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Xiphias Gladius

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How big a deal is Brexit? One thought. [Jun. 24th, 2016|09:03 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Someone on my friends list was wondering what the big deal -- after all, Great Britain's been around for a long, long time, and the amount of time it's been a part of the EU is trivial, so what difference does it make?

I did the math. The EU is a re-naming of the European Community, which Great Britain joined in 1973, before I was born. It's gone through name changes, reorganizations, and even a charter re-write or two, but it's the same organization.

Great Britain was formed in 1801 -- it's actually younger than the United States. England was founded in 871 with Alfred the Great, and the United Kingdom was created in 1707, but Great Britain is only 215 years old.

That means that Great Britain has been a member of the EU for one fifth of its history.

Here's another way to look at it. The last time that Great Britain WASN'T part of the EU, fiat money wasn't completely a thing yet. Worldwide conversion to fiat currency had only just started a year or two before.

That was the biggest change in how money works since, I don't know, stock markets, maybe.

Off the top of my head, I'd list the big changes in how money works as the invention of money and markets, around the time of agriculture and cities, the standardization of coinage in the Bronze age, the creation of letters of credit in the Iron age, the development of banking in the late medieval period through the Renaissance, the creation of stock markets and limited liability corporations in the Industrial age, and the creation of fiat currencies in the Information age.

The last time Great Britain was NOT in the European Union, the world was only just starting to switch over to the Information Age monetary system.
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More Lis and me dialogues. [Jun. 21st, 2016|04:15 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
IAN (quoting GWTW, if course): You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.
LIS: Okay. [Beat] Let me know if you find one.
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What is an AR-15? Why is an AR-15? [Jun. 18th, 2016|12:48 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
At the moment, one part of our national, overdue, and generally underdone gun debate is about the AR-15, and specifically, why anybody would need one.

I read this article, "Why I Need An AR-15", and found it interesting, and started thinking about it.

I'd like to summarize the points in that article that I find relevant, and add a couple thoughts of my own. First, just to clarify, in the headline, he intended "Need" to be in hyperbole-quotes -- he doesn't actually NEED one, but just likes having one. The headline wasn't printed with it, though. So pretend they're there. He's not actually the kind of crazy person that actually thinks that way.

Section 1. What is an AR-15, anyway


An AR-15 isn't so much a gun as it is a gun system. If you've ever watched "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", you may remember that Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin had these guns that were basically pistols that they could carry in shoulder holsters, not too bulky, and concealable under a jacket. Except, if they needed to, they could attach a silencer. Or they could load in tranquilizer darts. Or they could screw in a stock, a long barrel, and a sight, and use it as a sniper rifle. Or they could attach an extended magazine and a medium-length barrel, and switch some things, and use it as an assault rifle.

The AR-15 isn't that versatile, but it's not that far off. They're made by a lot of different companies, and they are a very well-established design, and they're very reliable, very customizable, and not that expensive. They're made in every caliber down to the smallest. You can use an AR-15 for everything from hunting elk to squirrels, depending on what kind of parts you put on it.

The one thing it CAN'T do is fire full-auto. In theory, it COULD, but it's illegal to make one that does, and they've fixed the problem with it that made it able for people to modify it that way.

It is semiautomatic, which means that it fires one bullet every time you pull the trigger, like a pistol does. Pistols are either semiautomatic, or they are revolvers; in either case, pistols are one-trigger-pull, one-shot, and so are semiautomatic rifles.

Most rifles are semiautomatic. There's basically no reason to build them any other way. Bolt-action rifles do still exist, but only for very specialized purposes, like the most long-range military sniper rifles.

See, the way it works -- you have a cartridge. The cartridge is a little tube with gunpowder and primer in it, and, in front of it, a bullet jammed in. The hammer of the gun strikes a part of the bullet which has a pocket with a little bit of a chemical that goes off if you hit it hard enough, and that chemical lights off the gunpowder, and the gunpowder explodes and the bullet pops off the front like the world's most dangerous champagne cork.

After that, you need to do two things. You need to shove the old casing out of the chamber where that happened, and put a new cartridge in. You could design it so you open up a little door, and pull the cartridge out, and put a new one in, and close the door. But that is a lot of work, and you'd burn your fingers on the very, very hot cartridge that just had an explosion in it.

Or, you could make a sort of lever attached to a little bit of machinery that shoves the old one out, and puts a new one in. And that would be a lot easier. And that's a bolt-action rife, and it's way, way better.

But, as Newton said, for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction, which means that, when the bullet goes forward, the cartridge goes backward, so why not make the cartridge going backward push the lever itself, instead of YOU having to do it? And that's a semiautomatic rifle, and it's even less work.

And it turns out, it's not that much harder to build them that way, and so there really isn't much reason to build them any other way. There are a couple very specialized guns that don't use that, but not many. I think that in the biathlon, they use bolt-action rifles, because they want to save every single ounce of weight so they can ski faster, but I can't think of many other examples.

So the AR-15 is a highly customizable, highly configurable, very reliable, not toot expensive, semiautomatic rifle. And that's why people like it.

Section 2. Why is there a negative reaction to the AR-15 in particular, even more than most other weapons? Also, where I put asuggestion that has been mooted to ameliorate the murder problem.


So what do people who don't like about it dislike about it? Well, the biggest problem about it can be configured for almost any job -- and one of those configurations is very good at killing lots and lots of people in a mass murder.

And that is one reason that so many mass shootings are done with AR-15s. But the other reason why so many are done with AR-15s has to do with why so many more car crash deaths happen with passenger cars than with commercial vehicles -- because there are more of them than anything else.

Is the solution to get rid of the AR-15? Well, that's ONE solution. But there's a simpler solution that would do almost as well.

Get rid of the bits that you use to put the AR-15 into the mass-murder configuration. The other configurations aren't much of a problem. If people could use the AR-15 for all those other things it's good at, which is all of them, but NOT mass-murder, would that be good enough for most of us?

So, what is the most important component that turns the AR-15 from a good hunting-with, playing-with, and maybe even protecting yourself from home intruders which isn't actually a thing but at least people can sort of imagine that it would be a thing kind of rifle into a killing lots of people all at once rifle?

High-capacity magazines.

If you've got five rounds in your AR-15, you can shoot a deer, even shoot a deer a couple times to make sure it dies quickly and humanely. Maybe you can make an argument for ten rounds.

But you can't shoot an entire room full of people. To kill fifty people, the Orlando shooter shot something like two hundred rounds. If he'd only had five round magazine, that would be forty clips, and he'd be stopping shooting often enough that there would be a chance that people could tackle him. Or at least, have a chance to take cover and hide. Even ten-round magazines.

But you can easily get thirty-round magazines. Someone even makes a one-hundred round magazine. It looks really weird -- it's like, a double drum magazine. And, while there are legitimate reasons to own an AR-15, there is NOT a reason to own a hundred-round magazine except committing mass murder.

A "clip" is a bunch of cartridges stuck together that you can put into a magazine. A "magazine" is a thing that holds cartridges, ready to be fired. Some firearms just store all their cartridges in the gun, and that's an "internal magazine". But the thing that we see on TV when someone pulls something out of an empty gun and puts something else in, that's changing external magazines. It is, of course, much, much faster to change magazines than to load magazines, but still, it's a lot longer than shooting -- and you can only carry so many magazines.

And it's pretty easy to carry a lot of ammo -- a lot of clips -- but it's a lot harder to carry a lot of magazines. So you're either spending a LOT more time reloading, or you're carrying a LOT more weight, or both. And either one makes it harder to kill fifty people.

Indeed, let's ignore the whole "semiautomatic" thing. A bolt-action rifle with a hundred-round magazine would be way, way better at killing a room full of people than a semiautomatic rifle with a five-round magazine. "Semiautomatic" is a frightening sounding word, but it's really a less-significant factor in how deadly it is. It's not UNIMPORTANT, not by a long shot, but it's LESS important.

So that's the practical side.

Now let's talk about the emotional side.

Let's talk about the emotional reasons against the AR-15, more than against other firearms. In practical terms, until you've got the mass-murder configuration, the AR-15 is no more dangerous than any other rifle.

I perceive three emotional reasons why the AR-15 might be more frightening than, say, the Winchester .308.

The first, and possibly most significant -- it looks intimidating. And why? Because it looks like a military weapon.

And why is that?

Because form follows function.

Military rifles look that way because it's the most effective, easiest, cheapest, most reliable, and most comfortable way to build them. So, if you're building an effective, easy, relatively inexpensive, reliable, and comfortable weapon, it's going to look a lot like that. You'd have to go out of your way to make it look different, and you'd end up with an item that wasn't as good. It might be prettier, and that's not nothing -- aesthetics ARE an important part of life. But, if your aesthetic is "form follows function", then the AR-15 is what you end up with.

The second thing about it is that it's got a fairly intimidating name. I suspect that people make a mental conflation between "AR-15" and "AK-47". And the AK-47 is the most widespread military rifle in the world. The AK-47 is a weapon that IS only designed to kill people.

And I wonder if people who are thinking that there is no reason to own an AR-15 other than killing a lot of people are actually thinking about the AK-47, which actually IS primarily for killing a lot of people.

And even if someone knows that they're different, I wonder if the AR-15 doesn't pick up some of the same emotional resonance from the AK-47, because of the similarity in the name. I believe in the weak Sapir-Worf hypothesis, which suggests, among other things, that the words you use, and the words you know, influence how you feel about things. And if two words sound alike, one can pick up emotional resonances from the other. I mean, I know perfectly well that it comes from an old Germanic root which means "precise, or exact", and it means "no more generous than the absolute minimum necessary", but I'm still not comfortable even TYPING the word "niggardly".

So, if "niggardly", which I feel a little sick typing, is similar to a word which I can't even get myself to type, I wouldn't be surprised if "AK-47", the weapon that is most used by dictators and warlords around the world, affects how people feel about "AR-15".

And the third reason is the word "semiautomatic". And that actually goes right along with that AK-47 thing. Are people thinking about a weapon where, if you hold down the trigger, you spray bullets all over the place? Which, incidentally, the AK-47 actually is.

And, again, even if people know they are different, does the word "semiautomatic" make people think of "automatic", and pick up the emotional resonance?

Section 3. Why do people want to keep their AR-15s? What is the emotional connection to them?


But now, for the final section of what I'm thinking about.

What is the emotional resonance about keeping and bearing arms in the first place? Why do so many people feel such an emotional connection to the right to own weapons at all?

I have an idea about this, because it's part of how I feel.

Do you know why Sikhs are religiously required to have a knife on their person at all times? Some have a symbolic knife, or even a knife-shaped piece of jewelry, but, in generally, all Sikhs have some sort of nod toward this principle.

It's because a Sikh is expected to fight for what is right at all times. And the knife is a symbol of that.

Except, in some times and places, it's not a SYMBOL of that -- it has been a TOOL for that. The requirement to fight for what is right includes fighting physically when that's the only choice.

One of the duties that an adult has is to serve their community to the best of their ability. We are honor-bound to do what we can to help our friends and neighbors, and work together to protect and support each other.

One part of this is to help each other in times of danger.

As part of this, there are codes of honor which suggest that every adult who doesn't have a moral objection to doing so has the responsibility to be able to bear arms in defense of their community. And you might suggest that such people should do this by serving in the armed forces, and such people often do.

But there are people who believe that, even if one doesn't have the ability to serve in the military, because one has other duties to one's family and community that preclude it, that doesn't absolve them of the responsibility to be able to do that. Even if one believes that it will never, ever come to that.

A Sikh who wears a knife-shaped piece of jewelry doesn't actually expect to be able to protect someone from a mugger with it, but it symbolizes their duty to help people. But some Sikhs believe that, even if they never expect to use it, their honor requires them to have one that they at least theoretically COULD be able to do that with.

And other people who aren't Sikhs have the same opinion. They may never expect to have to use a weapon to defend themselves or their community. But they may feel that their code of honor requires them to have the capacity to do so.

I kind of feel that way, myself. If I ever do get around to getting a firearm, that is the reason I would do so. I don't ever expect to be in a situation where it would be useful, but I am not sure that absolves me of the responsibility to have the capacity.
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One thing that the United States does better than Canada... [Jun. 8th, 2016|09:14 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Canada does many things extremely well, but it doesn't have a lot of good whiskey. There are two places in the world that make truly great whiskey/whisky -- Scotland, and the Kentucky and Tennessee are of the United States. Ireland, other places in the Southern United States, and several other places also make good whiskey, but Scotland and the parts of Kentucky and Tennessee settled by Scots are the places that create the truly great stuff.

Canada? The only reason we have Canadian whiskey in the United States is that the Bronfman family smuggled it to us during Prohibition, and then a couple generations of people got used to it. I just recently bought a bottle, ostensibly to use as a mixing whiskey, but, let's face it, mainly because I needed a new dice bag.

The point is -- Crown Royal : whiskey :: Budweiser : beer
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You may have heard me say it before: I wouldn't go back to being seventeen if I could [May. 9th, 2016|09:17 am]
Xiphias Gladius
One thing I believe. Being seventeen kinda sucked. Not my life in general -- looking back on it, I had some pretty decent friends, and, while SOME things sucked, all things considered, my life was pretty good. But I was arrogant, foolish, and short-sighted. Within normal teenager parameters, to be sure. But I could be a bit of a jerk, and I can think of a number of things I did which embarrass me. I made lots of stupid mistakes.

And they were, basically, natural consequences of being seventeen. So I definitely wouldn't go back to the emotions or mind that I had then. I much prefer having already gone through those lessons, plus having the extra brain development that continues to happen after that age. Since that time, I've gained some perspective, a lot of skill and patience, and even a little wisdom.

But, I've often said, I wouldn't mind having the BODY I had at seventeen.

Well. I realized something.

I've reached the same weight I was at seventeen. My resting heart rate is the same as it was then, or a little better. So's my blood pressure, my endurance, my flexibility, and my strength.

Sure, I'm now bald, and my beard is white. My facial bone structure has gotten slightly more angular in the way that human male facial bone structure tends to. My skin tends to be just a tiny bit dryer, and I'm just starting to develop those creases that go from beside my nose to the corners of my mouth. But other than that? I DO have the body I had at seventeen.

It's kind of scary. Baruch Hashem, I appear to be the healthiest I have ever been in my life.
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A couple examples of why I really like my in-laws [May. 2nd, 2016|10:33 am]
Xiphias Gladius
My mother-in-law did a bunch of alterations to both Lis's and my clothes. She put a note on one of her pair of pants about what we need to do with it:
PLEASE TAKE THIS PAIR OF PANTS TO A DRYCLEANER OR TAILOR REQUESTING THEY RE-PRESS IN THE CENTER FRONT AND CENTER BACK. IF THEY ASK WHY, A CROTCH ALTERATION WAS DONE. IF THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS REASONING, GO SOMEWHERE ELSE.

I don't know exactly why, but that just cracks me up every time I read it.

And then, for the seder, my father-in-law put together his own haggadah. He included in it a shaggy dog story about the splitting of the Red Sea and gefilte fish.

After we read it, he to us it was "a midrash from Tractate Bubbe Meisa."

(That's hilarious if you've got the background, by the way. I can explain it, but it won't be funny any more. Basically, the Talmud is made up of six tractates. One of them is Tractate Bava Mei'za, Aramaic for "Middle Gate". Which sounds a lot like "Bubbe Meisa," which is Yiddish for "Grandmother story" -- a Yiddish term for fairy tales, jokes, and old-wives tales.) I'd never heard the joke before, and, as far as I know, he made it up.

So, yeah. My in-laws have silly senses of humor.
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Electronics break around me. [Apr. 22nd, 2016|12:37 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I have a Fitbit; it is supposed to sync to my phone through Bluetooth, which worked fine until Bluetooth stopped working on my phone.

Fortunately, the dongle that plugs into your desktop computer still works, and I'm home often enough that it was fine. But now, we're out, so I've got the laptop. And I plugged the dongle into the laptop, and set it up. And it won't recognize my tracker.

So Lis came in to help. And it synced as soon as she walked in.

To hers.

I can't get files off my phone to printers; my Fitbit won't connect.

And I'm failing at using Saran Wrap.

Saran Wrap isn't electronics, but it probably holds onto stuff with electrostatic charges, right? So it would count.
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Another annoying weight loss thing [Apr. 19th, 2016|11:04 am]
Xiphias Gladius
If I drink a cup of whiskey upon waking, I'll still be somewhat feeling the effects two and a half, three hours later.

Now, a cup of whiskey is eight ounces, and a shot is about an ounce and a half, so that's a bit over five drinks, and my assumption is that an average person metabolizes about one drink per half hour, or maybe just a little longer, so I'd expect an average person to metabolize a bit over five drinks in about two and a half, three hours, especially if they just woke up, which is pretty much what it is taking me. But, see, I'm used to metabolizing drinks a lot faster than that. And now I can only drink like an average person, rather than drinking like Marion Ravenwood in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, which is how I used to drink.
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Just came back from seeing the new Disney movie ZOOTOPIA [Apr. 18th, 2016|07:09 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Three thoughts:
1. The city of Zootopia was probably designed to make a pretty cool ride at the parks.
2. Disney, once again, makes a family movie, not a children's movie. That is, it's not written for children alone. It's written for adults, AND written for children.
3. This is a movie about intersectionality, and how different forms of racism can interact, and people who are discriminated against in one arena may nonetheless themselves discriminate against other people -- even if they themselves are good people. That racism isn't something that only bad people do -- it's something that good people internalize without even knowing it, and have to work very hard to deal with.
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STAR WARS, chattel slavery, and SJWs. [Apr. 15th, 2016|11:27 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Just to go over the background here: "social justice warrior" is an intended-to-be-insulting term to refer to someone who cares about social justice, and actually pays attention to cultural bigotry and generally attempts to fight against injustice and unfairness. I really don't know WHY the people who came up with the term "SJW" think it's supposed to be insulting, but, as far as I can tell, they appear to be pro-unfairness or something like that. Whatever. The point is that we SJWs are perfectly willing to call ourselves SJWs, because we think it is a pretty darned cool way to phrase what we want to be doing.

In STAR WARS, less in the current series than in the original trilogy and in the prequels, slavery is widespread, and only occasionally looked down-upon by the heroes. We don't see many human slaves in the original trilogy, although we see them in the prequels, but we see lots of alien slaves, including trafficking in sex slaves, and every single droid is a slave. And that last, in particular, is just plain accepted as how things are. You buy and sell droids, you can wipe their memories or break them down for parts, or whatever. They have no more rights than any other machine, and nobody, even the good guys, even the droids themselves, sees anything wrong with that.

Because of that, I've seen people try to claim that that whole thing somehow ISN'T slavery. Droids aren't REALLY sentient, let alone sapient or sophont. (Definitions: "sentient" -- able to sense to a degree which allows pleasure or suffering. "Sapient" -- able to use reasoning and logic; might include some sort of "theory of mind" or even a concept of self. "Sophont" -- has a degree of cognition comparable to, or even surpassing, a human being -- that last one is basically used in science fiction.)

According to these folks, droids aren't sentient any more than ELIZA is, or a chatbot, or the Jeopardy-playing computer Watson, or any of those. They just LOOK as if they have intelligence, opinions, and an internal life, but they're actually completely mindless automatons.

Now, I've done no exhaustive searches on this. I've done absolutely no studies or put measurements or numbers on it. But anecdotally, it seems to me that I've never seen someone who I would consider an SJW espouse the "droids are not sentient" view. Mainly, SJWs I know say, "Yep. Droids are sophonts who are enslaved and the good guys don't even see what's wrong with that. Pass the popcorn; there's a great lightsaber battle coming up."

I think that part of being an SJW is that we have to become aware that there is a lot of troublesome stuff in fiction, and that we can either completely retreat from enjoying problematic stuff, or we can just agree that there IS problematic stuff in our fiction, and we need to accept that, put a pin in that troublesome stuff and keep it in mind as reference for things to talk about and wrestle with later, and then go on with enjoying it. I think, because we ARE aware of how much unfair stuff is in our entertainment, we have to learn early to just deal with it, without pretending it doesn't exist.

I think that anti-SJW-ness seems to correlate with denying the existence of the problem in the first place.

You've got two mental models: "The good guys did it, therefore it must not be wrong; what do we have to assume about the world to make it okay that they did it?"
vs
"It was wrong, and the good guys did it; what do we have to assume about the good guys to understand why they thought it was okay that they did it?"

We SJWs are much more willing to accept that our heroes are flawed in fundamental ways. Because we have no CHOICE but to accept that. It's too bloody obvious. Anti-SJWs are unwilling to accept that, and are disturbed by that notion, and react with fear and hostility when it's pointed out.
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Weight loss, diet, and exercise; some thoughts seven and a half months in. [Apr. 13th, 2016|08:18 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
As I've mentioned before, Lis and I have been doing Weight Watchers since last September. And, at this point, my body fat percentage about 20%, down from, oh, somewhere around, call it 30 or 35% -- healthy %bodyfat for women, but no so much for men. My waist is about 30 inches, down from 44, and my weight is about 180 or so, down from 235 or so. I'm aiming for 175 or thereabouts; given the "the first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time; the last 10% takes the other 90%" metric, I'm expecting this last five to take about the same amount of time as the first fifty-five.

My resting heart rate is around 55 bpm; my resting blood pressure is around 110/68. I can run six miles in an hour, or, at least, make the elliptical machine register that I've moved six miles in one hour. I haven't actually tried, y'know, actually RUNNING in a way that I will GO somewhere outside. But, in theory, I ought to be able to do something vaguely respectable. I can do cartwheels, roundoffs, forward flips, and back rolls. I haven't started really strength training yet, but I use the 30-pound dumbbells for some of the stuff I do, and might consider starting some lifting.

So, what is it like?

I hate it.

Every day, I look at the body I've got now, and I ask myself, "Is having this body really WORTH giving up all the foods you've given up?" I haven't actually GIVEN UP any foods, but I eat them far more infrequently. I used to have two donuts every morning; I now haven't had a donut in WEEKS. And I ask myself -- "which would you rather have?"

Honestly? I'd rather have the donut. I'm not sure why I'm still sticking with this, but, so far, I am.

I feel fatter than I ever did when I was fifty pounds heavier. Seriously. My weight fluctuates a good three or four pounds over the course of a day (that "180 current/175 goal" thing means that I want my AVERAGE to be at 175 -- the scale HAS registered 176 a couple times), but by weighing myself at the same time every morning, I can get a good sense of what's going on. And on days when I've gained a pound, I can SEE it.

183 pounds feels fatter than 235 ever did. Because I basically accepted that that was by body, and that was the way it was, and so what? I worried a little bit about the health effects -- I believe in health at any size, and I know that some people can be perfectly healthy at the weight and bodyfat that I was -- but I'm not one of them. But, while I recognized that I was fat, and would occasionally feel depressed about it, because, when I'm in a depressive mood, I'll use any excuse to be down on myself, on the WHOLE, I didn't FEEL fat.

This? This feels fat. While I appreciate some of the things my new body can do, I'm not used to it. It doesn't feel like MY body, and, as such, I have to evaluate it on a completely different scale. This body? It's five pounds overweight, so it's fat. My old body? Was sixty pounds overweight, and that was just what it was, and okay.

(Lis, by the way, remembers this differently. She says that I was constantly complaining about being fat. I don't know. She might be right FACTUALLY, but that's not what it FEELS like to me right now.)

I'm hungry most of the time. Weight Watchers allows you to eat raw, unprocessed fruits and vegetables without restriction (yes, they have calories, but they're displacing the other things you'd eat, and they are far more filling and they digest slower than fruit or vegetable juices would, for instance). So I'm eating ridiculous amounts of fruit. I'll eat a half-dozen to a dozen apples, oranges, or grapefruit over the course of a day. I'm buying fruit at Costco and eating Costco quantities without sharing many of them with Lis. And I still constantly feel hungry.

And it takes away my first-line defense against the onset of the depressive phase of my bipolar: chocolate or other sweets. When I say that I use chocolate to deal with depression, I'm not being cutesy -- the blood sugar hit of candy actually does provide some temporary symptomatic relief. And now I don't have that tool. I mean, sure, it's a suboptimal tool. It's like using cigarettes to deal with anxiety. It works -- it works WELL -- but only for about fifteen minutes at a hit, and it has serious health side effects.

I resent not being able to eat candy, donuts, cake, and so forth the way I used to. I resent feeling hungry most of the time. I resent having to go to the gym in order to NOT feel hungry -- exercising at a high enough intensity for long enough earns me the ability to eat extra food, and if I maintain cardio for an hour, I can eat about 160% the amount of food I'd otherwise be able to eat that day, which just about leaves me not feeling hungry as much.

And I really don't know if I like this body. I like what it can DO. But I can't tell if it FITS.

And I just don't like being smaller. I'm a short guy. I'm under five and a half feet tall. But, at 235 pounds, nobody really thought of me as small. At 180 pounds, I still have more mass than a lot of people, but, again, as my waist has gone down to about 30 inches, I look a lot smaller.

Nobody TALKS about that stuff. Nobody talks about how you lose weight and your body feels wrong. Nobody talks about how there are emotional benefits to being fat.

Nobody talks about how, while I can still be cheerful at my current weight, I will never again be jolly if I decide to keep this body. Nobody talks about the benefits of looking soft, cuddly, and nonthreatening. I mean, you CAN be aggressively and hostilely big, but I had a body and face that came across as "giant teddy bear", and now I don't.

It is taking a lot of getting used to. I mean, animals still like me, but small children now take a little longer to warm up to me than they used to, and that hurts.

So, yeah.

I always knew that I'd hate a lot of the ways I'd have to change my eating patterns. I knew I'd miss the ease of just getting fast food. And I'd miss fast food itself.

But I hadn't realized how much I'd miss the body that I was deliberately getting rid of.

I don't know. I'm probably going to keep this body, but I honestly am not 100% sure WHY I am. The health benefits and the capability benefits are certainly nice. But, I just don't know.
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Look, so I didn't realize that "Fight for Your Right To Party" was a satire [Apr. 9th, 2016|07:28 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
In my defense, though, I was twelve. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that some of my other friends did figure that out at that age.
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Thing I learned about Aaron Burr [Apr. 2nd, 2016|11:28 am]
Xiphias Gladius
When Aaron Burr was vice president of the United States, he was tried for treason for putting together a plan to conquer Louisiana and capture it from the United States, then conquering a big part of Texas, which was then part of Mexico which was then part of Spain, and then take the whole thing over for himself. Which would mean he'd have conquered the entire middle portion of the continent up to Canada.

To be fair-ish -- we're here talking about a part of the United States that was only just bought and wasn't really, like, INTEGRATED into the United States. And, while there was a lot of evidence for the plot, there's a good chance that it was made up.

Still -- the idea kind of gives a different image of Burr than the one that you get from the musical HAMILTON. Lis disagrees, saying that it's a logical progression of his character as the musical went on, after "The Room Where It Happens."

Me, I think there's something of a distinction between "I want to work my way into a position of influence in the government" and "why don't I just go ahead and conquer everything from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and the Rio Grande to Canada?"
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Lis figured out what happened with Zach Snyder's SUPERMAN movies. [Mar. 26th, 2016|03:05 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Lis had a very good observation yesterday about MAN OF STEEL, and BATMAN V SUPERMAN, neither of which we've seen, but which we've been reading discussions of.

Snyder doesn't want to be doing Superman. He wants to be doing Miracleman.

Generally speaking, most people seem to feel that Snyder's WATCHMEN was a reasonable take on Moore's story. Oh, you can find plenty of people who disagree (presumably including Alan Moore, because he's like that), but, on the whole, most people feel that Snyder did about as good a job as you can reasonably expect for a movie adaptation of a Moore comic. He seemed to really do well with that deconstruction of the superhero story.

Miracleman is Moore's earlier deconstruction of the ideas of superheroes. It is about the utter irrelevance of human lives when you have god-scale beings around, and what that does to humanity, both in terms of the collateral damage they create when they fight, and in terms of what it does to society as a whole.

THAT'S the story Snyder seems to want to tell, and that's the Miracleman story, not the Superman story. You can't turn the Superman story into the Miracleman story, because the Miracleman story needs the Superman story to contrast against. If you turn Superman into Miracleman, you lose them both.
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Xanthan gum is fun! [Mar. 3rd, 2016|02:22 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Because I've been cutting back on the amount of fats I've been consuming, I've been looking for things to replace fats with. Arrowroot powder, for instance, can thicken skim milk to the consistency of heavy cream for cream sauces -- I did that last night, and made a almost-as-good-as-an-alfredo sauce which included only the fat from the parmesan cheese, and I'd found ways to punch up the flavors while cutting down even that, down to about a tablespoon, tablespoon and a half of cheese per serving (anchovy paste, you're my friend).

Well, arrowroot powder and xanthan gum.

So, given that it worked well last night, I decided to play more with xanthan gum. And I now know that a half-cup of egg whites, a half-cup of skim milk, and a tablespoon of xanthan gum, and some careful work with a standing mixer results in about a gallon of a pudding-base-like thing. I added sorbitol and maltiol to it, along with some of the Monin sugar-free caramel syrup, a couple tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, and a little vanilla, and we'll see how it works. I'm freezing some of it into ice cream stuff, and baking some of it into meringues, and keeping some of it as pudding, so we'll see if this works out in various conditions.
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Thing I learned: [Feb. 21st, 2016|08:18 am]
Xiphias Gladius
In LOVE'S LABOURS LOST, Rosaline and Boyett sing a song which goes:

Thou canst not hit it, hit it, hit it,
Thou canst not hit it, my good man.

An I cannot, cannot, cannot,
An I cannot, another can.

This is Exhibit 2 in the case that Shakespeare invented hip-hop culture.
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What's been going on with Weight Watchers [Feb. 13th, 2016|02:02 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I guess I'll cut tag this, because a lot of people Just Don't Want To Hear About It, about weight loss. But I'm hoping that what I'm going to be saying won't be as problematic as one might think. I hope.Read more...Collapse )
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Health. What IS it, anyway? And is "willpower" a thing? [Feb. 13th, 2016|12:53 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
When people talk about "health", they mainly are talking about physical health. Which is important, don't get me wrong. People are starting to talk about mental health, too, by which they seem to mean mainly emotional, psychological, and neurochemical health, ALSO all vitally important.

But I don't think those are the only kinds of health. I think that we can use the concept of "health" much more broadly.

In my conception, there is physical health, mental health, social health, psychological health, emotional health, spiritual health, moral health, and probably a lot of other things I'm not thinking of, too. And each of those has lots of components, too. But those are a decent starting point, anyway.

This conception, by the way, is strongly influenced by Aristotle's idea of "eudaimonia", or "a good life", which basically says that happiness has lots of different parts to it, which include physical comfort, health, family, being respected, and lots of other stuff. Me, I'm saying "health" instead of "eudaimonia" or "happiness" or "a good life", but they're definitely all living in the same neighborhood.

But the reason I'm using "health" is that I want to emphasize that all of these things are part of the same thing, and as such, they all interact. Being more physically healthy helps your emotional health. Being more emotionally healthy helps your psychological health. Being more psychologically unhealthy harms your physical health. Social health helps emotional health and spiritual health, and so forth. Every single part of health interacts with every other part of health.

And so it is important, when considering physical health, to consider how it interacts with all other parts of your health. If changing your eating habits harms your social health or your emotional health, you need to consider how much the change would affect all sorts of different things, and make sure to balance all those out.

Because, while improving one part of health will often improve other parts of health, that's not always true. Sometimes, an action will help one kind of health and harm other kinds. I've made decisions based on my moral health that harmed my social health, for instance.

Fasting on Yom Kippur is an action which harms one's physical health, but, for many people, helps their spiritual, moral, and social health, and thereby helps their emotional and psychological health. And so you have to balance those things -- and in some cases, the hit to physical health outweighs the benefits. Staying up for a midnight movie or book release or something may harm your physical health, but help your emotional and social health. Stealing a loaf of bread may harm your moral health, but help your physical health.

And you have to consider ALL of those -- and not feel guilty or ashamed of making the choices which are OVERALL best for you, even if you can see that they harm one or another parts of your health.

What does this have to do with willpower? A while back, I mentioned that I'm dubious that willpower is even a thing at all. What I think people are talking about when they talk about "willpower" are situations in which some parts of our health are in conflict with other parts of our health. And the decisions we make based on those situations will be different depending on the strength of those needs.

I think that all decisions we make are the decisions which are in our own best interest at the exact moment that we make the choice. Sometimes, if our current needs aren't too urgent, we can include our future self in that comprehension and calculation -- and sometimes, our immediate need is great enough and urgent enough that we simply CAN'T consider our future self, because we have to deal with the immediate situation in order to survive. Mahatma Gandhi wrote "It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon. But how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day? To them God can only appear as bread and butter."

Now, he was talking literally, about literal people and literal bread and butter. He includes how it is a literal insult to them to ignore the reality of the urgency of their situation, and to talk to them about God when they're hungry.

But we can expand that to be metaphorical -- we can think about urgent needs of other types. Any of our types of health can be in critical danger, and it may necessitate an intervention which has long-term negative consequences, because it's the only available intervention, and not making some sort of intervention will lead to critical damage.

Like cutting. People cut because they are in a critical situation, and, even though they are aware that cutting costs their long-term physical health, but their current situation is critical and urgent enough that they require an intervention. And to NOT intervene would cause even MORE damage. Perhaps of a different sort, but more.

What is "willpower"? It doesn't exist. A person with more "willpower" is just a person who has more interventions available, or a person whose situation is less critical. If two people want to cut, and one does and one doesn't, it doesn't mean that the cutter has less willpower; rather, it means that the non-cutter's situation was less dire, or that they had other interventions available.

It is an insult to ignore the reality of the urgency of our situation. If we want to change behaviors to ones that have fewer long-term negative consequences, we need to provide different interventions. Some of those involve learning different skills; some involve changing our environment; some involve changing the situation.

Anyway, that's what I've been thinking about. There are many different kinds of health, all of which interact. Sometimes we make choices that help some forms of health at the expense of other forms of health. So-called "willpower" is merely the situation of having different choices available -- a person with more "willpower" is merely a person who has either a lower need, or a person who has more choices available, including some that help with the first form of health while damaging other forms less.
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A linguistic prediction: [Feb. 1st, 2016|03:09 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The word "they" is singular as well as plural. I mean, we're now at the point where we can just plain say that -- not that "some people use 'they' as singular" or "I wish we could use 'they' as singular". We're now basically at the point where someone uses "they" for a person of unspecified gender. It's not yet used as a true generic term -- you STILL use "he" or "she" exclusively when the person is known to have a male or female gender, but I bet even that will go away after a while.

But here's my prediction:

"They-all". Or "theys", but basically "they-all" or "they'll" as short for "they-all" instead of "they will."

"Theys guys" or "them guys" will exist, too, but be more regional. "They-uns" has a low probability, but is still possible.

Still -- five, ten years to "they-all". At the outside. Could be quicker.

See, when we repurpose a plural as a generic, we leave a gap for the plural. And we fill that gap in. Ever since we replaced "thou" with "you", we've needed an actual second person plural, which is why we have "y'all", "youse", "you guys", "youse guys", "y'alls", "all y'all", all the way up to "all y'alls". Although the superplurals are fairly rare. It's mostly "y'all" and "you guys"

Once "they" is fully established as both a singular and a plural, and "he" and "she" start falling away like "thou" did, it will leave a gap for third person plural. And that will be filled with "they-all".

75% probability, as a gut feeling.
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Thoughts about weight loss and diet change [Jan. 30th, 2016|09:11 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
As always, I want to start out with the following disclaimers and beliefs I have about being fat.

  1. A person can choose not to lose weight, and should be respected for that choice.
  2. A person can be fat and quite healthy. Indeed, some people can be a hundred pounds heavier than average and still have absolutely normal and healthy blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels -- have none of the consequences typically associated with being fat.
  3. A fat person can have health problems that are completely unrelated to being fat, and therefore, the habit of Western doctors to dismiss the health concerns of fat people with "oh, just lose weight" is a horrible thing that has had intolerable and unforgivable consequences for friends of mine.
  4. Disrespecting or mocking people for being fat, or, for that matter, skinny, is reprehensible. This includes mocking public political figures with whom one disagrees.
  5. It is a bad idea to compliment a person on rapid weight change until you know whether it was deliberate. It's embarrassing and bad to compliment someone on their pancreatic cancer.
  6. People metabolize food differently, and burn energy differently. It is possible for two people to eat the exact same amount of food, and have the exact same amount of activity, and one person gain fat while another loses it. Some people's bodies extract calories much more effectively than others; some people's bodies are able to move and work much more efficiently than others. A person who is inefficient will have a tendency to maintain a lower weight than a person who is efficient. These efficiencies are affected by genetics, epigenetics, and internal biome, among many other factors.
  7. And this is important enough to put in the list multiple times in multiple ways -- there is no moral component to being fat or not, whether it's a result of how your body works, or your lifestyle, or just how you like to perceive your body. If the body you are most comfortable in, the body which feels most right for you, is fat, then that is the body you should have, and anyone who has a problem with that should fuck off.


There are probably other things I want to say about it, but that gives you a sense of the things I believe about it.

Having said that, I'd now like to talk about my own, deliberate weight loss and resultant positive health changes.

Because I ALSO think that the things I've said apply to EVERY choice of body type. Except anorexia nervosa -- I don't think of anorexia nervosa as an acceptable choice. That's hypocritical, but, oh well. So I'm a hypocrite.

That said, I'm going to put in a cut tag here, because I know that some of my friends Just Don't Want To Hear It. A lot of people have just dealt with this shit too much during their life, so don't want to hear people talking about deliberate weight loss. And you shouldn't have to.
Read more...Collapse )
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Answer for question 4602. [Jan. 28th, 2016|10:16 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
If you could go back in time and give some advice to your younger self, what would it be? What age would you go back to in order to deliver this advice? Do you think your younger self would listen to you and heed the advice?
Every "mistake" I've made in my life either was unavoidable at the time, or eventually led to a better outcome than if I hadn't made it, or both.

The big "mistakes" I've made were due to mental instabilities that I have that weren't correctable until the proper medicines were invented -- and I was on them within a couple years of when they were approved for what I have.
Any regrets I have? Well, there are perhaps a few people I should have flirted harder with whom I am now out of touch. I'd thought of writing up some house rules that I'd come up with for GURPS and sending them off to PYRAMID magazine, and, had I done that, maybe I could have ended up writing a GURPS supplement at some point.

There was this one time where I was at a con where Steven Brust was the guest of honor, and I'd heard that he was hanging out and playing guitar somewhere, and I just was feeling tired and I didn't have my guitar with me. So, if I had it all over to do again, I'd have brought my guitar to that con, and made sure to go jam with Brust.

And at a different con, I'd heard that Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione were hanging out in one of the rooms, and I didn't go hang out with them.

So those are my regrets. I didn't flirt well enough with two people I can think of after college. I didn't put together an article for a roleplaying game magazine. And I didn't jam with an author and hang out with some musicians when I might have had the chance.

That's about it, really.
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A bit of a story from Arisia [Jan. 19th, 2016|08:51 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
A little background: as some of you know, over the past five months or so, Lis and I have been trying to eat a lot better, and, as an effect of this, I've lost a lot of weight. This is deliberate weight loss, so it's not a symptom of being sick, if you see me and are startled -- I'm not dealing with a new chronic illness or anything. But I DO appreciate that I mostly know people who don't immediately jump to the conclusion that "weight loss is always good" -- in MY case, it is a sign of healthy change, but in other cases, it's a sign of UNHEALTHY change, so y'know, it's a good idea to be careful so you don't accidentally compliment someone on their pancreatic cancer or something.

The relevant point here is that I can now wear some things that I had never expected to ever wear again, but which were too nice to get rid of. Including a corset-waistcoat -- it's a black waistcoat with subtle dark purple paisley pattern, and corset boning underneath; it has corset lacing in back. It must be ten years since I outgrew it, so I was happy to be able to wear it again, because it's one of the nicest-looking pieces of clothing I own.

Saturday, I wore a black shirt and trousers, with that vest and a purple necktie, with a matching purple handkerchief, and my usual hat.

Anyway, for lunch, I went to the Jimmy John's sandwich shop across the street, as did a number of other Arisia members, most of whom bought their food and took it away to eat at the convention, but I was eating at the counter.

A young woman was sitting next to me -- I estimate her age to be I'd definitely card her but she'd probably pass. She was wearing the uniform of the parking lot across the street, and was on her lunch break. She asked me what the event going on was, and I explained a little bit about Arisa, and what a science fiction convention was. She thought it sounded like a reasonably fun thing, and she asked about the costumes that she'd seen people wearing, and I talked a little about how they could be from books, movies, comics, or their own imaginations, or anything. Then she asked me what my costume was, and I said that I wasn't in a costume; I just liked how the outfit looked.

"Oh," she said. "I thought maybe you were dressed as Cecil Baldwin."

This has been your reminder that, in large part, mundanes aren't.

Also, that, yeah, in my mind, Cecil Baldwin would probably wear a black shirt and pants with a black waistcoat with a purple necktie and a subtle purple paisley pattern on it.
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You know how it is ... [Jan. 18th, 2016|06:53 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Your wife says, "Look, just watch the opening scene with me, just enough to see Alan Rickman."

102 minutes later, the closing credits of GALAXY QUEST are rolling.

That's a really good movie.
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So, this is me on Arisia and off my meds. [Jan. 16th, 2016|03:24 am]
Xiphias Gladius
In the rush to get everything prepared and ready for Arisia, I managed to forget to pack my toiletry kit. Most everything in a toiletry kit, they can replace at the front desk of a hotel, but not my meds. And now that I really think about it, I'm not sure I took them this morning, either.

So I might now be "off my meds."

I don't feel terrible. I'm bipolar, so I might be in a manic phase, but, because I'm bipolar II, rather than classic bipolar, the mania would just be hypomania.

And I'm noticing that I'm feeling somewhat keyed up, talking more than I'm listening, and feeling very very slightly disassociative. Not enough to be unpleasant in its own right, but enough that I'm feeling like I'd be enjoying myself even more if I felt more "present".

So, I'm thinking this might be hypomania. And, if so? Hypomania used to be what I would ASPIRE to -- basically functional and able to enjoy things. But now, it appears that bipolar-under-control-me is actually even BETTER than hypomania.
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Answer for question 4586. [Jan. 6th, 2016|11:37 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Have you or will you buy tickets for tonight's Powerball drawing (currently estimated at $475 million for the jackpot)? What's the first thing you'd do if you checked your numbers and saw that you'd hit "the big one"?
I don't typically buy lottery tickets. I figure, in practical terms, the odds of me buying a ticket and it winning, and the odds of a winning ticket accidentally blowing into my window without me buying it, are functionally identical.
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Not-particularly-spoilery FORCE AWAKENS question [Jan. 5th, 2016|07:40 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Did it seem to you like droids were treated in a way less slave-y way than in either of the previous trilogies? It seemed like people were treating them just like, y'know, people, with agency and lives of their own and stuff. It seemed like they were treated less as property than before. Do you think something encouraging happened in the thirty years between the events of JEDI and FORCE AWAKENS?
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What's fun about being drunk? My answer. [Jan. 2nd, 2016|10:22 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
You know, a few weeks ago, I had occasion to smoke a cigar, and I found the process enjoyable -- there is definitely a pleasure to interacting with smoke and breath. It's like pretending to be a dragon, kind of! But I realized that I'm not actually clear on what the drug effects of nicotine are supposed to be, so I wasn't sure whether I was using the drug correctly. Because the only drug I actually use recreationally is alcohol.

And, as I am currently a bit buzzed, I figured I'd take the opportunity to talk about what I enjoy about the experience of alcohol.

As I may have mentioned, I changed my diet a couple months ago, and, as a result, have (deliberately) lost weight. As always, I want to make sure that my decision to change my weight is not a general statement that any particular weight or body fat percentage is ideal for all people; I simply had reason to suspect that, in my SPECIFIC case, I would be generally healthier at a different body composition, and have made a choice to work toward a new one. And I've noticed a lot of downsides to the body composition I'm moving toward, too, as well as the benefits I've been noticing.

One of the downsides is that I have a much lower alcohol tolerance. I've been mildly buzzed for nearly three hours now, on four ounces of 80-proof alcohol. Being mildly buzzed isn't a downside -- it's among the reasons I choose to drink -- but, as I enjoy the process of mixing and consuming drinks, reaching my desired intoxication level on a mere two drinks rather than four or six means that I get only half to a third of the pleasure of THOSE parts of the process. However, as I'm also trying to moderate my total intake of consumables, that has an upside, too.

Anyway, I thought I'd take the opportunity to discuss a few things that I enjoy about the experience.

When I'm at my desired level of intoxication, I have a sense of dissociation. This is the sort of feeling which is intensely disturbing if it is NOT intended, but which can be really interesting when it's entered deliberately, in a controlled manner, and with a confidence that it's merely temporary. It's nifty to experience the sense of estrangement from one's own physical AND mental being -- a sense of "self outside of self." There exists a "me" which is having and observing these experiences, but it -- I -- have a slight detachment from the experiences and my normal personality. I normally have a sense of identity with my body and my experiences; this creates a separation. Something like a delamination, perhaps: think of the body and the experiences and the self usually being a single mass, stacked one upon each other but glued together into a single thing, but the experiences of drunkenness very slightly separates these layers.

As such, my proprioception is slightly off. I know where my limbs and all are, but at a slight remove -- I know where my arms and head and legs and fingers and all are, and how they move, and all that, and have no trouble moving them, but there's a bit of a conceptual separation -- the notion that they are "MY" limbs and fingers is a bit less clear. It feels like they are things I'm controlling, but not, strictly speaking part of me.

This general dissociation is just fascinating to me, and I really enjoy experiencing it every so often -- a couple times a month, perhaps. More often that that is more than I really would enjoy.
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A definition of "social justice". [Dec. 29th, 2015|07:55 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Sometimes, you just have a rotten apple.

But if you have a PATTERN of rotten apples, there's something wrong with the barrel.

Social justice is the process of trying to fix the barrel.
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So what is behind hating Nickelback, anyway? [Dec. 29th, 2015|07:30 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Of course I know that Nickelback is a punchline. But I wasn't really sure why. So I decided to listen to some of their music and see if it was really that bad.

The first one I found is a song that I already like and didn't know what theirs, "How You Remind Me". So, what's behind the hate? Is it just a bandwagon thing?
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Answer for question 4579. [Dec. 27th, 2015|12:27 am]
Xiphias Gladius
What were your favorite Christmas-themed TV specials or movies when you were a kid? Do you still enjoy those same ones as an adult? What's the greatest Christmas movie of all time, in your opinion?
Never regularly watched any Christmas specials as a kid -- I mean, I have a vague memory of watching several of them, but the only one I really remember is THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS -- the real one, of course, not the ... thing ... with Jim Carrey. I have some vague memories of enjoying the Charlie Brown one. Never seen any of the Rankin-Bass ones, although I am of course AWARE of them.

But the best Christmas movie, which I DIDN'T see as a kid, is, of course, DIE HARD.

Ho ho ho. Now I have a machine gun.

I mean, there are those who will claim that GREMLINS is a better Christmas movie, and I respect that opinion, but I'm a DIE HARD partisan.
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An observation on how fruit easily available in the United States has changed during my lifetime [Dec. 21st, 2015|09:48 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I'm too young to have ever had a Gros Michel banana (similar cultivars still exist here and there around the world, but aren't widely grown, and aren't imported here), so I've pretty much only ever had Cavendishes. So bananas, in general, aren't any better than they were when I was a kid. But it's easier to get other varieties of plantain, for instance, and you can now get Lady Finger bananas pretty often. So, bananas haven't had a huge improvement over the past thirty years or so, but there's slightly more variety.

Citrus, though -- I think oranges have made some improvements in the past several decades. And grapefruit are orders of magnitude better. I buy a bag of 'em at Costco every couple of weeks, and just peel them and eat them -- that's something that wouldn't have been worth doing when I was a kid. People used to put sugar on grapefruit before eating it -- they're just SO much better now.

And then there's apples. The resurgence in actual GOOD apples available throughout the United States since I was a kid? Unbelievable. Just... the worst apple you can find in a supermarket today is better than the best you could have found when I was a kid.
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On non-factory-farmed meat: [Dec. 21st, 2015|09:36 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Buying beef from a farm where the cattle have names and the person behind the counter knew them personally hasn't made me reluctant to eat meat, but it's made me very, very careful not to waste any of it.
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(no subject) [Dec. 19th, 2015|05:30 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
View post on imgur.com


[Description of image: two pictures, side-by-side. One is an Eastern/Russian Orthodox icon image of Saint Nicholas, in his traditional iconography, in which he has a high forehead with wrinkles, and fairly dark skin, but in this particular one, the wrinkles, dark skin, and high forehead are particularly pronounced. The other is a picture of Worf from Star Trek. They look disturbingly similar. Text: "I think Saint Nicholas was a Klingon..."]
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Back-of-the-envelope fitness calculations [Dec. 9th, 2015|04:25 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I had my yearly physical yesterday, and took the opportunity to take down my weight history from 2003 on. That's as far back as their electronic records go; the paper records before that are all in a warehouse somewhere. And so I've been playing with the numbers, to figure out whether BMI calculations make any sense for me.

An average male of my height, 5 foot 5 inches, would have a lean body weight (mass of all the stuff in the body that ISN'T fat, like bones and muscles and organs and stuff) of around 135 lbs. That would mean I was carrying around 60 pounds of fat or so, and I'd probably do pretty well carrying around about a third of that -- 20 pounds ought to cover all the things I need fat for. And I'd be at around 35% body fat right now, and a 15% body fat (which is the low end of normal/high end of athletic for males -- it's where you start having significant abs), would put me at 160 pounds. I don't ever intend to be below 15% body fat -- if you're planning on being a male model, a competitive athlete, or play a superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might want to be below that, but not otherwise. A healthy 20% would put me at 165 or so.

On the other hand, a quick waist measurement suggests that it's possible that, right now, I'm actually at 30%, not 35%. That would mean that I have an unusually high lean muscle mass of 145 pounds, which would put my perfectly-healthy 20% at 180 pounds, and my has-significant-abs 15% at 170.

It's fun to play with these numbers, but I have no idea what is ACTUALLY going on. Still, it's interesting to note that the BMI charts probably don't have a lot to do with my actual healthy weight...
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Why you can't make an anti-war movie, 1950s edition; [Dec. 6th, 2015|06:21 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Roger Ebert quoted Frances Truffaut as suggesting approximately that it's impossible to make a truly anti-war film, because a good film makes war look cool, no matter how against it you're trying to be. And TV Tropes has a section which used to be called "Truffaut was right," but has since been renamed to the clearer "Do Not Do This Cool Thing."

Which is to explain why, last night, I was at a MADMEN themed party, smoking cigars in the backyard, when some of the other guys started literally talking about how things were better in the Fifties.

It wasn't my house, and, in fact, I was there semi-working -- I was there as bartender as well as guest -- so I wasn't going to get into a real fight, but I DID mention that my parents and grandparents were actually around during the Fifties, and they liked it better now. And I managed to sort of gently derail that part of the conversation, but I didn't feel like I could actually get into it with people, y'know?

So, I just want to mention it here: in the Fifties, my grandparents couldn't buy the house they originally wanted, because Marblehead Neck was deed-restricted against Jews.

If I'd wanted to get into it, rather than simply guiding the conversation into a direction that was less uncomfortable for me, I could have pointed out that a lot of the people there were Irish or Italian, probably a bunch of them were Catholic. And that, even though they didn't realize it, we would ALL of us been in the "oppressed" class in one way or another, at least a little. It's like romanticizing the antebellum South without realizing that, even if you wouldn't have been a slave, you would have at best been a tenant farmer.

But I didn't. I've got SOME moral courage, but not enough to actually say all that at somebody else's birthday party.
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A pleasant sort of irony. [Dec. 6th, 2015|12:58 am]
Xiphias Gladius
When you drink, eat too much, and smoke a cigar because you're at the birthday party of a personal trainer who trained you, thrown by his wife, the OTHER personal trainer who trained you.

I had a GREAT time, and did all the reasonable things about deciding ahead of time just what sorts of unhealthy behaviors I was going to do, and keeping myself within those limits, and, in general, had the sort of extravagant time that is great fun without throwing things out of balance. Because physical health is a very important component of health -- and so is social health, and enjoyment, and setting appropriate limits, including setting limits to one's own limit-setting.

I have no intention of living a life where I don't drink, or eat rich food, or smoke a pipe or a cigar once in a while. I also have no intention of living a life where I drink CONSTANTLY, eat rich food CONSTANTLY, or smoke a LOT. All things in moderation -- including moderation.

Brian and Bethany are two of the (many) people in my life who have helped me learn about health and well-being. And I had a chance to practice self-restraint, but not TOO MUCH self-restraint.
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A rebranding I support, with respect to Princess Leia. [Dec. 4th, 2015|06:56 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The official name of the metal bikini outfit is Slave Leia™.

Emily L. Hauser of The Week and Donna Dickens of Hitfix and Buzzfeed refer to it instead as Hutt Slayer Leia.

I support this, and will henceforth be using this terminology.
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The Universe is like a Hot Pocket. [Dec. 4th, 2015|04:08 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The Universe is like a Hot Pocket. Some of it is hot enough to be plasma, some of it is only a few degrees above absolute zero, and most of it is dark matter that we simply can't comprehend.
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Sometimes you feel like an idiot for not figuring out something you should have known all along. [Dec. 4th, 2015|01:19 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Why didn't I realize that, if your hatchet or machete becomes dull from use, you put the edge back with a FILE, not a STONE? I've never been able to resharpen them. And now, it took me all of ten minutes to sharpen two hatchets and a machete, not to knife-sharpness, but to, y'know, hatchet-sharpness. A stone is to get things to knife-sharpness or better. When you're just going to use it to whack wood and stuff, you don't need it THAT sharp. You need it file-sharp.

I feel like I should have figured this out, or at least been told, some time in my childhood.

I feel like I probably WAS told this sometime in my childhood, and just wasn't paying attention.
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Is anyone else bothered by this? Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah [Dec. 2nd, 2015|01:51 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
For the most part, I really like the song, although I observe that Cohen is like Bob Dylan in that his voice isn't really up to the brilliance of the stuff he writes, so I tend to like covers of their stuff better than the originals. But there's one part that bothers me.
"It goes like this: / A fourth, a fifth, / A minor fall / A major lift."

"A fourth, a fifth" are a fourth and a fifth above the tonic. "A major lift" is a major second lift. And "a minor fall" -- is a unison. And it would have worked as a minor second fall.

Why isn't "a minor fall" a minor fall? That just annoys me, and when I sing it, I sing it with a minor fall, because it SHOULD have one, no matter what Cohen says.
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(no subject) [Dec. 1st, 2015|12:00 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=exponential+growth&case_insensitive=on&year_start=1850&year_end=1976&corpus=18&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cexponential%20growth%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bexponential%20growth%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BExponential%20growth%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BExponential%20Growth%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BEXPONENTIAL%20GROWTH%3B%2Cc0
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Well, there's two hours of my life gone. Why did people like KINGSMAN, anyway? [Nov. 29th, 2015|10:13 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
HBO just had KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE on, and it's a movie that we'd heard mixed things about, but Lis's father, who normally has excellent taste in movies, said we'd like it. And he's the one who said we had to watch ORPHAN BLACK, and he was right. So we watched it.

From about forty minutes in on, we were just watching it so we could say we had done so.

It managed to be a combination of disturbing, vile, and very, very dull. I un-watch it if I could, but, at least now I know.

But, now I've seen it, anyway.

I could go into detail about all the things that I hate about it, but I really don't want to put any more mental space to it than I already have wasted.
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I should really follow my own advice. [Nov. 26th, 2015|09:22 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I've been having a clumsy 24 hours.

Remember in that "What You Can Do To Protect Yourself If You Are Afraid Of Terrorism", where I said you should never leave cooking knives soaking in soapy water.

... yeah.

No real damage, but I'm going through too many Band-Aids while cooking this year.
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So, as I see it, this is how SJW-stuff works. [Nov. 23rd, 2015|09:37 am]
Xiphias Gladius
[Most of the time, when I write a post, I just write it and leave it up. This one, I'm doing some ongoing edits and tweaks, so it may be slightly changing here and there as people make suggestions.]

First, you've got your Social Justice Warriors. Their job is to draw aggro, so they need heavy tanking armor. The best tanking armor is White Privilege, which means that, honestly, Cis Het White Male is actually a good race for SJW. Thick Skin is necessary, too. You really need visibility to make your Taunts work well, so you need a very public persona to draw aggro well. Chris Kluwe and John Scalzi are two examples of effective Social Justice Warriors.

Social Justice Mages are your primary DPS class. They work with philosophy, law, and public relations, and, as such, they need very high Int to be effective. Their job is to attempt to do the real heavy lifting in trying to shift the ground in the society. I mean, obviously, that's what EVERYBODY is doing -- that's the point -- but they're the main DPS in it. SJMs include people like bell hooks, Lawrence Lessig, Justice Sotomayor, and the EFF. Anita Sarkeesian is the ultimate SJM. If the bad guys are specifically trying to get you, you're probably an SJM-- they try to get Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn.

That's because they're the highest DPS, which makes them the most important targets, which is why it's actually USEFUL to have SJWs drawing aggro away from them.

Social Justice Rogues are the secondary DPS class, but deal with more offbeat attacks and debuffing opponents. Their weapons include satire and mockery. Rogues, as a class, tend to the chaotic, so you also find SJRs doing things of questionable morality, like trolling. Stephen Colbert is a SJR, of the Neutral Good variety, and I have a vague suspicion that Josh Feuerstein, the guy who started the "Starbucks is anti-Christmas" thing, may be a Chaotic Neutral SJR. He does this whole thing where he makes up stupid outrage stories, and then sees if he can get the media to report on the dumb outrages. By goading right-wing culture warriors into doing incredibly stupid things, he makes the whole side look ridiculous, so I suspect that he's an SJR doing a strike from the shadows. Social Justice Rogues include Social Justice Bards, like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who focus on buffing their party more than debuffing the enemy.

Social Justice Clerics are about buffing and healing the other classes. Many of them are actual clerics, and provide the religious and moral frameworks for social justice. Their messages are for the other SJ people, not the general public -- their job is to help the other warriors not give up, to know that what they are doing is important, to keep them going, to keep them mentally healthy. Right now, the most prominent SJC in the world is probably Pope Francis -- which just shows that not all SJ folks are on the same side on all issues. He's definitely a SJC, even though he's wrong on gay rights. You don't HAVE to be an actual religious person to be an SJC, but it can help.
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Two things I've learned: [Nov. 22nd, 2015|07:37 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Not one of tartar sauce, cream of tartar, and the tartar that builds up on your teeth is actually made from ground-up Mongol horsemen.

The Financial Times website has a really great 404 page.
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Some things you can do to protect yourself if you are afraid of being killed by terrorists: [Nov. 22nd, 2015|08:49 am]
Xiphias Gladius
1. Wear your seatbelt. Something on the order of 30 thousand people die in auto accidents in the United States each year; most of those people aren't wearing seatbelts. We can make a reasonable conclusion that at least a few thousand of the people who died not wearing seatbelts would have lived if they were wearing seatbelts; it is virtually certain that "not wearing a seatbelt" has killed more people in the United States in the past year than terrorism has, ever, including 9/11.

2. Make sure that any firearms you own are always either under your direct control, or locked up. Accidental firearm deaths have dropped precipitously over the past several decades, but there's been a disturbing uptick recently as stupid people have decided that they want guns. If you're going to own a firearm, make sure to have good training in firearms safety and an NRA-approved firearms safe. Consider whether trigger locks are a good idea for you.

The lowest number of accidental firearms deaths in one year in the past several decades was 600. So, in any year, more people are killed by poor firearm safety than in all terrorist attacks in the United States other than 9/11. Firearms injuries are much higher; it's hard to get numbers, but it is probable than, every year, there are more people injured by poor firearms safety than in all terrorist attacks in the United States ever, INCLUDING 9/11.

Like they say, "Guns don't kill people. People who have no clue how to use guns safely kill people." For the most part, guns aren't dangerous to people because bad guys get them: guns are dangerous because STUPID people get them. The idea of common-sense gun control and licensing isn't to keep bad guys from having guns; it's to reduce incompetence, which is frankly more of a danger to most people.

3. Cut down your smoking. We all know that one.

4. Control your drinking, and eliminate binge-drinking entirely. Look. I like alcohol, a lot. It's a hobby of mine. But let's be honest -- blacking out and/or puking, that's not enjoying alcohol responsibly. That's not even enjoying alcohol AT ALL. How can you enjoy ANYTHING when you're blacked out? And any alcohol that ends up on the ground isn't something you actually got to enjoy.

5. Get a carbon monoxide detector. It's not like in the Victorian era, when entire buildings of people would be found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning from faulty heating, but it's still important -- if something blocks the air intake of your heating system, you can still get dangerous levels of carbon monoxide even today.

6. Make sure your smoke detector batteries are working. Make sure that you keep the areas around your radiators clear. Don't overload your electrical outlets.

7. If you leave dishes soaking in your sink in soapy water, DON'T PUT KNIVES IN WITH THEM. In a restaurant, putting knives in the dish sink without letting the dishwasher know about it is a "be taken into the alley and be beaten" offense. And for good reason.

8. Make sure to be active for at least a half-hour a day, every day. Go for a walk or something.

So, there are seven things to do to protect yourself, if you are afraid of terrorists. All of them will make you safer than keeping Syrian refugees out of the country will.

Edited to Add, based on observation in comments: Sunscreen. Don't forget sunscreen.
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On the whole, the fitbit is nice, but there are some problems... [Nov. 21st, 2015|01:54 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Okay, so I have a fitbit, the one you wear on your wrist so it can keep track of your heart rate, and it IS successfully encouraging me to move more, which IS helping my health. My blood pressure and heart rate are way, way down, for instance. But there are some things I don't like.

First, and I expected this one -- it irritates my skin. I swap it from wrist to wrist several times a day, as well as putting it on two different spots up and down my wrist, so, by the end of the day, I just have four light welts that I can live with, rather than one REALLY painful one. And I knew that was going to happen, so that's fine.

Second, and even more annoying, it only syncs with my phone once per reboot, so I have to reboot my phone several times a day if I want the information to get up to the website. I have been looking around online for how to fix the problem, and the best I can find is, "reboot your phone," which doesn't help, since that's the problem I want to solve, not the solution. Oh, well. My firmware and phone app are both up to date, but perhaps there will be another update soon that will fix it.

The third thing, and this is one I want to let all of you know in case you are using a wrist-mounted pedometer...

Grocery shopping: you figure that you should be able to get a bunch of steps by walking around the store while shopping, right? And you should. But -- if you're pushing the carriage, your hands are on the handlebar, and therefore they're not going up and down. As far as your wrist-mounted pedometer knows, you're just gliding along, not walking. So you don't get any credit for it. Haven't figured out a solution to that -- you can push the cart one-handed and your pedometer-wrist swing free, but that's annoying.

And here's the fourth one...

So, my fitbit tracks my sleep, too. Lis does the same thing with an app on her phone. And I discovered that the best I've done in the past two weeks was last night, when, even though I got out of bed eight and a half hours after I went to bed, I'd only gotten seven and a half hours of sleep, because I'd woken up twice and been restless twenty times. And that usually, I am closer to six hours of useful sleep.

So I now know that I suck at sleeping.

Honestly, of all the things I do in my life, "sleeping" was the thing I had totally nailed.
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Peter Whimsey thoughts, STRONG POISON [Nov. 18th, 2015|11:18 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Yes, of course I love Harriet Vane, and want her to be found innocent. Whether she actually IS innocent or not makes no nevermind to me, but it seems to be important to Peter, so there you go.

But Miss Climpson is rapidly becoming not only my favorite character in the book, but possibly among my favorite characters ever. Whimsey has managed to surround himself with people as competent and clever as he is.

I definitely get the feeling that Sayers was having an absolute blast writing these characters.
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Why we should call it "Daesh" instead of "ISIS." [Nov. 15th, 2015|07:40 am]
Xiphias Gladius
There are a bunch of things you could call the terrorist organization that kills so many innocent people and claims it's in the name of a God of peace. Most of them are unprintable. But right now, I mostly see it being called "ISIS", which is an acronym for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria." But there are people who are starting to call it "Daesh" -- something like "Dah[glottal stop/ayin-sort-of-sound]--eesh". Which is an acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-'Eraq- wa al-Sham.

So, what's better about "Daesh" than "ISIS"? Aren't they the same thing? Well... on the surface, yes. But really, not so much.

See, the thing is -- in English, we do acronyms and initialisms a lot. It seems like you're not even allowed to start a government program or something until you've come up with a cool acronym for it. But in Arabic, not so much. "al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-'Eraq- wa al-Sham" sounds all impressive. "Daesh" sounds much less so. Sounds like of stupid, actually.

Plus, it sounds a lot like "daes", which means something like "squisher." It's not actually a form of the same word or anything, but it sounds a lot alike.

In English, "ISIS" sounds like "Isis", a goddess of the underworld. Not a good religious connotation, sure, but still pretty darned awesome. In Arabic "Daesh" sounds like you're trying to make wine. Much less awesome.

So: the tl;dr of why to use "Daesh" instead of "ISIS" is that "ISIS" sounds cool, and "Daesh" sounds pathetic -- and that, when your entire existence depends upon getting impressionable teenagers and young men to believe that you are cool enough to die for, making you sound pathetic genuinely hurts you.
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Answer for question 4498. [Nov. 13th, 2015|06:13 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
If you could ask one question about the future and be assured of receiving a truthful answer, what question would you ask? What would you hope to hear as the answer?
Of course, the obvious answer is lottery numbers. But let's be a little more ambitious. What about asking a question about a useful technology that will probably be invented EVENTUALLY, but that would be really, really useful to have NOW?

I'd have to figure out how to word it, but perhaps something like, "The best, cleanest, cheapest, least-gonna-run-out, easiest-to-use energy source that the future will ever come up with and that I could manage to make work today -- how do I do it?" Something like that.

Do I want to know anything about my own life? No, not particularly. It will come as it comes, and if it's bad, I don't want to worry about it, and if it's good, let it be a pleasant surprise. Do I want something like lottery numbers that will make me wealthy, but not in any particularly useful way? Well, if it was offered to me, I'd take it, but it doesn't seem to be the BEST use of it.

A question about coming up with a really useful technology, though? I'd probably be able to make SOME money off of it -- depending on what it was, it might be something like a decent comfortable living, or it might be something like an amount of money that would give me more luxury and power than any emperor in history. I don't really care which. Either would be good, so long as the REST of the world was able to get better with it.
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