Friday, September 30, 2005

Please Welcome As-Yet-Unnamed-Male Teter

As of 9:17 p.m. P.S.T., I'm an uncle. No great accomplishment on my part, I realize. On the other hand, you're going along in your life, doot dee doot dee doo, and stuff happens and, sure, you get married and whatever and that changes things a little, but you're still basically the same person you were when you were fifteen and whatever, and then all of sudden, BAM!, your sister has a baby, and all of a sudden your dad is Grandpa George and your mom is Grandma Linda and you're Uncle Paul. And you're like, holy crap, Uncle Paul is that guy who has been married to Aunt Paulette since before I can remember, that's not me, but the universe is like, no dude, that's totally you now, this is what happens in life, things change and it's totally freaky.

Anyway, welcome to the world, small child. Be well and do good, and try not to be freaked out about how your mom is actually my little sister.

"...and talk about the weather."

One of the best-kept secrets (which I'm just about to blow) is that the summer in Seattle is unbelievably perfect. From about July to about today it's 75 degrees and sunny almost every day, it's never too hot, and there's daylight until 9:30 or 10:00, depending upon how far it's drifted from June 21st.

It's a very poorly concealed truth that it rains in Seattle all the rest of the year. It's a kind of thumpy, thick, slow, meandering rain, kind of like plodding in thick soled shoes slowly down the street to a job you hate, day after day. It does that pretty much constantly until, you know, April, starting from well, about today.

It was beautiful this week, sunny every day, warm out, and then this morning it was overcast and in the early afternoon the wind kicked up and blew out the sunny and the seventy degrees, not to be seen again until probably next summer. I was just out walking the dog and that rain had started falling. So that's it then.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blogging For Letters

I used to write a lot of letters, the on-paper kind that got mailed and arrived in envelopes days later. I was the guy looking soulful in the back of the coffee shop in the late '90s who looked like he was journaling, except I was actually writing epistles, so it was okay, I was cool and not a dork. No, really. I don't do it much anymore, the reasons for which are many and varied, but that's not really the point of this entry. Well, maybe it sort of is.

L. and I sometimes still write each other letters, though we have lived in the same space for years. Mine are usually writ when I am on a plane trip somewhere, she sometimes just writes whilst I assume she is doing prep work for school. It's an ongoing narrative--when we were dating but living on opposite sides of the coast the narrative was about dual meanings of writing each other--both the act of sending letters and the act of creating the other person out of words, a liter(al/ary) conjuring act (God, that was soooo post-modern I can hardly stand it). The other person isn't there, so you write them. The other returns the favor by writing you.

L. wrote me a letter a few weeks back positing that this is exactly what I am doing when blogging, is writing letters. Sam and Rebecca have pretty much the same dialog going that L. and I do, only it is posted for all to see, the acknowledgement that they are writing each other only tacit. I haven't written either of them an actual physical letter in years, but we've been trading acknowledgements back and forth for a month or two now, never directly acknowledging that this is what we're doing, but a dialog goes on nonetheless. It's like having a conversation with someone at the next table in a restaurant by overhearing the conversation they're having, and then responding by having a conversation with the person with whom you're actually sitting.

Did I have a point here? Did I even have a thesis that wasn't borrowed from my wife? Apparently not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On Language, Or Whatever

It's Tuesday night, I'm sifting through a bunch of thoughts, wondering where to go next, wondering if, in fact, I am a good blogger. I don't blog every day, my blog is really just a long stream of thoughts seemingly unconnected by any actual events that occur in my life, and I'm not really blogging about trees and flowers, which was, to review, the original assignment. So tonight, it's a couple of quick hitters.

  • I have a sort of quasi-mentor, Thea, who teaches at the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture in Hallandale Beach, Florida. She was also my practitioner in a past life. We've been trying, off and on, to establish a long distance mentor/mentee relationship and have never quite succeeded at it. She logged on and read my canoodlings some weeks ago and said, in response, "I can't read your blog thing. I slide off the slick surface...It's not my experience of you." This leads me to...

  • ...I am using a lot of words. One of the tenets of Five Element Acupucture is the Law Of Least Action--one should seek the treatment for a particular condition or imbalance that requires the fewest number of needles. The ultimate treatment is one perfect needle. And then no needles at all. And then no treatment. Words are the same. It's a tell-tale sign of my novitiate status that I can't get my point across in a sentence, or a paragraph, or even one endlessly prolix entry. I just keep on using words.

  • I am working my day job a lot lately. And kind of enjoying it. I'm kind of embarrassed about it, and kind of afraid to get attached to a job that I plan on abandoning, or that will abandon me in five years and get off-shored to India.

  • Ones life is, so the man says, the things that occur whilst one is making other plans, and there is a lot going by at the moment whilst we are making other plans, and I fear that I am missing it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Or Maybe I'm Just Naïve...

After two months looking we thought we'd finally found our house. Location, condition, yard, kitchen, space, character. It was vastly above the original price we'd intended to pay, but it seemed like it was worth it. However, if you want to buy a house in Seattle these days, especially in the price range where everybody else is buying, you have to get into a bidding war. After months of saying that was insanity and saying we weren't going to get involved in it, we decided, "This is our house, this is what it takes to get a house in this market, let's write the offer we think will take to get it." So the night before last, that's what we did.

Then the freak-out happened.

I bought the place we live now about five years ago, so I'm a little used to what happens to you when you sign away a ginormous amount of money for something, but this was different. We started to realize just how far above our original price we were, how much money the escalation clause on our offer left us open to paying, how we would be affected if L.'s teaching job didn't get renewed and she couldn't get another one. We thought: "Holy shit. We can't do this." Long story short, we called our agent the next morning--he wasn't, you know, happy with us, and he countered, why don't we submit the offer, but just take out the escalation clause--we probably won't get the house, but you never know. So we assented, certain that someone else would get this house, and frankly kind of relieved about it.

Yesterday afternoon, our agent called. The sellers thought our offer was really strong and if we would increase it $6000 dollars, we could get the house. Having originally thought the price of the house would get bid up 10% or more, this seemed great to us, and we said yes pretty much immediately. Our agent said great, called back the other agent...except, oh wait, somebody must have misunderstood, they weren't actually going to sell us the house for that price. It turns out what we did instead was trigger somebody else's escalation clause. We'd been played. Or rather, somebody else had been played--that buyer paid, as it turned out, $15,000 more for the house than they should have based on the offers the seller received--the sellers just used us as a pawn to do it.

L. and I are sitting here today have pretty mixed feelings about buying a house now, and after 24 hours of thinking we were just bad people because we didn't have the balls to get into a bidding war over a house, we are today thinking that, well, thank god we didn't have the balls to get into a bidding war over a house, because it seems an awful lot like that agent would have found a way to make us go to the top of our escalation clause. I am not Playa-Hatin' (said the whitest white man in the history of blogging) here. It was, based on the laws of markets and capitalism, absolutely the sellers' agent's job to get the best price she could for that house, both on behalf of her clients and herself. What I am doing is Hatin' on The Game. This is people's life savings, they are (nigh literally) mortgaging their future, and to squeeze more money out of them, as L. said yesterday afternoon, is just mean.

The Game is to get the best deal you possibly can--you want to get as much x for as little y as you can. You want the other guy to pay you as much y for as little x as you can give him. Nowadays, y is pretty much purely symbolic scrip, electronic tallies moving from one person's account to another. So perhaps it's my fault for attaching any value to it at all; an enlightened person would say, if it takes 15,000 more electronic tallies to make the seller happy, they should have them.

I'm not making an ethical judgement here either--maybe the other seller's escalator clause really did say, anybody makes an offer and we'll beat it by x dollars. Technically, we did make that offer. We made it because we thought we were actually buying the house for that money when we weren't, but we did make it. You could argue for hours about business ethics in this or any case, but I'm not arguing that. I'm arguing that it's mean. The Game rewards meanness, rewards you for taking advantage of someone who doesn't have all the information, or writes their business contracts with the incorrect legalese because they didn't have expensive enough lawyers, because they made "bad choices." You can argue all manner of ethics, fault, coulds and shoulds, choices and obligations. You can't argue that it's not mean.

So that's it. Enough. I'm giving my notice: I'm bringing down Capitalism. In the same way that Feudalism fell to the long bow, a small and simple invention is going to bring down the established social structure that governs how we relate to one another. I might know what that innovation is, and I might not. But Capitalism is going down.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

On Balance

I talked to Sam this morning--our intrepid friends at Second Americano have moved off to Wales to try their fortunes in the British higher education system. They've been there a week so far and it sounds as if it's working out pretty well for them. First off, Sam's teaching a number of hours, this year, that's so, so incredibly low the manufacturer won't allow him to print it. I'm not, no, sorry, my mistake, I am complaining. L. and I have been working without a break this weekend, at the same time worrying about whether we have a chance of buying this house we found, wondering, if we manage to even get this house we found (there's no guarantee, given the housing market in Seattle, Washington, that somebody won't bid the price up outrageously) what kind of income we'll be chained into earning, at the same time wondering what in the hell we are doing.

Chaitania, who runs the psychology program at my acupuncture school called last week wondering, well, where the heck I have been. I've missed two of the past four lab days, and haven't otherwise been around much. Between work and looking for a house, I've been spending the last two months doing a lot of things I don't really want to do. Two months ago I also got married, so really what I want to be doing all the time is hanging out with my wife. So acupuncture school is the thing I've let slide.

I'm a smart guy, I'll catch up. So this weekend will come and go and I'll write some papers and log back into work and figure out the coding problem that has been plaguing me all week. I'll get back on top of it and everything will be fine. That's not what troubles me.

One learns in life, or in my case in acupuncture school, that the entities upon which one focuses ones problems are just that and no more. They aren't the source of ones suffering, they are but its avatars. Another way of saying this is, "it will always be something." One might tell onesself that ones problems will vanish once one buys a house/finishes school/gets past the product launch at work/etc., but those things aren't really the source of ones troubled mind. The way you can tell that this is true is that new problems of similar nature pop up soon after you've defeated the avatar of your previous problem.

We aren't by any means miserable people. We are pretty damn comfortable and happy. As L. says, we have what we need and the rest is gravy. Anyway, today it's, "We can't buy a house and I can't keep up with everything, so I'm letting my schoolwork slide." I don't know what it will be when I've solved those problems. Or what I'll find when I stop attaching my stress in life to things that aren't really its cause.

Monday, September 12, 2005

My Day Job

I had this impassioned, overtly political post in re: conservatism as a doctrine and the resulting effect on humanity and then posing a hypothetical that what if it really isn't the government's job to help those whom the market doesn't favor, and even granting that maybe it really isn't good for the long term greater good to organize a welfare state, and maybe people really will just take advantage of it and never attempt to lift themselves out of poverty or need. Then I asked, can you, as a doctrinally conservative human being, really stomach the results? Because New Orleans is what the results of this philosophy look like. But then a bunch of other people wrote the same thing. And the point has pretty dramatically been made here this past week. So I decided to let it go. Almost.

Instead I thought I'd write about what I do for a living when I'm not studying acupuncture or musing about philosophical meta-modeling. A month or so ago I took a job in a different department of the unnamed E-commerce giant for whom I work. I kind of work in the abstract these days: I don't sell anything, buy anything, or process anything, I don't sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed (I'm not linking that one. You either recognize the quote or I don't want to know you). What I do is write code for a platform called "Web Services," which, they tell me, is on the cutting edge of the future of software and computing.

If you're not familiar with...well, the cutting edge of software and computing, it might be hard to grok what exactly it is I do. And I'm not going to try really to explain it, instead I'm going to make a comparison. Computing is like just about every other discipline in the world: it goes in cycles surrounding the creation of platforms and the building of things upon those platforms. In the 20th century, for instance, Albert Einstein and Max Planck kicked off a revolution with a new platform in which energy came in tiny packets instead of continuous quantities, and one frame of reference was equivalent and just as valid as any other, unless of course you were accelerating. Then a bunch of other physicists, using that platform, developed a whole bunch of new science, creating television, computers, and the atomic bomb. In the 70's. some government researchers created the ARPANET, and a decade and a half later a bunch of people realized they had an entirely new platform upon which to build...things: games, retail stores, meeting locations, news media, and so on. Web Services is (yet another) attempt to build a platform upon which things will be created and discoveries will be made.

Jos once wrote about a brief moment where he was sitting in a meeting at work and had a transcendent glimpse of the future. I was sitting in our quarterly department meeting a couple of weeks ago and the same thing happened to me. Again, it's kind of hard to explain the way that Web Services is abstracting the internet (because probably the internet already seems pretty abstract to you). But I'm here to tell you the following: the speed and age of the machine sitting on your desk or your lap is going to cease to matter in the relatively near future. Mechanical storage (CDROM, hard drives, flash drives, whatever) is going to cease to matter in the relatively near future (not that it hasn't already). Software applications are going to cease to be a thing that you go and buy, or even download. Whether you're aware of it or not, you already do an alarming amount of computing on computers that are sitting in a warehouse in Virginia, or downtown Singapore. So if you've been paying attention, you've noticed that this is happening already, and in five or ten years all that's going to matter is how much data you can get across a wire from your desk to that computer that's sitting in Virginia. Well, that, and how good an encryption algorithm you're using. You might want to try and get a good one.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Unexpected Follow-Up to the Inevitable Sequel to the Inevitable Entry About Evolution

I just can't let this one go.

See, here's the thing: 42% of Americans believe in creationism (In the study I've linked, the statment is actually, "believe that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time"). That's compared to 26% of them that believe in natural selection, 18% who believe in Intelligent Design, and 14% who don't know. And that's to say nothing of the 64% of people who are at minimum open to having both creationism and evolution taught together in school.

Calvino: Well, sure. But can't you imagine a somewhat useful lesson in reason and argument steming from a comparison of the arguments of creationism versus evolution?

The Stoat: The entire argument of creationism and/or intelligent design is "It's because of God." Any counter argument you might try and make is dismissed as your own lack of faith, or that you're speaking with the tongue of the devil in an attempt to test the faith of the true believer.

Calvino: Well, yes, but this wouldn't be that situation. This would be a school lesson. It's not a useful science class, but if you grant the initial supposition that an intelligent demiurge is responsible for everything you see here, you can then create a rhetorical lesson in which you explore the basic assumptions of the creationist argument. For instance, why would an intelligent guiding creator include vestigial organs like the appendix, or the remnants of a tail, in the finished product? What about organs like the spleen or the gall bladder: functional, but not essential? Why do we share nearly all our genetic material with simians--did God create humans and then get lazy and just recycle most of his work? Most importantly, what about the most egregious design flaw of all: why is it that when you bite your tongue, the part you bit swells up so that you just bite it again?

The Stoat: Yeah, but can you imagine how many school districts in America would actually present creationism this way, given a mandate to teach it?

Calvino: Hmm...probably an embarrassingly small minority.

The Stoat: Probably.

At the end of all of this, you've got 60% of the people in this nation who believe something that is contradicted not only by current scientific thinking but, as I've said in a previous post, rudimentary observation of onesself and ones surroundings. At least more people believe in evolution than in Intelligent Design, but still. Evolution is apparently really hard to accept for reasons that I think have as much to do with a need for narrative as devotion to religious zealotry.

L. has created quite a cogent model of the universe based on the idea of narrative (if indeed she ever starts blogging, her URL will probably be ""). It basically states that you can determine the rightness or validity of a particular viewpoint by whether or not it works as narrative. You can, e.g., tell that conservatism, as it's practiced in this country, is wrong because it makes crappy narrative. You cannot name one good story that has ever been written by anyone in history that you'd ever want to read, she would say, where what you learn is that supply side economics is the moral of the story and because of it everyone lives happily ever after.

Calvino: What about Atlas Shrugged?

The Stoat: You actually want to read Atlas Shrugged?

Calvino: Good point.

I myself subscribe to what you might call The Weak Narrative Principle. I'm a pretty poor judge of what makes for good narrative anyway. I think (and I'm quoting myself here) that we're all always already creating narrative for ourselves. It's not because we're bad or egocentric, it's just how we make sense of the universe and our place in it. When faced with information that contradicts the narrative one has created for ones self, one can a) ignore it (e.g. creationism vis a vis the fossil record), b) attempt to fit the new information into the existing narrative ("The fossil record has been placed there by God/The Devil in order to test my faith"), or c) toss the narrative and create a new one (I can't think of a catchy quote for this one. "Um...whoa dude. Like, I just totally bagged my heretofore unshakeable model of the universe." See, it's difficult to sound-bite The Truth). The reason, I think, that only a quarter of the population of this country accepts evolution as the explanation for life on earth is that it's absolutely narrative shattering. There's pretty much no way to both construct a linear narrative that begins out of nothingness and winds up at you at the same time that you accept the swirling chaos that is the evolutionary model. At least, as we say here at The Odds Are One, not without living with a fair amount of cognative dissonance on the subject.