot little bursts of lightning, send out a static shock wave, and resist damage to some extent. He is also given some serious strength which makes his parkour abilities truly crazy. In fact, he kind of looks like he's the love child of a drunken hump between Assassin's Creed II and The Prince of Persia. That's how he earned his nickname around Flockhall, "Electric Monkey Man."

Like Ezio, he can climb to the highest points in his environment and dive off, but Cole doesn't need a hay bale to land in. In fact, one of his later powers ("Thunder Drop") allows him to fall ridiculous distances as an explosive attack. The higher the fall, the bigger the boom, so jumping off tall buildings is actually encouraged. Later in the game he shows off the other side of his genetics as he learns to slow down time for sniping. Cole, however, doesn't need the dagger of time to do it - he just needs a little bit of electricity.

As the game progresses he becomes a juggernaut of vaguely electric whoop-ass. By the end of the game he can actually call down lightning from heaven. (If there was any justice in this world the Black Pope would have that power...)

Although the game has a plot, and there is a bit of a twist at the end, it resides in a very implausible neighborhood, and ultimately it's not all that important. The thing about this game is the play itself. It has elements of so many game types - skateboarding, platformers, melee fighters, 3rd person shooters, sniper simulators, and even scavenger hunts. Although I played the plot missions all the way through to the end, I did all of the side quests first, simply because I liked the way Cole moves through the city. Grinding on the wires to gain speed then flying on static thrust to the next rooftop, where you rain down shock grenades on the thugs below is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

Another great element of the game is the healing system. When you get hurt, just look for an electrical source and charge up. If you wish, you can heal (or drain) the people you find injured on the street as well. I spent about 30 minutes one day just running around the city playing Jesus. I would walk up to an injured civilian, touch him and say, "Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house." Very satisfying, albeit a bit sacrilegious. (Another power that the Pontifex Niger should have...)

When the final battle arrived, I wanted to go back into the city and find more side missions. There were none. I stalled, skating around the city on the train tracks, looking for thugs to beat up. I felt like the last guy at a party, saying "come on guys, the night is young!" Eventually, I accepted that the ride was over, and it was time to go face the boss.

After a titanic struggle, I beat him. Well, actually it just took titanic cursing, but I got it done. Watched the credits roll, then ran around the newly freed city a bit... and it wasn't the same. The crisis was over, the thugs were gone, and Electric Monkey Man was no longer needed.

Luckily, InFamous 2 is in the works, with a 2011 release date.

Heavenly Sword

Unemployment has turned me into a crazed console gamer. Usually, I'm the guy for whom walkthroughs are written, but I've finished two PS3 games in the last two weeks, without major internet assistance. This is some kind of record for me, as I'm the guy who played Dead Rising for three hours one night without making any kind of headway on the plot because I just really enjoyed hitting zombies with guitars. I'm just saying that more weapons, in both games and real life, should play power chords when you use them...

The first I tackled was Heavenly Sword, because the main character, Nariko, is seriously hot on the cover. Flaming red hair, a barely there costume that defies gravity to cover her, and a huge, ass-kicking sword - what's not to like? I figured there would be gratuitous shots of heaving cleavage and girly buttocks made rock hard by a lifetime of martial arts. That expectation may have been enhanced by the several confusing hours I spent playing Bayonetta just prior to starting Heavenly Sword. I was a bit disappointed that Nariko's special attacks don't cause her clothes to fall off like Bayonetta's, but it's a good game anyway.

It turns out that Heavenly Sword is a thinking man's button masher. Sort of like a prettier God of War but with a more nuanced combat system, a better plot, and no bare boobs. Nariko has three distinct stances that she can fight in, and the player must make sure she is in the proper stance to block or counter the attacks of her opponents, based on their stance. At first it's infuriating, but with time you begin to not only block attacks but also counter them and send them back at the attacker - most satisfying. As is required by gaming law, she is also equipped with amazing special moves which charge up based on how many blows in a row she can land. My favorite is the one where she hooks her swords into the opponent as she leaps into the air, then carries him up with her. She then slams him down on his head, and lands with one foot in his crotch. It's cringe-worthy every time it happens.

And happen, it does. Often. This game dishes up combat in huge slabs. To keep it from being monotonous there are some sections where you use missile weapons or play as a secondary character, Kai, who is younger, insane, and quite the archer. In all the missile combat sections you can use "after touch" to guide the missiles once they are on the way. It's rather like riding a Gulf War era "smart bomb" down to the target. It's a pretty unique experience, and a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.

So why am I writing about a game that is 3 years old? (See "unemployed" above.) Because it holds up pretty damn well against the current crop of games. Take, for instance, "Grand Theft Equus" (AKA Red Dead Redemption). I realize that they are fundamentally different types of games, but RDR is just plain fugly, while Heavenly Sword is absolutely gorgeous. Or, you could compare it to Assassin's Creed II. AC2 is very pretty, and the plot is amazing, but the melee combat is slow and clunky compared to Heavenly Sword.

In short, it's Pope Tested, Ministry Approved. The good news is, you can probably pick it up for less than thirty bucks now. Give it a try.

Tomorrow, InFamous.

Final BBBC Post

If this is your first BBBC... What did you get out of your experience? Do you think it will change the way you blog in the future?

This experience has proven what I have always known about my blogging, and writing in general. If I am given topics, I can be productive. If left to my own devices, I'll spend my time looking at pictures of the Doctor's new companion (rawr!) and cute animal pictures. While Google reader is a great tool, mine fills up with approximately 2 jillion distractions every 24 hours. For me, the problem with being prolific on the internet is... the internet.

During my undergrad degrees I posted a lot more often, but my job involved getting paid to sit in a computer lab. My primary responsibility was to keep lab users from walking off with equipment, and frankly, the cameras were more than enough deterrent. I basically got paid to do my homework, and it was the best job I've ever had. I miss it so... (sniff).

At any rate, this experience has simply reminded me that writing is like any other discipline. It requires a commitment and time investment in order for you to see results. The Buddhist masters have been known to say that you should practice as though your hair was on fire. My hair (what's left of it) is definitely not on fire where writing is concerned. Perhaps it should be. If I was as committed to posting on my blog as I am to, say, lifting heavy things or being a contrarian, I'd have published several books by now.

My thanks to Alicia Chenaux over at Ch'know? for starting the BBBC and providing the topics.

BBBC DAY 5

So the BBBC topic for today is...

"Topic #5 - Blogger's choice! Write about anything that's on your mind!"

Unemployment is the primary topic on my mind these days. Although I have been working for the Census a bit, I've been looking for a permanent job since early May when school ended. Technically, my graduate assistantship didn't run out until the end of May, but I had really hoped that I could get to work right away and collect two paychecks for the month of May to build up a buffer. Instead, I've gotten a total of about 45 hours from the Census, so there wasn't much in the way of savings.

I know that many people have been out of work much longer than this, but this is the longest I've ever been unemployed in my life. I have a ton of applications out there, but the number of people who are looking for work is so high that even part-time gigs in this town are getting 30-40 applicants. I generally interview well, but getting the interview is the issue these days. Perhaps I should write a more truthful cover letter and resume. Something like this:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to express my interest in the (insert title) position you have advertised on (insert website). My compelling need to eat and pay my rent, coupled with my desperation-enhanced moral flexibility make me uniquely qualified for this opportunity. I have extensive experience with under-compensated positions, unrealistic deadlines, and sadistic management. As a former employee of various state agencies I have a sound grasp of the acquisition and squandering of grant funding, as well the hand wringing and scapegoating required during audits. I am a detail oriented team player, well versed in the scurrying about and prairie dogging that is the hallmark of the successful office worker.

Sincerely,

HSBP


The resume might look like this...

Purpose: To find a job in the exciting field of whatever the hell it is you guys do there. Ideally, said job would utilize my natural snarkiness and include a company car and expense account.

Education: Yes, lots, and none of it relevant to actually making money. I am a fascinating guest at parties, however.

Work Experience: I have a ton, mostly in fields uniquely unsuited to my skills. Much like the ballerina who takes up sumo, I can adapt to any work environment, regardless of how ridiculous it is.

References: Listed below is the contact information of three former employers who, due to company policies prohibiting disclosures of personal opinions, or because it has been long enough for them to forget, are likely to admit having known me.


As they say, honesty is the best policy when there's money in it.

BBBC Day 4

Today's suggested topic is age...

1) Do you lie about your age?

For many years I have consistently claimed to be 108 years old. That, of course, is hyperbole - I only feel like I'm 108 when I get up in the morning. Actually, sometimes I smell like I'm 108 when I get home from the gym. At any rate, I am remarkably well preserved for a man of my age. I do have a weekly skin care regimen that helps with the crow's feet, but I've been lax about it lately; it's so expensive to fill the tub with the rendered fat of unchristened babies.

2) Do you think you act your age?

If you mean, "do you frequently talk about your prostate health and worry about getting enough fiber?" then no, I don't. I do, however, occasionally complain that all the younguns should stay off my lawn - "if that goddamn frisbee comes over the fence one more time, I'm keeping it!" I have also been known to disparagingly compare the young men of today to the young men of my generation - "at least we were smart enough to know that you don't call women bitches and hoes to their faces!"

By the by, my prostate is fine - thanks for your concern. I was at the urologist less than a month ago and he gave me the full San Francisco Handshake, complete with a How's Your Uncle and he said I was in perfect health. That man has very large fingers.

3) Are you where you thought you'd be at your current age?

Oh hell no. In kindergarten (in 1970) I was told there would be flying cars and vacation homes on the moon by now. I expected to play pro football and then serve as an astronaut for a few years, before settling down to my real career as a novelist. I was encouraged in these expectations by many of the adults around me, so the reality has turned out to be very disappointing. Stupid Montessori teachers, telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be.

Just like everyone else, I am where I am due to a combination of my own choices, luck, happenstance, class, race, gender, and the socioeconomic status with which I started out. Anyone who tells you that they know the equation that adds all of those factors and arrives at the destination you wish for is either a liar, or selling something. Or both, like high school guidance counselors...

More BBBC tomorrow.

BBBC Day 3

Topic for today:
"Would you start a relationship with someone you met online? Would you have a problem telling people that's where you met? Do you think it's easier to meet someone online rather than at work or at a club?"

I met my current GF at a poetry slam, so I have no room to criticize anyone's hook-up hunting habits. I do, however, have my doubts about the online thing ever working for me. I once had a long distance friendship that turned into something romantic over the tubes but we knew each other in person well before the chatting began. I am very visual, so a pure internet romance, even with webcams, just wouldn't work for me.

Meeting people at work is not a great idea, unless their job is completely unrelated to yours. If you are in the same office, or in offices that have to cooperate or compete it is a recipe for trouble. I have a hard and fast rule - don't even consider your coworkers as romantic possibilities.

The club scene seems to me the very worst place to meet someone. In a club or bar, it is generally loud, dark, and drunken. Possibly smoky as well. No one is themselves at a club - they are either trying to "bring their A game" or they have had a few drinks. Either way, if you meet someone there, you will just have to meet them again when you are in a more normal setting.

Mate selection is a very complex issue, studied heavily by a number of academic disciplines. In Sociology it's been tackled to some extent by almost every theoretical perspective. In my studies, the evolutionary model was my favorite. In essence, evolutionary theory holds that mate selection is predicated upon the need to select the best available mate for viable offspring (this is an incredibly gross oversimplification - it is a much more nuanced theory than this would suggest). Obviously, we've complicated that quite a bit by introducing all the trappings of civilization to the mix. The "best" mate might be the biggest, strongest male, or he might be the male with the thickest wallet or the most prestige. The environment in which the union is to exist must be considered when determining what is "best."

The other issue is availability. Since we don't generally embrace polyamory, the very best mates tend to be taken off the market quickly, leaving others to sort through what might be considered "lesser" choices. I have heard many women complain that all the good men are either taken or homosexuals. One of my dear friends was single at 35, and she described her search as "looking for a needle in a Gay stack."

Given these constraints, I see anything that can extend the pool of possible mates - even the internet - as a positive thing. Just be certain to ask these basic but crucially important questions:

1) Are you a furry?
2) Do you own/collect leather/latex/rubber/etc?
3) When was the last time you ended up in the emergency room after sex?

(Look, you ask your questions and I'll ask mine, ok? Prudes.)