Friday, December 21, 2007

Smoking Hickory

False Alarm. I've actually quit smoking. Cold Turkey. It's been about a month now, and the cravings have somewhat subsided to a dull throbbing, on the level of getting a tattoo, piercing, or sexually transmitted disease. Still, I persist, out of an unsubstantiated, vague feeling that it'll be worth it.

I miss smoking. I rather enjoyed it, and it gave me an excuse to get out of the office, or the house, or to escape from whatever awkward situation that I might find myself in. Also it keeps you thin, you catch fewer colds, and it makes you look cool. But there were many reasons to quit. Not least of which was Son. He's getting to an impressionable age (in fact, I may have left it a little late), and of the vast Augean stables of vice that may serve as "bad examples" to him, smoking was probably in the top ten.

But one sin that I absolutely will not abandon, and for which I refuse to feel guilty, is my enduring - some would say "unnatural" - love of bacon. To quote Jim Gaffigan, bacon is the fairy dust of the food world. There is virtually no food that cannot be improved by the addition of this delicious smoked pork product. It is single-handedly responsible for my ambivalence toward vegetarianism.

And so it was with semi-Pavlovian salivation that I read today's bacon-related post on BoingBoing. There was no lack of golden smoked-porcine deliciousness, but my favorite experiment has to be the recipe for bacon chocolate chip cookies with cinnamon frosting.

That's right. Wrinkle your nose, screw your eyes shut in disgust. You are not yet prepared for the sheer majesty of this maple-smoked epicurean madness. I will - I must - sample the forbidden delights of this latest appeal to my secret vice.

Yet I can't help but feel that some unexplored, deeper depravity beckons, perhaps in the form of some prosciutto-peppermint based fudge.

Anyhoo, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Where is it? (For long-time readers)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bucking The Hum

Ironman doubts my commitment. He thinks I can't do it. He thinks I'll bail, or lose interest, and in his defense, he has solid historical evidence to back up his claim.

To you, Ironman, I say: Suck it.

A Slice of Cliché

"MORE!", I hear you scream, as we crest this foothill on our climb to the peaks of math-metaphor ecstasy. Let us then ponder the infinite, O willing and supple pupil:

The constant pi, denoted π, is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference C to its diameter d. You probably already knew that.

But pi turns up in a surprising number of places. It rears its head in the cosmological constant, Heisenberg's uncertainty principal, Einstein's field equation of general relativity, Coulomb's law of electrical force, the Magnetic permeability of free space, and Kepler's third law, to name a few.

As a whimsical example, imagine that you are shackled to a cold iron rack, in the cellar of a madman's château, watching a razor-sharp pendulum scythe through the air above your helpless nubile body. The evil Count asks only that you answer one question, and he will set you loose:

"Posit an infinite rectangular lattice of perfect 1-Ohm resistors, just so:

Calculate the resistance R between two nodes in the grid. To one node", cackles the Count, "we will arbitrarily assign the coordinates (0,0). In this coordinate system, the other node lies at (1,2). With each swing of the pendulum, my dear, my revenge draws ever closer."
Well it turns out that there's a whole branch of mathematics devoted to this sort of thing (natch), but the bottom line is this head-scratcher:

Where R is the resistance between the origin node, and the node described by coordinates (m,n). See the pi? No? Well for our current example of (m,n) at (1,2), it all reduces to this:

And so pi has reduced the infinite to an easily solvable, finite-boundary solution space. Well, "easily solvable" is relative here, I guess. I certainly don't understand a word of it.

What I do understand, though, is that here is a number with its hand in the infinite. The digits of pi basically extend on forever, a number with no end. Pi, like beauty, truth, identity and enlightenment, is ever incomplete, ever approximate. It has a head, but no tail. A starving ouroboros.

How sad.

The good news, though, is that it perfectly embodies proof of the human mind's ability to abstract the infinite. Oh sure, there will always be a bunch of literal-minded diehards trying to calculate pi to the umpty-billionth digit, to kill the magic, but the majority of non-insane individuals are capable of reducing it to a symbolic representation of that ratio, and to use the gestalt π as a placeholder for all the strange concepts it represents.

And now there's one more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


There are a number of interesting (to me) opportunities for parallel between the pure abstract world of Mathematics, and the messy, sensual worlds of philosophy, art and thought. Like all parallels, they tend to converge toward infinity. Of course we can't just jump right into this feast of parallax without building up to it with a little digestif. So, by way of a cheese platter (and there may be some olives in there as well):

A Sierpinski Gasket is a type of ternary Cantor set, or self-similar set. It is constructed by taking a triangle, removing a triangle-shaped piece out of the middle, then doing the same for the remaining pieces, and so on and so forth, like so:

Sierpinski Gasket

The result – if an infinite series can be said to have a result – is a pattern of infinite boundary, and zero area. This totally counter-intuitive concept is poetry in itself. To imagine that by recursive Swiss-cheesing, we can arrive at the Infinite, not by adding to the whole, in the gluttonous, possessive fashion of current North American consumerism, but by taking away, after the fashion of Francis of Assisi, Buddha, the Jain Dharmists:

"Trees renounce fruit and keep us alive. The mountains cast away stones and pebbles, which we use for our works and art. One should renounce worldly possessions devotedly within one's power (shaktistyaga)."
Hey. I'm not saying I'm ready to give up my iPod. This is all merely by way of illustrating that the path to enlightenment is multifold. There are many trail heads (We'll talk about Pi next time), and some of these lie outside the province of our personal expertise.

If you're catching what I'm pitching, throw it back in the comments.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday's Child is Fair of Face

So thirty-odd years ago today, I was thrust, cold, naked and crying into the world. I'm told it was a Monday morning, after seventeen hours of labour, followed by a Caesarean, due to my freakishly large head.

In observance of this momentous day, I give you The Birthday List. It's meme-tastic!

The rules:
1. Go to Wikipedia
2. In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3. List three events that happened on your birthday
4. List two important birthdays and one death
5. One holiday or observance (if any)

Three things that happened on my birthday:
1520 - Martin Luther burns his copy of the papal bull Exsurge Domine outside Wittenberg's Elster Gate.
1936 - Abdication Crisis: Edward VIII signs his Instrument of Abdication. [he did it for love]
1948 - The UN General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Day is also International Human Rights Day.

Two important birthdays and one death:
1830 - Emily Dickinson, American poet (d. 1886)
1948 - Abu Abbas, founder of the Palestine Liberation Front (d. 2004)
1967 - Otis Redding, American soul singer (b. 1941)

Holiday or Observance:
Presentation Ceremony of the Nobel Prize

Tag, Boxer, and Erin! You're it!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Paper Tiger / Poolside Muse

A "Paper Tiger" is something that seems a lot more threatening than it actually is. In 1956, Chairman Mao introduced this poetic Chinese imagery to the English language, comparing the U.S. to a paper tiger, "unable to withstand the wind and rain".

He suggested that allegedly "imperialist" states, such as the U.S. and Russia, had a tendency to overextend themselves on the international stage, leaving themselves open to pressure from other players, who could cause their collapse.

Fifty years after Zedong's comments, the U.S. is overextending itself in Iraq, while it's sub-prime mortgage bubble collapses, bringing the rest of the economy and currency with it. China, meanwhile, holds massive amounts of US treasuries, and is wielding this economic power to forestall a reevaluation of the yuan. China could crash the US dollar, at a time when the economy is already struggling.

Schadenfreude aside, I really don't know who to root for here. An evil imperialist state that spies on, imprisons and tortures its citizens without trial, and kidnaps foreign nationals in violation of international law, or an abusive human rights trampling police state, king of the counterfeiting heap, and exporter of lead-poisoned children's toys.

In situations where I am forced to choose the lesser of two really quite impressively wicked evils, I find it helpful to ask the question differently, ie: Which victory would most benefit me?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

We Do What We Must

On July 4th, 1934, Marie Curie, two-time Nobel laureate, discoverer (discoveress?) of Polonium and Radium, and pioneer in the research of radioactivity, succumbed to aplastic anemia due to her lifelong exposure to harmful ionizing radiation. She dedicated her life to scientific exploration, the thirst for knowledge, and the betterment of mankind.

In our time, this is how we explore the unknown.

For Science!

The Case For Case

What the hell is up with the ee cummings orthography? No capitalization, no punctuation. Do you think that makes you an artist? And how is that better than PEOPLE WHO SHOUT ALL THE TIME BY TYPING IN ALL-CAPS? Why is one acceptable, and the other, not?

Still, I guess if your muse is so controlling as to dictate the use of capitalization and punctuation, then you must obey. But just be aware that everyone else thinks you're an ee cummings rip-off douchebag. It is distracting, and detracts from whatever otherwise uplifting prose you might produce.

I mean, seriously, Why not Ezra Pound, or Robert Frost?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gratitude / Forgiveness

dwarf-knuckled homunculus
defeated, spirit broken
can still press a button
for his food

Half blind
wounded by the worst of us
shivering in the corner
I still see the untamed
heart in him

And I
indignant and well-meaning
loose the ties, unhook the latch
crack the door and show him
to be free

No sight
but caught
the scent of winter's promise
all unknowing, nothing
could hold back his momentum
when he ran

This cold
this bitter blasted landscape
promised nothing, but forgave
me that I freed him
to his death

Sunday, December 2, 2007

What Do You Know?

Behind the curve as usual, I took a whack at the belief-o-matic, you know, because it takes a website to tell me my place in the cosmos, to tell me what I believe. I was raised Roman Catholic (sort of), got first-communioned and confirmed, went to Sunday school, learned my stations of the cross and all that. So I kind of expected that to be reflected in the results.

What actually happened is that Roman Catholicism came in dead last, even after Jehovah's Witness. So I don't know, is this yet another manifestation of my problems with authority? Am I rebelling against my childhood religious educational experience? Am I denying my cultural history? Chowing down on the flavorless pabulum of white, male, middle-class non identity? Are Catholics just plain nuts?


1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (96%)
3. Theravada Buddhism (93%)
4. Neo-Pagan (90%)
5. Secular Humanism (90%)
6. Mahayana Buddhism (86%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (79%)
8. New Age (76%)
9. Taoism (75%)
10. Orthodox Quaker (70%)
11. Jainism (66%)
12. Reform Judaism (65%)
13. Nontheist (61%)
14. Bahá'í Faith (57%)
15. Sikhism (48%)
16. Hinduism (46%)
17. New Thought (45%)
18. Scientology (43%)
19. Orthodox Judaism (38%)
20. Seventh Day Adventist (36%)
21. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (35%)
22. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (31%)
23. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (30%)
24. Islam (29%)
25. Jehovah's Witness (18%)
26. Eastern Orthodox (17%)
27. Roman Catholic (17%)

Unitarian Universalism? What the hell is that? Turns out, it's a fancy way of saying "None of the above".

Story of my life.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Second Rule of Fight Club

I recently told the 14-year old daughter of a close friend: "There are only two emotions that men are allowed to admit to: Amusement and Anger. If a guy talks to you about feelings other than these, he's probably in love with you."

Of course I delivered this in a sort of semi conspiratorial "don't tell anyone I told you this deep dark secret" - kind of way. I'm sure she didn't believe a word of it, which is good, because I'm not sure if it's true or not. Either way, it's sad.

Why do men hate "the talk"? Why, when Wife says "Sweetie, I want to talk" (italics hers), do I role my eyes and suppress a pained groan? Surely we could all benefit from getting in touch with our feelings and having a good cathartic buchke over lattes and facials?


One of the many reasons primitive man-monkeys like me don't tend to talk about our feelings could be that we're not a hundred percent convinced it's going to solve anything. For me, talking is all about communication. Specifically, communication of a problem. Step 1, communicate the problem. Step 2, identify and communicate the solution to the problem, or if there is no apparent solution, solicit additional information. Step 3, high fives all around, followed by beer. Note the conspicuous absence of any discussion of my mood.

This is not what women mean when they ask you to talk about your feelings. In fact, this is the opposite of what they mean.

As a "for instance", when I come home at night, one thing my survival instinct has taught me is to ask Wife "how was your day?". During the course of the ensuing epic monologue, many conflicts will be introduced, heroes and villains will rise and fall, and the emerging topical thread will contribute itself to Wife's Bildungsroman in subtle and meaningful ways.

Here is a list of things I must not say during this conversation:

  • "Hey, I had that exact same thing happen to me once, let me tell you all about it."
  • "I know exactly how to solve your problem. Here is the answer..."
Here is a list of things I probably should say instead:
  • "Wow Honey, that's awful! No wonder you're so upset."
  • "That bitch! I hope you told her to go to hell!"
  • ...and any other topical expressions of sympathy in that key.
This shows Wife that not only am I tuned into the conversation and actually listening to what she's saying (the male communication), but I'm also tuned into her feelings about the whole thing (the female communication).

And voila, we've just talked about our feelings. More specifically, she's talked about her feelings, and I've listened. You would think that this is only about 50% of what women want out of a conversation, but actually it's closer to about 90% (not to put it all in cold, logical, male numbers or anything, but there you go).

But before you walk away from the conversation feeling like you got away with something, be aware that the eventual "talk" gets longer and more traumatic every time you avoid it. Really, it's best to get it out in small, preferably daily, doses.

It's in our nature as men to think of this as a painful but necessary task in the maintenance of a meaningful relationship. Like replacing the brakes on your car. Costly but rare. We should instead maybe think of it as a frequent, automatic, almost instinctual thing, like applying the brakes on your car. We've just about evolved to the point where we can handle that.

And maybe someday, there won't even need to be a wife or girlfriend in the room to force us to talk about our feelings...

Fear of Heights

You were so much easier to talk to
when I didn't know you.

Easier still to drink
and laugh with
in that quiet burgeoning,
dawn of friendship

But all become,
once friends,
now heroes,
teachers and masters

And now I must keep
a respectful distance
and look East
and wait for another sun.