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Thursday, August 29, 2002

Community

Tripp has been harping on "community" and how A) it's impossible to live outside one's social milieu, and B) despite this fact, too many people do (?!?), and this is a problem.

Community, in terms of a group of people who appreciate, welcome and support you, can be a wonderful thing. The friendly group of bloggers that I've discovered over the past month or so has been very good for me, and if I'm not careful, I may find the seedlings of some lifelong friendships there.

However (and I'm NOT referring to my online group of friends here, I'm back in the realm of theory), in the immortal words of Ben Franklin, guests, like fish, stink after three days. Community is frequently a pain in the ass. There are many times when the ability to shut the world the hell out and be alone is a useful and healing thing, too.

Personally, I know I spend far too much time alone, but everyone has to come to terms with their own level of "gregarity." Mine happens to be low compared to the norm. I don't crave the company of people for its own sake; I am frequently lonesome, but that's for one-on-one company: I seldom enjoy groups comprising more than, say, ten people (I tend to withdraw into myself and just watch if I'm not engaged with a smaller subgroup), and I certainly don't miss such groups enough to seek them out on my own. Bars? Clubs? Sure, with a group I like and that wants to go, perhaps, but just for meeting people? No way. Ditto for churches, concerts, classes, etc. I'll go for the material, but in terms of belonging to a big theoretical group of people, who have an investment and say in how my life is going, I don't like it.

If some "community" of which Jennifer and I had been a part had seen that we were in trouble, burst in and started helping us "fix" things, I'm pretty sure both of us would have politely told the community to get bent, and oh yes mind its own business too. Being private people is one of the things we had in common.

Where do people like me go for the panacea of community, Tripp? If I was going to discover some great need for groups in which to immerse myself, I would have by now. Invasive, busybodying, "guardrailing" community of the type you describe is not at all a welcoming idea for me; in fact, it's faintly creepy in a spidery, "resistance is futile" way. I have no basis for it, and no wish to acquire one.

Please, tell me what I'm missing about this concept.

-Rich

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

More on Marriage

Mary take note: I'm talking about society and baby-making again. Have a Zantac.

Tripp's trying to run with a debate that arose from a comment I made for this week's Monday Mission.

My stated position is that since a primary obligation of a society is to perpetuate its population, the incentives for and privileges of marriage exist by and large for that reason - marriage (in its inaugural role as a primarily financial institution) was created to render relatively trouble-free the business of societal perpetuation, by providing a structure of rules and traditions for both the creation of new generations and the orderly transfer of wealth to those generations through inheritance.

Sarah raised the point that marriage has benefit as a social stabilizer, regardless of participants' gender. Other than (again, theoretically) smoothing the turbulent atmosphere around the reproductive business, what stabilizing influence does marriage provide? I don't see it.

Romantic notions re: love, and whether two persons' devotion to one another "deserves recognition" from the society in which it exists need not apply. Love as a significant motivator for (hell, even a factor in) marriage is a fairly modern invention, and I doubt cuts much mustard at the legislative level.

...Which brings me to the question of what exactly marriage is in today's non-theoretical American society. Considering that 50% of American marriages do not perform their stated goals (presuming that divorce constitutes on its face a failure in keeping procreative behavior orderly, and that inheritance can be horrendous among sundered families), it would appear that we have a societal problem, certainly outside of any monetary stimulus our government provides.

Tripp offhandedly raises the question of whether our society's divorce rate should be considered a bad one. If marriage is transforming into something like "going really steady," with attendant party and presents, then perhaps a one-in-two failure rate is indeed to be expected and a healthy thing; it's a simple extension of the dating ritual, after all, and dating is a fleeting and impermanent thing. Considering the raw pain and suffering divorce entails at the personal and familial level (not to mention the universally agreed-upon damage inflicted on children forced to suffer through divorces) leads me to believe this isn't the case.

The sentiment behind Ms. Rodham Clinton's averring that "it takes a village" is the foundation of the rest of Tripp's entry, and I'm afraid that I have to disagree. The most important grounding a child receives occurs when the child is largely pre-verbal, in his/her first three to five years. A village that pressures (through feminist insistence that stay-at-home motherhood is a demeaning or otherwise unworthy choice) or forces (through excessive taxation) utilization of cookie-cutter day-care facilities before the child is a year old is hardly helping in the effort. The best parenting jobs I've witnessed have come from a married mother and father who have stayed married, sacrificed, set their personal agendas aside and otherwise done the best they can to prepare a child before releasing him/her to the predations of the "village."

Tripp also mentions that most wedding ceremonies require witnesses, and abjure the community represented by the witnesses to help safeguard the union. It's Tripp's contention that this makes divorce a failure of the community's as much as that of the couple involved. I only agree with this in the most abstract sense: inasmuch as a society elevates and perpetuates a moral structure painting marriages as disposable, and individual desires more important than marital commitment, then society has in fact failed the couple. But when it comes down to it no amount of community interference, or goodhearted busybodying will keep a husband and wife married that've decided to sunder.

(Between 60 and 80 percent of divorces are initiated by the wife, depending on whom you ask. No, the incidence of adultery among soon-to-be-divorcees isn't appreciably higher on the male side than the female. Since women stereotypically have the market cornered on maintaining a support community for themselves, how precisely is a "village" helping again? No, this isn't woman-bashing. Read it again.)

-Rich

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

An introspective day

It's the kind of gray, damp, cool day that I love. There's been very little of the rain that Richmond was promised, but I'm thankful for the ease in heat anyhow.

I've been giving myself a lot of crap lately for my life not heading where I want it to. I've been drifting and largely rudderless for a long time. Changing that is really a matter of making a few decisions, and then making sure those decisions stay made from day to day.

You'd think that being bullheaded in my own interest would come easily. We'll have to see.

-Rich

Monday, August 26, 2002

PromoGuy's Monday Mission 2.34

1. What do you do to make things better when you feel sad and/or lonely? There're lots of things. I frequently complain, as regular readers here know. :-) Talking with someone almost always helps. I've also been known to slot a videogame or goofy movie to help with the blues.

2. Are you a "touchy-feely" person? That is, do you like to touch people you don't know that well? And on the flipside of that, do you like being touched by someone you aren't close with? NOPE and HELL NOPE. Despite my being a very tactile person, I'm not touchy-feely with strangers in any social sense of the term. In many ways I think life would be lots easier if I were the touchy type (certainly dating would).

3. Do you like to have "me" time, time to yourself to be alone and relax? Or do you prefer to just do your own thing with someone else in the room? When was the last "me" time you got and what did you do? Let's see... I sleep for about six hours a night, so that means I get about eighteen hours a day of "me time." Non-me-time is the exception, not the rule, as my job doesn't involve any real human contact during the day. In terms of leisure me-time, lately I've been reading a lot.

4. Generally speaking, how do you feel about the concept of marriage? Are you the marrying type? Do you think the act of getting married means something today or is it simply just "a piece of paper?" Again, dedicated readers will know that I take marriage very seriously and can infer that I am definitely the marrying type, but one of my fears is that marriage is becoming a useless formality. Married? Think you're never gonna get a divorce? Flip a coin. Heads, you're golden. Tails, you're single.

5. That said, as many as 25 states have passed legislation regulating who they believe should be the "marrying type." What are your thoughts on the banning of same-sex marriages? One of the important duties any society has is to perpetuate itself, and I see the legal sanction of marriage (and the tax and other privileges given) as working within that mission. Giving the privileges of marriages to non-"breeder" unions that can't increase a society's population seems misguided to me.

6. If there was one law you had the ability to create or change, what would it be? Not so much a law as a series of laws and their precedents that make up the American divorce system. My own divorce was "amicable" and I didn't get burnt by these laws per se, but there are a hell of a lot of men out there having their parental rights and personal dignity trampled by a divorce system that favors women even when they're shown to be at fault (ask Acidman). Men are guilty until proven innocent in divorce courts, to the point that the decision to marry, for many men, has become too great a financial and personal risk to merit the benefits. Hell, I'm struggling with this myself, and I miss being married.

7. What would you like someone visiting your Blog for the first time to know about you? Now is your chance! I can cook, I give great foot rubs, and I'm a decent conversationalist. :-) Turn-ons: intelligence, wit and humor. Turn-offs: radical feminism, knee-jerk liberalism and hygiene issues. I only bite if asked very nicely. I'm really just this guy, you know?

-Rich

Rain, rain, kindly stay
Go away some other day

Yep, Richmond is getting rain for the first time in several weeks. People are rejoicing all over, except that Richmonders seem to have lost the knack of rain driving in the interim. Several big accidents on the way into work.

I've always loved the rain - I remember sitting, as a child, and watching rivulets move down sliding doors in the Hockessin (Delaware) and Cincinnati houses. Little showers, gully-washers, wrath-of-God thunderstorms, I love 'em all. The Goddess seems to share my affinity.

Some scientists have posited that homo sapiens went through an aquatic or semi-aquatic phase during its development (hmm. Do other primates ever swim?), and that's how we wound up with such a thin "coat" compared to the rest of the primate world. The hypnotic, archetypical place that water holds in our species' psychology and mythology would seem to bear that out.

Theory aside, I have always found it easiest to relax with rushing water or crashing waves nearby. Recordings and white-noise generators don't seem to do it. I haven't tried one of those little pebble-stone fountains that have become so popular, because my pets would see it as an exotic water dish. :-)

Hmm. What an idea - a beachside vacation! Preferably with rain. Yeah, I'm one of those crazy people who likes rainy, cold beaches.

-Rich

Friday, August 23, 2002

Friday Five

1. What is your current occupation? Is this what you chose to be doing at this point in your life? Why or why not? I'm currently a computer programmer. Yep, I chose it. FWIW, I believe that no matter where we are in life, we've chosen it. I chose to marry young and impetuous, thus I'm divorced. I chose to groove on computers all my life and I certainly chose which jobs I applied for, so ...yep. :-)

2. If time/talent/money were no object, what would your dream occupation be? A novelist. And time, talent and money ARE no object, yet I accomplish little. Working on this.

3. What did/do your parents do for a living? Has this had any influence on your career choices? My dad was an executive for a plastics company; he's now happily retired. My mom has been a stay-at-home mom for most of her adult life, though she's taught a lot of preschool as well. Also happily retired. Did these influence my career decisions? Nope, other than to actually pursue a career and not raise yaks in India or something. :-)

4. Have you ever had to choose between having a career and having a family? Nope. It wouldn't be a choice anyway - given the chance for a family with a woman I loved, any job would exist to support the family, not the other way around.

5. In your opinion, what is the easiest job in the world? What is the hardest? Why? Easiest? Food taster, probably, or toy/game tester. Hardest? Somewhere between parent and policeman. Parenting for all the reasons Joie listed, and policeman for the obvious reasons. Well, possibly policeman's wife, now that I think about it.

-Rich

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Mac vs. Wintel: The Endless Debate

There's a lot of buzz around the tech community lately lately about Mac OS X, its new 10.2 version named "Jaguar," and how it compares with Windows XP.

The case for Windows
I have several Windows boxes at home, running Win98SE and Win2000 Professional. I use XP Professional extensively at work. I've used every flavor of Windows since 3.0, excepting Windows ME, because I do have some standards. :-) I live, eat and breathe Microsoft products for both work and leisure. I build Windows boxes for fun.

Windows boxes also generally like me. It's hard to explain, but I seldom see the crashiness or trashiness that Windows is excoriated for; it may be that after years of practice I know how to build 'em right, or that without thinking I avoid the land mines, or that Bill Gates takes pity on fat guys. Who knows? But Windows boxes work just dandily for me.

The case for Mac
I've also got a pretty solid Mac background. The first non-Tandy, non-Commodore computer I used outside of my home was a Mac; we had original 128K Macs at my high school. System 6, System 7, 8 and 9... I've used them all to one extent or another over the years, and by System 9 it was pretty clear MacOS was aging terribly compared to a Windows 2000 or XP (or even some aspects of 98).

Mac OS X has changed all that. I've got OS X 10.1.5 running on a 288 MB, 300 MHz Tangerine iBook at home, and it's slick as snail snot. I love it, and the poor iBook has none of the whiz-bangy features of more modern Macs: glassy casings, huge LCDs, FireWire, none of them. It makes a great word processing machine, because it (mostly) gets out of the way. And both my mom and my cat Sushi love the machine -- maybe it's the color orange or the swoopy lines.

(It's important to note that Mac hardware continues to lag behind Wintel something fierce. Intel will be shipping processors by Christmas 2002 that will execute three billion integer operations a second (3 GHz), while Mac users are only just cresting the 1 GHz barrier. There's some arguments that can be made for Apple's Motorola CPUs having some edge in power-per-operation than Intel's for some operations, but it's nothing that's going to make up a three-to-one difference in raw horsepower if you've gotta have speed.)

...But back to the debate.
As I'm wont to do, I've been looking around, and it's very telling that some of the bigger advocates of OS X are in fact Linux users. I ran a Linux partition on one of my boxes as an Open Source True Believer for something like two years, and there are two hallmarks of the stereotypical Linux user that are relevant here: they appreciate technical elegance, and they're not afraid (in fact they like) to get their hands dirty in a system's technical details. Oh, and they've had to deal with occasionally brilliant, always quirky, but inevitably cobbled-together desktop interfaces, and are largely tired of it. And they've had to put up with spit-and-baling-wire support for most non-vanilla hardware for so long that compiling beta-level device drivers into mission-critical Linux kernels is a common task for the "power" Linux user. Okay, more than two. :-)

Enter OS X, which is arguably the first operating system to feature an elegant, seamless desktop atop a complete Unix foundation. On top of that, hardware integration manages to be less painful (i.e., "just work") for most users than the Windows Way (my experiences notwithstanding), and to run circles around the Linux Way. Combine that with Apple's penchant for manufacturing Really Cool Cases (tm), and the fact that a Unix command line is always available in OS X, and you've got a combination that diehard Linux users are finding hard to ignore, despite Wintel's massive CPU-speed advantage.

My take on all this? I'm big on whiz-bang tech, so it's not unheard of for a sexy computer case to draw me, but before OS X I really didn't care for the way that Apple hid basic configuration details from me as a user. Windows provides most of that information if you're willing to learn. Mac OS X, though, allows that access as well, and manages to feel more intelligently coupled with underlying hardware than either Windows or a well-tuned Linux box can. And a Unix command line simply rocks if you know how to use it.

There's just one problem. I like to play games (it's the main purpose for my home box), and if they ever come out for the Mac most games are months in doing so. On top of that, the games I like playing usually require lots of horses under the hood, and Macs still lag PCs there.

But my iBook has been imbued with new life -- it's now a usable, reliable, beautiful word-processing machine (if you like orange, which I do); despite being three-year-old hardware, it feels like the most advanced machine in the apartment. The artist in me likes that a lot.

But you still can't build a Mac from parts. You can build the most important 85% of the experience with Windows, and perhaps a different 90% of the experience with Linux, and both options come out cheaper and allow more control and CPU oomph.

-Rich

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Whiffs

So I'm sitting here thinking about what to post today. I'm already sorry I posted yesterday's whine and cheese, so we certainly don't want to go there again.

I'm sucking on a nice strong peppermint as I post, so I've decided to wax rhapsodic about smells and tastes. Not as pertains to blogs, this time, but some general stuff.

Smells have a close association to recall, so of course certain combinations of smells can take you way back. When I fill my mind with memories of the smell (and sounds and sights) of the salty, breezy Atlantic ocean, I remember sunny trips to visit my grandparents in Pompano Beach as I was growing up; of learning to body-surf; of collecting seashells; of washing tar off my feet and salt off the rest of me in a sandy little tile square by a pool. I remember walking on cold, gray, windswept beaches in college, jeans rolled up under my knees and briny spray in the beard I had then, and feeling the rest of life before me; optimism amid crashing surf and calling gulls, flying like hell just to keep stationary in the near-gale.

That delightful smell of wood burning conjures memories of innumerable camping trips as a Boy Scout; of learning to cook scrambled eggs on a griddle, and learning how to splice rope-ends into strong loops. I remember hiking the 72 miles of my trip to Philmont Scout Reservation, of giggling at hailstones the size of watch faces as they piled up outside the tents, because there was nothing we could do. I remember branding my boots, and reaching the summit of Mount Baldy before anyone else in my group. I remember the birch beer at Ponil Camp, the wooden tables we set the icy mugs on, and how it was the best thing I could remember ever tasting. I remember the fires Jennifer and I had in the fireplace in our house in Ashland, and that I never did get to make love to her by firelight.

Crushed grass... A whole mélange of associations there... Mowing the lawn weekend after weekend growing up; being at the grunting, painful bottom of a pile of plastic, sweat and limbs during football season; picnics and hikes with Jennifer; sitting and talking with my host brother in something that wasn't German and wasn't English as we slowly got smashed on hoppy, warm Holtzkirschner in a field outside Bad Neustadt.

Books and paper - almost too many memories to list: my parents' immense Random House Dictionary; the many old, blue-bound volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica I grew up with; the first Bible I received; the hundreds and hundreds of yellow, pulpy comic books I bought; the crisp, slick pages of the red-bound Lord of the Rings trilogy volume I still have, but have never finished; the red-dusted bookshelves of the Ashland house; the slightly vanilla-smelling pages of my copy of Cradle to Cradle; the musty, inviting shelves of the Corpus Christi school library in Cincinnati, where I learned about sketching, magic tricks and spaceships and pirates for the first time. The dog-eared high-school notebooks filled with as many smeared pencil superhero and anatomy sketches as words; the decades-old maroon-bound anatomy textbook my dad gave me when I asked. The sharp edges of folded and torn notepaper that I learned to make into Origami cranes, robins, grasshoppers, cicadas, airplanes and sailing ships, all forgotten. The rooms I've shared with Tripp in college and visited afterwards, from my fresh new copies of the Illuminatus! trilogy, to cheap copies of Principia Discordia to the Greek and Sanskrit books he eventually studied, to his copy of the Lays of Beleriand and spending days translating Tolkien's Tengwar script and memorizing historical Futhark runes. Inkwells and chisel-nib pens; learning twenty, thirty calligraphy "hands" and doing Cadeau ornamentation for Society for Creative Anachronism scrolls; copying goofy verses onto imitation vellum in Luxeuil Minuscule with blood-red ink to "ward" my dorm room.

Hey, I was young and already resigned to being weird. :-)

Anyway, this series of trips down Memory Lane has been brought to you by the numbers 3 and 2 and a long, empty afternoon. :-)

-Rich

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Purpose

There come times in most everyone's lives where you begin to wonder what you're supposed to be doing. When you wake up in the morning and wonder, "how the hell did I get here?"

That's where I am lately. I graduated from college ten years ago very bullish on parenting, marriage, and generally on the "house, wife, picket fence, 2.4 kids and a dog" track; two years ago that sunk with nary a trace, and since then I've been casting about for a directional "hook" on which to hang my hat.

In many ways I have little to complain about: I have a decent-paying job, a great family and two dogs and a cat that love me, several wonderful friends, a nice apartment and lots of toys. Counting blessings is a very effective way of reassuring oneself about one's current state. When I look two, five, ten years down the road, though, things are pretty bleak. I don't love my job enough to do it forever, and I don't love my own companionship enough to keep waking up every morning and having to determine for myself what the point is again.

When I was married, even when it was awful to the point of not wanting to go home at the end of the workday, the "provider, protector" purpose was still clear. The world preaches not to need anyone or consider yourself incomplete, but where do I fit in a world that doesn't care if I get fired tomorrow, or if I triumph over stupidity and animus for another day? Why bother going to all the effort if there's no prize of companionship and comfort to look forward to?

I'm a programmer, a writer and a tinkerer. I'm getting better at all these things as I age, and they bring a certain amount of fulfillment in themselves, but when it comes to brass tacks I don't give a rip about these things -- I want to be needed; I want to be important to someone snuggly and funny. I want someone to watch sunsets with, and playing kids, and fires in the fireplace. I'll sacrifice for that, work for that. There's honor in shoveling week-old horseshit if it keeps a roof over your family's head. But what happens when there's no family? What's the point to job, or roof?

As it is, I feel like a wind-up toy that's lost a wheel: spinning in frantic circles, expending all sorts of energy for little headway or purpose.

Time has also ceased to be my friend. Unless I want to start dating people five or ten years younger than myself (and be pushing retirement when the hypothetical kids hit college), time is sort of running out to get a family started. At the same time, nothing drives people off like the twin stinks of need and desperation, so this sort of thinking is worse than useless.

Hmf. End vent. Not fun. Readers run away.

Anyway, love the one you're with, people. It's all we really get.

-Rich

Monday, August 19, 2002

Back in the Saddle

Yay! Back from the weekend, and ready to take on the week. I was playing D&D with some good friends around the DC area, and otherwise visiting and being social. I'm exhausted, but in a good way.

Dang, but that is one intelligent group, and a driven and successful one, too. I have to keep reminding myself that I fit in and am welcome, but it's not easy. I'm still the baby of the group so far as I know, but that has come to matter less over time, and being single and quiet is beginning to look weird, I suspect. Lots of happily-married-with-kids vibes through the whole situation as well, which was difficult.

Still, bittersweet or no, it was good to see everyone and lay the smack down on ogres, undead and the like. :-D

Looks like Joie and Mary are both blue. Drop by and cheer 'em up!

And I'll finish with some belated Sunday Stumpers:

1) What's one thing you did as a child that you regret? I've mentioned it before, I think, but there was a guy, "Paul," in my Boy Scout troop in Cincinnati that took a lot of crap from the "cool" kids, and once he happened to be biking through the subdivision where I lived. He pulled up and said "hi," and I was nasty to him on general "coolness" principle. He was really hurt, and I've never forgotten.

2) What's the weirdest compliment anyone's ever given you? A while back, people started telling me I was intense, and I've really come to like it. (Shrug.)

3) What's your biggest flaw? Wow, I have to pick just one. I'd say it's either my tendency to coast when the going gets easy, or to disconnect when it gets hard. Two sides of the same coin, there, really.

4) Quick temper or slow burn? Yes. :-)

5) Are you more of a sexual person or a sensual person? There's a difference? Actually my barometer is probably pretty skewed on this subject (it's been a long, long time), but since I don't generally lead with my libido unless I know a person very well, I guess I'll go with sensual. I'm big on pleasures of the flesh; what can I say? :-9

-Rich

Friday, August 16, 2002

Fatigued

Been a really wonderful, rollery-coastery week, and I am soon to embark on a weekend of hanging out with some very cool people. Doing laundry, dropping the dogs off at a kennel sometime fiveish, trying to keep myself up on sleep. I am yawning like a fool. Why is life most exhausting when it's most fun?

Hunter is at last dipping his toe in the idea of starting a weblog of his own. I'd link his e-mail address, but that'd be pretty crass of me, and besides, there're comment boxes all over Creation where people can find him if they're so motivated. :-D (So gonna get a smackdown for this one.)

It's ironic - right when I find my opinion in demand by everyone, I find myself in an introspective, less-than-talkative mood. Apologies to the Hooked on Blogging folks (especially the Goddess); I'll resume something more like my accustomed word count on Monday. ;-)

I am also a quart low on caffeine for the day, as my fridge is empty of everything but barley products, upon which I can only make slow progress.

Until later,

-Rich

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

A Girl's Best (Synthetic) Friend

Heh. This is cool. Arms racing between De Beers and The Diamond Makers.

The best reading IMO is this transcript of an interview with both synthetic diamond makers and De Beers reps.

So, a question for the ladies: would you prefer the symbolic two-carat romance of a unique natural artifact that took nature millions or billions of years to produce (and has cost your man thousands of dollars), or a grown-last-Wednesday four-carat symbol of durability and the triumph of technology over the need to wrench rocks out of the ground with eco-unfriendly mining (and that might eventually be as cheap, when mass-produced, as quartz)?

-Rich

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Casting About for Profundity

My head is empty. I have nothing of import to say. :-)

Hmm. Status update, I suppose. I have shiny new shoes, and they're bloody comfortable. I'm reading a riveting book called Mastering the Requirements Process, and I'm to that head-pounding, slack-jawed point of intellectual numbness where a life with a cookpot and a grass shack lost on a desert island somewhere sounds wonderful. Anyone up for getting lost?

Joie has locked herself in her closet. Perhaps if we call sweetly and waft the aroma of fresh-cooked salt-and-butter grits under the door (she hates grits) we'll smoke her out!

I am also enjoying a cool (not cold - blasphemy!) Guinness fresh out the can - which is the best way if you don't have a tap in your house. Yeasty, frothy bliss. Mmmm. :-9

Parenthood - maybe this will get me going
YACCS (the comment system I use here) has been flaky all day, so for those who haven't had the time or the chance to read the commentary fallout from yesterday's mammoth post, I think parenthood, or rather parenting, is one of the most important endeavors in which we can engage as human beings. As such, it shouldn't be entered into lightly.

Homo sapiens is a notoriously randy beast. Our females can mate (and thankfully do :-D) when they're not fertile. Our males can and do mate when not in the presence of a fertile female. Our neurochemical systems go places far removed from normal functioning while we're engaged in The Act. Sex stimulates endorphin production, it's mildly aerobic exercise, and it fosters pair-bonding at physiological and psychological levels in ways that are comparatively rare among the other species of the world. Biologically, we're endowed with reward after reward for having as much sex as we can. That's one of the reasons we're the dominant species on this ball of rock.

But back to that species-perpetuation thing. All this copulating going on means babies eventually, and that's where it gets weird. Unlike most species, our young are utterly helpless at birth; without years of fairly intense care, babies die. Period.

A wise man once theorized to me that people act according to about 50% nature (inborn ability and instinct) and 50% nurture (training). Through my own observations I'd say that's about right, and that we differ from the rest of animal life in that they have much higher levels of instinct, and are thus less trainable. That 50% nurture is the key; it's where de Sades are twisted, and Mozarts forged. There are thousands, perhaps millions of potential Mozarts and de Sades doing nothing noteworthy through lack of nurture, and for half of those cases we should be thankful. For the other half we should be ashamed (Lynn's currently grappling with similar issues).

And it's in that "ashamed" column where parenting (or rather, the lack of it) comes in, in my opinion. Because it's so dang easy for most humans to get pregnant given effort and time, there're lots of people who have no business parenting trying to do the job. Am I advocating eugenics? No, but there's a big part of me that feels people should be required to pass some sort of "non-druggie, non-idiot, non-welfare-case" test before being allowed to breed. There's a lot of misery out there that's directly traceable to crappy parenting.

Parenting is so bloody important a job in my worldview that it's one of the main reasons, even in this age of 99%-effective birth control, that I've stayed single since my divorce. There are some risks not worth taking, and the 1% possibility (yes, I'm well aware it's not that simple) of knocking up some woman just so I can get my rocks off (hi, Dad!) is one of them from where I'm sitting.

So it's been a lonely few years. Yay me and my glorious self-sacrifice. Damn, but that's a big cold bed over there. :-(

...Anyway: whether or not you're a religious person, parenting is a privilege, not a right. Ask anyone who's had to undergo fertility treatment.

-Rich

PS. In the interest of increased controversy and full disclosure, another big reason for my self-imposed Long Lonely Walk has been an abject fear of allowing another female to have any sort of hold on me. In the light of the amazing people I've met through this weblog, and other bits of social interaction, I'm finally releasing that bit of silliness. Thanks to you all, and you know who you are. :-D

Monday, August 12, 2002

Firing off the New Week

I can tell I'm gonna have to pay more blog attention over the weekends, what with all these spiffy people blogging and commenting 24/7.

In other news, it seems my father has found this site. Hi, Dad! I'm sure he and Mom now know all sorts of stuff about me they never imagined. :-)

Joie has opined a bit (where're your posts' permalinks, Joie?) on marriage and submission, and I thought I'd chime in.

The balance of power in a relationship is a tricky thing. Tripp tried years ago to make me see that every relationship has one, and I refused to admit it at the time, but I've come to admit that he's right.

The way it worked out in my case was that Jennifer and I married out of college -- mistake number one; neither of us was done with late adolescence yet, despite being legal to cohabitate, drink and vote. Long story short, I submitted quite willingly to Jennifer's leadership: she was much more experienced in handling the minutiae of daily life than I was; she had a lot more complete and concrete picture of the world than I did; and she was much better at keeping life's logistics under control. So Jennifer became the "alpha" in our relationship - I'd bring home the cash, and she'd funnel it to the places it needed to be to keep the bills paid and our little corner of the world functioning; I'd have dilemmas and she'd provide a perspective to get me started. A fair inversion of typical gender roles, but hey, we considered ourselves progressive late-20th-century people, and styled ourselves as a team, taking on the world.

Life continued. We experienced our little crises and crackups just like all married couples do, got through them and moved on, but the problems began when, as we grew older and novelty and charm wore thin, she came to resent her position of authority and obligation, and I began to realize that there were some things I could handle. Should have worked out perfectly, right? She was looking for a way to release some of her obligations, and I was looking to take some on. There were two major flies in the ointment, though: A) I was new at these things, and thus bound to screw up; and B) Jennifer was used to holding the reins, and as such had no precedent or inclination for respecting my judgment. From there it's predictable: I took on a few responsibilities for a few months, and screwed them up; rather than allow me to continue, and get through the learning process, she took the responsibilities back with extreme prejudice, assuming that I was a general screwup. From the accustomed submissive position, I had little ammunition to disagree, and even an inclination to keep to the old patterns and defer to her judgment.

Friction increased, though; we were growing up into increasingly disparate people: I was starting to demand respect and independence that wasn't forthcoming, and she saw her position of authority threatened by an incompetent, tubby hubby with the temerity to start spouting ideas that didn't jibe with hers. A few (well, several) other fundamental wrongnesses reared their heads over the coming two years (fodder for other blog entries), and after that, having convinced herself that I was a burden on her and that she shouldn't have to endure my presence in her life any longer, she filed for divorce and kicked me out.

I've had a lot of time to think, heal, grow up and reflect in the two and a half years since. My submissive position led to impressive passivity on my part; since the important decisions weren't mine to make, I could (and did) largely coast. Since they were all hers to make, she never could. Certainly this argued for better load-sharing, but I think there's more at work here. In American society, like it or not, the norm is for men to "drive" the household, while women are typically maintainers or navigators of that ship of state. There's a big part of me that believes, ruminating on a few mini-situations that did work out between us (where I stepped up, she failed to get in the way and wound up enjoying herself), that if Jennifer and I had somehow built that situation, we would both have been far happier and quite probably still married, with kidlets and all sorts of benefits. Still, we weren't people that came up with that for ourselves when it was possible to do so, so for that relationship it's moot. Besides, she's become someone with whom I no longer care to associate, so punt that. :-)

I've become much more my own person in the interim, and that's a very good thing; I'm self-possessed (and self-respecting) enough now that I'll be able to stake out my own positions of respect and defend myself when challenges come along in whatever new relationships are over the horizon.

But back to Joie's point: yes, IMO a blend of submission and struggle is certainly present in any marriage, but without mutual respect to firm up and mature that blend, there're fundamental problems with a marriage's foundation.

And speaking of fundamental problems...
A few months ago I finished a C.S. Lewis book called The Screwtape Letters. It's chock full of great ruminations on how to live and do the Christian thing, but one of the major points I took away from it was a discussion on love and marriage. The book takes the form of a series of letters written by Screwtape, a senior devil in Hell, to his largely incompetent tempter-in-training Wormwood. Wormwood's charge, a young English man, is at one point considering marriage to his sweetheart, and Screwtape's advice, (highly paraphrased) runs to this effect:

One of our major victories in this age has been the successful implanting of the notion that the breathless, glandular, transitory infatuation the humans have come to call 'love' (and neither duty to one's vows nor dedication to the larger ideal and institution) is the sole acceptable reason to undertake the lasting bond of marriage. We have borne more plentiful fruit from this innovation than possibly any other in this century.
This was written in the forties, if I recall my copyright dates. I'll check to be certain - it may well have been earlier, like the teens.

But the point I wanted to add to the discussion is just that: marriage is intrinsically neither an easy nor a glorious thing. It can be both, but it will frequently be neither. Marriage can on occasion be frustrating, messy, ugly and even painful. But that doesn't mean it's bad, and it probably means that the opportunity's there to make it very good. My own parents have seen all these sides, and yet they still manage considerable cutes and cuddlies after thirty-five-ish years. All three of their kids have had their dramas, problems, crises and hardships, but the example set by Mom and Dad is indelible, and fundamentally a beautiful, monumental thing. Because no matter how much friction there was, or how tightly pennies had to be pinched, or how far afield their kids may have gone, neither of them ever called it quits (or at least never that we saw, which amounts to the same thing).

When it comes down to brass tacks, is there any more important thing you can teach a kid?

-Rich

[Edit: okay, here's the full set of quotes from Screwtape, Copyright 1942 (remember, it's a devil speaking, so 'Enemy' and 'Father' are reversed):

The Enemy's demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Ever since our Father's first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape. We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually shortlived, experience which they call 'being in love' is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.
[...]
...humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call 'being in love' is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy. [...]In other words, the humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result.
This is all distinctly more spiritual than I usually wax, but it's my site and I'll do what I want. :-) ]

Saturday, August 10, 2002

A Post on a Saturday? Are you feeling okay?

I'm writing from my newly rejuvenated machine, with its shiny fresh new motherboard. The transplant took place from 10:30 to noon this morning, and thankfully went without a hitch, as in a fit of devil-may-care attitude I decided to proceed without any backup or other preventative measures. Heh. %-D

I also decided to give up overclocking along with the new-board installation. Overclocking is the art and science of running a CPU at higher-than-rated speed (usually requiring higher-than-rated voltage, and fair amount of twiddling with extra case fans and other temperature-regulating measures), which in my case transformed a middle-of-the-road 700 MHz machine to an 800 MHz mini-monster, saving me approximately $200 at the time, and dramatically increasing my hardware-geek cachét among the initiates. The computer ran fine in this condition for approaching two years, but the price was obvious when I got a good look at the old board, post-extraction. All the capacitors on it -all of them- were swollen, and several had actually begun to leak some sort of slag. (For the tech-innocents among my readership, think of capacitors as power-smoothing batteries.) I'm not at all confident that the board would have successfully cold-booted a single additional time.

So I've removed the overdriving daughterboard from the Athlon CPU, and the naked chip's tooling along quite happily on the new motherboard at its rated 700 MHz. It's not generating nearly as much heat as it did while OC'd, and truth to tell I can barely notice the 1/7th drop in performance. Besides, I'm used to the firebreathing 1.7 GHz machine at work nowadays, so I've been "low-rent" at home for a while now. :-)

So is anything else going on?
Well, yeah. I finally got some maintenance done on the car today: lube job, air filters, valve replacement... Bought some new pants at Jacques Pennay...

Doofus! Don't you have a social life?
Well, I did converse with an actual human female last night...

That's better.
Well, "converse" might be a bit strong. Longtime readers know that I keep a profile over at Match.com, and wonder of wonders the profile generated a hit! The first in a long time. Suffice to say we IM'd for a few hours yesterday evening (at long last, a fellow night person!), and are meeting for coffee Tuesday night.

Goddess, you may begin planning your lament. Or purchasing plane tickets, whichever. ;-)

-Rich

Friday, August 09, 2002

My Smiling Face

There was a suggestion from Kate that I post a picture of myself to provide a focus for everyone's love, lust or laughter.

Her wish being my command, the new ABOUT link here and above takes you to the pixelly goodness.

-Rich

The Diesel Engine

Finally had a chance to watch my used copy of The Fast and the Furious last night, and I was honestly impressed with the film's atmosphere (I now have a new subwoofer demo), and I think I "get" Vin Diesel a little better.

Granted, he's built like the proverbial brick euphemism, but am I the only one out there who thinks Mr. Diesel's just plug ugly north of the neck? I've never understood the shaved-head-simian look that he personifies, but obviously I'm way in the minority on this one. I mean there's good bald (Patrick Stewart, Yul Brynner), and I'd figure that bad bald would sit over by Vin. Nevertheless, women from coast to coast are breathing faster and fanning themselves at the very thought of him, so there's obviously something I'm not wired to catch there. ;-)

-Rich
I love this photo. It's so very wrong. Thanks to the Supreme Bitch.

-Rich

Friday Five

1. Do you have a car? If so, what kind of car is it? 1997 Ford Taurus, "denim" blue. Got US flag magnets on its right and left rump.

2. Do you drive very often? I commute 25 minutes back and forth every weekday. Most of my friends live out of town, so driving is necessary then as well; I enjoy driving a great deal, though, so it's not a hardship.

3. What's your dream car? Outside like a fish, inside like Batman's tank in Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. And black. Very black.

4. Have you ever received a ticket? Oh hell yes. None recently, though. Been a good boy, except for one fire lane parking ticket I got in the parking lot for my own apartment complex (!!!).

5. Have you ever been in an accident? Yep. First was emphatically my fault. I was sixteen and ran a red light with my dad's pea-green 1976 Delta 88 wagon. Was hit by a BMW that shortened itself by two feet. Sort of bent the frame on the wagon. My dad is a wise man; his philosophy was to wrap all his kids in as much sheet metal as possible when they started driving. We've all needed it.

The second accident was not my fault, and the car actually showed no damage IIRC. Was rear-ended at around 15 mph while I was looking back over my shoulder, about to merge onto a nasty section of highway. I was fine for a week, until my neck froze up solid while I was visiting my ex-wife-to-be at her parents' place; I was (temporarily) an inch taller from the spasms' straightening of my upper spine. Wound up with several months of chiropractor treatment; my neck still cracks funny today. Whiplash sucks hard.

-Rich

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Bits and Snips

Wow, there are lots of people dropping by lately. Doesn't suck. :-D

Sniffage
It only took me a day, but I finally "got" the Goddess' assessment of me, and it was bang on. (Took me a while to get past the "Junior" in Junior Mints.) I love mint: I've cut down to five types of mints on my desk. I use minty soap in the shower every morning. Though I've never tried Junior Mints on buttery popcorn. I imagine it'll be heavenly. Oh, yeah, and popcorn rocks too. %-)

[Edit: (from the inestimable Erin) "and how can i complete this assessment without mentioning Rich of brain squeezings? orange marmalade, an old saddle, peppermint and chicken soup --- dare i say hairspray?" Two minty mentions. Very, very cool. :-D

...Though I fear I shall never escape hairspray ever again.]

Trippage
Yes, it was truly amazing to have Tripp back in town. He and I have that rare sort of friendship wherein we'll neglect to talk to one another for months on end, then somehow wind up in the same town, meet for coffee, and pick up exactly where we left off last time. We come from the antipodes of the political spectrum (damn pinko), yet constantly manage to teach one another things, and offer and accept support when the other drags. It's weird, and it's precious to me.

I think we need to pick out curtains, mang; too many more superlatives like these and people will start making assumptions anyway.

Even more amazing is that I've met two people like this in one lifetime (well, three, if you count the one who mutated, broke me over her knee and got away). You know who you are, second, but there's so much syrup around here that I won't embarrass you with a mention unless you insist.

Wattage
My new motherboard arrived yesterday, and with any luck I'll be able to get it installed in my ailing Athlon over the weekend, and allow powering-down of the long-suffering machine at long last. Oh, and I may very well need a new power supply for good measure. Turns out I've been running my current unit near capacity for most of its life. Thankfully 400W PSes have become nicely cheap.

Chalkage
Looks like BlogChalk is back. Those who are so inclined can probably reinstate their BC logos.

Decolletage
The world has conspired to mention bewbies to me at every turn lately. Kindly stop. Goddess, that goes double for you. I can barely sleep as it is. Oy. ;-)

-Rich

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

I love the smell of opinion in the morning

Well, since I've been assessed by the indefatigable Goddezz, it's high time I contributed to the blog-sniffing meme. :-D Y'all've been warned.

As I'm in a lazy frame today, all the links are at left.

bookblog - sawdust; that pseudo-musty smell of open boxes mixing new books and old
conjectural navel gazers - old, beloved books, burning candles and antique wood; allspice
Fairy Dust - greasepaint and latex paint in eager, echoing space; cool city rain
Fiendish Plot - banana muffins, "cat" and Indian takeout; warm city rain; cinnamon
gigglechick - puff pastry, sausage, beer and hairspray; cloves
GUT RUMBLES - hold a Zin cork under your nose, then slice and sniff a Vidalia onion, then open a bottle of cider vinegar
Hairy Toes, Lemonade Rhino - eyeliner, hairspray and honeydew melon - with hot fudge sauce
J'Mo's Journal - Texas dust; simple, sweet perfume; basil
KateSpot - Easter baskets, SweeTarts and crushed grass; talcum powder and Triaminic
Life In Louisiana - salt air off the delta, fresh laundry, paper with torn edges, and "kid"
minutiae - tabasco, soymilk, marinara and ... motor oil?!?
Poet and Peasant - that smell LPs get, stored in their sleeves; newsprint; Grand Marnier; a hint of vanilla
quinntopia - aftershave, electrical fire and Chee-tos
Subversified.com - fresh linen, new paper and damp topsoil; rain wafting in an open window; rosemary

-Rich

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Gee. I know (and am getting to know) some cool people. :-D Thanks, everyone.

Well, yeah, Tripp's been in town too.

Tripp, his brother Chuck and I had a great time Friday evening. Showed everyone around the apartment, introduced the dogs to Chuck, and then we sat and chewed the fat for a few hours, punctuated by delivered Chinese, and then a move to the Theater Room, and therein to much Xbox multiplayer goodness, courtesy Halo, Test Drive Off-Road and Blood Wake.

Not much of substance happened, true (well, we did debate moral relativism contrasted with utilitarianism, from both the cultural and theological standpoints [Augustine, Aquinas and Aristotle figured heavily], but that was really just dinner conversation); but relaxation was really the order of the evening, so we purposely kept it light.

God, I love hanging out with smart people. :-D

-Rich

Monday, August 05, 2002

And now back to your regularly scheduled angst

So I sang at this wedding with Impromptu on Saturday.

I had (and still have, despite singing for them) no idea who the bride and groom were. I know that the bride requested that we sing the Bobby McFerrin version of the 23rd Psalm ("The Lord is my Shepherd," but a version that changes all the pronouns for God to female), and I heard during the pre-service gossip that the bride was a militant feminist. Great, I thought, I get to witness the emasculation of another fine member of male society. Yep, my attitude was that bad.

In any event, the service started, and wound up being surprisingly, refreshingly traditional. The groom was puff-chested, the bride was radiant in a floral, lacy, very feminine dress. Pretty nice. Then, during the exchange of rings and vows, he maintained his composure, but she wound up breaking down and barely sobbing out, eyes shining, "...as long as we both shall live."

It was sublime; joyous; heartbreakingly beautiful, especially in the meager context I had. It was a moving, affirming moment for the whole church: capital-L Love rearing its tender head, conquering all.

It also hurt. A lot.

I always used to love weddings, being the sentimental romantic knucklehead that I (still) am, but attending them since the divorce has become unutterably painful. Good friends, complete strangers, no difference. From the mundane to the highly symbolic, every detail of a wedding hurts. It's the one situation that reliably brings back that delightful hole-in-the-chest feeling that was the hallmark of my first few months alone. I keep hoping I'll heal past it, but I keep getting blindsided from wedding to wedding.

I wanted to run, I wanted to curl up and weep, I wanted to start breaking things right there in the choir loft.

Instead I sang.

I'm still a mess inside when I think about it. God, I wish I knew how to make this better.

Sorry, new people. Part of the Brain Squeezings package.

-Rich

Test Result for a Monday

Wow. This one wound up being pretty accurate.


greymatter
You are a very intense person. Most people find you hard to understand but those who know you well love you to bits.

Which Blogging Tool Are You?


-Rich

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Time to Bitch about Blogger Archiving

Well, the new template is in, and the feedback I've received so far has been positive, so unless I start getting hate mail, I'm going to assume that we have a winner!

Hayeva, it would appear that the new template is showcasing some weaknesses in Blogger's archiving process. I've republished Squeezings' archives something like ten times by now, and some months (apparently by random) show the new template, some the old, and the month-so-far of August (aside from this front page) is just refusing to show at all.

I'm trying to be patient with Blogger and Blogspot, really I am, and to be fair I've never had anything go seriously wrong like archive loss or template corruption, but this behavior gets close enough that I'm considering the move to Moveable Type or something similar.

Mary, I know you've moved to another host from Blogspot, and dabbled in Moveable Type for the bookblog. Recommendations?

-Rich

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Comments, Please

All right, I think I've reached that point called "quit screwing with it." :-)

Mary's already chimed in on the logo; any thoughts on the new font, (slightly) new layout, new color scheme?

Good, bad, ugly? I've learned over time never to trust my color sense, so that's the element I'm most concerned with.

-Rich

Experimenting with the New Template

Stay tuned...

-Rich

Friday, August 02, 2002

Please tell me you're kidding

I just had the most surreal experience. A nice lady from the HR department just came into my office and presented me with a "certificate of appreciation" and $5 gift certificate for -get this- perfect attendance (no sick leave taken) during the second quarter of 2002. It's nice to work for state government.

Still - very weird. I don't think I've received a positive mention regarding attendence ever. Like in my life ever. I've always considered perfect attendence to be one of those hobgoblins of lesser minds, like a clean desk or slavish consistency in one's beliefs.

I feel so... Conformist.

Makes me want a shower.

And a snog. You know, for good measure and all.

(What was that about slavish consistency?)

-Rich

Friday Five Yet Again

1. What is your lineage? Where are your ancestors from? My heritage is primarily German (towards the Prussian) and Finnish. These pretty well describe my two poles of focused, detailed, plot-the-takeover-of-Europe activity and depressive, existential, oh-did-we-get-spanked-by-the-Russians-again ennui. I also seem to recall some muttery around Scotland, France and England on my mother's side. In any event, I thrive in cold, wet weather like any good Scandinavian. Why was I in Richmond again?

2. Of those countries, which would you most like to visit? Already been to Germany (though I'd like to go again), but I know I love mountain lakes (no fjords in Finland, though I do pine on principle), so some sort of trip to Finland is definitely in order sooner or later.

3. Which would you least like to visit? Why? Strange question. I suppose if there were terrorist activity or some other sort of problem out there I'd be less inclined, but otherwise why would anyone choose not to travel, given the opportunity?

4. Do you do anything during the year to celebrate or recognize your heritage? I alternate between frenzy and depression several times annually. Does that count? ;-) I also like beer and fish.

5. Who were the first ancestors to move to your present country (parents, grandparents, etc)? I believe my father's side (German) has been here the longest at either three or four generations, and unless I'm mistaken my mother's mom came over on a boat.

(It's likely I've committed some grievous errors in accuracy here; Matt, do you know any better?)

-Rich

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Yawn

The albino giraffe has a point in her post from the 30th: the web is pretty boring lately! I'm guessing everyone has better things to do than keep the rest of us occupied.

Work on the redesign has begun, and so far I've got a color scheme and a logo. Sort of. I also need to look around for good hosting deals, and then actually do something about that. Other than those things and some mucking about with fonts and the like, not much is likely to change, but any change is likely to be a good thing.

Tripp should be coming into town this evening. If all else fails, guy, you can blog from my place. :-)

-Rich