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.


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…