The other day I stumbled upon a website talking about Peripheral Vision Psychosis. In a nutshell (-case, more like*), this one armchair psychologist has by himself figured out the real secret behind so many modern day attrocities, e.g. the Virgia Tech shooting a few years ago. It's in the periphery, stupid. His argument is essentially this: We humans have peripheral vision, it was intended to allow us to focus on one thing while still being able to defend ourselves from peripheral threats. And while we've embraced the relative security and hubbub of modern environments, portions of our brains are still vigilantly trying to protect us from potential peripheral threats. If we're in environments with peripheral distractions (even the blinking lights of a computer hard drive), we experience a subconscious stress as our brains try to evaluate these non-existant potential threats. This stress can ultimately build and explode in a psychotic rage. Hmmm... I like theories, and I love conspiracies, but few merit belief. For me this one stretches incredulity, partly because of the details of the argument, but mostly because of the way the argument is presented. This drips of the excess excitement and made up terms (e.g., Cubicle Level Protection) of pseudoscience mixed with the annointed specialness of prophecy.
Ah well, I like me my craziness.
* lifted from Fawlty Towers
It's been my observation that women with unusually long hair (down towards or below their waist) tend to be trouble; they tend not to be relaxed, easy going types. This makes some intuitive sense, the decision to grow one's hair beyond a practical length is bold, and bold positions are usually held by people with strong personalities, and strong senses of what they want/expect from others.
Today I learned an important lesson: The Nobel Peace Prize is not what I thought it was. I, like so many around the world, was under the impression that the Nobel Peace Prize was meant to celebrate those long toiling heroes of peace, the ones who managed to change the world, the Ghandis, if you will. But, nope, apparently Ghandi didn't deserve one, but this newly elected president, only 9 months into his presidency, and still very short on achievements, does deserve one.
I've heard the Nobel people explain their position, that they are using this as a platform to recognize the change in tone Obama represents in American diplomacy, and reflect how this this change has improved the overall tone of the world's diplomacy, and hey, it's their prize, they can give it out to whoever they like using whatever criteria they like. Still... I'll never look at the prize the same way again. I hope the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is actually based on achievements in chemistry, and not just who improves the overall tone of chemistry around the world.
(And I like Obama, don't get me wrong. I pretty much agree with every part of his complicated view of the world.)
Taste is not a sufficient reason to kill an animal. We humans can live full, rich, happy, healthy lives without killing animals, and thus I cannot justify taking one of their lives because of my brain's perception of the difference between the taste of a veggie burger and a real burger.
I would not declare that eating meat is immoral, however (not for other people) . I think anyone who tries to argue that has a very difficult task ahead of him/her. Something that animals do naturally, something that evolution allowed and encouraged, is a tough sell as an immoral act. But it's not an impossible argument to make, and I personally believe in the argument (just not enough yet to impose it on others). We humans are funny creatures, our morality has evolved. We once obeyed evolution's commands and "took" our women, forcefully; we now (sensibly) recognize this arguably "natural" action (observed everywhere in nature) and call it rape. Where once men "needed" to rape women to grow the species, selecting for the physically strongest of the species, now we run a society where we achieve the same population growth goals, selecting for different measures of strength, while acknowledging the equal rights of women. Raping became immoral, despite genetics. We may have once needed to kill animals to get the high quality protein we needed to survive and thrive, but we no longer do. I would argue that the needless killing of animals has thus become immoral. But, I won't argue the point too long, or with people who don't enjoy the freethinking exploration of ideas. Life is too short to get into arguments with people who are unable to alter their views or uninterested in listening to other people's views.
It should be noted, that I am aware that the above logic carried forward means I should be a vegan. How do I justify the suffering of any animals for the "taste" of eggs, milk, etc.? While I always buy from "humane" sources when I go grocery shopping, and tend to stay away from dairy/etc., I do eat socially where the dairy, etc. was no doubt sourced on the basis of cost, and funds inhumanity. I recognize this inconsistency, and am trying to address it. Being vegan can represent quite a daily difficulty, social complications, and poses for me some specific health issues. Nonetheless, my not being vegan is one of my many "immoralities". We are all immoral, to varying degrees; and we are all (hopefully) striving to be better. Hopefully, one day soon, I will find a way to be vegan.
I sometimes enjoy listening to evangelical Christian radio when I drive. I am not a Christian, but it is familiar to me. I went to an Episcopalian school from 3rd grade through 12th, my school was on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral, and my house was across the street from that. My mother was a holiday Christian, and my dad was a devout new age Christian. I've always had a fascination with religions (and cults), and (to some degree) an admiration of the religious (and the spiritual). Most of my fascination with listening to Christian radio relates not to its familiarity, but to the fact that I hear their arguments and I can't agree with their conclusions. And I generally enjoy the process of listening to the other side of an argument, trying to see things from the other person's perspective, trying to isolate the critical link of difference in the chain of reasoning that divides us. But I digress, I just wanted to explain why I listen, and enjoy, evangelical Christian radio.
On this particular day I was listening to a female preacher talking to what seemed to be an audience of young, perhaps troubled, women. In the context of the lesson, the preacher was identifying common failings of men, particularly young men. No doubt most of the women could identify. The key failing she was identifying was that the men of their past weren't, and the men of their future weren't likely to be, there for them when they most needed them. And that's why, she argued, these women should put their faith and turn their love towards Jesus, because he would never treat them like those men have and will.
From my perspective, this logic is a bit of beautiful, peculiar bit of nonsense. Because the reality in the world of external actions is that all of her complaints about these men could be turned around and directed at Jesus instead. The only thing that differs is that she ascribes to the men a malice or disregard that she naturally doesn't to Jesus, but the non-subjective reality is of an arguably similar nature. If a girl asks her boyfriend for something reasonable and he fails to do it, that would be read by this preacher as a sign of his poor and unreliable nature. If a girl asks Jesus for something reasonable and He fails to do it, that's just His ineffable divine plan. No one is allowed to require anything of Jesus or God. Many feel Their presence, feel the warm embrace of His love, but no one can expect anything specific of Him; He does as He sees fit, and faith promises that is how it was meant to be. These ladies' men aren't afforded the same lack of expectation. If the women were able to apply a similar faith with these men, turning their variance from expectation into a piece of some grand plan of theirs, they would likely find a greater solace and be less critical. Viewed from this misplaced (but arguable) faith, anything he does can have a positive spin. A man who leaves a girl when he finds out she's pregnant is merely providing her the opportunity to discover and nurture her inner strength; he would not have put her in that situation if she couldn't handle it. Similarly, a man that cheats on a woman could merely be teaching her an important lesson about the transitory nature of attachment. Anything he does can be cast in some defensible light.
And I do understand that the preacher sees a quite fundamental difference, that the big He is to be trusted and worthy of faith, infallible, while the little he is not any of these things, though both may refuse to be judged according to expectations.
(Anyway, I likely haven't done this argument justice, the people who agree with me will likely understand immediately what I was trying to say but didn't quite, and those that disagree will have no great trouble finding faults with my hurried argument.)
I use Gmail frequently (via Google Apps). I use it out of necessity more than preference. The interface I like the best is MS Outlook, but that's on my OQO Model 02 (UMPC). And that computer's performance has degraded (Vista) over time, its extended battery died (swelled up like it was about to have little baby batteries), and the maker (OQO) went bankrupt (making upgrades and batteries unattainable), so my ardor for that platform has waned. And even before that, the ability to switch between the three main computers I use daily and have my latest drafts right there is certainly a benefit of Gmail no one can deny.
So what don't I like about Gmail? To my mind there are two egregious errors in their product:
- Their spam email catching system is great, except for the false positives.
- There are conversations, and then there are sub-conversations. And the one shouldn't be viewed as the other.
Spam is a major problem. I should know, I've used the same email addresses for 12 years now, so I get 1,500+ spam emails a day. And while Gmail does an amazing job at eliminating those from my inbox, it does so at the unacceptable cost of taking away a small fraction of my legit email. Because I get so many spam emails, and because Google offers no sorting options, there's no way I can review my spam mail in Google to catch the legit ones Google has wrongly flagged. And thus, I lose some legit email. Maybe I've lost some from long lost friends, maybe I've lost some from an ex-gf writing to apologize for some distant sin, maybe I've lost some from business colleagues about to offer my company a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'll never know, because Google eats 'em up. I can't believe that Google doesn't have any configurable options for their spam filter. It should at least have an option for turning it off, or for only marking things as spam that are guaranteed to be spam. Let's be clear, some things are safely discarded as spam, if Google has seen the same email sent to 13,492 of their users, that's not an email from my long lost cousin Jim. It can always safely mark that as spam. But Gmail will also mark as spam an email from your long lost cousin Jim that it happens to suspect is spam, based on unspecified criteria. Perhaps Jim's email includes a url pointing to a picture of their newborn baby, who is unfortunately and spam-suspiciously named Buy. Point being Google treats both sorts of things the same, moving both to the spam folder when I should have some control over that. And if you're not going to do that, at least give me access to the spam folder via POP, so that I can examine them more efficiently myself. In Outlook I can quickly clean out my spam folder by various sorting techniques. Since I get so much spam, sorting by title aggregates 98% of the spam and I can just walk through it and delete it in chunks very quickly, rescuing the false positives as I go. Gmail feels, apparently, that sorting email isn't something users would ever want to do, so they provide no such options (unlike everyone else). So, Gmail causes me to lose some valid email, and that is frustrating. I still use Gmail, knowing this, but only just barely, hoping some solution will appear on the horizon.
Everything is not best viewed as one conversation. There are many situations in which Gmail's version of a "conversation view" is unworkable. For example. I post a job ad on Craigslist. I get 150 responses from applicants. Some of the applicants keep the CL post's original title, some change it. Some people insert their own title, but often enough using generic titles that others are also using. Gmail's criteria for a conversation is based on the email subject. So these odd groupings of conversations start to appear in my inbox. One job ad, 150 responses, might show up as 14 different conversations. And, worse yet, I open up one of these conversations and see 25 responses, I then reply to the individual people in the conversation, and when they respond they show up nested within that same conversation, while other new responses are still showing up at the end of the conversation. And when any of those people reply, that entire conversation floats back up to the top, but I've got to go walk through the thing again, looking to see if 1 person or 14 people had replied to these separate but wrongly grouped conversations. It's totally unworkable. I invariably need to switch to Outlook to deal with these situations, otherwise I can't keep track of things and end up failing to respond to lots of people. For god's sake, Gmail, let us turn off the conversation view when we need to!!! One thing I deeply resent is when people or companies think they are so much more clever than everyone else and force a feature on you that you don't necessarily want, and they suppress features you have long needed and relied upon on the grounds that they know better what you need. Gmail is the only email front-end that I know about that forces you to view everything as a conversation, with no option to view it normally. If they really wanted to do the conversation thing right, aside from letting you turn it off when needed, use better criteria for what is a conversation. It should not just be based on the subject of the email. There are hidden headers you can use, which I believe Outlook and others use to thread messages. Also, you can pretty well guess threading based on any quoted content in a response.
Anyway, I have other complaints about Gmail, but those are the two points where their product is (for me) completely broken, and barely usable.
My friend from high school, Edie, was having a wedding reception Saturday evening. I already had plans Friday, and couldn't be away from work or home for very long, having just had a holiday recently. I also wanted to try and do the trip on the cheap, and that meant keeping it short. I found a Virgin American flight for $219 that would take me from LA to DC and back in 26 hours.
Since the trip was going to be so short and semi-frivolous, I decided to make it a challenge. I decided I would try to travel very differently from my usual way. This time I would take as little as possible and have everything go as smoothly as possible, no luggage, no hand bags, no laptop, park at the gate, and do a rental car on the other side.
Only things I allowed myself to take were:
- noise cancelling headphones
- extended battery (for phone)
- cell phone charger
- antibacterial hand wipes (nobody wants the H1N1)
- Travel still sucks. You can remove the stress of getting to the airport on time, dealing with security, worrying about the overhead bin room available, worrying about under seat space giving you no place to put your feet, and when every negative you can control is removed, the fact is, modern travel still really sucks.
- Wear something with a zippered pocket. I was constantly worried about dropping stuff, my hoodie had the sort of packets which allow anything to drop out, and my pants threatened to lost things whenever i was seated.
- The zippered pocket would have solved most of my problem, but even so, a little bag would have gone a long way to making life simpler. As it was security was more of a hassle, and I had most of my stuff in the behind the seat pouch, which wasn't ideal.
- The most annoying item in my pocket was the toothbrush. I took my usual one in a holder, and toothbrushes are too long for comfortable pocket use. I should have gotten one of those folding ones.
- Anti-perspirant. While I didn't smell, it was no doubt in part because I borrowed some anti-perspirant after a shower in DC.
Virgin was always my favorite way to fly because of their in flight entertainment system. Unfortunately, they now charge $8/movie, which reduced the fun of it somewhat. On the plus side, they had in flight wifi internet! First time I've used that. Worked quite well. It cost $8 for the flight, but it paid for itself. I watched a few movies and videos off the internet, and kept up on email.
Best moments of the trip:
- Seeing my friend, Edie.
- It was chilly and pouring rain in DC, and I love rain.
- I played Frisbee in the rain, and I was still better than everyone else!
- I watched a movie about a conspiracy involving the Titanic. Apparently there is a conspiracy which says that Titanic never sank! That a scheme was hatched to sink her sister ship, Olympic, by relabeling her Titanic, and then collecting the insurance (Olympic having been damaged some months before). Apparently there's a conspiracy about everything. I even heard one about Mother Theresa once.
And that was my trip.
From a larger work entitled "The Faces of Love":
in a parallel universe somewhere
we are lying still,
some aimless sunday morning.
we are looking at the world sideways,
but each other right side up.
i am opening my mouth to speak
and you are opening yours to yawn.
i pause, and watch your eyes squint shut.
your arms swing wide to stretch,
your body writhes,
the edges of your mouth curl up,
and when it's done,
your gaze again meets mine,
and for a moment i am lost
we made this little world of ours:
our refuge from the universe of things
we can't control
and upon which we can't rely.
and now i make a free choice,
as every morning,
to love you.
not for all the goodly reasons
every other they do,
but for all the reasons
they have missed.
you are still looking at me,
i crawl my left hand over
and renew our introduction.
i draw you in, our limbs entwine.
the day can have us for its use,
but not quite yet.
Poet Taras Zaitsev, various poems over various years
Translation by Quinxy von Besiex, 2009