Tommyjournal  archive    December 2003

Tuesday  12.30.03

A barb thrown (in recent email) by a co-worker at another co-worker:
I would thank you for your patience if you had any.
I think it's a cool turn of phrase, but it's not something I would say in email. I might say it to someone face-to-face, but only if they really deserved it.

Monday  12.29.03

Dinner party this evening at a neighbor's house. I meet a couple from southern California. I ask the woman about her work; she says she's an assistant to an artist. Said artist works under 29 names, paints in different styles--and uses pseudonyms, so that painting in one style doesn't ruin his career painting in another style. The woman says part of her job is writing bios for these various noms de paintbrush. I ask whether any of the artist's avatars was furthered by inventing a 'bad boy' persona, and she said no, nothing like that.

Okay, so consumers don't just buy art, they buy an image or a mystique--but does that mean it serves the buyers right that they are told stories? Is writing fictional artist biographies an honest way to make a living?

Saturday  12.27.03

Today, I visited my jailed neighbor/friend. I'd never been to a jail before (sheltered life I've led, huh). One gets the impression it was designed to be the kind of place you don't want to be in. I don't remember seeing any Christmas decorations (not that I like them anyway). My friend and I got about 20 minutes to talk--not the half hour I was told to expect--but I imagine there's not much benefit to be had by complaining to the staff. We sat on opposite sides of a thick piece of glass and spoke by intercom: a crummy sounding intercom, worse than a long distance phone connection. I hope whoever monitors the conversations at least gets better audio quality.

I wondered what it was like to work at the jail. I'm reminded me of a conversation I had at the Denver airport about 17 years ago, with an airline employee who'd told me my flight would be delayed a few hours:

TommyI love sitting around in airports.
agentWhat do you think it's like to work in them!

Strange, to see a friend wearing striped prison clothes; to see someone awaiting a trial that will determine whether he walks free or goes to prison, potentially for a long time; to be of the opinion that he made some mistakes but to also feel that the punishment in this case is potentially out of proportion to the offense; to see a friend doing whatever it takes to fight for his freedom, including being very calculated about everything he says, even to those who he used to be straightforward with; and strange, that "justice" is often a function of how much money one can afford to spend on a lawyer.

At least my friend gets a public defender. He's not at Guantánamo Bay.

Being free to drive away from the jailhouse made an impression on me. It was a moment of seeing my life from a broader perpective.

Monday  12.22.03

Winter Solstice is behind us. Go sun...! The solstice is my New Year's. Eliminate the middleman (thousands of years of culture which left us with a calendar that fixes the holiday some 10 days later) and celebrate the real thing, I say.

I felt something go twang in the palm of my left hand yesterday (I think that's the scientific term for it <g>). I wasn't doing anything strenuous or abrupt; it just happened. It didn't hurt bad at the time, I thought it wouldn't amount to much and felt as much mystified by it as I was annoyed. But pain increased as the day went on; the flexor tendons for my left middle finger appear to be strained near where the finger joins the hand. I hurt that tendon system bad about 2.5 years ago while climbing, and I suspect that yesterday's twang was a little reprise of that incident. It's a sucky kind of injury; connective tissue doesn't get the blood supply that, say, muscles do, and can take a while to heal.

I say "tendon system" because that finger has two flexor tendons, one longer than the other. The longer tendon bifurcates at one point inside the finger; the two pieces rejoin a little farther out. The shorter tendon passes through the opening in the longer tendon. This fact is irrelevant to the injury at hand (pun intended); I mention it just because I think the body is way cool--or, as my doctor put it: it's fucking amazing.

No, I didn't feel the
magnitude 6.5 earthquake in California this morning.

Sunday  12.21.03

According to a recent poll, more Americans (49% to 41%) believe homosexual relations between adults should be against the law. Sigh. In light of that finding, the 6-3 Lawrence v. Texas decision seems quite remarkable. The best thing I can say about that poll is that it found young people more accepting of homosexuality, so there's some hope for a saner future--long term, anyway. In the nearer term, gay marriage is shaping up as a potential issue in the 2004 presidential election. Bush is happy to capitalize on the distaste his consituency has for people like me. And some people wonder why I don't like him.

As long as we're on the topic of remarkable polls:  53% of Americans recently surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein was involved with the attacks on 9/11/2001; a letter in today's NY Times comments on that finding:
It is stunning evidence of three things: the willingness of the administration to distort the truth to win popular support for a pointless war; the reluctance of the mainstream media to challenge the administration's prevarications; and the failure of the majority of Americans to accept the responsibilities of informed citizenship.
I wouldn't call it a pointless war, but rather an ill-considered one. But yes, stunning is the right word.

Monday  12.15.03

What's in a name?

"Thomas" comes from Greek didymus, meaning "twin" or "testicle". No, my parents didn't know this when they chose my name.

Friday  12.12.03

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic.  - Bertrand Russell
The best argument I have against belief on faith (i.e., without evidence) is that arbitrary beliefs cause division in the world. For instance: my grandmother hated the idea that her daughter was marrying a man of another religion. She wore black to the wedding.

This topic came up in conversation with a friend last night. She said that arbitrary beliefs weren't necessarily divisive; the problem, she said, is in how people hold their beliefs, and whether or not they are tolerant of others. That reminds me of the notion that white lies are okay.

Problem is, people often aren't tolerant of others who don't share their (unfounded) beliefs--especially when the belief systems of large groups are involved.
Madness is rare in individuals--but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.  - Friedrich Nietzsche
And are not white lies insidious precisely because they seem so innocuous?

I tell white lies sometimes. But usually as a last resort.

Monday  12.08.03

two Ralphs, and their progeny

A friend of 36 years (named Ralph) invited me to his daughter's Bat Mitzvah next year. It's about 2300 miles away; I'm not sure whether I'll be there. In the invitation, he said
I know you are not too religious (spiritual yes). Nonetheless I hope you can make this.
Whoa.  Do I believe in an incorporeal, animating spirit? No.  Do I believe in heaven and hell? No.  Karma and/or reincarnation? No.

On the other hand--  Do I treasure the nonmaterial (e.g., music, understanding, love)? Yes.  Do I cultivate a detached attitude toward the material? Somewhat.  Am I bored by people who are mainly interested in material things? Often.

Despite my believing neither in an incorporeal spirit nor in an afterlife, do I have any sense of the numinous?  Good question.

All words are artificial--but I'm struck by how inexact and problematic the words associated with certain important topics are. I tend to avoid using the word "spiritual" because it's understood in too many different ways.

I know of one religion (which I won't name here) that takes a stand against religious indoctrination of children. I don't see eye to eye with them about a bunch of topics, but I have a certain respect for this statement of theirs:
It is our position that children and adolescents should not be indoctrinated into the assumptions and prescriptions of any suprarational system, whether it be our own philosophy or the faiths and superstitions of conventional religions. Rather their youthful years should be a time of exclusively rational training and education, giving them a sound and meaningful basis by which, as adults, they may consider and choose whatever philosophy or faith seems most meaningful to them.

A friend of 3 years (named Ralph) and his sweetheart Sonja are expecting a child. Sonja had told me on several occasions that she didn't want a kid, but that if she got pregnant she wouldn't have an abortion. So when she told me today that she was expecting, I was at a loss for words; should I say "congratulations" when it was likely that the pregnancy wasn't intentional?

While I was at a loss for words, another thought went through my mind, a thought I kept to myself: Ralph is hot, and if his kid is a boy, he's probably gonna grow up to be hot also.

Postscript (summer 2011): it was a boy, but a laboratory test says that Ralph is not the biological father.

Friday  12.05.03

I love how it feels to come home to the desert. I love seeing 50+ miles through clean dry air, I love the mountains, I love Joshua trees, I love empty roads you can drive like hell on, I love coming through Death Valley at sundown.

And I love the Goldwell Open Air Museum, "situated conveniently in the middle of nowhere", with--among other things--the delightful, big (considerably taller than you or I) steel sculpture Homage to Shorty Harris.

sculpture at Rhyolite

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