May 5th, 2004

pod

Computer design is just a lot of stupid stupid signs

Some days the sun shines bright, the bluebirds chirp with joy and happiness, and everything is right with the world.

Those days generally on the opposite of the world from where I am at a given moment. I wouldn't be able to retain my status as a neurotic Jew if this were not the case.

Yesterday was another one of those days where life mistook me for a heavy bag and decided to try out some combinations on my tired ass.

Yesterday started out with the theme song of my favorite Queen song, "Under Pressure." I had to turn in my journal and film paper by 5:00 PM. I woke up at 8:15 AM having had about 4 hours of sleep and with stuff to do until 10:30. By 4:20 I had written 7000 words of fairly coherent work. I faced pretty stiff odds and came up aces.

"Ha" said life. "I bite my thumb at you. I fart in your general direction." You see we finished editing the film last night, late at night. I came home and Frank said he'd burn it to DVD and hand it in by 5. Turns out, Frank didn't know how to do this. And couldn't figure it out.

Two of my pet peeves are being late and not being in control of my own fate. Check and check. I had frantic phone calls and hesistant plans, all the while I was frantically writing my paper and journal, which could have been better had I not spent half an hour trying to sort this out.

When I went to print it out the computer lab was full, including with this little Asian freshman who was not doing work but rather chatting on AOL and looking at pictures of boys. I have been known to read ESPN.com from time to time while taking a break from paper writing in the lab, but is it really fair that you take up hours of much needed computer time so you can tell someone LOL and "U R so kewel" while students who have WORK to do are waiting? I also had a friend there and I was going to ask him if he would let me borrow his computer to print off of (I have explained why I don't have a printer in the past. Basically it's because if I am forced to go to the comp lab to print it means I have to finish my paper early AND I have at least 20 minutes distraction free for polishing. Of the papers. I can polish...other things...at home without any trouble) My friend said he was leaving and I could have his computer. There was someone else in front of me though, so I declined and let him take the open computer while I waited and fumed at AOL idiot in silence. Of course I shouldn't call her that, she might have been IMing with her brother over in Iraq or her dying grandmother in China. She didn't look like it though. She looked she was either flirting or gossiping. I maintained an even disposition.

Finally AOIDIOT got off the computer and I grabbed it. I loaded up my stuff and got ready to write when guess who should appear nearby in need of a computer. If you guessed Kobe Bryant then you're either a first time reader or a bit on the slow side. It's times like these where you feel like there is a God, and he has the personality of Nelson from the Simpsons. He's already got you in a tough spot and he just wants to throw a small "Ha-Ha" your way. Nothing major, nothing catastrophic, just a little tweak and a laugh at your expense.

To make matters interesting there was someone in front of her in the line. I could have theoretically tried to give away my computer, circumventing the line to make myself happy. Of course I could do this in the same theoretical world where I could push homeless men into the train tracks when I'm alone on the platform with them. This was not a real option for me, since one of the FEW things I like about myself is that I'm a reasonably ethical person and don't violate reasonable rules or regulations (like first come first serve at a public facility) unless there's an astoundingly compelling reason (such as someone having a heart attack in the lobby and she needed to look up how to use the defribulator they had on hand.)

That was the first of three times I would pass her on campus that day. Ha-Ha.

I waited for the TA by her mailbox until I was told that she wasn't coming until super late. Another student had to talk to her because he was having computer problems and couldn't print or save. He had been copying text off the computer by hand and was going to hand in a hand-written version. He had a bunch of friends trying to help him. I asked why he didn't just borrow a laptop from one of his friends who had to study (if you're reading your textbooks you won't be using your laptop, right?) and he got this look on his face that said it all. D'oh. It was a Simpson's kind of day.

It's times like that when I suspect I may be an original thinker. None of his buddies concieved of it. Of course that may be because they're idiot freshmen. Don't crack my eggshell world.

I gave my last GED class of the semester in which, instead of treading over bland book material again and again, I made sweeping statements about life and most importantly how to read. I demanded my students reach beyond what they believed their potential was and told them that everyone fails at everything, but not every time, and its how you react to your failures that counts. On the way to class I was singing Tubthumper to myself in my head.

Of course it was a collosal failure, they didn't quite get what I was saying and couldn't follow the passage I asked them to apply my instructions to, but that's okay. I think I was inspirational, in a real way, not a cheap way. That counts for something. Plus I helped them improve their scores during the semester and I presented myself well to them. I think when you're a 50 year old struggling to get a high school degree it's a good thing to know that a student from an elite college respects you.

The Frank thing won't turn out to be a major problem. I'll get the thing onto DVD if I have to. I also talked to the Professor and he said that he'd tell the TA not to penalize us. That's one thing about being punctual with assignments and attentive in class. You earn cache that you can spend with professors when something goes wrong. At least with the good ones.

Yesterday was a bit of the getting knocked down. Today I get up, finish off a couple journal entries and throw myself into my policy paper. You're never gonna keep me down.
  • Current Music
    REM - Automatic for the people
pod

(no subject)

After the last of Eric Foner's civil war lectures this semester, I have decided that I am going to lay out my reasoning for my belief that every person has an obligation to vote in the manner that they believe will help bring the most freedom to the greatest number of people. There is no other legitimate reason to cast a vote, and no legitimate reason NOT to vote if you are legally able to. I will offend some people with this screed. I may even lose some "Friends." Know that were I to say this in person I would try to be more subtle and careful about people's feelings. This is the internet though. Don't let it get to you.

Most people believe that they live in fairly liberal and free times. This is true of most periods in history. People do pine for the past, but generally speaking those are people who want MORE restrictions on freedom, rather than less. The civil war analogy would be the ex-planters, who were hoping and wishing and praying that the glorious institution of slavery would be restored as the law of the land.

Most people in post Civil-war America didn't want a restoration of slavery. They did, however heartily approve of racism, no voting rights for women (most people might be an exageration there, because the vaginaed ones probably would have prefered to have a say, but at least most VOTERS by a large margain) and a host of other things that we'd find abhorrent today. Our federal government tried to push great reforms forward in the form of the 13th-15th ammendments and reconstruction. What happened? The people in power pushed back. They believed that human rights for people of dark skin was not worth the trouble it would cause them and so they INTENTIONALLY and DELIBERATELY set about betraying their oaths of offices and lying about the true meaning of the ammendments (if they were on the Supreme Court) to achieve political goals.

They abdicated their duties in order to help persecute and repress millions of people. They did this and they slept WELL at night. It seemed natural and normal. It seemed all right.

They couched these lies and abandonments in the language of today. Economics. Social goods. It would be better for the blacks to be treated this way. We know what's best.

Things are much better today...aren't they?

From an absolute standpoint I'd say that they are. We've gotten past many of the horrors of the past. The blacks and bumpychests are allowed into ballot booths and public places, there are no more public whippings for minor crimes, heck we even don't let people starve to death (most of the time.)

But there are still issues. Still important issues of rights that are being threatened and trampled on by the government. This is always the most pressing issue of any age.

Let's look at pornography. John Ashcroft is trying to eliminate the right to pornographic expression even as we speak. He has people hired to catalog sex sites on the internet, look at dirty movies and magazine, and prepare for a rash of litigation attempting to circumvent the first ammendment due to the fact that our Supreme Court is too PUSSY to admit that even obscenities are important, and smash the right to sexual self-expression.

I have stated in the past that I consume pornography, and I do. I do, however, have some reservations about it. I read about the marriages torn apart and lives ruined due, at least in some part, to porn, and I blanche. I think about how pornography affects my own ways of thinking and action and the picture isn't necessarily a pretty one. I may stop consuming it in the near future.

Porn may, in fact, be a social harm.

Does that mean it should be regulated? Well I think that it's probably fair to have laws that prevent porn from being foisted on the unwilling (like laws against unsolicited pornographic mailings or projections of pornographic movies in public spaces.) I don't think this because I believe rights have limitations but rather because I think the right to privacy and to not have yourself infringed upon by predictably obnoxious and harmful messages is an important one as well. I'd say preventing other types of unsolicited mailings and offensive blaring advertisements would be fair too.

Should pornography be kept from the hands eyes and ears of adults who want it, and should those who wish to produce it be kept from doing so? In no way, shape, or form. I don't value pornographic expression as particularly important to my way of life. I fancy myself an intellectual and while you can argue intellectually about porn, the vast majority of it has the cerebral content of Kato Kaelin, which is to say not a lot. On the other hand there are people who very much value sexual expression and care just as much about sex and its discussion as I do about Plato or Weber. Do I think that my interests are superior to theirs? Honestly, yes I do. Do I think that there is any reason why laws should favor my value system over theirs? I do not.

Men like Ashcroft don't understand Voltaire's most famous quote. Not only wouldn't they defend to the death the right of someone to say something that they didn't like, but they would gleefully trample over such a defender to get at the offending party. They would love for speech to conform to their beliefs and for America to be reduced to a nation of bleating sheep.

You might not care about that. There are obviously plenty of people who oppose free speech, at least in its most extreme forms, all over the world. There must be some right that you cherish though. Feminists cling fiercly to the right to abortion even as they work to remove the right to tell off-color jokes. Aetheists clamor about freedom of religion even as they attack the second ammendment.

In my opinion these people are no different than those who clamored for self-governance in the South even while pushing for Black disenfranchisement. Or those who clamored for Black men's right to vote while ignoring the rights of women. "Me, me, me." They say. "I want I want I want." That's not what good politics is about.

Political infants.

Even worse are those who vote on the basis of "economic" or "security" policy. We should all know by now that economic policy is pretty much a crapshoot and while there are some controls that governments can implement to aid or hinder the economy, the administration in power is not nearly as important as technilogical advances and world markets. Security is another issue that's pretty arbitrary since those who claim to be for it are often those who fuck it up the worst (Bushie Bushie. He has prevented terrorist attacks on American soil by sending a honking load of Americans overseas so the terrorists can concentrate on killing them. The soldiers dying in roadside bombs in Iraq are the true human shields of American life. Way to go George W. Fill Arlington national cemetary so the folks at home remain temporarily safer. Good plan that. Bushie Bushie.)

Even if that weren't the case though, even if you could make money or save lives with a vote, how much of each is freedom worth? We are always talking about how freedom costs lives and money, but we are so afraid of spilling a drop of our blood or spending a cent from our purses to obtain it. Oh no! We lost 3,000 people in the World Trade Center. Boo-FUCKING hoo! That's the price we're willing to pay for freedom? That's enough for us to shut the books on civil liberties, clasp American citizens in chains without explanation, tap phones without reason, hide evidence from courts and judges?

Oh how easily is our slavery bought. In the Civil War the South was willing to lay down over 250,000 lives to protect its ILLEGITIMATE freedom to own slaves. The North sent over 300,000 young men to early graves to preserve the union and free 4 million people from bondage. These days we encounter 1% of that number and we're rushing to the nearest registration center to turn in our freedoms.

And those who vote on economic lines? Let me ask you a question. How much money would it take for you to overlook the enslaving of a fellow man? How much money would you have taken from your fellow Southerners to vote Democratic in the 1870's and return the South to de facto slavery for 90 years? How much is another man's freedom worth to you. Put a dollar amount on it. Quote me a figure. I don't think there is one. I'd rather be a pauper among the free than a prince among slaves.

Economics are BULLSHIT in the voting arena.

Freedom is the ONLY policy that matters in the long run. Rights are it. There are policy arguments that can be made. You can argue whether Welfare is a boon or a bane to the poor. You can argue about abortion (That's one legitimate reason to vote Republican. If you truly believe that life begins at conception and you are protecting the freedom of all those thinking fetuses. That I can respect. I'll think you're a deluded fool believing in a pack of lies, but I can respect your dedication.)

Politics should be very simple. They should be a discussion about how best to distribute freedoms among the population as a whole. Real freedoms like speech and a just trial, not made up ones like "The freedom to keep the money you earn." Everything else is just icing on the cake.

This was a much better essay when it was concieved, but I didn't have time to write it up then and the wording left me. I'm posting it anyway, sloppy and inconsistant as it is, but I WILL post again on this issue in the future.
pod

I wanna sing slowly without getting wet

I just passed the swim test, a time honored tradition in which Columbia students are required to swim 3 lengths of our 25 yard long swimming pool or they are refused graduation and will not recieve the diploma that has cost them 4 years of their lives and over $100,000 until they can achieve this feat.

I'm not sure why calling a tradition time honored justifies it. Time has very low standards. All you need to do to be time honored is exist, and that's rarely an appropriate way to judge something's worth. Strom Thurmond lived for over a century, Jimi Hendrix only 27 years. Time doesn't know shit about quality.

It's not clear to me exactly what purpose the swim test serves. There are two theories out there that seem equally likely. One is that, since Manhattan is an island, back in the early days before there were numerous reliable bridges off of it Columbia students had to be ready to swim to New Jersey in case the city caught fire or was invaded or some such. Now it would admittedly be a difficult choice to decide whether to stay on a burning Manhattan or swim to Jersey, and I understand why the school might want to make sure that students had that option (at the very least they could dive into the Hudson and hug the coastline around the borough until they reached The Bronx or Brooklyn) if push came to shove. On the other hand I'm not sure what being able to swim 75 yards proves in this regard. That will get you just far enough out into the Hudson that you can drown, or up until a few years ago have your skin melted off by the toxins in the water.

The other theory is that the Swim test was instituted because a gentleman should know how to swim. If this seems a blatenly sexist claim don't worry. Columbia was a blatently sexist institution until a little over two decades ago, and it has maintained this tradition when it comes to aquatic exercise. There's a big red sign on the women's locker room stating that the law requires them to shower before entering the pool. No such sign exists for the men. Whether this is because women bleed from their crotches from time to time and are thus inherently filthy animals or it assumed that men are so lacking in higenic skills that asking them to shower is pointless is unclear. Nonetheless the double standard lives proudly on, emblazoned upon doors on the bottom level of the Dodge Fitness center.

The gentleman story seems at least more likely than the 'flee to New Jersey' idea, but it still suffers from the flaw of "why 75 yards?" This seems to be the $4.95 question. It may be humorous to envision a group of effete blue bloods in full gentlemanly regalia flailing impotently at the water for 75 yards and being declared fit to rule on account of their physical incompetence, such a test would only demonstrate a single of the characteristics necessary to make a good nobleman. There is no wenching requirement at Columbia, a good thing for me, and thus the gentlemen theory is only marginally better than the one about accessing the Garden State in case of emergency.

The truth of the matter is that the Swim Test is just one of those administrative oddities that nobody can explain. It doesn't really prove anything or serve any purpose. It's merely there. I once went to a camp that had a real swim test. They'd take you out at night in groups of 3 in a rowboat to the middle of the lake and shove you into the water, fully dressed including shoes. You were expected to make it to the shore alive. As a safety precaution someone on shore would flash a powerful light into your eyes every 30 seconds or so to make sure that there were still 3 heads above the water and none of them could see. This would result in at least one of the applicants swimming in circles for a bit until his eyes cleared, but that was just part of the test. It was an effective test though, over 85% of campers made it to shore alive and they were certainly fit for any swimming scenario that might crop up during the rest of the camp.

The Columbia test is significantly less sadistic. One enters the pool area, fills out a little card with your name and social security number (how long until you're required to give your social security number out when using public transportation or buying a newspaper at the local stand?) flashes an ID card that they glance at and assume is yours, and swims when one is ready. Honestly the most difficult part is making sure not to glance at another guy's wang when in the changing area. My enhanced peripheral vision thanks to LHG made this particularly hard. I think that locker rooms should have blinders available for just this purpose.

My swim test experience was fairly painless. I got into the pool wearing my shirt, and decided that I was going to do the crawl the entire 75 yards, aided by the buoyancy of my fat and the fact that despite being obese I do work out fairly reguarly and thus have the stamina to propel myself over 3/4s the length of a football time given an unlimited amount of time. Unfortunately this plan was cut short by the fact that the pool had been chlorinated by someone who apparently wanted to protect swimmers from both bacteria and any Water Buffalo that might stumble into it by mistake. If you had added a tanker of sodium to the pool you would have had a few thousand gallons of salt. I spent the rest of the test swimming with my head held high above the water, its fumes so heavy in my nose that I now have a pretty good idea what it must be like to work in a disinfectant factory.

One more barrier to my graduation from Columbia has now been surmounted. All I have left is two papers and one test, all of which I should do poorly on.

I suppose I shall soon find out whether, in the real world, I will sink or...well...you get the idea.
  • Current Music
    Counting Crows