Variation on the Word Sleep

Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Last night I was reminded of the pitiful inadequacy of goodbyes. Valedictions is a better word, but neither word does anything to make them satisfying. A friend moved today. Last night I went and met her for a nightcap -- a last drink to say goodbye. There were several of us there, sitting around the table looking at photos, and talking aimlessly. Then she had to leave. I tried to get her to stay, and then immediately regretted it. I hugged her and felt her body begin to shake -- tears followed by embarassment. She walked off toward her apartment and another friend went to accompany her. Momentary dilemma -- to go or not. I didn't. I sat thinking about how awful goodbyes are.
Part of me wonders if humans are even capable of having a good valediction. I remember sitting in the airport with an ex. Wishing she didn't have to leave, but at the same time knowing that she did, and as a result wishing she would as soon as possible.
It's okay when the fact of the leaving hasn't hit you and your life goes on as usual. It's also okay when you say the goodbye and walk off. Its when the leaving hangs over you both, wringing any possible joy from your bodies, leaving you wishing you knew what to say.
There is nothing to say. Just rest in the life you two have shared. Think back on it and smile or cringe or both.

A Political Note

Ok. Definitely read up on this. There's a long history of arguments that e-voting machines -- particularly those made by Diebold are insecure. The reality though is that they appear to have been DESIGNED for insecurity. Designed to allow the county level tabulations of any vote to be easily changed. This from a company whose president is a major republican donor and has said that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

For more info read the article at blackboxvoting or visit for more general information on the subject.


Sunday, August 29, 2004

Vocabulary Building

So I've been reading the book Justine by Lawrence Durrell it's a pretty incredible book which I highly recommend. One of the things that I really enjoy about it though are the words I don't know. I have a reasonably large vocabulary, and it's rare that I run across more than one word I don't know while reading a book. Justine is definitely an exception. So here's the list of words I haven't known and their definitions as best I could work out:

Phthisic - the adjective form of "a disease marked by the wasting away or atrophy of the body or a body part"

Aniline - the adjective form of "a colorless, oily, poisonous benzene derivative used in the manufacture of rubber, dyes, resins, pharmaceuticals and varnishes." This only makes sense with a lot of context from the book because the sentence he uses it is "I saw her daily for many months on end, but her sullen aniline beauty awoke no response in me."

Lambenic - must be some form of lambent which means "Having a gentle glow; luminous"

Self-abnegation - abnegation means "self denial" which leaves me wondering why exactly he went for self abnegation.

Protean - I'd heard this one before, but I still had to look it up "readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings."

Surcease - "to bring or come to an end; stop." I like the ambiguity of to bring or come to an end.

Daimon - this immediately brought to mind Phillip Pullman's wonderful His Dark Materials trilogy, the actual meaning here is "an attendant spirit; a genius"

Affray - should have guessed this one from the roots, "A noisy quarrel or brawl."

Meretricious - took a couple of dictionaries, but it comes from the latin for prostitute. Too bad they didn't teach that when I took latin. Either "1. of or pertaining to prostitutes; lustful." or "2. alluring by false show; gaudily and deceitfully ornamental."

Exigent - I thought it might have something to do with exigesis, but its: "1. Requiring immediate action or remedy." or "2. Requiring much effort or expense."

Ambuscade - "An ambush" or "To attack suddenly and without warning from a concealed place." Next time I see an ambush lying in wait I'll say "Watch out! An ambuscade!" and watch people wonder what the hell I'm talking about.

Banausic - disagreeing dictionaries on this one "1. Merely mechanical; routine. 2. Of or relating to a mechanic." or "ordinary and not refined."

Well that's what I managed and I'm only 75 pages into the first book of a quartet. I'm excited. Here's a quote from the book:

"...for those of us who feel deeply and who are at all concious of the inextricable tangle of human thought there is only one response to be made -- ironic tenderness and silence."


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A quote from a very wise friend.

I was having a discussion with an old friend over email. It was sparked by reading the entry "You Two Have Fun Day" at Girls are Pretty -- there's something disturbing about that entry because it puts you in the position of the adulterer, the betrayer. Recent occurences in my family and her friends also centered around infidelity, and we started discussing what it means. This quote really struck me as important:

"i guess this kind of free will- and the struggle to overcome temptation for the sake of another person is part of what makes us amazing- and we can fail, and forgive, and love despite it, or even because of it- but its kind of like death- I believe that we're better off with it, but can't really accept it."


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Every Day is Special.

Okay. Visit this website. It's fantastic. I highly recommend looking through the old posts as well. There's something incredibly engaging about it. It's narrated from the second person perspective. It ranges from funny to sad, sometimes with a fair dose of both. It also has a kind of darkness to it which combined with the second person narrative is disconcertingly attractive. You should definitely read it because today is LET A WEBSITE TELL YOU WHAT TO DO ON A CERTAIN DAY DAY.

Kiss my Ashcroft

I have a lot of bumper stickers on my car, so I was very intrigued when a friend sent me this article about a song made from bumper sticker slogans in Israel. I apologize for the fact that you have register with them. "Free" registration makes absolutely no sense to me: its a major annoyance with very little benefit that I can see to the newspaper itself. But I digress.

David Grossman is one of my favorite authors. His book See Under: Love is amazing, certainly in my top couple novels. According to the article Grossman began noticing the quantity and range of bumper stickers -- especially those of a political nature in Israel:

''When I had my list of stickers, I realized it's like a capsule of Israeliness, all the brutality and aggression and the need to get out of this situation... The more the dead end of the situation grows, the more frustrated people become with their inability to influence it,'' he continued, in a telephone interview. "Few people on the left or the right are satisfied. And the more they are frustrated, the more they are extremists, the more bumper stickers they have on the car. Sometimes you stop behind a car that looks like a shouting demonstration.''
The article goes on to discuss the polarization of Israeli politics, which up until recently would have made our own polarization issues look like nothing. The reality is that there has been a shift toward polarity in U.S. politics, and it becomes visible in things like t-shirts and bumper stickers. These are not parts of a rational engaged discussion, they are the lashing out of people who feel strongly about something, and feel strongly disenfranchised. The less powerful you actually are, the louder you spout your opinion. The country is split. I know that the liberal side is right, but there is still something disturbing about the lack of engagement and respect that each side has for the other -- that's what disturbed me about Farenheit 9/11. That's what disturbs me about even my own bumper stickers (I plan on pruning them).

The other thing that sort of disturbs me is that it's a reminder of the disturbing rise in similarities between the U.S. and Israel since September 11th: the willingness to suspend essential civil liberties in the name of security, dealing with terrorism in an aggressive idiotic way which only exacerbates the problem, willingness to violate the geneva convention and treat their enemies as sub-human, and the polarization and evaporation of meaningful political discourse. In most of those characteristics Israel is drastically worse than we are, but in the lack of meaningful political discourse we have the (dis)advantage. I blame the media and our own laziness -- it's ironic that reading Haaretz gives you a far more balanced view of the Palestine/Israel situation and the war on "terror" than our newspapers do. Ironic but not surprising -- the vast majority of American lives are not yet at risk in our "war" so it is easy to be idiotically patriotic and ignore real possibilities of peace. The terrifying thing is wondering where we will be in the next 5 or 10 years -- and wondering if it really rests on the next election, or if faith in that is just wishful thinking.

Friday, August 13, 2004


So I got a bit curious today. I love reading my horoscope. I found myself wondering how different horoscopes for the same sign and the same day would compare. Thankfully we are blessed with the internet and it is a repository for all things that people can make easy money off of, including astrology. Here's what I came up with.

MSN Astrology

Stephen, this is a good time to have an honest conversation with someone. Perhaps you and your romantic partner need to talk about your future together. You might want to express your desires for growth in your relationship or commitment. Your partner should welcome an open dialogue. You will feel great if you can get a clearer sense of where you are going, together.
Interestingly enough theirs is personalized and asks for your gender, so I thought I'd see if it was different if I was female. It was. Totally different and much better.

Find a reason to celebrate, Stephen. Even if there is not necessarily a good reason, celebrate anyway. Celebrate life, celebrate your friends and loved ones, and celebrate the air that you breathe. There is exuberance in the air that is encouraging you to take a good look at life, and be more appreciative for all the things that you have. Give generously of yourself and your resources. What you give out will come back to you several-fold at a time when you need it the most.

There are two sides to the coin. The reaction that you get may not be the one that you seek. This could be because others are more emotional than you anticipated. Try not to become too emotional yourself, and watch how you react in surprise situations. Even though emotions may be running high, you still have duties. Don't put things off until you're feeling differently. Some things you have to do no matter what.
Star Tribune

Just because someone is in charge, doesn't make that person right. Question authority. Financial decisions have far-reaching implications. Don't fudge on budget resolutions, though you want to be impressive to dates.

Break out of a holding pattern. Advance your cause. You're as good as anyone else.
Business or pleasure? What a decision. If the universe has anything to say about it, you may have a chance to combine the two. What about that interesting new coworker?
I found myself wondering if my horoscope from them would be any different if I were not in the US. It was. Different and significantly more in detail.

UK Yahoo

You're attracting lots of favourable attention, so be sure to take advantage of this situation. Ask your superiors for added responsibilities, especially if these jobs have a glamorous aspect. Although you may not earn a lot of money from such endeavours, they will lead to bigger and better things. Let your first priority be getting your foot in the door. Your charm is so powerful that nobody will want to block your way.Image is everything this week, so look your best and dress for the part.

Avoir une vie sociale un tant soit peu agitée peut avoir aussi ses aspects négatifs. Evitez d'accumuler trop de nuits sans sommeil si vous voulez pouvoir continuer à être en forme.
Which roughly says that having such an active social life has negative aspects and that I should avoid having so many sleepless nights if I want to stay in form.
Interestingly enough Libra in French is Balance.

Its somewhat dissappointing that there doesn't seem to be much of a connection between them. No underlying theme of love waiting just around the corner, crouched ready to jump out and beat me sadistically. The nice thing is I can read them all and pick the one I like the best. I think I'll stick with the one about celebrating: "Celebrate life, celebrate your friends and loved ones, and celebrate the air you breathe." Excellent advice.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Hardly Working

I don't know what people who worked in offices did before the internet. Even when I'm busy and extremely productive at work I maybe average about 4 hours of actual work done. On Monday when I came in I was in a horrible mood so I went straight to work, nose to the grindstone. 3 hours later I had finished all the work I could do for the day. I spent the rest of my 8 hours waiting by the phone like an abandoned prom date. In order to fight the debilitating disease that is office boredom I've come up with a list of things that should be a part of everyone's job even if they aren't:

1. Staying up to date on current news and politics.
Every day you should read at least 3 online newspapers, and a political blog or two if you feel so inclined. If you don't stay up to date; the terrorists will win. If you get really desperate you can engage in political "discussion" on message boards.

2. Reading up on music news and reviews.
Its important every day to find out the status of your favorite musician: touring, recording a new album, dead in an overdose, or has released a new album which only scored a 5.4 on Pitchfork's pretension scale (incidentally Richdork is a great parody of Pitchfork). I recommend Tiny Mix Tapes for all your music news.

3. Bettering yourself through the Arts.
There are numerous magazines (e.g. This is a Magazine) and websites (e.g. Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives) which are crammed full of art for the viewing. You can even visit a museum. I recommend Coudal's Online Museum of Online Museums both for the content and the sheer brilliance of the idea and name.

4. Learning something new every day.
My favorite method for this involves Wikipedia the ultimate, free, online encyclopedia. I especially recommend their random article function. Why choose what to learn about when you could have a computer choose for you? I learned about Harry Jenkins. As a bonus if you find that they don't have an article about something you know about you can add it. For example they shockingly have nothing about Nongqawuse so when I have the time I can write a biography of her.

Well that's it for me. Time to get back to work.



My first visitor--very exciting! Truth be told I have absolutely nothing interesting on here yet, but I have no doubt that at some point I will. Its a funny sort of writing: sans audience or purpose. I like it though: I like the idea of writing whatever happens to come into my head not knowing whether anyone will read it or not. At the moment of course almost nothing is coming into my head because I didn't really sleep last night -- at least not until the sun was coming up. I think I have to invest in something to help me sleep... maybe some herbal tea... or horse tranquilizer or something. I hate punctuation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Nation States?

I recently ran across Nation States which is a fairly basic, yet interesting nation simulator. This is the nation which I've come up with: Haliconia. It strikes me though having played with it for about a week that like any simulation or game there is an inherent bias. Not that it is necessarily a concious bias, but in writing a program (or I suppose a book or a movie) reality is simplified into a set of rules. These rules are never completely accurate and often end up containing a bias.

For example in Nation States one of the measures of your country is its economy. As far as I can tell from playing every time you choose to regulate industry the economy gets worse, and every time you choose to deregulate it gets better. I would never argue that a command economy is going to be the most successful economy possible, but conversly I would also suggest that a laisse faire, completely free market based economy would not either. A careful combination of the two is the secret to success, but in Nation States a careful combination of the two leaves me with a "developing" economy and there is nothing I can do to challenge that.

To sum up: every simulation of reality whether it is in art, science, literature, film, or television, simplifies and skews reality towards the perspective of the designers. At some level there is no arguing with this simplification -- because you have to approach it from within it is very difficult to critique.

Human Nature and Pinatas

Yesterday I watched kids bashing a piñata at the library. The moment the piñata broke and fell to the ground there was a sudden surge of kids towards it – screaming, biting, kicking, in an effort to get at the candy.These are not suburban kids with their parents standing over them: “Share! Be polite!” These are unprotected kids, without that shell of safety: no fences, no driveways, and no parents around.
It shows as the pile slowly subsides leaving scraps of red paper and crushed candy.Three kids are crying, and there is one black eye. Walking away we see one of the kids dancing around, his shirt full of candy.“It’s mine, it’s mine.”Half-heartedly I ask him if he’s going to share, but I know the answer is no.“I’m rich I’m rich, famous rich.”That’s the goal I guess famous rich, but this kid is seeing the problem of being “famous rich”. The moment he goes near any of the other kids he’s going to lose his candy. So here he is lots of candy, but no one to eat it with, and no one to gloat over it to – the isolating effect of wealth.
Today I’m wondering if he learned his lesson. He probably danced too close to the other kids in his effort to show off his haul. It doesn’t matter how much candy you have if you can’t show it off to the others, and once the others catch wind of your greed justice, or the childhood equivalent is swift to arrive. I’m sure he lost all his candy, gained a few bruises, made a few enemies, and still didn’t learn his lesson. That’s humanity though.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Variation on the Word Sleep

There's a poem I really love by Margaret Atwood called "Variation on the Word Sleep"
The ending is particularly poignant:
"I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary"

The idea of being able to distill such meaning into so few words. A dream.
I like the idea of writing variations on words. Taking a prosaic, everyday, word and using it as a key into something deep and universal.

That's poetry at some level. Something I'm ridiculously horrible at. If I'm good at anything its writing complex historical essays. I wonder if there's a way I could write like that and yet capture some emotion... something deeper. An essay on the Xhosa cattle killing with a subtext of love lost. Sadness and anger.

Sounds like a good idea for a story actually -- a character locked in that academic language able to express his feelings only as a subtext of the historical essays he writes.