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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

17Jan/140

Japanese Soldier Stupidly Fought WWII for 30 Extra Years

Today Hiroo Onoda died at 91.  He is famous for having refused to accept that WWII ended in 1945.  He continued to fight the war for 29 more years, living in the jungle, first with a couple of fellow soldiers then alone.  He only accepted it when his commanding officer from 1945 personally delivered his stand down orders in 1974.  Initially my reaction to the story was the same as most people's, likely similar to the feelings of the Japanese who welcomed him back home as a hero.  I was in absolute awe at his unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to honor.  If only more people were like that...

But the more I read about his story and began to think of the reality it represented the more I began to feel like everyone was reading the story wrong.  During his three decades "fighting" a war that no longer existed he killed as many as 30 locals.  He needlessly, senselessly killed almost three dozen fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, etc.   He killed them because he chose to reject reality.  Various efforts were made over those thirty years to contact him and convince him the war was over, but he rejected the evidence every time.  And so he went on killing innocent people.  But not only that, the praise which he roundly receives relates to his commitment to duty, and yet what was he accomplishing?  His final orders were supposedly to stay behind and spy on American forces.  Surely by any measure he must have done a fantastically rotten job of that.  The purpose of spying is to collect and relay information.  What information did he collect in 30 years?  What information did he relay in 30 years?  Presumably almost none.  Perhaps initially (for the first year or so) he was somewhat active in collecting information about troop movements, but clearly he had no one to whom to relay it.  And simply senselessly evading capture and killing innocent people cannot count as good spying or soldiering.  He was simply wasting his life and worse wasting other people's lives, all in the name of some blind, dumb, pig-headed honor.  I can't find anything praise worthy in that.

Why wouldn't his honor require him to make contact with his homeland?  Why wouldn't his honor require him to return to his homeland for new orders?  Why wouldn't his honor force him to realize that he was failing to fulfill his final orders and that he needed to be given new ones?  Those sorts of people we do not need.

I began the day impressed with Hiroo Onoda, and ended it disappointed in him.  Ah well...  So it goes.

^ Q

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20Jun/131

The N-Word as Used by Whites

wp_paula

Recently celebrity chef Paula Deen was forced to admit she had used the N-word multiple times in the past.  She denied being a racist and seemed to excuse the behavior as  as being done a) a long time ago, b) at least once in reference to an African-American who put a gun to her head in a bank robbery.

Whether it's Mel Gibson hurling abuse at Jewish people, Michael Richards peppering black comedy patrons with the N-word, or Paula Deen venting to her husband about the terror she felt, the explanations given always insist that they would ordinarily never use such language, but that it was a freak event, that they were under extreme provocation, and that, therefore, they are not really racist.  Their position is indefensible.  The insulting words spring to their lips because they are racist, not because the situation inspired the use of those words.

My own interactions with people of color have not always been positive.  I have been a victim of a home robbery committed by an African-American.  And I've been stalked/harassed over months by a separate African-American.  But their skin color was not dominant in my thoughts about why they were a perpetrator and why I was their victim.  One of the perpetrators was a homeless drug addict looking for money for a fix and the other a homeless person with serious mental problems who believed I was living in *his* house.  But never did I find the N-word springing to my lips.  I genuinely cannot imagine why on Earth it would.  I have had ample positive experiences involving people of color that I cannot imagine any provocation sufficient to cause me to reduce an entire diverse race of people down to one ugly, monstrous word.  The N-word couldn't form on my lips because it doesn't ring true in my ears.  If you have ever known one great black person, how could you ever reduce any experience with another black person down to his/her color?

I am a at least a generation removed from most of the celebrities who get caught using the N-word, they grew up in less integrated times, grew up in more (arguably) ignorant times, grew up in more isolated surroundings so perhaps my environment saved me from their thinking.

I surely hold many subtle prejudices which I do not adequately appreciate; I think we humans are almost all of us naturally biased by experience and environment.  But I am thankful that I am not so lost as to find the N-word in my thoughts or speech.

^ Q

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9May/131

Guide to Living a Highly Ineffective Life, Part I

success_failureAttempting to measure one's own accomplishments is generally a monstrously bad idea.  Even the most successful of men may find themselves coming up short when they compare themselves to a yardstick of their own making.  Those who succeed generally do so by finding themselves perpetually shy of achieving some newly important and consuming goal.  That having been said, taking stock of yourself is a sobering necessity, something which me must do if we are to re-align our compass with an objective, societal true North.  It is in this brutally reflective frame of mind that I make the following observations about myself, most easily expressed as a Guide to Leading a Highly Ineffective Life.  The objective reality is that I have achieved quite a lot, more than many, less than many, and a reasonable amount given my particular make up and life challenges.  Nonetheless, I have observed in myself the  following limiting, (at times) crippling characteristics that have kept me from being far more than I am.

20 Things You Can Do To Be Highly Ineffective

  1. Work on many projects simultaneously.
  2. Associate with no professional colleagues.
  3. Cultivate few friends.
  4. Spend almost all of your time by yourself or with a girlfriend only.
  5. Work in secret.  Share almost none of your ideas or work.
  6. Do everything from scratch.  Build your own rather than modifying existing software/code.
  7. Believe your mind and/or abilities are failing you over time.
  8. Be deathly afraid of judgment.  Ensure you never finish any task properly.
  9. Ignore important details.
  10. Explore periods of intense lassitude.
  11. Be mildly obsessively interested in many, many generally unrelated things.
  12. [Removed by request.]
  13. Secretly believe that those who succeed are magically different from you, possess something you entirely lack (as exemplified by the tone of this list).
  14. Put off until tomorrow that really hard thing that intimidates you, never try to do it today, never right now.
  15. If you find yourself not particularly challenged in a situation (job, life, etc.), then maintain the status quo, choose comfortable over challenge.
  16. Develop as little self-discipline as possible.  Go to bed when you want, eat what you want, exercise as little as you feel like.
  17. Constantly wrestle with existential and philosophical doubts rather than engage in the business of actually living.  Wonder about what the point of living is if you die rather than actually focus on getting the most from every minute of life.
  18. Avoid seeking professional, psychological help for things like depression and anxiety, assume that you alone can surely defeat obstacles which have bedeviled humans for millennia.
  19. Have tremendous difficulty switching tasks/projects, avoid doing so because it's mentally painful.
  20. Watch TV.

^ Q

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30Dec/122

“Be American! Buy American!” Says the Foreign-Born Mini-Mart Owner Selling Chinese Lighters, Drug Paraphernalia, and Porn

beamericansign
A nearby rural mini mart has a prominent sign under their own store's sign which reads, "Be Proud to Be An American! Be American!  Buy American!"

When I first saw the sign I was ready to be offended, assuming the sign was a misguided attack against completely legal, hard-working immigrants who often found employment the only place they could, at mini-marts. But the moment I walked into the store the tables suddenly turned and suggested that I was the one discriminating against someone, not them.  The store was in fact owned and operated by a family who immigrated from India.

The odd thing is, even now (months after I first saw it) the sign still bugs me and I can't figure out exactly why.

Part of my frustration with the sign stems from the fact that I still don't know exactly what it means.  Typically someone telling you to "Buy American" means you should buy products made by US companies at factories in the US.  But this sign can't possibly mean that because the store is hardly so exclusive, they sell all your typical, cheap, Chinese-made mini-mart crap and then some.  So the next likely interpretation is that it means you should buy from stores owned or operated by Americans (as opposed to buying from stores owned by foreign corporations or staffed by illegal aliens).  But this also confuses me because so far as I'm aware there are no stores within 5+ miles which are not owned and operated by Americans.  We're in rural Pennsylvania, the vast majority of people around here have been here since at least the civil war.  In fact the nearest and most popular competitor to this mini-mart is one called Sheetz, an American owned chain, operated by a whole lot of lily-white, native speakers.  So, what would be the point of a sign saying you should do something that realistically you cannot avoid doing anyway?  And that's what seems to generate most of my dislike for the sign.  It feels not like a sign meant to celebrate, cement, and secure the owner's adopted homeland, but like a gimmick, a cheap marketing technique intended to somehow justify their excess prices, encourage a faithful customer base, or discourage robberies by patriotic Americans.  Fueling my dislike for the sign and the store is also that the store is hardly representative of an America I want encouraged.  Unlike other local mini-marts, this blue-blooded American neighborhood mini-mart sells many unsavory things: drug paraphernalia and raunchy porn.  Perhaps those items were made in America, but I'm not sure that's sufficient justification for selling it.  (The drug paraphernalia are mesh screens (which I understand are used for smoking various drugs), a large selection of rolling papers, Swisher Sweetz (and other cigarillos that people seem to put drugs into), etc.)

Separate and apart from my dislike for the nature of the shop and my suspicion about motivation for the sign, I can't help but admit to some vague and hard to define (or defend) uneasiness with the "new kid on the block" telling us native-borns what to do.  I love the USA and I love that other people love it, too.  I want people to become lawful citizens, marry themselves to our culture, accept our best and our worst, and want to join in our attempt to be better united than we are apart.  But were I to move abroad and become a citizen of elsewhere it would never occur to me to tell anyone there how they should be.  They were there first, they know their culture far better than I do, they "get" the nation I will be forever getting.  I certainly do and will defend any new or old citizen of the USA their right to share their thoughts and opinions, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.  Maybe that is a prejudiced position, or maybe it's just a natural position that all cultures have to encourage stability and discourage imposed change from unfamiliar or outside influences.  I don't know.

^ Quinxy

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30Nov/120

To the Whining Christians Complaining about Christmas

Every year it seems like I receive an email forward from irate Christians wanting to remind me about how Christmas is being co-opted by the gay, feminist, atheist, capitalist agenda who are hell bent on taking the Christ out of Christmas...  This year I couldn't help but respond to the most recent forwarder, my dad, who had attached his own screed.  This is my response.

You poor, poor American Christians. How oppressed you are with your undefeated record of electing 44 Christian Presidents (unless of course you conveniently think Obama is Muslim), your vast 89% majority in Congress, your significant 77% majority of the US population. Oh, but of course maybe those aren't "true" Christians. Funny, they look pretty good on paper with 61% of the population believing that evolution is a lie, and 45% of the population believing the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

But you go on with your hypocritical lives, your convenient selective memory of the Old Testament and the New. Keep quoting the Old Testament to stop the queers from their equality, your marvelous quotes about slavery kept those uppity Negroes in chains for a few hundred extra years. And don't worry, I'm an atheist so I don't have the mandate to stone you for working on the Sabbath, for eating shellfish, getting tattoos, or association with menstruating women. And I'll try to resist quoting Matthew 5:17-20 and all that stuff about, "Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished." I'm just an amoral, compassless heathen apparently bent on doing all I can to make some tasty s'mores while I watch the world burn.

Oh, and as for Jesus Christ ruling forever, good luck with that. Hope He has a bit more staying power than the Sumerian religion, the Babylonian religion, the Assyrian religion, the Egyption religion, the Greek religion, the Roman/Mithra relition, the Germanic/Norse religion, the Maya religion, and all the others that have faded into history. All those religions sure seemed convinced they were the real deal, and I'm sure all their followers sure were pretty miffed when you people started taking the Zeus out of Zeusmas, the Isis out of Ismas, etc. So I get it, you are right to be outraged. Shout "Merry Christmas" or "I love Jesus" at whoever you want as loud as you want, nobody will punch you in the mouth like they would me if I yelled out "Merry Jesus is a Myth Day". But you're right, you're the oppressed, distressed, offended people here. I keep forgetting that.

It's a funny thing, outraged Christians sure sound a lot like outraged white males, probably because so many of them are. A few thousand years of ideological domination and the subjugation of others just never feels like enough, does it? Even when you accept the notion that equality is probably inevitable you sure do grouse about the thought that women, blacks, gays, foreigners might temporarily get 'unfair' educational, career, financial advantage. How dare the pendulum swing even a tenth of a degree in their favor, what an affront to a system you'd so carefully rigged over centuries with all your social and religious mores.

Funny thing is, I'm actually all for you loving your Lord. I want you to find spiritual sustenance wherever you may. I am not the least bit offended nor do I shy away from your Merry Christmases. There is much to respect about the modern interpretation of Christ, certainly a lot more than the interpretation which brought us inquisitions, crusades, the burning of misidentified witches, and whatever horrors future interpretations may bring. It just irks me when you whine about your lot, at the notion that others might dare for a few moments here or there to be as loud and as obnoxious as you felt quite comfortable being during various parts of your continued Western World domination.

Be gracious winners, not whiners. Your majority rule hasn't ended yet. Try to enjoy your declining years, it sounds like you are the ones confusing a trip to a big box department store with a trip to a church. I read nothing about the exchange of big screen flat panel TVs in the New Testament. I can't imagine mixing up the joy at my savior's birth with the joy of unwrapping a toxic toy made by children in China. If you expect God to be found in Best Buy or City Hall you're bound to be increasingly disappointed, try visiting your perpetually-renewing local house of worship instead. All public traditions get co-opted, by non-believers, by capitalists, by the ignorant, by people who simply see a good birthday party and want to attend without giving a damn whose birthday it is. I didn't turn your Christmas into a business proposition, that was you believing folk who made a religious celebration commercial, who took to exchanging increasingly expensive items as a proxy for religious passion.

This atheist wishes you all a very Merry Christmas, in the truest sense of it. Enjoy Christ, love Christ, celebrate Christ this December 25th. And quit your bitching about people at the local mall or city hall or school awkwardly trying to make room for others at your table of largess. But, do let me know if any of those folk wander into your church and try to make your pastor take the Christ out of Christmas, that's when you'll have my full support.

Q

> On Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:40 PM, My Dad<*********@msn.com> wrote:
>
> Powerful, alarming,sad,sobering, all-too-true message. In response, I AM thinking of, and invoking a message of:
> Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father...the Prince of Peace...and He shall
> reign forever and ever...and the Kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of OUR GOD AND
> OF HIS CHRIST, AND HE SHALL RULE FOREVER AND EVER....AMEN...AAAAMMMENNN...AND...AMEN!!!
>
> PEACE, Indeed!Thank you...(I am sending this to many)
> Ben
>
>
> ________________________________
> From: Somebody
> Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2012 18:46:53 -0500
> Subject: Fwd: Fw: Your First Christmas card
> To: Lots of people
>
>
> MERRY CHRISTMAS
> YOUR FIRST CHRISTMAS CARD
>
> Cleverly done!!!
>
> Twas the month before Christmas
> When all through our land,
> Not a Christian was praying
> Nor taking a stand.
> Why the PC Police had taken away
> The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
>
> The children were told by their schools not to sing
> About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
> It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say
> December 25th is just a ' Holiday '.
>
> Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
> Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
> CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
> Something was changing, something quite odd!
>
> Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
> In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
> As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
> At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
>
> At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
> You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
> Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
> Are words that were used to intimidate me.
>
> Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
>
> On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton !
> At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
> To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
>
> And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
> Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
> The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
> The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
>
> So as you celebrate 'Winter Break' under your 'Dream Tree'
> Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
> Choose your words carefully, choose what you say

> Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
> not Happy Holiday!
>
> Please, all Christians join together and
> wish everyone you meet
>
> MERRY CHRISTMAS!
>
> Christ is The Reason for the Christ-mas Season!
> If you agree please forward, if not, simply delete.

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24Nov/121

The Big Lie About Plagiarism: Everyone Does It

At various points in recent years much has been made in the news about the news and plagiarism, but the more people talk about it the more I am confused.  When someone lifts entire passages word for word from one source and publishes it unattributed as their own work, this is clearly wrong.  But when someone consults one or more sources and publishes a regurgitation of the original lacking much detail or considerably expanding with new detail, I struggle to see that as the plagiarism people seem to suggest it is.  My confusion stems from the fact that everyone, particularly those in the news media, commits exactly this offense, and no one seems to be bothered, so at exactly what point does the act become plagiarism?

A simple example might illustrate my confusion.  Some newsworthy event happens in the world.  The event is first discovered / covered by one news source.  Other news entities hear about the story, from the publication via  the original source or from people talking about the publication via the original source, and those news entities begin to write about the same subject as well.  Invariably and of necessity the follow-up news organizations borrow details from the original news source, I find it hard to believe that upon learning of the existence of the original story every news man/woman who writes about it goes directly to those original people and agencies involved in the actual events and gathers direct retellings of those events.  And in the vast majority of cases those other news stories do not credit the original source, save for the few exceptions where the original story was known to be principally, initially investigated by one specific news source (as when a story might say, "...as initially uncovered in an investigation by 20/20.")  The primary sort of attribution one might commonly see is a reference to a news "wire service" (AP, Reuters, etc.) which seems to provide reporters with some carte blanche, as they pay to license that content, and are no doubt absolved from knowing how that wire service obtained the information.  My point is that if police accidentally kill an innocent child in Loredo, TX and this information makes it into the local TV news you can be sure the local radio, newspaper, etc. are sure to follow with stories, but are they not going to base their reporting in part on details lifted from the initial telling of the story?  Do they really find their own direct source for every detail of their own version of the story?  Surely not.  And when these stories make their way into wider and wider reportage surely there's no possible way any local police station, hospital, doctor, family of the victim, could supply enough direct information to the thousands of reporters regurgitating the news.  And so at what point does repeating a variation of a thing, with greater or lesser detail, with similar or dissimilar focus, become the crime of plagiarism?

It is not that I condone the theft of ideas and intellectual labor, I simply acknowledge that it goes on constantly, and it seems peculiar that the we've lately seen certain figures pilloried when those on the attack do a variation of the exact same thing.

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31Oct/120

The Deaths of Former Acquaintances


Death is horrible stuff, and books on its horrors have been and will continue to be written. And many of these books attempt to help us understand and accept death, often recent deaths of people to whom we are close, and sometimes our own impending death. But I've yet to hear much talk about how we comprehend or process the death of past acquaintances.

I learned recently about the death of someone I once barely knew, Elissa, wife of my ex-girlfriend's coworker. The feelings her passing evokes are queer, being neither the intense and incomprehensible loss of someone dear nor the distant, abstracted mental shrug offered in memory of an anonymous stranger. I can't think of her death in terms of a personal loss, as the path of our brief acquaintanceship had long ago run its course.  I would never have encountered her again.  But in a way it's that disconnection that produces the hauntingly odd quality, the instinctive recognition that I lost something confronted with the reality that I didn't actually have it.  Nothing changed, nothing given nor taken away; and yet I feel like I suffered a loss. I feel sad more indirectly than directly.  I feel sad for all those who actively knew her, for those who could have known her in the future, and for the wrenchingly accidental circumstances of her death (which  must have made it all the harder to comprehend).  And I feel a tinge of survivor's guilt, that she knew was one of those who richly deserved life, one of those who know how to live it to its full, while I seem often merely to passively occupy both time and space.  Ah well, we humans are a curious lot, forever failing to come to terms with living or with dying.

We are all someone's acquaintance, all able to linger hauntingly in someone's memory, never entirely there nor ever entirely gone.

To Elissa and Kevin, another acquaintance of mine who passed last year, I can only offer in poverty to retain their memory, appreciate the time I knew them, and leave the deserved and profound mourning to those who knew them best.

^ Quinxy

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17Aug/121

How much would you pay to be 1% less likely to die in the next month?

I was presented with a very curious dilemma this past weekend: Was I willing to pay $10,000 in order to eliminate a 1% chance that I might die in the next month?

The situation was this... I awoke Sunday morning to find a bat flying circles around my bed. I opened the window and with a little encouragement the bat flew out.  A few hours later I read that according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) anyone sleeping in a bedroom where a bat is found should receive the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) if the bat is not submitted for testing.  Bats have a documented history of transmitting rabies to people as they slept.  (Had I known this before releasing the bat I would have had a separate moral dilemma, would I be willing to pay $10,000 to avoid causing the death of a bat.)

Rabies is 99.99999999% fatal if not treated long before symptoms occur; treatment is 100% effective. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is very expensive, treatment fees (from web-based patient reports) range from $5,000 - $15,000, depending on location, hospital, availability of vaccine, etc. Insurance will likely only cover a portion of my treatment, and as my girlfriend has no insurance I'll be on the hook for the full price of her treatment. I had roughly 72 treatment-effectiveness-limited hours to decide what action, if any, I would take. What would you do?

I find it a fascinating situation to be in, a fascinating problem to wrestle with, because unlike many of the more nebulous philosophical questions relating to morality,  ethics, the nature of existence, etc. this is so elegantly, cruelly simply.

You can't know if you were infected, but you can estimate the likelihood that you were infected. You will absolutely die if you were infected and do not get treatment, but you will not suffer any ill effects if you were infected and get treatment. If it cost $1 almost everyone would get treated (in my situation), but it cost $100,000 almost no one would get treated (in my situation).  Somewhere between $1 and $100,000, somewhere between a 0% chance of infection and a 100% chance of infection exists the divide between getting treated and not getting treated.

I spent the first 24 hours after exposure trying to find where this line of demarcation lay.

Estimating the likelihood of infection was critical.   If it were large the decision would be easy.  I found that various studies put the rate of rabies infection in bat populations at anything from less than 1% to 6%. Bats observed in their natural environment seem to have a lower than 1% rabies infection rate, while bats which have encountered humans, been captured, and sent in for testing have a rate as high as 6%.  Periodic public rabies panics which caused more people to test more bats found inside their homes suggests that the real infected rate related to human-bat encounters is more like 3%. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume my bat had no more than a 3% chance of being rabid.  But of course to become infected I would have needed some contact with the bat.  Surely the likelihood that it bit or scratched me as I slept was low, as my prevailing theory was that I woke up as a result of hearing it somehow wiggle its way through the screen window and then flap against the blinds.  In the end I arbitrarily estimated that there was no more than a 33% chance that I had contact with the bat.  Combining these I estimated my risk as certainly no higher than 1%.

And so it is I spent the evening and the next morning pondering whether I would spend $10,000 to save myself a 1% chance of semi-immediate (and by all accounts agonizing) death.  I was leaning strongly towards not seeking treatment, not wanting the financial devastation over what surely was a small likelihood of grievous harm.

My girlfriend was not so resigned as I to accepting the risk, and as a result I ended up spending more than an hour trying to pin the billing department of the local hospital down to an actual price range for the treatment.

The local hospital's cost for treatment ended up being lower than the average I'd seen online and was roughly $5,100.  That amount broke down to $2,500 for the Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) drug, $1,800 for four separate Imovax/Rabavert vaccines, and $800 for the administration of those medications across four visits.  With the estimated costs half of what I'd been expecting, and with the anxiety my girlfriend would continue feeling indefinitely had we not sought treatment, getting treated now made sense.

We were treated, and I am enjoying my new found nearly complete immunity to rabies.  I have been volunteering myself and this new super power to friends or family, hoping they may be having a problem with a rabid  or otherwise suspicious animal; thus far I have sadly found no one who needs my help...

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27Jul/120

The Odd Similitude of Christian & Atheist Grief

Considering that Christians and Atheists have wildly different beliefs about what happens when we die I've always been deeply perplexed that both grieve quantitatively and qualitatively similarly.  The Christian suffering loss believes that he or she will be ultimately re-united with their dear departed in Heaven (barring any grave infractions that might lead to Hell) in a way that will replicate to a significant degree the relationships here on this Earthly plane; your mother in heaven will still be your mother and will recognize you as her son.  The Atheist generally believes that there is no afterlife, that the unique qualities of the dead person are permanently are irrevocably lost.  As such I would have imagined that Christian and Atheist grief would be quite dissimilar.  How could they not be?  To the Christian death is a misty, "Until we meet again."  While for the Atheist death is a bruta and unyielding, "Goodbye forever and ever."  And yet in my own observations of grief (and personal experience of grief) there seems little difference in people's experience of death.  Everyone (barring rare exceptions) finds the loss of a loved one to be miserably and inconsolably intolerable.  And so I can't help but wonder how this is possible?  How can the belief in an afterlife reunion not spare a person a significant portion of their grief?

These are the best possibilities I've been able to come up with to explain the lack of qualitative and quantitative difference...

It's possible that the most significant elements of grief are associated not with what we imagine happens to a person after death but with the impact their removal has from our current and expected life.  A person suddenly being removed from our world will force painful adjustments in our life, in our thinking, in our ability to cope, in our expression of love, in our expectations, etc.  While these elements and experiences do absolutely make up the bulk of our spontaneous experiences of sorrow and misery which last for days, months, and years, I still think it doesn't explain the situation fully because the severity of the experience seems ultimately tied to our perception of the other person's state.  For example, if I knew that my close cousin was forever gone from my life, having set off with others in a one-way light-speed rocket ship ride to the star system Trixolopy, I would feel vastly more comfortable with my loss than if I knew him to be dead.  The mere knowledge that he is alive staves off the bulk of my grief.  I would still wistfully think of him when I passed by his house on my way to work, I'd still instinctively look for him when I headed over to the baseball field, I'd still feel a twinge of emptiness as I put away my cell phone after reaching for it to tell him something, but I wouldn't be devastated in the same way I would if he was known (or expected) to be dead.  Thus the impact of death can't simply be tied to individual alterations made in my life by a person's absence.  And this would seem inadequate then to explain Christian versus Atheist mourning, since I would liken their belief about the present state of the loved one to be so radically and comfortingly different.

Another possibility is that the parity in grief experience is created by variation of two factors: Christian grief being reduced by their belief in Heaven while Atheist grief is reduced by their inability to fully recognize the value and therefore loss of human life.  Christians often use arguments which suggest that Atheists are incapable of are are limited in their ability to appreciate or understand the world because of their refusal to accept its God-given value, without which (from many a Christian's perspective) nothing has value.  I reject this option because it's just silly and simplistic.  It is too convenient to imagine two things are adjusted and both rendered equal by two wholly different mechanisms, and I reject the idea that God solves the value problem (at the very least because of the who created God argument).

It's also possible that the grief of Christians and Atheists exceed what the biology of the human brain can support.  It may be that we cannot see qualitative or quantitative differences in the grief of people with wildly different belief systems because even though they may quite significantly both experiences of grief so far exceed or biology's ability to express grief that they appear similar.  I liken it to the clipping which occurs when you try to record a very loud sound with a microphone and recording equipment that's not up to the task; the sound of an atom bomb and the sound of a conventional bomb would be recorded identically even though the actual events are vastly different.  I like this theory because it is elegantly simple and makes a certain sort of intuitive sense to me, but I'm not sure if it's part of the solution.

And ultimately I come back to my earliest suspicion, the one I first thought over as a teen, that Christians may not believe in Heaven in the same absolute way that they might believe in a place like Bismarck, SD.  Christians might feel okay with a loved one being prolongedly incommunicado in Bismarck, SD because they feel entirely secure in the concept of a geographically placed American city located within our plane of spacial and temporal existence.  Heaven might make them nervous and feel too wishy-washy and abstract, even if they entirely believe (in a theoretical sense) in its existence.  Of course it's also possible they suspect Heaven may not be real, in the same way a child might suspect Santa Claus isn't real years before being willing to call him out; I reject this because I am willing to accept that Christians believe as they say they believe and are not engaged in this piece of self-deception.

Ultimately I'm not sure which of these explanations is sufficient to explain the observation, perhaps other explanations are still required.  I suppose the reason I come back to this question so often is because I wish someone had a meaningful and lasting solution for grief, a means to rid ourselves of what becomes for most a bane of their own existence.  The longer we live the more grief we are made to experience, how nice it would be to recognize loss without being wholly undone by it.

^ Quinxy

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21Jul/121

The Journey of the M820



I picked up my 1971 AMC M820 Expansible Van from Mt. Vernon, IL this past week.  It turned out to be quite the little naive odyssey.

The outbound journey went relatively uneventfully, got a one-way rental to drive myself, Francine, and Osita (the dog) from Pennsylvania to Illinois.  After a thirteen hour drive spread across two days we met the seller, Wade, got to test drive the vehicle, bought it, and retired to the hotel to contemplate our next move.

Luxury It Ain't

Three major obstacles became immediately clear when I saw the vehicle and got to drive it.  The first problem was that the vehicle's cab was tiny.  There was arguably room enough for three lean soldiers with little to no gear and little to no leg room.  But two average folks and a dog would not fit easily.  The second problem was that the engine was deafeningly loud, the Army having made no effort to provide a quiet cabin.  The third and most serious was that Illinois happened to be in the middle of a record breaking heat wave and daily temperatures were reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit.  An un-air-conditioned cab combined with a heat radiating engine and transmission was a recipe for disaster.  The fact that my dog is super fluffy and inappropriately keeps her winter coat on until September didn't help.  I knew I had to solve all three issues before we could start for home.

Where Does a Dog Fit?

There was only one place Osita would fit and that was on the floor board.   I put down a furniture moving pad and a dog bed to cushion the harsh metal floor and cover up sharp edges.  The difficulty was that she is a large dog and her body took up all the room of the passenger's floor as well as all the room in the middle floor.  Her upper body was wedged between the transmission's stick shift and the high-low transfer case shifter.  She had to keep her head up and out of the way whenever I needed to shift gears, which involved quite a lot of work on Francine's part.

Osita was a real trooper.  She would instantly find her place whenever I had to lift her back in, and she didn't move around at all once she settled.  I think it was all the practice in the motorcycle sidecar that touch her such patience for us humans.

Francine was an amazingly good sport for having to put up with very limited leg room and the constant need to keep Osita out of the way.

Silencing the Deafening Roar

For us humans the solution to the engine noise was easy.  We wore ear plugs.  Protecting Osita's hearing proved a little more challenging, and in retrospect I'm not sure how much good it did.

I bought Francine and Osita two pairs of the best headphones Lowe's had to sell.  Francine could wear hers without modification, but Osita's pair required some changes.  I removed the adjustable metal band at the top and replaced it with two straps which could be tightened or loosened with Velcro.  I also added a chin strap whose length could also be adjusted.  The system worked, but only sort of.  My primary concern was that her ears are vastly bigger than ours, and while I could (barely) fit her folded up ear into the headphone ear cup I couldn't imagine that it was pleasant, and I couldn't be sure that the seal was all that effective in terms of loudness protection.  I abandoned this solution in the end after a few short trials on the road.  They came off too easily and I was just too afraid it would hurt her ear cartilage if left on too long.  The only fallback I had available was to use human foam earplugs.  I did some Googling and saw people specifically recommending against their use, since human earplugs are smaller than what dogs would need.  Without any alternatives I decided to give it a try anyway, but instead of using just one per ear I would use two together in each.  This approach seemed to work and would stay put.  To what degree it eliminated the sound I can't be absolutely sure.  I know when I use a pair they can be finicky; they may seem to be in right and yet need adjustment to block out all the noise.   I felt somewhat comfortable, hopefully not foolishly, that her hearing would be protected because I had just a few days earlier read a passage in a book, How Dogs Think?, that mentioned  dogs having a biological mechanism by which they can protect their hearing from loud noises (environmental ones that they can expect, versus isolated and unexpected ones like gun shots).  If the ear plugs didn't do enough presumably her biology would.

Cooling the Air

Finding a solution for the 107 (and higher) degree heat was the big problem.  On the route down I'd tried to improve upon our rental car's poor A/C by buying a few bags of ice and putting some inside zip lock bags distributed in the passenger compartment and some in disposable aluminum pans on the floor board.  That did nothing to cool the interior.  I knew that the complete lack of space in the cab made it impossible to improve upon this crude method by simply adding more ice.  Instead I decided to do the only thing I could think of, create a rudimentary air conditioning system that was powered by ice, with the ice located outside the cab.  And that's what I built.

The key components of an air-conditioner related to the design I was going to employ were a refrigerated liquid, some cold coils that would transfer the cab's heat into the refrigerated liquid, an electric fan to accelerate that heat transfer, a pump to facilitate the circulation of the refrigerated liquid, an insulated container to hold said liquid, and hoses to carry the liquid to and fro.  I went to the local Pep Boys auto supply store and bought a third-party automatic transmission oil cooler to use as my cold coils, an electronic radiator fan to use as my fan, and fuel line to use as my hose.  At the local Walmart I found the bilge pump and large insulated cooler I needed.  And a quick trip to Radio Shack got me the switches and wires I'd use to allow me to turn everything on and off at will.

Retreating into the hotel room and out of the heat's insanity I assembled all the parts.  At this point I really wasn't sure how efficient the system would be, just how well it could remove heat from the cab, assuming a sufficient quantity of ice.  Once I'd installed everything in the vehicle and got a chance to test the system I was very pleased to discover that the system was very efficient at removing heat (that is, blowing cold air).  Even so, I wasn't sure if it would be cold enough, the hottest part of the day had already passed.  Remembering something from my high school earth science class I went back to Walmart to buy four big boxes of rock salt, which I knew would dramatically lower the freezing point of water and thereby drop temperature of the ice/water even further.  I brought along a big bag of tools for this trip and in it my infrared thermometer (it's a useful tool for motorcycle carburetor tuning).  I found that adding the rock salt dropped the temperature of the ice/water slush from about 32 degrees to about 3 degrees, which significantly improved the cooling in the cab.

Everything was very nearly a marvelous success, though it didn't take long for several mostly fatal flaws to emerge.  Thus, I'm not sure I can recommend this system to others facing similar circumstances.

This system runs through ice very, very quickly.  The air conditioning effect of my system would only last for about 45 to 60 minutes, after which the four to five bags of ice would be reduced to warm cabin temperature brine.  And as it doesn't make sense to break a 13 hour trip into 45 minute ice refilling segments we only had cool air for the first hour of every three or so.   Not to mention that the rate of ice consumption meant the system cost $5-8 an hour to operate, which is just pricey enough to make you think twice.  Worse luck, the fundamental resource without which the entire system wouldn't work (ice!) was magically unavailable at all the highway stops in West Virginia; WV was recovering from a serious storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents who had bought up all the ice to save their refrigerated groceries.  And the final problem was that an automatic transmission oil cooler was not designed to be used as a cold coil for an air conditioner.  The honeycomb lattice of aluminum that does the heat transfer, through which air passes and becomes cold, seemed exactly the wrong size to rid itself of condensation that would form.  Cooling hot oil would create no condensation, but cooling hot air does.  My cooling system was so efficient that within mere seconds all the honeycomb elements of the oil cooler would be plugged up with water causing making the fan to send much of its uncooled air spilling out wherever it could escape the blocked holes.  To keep things working I had to keep running my hand across the face of the cooler to break the surface tension of the water so that it could all run off and allow the fan to work again.  This had to be done every minute or so.  I tried using some fabric to wick away the water from the honeycomb and re-evaporate it, but that didn't work.  And I planned to try introducing a light solution of soap to  the radiator surface to see if that might be enough to let it shed its own water, but I never quite got around to it before we got home.

Journey's End

I think the truck survived the trip better than the humans (and the dog).

On the first day of our return journey we only made it an hour before the ice ran out and the oppressive heat was just too much.  We paused for a few hours in the shade of a tree off the interstate.  Once the afternoon had set in and the ice was refilled we made it only another hour or so before a violent storm came upon us and we took shelter in the lobby of a hotel.  And when the storm lingered we called it a day.  At that rate I began to fear it would be 3-5 days before we'd make it home.

The next day became an unexpectedly long one, and we ended up completing the remaining 640 miles without stopping to sleep.  It was not our choice, however. We had planned to stop four hours away from home, but not only was West Virginia out of ice (because of the aforementioned storm), every hotel was full up. We called more than twenty, all the ones that took dogs and a few that didn't.  In the end we were left with no option but to drive until we reached home.

While I can't claim to be an expert at driving five ton trucks, but the fact that I didn't hit anything, and had no problems surely says something.  I was actually amazed at how well it drove, aside from the miserable uphill speed.  I wasn't able to do more than 30 mph on many of the hills coming back.  Going only 30 mph when other vehicles are doing 75 mph is certainly not an ideal situation, but the advantage of driving through the night was that the bulk of the hills we encountered were climbed when few others were on the road.  The top speed of the vehicle on level ground is only about 57 or so, which meant that in the entire 720 mile trip I don't think I passed a single vehicle.

In the end the toll on man and dog was high.  The stress from the drive left us humans bickering through out the next couple of days, and Osita ended up with a vet trip to treat vomiting and mild dehydration.

But all of us restored, my focus will now be on turning the M820 into a mobile gentleman's study (and my office).

^ Quinxy

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