hanged men

12 September, 2006

I always feel the anniversary by the day of the week, not the date, so mine is still to come; Tuesday morning. My memorial has a few parts:

— I reread an account I wrote the week after, of my experience of that week, which I wrote with the mind to have as pure as possible a record of what I was actually thinking and feeling that wasn’t tainted by everything that’d happen since. (I also bought up every magazine I could find, to go with the account.) Every year I’m glad I did this, but I also wonder what I remember because I keep rereading it every year, and which bits of my response I’ve forgotten.

— If I have time, I reread this (and if I don’t, I tell other people to read it). It’s the only satisfactory answer ever found for one of my burning questions about the attacks: If the goal was terror and demoralization, why only 9/11? Why wasn’t the fall of 2001 FULL of al-Qaeda attacks? It would have worked so damn well! Anyway, yeah, this lays it out. It’s long and not simple but worthwhile things never are, are they?

— I also reread this, which I wrote on the first anniversary. I always wondered what to do with it. It’s not right for an article, but too outward-oriented to keep entirely to myself, yet too meaty to send in email. I posted it off my homepage and shyly sent the link around to a person or two each year. Shoulda known that technology would catch up with it: it was a blog post before there were blogs…

PS: I found this line in my personal account. I was not at all active in photography at this time (not even a p&s). Ha!


I wish I was two people, one with a camera,
because a lone figure in black crying and walking against a majestic urban
background full of people would make a hell of a picture. Then I wonder
if these are appropriate thoughts.

that untrustable age

6 September, 2006

I’m a few days away, and looking forward to it. For one, I always seem to be on the young side of every crowd I’m in, so changing that first number will be a small but psychologically significant change there, for both sides. More importantly, though, the decades seem to just keep improving:

THE FIRST DECADE: Sure, the first few months are rad. You live in the Eden neighborhood of Utopia. You’re the entire world and the entire world is you. Nice! But it’s got nowhere to go but down. Primarily, you get born, which is no fun for anybody involved. That leads to a whole new realm of uncomfortable states like being cold and tired and hungry and poopy, and not only can none of your caretakers really tell the difference but they also seem disturbingly unable to read your mind. As you develop, you reach “cognitive milestones,” known to you as “huge ego hits”: your mom isn’t the same person as you, other people have their own minds and wills and don’t always give you exactly what you want, if something breaks or is lost or dies it stays that way forever — stuff like that. Less existentially, the small indignities are legion. There is a long period of run-ins with the toilet, which your caretakers won’t stop hyping the awesomeness of. You’re too small for everything, height-wise (including said toilet). Sometimes your Disney Princess spoon and Disney Princess fork and Disney Princess plate and Disney Princess cup are put on the table in a haphazard configuration, which really fucks with the fabric of the universe something awful. There are silly rules everywhere you turn (you suspect they might be arbitrary or at the least ad hoc); rules like “we keep our clothes on all the time” and “we sit on our butts while we eat, and use utensils” and “we don’t roar or growl or bite the table” that make NO sense for those times when you have to be a dinosaur to eat your dinner. Yep, if you ask me, people tend to forget how frustrating it was to be a kid. Talk to one sometime–they can’t wait to be older, bigger; they barely know why, but they know they are missing out. Heaven may lay about us in our infancy, as a famous Bill once wrote, but good luck calming a hysterical child with Intimations of Immortality. Maybe you can distract them for a minute if you hit yourself in the head with a copy while making a funny face and saying “BOINNNNG!”, but after that they just keep crying (trust me on this) and you have to remedy whichever uncomfortable state they are in to make them stop.

THE SECOND DECADE: Any decade that features 8th grade, puberty, being a freshman TWICE, and arbitrarily defined maturity thresholds that vary by country, state or even municipality has a lot to answer for. Still, it’s a lot less confusing than the first one, and you are learning so fast that it makes more and more sense every day. In fact, the world starts seeming so manageable that by about halfway through the decade you have it TOTALLY figured out, which is a nice feeling while it lasts. Also nice? Your invention of sex (good idea!) as well as all the myriad forms of musical, sartorial, cosmetic, recreational, and chemical rebellion, all of which make the later teens a time that you will remember fondly even if you can’t remember them or hated every minute while it was going on. On the downside, well, again I feel I must mention puberty and all that it brings, but the area has been covered pretty well already. Socially, this is when you discover how the world works. You think it’s just how high school works, but your adult self learns otherwise, and if it develops an interest in politics or moves to DC it learns even sooner. (It’s interesting, people always think they are the victims here. Exhibit A, Molly Ringwald movies; even the cute, rich, popular girl is unhappy. Exhibit B, the Christian Right in December, who think THEY are the targets of the season’s discrimination.) You may make it through this with a shred of self-esteem, but even if you do, at some point — at the end of this or the beginning of the next decade, in my observations — the world will deliver you a smackdown, showing you that while you indeed may BE all that and a bag of chips, you have to prove it, and by the way that bag of chips is mostly air.

THE THIRD DECADE: Freshman years of high school and college get due credit for being tough reality checks, but if you ask me one’s freshman year of life (whenever it may happen, but early in this decade seems to be it for most people) is underrated for being its own brand of directionless overwhelming sucktastic. Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Why aren’t you doing it better? You had these questions before, perhaps, but now the answers start to matter, and answering them is not a smooth process. But answer them you do begin doing, and with respect to your self-control and how the world sees you, things are definitely an improvement over #2. The independence rawks, and for the first time it’s rarely questioned (when it maybe should be — US consumer debt, anyone?). Nostalgia becomes possible, and can be a lot of fun, even when it’s for the worst bits of the previous decades. (I couldn’t begin to count how many times my 20something self said “I’m so glad I’m not a teenager anymore!” Usually this was prompted by hearing some song that had soundtracked a particular period of turmoil, and feeling bemused instead of turbulent. My 2005 front-to-back relisten of Pretty Hate Machine during one crunch-time dissertation all-nighter stands out as a particularly satisfying moment.) The key change here, though, is taking on the mindset of an adult, which is disorienting. An early example: on one overly anticipated day, you experience the mindfuck/anticlimax of full US-adulthood. The day before, drinking 5 alcoholic beverages in an hour make you a pathetic example of misguided youth, but on that day it makes you so normal that NOT drinking them is the pathetic thing. As the decade wears on you discover that not only did the emperor never have any clothes (those anti-dinosaur rules? They WERE ad hoc) but that there is no emperor (that Disney Princess place setting? An early hint about just how little the universe cares about your opinion). Your parents are just people doing their best. Your teachers were pretty fricking young. etc. etc. Once you get the hang of it and start redefining your relationships to people and things, it’s exhilarating. Once you get the hang of it.

THE FOURTH DECADE: Given all the regularly scheduled upheavals in the rearview mirror, I have a rosy outlook on the upcoming decade. There will of course be individual, personalized smackdowns on the menu, but this post isn’t about those. WRT the institutionalized, culturally and biologically scheduled smackdowns, it seems that this decade may have the fewest of any before or since. Even if that’s not true, I’m starting it in a far better position than I did the previous three. Sure there will be a biological clock and sure there will be aches and pains and sure there will be more and heavier responsibilities and less and less time. On the other side of the sheet, well — I’ve heard a few rumors:

1) There is a degree of resolution of the life-direction issues of the third decade.

2) There are more orgasms. And they are better.

These have been verified by well-placed sources (and I encourage more sources to reveal themselves in comments). So who gives a damn if youth don’t trust me. Thirtysomething, here I come!

…No pun intended.

things I’m missing

30 August, 2006

I’ve been using the handle “techne” online for over 10 years.  I picked it in the days of Mosaic and gopher, to give you an idea; a few months later the big purple N came on the scene.  (I had another handle for the first few months/year of my internet life, which I will not share with you while I am sober.)  I learned “techne” from Plato’s Republic, and was attracted to the concept (there’s a link explaining it to the right, if you are interested).  It’s been a handle, a login, an email address…but when I developed this online blogging and Flickring self, it became a name.  This has been a bit odd to get used to, for some reason.  For one, I never, ever capitalized it before.  So I always get this “Who? Oh. Heh.” when I see references to “Techne,” not to mention “Dr. T.”  Not that any of you should stop calling me this or stop capitalizing it or anything.  I mostly just wonder, when did we stop thinking in terms of handles?  How did I miss the change?

I have always held that every car needs to have in its trunk a blanket and a frisbee.  This weekend was a perfect example of why:  I own no beach-visiting items of any kind, and these did well in the pinch. But as I wistfully watched people flying kites in the strong ocean wind, I wondered why I had never added a kite to the list.  What else?  Should I move my little cooler to the trunk of my car, too?


I recently went to Hooters for the first time in my life. Reaganite was shocked.  “You’ve never been to Hooters?!”  “Nope,” I said.  “Here I am, almost 30 years old, and I’ve never been to Hooters.”     I was being a wee bit sarcastic.  But it made me wonder what I could say that about non-sarcastically.  So, readers, please finish this sentence, and give me a list of stuff to do in the next few weeks before my birthday strikes: “30 years old, and I’ve never…..”  (As for WHY I went to Hooters this time, well…it was after seeing Snakes on a Plane. ’nuff said.)

boobs not on a plane

14 August, 2006

Tell me one thing. Just this one thing.

Can we now expect to be routinely felt up by TSA employees in their efforts to keep our planes gel-free? Are they to be specially trained in detecting real vs enhanced boobies? What about the entirely fake ones, are they also to be trained in the identification of boob jobs? Will this be a secondary screen? What will be the trigger — being over a certain size? Wearing a bra? Cleavage? Will there be a return to pat-downs? Will someone invent Boob Wands?

Lest you think I am (only) going for the cheap laugh, what about masectomy prostheses? Will they need to be checked in baggage as well, forcing breast cancer survivors to travel one-boobed? Is this the price of freedom from fear? Or… will they simply trust us? After all, women are so much less violent than men.

And do NOT even get me started about the shoes, and how clear the loopholes in that rule made it that the security process in American airports is about dominance and humiliation instead of security. If people really cared about security Bruce Scheneier would have Michael Chertoff’s job.

Found a popular-press article about some fascinating research on willpower that leads to some interesting conclusions. The experiment:

Take, for example, a group of hungry volunteers who were left alone in a room containing both a tempting platter of freshly baked chocolate chip biscuits and a plate piled high with radishes. Some of the volunteers were asked to sample only the radishes. These peckish volunteers manfully resisted the temptation of the biscuits and ate the prescribed number of radishes. Other, more fortunate, volunteers were asked to sample the biscuits.

In the next, supposedly unrelated, part of the experiment, the volunteers were asked to try to solve a difficult puzzle. The researchers weren’t interested in whether the volunteers solved it. (In fact, it was insoluble.) Rather, they wanted to know how long the volunteers would persist with it. Their self-control already depleted, volunteers forced to snack on radishes persisted for less than half as long as people who had eaten the biscuits or (in case you should think chocolate biscuits offer inner strength) other volunteers who had skipped the eating part of the experiment.

Read the article to see how this led Reaganite and I to this conclusion:


Pick any two

5 August, 2006

Ten or so years ago, friend Kees of codeblog had this bit of text in his .sig:

You can have it done FAST   |
You can have it done CHEAP  |  <--- Pick any two
You can have it done RIGHT  | 

I think of this precept all the time. More generally, the formulation has become a meme with me. For example, I’ve often observed that I can only pay good attention to 1.5-2 of the 3 areas of my life, roughly, work, play, and responsibilities/home. I’m forgoing play (which includes family and social life) until tonight to catch up on responsibilities like bills, cleaning, errands, etc — all the stuff my friend Dr. “C.S.” B. calls “flarn”. I could do work also, but it’d not be nearly as productive as if I took one of the other two off the table.

Lately I have had many opportunities to ponder another such 2 of 3, which I remember from reading Thomas Friedman’s book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” a half decade or so ago. (Even if Friedman currently annoys you, as he does me, the book is invaluable in explaining the Lebanese civil war and the first intifada, and I very highly recommend it to you. I once asked a friend with a Masters in Mideast Studies what else I could read that’d be equally informative, and she said “Nothing. Read it again.”) The formulation is something like

You can be a Jewish state              |
You can be a liberal democracy         |  <--- Israelis: pick any two
You can go from the Jordan to the sea  | 

Depressing, no? If Israelis make the state they wanted to make, defense of it will almost inevitably lead to destruction of it, either physically or in spirit. (The application of this catch-22 to the US is left as an exercise to the reader.)

While I’m near the topic, I have a bone to pick with NPR. The country’s name is “Is ra el.” They have at least two reporters on their staff who get this wrong, and have for years. Dipthonging the second and third syllables together is inevitable in English pronounciation, but there’s a right way (“rail”) and a wrong way (“real”). Hearing them say “Isreal” sends the same message to me as “nu-ke-lar”: “I don’t care enough to learn the order of letters in the middle of this word.” Does nobody else know the difference?? A reporter would never be allowed to say “nukelar!”

Anyway, back to my navel. For the first time in memory I have contacts on both sides of a Mideast conflict. A good work friend is of Lebanese extraction. We’ve had one torturously-worded conversation about the issues and that was quite enough for both of us. We are now back to our usual topics, which are far more interesting to eavesdrop in on, so I’m sure our adjacent cube neighbors are happy. Another, newer friend recently penned this. Having been raised as both a Jew and a lefty-liberal democrat, I have an uncomfortable ability to empathize with the opposing sides of these issues. If someone is saying anything more pointed than “how awful that people are dying,” a “yes, but…” of some kind is always springing to mind, as is the “but what about…” to THAT…and I just kinda sit there thinking the whole thing through AGAIN, and in the end I say nothing. So I’m glad when others coming from my sort of background can.

Al Gore’s Rolodex

3 August, 2006

I would like to know why Al Gore called in his favors with Whoever to send floods and  heat waves to promote his global warming movie instead of to take care of that little Florida problem in November 2000. (I’d also like to know how.)
Or maybe Whoever just liked the movie and is doing this on Her own to make a point?

(Or maybe there is no Whoever and in the future there will ALWAYS be a recent extreme weather event to point to to represent anything you like. Aigh! No too scary! Whoever! Call Whoever!)

Speaking of movies, you have got to do this to your friends and loved ones before they hear about it and know what’s going on when the voicemail comes in.