Posts tagged ‘new year’


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!






January First

I keep meaning to start this weblog entry about how I’m going to play WoW less and write in my weblog more, but it’s tempting to play WoW instead.

Why is that?

That is probably my main New Year’s Resolution. I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, ’cause y’know.  But that’d be a good one to try, anyway

I have a couple of max-level characters in WoW Legion now; my Demon Hunter (whose only concern is whether she can get enough enemies to attack her at once that her victory over them isn’t boringly trivial), and ol’ Spennix the Rogue (whose main concern is whether she has enough run-away abilities off cooldown to avoid dying yet again).

(And the Demon Hunter’s next major task is to gather 80 (eighty) of something that sometimes (once in awhile) drops from the very last boss in a dungeon.  So yeah.)

My Official 2017 Comic Frame and Aspirational Resolution is of course:

for the obvious reasons.

I’ve even joined the DSA, along with a zillion other Twitter liberals; we’ll see if I manage to do more / other than sending them money and posting anti-Nazi memes.

2017 is sure to be interesting in one or more ways. After 2016, I have no confidence whatever in my ability to make predictions about the future (that’s the hardest kind!) that are any more specific than that.

I should probably Resolve to do Twitter less as well. Twitter is a pretty good thing, really; I’ve encountered lots of interesting people, learned lots of stuff.  It’s my main source of news now. But I spend an absurd amount of time reading it and Liking and Retweeting things; a less absurd amount might be good.

I should sit more, too. And maybe work on my irrational (irrational?) dislike for the word “meditation”. :)

I’ve been doing Quora a bit. At first I was impressed by the quality of the questions and answers; over time I’ve gotten a little less impressed, and wonder how good a use of time it really is; but I did write this, of possible interest:

Why do you practice Zen?

So when you ask a Zen question, you’re likely to get a Zen story. :)

This student is sitting meditating, and one of those annoying Masters comes by and says, “Why are you meditating?”. And the student says “So that I may become an enlightened Buddha.” (Or for that matter “To save sentient beings”, or really any sort of aspirational statement at all.)

The Master nods, and picks up a floor tile, and starts polishing it with a corner of his robe.

The student (perhaps sensing he is in a story) says, “Why are you polishing that floor tile, Master?”.

The master says, “To make it into a mirror.”

The student says, “But Master, no amount of polishing will — oh, I get it, very funny, very funny,” and goes back to meditating.

Or, alternately, how much do we really know about why we do anything?

I meditate because it seems like a cool thing to do. Because it is the practice of the Buddha Ancestors. Because lots of really interesting people meditate. Because when I was small, I would have these moments when I sort of lost track of which was the world and which was me (“I just don’t see how I am me,” I summarized it), and meditation is the best way I’ve found to sort of get back to that feeling again.

Also to save sentient beings.

And to make a mirror out of this floor tile. :)

Again largely thanks to Twitter, I’ve become very aware of my privilege, and of what that means. I can rest and just not think about discrimination and injustice and oppression for awhile, pretty much any time I want, because their effects are not right there in my face unless I go out looking for them. I’m grateful for this, but also want to figure out how to be effective at making the world a freer and juster place even though it’s not forced upon me.

I have fallen even more in love with New York City in the past year. I want to spend more time walking randomly, more time in Brooklyn (and even maybe boroughs that aren’t Manhattan or Brooklyn!), more time out of, and in, Chelsea (or is it Meatpacking?). I want to go to BAM, I want to go to Birdland, and to little music clubs that aren’t Birdland. I want to talk to more people.

Have I mentioned that I wrote a NaNoWriMo novel in 2016? I finished it with like twelve minutes to spare, Pacific time, in November, which was a first. I think it’s online somewhere, let’s see…

The Mercy of Fate

In a fancy Google Doc this year, rather than a flat text file (ooohhh!).  I remember very little about large chunks of it, which were written very very late at night. Or at least what felt like very very late at night to these ancient bones.

All various good people died in 2016, and an awful pathological narcissist was somehow elected President of the United States. But probably you know about those things, and I don’t feel like I have much original to add on those subjects at this point.

Today we are going to make New Years Dumplings, as is extremely traditional!  The little daughter is here, but needs to sleep before she is functional enough to help.  M and the little boy and I are sitting around doing more or less normal Sunday Morning things, except for no bagels because The Bagel Store is not answering their phone and therefore we have concluded they are probably not open because it is New Years Day.

Tuesday (day after tomorrow, apparently!) I go back to work, after a nice long year-end vacation. I’m looking forward to that in various ways; still loving work and even the commute, and of course being in Manhattan with all of its energy and infinite variety.  Maybe tomorrow I will connect my little Chromebook to work, and get a head start on the email backlog.

Maybe today I will go into Second Life and take my usual pictures for a New Years card and a new profile picture.

Maybe I will also play WoW.  Just a little?  :)


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!


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’.