Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Three Thoughts Bouncing Through My Head Tonight

It occurred to me today - finally - that the old question we used to ask has to be changed around. No longer can we menfolk ask each other "an hour in bed with Jennifer Aniston or a day hanging out with Brad Pitt?" No, now there are two questions. "An hour in bed with Jennifer Aniston or a day hanging out with Vince Vaughn?" and "A day hanging out with Brad Pitt or an hour in bed with Angelina Jolie?"

And let me tell you, those two different names change the calculus significantly.

(People can free to answer these questions if they want, but I'm gonna continue with this post).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Does anybody else think it odd that we count effort as relevant in the "meritocracy" that is the US? I mean, if people who are of lesser abilities can work their butts off and do as well as someone of greater ability who's lazy, should we reward that effort? Sure, there's some sense of fairness and justice in that equation, but aren't we really off-setting the value of actual ability? And if we're not essentially defining merit as ability, then what's the point of a meritocracy?

Another way of thinking about this problem is looking at two people who put in exactly the same effort, but one does way better than another. In a meritocracy, the one who does way better should win out. Of course, this sort of offends our sensibilities about fairness, but ultimately we're ok with this sort of system and see this as a tragic consequence. So if effort isn't the defining mark of merit, and abilities are really determinative, why do we off-set abilities by taking into account effort in some cases?

And, more essentially, what about disadvantaged/advantaged people who have different resources? Take two identical people who are taking a standardized test. Normally they'd score exactly the same. But one has the time and money to take a prep course, which usually raise scores by some meaningful amount. The other has to use a borrowed test prep book and has significantly less time to study. The score of the prep course person is going to turn out higher. They get into a better school because of it. Is this really a meritocracy? I think not. I think we should either commit to making things "fair" on the basis of effort, regardless of result, or go to a true ability system, in which we eliminate effort from the equation of determining who is more skilled/intelligent/deserving.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And finally, why is it that every Mac user is on a personal quest to rid the world of Windows machines? I've been getting plenty of comments on this topic lately, thankyouverymuchJoelandPatric.

It seems to me that Mac users are like Metric users. Look, you can give me all the reasons you want for why Metric is superior, but I don't care. Yes, I know it's simpler. Yes, I know conversions are easier. Yes, I know the rest of the world uses it. Yes, I know if I switched I'd get used to it. I don't care.

Why don't I care?
BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THE ENGLISH SYSTEM!

Really, it's just a case of elevating form over substance. The distance is the same length whether you call it a mile or 2-point-who-gives-a-dunk. It doesn't matter if you call it 2.8 meters or a gallon, you're flushing the same amount of water down that urinal.

And for most people, it doesn't matter if you're using a Mac or Windows to check your e-mail and run your word processor. Pirated music sounds the same on both machines. The substance is the same even if the form is different.

Thus, with the background established, I give you the following syllogism:

People who care to much about form are annoying.
Mac users who try to convert others care too much about form.
Ergo, BACK THE FREAK OFF!

So deep in my heart that you're really a part of me

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Powers of Observation

On Thanksgiving my wife made an especially insightful observation.

We had hosted - just a very small four person gathering - and after our guests had left/gone to sleep on the futon, we headed to bed ourselves. When we go to the bedroom Laura made her deep insight:

"We're old," she said, " - they put coats on our bed."

And it was true. You know you've reached a different stage of life when the spot designated for the coat pile is your bed.

Another person said that she
Cut her own head off with a knife
I think that would have been too hard
Not the best way to end your life

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

ANGER.

Thanksgiving weekend. Finals in 2 weeks. Just like clockwork, my laptop stops working. AARRRRRRRRGGGGHH!

If Toshiba were here right now, I'd punch him in the throat. And probably yell a whole lot. You know, that uncontrollable fit of anger yelling, where flecks of your spittle come flying out and land on the other person's face. That kind of yelling. And maybe I'd stomp on Toshiba's foot and insult his mother. Because besides being fat, stupid, and ugly, she's given birth to an evil son who makes inferior and generally crappy laptops.

Oh sure, Toshiba used to make good laptops. And then once he had his great reputation he started out-sourcing production. Naturally, this led to inferior products, which in turn, has led to my absolute misfortune, and in turn, my extreme ire.

I hate you Toshiba. You make me mad. SO. MAD.

AAAAARRRRGGGHHHH! (This isn't just a scream. This is a scream with action. Fist-clenching, elbows brought in tightly to my sides, face pointed upward and set in a frightening contorted visage I howl this scream as the intensity in my eyes burns ever hotter.)

Somebody needs to do something about this constant problem. Over the past two years my laptops have broken about 10 times, and usually they're broken around finals. Which is about the worst thing that can happened to an already over-stressed law student. Frankly, I think I've earned a semester of working-laptop with all I've gone through. Or at least a quicker trip through Purgatory.

In fact, I think I've shown tremendous restraint thus far. The sheer fact that I haven't drop-kicked my laptop off the balcony is a miracle. I just keep telling myself "they won't replace it if you destroy it." Of course, they haven't bloody well replaced it anyways, so maybe that doesn't matter so much.

Freakin' Toshiba. Don't ever buy their laptops.

AAARRRRRRRRRRRGH!

On a more happily inquisitive note, what do you think they used before the zamboni was invented?

And I've got Smokey who's been driving for years

Monday, November 21, 2005

Question:

This is related to the previous post. I'm trying to explore the same idea, but with a different type of investigation. So here's the question:

If you had been born to parents with an entirely different creed (set of beliefs), what would your creed look like now? What would it look like 10 or 15 years down the road? How would it have looked when you were growing up?

The reason we need to ask this question at so many different points is clearly because people alter their creeds over time, and frequently those changes reflect periodic realities (i.e. during the time when someone is a teenager they're more likely to rebel against their parents, etc.).

So, for those of you who have embraced the same creed as your parents, would you also have done so if it was a different creed? For those who rejected that creed, would you also have done so if it was a different creed? For those who have done both over time, or are some combination of embracing/rejecting, would you look the same today? Would the beliefs you had instilled as a child control? Would your personal journey to whatever your current creed have looked the same or different?

And that's the question. Imagine your parents had a different creed. How would your creed be different today, and why?

Oh lordy, trouble so hard
Don't nobody know my troubles but God

Sunday, November 20, 2005

But Where Do They Put the Cattle?

Strange, the things you remember...

For example, I remember Chris Dykhoff objecting to the sheer injustice that goats go to hell while sheep go to heaven.

Given that today's Gospel was the one from which this idea is taken, I'd been reflecting on this idea a lot today. Not so much the "goats are screwed, sheep are lucky" idea, more the "Chris seemed to have trouble with this" idea. And I don't know if he really had trouble with it or he just objected because it's potentially objectionable (Chris, you want to clear this up for us?), but he might have a point.

You can't really help it if you're born a goat. Or a sheep. The natural response is just that the parable means something else - that people are separated into two groups, the good/saved/blessed and the bad/damned/cursed. And it has nothing to do with what you were born as, you get to choose, by accepting God's Grace, which group you fall into.

But how true is that? Doesn't our birth really change who we are? Doesn't being born into a certain time, place, and family alter our possibility for accepting Grace? How many people are born into non-Christian families and become Christian? How many goats have a fair chance to become sheep?

I think there are probably lots of people who go the other way around, from Christian to non. But that seems easier to do. Or at least more of a distinct choice. Those people are more distinctly rejecting God, or at least we can think they are. But they're probably hindered by their birth too.

And even those who try hard to be sheep but fail. Sure, they might be making individual choices which fall far short of their "sheeply" call to live a life free of sin. But how much are those choices affected by things beyond their control?

I do want to say that I'm not a determinist. Heck, I'm anti-determinist. I think people can and do make choices. But those choices may be limited. It's hard for a goat to become a sheep.

And maybe Chris was right. Maybe there's something a bit unfair in the whole equation. Of course, fair in our eyes is certainly different than it is in Gods (i.e. Job, The Prodigal Son, etc.).

I'm not really sure how to tie this up. Anyone have thoughts? Some of you studying theology? Some of you who lean agnostic/atheistic? What are those takes on this question? How much room is there for a sheep to become a goat? For a goat to become a sheep? And how do we react to the realization that our birth affects the opportunities in front of us?

The barber can give you a haircut

Friday, November 18, 2005

Entertainment News Headline

I just saw an entertainment news headline, and though I didn't actually read the article, I think I know what it says.

The headline proclaimed "Shania Twain recieves Canada's highest honor".

Apparantly Shania Twain is becoming a U.S. Citizen.

Man! I feel like a woman!

"You Mean There Weren't WMD's?" "Who Knew?" "Everybody!"

This is another boring political post, so if you're a humor fan I suppose you can just tune out now if you want. Or you could read it anyways and feel free to throw in your two cents. I'll even try to make it somewhat entertaining. Here goes:

Lately members of Congress, apparently smelling blood in the water, have been circling the White House, swimming ever closer and closer to the Bush administration, and, when they feel the time is right, the slowly crescendo-ing music of John Williams growing ever more urgent, they dive in to bite off a gigantic chunk of flesh from the wounded administration, their rows of serrated teeth ripping through the skin and sinewy muscle tissue, crushing bone, like, well, if you hadn't gotten the analogy by now, sharks.

And pretty much, this makes me happy. I am not a Bush fan. Oh sure, I voted for him. But that was only for two reasons. 1. The Supreme Court, and 2. The Democrats were apparently sitting this one out with the inexplicable nomination of Kerry. So now that ├╝ber-intellectual John Roberts is firmly ensconced, and we've narrowly avoided a catastrophe, what with Alito replacing Harriet Miers, my goals for Bush have reached fruition. So from here on out, the less of Bush's legislative agenda accomplished, the better.

Swim little sharks, swim.

Yes, with the Court leaning a little further to the right, I'm content to look forward to 2008 when I'll be able to feel comfortable voting for a Democratic candidate. I hope. I really really hope. Unless, of course, McCain runs. Then it'll be a very tough choice.

But until then, I say we need to minimize the Bush agenda, and low approval ratings and constant fighting between the White House and the Capital is the best way to keep Bush from moving forward.

So I generally approve when Congress criticizes the President.

But their latest attacks are simply baffling to me. They are now trying to accuse the President of secretly trumping up the case for going to war in Iraq. The accusation is basically that Bush gave Congress, and the nation, only the evidence in favor of going to Iraq - namely WMD's - and tried to keep the evidence against going to Iraq quiet.

I think two points need to be made. First, Congress is accusing someone of using selective evidence to support their position. Basically, accusing someone of making the best case for their position. And that just seems stupid.

Secondly, and critical to their criticism, is the claim that the White House was secretly lying about the strength of the evidence. This too is just stupid. Because everyone knew the White House was lying. It was common knowledge that the evidence of WMD's was suspect. It was common knowledge that weapons inspectors hadn't found any sign of these weapons. It was common knowledge that Iraq was not linked to the 9/11 attacks. And it was common knowledge that the Bushies were lying about all of these things. So how in the world can Congress be pissed off now, two years into the war?

(By the way, on The Colbert Report Stephen Colbert asked precisely this type of question. I think he stole it from me since I'd been asking it for hours, if not days, before he did. Regardless, I'll give him some credit just because his show is so dang hilarious. You should be watching it if you aren't already. Comedy Central, 11:30 Eastern, Monday through Thursday.)

Anyways, at the time Congress made the decision to go to war it was common knowledge that the Bush evidence was suspect. It was common knowledge that Bush trumped up his argument for war with exaggeration, lies, and shoddy evidence. It was common knowledge that there existed plenty of evidence which shows what we know now. So why is Congress upset? They were the ones who chose to trust bad evidence.

If you buy a watch on the street you can be sure that one of two things is true. Either it's not a real Rolex or the vendor is ignoring the fact that the real owner is out there.

If you buy evidence from Bush you can be sure that one of two things is true. Either it isn't real or the President is ignoring the fact that the real evidence is out there.

Yes, Congress, you got ripped off. But you did so willingly. And you certainly didn't get ripped off by the best.

You're getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself
With these revisions and gaps in history

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Question:

Imagine that you have to choose one color for the rest of your life. Everything you see from now on will be in shades of this color. All your clothes, your skin, your food, your house, even your toe jam. What color would you choose? And it can't be black, white or gray. Stop, think it over. What color would you want to see for the rest of your life if you could only see that color? Answer before you continue to the next question. And think about it hard, because once you move past this point you don't get to change your answer.

Stop.
Think about it.
Did you answer the question?
Happy with your answer?
Ok, ready?

Here's the next question:

Was the color you picked your favorite color? In 50 words or less, why do you think you did/did not choose your favorite color? (You need not strictly adhere to this limit).


If red tries to swallow blue he will turn purple

Saturday, November 12, 2005

You Know What I Hate?

Flavored floss. What's the freakin' point? It's not like you keep any one piece of the floss in contact with your mouth long enough to even really get a taste. Not that you'd want to since that fakey flavor actually tastes more like chalk than a pleasant cool mint.

And maybe it's just me, but isn't floss supposed to slide neatly between your teeth? How does coating a thin string in extra material help it glide smoothly? Thin floss = good floss. Flavored floss = thicker floss = bad floss = Matt jabbing at his gums with a scissors, trying to cut out the threads stuck between his teeth.

What's so wrong with nice plain floss? Who flosses more because of the floss' flavor? Gee, I just can't wait to get into the bathroom and suck on that yummy floss! Give me a break. Who are they marketing this stuff to?

And it's not like using mint floss is helping your breath. Wake up with bad breath? Not enough time to brush? Quick, twirl some floss around your fingers and shove them in your mouth! All fixed! Flavored toothpaste makes sense. Flavored floss makes me want to string up Johnson & Johnson.

Here he is folks, the leader of the plaque

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lick it.

Hopefully everyone will still jump into the great conversation we have going on in the post below this one, but I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of this exciting new set of postal stamps.

Yeah, I know, stamps are boring. Unless you're a philatelic. But seriously, these are Muppet stamps! I ran out and bought some the first chance I got. Plus, there's witty messages written on the back of the stamp page from each of the Muppet characters. Some funny stuff. Beats the heck out of flags or airplanes or the "Cute and Cuddly" collection, or the Greta Garbo collec - actually, nix that last one. Garbo's hot. Looks like it's back to the post office for me!

It's not very pretty I tell thee

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I Feel the Need, the Need for Creed

Should a doctor be forced to provide abortions?
Should a criminal attorney be forced to accept the system of punishment as legitimate, including an oath to uphold all possible punishments, including capital punishment?
Should a food taster with religious objections to meat be forced to eat meat?

I, for one, think not. There was a discussion about this sort of thing on Philosofickle some time ago. I want to revisit it now and focus specifically on the idea of creed.

Not everyone has religious beliefs. But everyone has a creed. After all, a creed is simply a system of belief, principles, or opinions. Thus, everyone has a creed.

Should people be forced to do things which are contrary to their creed? We have an important right to freely exercise our religion, our creed. The government can't make us perform abortions against our will, eat meat against our will, or proclaim that capital punishment is good against our will. The simple point is: we can not and must not force people to do things that are contrary to their creed.

Now, not all of the examples I've suggested are required. Doctors aren't all forced to provide abortions. Criminal attorneys are not forced to take an oath affirming the system of punishment. But some people would argue that doctors can't opt out of abortions. That food tasters can't decline certain dishes. And though I've never heard anyone say that criminal attorneys should take an oath affirming capital punishment as legitimate, the situation runs exactly parallel.

Of course, saying that people shouldn't be forced to do things against their creed leaves open the option that people of a certain creed simply shouldn't enter into specific professions. Maybe someone opposed to abortion shouldn't become an OB/GYN. Maybe a vegetarian shouldn't become a food taster.

But maybe that's discrimination.

And everyone knows that it isn't ok for us to discriminate against people on the basis of race, gender, or creed.

So long as people can reasonably perform the tasks assigned, why must they provide the full range of services? If the task assigned is improving patient health, and they can do that in a myriad of ways, why must all OB/GYN be willing to perform abortions? It seems ok to me if some decide to object based on the convictions of their creed. It also seems acceptable if a food taster says "I won't taste meat", so long as they still taste the other foods placed in front of them. Likewise a criminal attorney can reject the death penalty as a valid punishment if they recognize other forms a legitimate.

Now it also seems to me that it is ok if people suffer the natural consequences of their actions. A doctor who won't perform abortions will get less business. A food taster who won't taste meat will get less business. That's the natural flow of things, and it's an acceptable result.

But regardless of the natural effect we certainly shouldn't prevent them from being employed in that field - because the effect of such would be discrimination on the basis of creed. If you fire someone from food tasting because of their religious convictions, that is discrimination. They can still do the job, they just can't do it quite as well as someone else. (Lower pay might be appropriate depending on the circumstances - it wouldn't be discrimination because it wouldn't be a case of unequal pay for equal work, it would unequal pay for unequal work. But this could turn on individual facts).

Really though, this situation is no different from the person who misses work because of religious holidays. Their work performance is diminished, but not to the point where they aren't still providing a valuable service. The person who is fasting will likely perform more poorly. But we can't fire someone because their creed requires fasting. That would be blatant creedism. Likewise, so is requiring all OB/GYN to perform abortions. Or all criminal attorneys to think capital punishment a justifiable punishment. Or all food tasters to taste all food. If people have conscientious objections based on creed, but can still perform a valuable service, they should not be penalized for their deeply-held beliefs.

If we don't allow conscientious objections we are then requiring all of a certain profession to perform all the tasks. Thus, every OB/GYN must perform abortions, every food taster must eat meat, and every criminal attorney must accept the system of punishment as legitimate. This means that people with opposing creeds cannot enter these professions - one opposed to abortion cannot become an OB/GYN and still live their creed. A religious vegetarian cannot become a food taster and live their creed. And a person opposed to capital punishment cannot become a criminal attorney and live their creed.

And if entire fields of employment are cut off because of creed - if people are forced to choose between creed and job - then we've entered into a very unsavory world. Sure, it's not discrimination in the same sense of the word as it would be if we were keeping people from professions based on skin color or gender. But it's almost as bad. Because a creed is fundamental to who a person is. They can't change the color of their skin. They shouldn't be forced to change their creed.


Racism is bad.
Sexism is bad.
Creedism is bad.

If we're serious about eliminating discrimination in society we need to protect people against creedism. We need to allow conscientious objections in all fields. So long as the individual can still provide valuable services, their creed should not close off any avenue.

Either you're wrong or you're right

Friday, November 04, 2005

Excerpts from Living With Rachel

For the last month and a half my sister in-law has been living with us. She moved in at the end of September, a mere 4 months after we were married. Yes, that's right, 4 months. You can even go ahead and count 'em if you want - June, July, August, September - but it isn't going to change the fact that I'm a pathetic sissy who caved under the most marginal of pressure and within 4 short months handed control of my life over to the in-laws.

Actually, that's not true. I love my in-laws and all, but I'm still my own man. What's that dear, you need me to do the dishes? Hold on a sec everyone, I'll be right back.

Right, so where was I? Oh yeah, the in-laws. Good folk. But living with Rachel has been an experience. Let me tell you what I mean.

For the past month and a half Rachel has been sleeping on the futon in our living room. She's been eating our food, watching our TV, flushing our toilet, and all the other stuff you'd expect from a parasitic hanger-on. It's like having a child, although in my experience, children throw fewer tantrums.

We've had to adjust our schedule in some big ways for Rachel. She quickly found a job as a temp, filing papers mostly. (After 3 weeks at the same place she's up to the "G"s). For her job she frequently needs to get up early and catch the metro. This means she often wants to go to bed early, and since she's sleeping in our living room, that means we've got to give up the late-night TV/computer/being able to see where we're walking.

This is of course a small price to pay for the immense late-night entertainment that a sleeping Rachel can supply. You see, she frequently talks in her sleep. Better still, she sings in her sleep. Well, that only happened once, but let me tell you, it definitely had a disco beat.

Rachel is also very fond of finding interesting things for us to do in our free time. Like going on "haunted" tours. We went the weekend before Halloween, and the whole tour took place in the park in front of the White House. Our guide wasn't so good, and the "haunted" part of the tour left much to be desired. Our guide would describe some interesting historical event. After finishing the story, to make the tour seasonal, the guide would invariably add the line "So what's the haunted part of this story? Well some people say that on a dark night like tonight they can hear/see/feel the ghost of ..." and then fill in the name of the person the story was about.

The tour got even worse when we got to the middle of the park where there was a statue of Andrew Jackson. You know, the president responsible for the Trail of Tears. At that statue we heard what has to be the worst ghost story ever. It went like this:

"Once when another guide was leading this tour there was a man who claimed to be a psychic. As he walked past this part of the park he suddenly stopped and said 'this is the most haunted place in the park. On this site there was an ancient Indian burial ground, and the spirits of the Indian warriors are very angry.' Well, we've done some research, and from everything we've found there is absolutely no evidence to support the belief that this was ever a burial ground. But if it were, you can understand why Indian warriors would be angry, given who's on the statue above their graves."

Yeah, so as far as walking tours go, this one blew chunks. Thanks Rachel.

And, last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the infamous "vacuum cleaner incident".

About two weeks ago Rachel decided that it wasn't enough for Laura and I to borrow our friend's vacuum from time to time. She decided that we needed our own, and started to look around at prices online. Laura's log-in name and password were conveniently saved on Target.com, and so Rachel was able to surf to her heart's delight. She found a model she liked and "accidentally" clicked the "purchase now" button. She quickly clicked the "cancel order" button, and when Laura didn't receive a confirmation e-mail we figured the mishap had been corrected. We could totally understand Rachel's mistake. She claimed that she didn't mean to actually place an order, all she wanted to do was find out how much the price would be with shipping.

Apparently the price with shipping was $64.87, because that's the surprise amount that showed up on Laura's credit card bill. Since we hadn't gotten a) a confirmation e-mail or b) a vacuum cleaner, we assumed there had to be some sort of mistake. We spent about 20 minutes on the phone with the credit card company trying to dispute the charge. They eventually told us we had to discuss it with Target. We then spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out our order history on Target.com, with little success. After that we decided we'd talk to Target.com directly, and placed another 20 minute phone call.

They let us know that we had in fact received a) a confirmation e-mail and b) a vacuum cleaner. Apparently we were misinformed.

Here's what happened: Rachel had also ordered - on purpose this time - a purse* from Target. It arrived on the same day as the vacuum cleaner. When Rachel checked the mail that day she saw that we had packages. Unfortunately she neglected to check how many packages we had. There were two (2). Apparently the vacuum cleaner was no longer of any importance to Rachel, and once she saw her purse she ran upstairs to the apartment to open the package and coo over the fashionable faux-leather material and sensible 3-pocket design. The poor dejected vacuum remained in the package room to, ironically, collect dust.

The credit card bill gave us reason to re-open the investigation into how many packages we had received. There were two (2). And that's the story of how the lonely vacuum cleaner came to live in apartment 723.

I should really end by saying some nice things about Rachel now. After all, she knows where I sleep. It's been great having her around. Plus, she does find good things to do from time to time - it's not all "haunted" walking tours. Also, she cleans the apartment all the time (so very very very much appreciated). And it's just generally been a lot of fun to have her around. Though it'll be nice to have our living room back, we'll miss her when she's gone (1 month, 15 days, and counting).

*Apparently it isn't a purse, it's a bag. Whatever.


I can hear you sing it to me in my sleep

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Hypothetical

Say a couple can't have a child. And say they get their respective "parental material" and have a doctor do in vitro fertilization. They find a surrogate, and get the embryo implanted in her womb.

Hypothetically, if the surrogate, at just before the end of the first trimester, determines that she no longer wants to carry the child, can she get an abortion?

Hypothetical #2, if the parents, at just before the end of the first trimester, determine that they no longer want the child, can they make the surrogate get an abortion?

Keep in mind that courts don't generally (ever?) enforce surrogacy contracts, so who ever has the right to an abortion in this case would completely trump any claims of the other party, including breach of contract compensation.

So, myself being entirely against abortion (except to protect the life of the mother), I'd say no one has the right to abortion in this case. But that's not a valid answer to this question. I'm not completely sure what all are relevant considerations in this case. I'd love to get the thoughts of others. Tell me what you think.

So tell me what you want, what you really really want