Monday, June 29, 2009

Midnight Rambling

Just a few thoughts that occurred while working the night shift and admiring my driver's tan, which means my left arm is slightly darker than my right and which nicely accentuates the gray hairs growing from the birthmark on my left forearm, a blemish which has elicited comment from many a medical professional but which has been unchanged in size and shape my entire adult life.

- First of all, that first sentence clearly demonstrates that I need to buy that laptop and get back on the internet more frequently.

- It didn't take long for the rumors about Michael Jackson's death to start. Naturally the idea that he faked it to get away from financial and other pressures popped up quickly. It may be interesting to see what if anything his estate will contain; from what I read he had borrowed against about everything he owned. I'm reminded of the line in Citizen Kane about the guy who was supposedly wealthy but left nothing but debts when he shot himself.

- North Korea's behavior is somewhat mystifying, even for such an unhinged bunch.. I can understand that they want to be treated like an important country, but it's hard to believe that no one has said, "Look, if we start shooting missiles at U.S. territory they may inclined
to shoot one back, and theirs can end our ability to support life much less be a military power." I would hope China would want to nip this in the bud; it's bad for business. They should also consider the possibility that North Korea might try to similarly blackmail them someday.

The media's coverage is also odd. They sound like North Korea could go toe to toe with the U.S. in a confrontation. You don't hear about it much since the end of the Cold War, so people seem to have forgotten that each of our submarines alone carries enough firepower to hit every military installation they have,and you can bet that the Pentagon has had the spy satellites plotting targets for a long time. Yes, North Korea has a large army, but that would just be a large target for the Pacific Fleet.Certainly such a scenario should be avoided if at all possible, and South Korea wouldn't fare well to say the least, but this is the type of thing for which a large part of our military was designed. North Korea would be lucky to emerge like Iraq after the first Gulf War; barely struggling along as a nation.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The "Ick" factor

A friend of mine recently told me of a conversation she had with relatives regarding homosexuality. More specifically, her trouble reconciling her desire to be what she considers a good Christian (she is a life-long Catholic) and be tolerant of all types of people with her dislike of even the idea of gay sex. She's aware of the evidence that it may be genetic or at least a natural condition, but she just can't get past her distaste for the sexual part. Her relatives called her a homophobe, and she wondered if they might be right.

At this point I should say that this discussion was pretty much theoretical to her, as she has led what she called a sheltered life; to her knowledge she doesn't know any gay people and has only ever met very few in her life. She has lived most of her life here in South Dakota, where there aren't that many people to start with, and diversity of any sort is pretty limited. Combine that with a fairly high level of religious participation and you don't have the ingredients for a thriving gay community. I'm also not certain why she mentioned this to me. She's aware of my general skepticism and libertarianism; perhaps she wanted input from someone with those inclinations.

I told her that I had happened upon this topic a few years ago in an internet chat room where a couple of people were decrying lack of acceptance of gays while professing devotion to a Bible-literalist religion. I was met with disbelief when I pointed out to them that the Bible they hold to be literally true and inerrant specifically disagrees with them about this. I said to them then and to her now that this is something with which any fundamentalist believer has to deal. I then suggested that if it's just the sex that bothers her so much (she's also been a bit sheltered in that regard), she should try to look at it as she would any other sexual behavior between consenting adults that may not be to her taste; as long as it doesn't involve her, there's no need to care.

Later I thought about this a bit more and wondered how many people feel that way. How much anti-gay feeling is just an "ick" factor with gay sex? Would a celibate gay couple be perfectly fine? I may have to revisit this topic with her.

Not surprisingly, given the way my mind works, silliness also popped into this. At some point during their conversation one of her relatives mentioned that the Bible "was written by men". It occurred to me that,as I recall, male homosexual acts are called an abomination, but female homosexuality isn't mentioned. Perhaps the mentality that accounts for the popularity among men of various types of girl-on-girl action has deeper roots than I thought.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tractors and Turkey Nuggets

The wife, younger daughter, two granddaughters and I spent the say before Father's Day in Huron at one of those family reunions where I know a few faces and a few names but almost no combinations of the two. Most of the people who know who I am hadn't seen me in many years. I told my daughter to identify herself as my Mom's granddaughter, as this was mostly my Mom's generation.

A couple of factors made it more interesting, however. First was the setting; an antique tractor and car show. This gave a certain (not entirely welcome) counterbalance to the feeling of being a whippersnapper at the reunion, because I can clearly recall many of those "antique" tractors being used for farming, occasionally by me. The tractor pulling the dump rake brought back especially painful memories of a long day sitting on the seat of one of those rakes as we bounced along cutting and raking hay. Grandbaby enjoyed the parade of tractors, the louder the better. It was also interesting to see the stationary engines on display. Although there weren't any of the really big ones with the gigantic drive belts that rely on friction to stay on the pulleys, the smaller ones still serve as huffing, popping reminders that internal combustion hasn't always been the science it is today, and another reason farming has been (and to a certain degree still is) a dangerous occupation.

Then there was the other novel element. Mom has had dealings with the local Hutterite colony for many years, teaching piano and occasionally playing for their church services when they didn't have anyone who could do it. Lately her brother has also been teaching music there as part of his job with the Iroquois school district, of which their school is part. As part of the reunion Mom arranged for supper at the colony, and their kids sang a few songs. We ate in the dining hall early, before the men came in for supper. The phrase "simple country fare" has become a cliche, but this pretty much fit; carrots, radishes and an interesting cold corn and cabbage salad; bread-crumb soup; turkey nuggets that if sold on the open market would force any other producer of similar items out of business; mashed potatoes that managed to be incredibly creamy yet have heft, with unnecessary but delicious gravy; and what I thought was apple/rhubarb pie that was very good but sweeter that I expected, almost like applesauce. The kids sounded good, especially considering some of them haven't had that much experience with English; German is #1 there.

Pearl Creek Colony was a bit larger but no different than I recalled from my last visit. They aren't Amish; the facilities and equipment are thoroughly modern, although TV and other such frivolities are still a no-no. They aren't Amish in another sense; Mom quietly suggested we lock our vehicles "to eliminate temptation". Clothes were the same, as was the curiosity; the kids give you a good looking-over. Grandbaby was a bigger hit than usual, with her dark skin; one young boy asked the lady in charge if they got to keep "the little brown baby". I told my daughter that if she wanted to stay I could probably get a pig for her and they would likely find her a husband by Monday, but she demurred, as did the other daughter when I suggested later that we could get at least a cow - or maybe a truckload of turkey nuggets - for Grandbaby and her. All in all a fairly good time, although getting these girls married off is going to be tough if they're going to be so picky.

Monday, June 8, 2009

It was Nice of the Iceberg to Cooperate

James Lileks came across this. I really don't know what to say.

Ah, the things a little research reveals: there’s a book about the theory that the Titanic found on the bottom of the ocean was not the Titanic, but was actually the Olympic, which had suffered a collision with another vessel and was too costly to repair. So they switched the identities - change the nameplates, the china, the towels, the stationery - and deliberately sunk the “Titanic” for the insurance money.

The author of the book also notes that some people believed the Titanic was sunk as part of a Jesuit plot to enable the creation of the Federal Reserve, but he finds those theories absurd.

Truly astonishing.

Do It Hard

An article in the latest issue of Car and Driver (not on-line as far as I can determine) has this quote from a California woman who moved to rural Texas with her husband and bought a small race track.

"We prayed about it," Laurie Scribellito says. "We prayed hard. And we were very specific about it."

Once again, this is something I've heard about people doing all my life but had never given much thought. How does a person "pray hard"? Why would it make a difference to an allegedly omniscient God who already knows not only what you're asking but how it will turn out? Do people really believe that extra intensity will cause God to change his mind? I suspect that what it actually does is help the person really focus on the problem and seriously mull over the ramifications of the decision. The mention of being "very specific about it" is also interesting. They don't say what specific questions they asked, or if they got specific answers, which is probably for the best. Even the God-fearing citizens of rural Texas would probably have raised eyebrows at a California couple who showed up saying that God told them to buy the local race track. As the saying goes; you talking to God is prayer, God talking to you is schizophrenia.

The article does mention that the husband had previous experience running a race track and was at least casually looking into the possibility of another go (hence the perusal of such ads on eBay), and that the successful sale of their house and business in the current economic climate were taken as "signs" to go ahead, but it seems to me that those actions indicate they were inclined to make the move unless the clouds parted and God said "DON'T DO IT YOU IDIOTS!". I'm reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer prays about some potential action and asks God to signify approval by giving no response. Ah well, according to the article the move seems to have been successful, so good for them and their God. It might make a cute movie for the Inspiration Network, or Speed Channel.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Children and Electronics

Gee, I go two weeks between posts and a plane falls from the sky, David Carradine hangs himself, North Korea tests a nuke and lobs missiles, GM goes belly-up.....apparently I owe it to civilization to get here more often.Of course, it would be nice if I had something worth typing, but my life has been pretty uneventful, and my limited internet access has made it difficult to crib from - er, be inspired by other people.

Grandbaby is continuing to generate Cuteness and Chaos, discovering the entertainment value of getting Mom excited, wearing out her aunt (her preferred partner for learning to walk) by insisting on repeated strolls through the house, and learning that it is in fact possible to aggravate Grandma, usually by attempting to examine our seemingly indestructible house plant, which has so far survived curiosity as it survived previous neglect. This has been especially eye-opening for my daughter, the aforementioned aunt who hasn't been around babies that much but who has now been pressed into babysitting duties. She has caught on quickly, aided by Grandbaby's naturally sunny and uncomplaining disposition, although diaper changing continues to be a bit adventurous and the level of alertness required to constantly account for a curious baby with rapidly improving mobility has been a bit startling to her. She has asked "Was I like that?" quite a few times. (Mom has asked Grandma the same question. I believe this is called Grandparent's Revenge,and it is fairly sweet.) I said that all babies are like that, and that Grandbaby is actually a pretty well-behaved one,as was she.

I recently had to kill some time at Wal-Mart while a prescription was being filled, so I wandered back to the electronics section. It's good to see prices for digital TVs coming steadily down, although that was bound to happen as manufacturers got better at making them. I'm intrigued by the tiny laptop computers; one of those could at least partially relieve my internet blockage. What is actually purchased and when will be determined by a variety of factors,of course, but it's nice to keep informed. The 500-gigabyte hard drives in some of the computers amaze me, since my current desktop has a 40G which is roughly 1/3 filled. Of course I'm not heavily into games or video, so I don't need much storage space. I think back to my time working at ComputerLand in Rapid City in the mid 1980s when we sold a lot of 10- and 20-meg hard drives in IBM PCs. I once went to a customer's house to pick up of the first computers they sold to be brought in for repair. It took two people to safely carry the 5-meg hard drive, which was a separate unit from the rest of the computer. Hmmm....I had thought I was on a completely different topic, but those last few sentences definitely have a Grandpa feel.