Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm Still On Cloud Nine

UPDATE: Her eyes did well up, and then they rolled. Epic Success.

I'm the kind of guy who gets really excited over the odometer rolling to a new number. Not only do I get excited when it clicks to a nice round multiple of 10000, but also fun numbers like 75757.5, or 111111 (I made a point of driving 11 mph when I hit that one. No. Seriously. I pulled to the shoulder of the PCH, which is...Hwy 1). Palindromes are always exciting: 98338.9, or 48384. But it's seeing my favorite numbers like π or e that gives me a unique pleasure, the all-time greatest being when the odometer in my Mustang read out the golden number Φ:

Notice that the digits span beyond the odometer to include the trip meter. A little bit of planning, and voila! An increased level of precision, which paints a more exacting picture of your nerdiness to your wife, so that she can use it to more accurately make fun of you.

But now I have one that I'm hoping won't generate mockery from my beauty, although she will certainly roll her eyes after she dries them.

Today is a special day. Tonight, at around, oh, about 9:09:09 PM, my wife and I will have been married for 9 years, 9 months, 9 days, 9 hours, 9 minutes and 9 seconds. So, as you're reading this we're on our way up to San Francisco for a surprise overnight nonce. Why go so far for this? Because there's a restaurant up there called The Nines. And we're gonna go there for dinner after we play some 9-Ball (9 games of it, for sure, not to mention we'll squeeze in 9 innings of listening to the Dodgers lose on the radio.). And waiting at our table will be nine roses. And because of the wonderful people there at the restaurant, Beethoven's 9th Symphony will be playing in the background (and "1999" and "99 luftballons"...)

So you see, I am compelled to go the whole nine yards, or my psyche will be...will be...DECIMATED. And who knows? Maybe nine months from now...

At any rate, your Ninecompoop loves ya, Maria!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ethic Fail

There is only one thing to note about the first presidential debate: Obama had to read the name of Sergeant Ryan David Jopek off of the bracelet he's been wearing for some a reminder of a mother's loss-Ryan David Jopek's mother gave it to him. (Watch the look on McCain's face when Obama begins his tit for tat.

So I'm supposed to believe that his motives are to take care of the little guy? When he can't even remember the name of the little guy he 'wears on his wrist' every day?

Wow. Why isn't this bigger news? If a republican would have made this gaffe, it would be the only thing talked about. George H.W. Bush lost the 1992 election in part because he was labelled as 'out of touch', and a major factor in that national sentiment was the impatience he displayed by looking at his watch during an audience member question during the 1992 PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE.

In case you just want to watch it over and over again, HERE'S the 'I've got a bracelet, too' video. And THIS bit of recent pop culture history should explain how I came up with the first image of this post. (Spend some time at if you're bored and want to know why I hate the internet for ruining our language, yet want to laugh heartily.)

Epic Fail.
Or would that be Ethic Fail?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Cathedral of Christ the Blight

It has come to pass. The Cathedral of Christ the Light for the Oakland Diocese is NOW OPEN.

Dear God I hope this is the last of the Cathedrals to be built that are as ugly as sin. (Actually, there are a couple in process, but I have hope the era is over). At any rate, this design is just horrible. Horrible.
"It was really driven by the Bishop wanting a certain traditional image — an image of Christ borrowed from a sculpture at Chartres Cathedral in France — and by Craig Hartman, working out how we could take this historic image and make it appropriate for this modern cathedral,"
(I know I'm taking the quote out of context, but this is a typical description of the Cathedral as a whole)

Oh. I'm so depressed. This is 'traditional'? Why? Because it's got a repeating motif of the Vesica Piscis? Ugh. It could just as easily be read to be an 180 foot vulva as a mandorla.
"Further the places and requisites for worship should be truly worthy and beautiful, signs and symbols of heavenly realities." —Catechism of the Catholic Church, #253
"Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the mystery of Christ." —Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1192

I wonder if Christ finds His Cathedral 'truly worthy and beautiful'. I wonder if the people in it will see the 'signs and symbols of heavenly realities' placed there, and will understand what they mean (without a brochure). I wonder if there are any sacred images, and if there are, if they will nourish our faith. I wonder if there could have been a better way...


There is No Prayer There (commentary on the exterior of the Cathedral)

Cathedral of Christ the Blight part II (replies to objections to my commentary)

Raiders of the Lost Art (commentary on the interior of the Cathedral and its art)

Missing the Middle (or Central) Term (commentary on the placement of the Tabernacle in the Cathedral)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Veal Feel Better After an Udder Disappointment

Wow. Reality out 'onions' the Onion.

A chef in Switzerland HAS STARTED USING harvested human breastmilk for use in his recipes, in place of animal milk. This is posing a somewhat difficult position for the Swiss food control authority, because human milk was just not considered something they needed to regulate in commercial food preparation.
"[Humans] are not on the list of approved species such as cows and sheep, but they are also not on the list of the banned species such as apes and primates..."
Ummm. Right now I'm thinking that ape and primate milk has been specifically banned in Switzerland for the same reason they put 'Do not take orally' on the back of Preparation H...because some idiot has tried it that way.

But the real kicker is how PETA has kept abreast of foreign wheys and exposed the perks of milking humans for all their worth. They have SENT A LETTER to Ben & Jerry's asking them if they would please consider following the lead and using human breastmilk in their ice cream.

You know, for the sake of the cows. And the farmers who do the milking.

Unlike other places in the country, in my little community of conservatively-minded baby-havers, breastmilk definitely gets a fair shake. But who knew it would make one?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Sweet Science Meets the Mind's Grind

It's not surprising to me that THIS crazy combination came from Russia. The Russians have always placed a great deal of emphasis on boxing, chess, and marksmanship-those being the signs of raw power, intellect, and military skill, respectively--ordered towards impressing fear upon enemies and pride amongst comrades. Consequently, it's not surprising that chess is historically a MANLY PURSUIT, given that men generally possess a warlike competitive spirit, while women more nurturing and tend to reticence rather than making waves.

At any rate, war and chess were connected in the Russian/Soviet mind very early and very clearly in the person of Nikolai Vasilyevich Krylenko (1885-1938). Personally appointed by Lenin, a violent Krylenko declared at the onset of the red tide: "We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more."

But it was the same Krylenko that in 1924 had taken on the task of turning chess into the Soviet Union's national game. As chairman of the chess section of the Supreme Council for Physical Culture of the Russian Socialist Republics, Krylenko persuaded the Kremlin to organize the first international tournament at Moscow in 1925. In his introduction to the tournament book, he wrote:
"In our country, where the cultural level is comparatively low, where up to now a typical pastime of the masses has been brewing liquor, drunkenness and brawling, chess is a powerful means of raising the general cultural level."
Between organizing mass murders of the workers he cared so deeply about, Krylenko edited the main Soviet chess journal: '64', keeping ideological control of a chess community that soon grew to tens of millions. The party slogan: "Take chess to the workers!"

The Cold War brought new life to chess, especially in the West. The Cold War was a psychological war, and was therefore prime for metaphorical representation by the likes of chess. As competing nations couldn't turn to physical conflict, they turned to intellectual sparring. The import of the games carried more than a title to any one individual, rather but the implied superiority of the winner's nation.

Chess as a metaphor was everywhere. Do you remember that the opening scene of one of the first James Bond films--those icons of anti-red propoganda--, 'From Russia with Love', is a chess match between two grandmasters?

In real life, it was the Fischer-Spassky match of 1972 —when an eccentric American genius smashed 25 years of Soviet chess hegemony—that was the 'sports' event that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War (vastly more than did the 1980 Miracle on Ice). The end that left the West victorious also left Bobby Fischer mentally crushed and socially inept, an ironic end to the man who said: "Chess is war on a board. The object is to crush the other man's mind."

Given this storied and politically charged game, what I want to know is whether chess boxing can mean anything now...?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Change You Can Belie In

Check THIS out:
Due to a quirk of Brazilian law, candidates are allowed to run under the name of their choice. As a result, at least six Brazilian politicians have officially renamed themselves "Barack Obama" in a bid to get an edge over their rivals in October's municipal elections.
So a politician is black and everyone thinks he looks like Obama? Ricky Gervais says that's racist.

And yes, the raison d'être for this entire post was the title. I was going to go for 'Change You Can Belize In', but that would just...muddy the waters geographically. Nyuk Nyuk.

Monday, September 22, 2008

When Catholic Art Really Sucks...

...then somebody's gotta call it out.

This is just horrible:

According to the 'artist', JOHN COLLIER:
"This Annunciation is set in suburbia, but the symbolism is quite traditional. Mary is reading from Isaiah about the Virgin who conceives and bears a son. The lily represents her purity, and she is welcoming St. Gabriel."
This painting sucks on so many levels that I-- in charitable love for the fellow human being who 'painted' it; my own brother in Christ --am forced to merely name only a dozen or so ways in which it so utterly offends the eyes of body and mind, not to mention the loosening effect it has on one's gastroesophageal valve, instead of the 4 hour tirade that I would go on if there were no shadow of the conventions of manners or societal niceties looming over me.

Look, I have no problem representing biblical events anachronistically. That is certainly within tradition, and appropriate when done correctly (unlike the tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, which were most incorrectly done). The Renaissance artists put Mary in Renaissance clothing in Renaissance settings. Baroque artists put Mary in Baroque clothing in Baroque settings. That's all fine and good. But only because they did it well. Doing it to 'update it for updating sake' is merely trite, and muddling the decades makes it look like you weren't paying attention to details.

I'm sorry, but the claim that 'the symbolism is quite traditional' is just bull. Why is it traditional? Because there's some semblance of classical architecture? Because the composition makes some reference to the great work of Fra Angelico and his Annunciations? Because it uses (read: misuses) accepted symbolic references? Look, dumping 14 uncracked eggs, 2 drops of milk, a cup of water, 7 pounds of butter, 3lbs. of sugar, and two specks of flour into a bowl, mixing it up, and then chucking the goopy mess into an unheated oven doesn't mean you will necessarily end up with a quite traditional cake.

Using a denim frock and a red book is not the same as clothing our lady in red and blue to represent the queen of earth and heaven, respectively. Merely having the colors 'close' to her, or in her props, doesn't count. Symbolism is tied to the intrinsic meaning of the thing. If the book is red, it means something about the book, not the person holding it.

Arbitrarily placing a misshapen potted lily right in the foreground (and where no homeowner would ever, ever put it- because it's in the middle of the freakin' entrance walkway) shows that the artist was merely meeting the basic quota of simplistic symbols that just must be present in any Marian image, rather than composing a scene that is first believable and only then also symbolic.

What's with the brown dove on the right? What's he sitting on? Why is he brown and not white? It looks as if it was just jammed in there because no other place in the composition would afford it, and yet the "Painting Religious Art for Dummies" checklist clearly stated a dove was required in an annunciation scene. The only other option it's just some bird, and doesn't symbolize anything, but that would be stupid because 'traditional symbolism' never wastes effort misleading the viewer with a meaningless object.

The picayune skill level of the artist can not even be categorized as acceptable for religious art, let alone sacred art, if that was the intent. Craft is a prerequisite for art. The ability to understand basic color theory and composition is necessary, but not sufficient, to be considered art. In this case, the level of craft isn't even sufficient. Part of the craft of painting is understanding and being well practiced in the structure of bodies and the forces that act upon them, so that when you depict dynamism or action, it doesn't look retarded. With that in mind, ask yourself why the zephyr acting on Mary's frock isn't affecting anything else. Maybe because it's not a breeze at all...maybe she's moving? That's just not what her body mechanics and weight distribution are saying. So then, why is the frock distorted? What does it mean? I'm afraid it doesn't mean anything. Great symbol, Johnny.

Again, if you're depicting static motion, and you're going to paint or draw figures, study the human body and its proportions. The form of Mary's body does not respond to normal anatomy and bone structure. While Our Girl has the calves and ankles of a 3 year old, the face of a tween, and the posture of an octagenarian, the poor Arcangel Gabriel is a pygmalean. And while I cannot say with certitude that the angels anthropomorph into the same scale universe that we material bodies are tied to, we can at least say Gabriel has a proportional integrity about him, as do model railroads in the basement of 8 year old boys and 45 year old men, both living at home with mother. But before you think I'm complimenting this piece (of something), note that Gabriel is covered in the same mauve color as the wall beyond, and thus fades into the wall because of a utter lack of contrast in form or color so that his bodily form is missed. If you refuse to study human anatomy, then at least learn the principles of projective geometry so that your shadows don't look like they're constructed by a freshman Fine Arts major. Seriously, I count no less than 5 different directions that shadows are being cast. If this was unintended, then that's a shame. If intended, then I will be forced into interpreting your use multiple points of origin for your light sources as just that: multiple sources of 'light', and in 'traditional symbology' that always has and always will represent a polytheist cosmology, which last time I checked is something us Trinitarian Monotheists known as Roman Catholics frown upon.

Most importantly, what makes me know the little girl's reading Isaiah and not Judy Blume? Just because the artist says so in his blurb about the painting online? Oh wait, I see. It must be because the only people who wear hideously ugly frocks are traditional Catholic girls who are borderline Stoics and Manicheists who read Isaiah at sunrise on their front porch. Why this reading? Because there is no actual symbol there; only a sign: the sign for 'this object is a book'. 'Traditional symbolism' doesn't need a companion brochure to explain itself. It is, by itself and by convention, able to convey meaning. If it doesn't, then it's a symbol of either nothing, or a symbol of the inability of the artist to communicate, both of which result in the reality of not being a symbol at all.

For those of you who will have now become shocked by the pounding I'm angrily heaping on this poor defenseless guy, please keep in mind two things: 1) I've heard of several otherwise rational, cultured adults who nevertheless like Mr. Collier's representation of the Annunciation, which is a shame that shows our current Catholic culture is uncultured; and 2) The real trouble with this, and why I'm so very critical, is because ever since FR. COUTURIER'S, irrational but influential ideology concerning the value of religiosity vs. the value of talent in artists, Catholic artists have had to work incredibly hard to earn back even the most trifling patronage from our own Church, and ilk like this painting just makes it that much harder to convince Bishops not to hire atheists more talented with a brush or chisel in deference to those artists with real Faith. So I'm angry and taking it out on this guy because, well, not merely because this work deserves it, but because it's important to recognize that while in the big picture it's not as offensive to the True, Good, and Beatiful as Jackson Pollack's SPLATTERING, we should nevertheless be demanding more from our artists than mere inoffensiveness, especially if they are claiming to be within the tradition. Besides, according to the Vatican, ART SHOULD INTRODUCE US TO THE SAINTS. What kind of friendship are we being introduced to if the art stinks, or even worse, misleads?

So in all of this let's keep in mind that Blessed Fra Angelico painted no less than 7 VERSIONS of the same or very similar composition of the Annunciation. Why? Because he was never satisfied with the previous one, and it was such an important theme that he wanted it to be perfect. (Even though they were all really good) Let's hope Mr. Collier takes at least this one page from Bl. Fra Angelico's playbook: thinking if not realizing your last painting wasn't that good, and that you need to redo it, for Christ's sake.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Mess We're In

The following is from my genius brother-in-law explaining parts of the corporate relationship to the current economic crisis. It's long, but well worth it. My own (much shorter and less authoritatively based) musings follow:
First, a brief history: In the mid '90's Congress forced lending institutions to lower their lending standards because lower credit scores were more common among certain ethnicities than others and this was viewed by Congress as discriminatory. Lending institutions fought against this move by Congress because it raised the risk levels lenders would have to bear while not providing for a concomitant increase in profit potential.

What Lenders Did: Banks found that, in fact, foreclosure rates and late payments were not rising as they had feared. They were writing more loans, making lots more money and the risk they initially feared did not seem to be materializing (even through the tech crash). So, seeing that lowering the bar one rung made more money without materializing risk, lenders (not forced by Congress) decided to lower the bar another rung. Again, they made more money and the risks did not materialize. At this point some lenders drew the line (typically traditional banks, i.e., not banks whose primary existence was low credit mortgages). Others kept moving that rung lower and lower.

Why it worked for so long: Lenders typically do not hold a mortgage; they sell them to investment banks who bundle them up (collateralized mortgage obligations, or CMOs) and in turn sell some of them to investors who hold them like bonds and receive the mortgage interest (along with principle) as a return. CMOs are traditionally very safe investments and are frequently insured, meaning that if default occurs, an insurance company keeps the payments going to the investor (AIG is one of the largest CMO insurers in the world). Insurance companies naturally want to make sure that what they are insuring is of high-quality. They determine this via their own due diligence but rely very heavily upon ratings agencies (Standard & Poors, Fitch, etc...) to study the CMO and give it a risk ranking. The rating agencies continued to rate CMOs and other mortgage derivatives very highly even as the lending standards were getting lower and lower. If the ratings agencies give it a high enough rating, it will be insured and investors will buy, period. As long as the housing market remained strong this self-perpetuating string of events continued.

When the Shit Hit the Fan: When it became clear that the CMOs actually held some percentage of toxic mortgages (even if were 5% or lower), it became clear that the rating agencies had failed, which meant that insurers had insured debt they never would have insured had the ratings been accurate, which meant that investors bought supposedly "very safe" income investments which they never would have bought had they not been insured. Once this occurred, insurers stopped insuring and investors stopped buying, which meant that lenders were left with 1,000's of mortgages that they could not bundle and sell. These lenders were NOT set up as mortgage servicing companies so they did not have the necessary reserves or infrastructure to simply hold the loans and ride out the mess. Thus they die, or are on their death bed today.

Note and Clarification: Note that no lenders have been bailed out. Also, remember that some traditional banks DID stop the lowering of standards at a point prior to the wacky stuff that followed. These banks, whose existence was not predicated so heavily on mortgage loans are riding out the storm.

Freddie's Fannie
A Brief History: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac used to be Government Agencies whose job was to "help" provide stability to the mortgage markets (a massive part of the economy). They were stop-loss agencies; if lenders followed proper risk guidelines set by Fannie and Freddie, then F&F would back the mortgage. F&F were pseudo-privatized and became pseudo-governmental agencies. As such, they could pursue profit like a private company but their Charter, written and approved by Congress, gave the government the authority to force F&F's hand in bad markets to help stabilize a messy mortgage environment. Due to the pseudo-government agency status of F&F, bonds sold by F&F to investors bear a credit rating just below Federal Bonds. In fact, through this entire mess, F&F bonds have been terrific investments just as Treasuries have.

The Worst of Both Worlds: As private businesses, F&F fell into the same trap as so many lenders. Then, after massively over-leveraging themselves, like the investment houses did (more on them later), the Shit Hit the Fan as noted above. Then, their hands started to be forced under their Charter to try to come to the aid of the lenders. However, having so leveraged themselves and having their own leverage unravel, F&F simply did not have the reserves or wherewithal to help, period.

Bail-Out: The Feds brought F&F back into itself. The feds did NOT bail-out stockholders who saw their investment disappear. The feds DID stand behind the F&F bonds because of the pseudo-governmental status which has always, universally been interpreted as a federal backing of the bonds. To not back them would have been viewed as the Feds breaking faith because they allowed the bonds to be sold with an implicit, universally understood guarantee. F&F's "bail-out" is truly different in kind because of this implicit, universally understood guarantee.

Investment Houses (Bear Stearns, Lehman, Merrill, Morgan, etc...)
Preliminary Clarification: These are NOT Banks - they are NOTHING like banks - they have different rules and oversight than banks - if banks are apples, investment houses are oranges (or lemons...).

What was Happening: As mentioned earlier, Lenders sold mortgages to Investment Houses who in turn bundled them (and created hybrid derivatives) and sold them to investors. Like the lenders, they did not see the original fears materializing and began to get more and more aggressive with what they would buy and how they would sell. They made gobs of "easy" money acting as the middle man while the housing market remained strong. Again, their fear was falsely held in check in part due to the high credit ratings the mortgage backed securities were receiving from the rating agencies.

What Happened: Like the lenders, when the wheels came off the supposedly unstoppable mortgage machine, the Investment Houses were left with TRILLIONS of dollars of exposure to mortgage derivatives (Lehman alone had upwards of $9,000,000,000,000 in exposure). Investment Houses are not allowed to hold these investments to maturity - they MUST sell them. If they are unable to find a buyer they are forced, due to Sarbanes-Oxley (read Congress) to "mark to market", which means they must declare them to be worth $0.00, a total loss; even though a large percentage of the mortgages are perfectly good mortgages (Traditional banks CAN hold these derivatives to maturity and CAN give them a value). When the Investment Houses declare these massive losses, their reserves need to be brought up significantly, but the interest rates to bring up the reserves become astronomical (in some cases higher than 50%) because the future ability to pay back the loans is severely suspect. Thus, insolvency ensues.

Bail-Outs: It is fairly universally recognized that Bear-Stearns was bailed out (NOT stock holders) because it was the first to fail and the Feds hoped that stepping in once and early would stem the tide and because BS had another huge firm on the hook. The structure of the Bail-Out was NOT to give tax-payer money upfront, but to promise to use taxpayer money in the future IF JP Morgan (who bought BS) was unable to "fix" BS. It is also important to note that JP Morgan had over $3,000,000,000,000 in exposure through BS so, had BS simply declared bankruptcy, JPM may have been sunk as well (the hook).

Lehman Bros was not bailed out because it was not 1st and because it had no one on the hook "enough" to bring someone else down with them.

Merrill Lynch's CEO, who was brought in after the Shit Hit the Fan, did everything he could to clean up the Balance Sheet, even though he was demonized for "hurting" the company by doing so. In retrospect, he saw the writing on the wall and saved the shareholders. He cleaned the balance sheet so well that Bank of America offered to buy Merrill Lynch at a premium. Merrill Lynch's astute moves bailed out the stock holders from a complete loss as was seen in BS and Lehman.

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs may or may not sell themselves. Stay tuned...

AIG - The World Economy's Insurance
What it is: AIG is the world's largest insurance company; the world's, not just America's.

What it Does & the Current Problem: AIG is much more than a Life Insurance company or an All State. AIG insures debt, meaning that it will continue to make payments to an investor if the underlying party fails. AIG insures Trillions of mortgage debt, without which the debt would be unsellable to investors. AIG insures TRILLIONS of municipal debt, without which municipality bonds could not have been issued. If AIG goes down, Trillions of life insurance benefits disappear, trillions of dollars of interest disappears, trillions of dollars of municipal debt becomes toxic, trillions of dollars of foreign investment disappears. In fact, it is almost impossible to quantify the effect of AIG failing on the world economy. The world's financial markets would completely shut down (for a while). Whether any one company should be allowed to become so important is beside the point; it simply is.

The Bail-Out: Taxpayers are "lending" AIG $85,000,000,000 at 11.5% interest to give AIG time to sell-off assets and recover from the complete freeze of credit. The thinking behind the bail-out is that as things settle and the credit markets begin moving again and all those "unsellable" CMOs that had to be valued at $0.00 work their way back into the market at honest values (most CMOs are made of a high percentage of good mortgages), that the unbelievably intense pressure on AIG will subside, allowing it to shore up its reserves at "normal" rates and remake itself into a leaner company.

The Sky Is NOT Falling
There is nothing new under the sun and our collective memory is way too short. Yes, seeing 150 year old Investment Houses go down is disconcerting. Yes, seeing tax dollars used to pay for management stupidity is annoying. Yes, it will get worse before it gets better. Yes, we are going to see high inflation. No, the sky is NOT falling.

I would not be surprised to see the indexes pull back another 15 - 20% before things turn around. However, if they do, bear in mind that this kind of 50% pullback from a new high happened LESS THAN 10 YEARS AGO. The thinking that led to the run-up prior to our current calamity, the tech calamity, and every other previous calamity was the same; the paradigm has changed, something is forever different. The thinking during our present calamity, the tech calamity, and every prior calamity is the same; the paradigm has changed, something is forever different. To put it in the words of a brilliant historian whose name escapes me, "Man learns from history that he does not learn from history"; this is true in all realms, be it political or financial. We are living in the dark days of a bear market. Clarity is difficult in the darkness, but history can provide a guide. Market history has this to say (these are averages);
10% Downturns happen about once every year and last on average 113 days
15% Downturns happen about once every two years and last on average 215 days
20%+ Downturns happen about every 3 1/2 years and last on average 329 days
My (The Duck's) opinion:

The advent of the credit card, the ability to spend and increase personal debt from home via the internet or T.V., and the commercialization of greed starting with shows such as Robin Leech’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” has brought on the combination of increased sense of entitlement and greed to the poor and middle classes, as well as the means and access to increase personal debt to reach greedy goals. This was not possibly a problem before 20 years ago. I do not cease to be shocked at the number of people in my small town who have 1 or 2 year old boats, Harleys, Cadillac Escalades (they spinnin' ni**er, they spinnin') and all kinds of new goods. Way back when, the poor rarely saw the wealthy. The poor therefore didn't have visual access to the wealthy's goods, and cash systems based on the value of gold didn't afford the poor the ease to buy without means. If the poor wanted more, they cut back expenditures and saved, or worked harder and increased income.

Greed amongst the wealthy is not new and never will be surprising. I think the level of greed amongst the poor and middle class is something new under the sun. (the poor used to suffer from envy, but now Visa has brought a whole new vice into their, our, reach.) It is the individuals in America who are the root cause, living beyond their proprietary means. They have entered into mortgages which they could only afford in the best of times. When average times did eventually come, their over-extension has put everyone else in jeopardy. And now my tax dollars will bail them out instead of help me buy my own home, for which I have patiently waited, knowing this fallout would happen.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Gravy Trains & Gravity Trains

Eoin Colfer, known for such distinguished intellectual masterpieces as "Eoin Colfer's Legend of the Worst Boy in the World", and "Going Potty" is going to be FINISHING UP Douglas Adam's 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy'.

I say that as if before today I knew who he was, or even care at this time. But I didn't and I don't. In fact, I think that only Douglas Adams could follow up a non-sequitur such as Douglas Adams. So, while I always wanted The Guide to be finished, I'm very unhappy The Guide will be done by this poser, because more than likely, it'll be done for by virtue of being a palimpsest . Then again, it's not like it should take a lot of effort. Write funny jibberish for 300 pages, occasionally poking fun of the eccentricities of British introverts. Easy money.

On the other hand, this kind of thing makes me very, very happy to be thinking about The Guide:

Cool, huh? Unfortunately, it takes 42 mins 12 seconds, not exactly 42 minutes like the video makes it seem, and this is only true for straight line tubes. Curved tubes can generate varying times, and depending on the tube shape, can get you from A to B in much less time than 42.2 minutes. Nevertheless, it really bugs me that the Gravity Train misses the murine 42 by 12 seconds. I would love a nice round 42, which would validate my geocentric tendencies via the relationship between Earth and the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

So check out my solution to the problem killing OCD sufferers everywhere:

WARNING: DUCK ABOUT TO BORE YOU (even more than usual)

From Newton's law of Gravity, we have:


The density of the Earth is:
ρ=3M/4 π r3

Substituting, we get:

F=4 G π m ρ r/3

Gravity through mass being what delivers the force to drive the object throught the tube, and is dependent on the mass of the two objects and their distance apart. Assuming the mass of the Gravity Train car stays constant, we see that the only variable in the formula is density (ρ), so the greater the density, the greater the force.

Filling in the blanks of the arguement, we apply Newton's second law of motion:


The greater the force, the greater the acceleration. The greater the acceleration, the greater the speed. The greater the speed, the less time. And believe me, I really, really want to shave off that 12 seconds. (Hehe, can you feel it? It's like a pinewood derby race...slight alterations shaving off split seconds here and there...woohoo!)

So, the currently mass of the Earth is 5.98 x1024kg, and the current density is 5.52g/cm3: that number being what determined not only the 42 minutes but also the 12 evil seconds. If, the process of aging, Gaia can put on enough poundage around her hips and fat butt to measure in at 5.55g/cm3, she will have increased her density by enough to reduce the Gravity train time by the needed 12 seconds.

Now, the Earth is actually getting more massive day by day through the accumulation of matter from space, from the likes of asteroids, meteoroids, interplanetary dust and even solar wind, to the order of 108kg of nickel/iron blends per year. The average density of that new matter is 7.0g/cm3. Because the density of the new stuff is more than the current stuff, the density of Earth is rising. But, because more stuff is accumulating, this also means that the earth grows in volume by 14286m3/year, and therefore slows down the rate of change of density:


Where Mo/Vo=5.52g/cm3, and the integer value of indices represents the number of years needed to reach 5.55g/cm3.

Applying this, we see Earth's density rises by around 2.11 x 10-9g/cm3 per year. In order to satisfy the need to raise Earth's density by .03g/cm3, this will take a lot of time. 14,218,009 years and 6 months, to be exact. But then the Gravity Train will actually run at 42 minutes even, and I will finally be happy, if only for an instant. And that would be just gravy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Vasa-leans That Way

I'm so happy to see and hear BISHOPS WILLING TO STEP UP and say what is necessary to say for the good of their flock. It gives understanding to those in the Church who don't know any better, and it gives hope to those in the Church who have been waiting for true leaders.

But I was bothered by this:
"But we don't have that issue with capital punishment, we don't have that issue with the war in Iraq we don't have that issue with the present Administration..."
One thing that I have found very difficult to deal with as an American Roman Catholic, is the way we conservative Catholic Americans tend to ignore the Holy Father John Paul II's recommendations in regards to policy of state. JPII (et al.) was very clear to Bush that the war in Iraq was a preventative war, a crime against humanity, and therefore it was unjust. Unjust. Let's not forget that if it weren't for John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, we'd all be Soviet Communists right now, against our will. The man knew international policy. The man knew what it was like to be invaded by another country. The man knew suffering and death. And Hope.

The same for capital punishment. Per the Catechism, capital punishment is acceptable in theory, but according to JPII's Encyclical EVANGELIUM VITAE, we know that:
"Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but "non-violent" means to counter the armed aggressor. In the same perspective there is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of "legitimate defence" on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform."
And the reality is that JPII made it quite clear that capital punishment rarely, if ever, constitutes the only legitimate means to dealing with a criminal.

My opinion: A judicial system that supports abortion should not be licenced to allow capital punishment, lest it be used for genocide or as a tool in the box of tyranny. How can a judicial system that sees infants as commodities to be used by some or viewed as obstacles in the way of promiscuity by others, be given the trust necessary to accurately sentence this or that man to life or death?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Then and NOW

NOW, The National Organization for Women, WILL TODAY throw it's support to Obama's camp. I know it's a radio interview, but you should really listen to it-or wait a couple of hours for the AP to pick it up in print.

Surely this was a tough decision for NOW...I mean, they 'very, very rarely endorse a presidential candidate', right? Hmmm. Then why do they have a POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE? In fact, take a look at THIS. It's NOW's endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton for President. No surprise, right? Take a look at the date on the press release. March 28, 2007. Yes. That says 2007. That's pretty much immediately after Billary announced her presidential bid. Didn't take long for them to turn their back on their stated political neutrality.

And why did they support her? Well, look at their own words:
Gathered here today at the historic home of Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, surrounded by great women of the past, we are celebrating this Women's History Month by both honoring the past and looking to the future. We truly are living in historic times, days our foremothers knew would come, as long as new generations of women's rights activists — and voters — carried on their work. And carry it on we have, with U.S. women enjoying freedoms and opportunities that our great grandmothers only dreamed of.

Today, the first woman speaker presides over the U.S. House of Representatives, and Harvard University has its first woman president. Firsts are important, because they open doors for those who follow — but our real goal is to have every first followed by seconds and thirds and fourths, until having women in leadership is so common that it isn't even remarkable any longer...

NOW PAC's "Make History With Hillary," campaign will organize and energize women's rights supporters across the country — urging women and men across this nation to stand up and say "I'm Ready" for a woman president.

I love this. This is the fallout from the Palin VP selection that I was waiting for. I've been waiting for the time when all of the feminist groups extolling the virtues of absolute equality, nay, sameness of gender, will have to decide whether they are promoting women or liberalism.

In its support of the Obamanation, NOW has firmly squared itself in the liberalism over women camp. Why? Because NOW is not about 'now'. It's about 'then'. Which 'then'? JANUARY 23, 1973, that's when. Palin is pro-woman. NOW is pro-abortion. If they were really about 'choice', then they'd have to respect Palin's intellectual 'choice' that abortion is murder. The only 'choice' NOW is really interested in is retaining the 'choice' for women (and more correctly, men) to live as promiscuously as they want, because they're always the 'choice' to eliminate the proof of those 'choices'. The reason they don't get that explicit is because if they did, they'd sound like A FREAKY CAMILLE PAGLIA, outwardly recognizing abortion as murder, and recognizing others have the right to opinions, but just flat out ignoring all reason publically.

All NOW is really interested in is promoting the pro-abort, anti-real woman agenda. And now they've been put into a position where this is painfully obvious. Well, to those of us listening.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Front Fell Off

Prepare to laugh hysterically.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yes! I'm Voting for Palin/McCain

I'm sorry. I've been swamped. I've been studying, working, fathering...oh wait- that doesn't work quite the same as a transitive verb. At any rate, I haven't had the chance to spout about Palin.

So without further ado, and doing something that I never, ever do (make rash decisions)...I love that chick. Well, I love the team that is Sarah Palin and her speechwriter. A few months ago I talked about how the Obamanation was a WIZARD WITH WORDS. Now, we clingers-to-religion-and-guns have our own master of oratory. Obama would like to think he doesn't Palin comparison, but he does.

Sure, we don't know a whole lot about her, about her policies, about her skills on the international stage, but frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. Vice-Presidents are boosters. They speak for the President when he can't be there. They speak for the President when he can't be forthcoming for diplomatic purposes. They are bulldogs that attack, and they attack with words.

There are two aspects that have made me read, reread, watch and rewatch (I'm not kidding, I've watched her speech 6 times-uh, I mean I've been fathering...) her speech: the substance and the delivery. Text and video at HUFFINGTON POST. Ha. Linking there because I can.

Her delivery was amazing. She knew her lines. She looked at the camera. Her lip quivered when it was supposed to and her smile warmed when needed. Even her daughter got in the act with a cute little moment.

But it was that speech. (I know, what follows may not mean much to most, but I bet Ray Gunner's on my side.) A rhetorician, like a carpenter, uses tools as he plies his trade. The rhetorician uses figures of speech like the carpenter uses hammers, saws, straightedges. And like the carpenter's tools, figures of speech have names to distinguish them. A carpenter doesn't want to waste his time saying 'Hey, Joe, hand me that metal blade with the serrated edge and wooden handle that is used for slicing wood into two halves.' The only difference is that figures of speech are unfortunately only named by Greek words generally unpronouncable to even Greek geeks.

Unfortunately, rhetoric, as an art, is dying except for the very few samples that fly around. The Palin speech, however, was so full of figures of speech that I'm still finding them after a full week. Chiasmus. Anaphora. Diacope. Conduplicatio. There is nary a paragraph, a line, a clause without a figure. Alive and well is Rhetoric in Palin's speech, just as rhetoric is alive and well in Obama's.

I don't support Palin because she's experienced. She's not. I don't support Palin because she's got the right policies, even though she does. I don't support Palin because she's a token woman. She's not. I don't support Palin because she can de-liver a moose as well as she can a speech, even though she does.

I support her because of those figures. Not merely because I happen to love figures of speech, but because it's through the correct use of those tools that opinions are swayed, emotions are induced or quelled. Their use is how people are convinced and how congresses are convened. And these are the things that qualified Vice Presidents do.

I'm juiced about Palin because she delivered. Her delivery was perfect when she was asked to deliver a speech, and will be perfect when asked to deliver again. Vice Presidents are boosters. Let her be one.

I think she's got it. I think she's not merely a pawn of the Republican machine, being manipulated and hand fed her lines and unable to think on her own. All the same, God speed to the debates, when we find out whether she's for real or just a puppet regurgitating well-written speeches.

But isn't Obama a puppet to the whims of change?

Monday, September 8, 2008

What is Art?

Oh, that's a loaded title. Tolstoy tried it. And failed. So will I, if I even attempt some sort of scholarly endeavor.

But this is "Paronomasial Pensees", after all. So, I'll just jot down some thoughts, and perhaps sneak in a few wordplays. Perhaps I'll just figure out what I think art isn't. That's fine, too.

There are several ways to interpret the question "What is art?". The first would be: what disciplines are considered 'art' or perhaps 'fine art'? The answer to that contains some clearly defined areas, and some fairly complex, less agreed upon ones as well. What makes the cut as 'art'? Surely painting does, as does sculpture. Music is in there, and poetry. Dance and playwriting? OK. I'll agree. What about architecture? I think you know I would proudly include the best of architecture in 'fine art', but in all honesty, I shouldn't.

A second interpretation to the question would be: "What is art for?". This is to say, what is the purpose of art? This is an intriguing question. An interesting quality of art is that it acts as a barometer of the society in which it is produced, either because it represents the state of affairs of said society, or it intends to lead said society to another place than it is currently in. I suppose you could say that art either re-presents the created world, or re-creates the present world. Art takes us somewhere we normally cannot go, shouldn't go, or wouldn't go. Reading Homer brings us to the brink of war in our living room. Seeing Othello self-destruct helps us examine our own virtues and vices before it is too late. Contemplating before Fra Angelico's 'Crucifixion' brings us before the scene of all scenes, the act of all acts. It is for these reasons, and not merely to decorate our living rooms, that art is.

A third interpretation to the question would go something like: "What among the disciplines is to be considered art, and what is to be considered crap?". This is the question least often asked by arteests and never by artists, but most often by philosophers with no artistic talent to temper their tempestuous tempers. Actually, the distinction that is most often overlooked is the difference between 'art' and 'craft'. A crafty person puts materials together in new, and often spectacular ways. They create shiny objects that enthrall the intellectually inert. Most often accompanied by the reaction 'Wow! Thats really neat!', craft is never looked at for more than 15 seconds. Art, on the other hand, demands a high level of craft, but is not sufficiently determined by it. Art can be revisited every day for 20 years and still produce new and exciting emotions, thoughts, feelings, even physiological reactions. Splashes of paint in random order might take great understanding of color theory, and great skill with the material qualities of paint, but until it is arranged into a pattern that says something to the audience, it is not art. And I might add that merely saying anything is not enough. One must say big things. One must approach great truths. It must be beautiful. Art is beautiful, craft is splendiferous.

Art is the great mix between theory and practice. Without theory, the artist has nothing to say, no reason to act in his medium. Without practice, he has no means to say his great thought, and it is wasted.