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Tommyjournal  archive    November 2007

For a while last Sunday, the most-read article on the NY Times web site was Taking Science on Faith by physicist Paul Davies. He said has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.
Yes and no. Scientists need to be careful about assuming that nature is ordered in an any preconceived way. Discoveries made in the twentieth century put that spirit to a serious test, with some physicists resisting the conclusion that aspects of quantum mechanics could be random.

Professor Davies also said
Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from "that's not a scientific question" to "nobody knows." The favorite reply is, "There is no reason they are what they are--they just are." The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality--the laws of physics--only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.
Whoa. I think it's unfair to demand such an answer to "why". Everyday notions of time and space don't apply at scales where relativity comes into play, and that should humble us. By analogy, we probably shouldn't assume that our everyday notions of causality and agency apply at all conceptual levels.

There's a great chapter in The Feynman Lectures on Physics that explains why measurements of a particle's spin with respect to two different axes must be related in a certain way. As Feynman put it:
...there is a very beautiful thing in quantum mechanics--that from the sheer fact that there are three states and from the symmetry properties of space under rotations, these [rotation] coefficients can be found purely by abstract reasoning. [...] You may, if you wish, consider this as a sort of cultural excursion. [...] The excursion is "cultural" in the sense that it is intended to show that the principles of quantum mechanics are not only interesting, but are so deep that by adding a few extra hypotheses about the structure of space, we can deduce a great many properties of physical systems.

Feynman Lectures, Vol. III,  p. 6-2
Although Feynman's reasoning relies on certain assumptions, it hints at the possibility that physical laws--or at least some of them--are inevitable.

Asking why the laws of physics are what they are might be as pointless as asking why pi has a value between 3 and 4 and not between 4 and 5.

I'm blogging from my dad's house, from the room that was my bedroom during my late teenage years. It's the room in which I managed, in 1980, to initiate my best (straight) friend into the mysteries of buttfucking. He would only try being top. "I think I'm emotionally ready to get fucked but not physically," he said. "No, I think it's the other way around," I told him.

Earlier this evening, while reminiscing about other experiences I'd had here, I thought about a guy I once brought home from what was at the time the nearest gay bar, Pal Joey's. I wondered whether or not it still existed; I Googled, and among the first results were several pages about a hate crime committed near Pal Joey's in 1992 that resulted in the death of a gay man. The story illustrates what kind of a suburban closet gay people lived in here in 1992 (not that I know how much it has changed since). From a book's account of the incident:
"It was lucky for us that two of the witnesses were not gay," said Sgt. William Cocks, of the Nassau County homicide unit, commenting on the fact that no one from Pal Joey's would come forward to testify. Angelo Esposito was later apprehended and charged with manslaughter, not murder. At a trial that was monitored by the New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, Esposito was given the maximum manslaughter sentence, but only after the Project focused a great deal of media attention on the case, something that, for the most part, the gay community on Long Island did not favor.

How to Survive Your Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships by Perry Brass, p. 110
Pal Joey's parking lot is one of only two places where I've ever been threatened by punks because I was gay. I was lucky; it wasn't much of a threat. (Suburbia is usually tame, after all.) While I was walking to the bar one evening in 1982 or thereabouts, several late-teenage males in a car that stopped near me started asking me questions. Finally, a guy in the back seat held up his hand with his jacket draped over it, and said, "I have a gun under this jacket. Give me your wallet."

"Yeah, right," I said, and walked away and into the bar.

I'm in New York--enjoying cool air, blue sky, and trees in various stages of fall color.

I'm not big on traditional holidays. Contrarian that I am, I took pleasure in flying across the country yesterday while most Americans were having Thanksgiving dinner.

Had this been the twentieth century, when hot meal service from airlines was routine, I could have had Thanksgiving dinner in the air. But this is 2007, I was flying jetBlue, and I got... a bag of chips. There was a second round of snacks later in the flight, but the attendant missed serving my seat and the two next to me. "They totally skipped us," said the young woman to my right.

Being skipped--nay, totally skipped--didn't matter much to me. I had some mild flu-like thing going on yesterday and didn't have much appetite.

I'm feeling OK now though. My dad's doing good too.

Many people are aware that the Roe in Roe v. Wade is a John-Doe-style pseudonym, but fewer have heard of Tommy Toe. One litigant took action against Mr. Toe et al., as evidenced by this caption:
Wilbur H. FRIEDMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Thomas B. FERGUSON, Director, Department of Animal Control, a state actor, in his official and individual capacities; Brett Boe; Carla Coe; Donna Doe; Frank Foe; Grace Goe; Harry Hoe; State Actors, Advisors To Defendant Ferguson, In Their Official and Individual Capacities (identities currently unknown); Marta Moe; Norma Noe; Paula Poe; Ralph Roe; Sammy Soe; Tommy Toe; Private Individuals Who Conspired With the Foregoing State Actors (identities currently unknown); Roger W. Galvin, Chairman, Animal Matters Hearing Board; Vince Voe; William Woe; Xerxes Xoe; Members of the Animal Matters Hearing Board, State Actors, In Their Official and Individual Capacities (identities currently unknown), Defendants-Appellees

Friedman v. Ferguson, 850 F.2d 689, 1988 WL 68404 (4th Cir.)

My dad is 93. Although he's doing well, he (understandably) likes having someone else around the house. My brother is usually there, but he needs to be somewhere else for six weeks (Thanksgiving through New Year's). I will be keeping my dad company during that time.

This came up on short notice, necessitating the rearrangement of various plans I'd had. Fortunately, everything is under control. In fact, I feel grateful as hell for all the support I've gotten to make this trip practical, some aspects of which exemplify the kind of personal service one gets in a small town, to wit:

The pharmacist in town has gone out of his way to keep me from running out of medications while I'm away, even though they're normally refillable at 30-day intervals. "I make things work for people," he said.

The Post Office will hold my mail for longer than the official 30 day limit (DMM 153.19). "We bend the rules here," the manager said.

A neighbor will water my plants, and refuses any payment therefor.

Then there's the matter of traveling at one of the more hectic times of year. My strategy is to go in the eye of the hurricane, so to speak. I am flying to New York on Thanksgiving Day, in the hope that the mad rush exists around--but not on--that date. It'll be interesting to see how well that works.

I live 3½ hours from a major airport, making air travel a bit of a production. I'm grateful to my friend Mark for offering a place to park my car in Los Angeles while I'm away.

And I'm grateful that two people who I'd planned to do things with this week have graciously understood why I needed to cancel.

For this Thanksgiving, I acknowledge all the people who have been so helpful to me.

I need to think of a project to keep me occupied while I'm in New York. No, I will not build another marimba.

From an online discussion on (criticism of) bike riding techniques:
"You should have seen them descending like madmen..."

meaning the riders were faster than the speaker, nothing more.
Same thing with criticism of sexual habits. "He's a slut" often means no more than "He has more sex than I do".

I had to smile when R called a certain gay man a slut. Of the people in R's wedding party last year, R himself had had sex with two of the bridesmaids and two of the groomsmen.

Straight people in general can be horrified at the extent of some gay men's sexual experience. I detect envy at times, too--especially when it's a man commenting on guys who get more action than he does.

Why do I bring all this up? I notice that no straight readers have (yet) joined in the fun of guessing who was who in yesterday's Tommyjournal entry. Is that a tacit expression of revulsion, disinterest, apathy, or what? I don't claim to know, but I'll hold off on giving the correct answers for another day or two to give everyone a chance.

No one so far (i.e., up through the comment at 7:55 this morning) has hit the right combination. You can eliminate 4 of 16 possible guesses, increasing your chances.

Over the years, I've compared notes with friends about sexual encounters we've had. Herewith, my recollection of a few phone conversations; readers are invited to guess which speaker (identified by letter) was Tommy in each conversation. I'll give the correct answers if no one gets all four right.

from 1980:
A:Guess who I went home with last night.
B:Little Al.
A:How'd you know?
B:He's the only one in the bar you hadn't gone home with yet.

circa 1989:
C:His user interface had a great look and feel.
D:I don't know what you're talking about.
C:He was good in bed.

circa 1993:
E:He was cute, but we'd never work out as boyfriends. There were no books in his apartment. Just tropical fish.
F:Fresh water or salt water?
E:Fresh water.
F:Yeah, you're better off passing on that one.

circa 1994:
G:I had a 3-way with Philip and his roommate. The roommate's cute, but Philip has a bigger dick.
H:That's very important.
G:The roommate has a nicer ass.
H:That's very important.

reptile sign

Looks like a bear market in T-cells. How strong is the support at 220? Will we see a breakthrough? Check back in five months.
CD4 cells per µL
Company T, where I interviewed last week, decided not to offer me the job. (Contact me directly if you want to know why.)

I asked my friend D (who wants to hire me if he gets his new business started) whether I could bring a dog to work. He said he couldn't promise it right now, but he didn't see why not. Woo woo!

During a confirmation hearing, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey said
If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.
This is an exemplar of hollow politician-speak. It takes no stand on whether waterboarding is torture. (It is, Mr. Mukasey--and shame on you for not being willing to say so.)

It doesn't even affirm that torture in general is unconstitutional. Mukasey's statement is consistent with the position that waterboarding is not torture and torture is not unconstitutional.

I don't give Mukasey the benefit of the doubt associated with the difficulty of extemporaneously phrasing a coherent statement. He's a judge, and it should be his business to deal in clarity. And as he had every reason to expect he'd be asked about torture and waterboarding in his confirmation hearings, he had plenty of time to consider how he'd respond.

I think it's no accident he made a statement that says so little.

By way of contrast, consider the Patriot Guard Riders' mission statement that I quoted last week, where they said they intervene "through strictly legal and non-violent means". That's clear. I wish politicians would talk that way.

Politics is distasteful as hell, which makes many people want to ignore it, which makes it easier for politicians to operate.

A Monarch Notes commentary on The Stranger makes a point of how Camus never tells you Mersault's lawyer's name. I doubt there'll ever be a Monarch Notes (or Cliff's Notes) for Tommyjournal--but if there were, the commentary on the October 2007 entries might speculate on why the dog was not named.

It was because I don't like her name much. But as it would be awkward to write about her further without using her name, I hereby bite the bullet: she is Lulu.

If the pics of her I posted are striking, credit should also go to Fuji for their Neopan 400 black and white negative film, and to Lulu herself for being so photogenic. But she was not happy about being photographed. I don't know if it was the mechanical noise of a SLR, or if she had an inkling of what was going on and just didn't like it. For what it's worth, I don't like having my picture taken either. Lulu and I are eerily in sync on some things.

The film's characteristic tonal rendition and grain are essential to the look of the images. I imagine they could be simulated by massaging data from a digital camera, but I'm not ready to get rid of my SLR and lenses yet. I know, I should get a digital camera too, yes yes yes. But black and white film still rocks.

A little backstory: Lulu and I were drawn to each other from the start. While hiking to some climbs at Owens River Gorge a couple years ago, I was the only one she would let carry her when we crossed the water. Although she lives in Phoenix most of the time, she still likes me enough that she tends to sit next to me even when her owner or someone else she's spent more time with is around.

Lulu's owner is, graciously, offering her to me. She has already gotten another Australian Cattle Dog (a younger sister of Lulu) for her daughter. Lulu could be my dog. It's embarrassingly fortunate; I didn't have to housebreak or train Lulu or put up with her chewing things, but she comes to me pre-bonded.

The problem--a big one--is that I will be taking a job in an office setting, and I don't care to leave Lulu alone for eight hours a day.

I'm going back to work after a several-year hiatus because I feel up to it, and because good opportunities have arisen. (I'm not giving full names in the account that follows--for discretion, not because I don't like the names.)

My friend D is trying to start a new company. He is one of the smartest, most fun, and most trustworthy people I've ever worked with. I would love to work with him again, and if he gets his venture started he would like to offer me a job.

Another company (hereafter referred to as T) contacted D a few weeks ago to ask if he could recommend anyone experienced in the kind of work that I do. D gave them my name, even though he would rather be able to hire me than see me go work at T.

Upon hearing about that, my friend B said, "D must not think he'll be able to start his company and/or he thinks you'd be better off working at T." I said, "No, D is a gentleman and would like me to have the choice."

Upon hearing the same story, my friend P said, "Wow, D is an unusually decent person." I said, "Yes, and that's part of why I would love to work for him again."

I was struck by the two different reactions, and what they reveal about the viewpoints of B and P. I'm also struck by the wide variation in integrity one finds among businessmen. Some (few) are as decent as D; on the other end of the spectrum, there are characters like Amr Mohsen.

I was in the bay area last week to interview at T. They have an interesting project for me to work on, but I haven't heard back from them yet. If they offer me a job, I'll have to choose between a bird in the hand and a gig with D's company that may or may not start up in a few months. Having choice is nice, but this will be a hard choice.

In any case, as much as I would like to have Lulu around, the opportunity to work with D again (or to work at T) is too good to pass up. I mean, yet another good company to work for that even lets you bring your dog to work contacted me a couple weeks ago, but I am passing on them because I like the opportunities with D or T even more.

I'm excited but I'm also thrown for a loop. Whichever job I take will entail living and working somewhere else for a while, a big change of routine. It should make for interesting blogging; I haven't blogged that frequently over the past year because not that much different happened from day to day.



I'm in the SF bay area for a few days. I hung out with friends this afternoon, but I had the morning free and drove up to Castle Rock State Park by myself. (I climbed there a lot when I lived here in the 1990s.)

I didn't climb today, but I eyed some of my favorite routes. I remembered how, on Goat Rock, you reach right for a ledge, find another somewhat hidden hold for your other hand, cut your legs free and hang in space, and then reach right again and crank over the top. It wasn't the same as climbing, but I had a good time--and I wasn't feeling particularly frustrated over having neither a partner with me nor shoulders that could withstand the exertion.

A sign I saw in front of a hotel in Silicon Valley cracked me up. It was supposed to say "10th night free", but the 1 was missing: 0th night free. How do you collect on a free zeroth night? Do guests who program in C (and who are wont to call the first element of a vector the zeroth element) expect the first night to be on the house?

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