Monthly Archives: January 2005

Es la vida…

I finished my first week of Spanish. My vocabulary isn't the greatest, but I'm really amazed at just how much you can learn in a week. I can conjugate present and future tense (including irregular verbs) and handle basic conversations, as can the others in the class (it's not just because of knowing French and German). I think my favorite thing about learning new languages is not so much learning how to communicate with new people, but learning how to express totally new concepts. Languages don't let you just say things differently — they let you say different things.


New developments in the 'burbs
(I think one of my classmates is building a house in Pedregal)

As I mentioned the guys in the class with me are both Vietnam Vets; one was a pilot who flew medical missions in '65 and '68, but the other (the one who's been living as a nomad) is a Marine that served in much more direct combat, earning three purple hearts in '67 — and then became a cop in America, only to be shot in the gut by a sixteen year old drug dealer in Illinois. Luckily the kid's gun was a .22 pistol that had been loaded about ten years before — the ammunition was so corroded and rotten that the bullet wasn't even able to penetrate much deeper than the length of the bullet.

His USMC tattoo had been done earlier that year (as in 1967) by a woman going by the moniker “Painless Nails” (one of the few female tattoo artsists working in the sixties). Her shop was across from the San Diego (but I may be misquoting that) bus terminal at which he and the others just out of basic training caught their rides home to visit their families before shipping off to Vietnam. Especially when the tattoo is older, I'm always interested to hear when and how it was done.

It cost $8.

Incompetent Hatemongering

I probably shouldn't be looking this gift horse in the mouth, but one of the things that always surprises me is how poorly people insult me. As expected, I got a final email from the lil' Nazi girl that got booted a while ago (who's now happily moderating a page elsewhere with folks congratulating each other on teaching their toddlers to say 'spic' and 'wetback' and other ignorant slurs).

Anyway, it accuses me of a number of strangely amusing things. First I'm accused of never donating any time or money to anything but myself. That's kind of an odd thing to accuse me of given that the truth — which is far from a secret or hidden, although I do general ask projects I donate to not to include my name — is pretty much the exact opposite. Then I'm accused of being a trustfund kid… I wish! My family rejected their royal title in the 1800s after a political dispute, and I've so alienated pretty much everyone other than my father at this point that my odds of even collecting anything from anyone's will are becoming increasingly slim. I'm afraid I made myself the old fashioned way… hard work!

I also got accused of not having any friends when I was younger and that everyone made fun of me. Now, I can see how people prone to be believing in stereotypes might assume that since it's kind of the cliché, but for whatever reason (probably being in a small town that tolerated eccentricity), that was never really an issue… There were only two kinds of people who harassed me when I was a kid — much older racist locals who had an issue with my German accent when I was young, and then when I was older (in highschool), violent Christians who took offense to the zine I published. But to my surprise, the jocks came to my defense! Anyway, the accusations go on to include me being stupid (honestly, that doesn't worry me), deluded about my abilities, making fun of me for not speaking Spanish, and finishes off with a complaint about Canadian spelling, and how if it wasn't for America, Mexico wouldn't be a nice place to live. Oh, and calling me a dictator of course, but that's a given.

It's funny because of all the people who've sent me various forms of hatemail, it's extremely rare for anyone to actually peg something that's hurtful. Most of it is just kind of weird little rants that offer much more of an insight into the writer's insecurities than anything else. Anyway, here's something you can insult me on: I've only ever had one business card, unlike Keith who has had many.

That said, I'm pretty happy with my lonely business card.

Anyway, I've never understood why people don't come after me with better thought out attacks. I mean, I post plenty of entries with pretty gaping logical flaws in them, and in the past I even renamed a piercing because it was associated with an ex that I'd had a typically bitter falling out with. That's a pretty crappy (and petty) thing to do right? That would be a valid example of an abuse of power. That's a case where you can really say, “gee, Shannon sure was being an asshole that day!”

That said, I know what my flaws are and readily admit them. I recommend that everyone do the same. Recognizing the things about yourself that you don't like is the first and most important step in correcting them. Anyway, feel free to post your flaws in the forum. It's cathartic. Anonymous posting is permitted, and I'll remind you again that if you make an anonymous post and you want to clear your identity afterwards (click here to do so), it makes reverse engineering who you are almost impossible (please don't abuse that tip!), although it will make it so people can't send you anonymous replies from that message or any other ones sent with that ID.

(Original forum unavailable, sorry)*

Bene Geserit Witches

All I can think about when I see this accoustic nuclear fusion research is Dune's the 'Weirding Way' — an accoustic form of combat… They're using (in real life) ultrasonic waves to create bubbles in liquid, which then oscillate and “implode”, generating teperatures nearly 200,000,000°Fnuclear fusion using relatively inexpensive equipment and materials.

That is: free, unlimited, and clean energy.

Unlimited energy means we can make anything and we can make it without polluting. Unlimited energy means we can provide everyone with clean water and food… but.. Couple that with multipurpose robots (or cyborgs even). Well, I wrote about it last May. I was worried about it then, and I worry about it now.

[The wealthy] will immediately and decisively launch all-out attacks on everyone below them. It is the only way they can survive. Hunter-killer robots, bio-weapons, wholesale nuclear strikes on poor countries. It's the only thing they can do. And even among themselves they'll fight, until only a few dozen are still alive, incredibly powerful, fabulously wealthy, and terribly lonely. They'll tour the continents of the planet in beautiful airships and transform it into a paradise.

One of the other guys in my Spanish class has a USMC tattoo“four years, but it changed my life”. During one of our conversations in class, the teacher was asking about voting and it came out that both of the men in my class had voted for Bush (awkward!)… After class I got to talk to them both a bit about that, and I think I now have a much better picture of why Kerry lost — as neither of them appeared that enthused with Bush (“I'd have voted for Lieberman if I could have”), but getting to feel and see first hand how deeply Kerry's statements had hurt veterans, and how little they trusted him, was eye opening.

While I, knowing the war only through history books and movies like Uncommon Valor, think Kerry did the right thing post-war, I now understand better why many veterans feel the way they do in a wounded “gut reaction” sort of way. But it's unfortunate that people's personal experiences taint their view of the big picture… It's too bad that we all don't have an “objectivity switch” or something… Yeah, that would be nice — I'll have to get one of those installed myself.

Oh, and I guess we got mentioned on TechTV (or whatever it's called now) last night.

Spanish class, airplanes, and politics

Just finished day three of my Spanish homework… “En futuro, yo voy a dormir toda la noce… ¡Victimo!” I feel like I keep falling a little more behind every day — I have literally over five thousand images in the queue (although you can expect an image update tomorrow, I've been working on it this evening) — but still I'm really enjoying Spanish class. To be honest the problem isn't so much the work as my mind and brain still working on learning how to sleep again without drugs (and crappy pillows). I'm sure it's worth it, but seriously, it's not fun.

I found out today that the kids (and I mean kids) doing bagging at the supermarket don't get paid at all — in fact, it would be illegal for the supermarket to pay them — so it's important to tip them a few pesos. But what's interesting is that they can only get the job if they're maintaining an A or a B average at school (ie. the reward for working hard at school is getting a job). It's an interesting way of structuring the youth job market; I wonder what long term effect it has on people's philosophical views of work and so on.

One of the other things when learning Spanish that interested me is the lack of egoism… There are a lot of statements you can make in English like I grow vegetables that you just can't make in Spanish — the structure of the language simply doesn't allow it… It's the plants that grow — people can set it into motion by planting them, and they can reap the benefits by harvesting, but they can't actually do it as you could in English. There have been quite a few little things like this…

By the way, when you're reading all this, take it with a grain of salt because I'm a dude with a total of three days of Spanish under his belt!

Another thing I find interesting is that the Americans in the class (Rachel included, although she's fine with Spanish accents because she grew up around those) have enormous trouble understanding foreign accents — things that (to me) sound like perfect Enlish, just with odd pronunciation, are totally incomprehensible to them. I'm not sure why that is… maybe it's because there are so many dialects of English in America, and America is such an “inward looking” society, that people just learn to hear all the different US pronunciations but never really get exposed to others.


Cold seagulls

One of the guys in my class is, as I think I mentioned, an ex-airline pilot. After hearing that Rachel and I were both part way through our private pilot's licenses, he mentioned to us that the Baja used to be a wonderful place for private pilots, because even most of the small hotels up and down the coast would have landing strips behind them so pilots with small planes and ultralights could hop up and down the peninsula without needing a car. Unfortunately the US government paid the Mexican government a small fortune to come in with massive plows and destroy all the runways.

Yay for the war on drugs, right?

I love hearing pilot stories… He's really a Boeing guy I think — loves the 747 — but also flies the Airbus A320, which I assume many of you have been on. He didn't seem to like that plane at all. It's a high tech fly-by-wire system (“the French love having the best technology”) which forces the pilot to really trust the plane's computers a little too much for the comfort of many pilots, although some enjoyed it for the challenge — even with hundreds of hours of flight time you'd still look down at the controls and panels from time to time and ask yourself what the hell the plane was doing!

Anyway, one time as he was getting ready to go he saw that it was noted in the maintenance log that the landing gear computer was having intermittent problems. Now, in a Boeing 747 the landing gear's pretty basic — pretty much just a big switch. You open the system, the gear drops, and you hydraulically lock it into place… but on the A320, you tell the computer to lower or raise the gear, and it then makes sure you're safe to do so (so you can't, say, raise the gear if you're sitting on the runway, or lower it if you're doing 500 knots). That said, there's two computers, and really the French insisted, how could two of them fail at once?

So he's about an hour into the flight, and the first landing gear computer fails, and then half an hour later, the second one goes out. In the 747 this would have been no big deal because you can just crawl out to the gear (inside the plane — ever seen Commando?), use a hand crank to lower it, and then look down a little observation tube to make sure everything is in place. But he's not in a 747.. he's in an A320… So he's got no way to lower the gear.

A Boeing 747 is a tank — you can land it on its belly, gear up, and do surprisingly little damage to the airframe. The A320 on the other hand is a composite-laden plane that's designed to be light and efficient, and the slightest error on that type of landing destroys the plane — so things weren't looking good. He called the tower and they recommended that he pull the circuit boards in an attempt to reboot it. Luckily that worked, and both landing gear computers came back online.

And thirty seconds later they'd crashed again.

Another reboot, another thirty seconds.

The tower had only one not-very-reassuring recommendation. Come in for a normal landing, and when they were about two minutes from touchdown, reboot the computers and try and lower the gear in that brief period it was going to stay online… and the kicker is that because the A320 is totally fly by wire, only a small microswitch — part of the failed computer no less — could even tell them whether the gear was down or not. Luckily the gear did lower, and the landing was uneventful… but you really have to wonder how often these things happen, totally unbeknown to the passengers?


Underground tongue splitting in communist China

The photos above are from a friend in China — a “human artist” as he puts it in English. I figured this went with the other photo recently posted in terms of illustrating the universality, not just of the basic urge, but of the activities themselves. I have no doubt that the Internet is largely to blame. But the next time you hear someone complain about Western laws on body modification, try and appreciated the political risk this dude's taking. My hat's off to him!

Anyway, before I crash out, can I just say how deeply disturbed I am that half of all Americans believe that Bush has “united” America over the past four years. You know, it's one thing to believe Bush, and support Bush, and vote for him and be into his policies. But what kind of cretaceous-era moron do you have to be to believe that he's united America? Seriously, if this poll is accurate, it's absolute proof that at least have of Americans are full on delusional.

Seriously, WTF.

It gets even crazier. 30% of Americans believe that the three day-long $40+ million Bush inauguration party — complete with Goebbellian military-themed events such as the “Commander-in-Chief Ball” and the “Salute to Service” — is actually going to be celebrated by all Americans, and 20% believe that watching the spectacle will convert the remaining Democrats to Republicans. Again: WTF?

A number of politicians, Republicans included, have suggested now — in the midst of a war and a budget and deficit crisis — might not be the time to be blowing $40 million dollars on a victory party… hell, how about giving some of that money back to the troops in Iraq who've had their salaries cut under Bush's watch? But Bush insists that it's wrong to criticize him — “It's important that we celebrate a peaceful transfer of power” he says… Um… peaceful transfer of power?

WTF?

This story [via] in the LA Times is rather disturbing as well — I don't like the idea of a bunch of uneducated religious nuts being armed with nukes. It just doesn't seem like a good idea.

The sociologist Peter Berger once remarked that if India is the most religious country in the world and Sweden the least, then the United States is a nation of Indians ruled by Swedes. Not anymore. With a Jesus lover in the Oval Office and a faith-based party in control of both houses of Congress, the United States is undeniably a nation of believers ruled by the same.

Things are different in Europe, and not just in Sweden. The Dutch are four times less likely than Americans to believe in miracles, hell and biblical inerrancy. The euro does not trust in God. But here is the paradox: Although Americans are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion.

In Europe, religious education is the rule from the elementary grades on. So Austrians, Norwegians and the Irish can tell you about the Seven Deadly Sins or the Five Pillars of Islam. But, according to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say.

Well, enjoy the party tomorrow I suppose.

Scary world.

Body piercing is universal

Chris, aka STUCK here on IAM, who pierces in New York, recently sent me this photo that I thought would be worth sharing here. He's captioned it “this restored my faith in the human spirit”. To me it helps illustrate that the urge to improve ourselves and the urge to change ourselves is universal, and is the natural state of all people of all cultures (and I always like seeing happy people).

The only reason that body modification isn't the norm all over the world is because from time to time sick, sick people come into positions of power and attempt to legislate their illness onto everyone. Note that when I say “body modification” in this context I include things like exercise, so if you're reading this, don't go thinking it's some anti-plainskin rant.

Although I do think plainskins are missing out on something wonderful, but that's their right.