Posts tagged ‘dumplings’

2022/12/26

December 26th, 2022

We made just 106 dumplings this year, plus another eight filled with Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese (that was the little boy’s idea; they’re pretty good!). This is a smaller number than usual (drill back into prior years here). The small number was probably mostly because single units of ground meat from FreshDirect tend to weigh just a pound, whereas single units from the grocery in prior years were more like 1.25 to 1.4 pounds. (Although, come to think of it, just where did we get the ground meat last year? Not sure.) And also because grownups tend to put more meat in each dumpling, perhaps. But in any case, we are now all pleasantly full, and the little daughter and her BF are safely back in the urbanity.

What has occurred? I feel like things have occurred, to an extent. I am more on Mastodon now than on Twitter, and if you want to keep up with the images I’ve been making in Midjourney and so on, you’ll want my Pixelfed feed. I listed lots of various of these pointers back the other week (and wow having every chapter of the novel as a weblog post makes it hard to scroll through the weblog). When Elon “facepalm” Musk briefly prohibited linking from Twitter to Mastodon, I actually set up a LinkTree page with my links.

Someone must have said “they can still link to Mastodon via Linktree” in his hearing, because he then briefly prohibited linking to LinkTree. That caused me to set up my own Links page over on the neglected (and in fact apparently pretty much empty) theogeny.com; I should put back all the stuff that used to be there sometime!

Note how ossum that Links page is! When you move the cursor over it, the thing that the mouse is over that you will go to if you click (if any) changes color (although I drew the line at having it bouncily change size the way Linktree does). You can look at the page source, and see the lovely hand-coded CSS and HTML. :) It even validates! (w3c seems to have a change of mind about validation badges, which makes me a little sad, so there’s no little “valid HTML 5!” badge on the page that links to the verification of the claim, but hey.)

That reminded me of the One-Dimensional Cellular Automaton that I make in hand-coded CSS and HTML and JavaScript the other year; it vanished for a long time, even from my personal backups of davidchess.com, and I’d almost given up on finding it until I thought of the Internet Archive‘s Wayback Machine, and discovered that it had snapshotted that page exactly once, in February of 2012.

So after a bit of fiddling around, I can once again present the One-Dimensional Cellular Automaton for your amusement. The page source there is also quite readable, I tell myself.

Note that many other things on davidchess.com are currently / still broken, although in the process of bringing that page back, I also brought the main page back, so you can see the extremely retro rest of the site (working and otherwise), including the entries in this (well, sort of “this”) weblog between 1999 and 2011.

Oh yeah, we had Christmas! That was nice. :) I got lots of chocolate, and the little (not little anymore) boy gave me a digital image of Spennix (my WoW main) dressed like the pioneer in the Satisfactory game, with a perfect “Spennixfactory” logo. And wife and daughter both got me books: “The Hotel Bosphorus” (a murder mystery set in Istanbul, my current Bucket List destination, and involving a bookshop, so what could be better?) from M, and “Klara and the Sun” (which I’ve been meaning to get, but never had) from the little daughter. (She thought that maybe I already had it and that’s why Klara is called “Klara” in the Klara stories, but it was as far as I know a complete coincidence.)

I’m working away at Part Three of Klara, after she leaves the clockwork world, but it’s slow going. I have an actual plot in mind that I want to illustrate, and I’m using a different graphical style which necessitates a different Midjourney workflow that I haven’t quite optimized yet. But it’ll get done! Probably! :)

We close with a Seasonal Image for the Solstice…

A disc with abstract shapes of fir trees, decorations, planets, and whatnot around the edge. In the center a round shape with small spiked protrusions, perhaps the sun, sits atop what may be a tree trunk that projects upward from what may be the ground and some roots at the bottom of the image. Branches stick out of the perhaps-sun, and some stars and planets and a few more enigmatic shapes inhabit the spaces between the branches.

Here’s to the coming of the longer days! Or the cooler ones, to those on the flipside… :)

2021/12/27

December

The most important fact first: we made 170 dumplings this year (follow the tracks to prior years’ numbers!). There were five of us, because the little daughter brought along a gentleman acquaintance, so we had to limit ourselves to 34 dumplings each (hehe, joke, we had leftovers!).

That’s about it. Well, it’s been nice being off from work. And it’ll be nice being oncall tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday, because I will do that from home in a relaxed and comfortable manner. Unless Something Goes Wrong. Which I’m sure it won’t.

I’ve been playing a lot (a lot) of the game Satisfactory, in which one is dropped onto a scenic alien world, and has to construct things to build machines to make things to build more machines and factories and power plants and eventually hoverpacks and monorail trains and things. It is great fun!

r/SatisfactoryGame - Overly proud of my West Coast oil-power station

That is an aerial view of a power plant that I built, that converts crude oil to fuel, and burns that fuel for energy. (It also generates “polymer resin”, which is carried by the conveyor belt at the bottom there to another factory, which makes that into plastic and rubber for other purposes.) It’s gotten quite a bit bigger since I took that picture.

This is my second time through the game; this time I am building much nicer-looking factories, and also vaguely intending to get to the end without mining any uranium or making any nuclear reactors, because those make nuclear waste, which is annoying either to store or to reprocess into something that can be safely disposed of. (I think the designers may be teaching a subtle lesson there.)

I have also been listening to various YouTubers in the background. The algorithm first took me from I think it was Paulogia (an ex-evangelical who now debunks various evangelical things) to Emma Thorne (who talks about creationist things, and also MLM and other general things, and has the most adorable British accent) to Rachel Oates (similar but different adorable accent) and eventually to Jenny Nicholson (no British accent, but very funny, mostly reviews of various bad movies, bad books, bad fanfiction, and other bad things, as well as a fascinating (and very funny) description of the history and status of Brony fandom). So I’ve been listening to those in the background more than my usual vaguely-cop shows like NCIS or CSI or Bones or Lie To Me or whatever.

Which is perhaps a good thing, because as someone pointed out probably on Twitter, not only are the cop shows obviously copaganda, but the medical shows are similarly an attempt to make it look like the US medical system is all good and wonderful and fair. While in fact it isn’t.

How about that worldwide pandemic, speaking of which? This Omicron variant may keep me from getting back into the city for another week or three, and I am not pleased! At least it seems somewhat less deadly than Alpha and Delta, and that’s good. I’m on the Review Panel or whatever it is on our local NextDoor (for my sins), and the number of delusional Covid Truthers that apparently live not all that far from me is truly saddening.

Ach, I think I will go build more factories on an alien planet while listening to people debunking creationism in the background for awhile. It seems to be comforting…

2020/12/24

Christmas Eve, 2020

Continuing the tradition of recent years, of doing various New Year things at Christmas time instead, we made 158 dumplings today. This compares plausibly to the mere 113 in late 2019, the 161 in early 2018, and so on, back to say the 140 in 2007 and so on back into the Time of Mists.

some Chinese-style dumplings on trays waiting to be boiled(We also gathered a new statistic, and determined that between the four of us, now all nominally adults for some years, we ate just about 107 of them for dinner. We are rather full. Probably any dessert will have to wait.)

Yesterday we made the Christmas Cookies, using a recipe card from Sherbrooke Village in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, that has inter alia a hand-written note at the bottom saying to save a certain reindeer-shaped cookie for Christmas Day, in 1996.

Which was like ten years ago, right?

Tomorrow we’ll be Opening Presents, making a nice modest ham dinner, eating (store-bought, woot!) Sweet Potato Pie, and being amused by my attempt to bake Farmer McDowell’s Famous Midpoint Mushroom, Apple, and Sour Cherry Pie, from a computer-generated recipe in my 2020 NaNoWriMo novel. We don’t have any sour cherries (is that even a thing?) but I have the feeling that that’s not going to be the main snag. :)

A small Christmas tree on a tableWe have the pretty little artisanal tree up on a table this year, where it looks rather nice, and the usual Christmas playlists are playing on the stereo from various Apple and Android devices. The stockings, also, are hung by the chimney with care!

We’re very lucky to have all four of us together, having been able to take sufficient precautions and exercise sufficient waiting periods to be comfortable being together in the house without regard to distance. Kind and underpaid people bring various things and put them on the front porch, and we tip generously, if not sufficiently.

I am on vacation for quite awhile, because I booked it before I realized that the new employer (new as in a mere seven or so years now) doesn’t do anything special to vacation days at the end of a year. So I needn’t have, but it’s nice.

The world is strange. I have been paying altogether too much attention to the vile acts of the outgoing President, and to the various crackpot theories of those of his remaining followers who either believe or just loudly declare that he will continue to be President after January 20th. Fortunately this seems unlikely, but it will be a great relief when he is finally and thoroughly out of power. I could write quite a bit about all of that, but at the moment I don’t think it would be healthy.

It has been such a year, for so many people. I’ve suffered comparatively little, as I undeservedly tend to; many other people have suffered undeservedly much more. There are so many hopeful signs at the moment that I almost dare to be optimistic. But I’m going to try to resist that until say February, and just Hang In There and tip well in the meantime.

I miss Manhattan! As I may have mentioned before, I have snuck in for a day on my own just wandering around (and avoiding Indoor Dining) a couple of times during this Very Long Month of March, but at the moment it doesn’t look like a terrific idea this month. We went in the other day to pick up the little daughter, the boy and I did, but didn’t even get out of the car to speak of.

Get those vaccines distributing! I want to ride a crowded subway train, sit crammed into a corner table listening to live jazz, drop into a familiar bagel store for the first time and get an onion bagel with whitefish (not toasted).

I may go for a long drive in the suburban countryside sometime in the next several days, just to see things I haven’t seen recently, and get a feeling of movement.

And I should meditate! This is almost always true. :) Meditation and sleep have in common that they are easy to do, and I love doing both of them, and also tend to put off both for as long as possible. The main difference being that sleep is much more insistent.

Blessed Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays, and Bonus Novus Annus to all!

Here’s to a very different 2021. <3

2019/12/24

Jingle Bells!

Wow it has been forever since I posted content (“content”) here! And it seems like I say that every time I post content! And probably I say that every time I post content as well! Tradition.

So this year we made a mere 113 dumplings. They were on average larger than usual, is our impression, perhaps due to the little boy having taken over the skin-rolling duties from his mother this year. Larger dumplings should mean comparatively more use of filling (see square-cube law), but regardless of that “should” we also had considerable filling left over (so probably we just didn’t make as much dough). There is now a small container of filling in the refrigerator, offering the prospect of “burgers!” as the little daughter put it.

The 113 dumplings are fewer than the 161 at the beginning of 2018; shockingly, there seems to be no record of the number we made at the beginning of 2019. Scientists baffled and all.

We are doing Christmas Things a day early, and sort of folding in some New Years Things too, because due to adulthood and things one or more of the children have to leave tomorrow (the 25th) and won’t necessarily be here for the 1st. We’ve done dumplings (yesterday) and present-opening (today) and currently we are playing with presents and I am baking pies (not that anyone asked for pies, but I wanted to make some so there).

I got a lovely little note from a long-time reader saying that my solstice letter from eight years ago is part of their family tradition; that made me feel warm and validated!

We were talking about the experience of remembering some entire significant thing from earlier in one’s life that one had until then entirely forgotten about (because it sort of figures in the 2019 NaNoWriMo novel, of which perhaps more below), and the little daughter said that that can happen with books or movies or games that one experienced a long time ago, because they are both significantly large pieces of experience, and also things that it’s not hard to accidentally forget.

And in that vein she suggested a game that at least some of us had obsessed over significantly years ago involving these little like animals or monkeys or something that you had to take care of, and after blanking on it for a bit it suddenly came back to me in a perfect example of the phenomenon we were talking about, where you suddenly remember an entire piece of, basically, yourself that had once been important but you hadn’t thought about in years.

It turns out the game was called “Creatures” and the little animals or monkeys or whatever are called “Norns”, and I was quite obsessed with their behavior and learning and genetics and things (which were represented quite explicitly in the game, which is what made it so obsessable-about). I looked around online and found that there is an actual page about me in an ancient wiki about the game, which points into the Creatures pages that I used to maintain on the AOL (hahaha) user web pages, but which are now gone.

I looked around on various hard drives (“hard drives”) in the house here for nested “from the old computer” directories that might go back to 1997 or so (before the original weblog started!), but didn’t find anything (I think there’s at least one laptop lying around gathering dust that’s still nominally waiting for me to copy all of the content off of it to a more recent machine; I should use The Cloud!).

Well after turning off the lights last night, though, I thought of One More Thing To Try, and lo and behold here is a copy of those pages in the amazing Internet Archive (I gave them money; you should too!). It turns out that I was indeed quite into all that stuff, down to file formats and long amusing stories about my Norns and their genetic mutations and all.

I should figure out how to restore a tree of pages from the Archive back to disk, and put them onto the Modern Web somewhere.

Because no information should ever be lost! Even though that’s impossible!

I did finish a novel this November! I’m even pretty happy with it. For complicated reasons not worth going into here I’m not going to post a link to it immediately, but it’s done and it’s over 50,000 words, and that’s pretty cool. It starts out with something on the radio reminding Our Hero of the time he first moved into the house outside Pittsburgh that he lived in for awhile, but on the other hand he’s never lived in a house outside Pittsburgh, so that’s odd.

This connected to the whole idea of suddenly remembering things that did in fact happen, but you’d just forgotten, and onward to the ancient Norns.

The world continues otherwise pretty much unchanged. I commute into the city about four days a week, and work happily for a company that I am at the moment a bit worried about (I mean, wth?), on an island that is pretty much the center of the universe by all completely objective measures. The kids are adulting to various extents, living not here but at least in other places in the State of New York so we see them pretty often.

I am working on getting the Legion Class Mount on my Prot Paladin, which is made easier by the fact that he’s level 120 and the Legion content is intended for level 110 characters (and pally tanks are way OP anyway). I already have the Class Mounts for Rogue, Hunter, Demon Hunter, Death Knight and ummm maybe that’s it I forget. (Oh, wait, and Monk. And Priest.)

I don’t go into Second Life much these days except to feed the cats (yes, I seem to possess a small finite number of virtual cats which require virtual food which costs virtual money which is acquired mostly with real money, which is a brilliant setup by the creators of said cats and food). Sometimes I think I should cut back on my land and things in SL, which also cost real money, but even though I don’t go in very often, it still feels like a part of me somehow, so I don’t.

  • I got an espresso maker for Christmas (Solstice), so now I can make espresso!
  • I got also various other things, no less appreciated for not being listed explicitly here!

I am rather constantly on Twitter; it’s quite an addictive thing in the potentially dangerous “lots of little squirts of validation at somewhat unpredictable intervals” way. But I’m finding it also a good way to get news without having to actually consume much media directly, which involves the risk of accidentally seeing Donald Trump speak or something.

(I think one of the reasons I haven’t weblogged much is that it seems like talking about anything but the current threats to the world from various powerful evil people (Trump, McConnell, Johnson, Putin, etc, etc) is beside the point, given the importance of the things that they are threats to; but I have convinced myself that at least for this one day Solstice-Season day I can do that.)

I’ve also bought for myself a little Zafu (a Zen meditation cushion; the label says “Yoga meditation pillow”, but I think it will still work) and a Zabuton (well, a little blanket) to put under it, which I am hoping and assuming will lead me to actually meditate more (I am getting so much more comfortable with the word “meditate! I think that is good!) rather than having a sitting practice that consists primarily of not sitting.

Picture of a small artisanal Christmas tree with lights and presents underneath, and to the left is a Zafu sitting on a folded blanket for a Zabuton.

Here (somewhere around here) is a picture of the little artisanal Christmas tree and some presents under it, and then to the left my Zafu and Zabuton, so far only briefly test-driven and not used for actual Sitting, in the sense that “actual Sitting” is a thing.

(Ooops, the timer went off, so I have to go check the pumpkin pie; I will put up the picture after I check it. Although you will see it before that. Or, really, after that. You know.)

(The pie needs probably five more minutes. On the other hand by the time I figure out how to get WordPress to flow text around an image, it’s going to be done. Ha, apparently you just “Align Right”; simpler than I expected with all of these “blocks” and “groups and things lurking about. I’d like to get rid of the top padding or whatever that is and have the top of the image align with the top of the text on the first paragraph of text to the left, but, as they say, whatever. Or maybe that’s just an edit-mode thing, and it will look how I want once it’s published. Or!)

We are somewhat startled to discover that this pumpkin pie recipe is twenty years old. Good Heavens? On the other hand, what’s twenty years, really? Next we will work on the chocolate silk pie, which we have already made the crust for (and wow is it nothing like the even round uniform crust on that web page there). And perhaps Christmas Cookies later on.

So I will probably go off and do that soon. What else shall I leave you, devoted reader, with? I’ve been reviewing books that I finish now and then; see for instance me on GoodReads and I guess me on Amazon (I have the vague impression that GoodReads and Amazon share book reviews, unless they don’t, except sometimes).

Happy Solstice and Other Winter Holiday of Your Choice, and Happy New Year! May we all be blessed, and realize that we are. Maybe I will write again here some day!

2017/01/02

January Second

So yesterday we made 144 dumplings (or 145, or possibly 143, or even 146); this seems like a small number!  The Records are surprisingly spotty in recent years, but apparently we made 203 in 2013 (I don’t recall noticing the coincidence before)and 159 in 2012.  Older records are currently inaccessible because of the whole “I’m not entirely sure who it was that used to be hosting my personal websites, but they’ve stopped” situation.

I ought to do something about that sometime.

Anyway, although they were gross (haha!), the dumplings were as always delicious. Possibly even more delicious than sometimes, due to every last spoonful of an entire jar of Hoisin Sauce going into the mix, which it’s possible we don’t always do.

I finished The Throwback Special, which the little daughter gave me for Solstice, and Said Things about it on The GoodReads:

The Throwback Special
(4/5 stars)

A relatively mundane (if odd) event, told in often sparkling, lovely, mordant, satirical, effulgent, ironic, occasionally entirely over-the-top prose. The characters constantly overthink everything, and the author overthinks on top of that, so every event is garlanded with emotion, dilemma, philosophy, elation, dread. It is funny, silly, deep, insightful.

You will annoy those around you by reading sentences aloud.

and I did in fact annoy (and/or amuse) those around me by reading sentences aloud, and also sent the little daughter random texts like

Tommy’s face looked weird because he was doing exercises to strengthen his pelvic floor.

which is in fact a quote from the book.

Oh, and Happy New Year! Here is my Second Life New Year Card, whose sentiments apply to all y’all RL (as we say) persons as well.  Kindness and compassion, kindness and compassion.

(The people in the picture are, as is traditional, both me.  I have never lured M into Second Life; I suspect she thinks it is weird.)

Back to work tomorrow!  Which, despite involving getting up entirely too early and spending hours away from home and all, I am in various ways looking forward too; still loving Google, and the commute, and the City.

Now to choose another book to read.  And to continue mostly not playing WoW!

 

 

 

 

2013/01/04

Dumplings, Dastards, and Drivel

(Before I decided that the dumplings really belonged in here, I was considering titles like “Douchebags and Bullshit”, which is somewhat coarse, or “Rotters and Rubbish”, which wasn’t bad.)

So this year we made 203 New Year’s Dumplings. The little daughter having come home special for the ceremonies, and the little boy being home from school between terms, we were four healthy adults, and the leftovers of that 203 didn’t even last through the end of January Second.

(See prior New Year’s post for prior history of dumplings.)

Here is my New Year card over on the Secret Second Life weblog. The sentiments apply to all Real Life friends too also. :)

On dastards (cads, bounders, douchenozzles, arseholes), see quite a few of the comments to this Asher Wolf posting on why she left the CryptoParty movement that she founded or co-founded, and how the hacker community contains too much, and too much tolerance of, sexism and misogyny and general nastiness.

Many of the comments are supportive, but many are also just facepalmingly awful. (I posted what I thought was a satire of that kind of comment, and despite my having tried to make it obviously absurd, it was enough like the run of actual negative comments that I had to put in a followup saying that it was intended as satire, because people were responding to it as though it, well, wasn’t.) And the evil-density in the twitter comments was even higher (if harder to link to).

I understand why people come in and carefully and condescendingly explain how she is all wrong, and bad things happen to everyone, and it’s not misogyny, and rape hardly every happens, and things like that; they are just blind to their various degrees of privilege, and are shoring up the bulwarks of the protective walls they have up around their egos.

Pretty standard human stuff.

I less understand why people come in and say that someone “needs to shave her pits”, or says that some particular person attacking her is “way hotter” than someone else is. I mean, wut? How is that even remotely relevant to anything?

Either (1) this is actually the way that they think, (2) they are just rather nastily trolling, or (3) talking about the way they “think” is a bit of an overstatement, and they are basically being Eliza machines in this instance.

Also pretty standard human stuff, I suppose, as are the strings of obscenities and the attacks on her website; I just don’t understand it as much, and it makes me (even) sadder.

And on drivel (or rubbish, or bullshit), I am reading Belief or Nonbelief, and while I’m not done with it (despite how short it is), I cannot keep myself from fulminating, or at least weblogging, about it. It’s a series of public letters between Umberto Eco and Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who is a Cardinal (a Hat Cardinal, not a Wings Cardinal, obviously).

Eco is sort of The Semiotics Guy, so he is all into signs and how and what they signify (if at all), and so on, so it’s not too surprising that he can wander up big ethereal staircases of language until he gets so far above the concrete that his words not only fail to signify anything material, but fail to signify even any identifiable concepts. And of course Martini is an intelligent person in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, and spending most of his thought-time in environments as far from real life as possible is probably one of the few ways it’s possible to be one of those for very long and stay sane.

Hilarity ensues.

The first bit is about hope and life and ideas of the end of the world and stuff; it was written somewhere in the late 90’s. Eco, referring to the last book of the New Testament, writes

Revelation can be read as a promise, but also an announcement of an end, and thus gets rewritten at every step, even by those who never read it, as we await 2000.

Say what? People who have never read the book are constantly rewriting it? Squinting at the whole paragraph really hard, what he means is something like “people are always thinking about how the world might end, and Revelation talks about trumpets and hailstorms and stuff, but nowadays we think more in terms of acid rain, nuclear waste, global warming, and stuff”.

It does sound cooler and less obvious if you talk about the constant rewriting of a book by people who have never read it, but that way of talking has the disadvantage of being incoherent and/or wrong.

Here’s another great passage:

In this way, each one of us flirts with the specter of the apocalypse, exorcising it; the more one unconsciously fears it the more one exorcises, projecting it onto the screen in the form of bloody spectacle, hoping in this way to render it unreal. But the power of specter lies precisely in its unreality.

Yowza! We unconsciously fear the end of the world, so we flirt with it by projecting it (“hey baby, ever been… projected?”) onto the screen (does that mean “we imagine”? or “we make movies about” or…?) in the form of bloody spectacle (we imagine global warming as bloody spectacle? could well be true of the movie version, I spose) in order to (unconsciously, still?) render it unreal (because things on the screen are unreal I guess), but in vain because (as our unconscious is apparently not clever enough to recognize) making it unreal just makes it more powerful.

And the sentence just before it is about “irresponsible consumerism”, which is somehow linked to all that other stuff.

There’s probably some unpacking of this that is actually making a coherent truth-claim that might perhaps be falsifiable, but in essence I think it’s more like poetry; a bunch of words piled on each other not to make some coherent truth-claim, but for some more diaphanous aesthetic reason.

The very next paragraph deserves copying down here also (perhaps only because I’m getting more into the spirit of the thing):

I’d be willing to bet that the notion of the end of time is more common today in the secular world than in the Christian. The Christian world makes it the object of meditation, but acts as if it may be projected into a dimension not measured by calendars. The secular world pretends to ignore the end of time, but is fundamentally obsessed by it. This is not a paradox, but a repetition of what transpired in the first thousand years of history.

Leaving aside the absurdity of referring (as I think he is doing here, but really who can tell) to the years 1-1000 CE as “the first thousand years of history”, it’s hard to say what most of these words might plausibly mean.

Just how common is “the notion of the end of time” in “the secular world”? He has presumably said “the end of time” rather than “the end of the world” for some reason, but I don’t know what it could be. “The end of time” is a notion that barely makes any sense at all in “the secular world” (since time is not something that can end, absent something really weird and non-secular happening), much less being extremely common. The dimension that is “measured by calendars” is time; I’m not sure what it means to say that the Christian world acts as if the end of time occurs in (or “may be projected into”) something besides time. Is he saying that most Christians think of the Apocalypse is a metaphor for something moral or aesthetic, rather than something that will actually take place at some point? That is most likely true, but as far as I know the Official Story of the “Christian world” is that it’s going to happen (for some value of “it”) at some actual time, perhaps any day now.

Maybe he’s just saying “your typical actual Christian person doesn’t actually believe that the world is going to end, or at least doesn’t act that way, whereas your typical secular person worries alot about global warming”. But he sure says it funny if so.

Here’s another character-string, that I don’t think I’ll even try to tease a meaning out of (although the first few words seem like a real screamer, in the “obviously false unless it means something different than it seems to” sense):

Christianity invented History, and it is in fact a modern incarnation of the Antichrist that denounces History as a disease. It’s possible that secular historicism has understood history as infinitely perfectible — so that tomorrow we improve upon today, always and without reservation, and so that in the course of the same history God reconstitutes himself and in a manner of speaking educates and enriches himself. But the entire secular world is not of the ideological view that through history we understand how to look at the regression and folly of history itself. There is, nonetheless, an originally Christian vision of history wherever the signpost of Hope on this road is followed.

On rereading, I’m suspecting more and more that Eco, that wag, is using some prose generator here. (Secular historicism has understood that God reconstitutes himself? Orly?)

Cardinal Martini’s response to this first burst of words isn’t quite up to this standard, but he does use a huge number of words to basically say “oh, well, Christians don’t really have to worry about the end of the world because God is going to take care of them, after all, so naturally the secular types are the ones who obsess about it”.

He does, though, note that

History has always been seen most clearly as a journey toward something beyond itself and not immanent… this vision does not extenuate but solidifies the meaning of contingent events into an ethical locus in which the metahistorical future of the human adventure is determined.

which is getting there.

(And which, once one spends a few minutes picking it apart, turns out to box up considerable volumes of likely-false assumptions inside words and passive-voice constructs like “always” and “most clearly”, “been seen” and “is determined”, which are just the post-graduate version of sprinkling one’s Internet postings with “clearly”, “obviously”, and “certainly”.)

(And for that matter uses a quaintly archaic sense of “extenuate”. Hm, is this a translation, or is the English the original?)

In the next exchange (and the only other one I’ve finished reading), Eco turns the discussion toward the meaning and beginning of life, and the question of abortion, not so much as to get closer to real concrete questions as to show that even on a subject like this he can mostly avoid them.

Here is Eco:

When the banner of Life is waved, it can’t but move the spirit — especially of nonbelievers, however “pietistic” their atheism, because for those who do not believe in anything supernatural the idea of Life, the feeling of Life, provides the only value, the only source of a possible ethical system.

which is bullshit in both common senses: it’s false, and it’s not clear that it’s actually concerned at all with true and false, but just wants to sound good.

(The quotes around “pietistic” in reference to atheism are rather bizarre, as it suggests that “pietistic atheism” is a term that someone else has used, and that Eco himself is using referentially, although he has shame-quote-level reservations about it. But in fact the term “pietistic atheism” is actually pretty rare, so… I dunno.)

And of course just “waving the banner of Life” doesn’t necessarily move the spirit; some people’s spirits are (quite healthily) resistant to being moved by the waving of any banners, and there are all sorts of sources of possible ethical systems besides “the idea of Life, the feeling of Life”.

And so on and so on.

Eco then makes the very good point that a key question is exactly when a human life begins, that we don’t have a really good answer to it, and that it seems like a question that we may never have a really good answer to, even though it’s so important. (I like him saying this, because in my own analysis of the whole abortion issue, these facts are at the core of why it’s so hard.)

The Cardinal responds by subtly taking issue with Eco’s emphasis on “Life”, saying of course that it’s really all about God, and “the life of a person called upon to participate in the life of God himself.”

“Participate” is a great word there, like when the news says that a person is “linked to” some terrorist group. The postmodern “informed by” is another one. They all let you sort of draw a narrative line between two things without actually making any truth-claim that might turn out to be wrong. I have no idea what it actually means to “participate in the life of God himself” for Cardinal Martini, and I’m not convinced that he really does, either. At the high cloudy levels that he’s talking, “participate” is all that’s needed.

Moving on to just when there starts to be “a concrete life that I can label human”, Martini uses some more “obviously” words:

But we all know that we have … a clearer sense of genetic determination starting from a point that, at least in theory, can be identified. From conception, in fact, a new being is born.

There ya go! “We all know” that “in fact” a new being is born at conception.

Here “new” means as distinct from the two elements that united to form it.

This may be a nice definition of “new”, but the more important term is “being”. When someone ingests a couple pieces of food and they start to dissolve in the stomach, there may be some point at which they squish together and there is a “new” food-glob which is distinct from either the hotdog or the bun, but there’s no “new being” here to worry about, unless and until the relevant molecules make their way into a developing fetus which is (say) eventually born.

So he’s doing an end-run to try to slip “identity begins at the moment of conception” (something that the Church has believed for only a small fraction of its history, as Eco mentions and Martini ignores) into the discussion as though it was something we now know as a fact.

Okay, that’s par for the course. :)

Here is some more novel and amorphous stuff, on the topic of why the product of conception matters, and why we should protect it:

Beyond these scientific and philosophical matters lies the fact that whatsoever is open to so great a destiny — being called by name by God himself — is worthy of enormous respect from the beginning.

Why is that? Is there anything that God himself can’t call by name? Does God have names for people in a way that he doesn’t have names for animals, or fruit, or dust-motes? This is a piece of Catholic doctrine, or something, that I wasn’t aware of. Why would being called by name by God, as opposed to any other aspect of a putative relationship to God, be the thing in particular that makes a person “worthy of enormous respect from the beginning”?

If it turned out that God also had names for individual rocks, would we be morally obliged to make sure that any rock that begins to split off the side of a mountain does in fact split off, and to have “enormous respect” for it from that point on? Why or why not?

And yes, the question seems absurd. But it’s directly implied by the Cardinal’s words, so I will refer him to you on that issue.

We are talking about real responsibility toward that which is produced by a great and personal love, responsibility toward “someone”. Being called upon and loved, this someone already has a face, and is the object of affection and attention.

I think we are still talking about a just-fertilized egg here. The great and personal love must be God’s (since, sadly, not every instance of conception involves great or personal human love), as must be the affection and attention (since, this early in the game, no human is aware that anything exists to lavish affection and attention on).

But the someone already has a face? What could that mean? A fertilized egg most definitely does not have a face; it is too small. Is this a metaphor for something? If so, it’s not clear for what. Does he mean that he thinks the look of the face of the eventual person (if any) resulting from the fertilization is already determined, by the genetics of the sperm and egg? That’s probably not true, certainly not before the gametes are all done fusing (when exactly is “the moment of conception” at this level of detail, anyway?). And why “face” rather than “form” or for that matter foot-size? Are those less important, or is it all just some metaphor and “face” sounds better?

The next sentence is:

Every violation of this need of affection and attention can only result in conflict, profound suffering, and painful rending.

How did we get from the fertilized egg’s being the object of affection and attention (from God), to a need for affection and attention? In fact the fertilized egg, at this point, doesn’t have any need for affection and attention, unless there’s some religious claim here that it needs it from God. But presumably nothing could violate God’s affection and attention. (I’m not sure what if anything it means to “violate” a “need”.)

The claim being made here seems to be that from the moment of conception there is a new being that as a need for affection and attention, and any failure to provide for that need will result in conflict, profound suffering, and painful rending.

But that’s false. Something like half of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise spontaneously aborted very early (and so presumably their needs aren’t being provided for?), and no one who isn’t God ever knows they existed. No conflict, no profound suffering, no painful rending.

The obvious counter here is that the good Cardinal didn’t mean that. And that’s likely true, but then we’re just left wondering exactly what he did mean.

The end of this letter doesn’t help much, except to suggest that it’s all about faces again.

There is a splendid metaphor that reveals in lay terms something common to both Catholics and laymen, that of the “face”. Levinas spoke of it movingly as an irrefutable instance. I would rather cite the words, almost a testament, of Italo Mancini in one of his last books, Tornino i volti [Back to the Faces]: “Living in, loving, and sanctifying our world wasn’t granted us by some impersonal theory of being, or by the facts of history, or by natural phenomena, but by the existence of those uncanny centers of otherness — the faces, faces to look at, to honor, to cherish.”

Which, I think, is nice, even profound, as poetry, but as any sort of discussion of a subject falls rather flatly short of, well, of meaning anything.

Living in our world was granted us by the existence of faces? You don’t say!

2012/01/01

New Year Update

It’s the New Year! 2012! Time to go out and buy a new Mayan calendar!

(Actually one has until December until the end of the current B’ak’tun, it seems. I wonder how Mayan Calendar vendors remember to stock up before the rush every 394 years or whatever it is.)

This year we made a mere 159 New Year dumplings (餃子, WordPress permitting), which is about the same number as in 2005, considerably more than in 2007, but significantly less than in recent years. We had somewhat more meat than dough (the kids are speaking of dumpling-meat patties), which traditionally means we will have enough food but not enough clothes in 2012, which is better than the main alternative.

Search o’ the Day: arrow in the meme. (You’re welcome!)

So I asked on “Facebook”: “How do you decide what to want?”.

Didn’t get much in the way of (substantive) answers (although I admit it’s fun that the two answers I did get were from a co-worker and a childhood friend who live on like different continents). It seems like a very important question. As questions go.

On some piece of paper somewhere, maybe not in digital form anywhere, I wrote something about some part of Colin Wilson’s “The Outsider” I think it was, about how soldiers returning from war could find the ordinary world meaningless or arbitrary; I think I wrote that this is likely because they had been in a context where they had to spend alot of time just thinking about survival, and when that need then went away they were left with only less compelling reasons for action.

So (I’m writing very stream-of-consciousness here) we can think about ascending ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where it’s more or less obvious what to do when we’re down at the Physiological level (find air, find food), and for that matter the Safety level (get further from the tigers, put up walls), and as we get higher up it becomes sort of less obvious, more arbitrary, less compelling. And if we make the mistake of thinking about what to want, rather than just wanting what’s expected, we may find nothing to speak of under our feet.

How do you decide what to want? Your ancestors all wanted to have children who would in turn have children, or at least they all did that, or they wouldn’t be your ancestors. The intellectual ancestors of your beliefs and attitudes all wanted to pass their beliefs and attitudes down to later generations, or at least they all did that, or they wouldn’t be the intellectual ancestors of your beliefs and attitudes.

So there’s a strong (what?) evolutionary tendency to want to have and raise children, and/or to pass one’s beliefs and attitudes down to later generations. But we don’t necessarily want to follow that evolutionary tendency. Or, we don’t have to want to follow that tendency; it’s not mandatory or required, it’s merely easy and obvious. (Easy and obvious to make that choice, that is; the actual doing of it may be hard and subtle.)

Somewhere when I was even younger :) I wrote down “the is-ought connection is choice”. And I think that’s true; choice, or the lack of choice, the slipping into the default choice. But how do you choose? How do I choose? How, especially, if one of the things that we’re choosing is the deepest basis for our own choice-making?

It seems like the choice must either be arbitrary, or (which may be the same thing) must be based on things that are so fundamental that we don’t get to choose about them however hard we might try (ingrained preferences that we can’t get beyond, or can’t want to get beyond, intrinsic tendencies that are too deep down even to represent as preferences).

So, hm. Am I an Existentialist now? :)

I think I have probably written all of this down before, and it’s not clear what there is to say about it next, or what to do beyond writing it down and mentally putting it in your pocket, for the next time it comes up. So now I’ve done that again.

Tamara de Lempicka. Just sayin’.