Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is this a joke about people who are gay and fat?

I'm hunkered down for the upcoming retake of my history examination. Updates will generally be short and infrequent. Luckily, the world provides spectacular content that basically writes its own stories.


Apparently, Israel's increasing tolerance for homosexuals since the 1988 decriminalization has been causing the high number of earthquakes. According to one member of parliament, the "legitimacy of sodomy" is the cause of four earthquakes in the past three months.

Granted, he's from the ultra-orthodox party (a group who is not known for throwing great parties, to begin with). But I think it's very strange that G_d would vent his anger against gays by inflicting a region with earthquakes. Sure, He gets all the uppity progressive lawmakers and all the homosexuals, but also the righteous and a whole lotta Palestinians and Arabs. The Islamic Palestinians aren't known for their gay tolerance (they have "reeducation camps" that feature daily beatings and, oddly enough, anal insertion), so I can only assume that the earthquakes that effect where they live are for some other reason.

Like being non-believers. Yeah. Let's go with that one. Boy, it's a good thing G_d has a clearly-defined method for telling people which apocalyptic punishments are for which offenses; it prevents us from having to guess wildly.

Otherwise we might misinterpret His will.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stop pestering me over IM!

I woke up this morning after having not one, but THREE dreams involving instant messaging communications. I woke up mid-dream in the third, which was about asking a girl out over IM. I know that's a dream, because I wouldn't ever do it in that medium. I remember the story of an acquaintence who had been broken up with via IM message, and I also remember thinking, "That's just about the most lazy and insensitive way to talk to anyone."

It was one of those time-release judgments, because the more I've thought about it over the years, the more it seems just plain awful. Perhaps if the people lived on two separate coasts and it was a large financial event to get together; perhaps then it might be acceptable. These two people lived in the same town. Perhaps even the same dorm. Bad juju!

But back to my dream. As I mentioned, I had dreams involving sending and receiving messages. My IM client makes a particular two-tone sound when a message is received. It's sort of a "boo-DEEP". Imagine you're still three-quarters asleep after a night of hearing that "boo-DEEP" sounds, and suddenly you hear this, muffled through the wall:

It started off as one, at first. It was accompanied by an action in the dream, i.e. I received a message. Then it started happening repeatedly, and my screen was filled with messages. At this point, I started to wake up and realized it was all a dream, and that it was just a flight of geese taking off and talking about it.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How do you like me now, less-than-three and a half million other people?

Received February 10.

Subject: Andrew, you are more desired than less than 20% of all people


"In total, you were viewed 8 times and no people expressed interest in you.
You are more desirable than less than 20% of 17,727,811 people.

Last week you were viewed 8 times and no people expressed interested in you."

I'm focusing on the positive, and trying not to wade my way through the subtext of all the opposing qualitative modifiers.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Self-diagnosis of Shock

I got home from a late rehearsal and hoped to be able to sit down and write about politics. I'd already halfway composed a light-hearted exploration of potential fallout from Candidate Romney's withdrawal... sorry, "suspension" of his campaign.

But the only place to escape news is to be asleep, in this day and age. The top headline on Yahoo was about a shooting at a council meeting in Missouri. Really? I think.

It turns out that it was a horrific shooting in the suburb next to the one where I grew up. A shooting at a building I've driven by hundreds of times in my life. It was at a city council meeting; one of those boring meetings where people talk about dog poop ordinances, and whether or not someone can put a giant naked statue of Elanor Roosevelt on their lawn. By the way, they can't.

Some guy shot a killed a policeman outside, then shot and killed another policeman inside. Then, shouting "shoot the mayor", he proceeded to kill at least three more people. The Public Works director died instantly, shot in the head. The City Attorney tried to attack the gunman by throwing chairs.

The Public Works Director? What the hell! The gunman had been forcibly removed from a meeting two weeks ago, and had a long history of disrupting the council meetings. But why this violence? What made it a "good" idea to kill policemen and small-time bureaucrats?

Honestly, what the fuck?

Is this the new way our society works? As the population increases, do the number of violent and mentally unstable people increase? Do they have access to more destructive means of killing people?

I know it's the accepted thing to say how unstable the gunman was. How messed up his life. How he just snapped. Is that enough? Is that all the answer we'll ever have?

I suppose this is why society invents superheroes and gods. We yearn to have someone who's able to stop the unstoppable. Who can explain the unexplainable. Who can prevent the innocent from dying pointlessly.

I heard this news, and I didn't think it effected me. At first, it was just another senseless tragedy. But the immediacy of the location brings me in. The fact that I've seen the mayor's name a hundred times in the local newspaper brings me in. The fact that someone thought the town council in a little suburb of St. Louis deserved to die; that brought me in.

And I basically started going into shock. Tingling at the extremities. Cold fingers and toes. Short breaths. A strange inverted feeling in my eyes. An inability to concentrate on anything.

Luckily, I was chatting with a friend who dropped whatever concerns she'd been talking about and told an impromptu story about a singing lobster, after I had told her it was nice to be chatting with someone as long as I didn't have to think about anything. By the end of the story, I had made myself hot tea and seized control of my rebellious body. I'm still a little short of breath and cold, but that's nothing that bundling up under the covers won't fix.

In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, I had a similar reaction. One day I was just sitting in my apartment watching the TV, and I started crying. Sobbing. Moaning. I just couldn't stop. I remember trying to explain to my girlfriend about how awful it was that people would kill each other so senselessly. In retrospect, it seems a rather silly thing to cry over; there are bad men in the world. But, bless her, my girlfriend just sat there with me while I cried into her lap. She said soothing things over and over and kissed my forehead. And it was better.

I'm sure many people react that way. The clawing insanity of actions like this shooting can temporarily drive anybody just a little bit crazy.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I have (at most fourteen) judgmental friends!

I often feel that the online social network site is doing things without me paying attention. Lately, that feeling is because Facebook is judging me. Through email, no less!

I've been receiving "Facebook Social News for Andrew Schwartz". It sounds very official, but it's really just spam from one of the many add-ons. Here's the latest:

Social News for February 7, 2008
Here is what your friends think about...

... your strengths:

#7 most generous
#10 most helpful
#10 best listener

... your weaknesses:

#30 most attractive
#31 most talented

I was momentarily distracted by the possibility that somehow Facebook could empirically analyze my picture, my favorite movies, and my selected quote and derive all this information about me. And relative to my friends, no less! Surely the Navy needs this technology.

How it actually works is that people are presented with a question "who would I rather take shopping?" and then two pictures of friends. Based on the choice, one person gets a positive vote and the other gets a negative. With enough responses, I suppose this would get to be a somewhat reliable index of how your friends think of you in relation to their other friends.

Sure, there's some inherent weaknesses. For example, if I may be voted "most athletic" if someone's group of friends consists mostly of fat couch potatoes. But I'd be in a bad way for "most humorous" if someone's friends contained all the top comedians of our day.

Those individual differences would get smoothed over by a large number of "averaging" responses. Unfortunately, there haven't been a lot of responses. In total, I'm rated in 14 categories, and none of them has more than a single vote.

In eight categories, I received the YES, accompanied by my ranking amongst my friends: more generous (7th), more likely to do a favor (10th), better listener (10th), rather hang out with for a day (11th), rather date (11th), funnier (11th), more cuddly (12th), and more reliable (14th).

In six categories, I received the NO: would make a better father (16th), more likely to skip class (27th), more fashionable (28th), braver (30th), more attractive (30th), and more naturally talented (31st).

Assuming I'm being compared to all the results of my 64 friends, all of these seem to be positive results. Of course, they're basically one step up from meaningless, since it's only a single vote each time. Plus, I have no way of knowing if it's a single person who voted 14 times, or 14 individual people who voted once and then said, "this is stupid."

But just in case you want to ignore it for all the reasons I listed above, they give it a sense of time-urgency and real life movement. The bottom part of each week's social update gives a step-by-step on the weeks rank changes.

Changes in your ranks:
1 place down, now #7 most generous
1 place down, now #10 best listener
7 places up, now #10 most helpful
1! place down, now #11 most cuddly
2 places down, now #11 most dateable

Seven "helpful" places this week! I must have been really helpful!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reflex Action

"Reflex action = A biological control system linking stimulus to response and mediated by a reflex arc." -- Wikipedia

A friend confided in me last night that she has been raped. Twice.

I hear people talking about the onset of horrible news like being punched in the gut. In this case, it was more like trying to read a sign from far away. My eyes looked past my monitor, causing the text to fall out of focus. I squinted a bit, aided by a long exhalation of my remaining breath through my slightly parted lips.

In a lot of ways, I'm thankful that I was chatting at the computer. I didn't have to worry about showing the right emotions on my face. Instead, my brain was working overdrive. What should I say? How do I respond?

One of my first pondered responses was to say, "Is there anything I can do?" I decided against it, though. One incident occurred years ago; there's probably not anything that needs to be "urgently" done. It's almost automatic, though. When someone says something bad happened, good people are trained to say almost without thinking: "What can I do?" We, the newly informed, feel a need to get up and do something because anything is better than just sitting here slowly digesting ill news.

When someone tells me something shocking or surprising, my brain screams for more information. I've said before that the guiding principle in my life is to understand things, and my first step on that road is to gather up information. As soon as possible after such an admission, I give the "disclaimer". As much as I want to know everything about everything, that's just not always a good idea. People can be pressed too hard about things they don't want to discuss. When I made this realization (which is a whole other story), I realized it was best to instantly (and with regularity) give people a way out.

I have nightmares where I come across like a prosecuting attorney, asking question after question while peeling away the layers of people's privacy. So I balance the quest for knowledge with the goal of not taking people further than they're comfortable. The disclaimer is just that: a confirmation that it's all right to talk about this now. Or ever!

This links into the same inflexible code I have about rules and laws. The same honor that makes people exasperated at me for stopping at yellow lights and keeps me uncomfortable if I'm over the speed limit also prevents me from breaking my word. If somebody says, "I don't want to talk about this," the conversation is over. I may turn the facts around in my head for weeks afterwards, but I'm not going to speak of it again until they bring it up.

At some point in the conversation, I get some tendrils of thought from the testosterone-driven parts of my brain. They say, "Let's go to these guys houses and beat the shit out of them!" I don't know where these thoughts come from, as I'm not a violent person. Maybe it's a result of television ethics, where if someone hurts your friends, you hurt them. With a bat. Or maybe it comes from the caveman brain that just wants to club mean people.

Those thoughts disappear on their own, mostly because I have no idea who the guys are, where they live, what they look like, or what state they're in.

So what do I say? I couldn't decide. I want to be there to help her if she wants it, but I don't want to imply that she's helpless. I want to let her know I have sympathy for her, but I don't want to be patronizing. I want to let her know how much I appreciate her belief in me for telling me, but I don't want to make her feel isolated.

Above all, I want to say all the appropriate things and not make the situation worse somehow with a careless remark.

So, I take the novel approach of telling her that I can't find the words. I tell her that I hear her and understand what she's saying. I tell her that I have opinions and beliefs that I just can't seem to articulate, and I don't want that to appear to be apathy or emotionless response.

And then I try to write a blog entry to make sense of it, ex post facto.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Pain in the Neck!

I'm typing at my computer now because after several days of no pain in my throat, it has decided to return. It hurts a bit to talk and a whole lot to swallow, so I'm doing the next best thing by whisking my fingers over my keyboard in a vain attempt to express myself.

I've sat down at the computer several times this week. I suppose it's "writer's block" to feel the need to write something, but be stymied. It's starting to haunt me a bit, this inability to come up with whatever it is that I think I should be writing about. I don't feel any pressure to perform, because my core audience is mostly people randomly arriving on this blog because of something random I said. The current favorite is "adults playing doctor" and darned if I don't need THAT kind of traffic coming here.

At a rehearsal this afternoon, a friend asked if I knew of any Super Bowl parties amongst our general acquaintence. I shook my head, because that's something that never really gelled here in Kansas City (at least in my circle of friends). My buddy then said that people may end up at the house of a tangential acquaintence. To this, I said, "I don't really care much for that guy as a person, so I won't be going."

It was the first time in recent memory that I've expressed such an opinion out loud. I'm sure we all have people we just don't like to spend time with, or even ones we outright dislike. Maybe some people tell that stuff to all their friends (their GOOD friends), but I'm the sort of person who just lets thoughts like those lie.

You may remember this person I dislike from this entry in September. That was my first official interaction with him, and I wasn't thrilled then. In the course of several social engagements after that, I feel quite justified in not liking him. Not so much that I'd openly abuse him to his face, but enough that I certainly avoid being at places where he may be. His house counts as one of those places.

So what's my moral imperative here? Should I socialize with him, hoping that I can (in my own small ways) mold him towards the way that I think men should behave? Or should I be content to turn a blind eye, letting him behave howsoever he will?

As a matter of fact, do I even have a moral obligation in this setting? I mean, he's nothing to me. I'm not related, and I don't see him more than once a month (at the most). He's not the sort of person with which I share any interests, job goals, or hobbies. I find him in all ways ungentlemanly and repugnant. Should I feel guilt for this?

I don't think so. At a certain point, everyone makes a decision. Most normal people have a point in their lives somewhere where they realize that they've been raised a certain way. Prior to this point, people may behave in certain ways only because their parents did. But eventually, everyone I know has had the realization that they are NOT their parents. This realization forces people to look at their own lives and decide if they really believe the things they think they believe.

For some people, it comes soon after they start being able to vote. When people start pigeonholing others for being "pro-life" or "pro-choice", emergent individuals learn that they need to actually decide what they think about such difficult issues. Is it better to tax people to provide them services? Or is it better to let corporations enjoy tax-free status to help them grow? Like it or not, economic policy effects everyone. And everyone needs to have a basic understanding how it works.

So, should I write him off as a fixed character of little value? Or should I assume that a man in his 30s is still awaiting the moment of clarity that gives him the opportunity to change his personality for the better?

Just to establish the grading rubric, I think that a person who uses his size to take advantage of women, who drinks to excess given any opportunity, who makes people uncomfortable with frank invasions of their personal space, and who loudly condemns anything he doesn't appreciate or understand as "stupid" is the sort of person who needs an adjustment.