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Xiphias Gladius

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(no subject) [Nov. 4th, 2018|09:39 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Continuing on with 6b... I am REALLY losing track of these things.

(From here on, I am going to be REALLY glossing over things, being REALLY approximate, saying a lot of stuff that reasonable people could disagree with... don't be using any of this stuff as a reference to study for your history tests, okay?)

Jews in Germany and Austria in the 20s and 30s were totally part of the culture. Nothing particularly unusual about them. If they were religious at all, it was a practice of their religion which was very influenced outwardly by local Christian practices, and inwardly, based on humanist and universal principles. Reform Judaism was founded and developed in Germany, and one of its goals was to bring Jewish practice in line with the outside culture, to make sure that their practice could fit seamlessly into the larger culture. Because, fundamentally, there was nothing different between them and their neighbors.

By the 20s, it had been generations since there was any noticiable difference between the average German Jew and their non-Jewish neighbors.

And the Holocaust happened anyway.

The Holocaust changed a LOT of things in the United States. And one of them was a desire for ecumenicalism. There was a big movement to try to look for commonalities among religions rather than divisions. There began to be pushback against the Ku Klux Klan's anti-Catholicism. And people started to talk about the "Judeo-Christian tradition."

Now, let me bring up another concept -- the concept of "passing". If you have an axis of diffrence upon which you COULD be discriminated against, but you can PRETEND not to have the difference, you can "pass" for the majority.

In a sense, the term "Judeo-Christian tradition", and "Jesus was a Jew" are ways that Jews can "pass". We can minimize the apparent differences between ourselves and the majority culture, in an attempt to minimize the chances that our Judaism is an axis upon which we can be oppressed.

The BENEFIT, such as it is, of "Jews for Jesus" and "Messianic Jews" would be that they attempt to blur those lines between Judaism and Christianity, and you could argue, that helps the ability of Jews to pass, and blend into the larger society. And THAT is the reason that most Jews don't usually speak publicly as loudly and angrily against them as I did. There's a value in keeping our heads down, letting people make assumptions about us that we're more like them than we actually are, letting this all go by, to stay hidden and to assimilate.

It's a legitimate tactic to try to survive. If we CAN pass in a way that Black people, Korean people, Indian people, and other people whose difference is visually obvious CAN'T, then why wouldn't we take that opportunity to save ourselves and protect ourselves?

Or, even if we're going to be open, proud, and loud about our Judaism, can't we just focus on the similarities, and de-emphasize the differences?

Well, we've been doing that in the United States for going on three generations now.

And now I've gone and, in an angry rage, done the opposite. I've been posting about the ways in which we are DIFFERENT from Christians. I've been sticking my head up and yelling. And you could argue that I'm making myself a target -- which is my right -- but I'm also, by pointing all this stuff out, I'm making it harder for other Jews to keep their heads down if that's what they want to do.

So why would I do that?

Because the Pittsburgh proves that assimilation and hiding has gone as far as it can go. It's not working any more. It kept us safe-ish for nearly three generations, and that's good. But it's not going to work any more. The violent people have decided that they don't care how much we assimilate, how much we keep our heads down, just as in Germany, it worked for a couple generations, and then didn't work any more.

The Tree of Life martyrs show that it's time to change tactics. "Hide our differences" has gone as far as it can go. So it's now time to "reveal our differences, talk about them openly, have discussions, and work for true acceptence based on actual understanding, no matter how much harder it is."

Demystify. Sure, there are differences that you COULD oppress us on, but if I tell you about them openly, maybe there will be less reason for you to be scared of them, and less reason for you to worry about us, less reason to fear, less reason to oppress?

But, to be honest -- the primary tool I'm trying to use? The primary tactic I'm using in all this to try to fight antisemitism and reduce oppression of my people?

Dumb jokes.


Posting terrible Dad jokes every night before I go to bed is a tactic I am using to try to humanize myself and, by extension, all Jews. I'm Jewish, and I have a cat who, the day he came home from the shelter, climbed up on my shoulder for a picture with me. And I know way to many stupid jokes. And I like Queen.

I want you to see me as a PERSON, so that you can see all Jews as people. I want you to like me, or dislike me, based on who I am, so that you can know that we're people who you can like or dislike based on who were are, rather than what we are. I want you to know that we DO have differences, that we DO believe differently than Christians, and that that's okay.

I want you to be able to meet a Jew who is an asshole, and immediately think, "Man, that guy's an asshole," rather than "Jews are assholes." Even if you think *I* am an asshole, I want you to think that my assholery is specific to me, and doesn't reflect on the rest of Am Yisrael.

And so I'll use the tools I have to attempt to do that -- writing essays, being honest and open, posting cat pictures, and telling dumb jokes. Because that's what I've got.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/804444.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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I think this is the sixth thing I'm writing in this series? Maybe? I'm losing track [Nov. 4th, 2018|08:48 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I guess I can call this one number 6. Actually, let's make this one 6a -- it feels like there's a break point I can make here.

I mean, I'm just writing things as I think of them; it's not like the numbering makes any difference. But since it was the Jewish stuff that went viral, I'm sort of trying to mark them, so people can figure out if they want to read them or not.

I kind of wanted to talk a little about WHY I'm writing these things. I mean, obviously, I wrote the first one because I was pissed off. But I've kept writing them, and I've been thinking about why.

Now, those of you who know me might assume that I'm writing them because I love to hear myself talk, and I love to have people pay attention to stuff I say.

You are, of course, correct. That absolutely is a big part of it.

My friends may also correctly assume that I'm doing this because I like teaching stuff. That's a big part, too.

But there's another big part as well, and THAT gets a little complicated. And this is ME saying "a little complicated", so, y'know, if you've been reading this, you know that I don't really know how to do "simple"... I guess I'm saying "please fasten your seatbelts and keep hands and arms inside the ride at all times"?

Anyway, let's go.

Oh -- first thing you have to know. I absolutely am an SJW. I know a lot of people are totally annoyed by SJWs, but I can't really apologize for that, because I'm not sorry for it. For people who aren't familiar with the term, "SJW" stands for "Social Justice Warrior", and it is mostly used sarcastically by people who don't like us, who think we're preachy and overbearing.

And I see your point. It's just... well, if you're trying to work for justice and goodness, there's a good chance you'll get preachy. And I get that it's annoying, but, *shrug*. It is what it is. I'm trying to save the world, here -- and that's a totally pompous, arrogant, preachy, overbearing thing to say. So just prep yourself for that, I guess. I'm not going to STOP being pompous, arrogant, preachy, or overbearing, but I try to be entertaining and/or interesting enough to be worth it.

Which is to say, I'm about to start talking about "white privilege".

The following discussion is how I see the situation. Other people may see different nuances; I don't expect that everybody else will agree with everything I'm saying, and I try to spend time learning about other people's perspectives on this who have different experiences, and have learned different things.

But according to me, anyway:

The thing we call "privilege" in a social justice context means a bunch of different things, but, on the whole, it maps pretty well to being considered the "default" in your culture. Like, if I say "a person", you're going to have a picture in your head that has a bunch of default features sketched in -- loosely, in pencil, easy to swap out if you find out that a different feature is more appropriate.

How do loose defaults like this work?

Let's try an experiment.

Right now, picture a vegetable. Just the first vegetable that pops into your head. Okay, that vegetable, whatever it is -- take the first letter of that.

Now go to the next letter of the alphabet, and think of a country that starts with that letter. Again, just the first country that starts with that letter that pops in your mind.

Go one further letter, and think of an animal that that starts with THAT letter. First one.

You have all that?

But elephants aren't native to Denmark.

This is one of those dumb tricks that you can do to annoy your friends. When I've done this to people, about half the time, the person went "carrot, Denmark, elephant." About half the time they haven't, but it's hilarious when it works. At least among people my age and in my social group, the most common "think of a vegetable" is a carrot. The most common country that starts with a D that people consider is Denmark, and the most common animal that starts with an E is elephant.

Maybe that wasn't you. For a lot of you, it wouldn't be.

But, in a sense, in my particular subculture, there exists a statistically significant default vegetable.

Now, picture a person.

Just like your default vegetable is more likely to be a carrot than any single other vegetable, if you live in the United States, your default person is more likely than not to be:
1. Male
2. In their 20s or 30s or thereabouts
3. Caucasian
4. Heterosexual
5. At least vaguely Christian
6. Middle-class-ish -- not obviously poor, not obviously rich

Stuff like that.

Those first three things, you could probably see in your mind's eye. The fourth, if I followed up by talking about the person's wife or girlfriend, you probably wouldn't need to shift anything; if I talked about the person's husband, you'd make a shift -- most likely shifting your assumption to the person being female. But a shift.

The last one, if I said, "went to talk to his minister", you'd be unlikely to make much of a shift; if I said "went to talk to his imam", there might be a shift.

These wouldn't necessarily be difficult shifts. But, for the most part, for most of us, most of the time, absent any other input, our first mental picture of a person is what we SJWs call "a white cis-het male".

There's a certain advantage -- or, more accurately, a lack-of-disadvantage -- to being close to the default expectation. As an example of "male privilege", there are all sorts of apps for your phone that let you track tons of data about your health day-to-day. But there were DOZENS of them before anybody thought to include tracking your period as part of those general health trackers. It wasn't hard to find a period tracker, but they were their own separate things; people didn't think to include them in the general catch-all trackers, because female bodies aren't the default. Eventually, people thought of it -- but it took time.

The biggest advantage, or lack-of-disadvantage, however, is that if you match the default assumption in some way, you're unlikely to get shit for that specific characteristic. The more ways you match the default image in your culture, the fewer ways people will attack you.

In different times and different places, different types of difference are counted as different.

Like, when my grandmother was growing up, left-handedness was considered wrong. She was forced to learn to write with her right hand. Me, I never had that experience; nobody ever gave me any trouble for being a lefty. I'm not oppressed for being a lefty. There are inconveniences about it occasionally; there are occasional instances where things are slightly more annoying, but there's nothing really serious about it, the way it was when my grandmother was a girl. Handedness is no longer, in the United States, an axis upon which people are oppressed.

And, even if you are looking at a type of difference upon which people are oppressed, the things which go into the "oppressed" bucket of that type and the "not oppressed" bucket will change over time.

In the United States, one of the types of oppression that is most talked about is racial oppression. Sometimes in our history, it's been written into law; sometimes it's not. Sometimes there's more, sometimes there's less. But there's enough of a history that there's a lot to study. Generally speaking, we can use the term "white" to mean "in the bucket of not being particularly oppressed on the 'racial' category." "Whiteness" does track SOMEWHAT to the albedo of your skin, but not 100%. For instance, the way you sound can be as important as the way you look.

And there are cases where different groups of people started out as not-white and then got re-defined as white. My grandmother's family is from Italy, and at the time her parents came to the United States, Italians from Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Sicily, and Sardinia and half of Lazio were considered not-white, and those from Tuscany, Venice, Piedmont, Lombardy, etc. were considered white.

The most glaring case of "skin color does not grant whiteness" was the Irish, who, although often having an albedo light enough to make them nearly translucent, were not considered white for a long time.

However, on the whole throughout American history, the lighter your skin, the easier it is to be granted whiteness, and the darker your skin, the easier it is to have it revoked. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes were considered more-or-less white for a while, until Andrew Jackson decided they weren't. And the Irish, the Germans, and the rest of the Italians became so. And it's pretty obvious that Black people have had the roughest time of any of us.

What about Jews, though?

We Jews have a very weird history with regard to whiteness in the United States. George Washington wrote an incredibly nice letter to the Touro Synagogue about how Jews were part of America. Jews were considered white in the slave-holding South, and, while some in the North were part of the abolitionist movement, some in the south were slave owners and participated in the Slavers' Revolt of 1861-1865. In fact, embarrassingly, the only currency printed in the United States which features someone Jewish is the Confederate $2 bill, with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin on it. At the time, Charleston, South Carolina, had the biggest Jewish population in the New World.

Those South Carolinian Jews were Sephardic. There two most widespread "flavors" of Judaism in the world are Ashkenazic and Sephardic. In the Middle Ages, the Sephardic group was mostly around Spain, Morocco, North Africa, Southern France, and so forth. The Ashkenazic group was in the Germany and Poland and thereabouts. When Jews were allowed back into England under Cromwell, the Jews who returned were Sephardic. So Sephardic Jews who came out of that English chunk were basically considered pretty much white.

But in the later 19th century, there was a lot more immigration, through Ellis Island, into New York and places like that, of Jews who came from that Germany-and-eastward group. And today, the vast majority of Jews in the United States are Ashkenazic.

On the whole, these Ashkenazic Jews were poorer and less stylish than the Sephardic Jews. Lower-class. And so we were subjected to a lot of anti-immigrant prejudice, which, in the United States, usually includes effectively defining the immigrant group as not-white.

It was never SIMPLE, or always exactly one thing or the other -- there were still upper-class Sephardic Jewish families. But that awkward intersection led to conspiracy theories. If these Sephardic Jews were hanging out with high-class people, but Ashkenazic Jews aren't white, then... IT MUST BE A CONSPIRACY THOSE SNEAKY JEWS ARE CONTROLLING THE BRAINS OF HIGH SOCIETY. That's my guess, anyway. It's definitely not the only factor. Books, bookshelves of books, bookcases of books, LIBRARIES of books have been written trying to pick apart exactly what's going on with all that stuff.

Jews bounced around on the fringes of whiteness throughout societies, sometimes in, sometimes out. In Austria and Germany, for instance, they were quite accepted, integrated into society, definitely part of the culture, with occasional bits of weirdness going on, but, on the whole, things were pretty good...

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/804282.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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Fourth facebook post; it's easier to write here, isn't it? I'll write it here and copy it there [Nov. 1st, 2018|09:15 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
In the comments of a previous post, Ginny Philips raised another really good basic question: so, where DO Jews get our laws from anyway? What IS the scripture we use?

Now, technically, I suppose people could do a Wikipedia search and get most of this information, but I am hoping I might be able to organize it into a little more understandable form.

I also encourage other Members of the Tribe to correct me in comments, because ... and maybe I should have mentioned this some time before y'all started reading ... I'm not particularly GOOD at the technical bits of halacha. I am Jewish, I care deeply about Judaism, but my actual practice of Judaism is far more in the, "Yeah, I really probably SHOULD do that someday" level than in the, y'know, going to services, keeping kosher, studying Torah, keeping Shabbat...

In my defense, please note that most of the actually observant Jews commenting have been saying things like, "Yeah, pretty much," and "That's more or less close enough for a basic overview". So, because I have been an arrogant pedant my entire life (I was going to say "my entire adult life", until I remembered that one of my first words was "AC-tually..."), I'm going to go ahead and continue to pontificate. (Verb choice kind of awkward given the subject matter....)

... even though I'm actually going to be using Wikipedia as a cheat sheet and checklist ... *sigh*

*ahem* Anyway...

We Jews have two basic sources of our laws, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. According to our tradition, the Written Torah was dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai -- including the bits that hadn't happened yet -- and the Oral Torah was spoken, and Moses memorized it.

They are two co-equal sources of law, both given by G-d on Mount Sinai, to Moses, and through Moses, given to all of the Jewish people.

The Written Torah consists of three basic parts, called the Torah, the Ne'vim, and the Ketubim. We refer to them collectively as the acronym T-N-Kh, or "Tanakh."

The Torah is the Five Books of Moses: B'reishit, Sh'mot, Vayikra, Bemidbar, Deuteronomy, or, in English, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Like I said, our tradition says that these were given all in one chunk to Moses on Mount Sinai, which means that he wrote down all the bits about him dying before entering Israel, and so forth. I'm not going to go into whether this is literally or historically true, or about the textual analysis you can do to determine stylistically whether different parts were written at different times, or any of that -- for RELIGIOUS purposes, this is how we look at it.

The most holy object most of us Jews ever handle is the Torah scroll, the physical scroll upon which these five books are written. Physically, a Torah scroll is a bunch of sheets of parchment upon which the Torah is written in Hebrew, and then they are sewn together, and rollers are put at both ends. I'm doing a bad job of explaining this. Google it and look at pictures; that will probably give a better idea.

If you unroll a Torah scroll, the whole thing is close to fifty yards long.

We divide the Torah into weekly readings called parshot. Over the course of a year, reading one parsha a week, we read the entire thing end to end, then, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, finish it up, scroll the whole thing back to the beginning, and start over.

The second section is the Ne'viim, or Prophets. That has three sections -- the first prophets, the later prophets, and the minor prophets. The books of the First Prophets are Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; the Later Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets are counted as one book with twelve prophets who I don't feel like listing, so you can look it up yourself. Sorry, dudes -- I know, you ARE important enough to actually be in the Bible, and, honestly, mad props to you, but it's ten o'clock at night and I'm getting tired. Okay, I will mention Jonah as the fan favorite minor prophet; some of you have probably heard me blather about why Jonah is hilarious, but not right now.

We don't read these in order, but alongside our weekly Torah readings, we also have Haftara, which are selections from the Ne'viim which are thematically related to the weekly parsha. I don't actually know what percent of the Ne'viim we cover over the course of a year, come to think of it.

The third section is the Ketubim, or Writings. Again, this is divided into three groups.
The first group is the poetical works -- Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Yes, Job is a poem.
We read a lot of the psalms throughout the year as part of our prayer services, and there are also times when we just sit down and read them cover to cover, for comfort reading.

The second group are the five Megilot. Each Megilah is read at a specific holiday during the year. The Song of Songs is read at Passover, Ruth at Shavuot, Lamentations on Tisha B'av, Ecclesiastes at Sukkot (I wrote a piece once about that; I posted it last month... I should dig for it), and, of course, Esther at Purim.

And the third group is.. well, "Miscellaneous" -- Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

So... that's the WRITTEN half of Jewish scripture. Your average Jew is going to be pretty familiar with the Five Books, because we read it end to end every year, know chunks of Nev'iim, but not necessarily in order, because they're read as the Haftara, know the Megilot, because those are parts of specific holidays, know various psalms, but may be more or less familiar with different ones, and know bits of the other books.

Then we get to the ORAL half.

These days, the Oral Torah is no longer oral. Just before the destruction of the First Temple, as it became clear that things were getting bad, the rabbis decided to actually write the stuff down, to make it easier to preserve if the people whose job it was to memorize the stuff were killed. It was a controversial move, but, given that we still HAVE the Oral Torah, it was pretty clearly the right call.

The written-down version of the oral Torah is called the Mishna. But the Mishna is only the center core. It's dense, and not terribly understandable on its own. It supposed to be the starting point for discussion, rather than being the whole thing itself.

So, they include some of the discussion. Around the Mishna, you have the Gemara, which are transcripts and summaries of discussions the Sages had about the Mishna, including questions they raised, and rulings they made about the laws, which form a chain of legal precedents. It also includes stories, legends, parables, a little bit of snark and shitposting about each other, some bad medical advice, some okay medical advice, and a couple recipes.

The Mishna and Gemara together form the Talmud. And your average Jew is far less familiar with the Talmud than with the Written Torah. Most of us are willing to let rabbis just deal with that stuff -- it's dense and complicated. If we have questions, most of us will just as a rabbi and let THEM deal with it

Me, I know a couple cool stories from here and there in it, but don't really have any significant understanding of it. I mentioned in comments the story of the "snake oven" in Bava Metzia 59b, which involves an argument about whether a stove is kosher, a hopping carob tree, a voice from heaven, the destruction of a third of the crops in the country, the role of humanity and the role of heaven in administration of the law, and the death of the leader of the country as a result of hurt feelings. But the important part of the story is about how to be polite.

And then there's my FAVORITE bit, from Bava Batra 23b -- they're discussing the rule that, if you've got a dovecote, and a fledgling dove is hopping around on the ground near it, if it's within fifty cubits of the dovecote, it belongs to the owner of the dovecote, and if it's outside, it belongs to the person who found it.
"Rabbi Yirmeya raises a dilemma: If one leg of the chick was within fifty cubits of the dovecote, and one leg was beyond fifty cubits, what is the halakha? The Gemara comments: And it was for his question that they removed Rabbi Yirmeya from the study hall."

But, of course -- Jewish law and scripture doesn't stop there with the compilation of the Gemara. As Naomi Lebowitz Sipple pointed out, a major purpose of the Gemara is to show how we're supposed to hold these arguments. That's not the stopping point. We're supposed to keep going. So we have commentaries on the commentaries, and commentaries on THOSE. We have letters which form precedents, and different communities who make different rulings on things. And it keeps going, and going, and will CONTINUE to keep going, forever.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/803956.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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Third facebook post, copied over [Nov. 1st, 2018|09:15 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
A lot of conversations have been sparked by my last couple posts, and I thought of a couple things that I've been saying elsewhere that maybe I could pull into a central place. So this is my second thematically-related followup, my third in what is turning into a series of essays.

One of the things that makes it hard to explain things about Judaism to non-Jews is that most non-Jews I interact with grew up in a world dominated by Christian ideas of what religion is. And the thing is, Christianity redefined the idea of what "religion" meant. Pre-Christian religions and post-Christian religions generally look pretty different.

Generally speaking, people whose primary exposure to religion is through Christianity or Islam assume that religion is about what you BELIEVE. But in most religions other than those two and their daughter religions, belief is kind of a secondary thing. It's not NOT there, but it's one of many pieces, and not one of the most important ones. This is why there's no fundamental conflict between being an atheist and a Jew -- or, perhaps more accurately, to the extent that there IS a conflict, it is one that is well-established and respected in modern Jewish culture and history.

Lack of belief in Jewish theology isn't a major problem in Judaism.

However, the reason you can't be Christian or Muslim, and Jewish is because THOSE religions ARE belief-based. Lacking belief in Judaism isn't an insurmountable problem to being Jewish. But HOLDING belief in something that ISN'T Judaism IS a big honking insurmountable problem. It's one of the only ways you CAN give up your Judaism.

As one of my friends has said, "I don't believe in God. And the God I don't believe in is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob."

People ask if Judaism is a religion, a race, or both. And most Jews will answer that with "both", but I think the better answer is "it's not that simple."

Judaism dates from a time before religion, family, tradition, culture, language, and land were different things. We're not just a mixture of those things -- we are a thing that encompasses all of those things. As the millenia have gone on, and as those became discrete concepts in human cultures, we've sort of shifted and switched around and modified to try to fit into those new models, but, at our core, we're just plain older than that. One phrase we use, light-heartedly and kind of joking-not-joking, is "MOT" -- "member of the tribe." And thinking of us a a tribe gets a little closer than "race" or "culture" or "religion".

The fact that we're ... whatever the heck we are ... means that our religion doesn't really work on the same expectations as Christian and post-Christian religions. We're just about different things.

Here's a question that is interesting from a Jewish perspective:

So, you've got two bowls of water. Water flows into the top bowl, then spills over and flows into the bottom bowl. And the bowls and the water are both in a state of taharah. Now, if the TOP bowl becomes tamei, obviously the water that flows from the bowl into the other bowl is tamei, and the second bowl becomes tamei.

But what if the BOTTOM bowl becomes tamei? Does the TOP bowl become tamei?

Note that, to even understand the question, you have to understand what "tamei" and "tahor" mean, and that's really not an easy question to explain in the first place. People translate it as "ritually impure" and "ritually pure", but that's just an approximation of the term; they don't REALLY fit as translations, and I have no real idea how to explain them, even if I fully understood them, which I don't.

So, yeah, this one is a question you can really sink your teeth into, and it's the kind of question that MATTERS.

Here's a question that is boring from a Jewish perspective:

What happens to us after we die?

Oh, as individual people, sure, we are interested in that sort of thing, and Jews have come up with answers to that all throughout history. Which is why Judaism believes in Heaven, bodily resurrection, reabsorbtion into God with the loss of self and individual consciousness, reincarnation, and GAME OVER. As well as others. Basically, Jews have a tendency to pick up modifications of the afterlife beliefs of the other cultures we live among. Because Judaism, as Judaism, fundamentally isn't interested in the question.

So one of the difficulties in explaining Jewish topics to people who didn't grow up in a Jewish context is that the questions that people are asking are often category errors. It's like asking "how many grams of protein are in that memory of the smell of a rosebush that summer?" or "how long does it take to drive to purple?"

Yes, we also have practical questions that people can understand, like, "Say you were bulding a wall, and some construction materials fell into the street, and someone tripped on them and injured themselves -- how much do you pay in damages?" "If you have someone guarding your property and you get robbed anyway, under what circumstances is the guard responsible for making up your loss?"

And practical questions that might NOT make sense to outsiders, like "Does the Law say that you start counting the Omer from the morning after the Sabbath OF Passover (i.e., the beginning of the holiday of Passover is a Sabbath), or the morning after the Sabbath IN Passover (Passover is a week long holiday -- a day longer outside Israel to make sure that you cover the whole thing -- so it will always include a Saturday)?" That one nearly led to a civil war... (It makes sense in context. Basically, the entire cycle of sacrifices in the Temple is tied to the Omer count, so pretty much the entire religious chunk of the year would be different depending where you start.)

We have a history, a culture, a religion, a family, a belief system, a law code, a nation, a tribe, a people. We ARE a history, a culture, a religion, a family, a belief system, a law code, a nation, a tribe, a people. And since most people in the modern world don't usually deal with this particular amalgamation of ideas as a single thing, it's hard to get across.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/803810.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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Second copied over Facebook post, about why Messianic "Judaism" is vile [Nov. 1st, 2018|10:29 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I'm gonna put this as its own post rather than have it buried in comments.

Seems like it would be a useful thing to unpack exactly WHY Jews for Jesus/Messianic Jews are so horrific. I've been getting a few questions from people, and some pushback, which is a good thing.

In order to explain this, I think I pretty much have to start with Paul of Tarsus.

Christianity is a religion based on the teachings of Paul, who decided that Judaism was over, not a thing, and that he was going to start up a new religion to supplant it. And ever since then, Christians have been trying to destroy Judaism, by forcing us to convert. Some branches of Christianity, such as the one Vice President Pence follows, include the conversion or destruction of Jews as a fundamental tenet of their eschatology. Their Left-Behind-Series influenced religion requires Jews to have control over the land of Israel, then 144,000 of us to convert to Christianity, then the rest of us be killed. Something like that. I don't know, or care, about the specific details; what I know is that their religion requires my death. Or conversion, but, if those are the choices... *shrug* I know what I'm going for. I'm stubborn; the best way to get me to avoid something is to try to force me to do it.

Most modern Christians have pretty much deprecated this part of their religion, and created a new, much nicer religion, and I applaud that. But the horror that Christians have inflicted on us for two thousand years is burned into our Jewish souls, and we can't forget, no matter how much we would want to.

I don't have a problem with most modern Christians, or modern Christianity -- but I nonetheless flinch around them. It's not your fault. It's the fault of your ancestors. I don't blame you, specifically. But I do blame your great-grandparents. And I do blame the strains of Evangelical, Dominionist Christianity that KEEP that part even today.

So we Jews have a particular relationship to Christianity. It's different than any other religion, because it was founded upon attacking us, and hasn't let up since. It's waxed and waned, and, up until the last few years, it's been in a waning phase, but it's started waxing again. And even when it's waning, we still are... twitchy. Christianity is dangerous to us, in a way no other religion is.

No, not even Islam. Muslims and Jews are cousins. Yes, the Israel/Palestinian conflict is bad, and puts us in opposition to one another in many cases. But you have to understand -- it's a land dispute, not a religious dispute. Muslims don't have problems with Jews; Jews don't have problems with Muslims. Some of us have problems with where each other are LIVING, but that's different. Abraham had two sons, and two nations descended from them, and we cousins have fought over the land we both claim. But we are fighting over land, not over who we are.

Christians, however, have problems with Jews. Not all of you -- but if you dig into your history, you'll find that a lot of Christianity has been based around anti-Judaism, from its very first day. And while you have the ability to forget it, because it's not traumatic to you, we don't.

So Christianity is a special case.

I know Jews who are also Buddhists. I know Jews who are Pagans. And while plenty of traditionally religious Jews have serious problems with that, nobody denies that they remain Jews. Bu-Jews and Jewwitches are totally things that exist, and if one shows up at a shul, most people would be okay with counting them in a minyan and stuff like that.

I mean, sure, people might feel that Jewwitches were Jews who were in violation of some of the Ten Commandments -- but even at their worst, they'd be JEWS who were violating the Ten Commandments. They're still US.

But Christianity is different.

Taking on the worship of Jesus cuts you off from the Jewish community in a way that few other things possibly could. Because it's based on being non-Jewish, and on oppressing Jews. Much of Jewish identity over the centuries has been based on resistance to being taken over, and maintaining our religion against forces that tried to forcibly convert us. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Christians. We've been doing this for a long time; our heritage is, in large part, one of people telling us to stop being Jews, and us saying "No -- we are here, and we will outlast you."

But as part of this millenia-long process, some Jews fall away, and don't learn about what we are and what our history is, and about the Jewish soul of resistance to religious conversion.

And into that gap slip the Jews for Jesus, the Messianic Jews, who come to destroy us.

Some identites are compatible with Judaism. You can follow Buddhist teachings from some of the non-deistic schools and not run into anything that conflicts, for instance. But some are just not. Islam insists on one specific way of belief -- you can't be a Jew and a Muslim simultaneously. Christianity insists on one specific way of belief -- you can't be a Christian and a Jew simultaneously.

And there's nothing wrong with Muslims or Christians -- those are fine ways to believe, but you can't be a Jew at the same time. If a Jew chooses to convert, of their own free will and without coersion or confusion, to Islam or to Christianity, well, that saddens me because it diminishes our community, but I don't blame Christians or Muslims for it. It is what it is.

But Jews for Jesus and Messianic "Jews" find Jews who don't understand our history, and, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, lie to them, and try to convince them that they can maintain their Judaism while worshipping Jesus.

But they're actually part of that eschatalogical branch of Christianity which wants to convert some Jews and kill the rest.

Someone in one of these threads somewhere accused me of hating Jesus, and that's not right. The truth is that I don't think about the guy at all. He's completely irrelevant to Judaism -- except inasmuch as people have killed us in his name.

People keep saying "But Jesus was a Jew!" Well, okay. So is Bernie Madoff, but we don't worship him.

There's a huge long list of Jews that Jews don't worship. Leopold and Loeb. Harvey Weinstein. I mean, it's just quicker to make a list of Jews that Jews DO worship.

And the answer is "none". We worship none Jews. (Well, maybe Carrie Fisher and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, but ...)

I guess that's about what I've got to say for now. It's a little more scattered than I really would like, but it's a start.

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Facebook post about the Pittsburgh synagogue martyrs [Nov. 1st, 2018|10:26 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Because it is fundamentally impossible to keep a Facebook post indefinitely, I'm going to copy over a couple posts I made there to here; they've gotten lots of discussion, and might be useful in the future, and Dreamwidth is actually USABLE.


It occurred to me that not all my Facebook friends are Jewish, or know a lot of Jews, so I thought I'd take a moment to talk about Vice President Pence's deplorable and hideous action in having a Jews for Jesus "rabbi" speak at a memorial for the Tree of Life martyrs.

See, "Messianic Jews" aren't Jews. In fact, they're not that much better than the person who killed the martyrs. Oh, they're not physically violent the way the murderer was, and if I could snap my fingers and get rid of either racist/homophobic/anti-semitic/etc murderers or Jews for Jesus, I'd certainly go for the murderers, but I'd REALLY try to negotiate for second finger-snap.

There aren't a whole lot of things most Jews agree on. We disagree on the most fundamental issues you could possibly imagine, like the role of Jewish law, and whether G-d exists, what women can and can't do, the roles of gay people and transgender people and all SORTS of things. We have the most fundamental and loud and angry disagreements among ourselves about what is right and wrong.

But one thing we all agree on is that Jews for Jesus are vile.

Look. If you are a Christian, and you want to come to our services, attend a Seder with us, sit with us in the Sukkah, all sorts of things, you are welcome. You are SO welcome. We would LOVE to have you. If you want to see what sorts of things Jews do, because your religion has a historical connection to ours, please, come, enjoy, celebrate with us. If you have Jewish family, through intermarriage or conversion, and you want to be part of our community, we want you here. There are parts of our services that you could participate in, like poetry readings, singing psalms, all sorts of things. Sure, you won't be counted in the minyan, and you can't be called to the Torah, but there are a whole lot of parts, a whole lot of roles, a whole lot of honors that we would be happy to give you.

If you are a Christian, and you want to assume Jewish trappings in your own Christian services -- wearing talitot, holding your own "Seders", things like that, okay, now you're getting into some weird shit. We're definitely into "cultural appropriation" territory. But, y'know, still -- I can understand it. Syncretism is a real thing, and it's not like Judaism hasn't picked up stuff from OUR religious neighbors. Like, I'm creeped out by it a little, but only to the level of eye-rolling, and I'm not going to make a big deal out of it. If it makes you happy, well... I mean, I'd RATHER you didn't, but it's not really my place to say, y'know?

But if you're going to worship Jesus and claim to be a Jew -- now you've crossed a line.

It's hard to express just how wrong this is, just how horrifying Jews for Jesus are. Back when they were just a fringe cult, we could ignore them. But now that they are sharing the stage with the Vice President of the United States, they are attempting to be a genuine existential threat to Judaism, attempting to exterminate us. Oh, they're trying to use methods that are more polite than an AR-15, but not all that much less hateful.

Oh, there's not all that much we can do to stop them, certainly not as much as we would like to. In the Western world, we believe in freedom of expression, freedom of religion, even of hateful ideas. And while we can probably get enough people to understand that swastikas are hate speech, it would take a lot of doing to explain that Jews for Jesus are pretty much the same thing. And so we just let them be.

But by having a Jews for Jesus "rabbi" speak, Mike Pence was fighting on the same side as the murderer. I don't think most people realize that.

But I want you to know. I want you to know that, after eleven of our our people were martyred for the sanctification of Hashem, our government followed by trying to blaspheme in their names.

May his name be blotted out.

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So, how does a Massachusetts resident get a gun, anyway? [Mar. 24th, 2018|10:00 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I've been having many conflicting thoughts about firearms over the past, well, lifetime tbh, but obviously it's all at the forefront of my mind, now. I'm a gun owner, and a liberal, and I only recently got into shooting, so I'm still learning how things work.

And I thought some of you might want to know. Because I was seeing signs suggesting that people should do things that we in Massachusetts already do. And maybe people in other parts of the country would want to know how it works out when you do them; maybe people in Massachusetts would be relieved to know that these things are already implemented.

My general feeling, as a Massachusetts gun owner, is that we have SOME laws that are probably unnecessary, but a lot of the stuff we do could be reasonably expanded to be nationwide. I figured I'd tell you about what I did earlier this week, and you could see what parts of it you are comfortable with, what parts you think are excessive, what parts you think need to be tightened up. I'm going to try to keep the editorializing to a minimum, but it's me, so I've got opinions and stuff. I'm going to try to keep it to the facts, but the facts include my own emotional reactions to things...

I am a member of a shooting club in Weston, right on the Waltham/Weston border. It's close to Outer Limits comics and Brandeis in Waltham, and to my parents' and grandparents' houses in Wayland, so it's a good place for me to go and do other weekendy-type things, too. It's an indoor range, and you can only shoot pistol rounds there, but, if you have a rifle that shoots pistol ammunition, you can use it there, too.

Two times back when I went shooting, I brought my two handguns, a .22 semiautomatic target pistol, and a .357 Magnum Smith and Wesson revolver. I shot about six hundred rounds with them, which was probably overdoing it, like, a lot. And I gave myself a case of tennis elbow.

The .22 is the lightest and cheapest round commonly used in the United States, so for people who just want to shoot holes in paper, it is the one to use. If you buy it in bulk, it is about six cents a round, and, if you're going to shoot six hundred rounds, that's thirty six bucks right there. And anything else you shoot is going to be even more expensive. As far as practical use goes, you can hunt birds, squirrels, and rabbits with it, but it is generally considered cruel to hunt things larger than that -- you are more likely to painfully injure a larger animal, and, while it may well die, it will suffer, and so it's illegal in most places to try to hunt deer with something that small. A target pistol, on the other hand, is a pistol which is large and chunky and solid, so that, when it fires, it doesn't kick very much.

Even so, shooting that many rounds without taking breaks was a bad idea, and the repeated shock on my elbow was a bad idea. I didn't figure that out for another couple days, though, when I started wondering why my elbow was hurting...

Anyway, this gave me my impetus to get my third firearm. I'd been wanting to get a .22 lever-action rifle, and, since firing pistols is something I should probably ease off on for a couple weeks, I decided it was time to actually go buy the one I'd been looking at.

In a semiautomatic firearm like my target pistol, when I fire a round, it automatically takes out the empty cartridge and puts a new one in for my next shot. It DOESN'T mean that I can just hold the trigger down and spray bullets around -- that would be FULLY automatic, and that's something different. In a revolver, like my Smith and Wesson, like police officers used to carry before Darryl Gates decided to make the LAPD into an occupying military force, there is a cylinder which holds (usually) six bullets, and, after one is fired, the cylinder can rotate to bring another fresh round to be ready. Those are the two ways that pistols usually work.

Modern rifles are typically also semiautomatic, taking care of the extracting and reloading parts on their own, but they can also be bolt-action or lever-action. In those cases, after you shoot, you need to do something yourself to get rid of the old cartridge and get the new one yourself. In a bolt action, there is a little handle-thingy sticking out the side that, when you pull it back, it knocks the old casing out of the gun, and when you push it forward again, it scoops the new one out of the magazine and puts it in the chamber. The lever-action is kind of the same, except the lever is on the bottom. The lever kind of loops around the trigger. If you ever saw the TV Western "The Rifleman", that's what the main character used.

The reason I want a lever action is because I'm a lefty. The bolt on a bolt-action rifle sticks out of the right side, usually, so that you stabilize the gun with your left hand, then fire with your right, work the bolt with your right, and then can fire again. A lefty has to either get theirs modified, or reach over the top weirdly.

I knew which one I wanted, the Henry Golden Boy .22 Repeating Rifle. It's a pretty, pretty gun. Polished wood and brass, easy to fire, and only a few hundred bucks new. I'd been holding off to see if a used one was going to come around, but I'd already decided to get it, so, because of my elbow, I decided to just go ahead and get it now.

I decided to go to the store that Ben Silver had been telling me about, about ten minutes from our house, Four Seasons Firearms in Woburn. It's around the back side of a building, in the lower level. In Massachusetts, gun stores are usually in the sorts of places that are lower foot traffic retail -- places like plumbing shops, and things like that, where you're not really counting on window shopping. This one is right near to the police station, which is also not uncommon in Massachusetts.

As I parked and walked in, I walked past a couple Trump bumper stickers. This is the downside to the hobby. Because the NRA is vile, and, well, they've got their slimy little tentacles wrapped around the hobby. And so, while there are liberal gun-owner groups, we're less common. It's uncomfortable seeing pro-Trump bumper stickers, literature advertising speeches by Sheriff David Clarke, and other such things. And, let's be honest, one of the reasons I wish more liberals WOULD like guns would be to dilute that sort of thing. But, anyway.

The gun stores I've been in have generally had similar layouts. Only employees are allowed behind the counters that are on two or three sides of the room. Rifles and shotguns are in racks along those walls, behind the counters, where customers can't get to them directly. Pistols are usually in the display cases under the counters. Like electronics or jewelry.

In the center part of the room, and on pegboards around the walls that aren't behind the counters, you have accessories, cleaning supplies, maybe spinner racks of magazines, and shelves of ammunition.

I walked in, and I had a pretty good idea what I wanted. I went up to one of the clerks, and asked him what he had in .22 lever action rifles. I handed him my firearms license, he looked at it, and verified that I looked more or less like the picture, and he picked up one of the rifles, opened up the breech, looked into it to make sure it was empty, and handed it to me. He then watched me very carefully, and asked me how I liked various things about it, and I tried handling a couple others. He never had more than one firearm out at once, and was always watching me while I had it. This seems pretty standard -- clerks seem to only help one person at a time, and only one firearm at a time.

I pretty quickly determined that, yes, the Henry Golden Boy was, in fact, exactly what I was hoping it would be, and he sent me over to the kiosk at the other end of the store. This was one of the reasons Ben had suggested Four Seasons to me specifically -- they have kiosks set up where you can fill out the forms on their computers and have it print it out, rather than having to handwrite everything. I entered in a couple screens of data -- birth date, height, weight, verifying that I had no felony convictions, and all those other things. When I was done, I went back over to the counter, and they printed out the forms.

The clerk then took the form, and had me enter my PIN. Other than having my license, I ALSO have to have a PIN that is NOT on the license, so that a person who happened to look like me couldn't just take my license and buy a gun on it -- I have to also have that. He then verified that the information I typed in matched the information on the license, and entered that into the system, with the PIN, and waited.

While we waited, we went and picked up some other things that I would need -- cleaning supplies, a case, a chain lock. In Massachusetts, you must keep your firearms under lock and key when they're not in your direct use, so, unless you walk in there with a lock, they are required to sell you a lock with it.

When we came back, the computer had cross-referenced my ID with the state database, and confirmed that the person with that license and PIN had, in fact, passed a background check, had no felony convictions, violent misdemeanors, domestic violence altercations, history of mental illness of sorts that would make me dangerous, had no pending litigation, and, as far as anybody could tell, nothing had happened since that background check had happened to change that.

I signed a few more forms saying that that background check had come through, and they sent that to the federal database, and I did a bit more shopping.

When that came through saying the same thing, that no other state had any information to contradict what Massachusetts had said, they ran my debit card, and let me have my purchases.

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Something I hadn't anticipated with our cats... [Mar. 17th, 2018|11:32 am]
Xiphias Gladius
So, you know how, generally, if you have two cats, one is good at "smart" and one is good at "cat"? Occasionally, you get one that's good at both, but if so, the other one is good at neither.

Before Nora died, she was the one that was good at "cat", and Nicky was the one that was good at science. We adopted small, and, somehow, we made the assumption that she would be the one that was good at "cat".

What we didn't realize was that she is one of those cats that is good at both. We pulled out one of those brain teaser puzzles where you put treats inside, and your pet -- they're made for dogs, and the big ones are too big for a cat to manipulate, but the small ones are fine for cats, too -- figures out how to get the treats out. And small worked it out just as fast as Nick did.

We have two smart cats.

We are doomed. Both cats are demanding of affection and treats; both cats can figure out how to get into stuff.

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A few just sort of random-ish thoughts about my relationship to firearms [Feb. 24th, 2018|04:17 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I didn't grow up around guns all that much. My father and both grandfathers were drafted and served in the Army -- Vietnam, WWII, and Korea -- and all hated guns because of it.

I did fire a rifle a couple times when we were visiting a family friend's boyfriend in Vermont for the Fourth of July one year -- they were plinking at some cans and balloons and stuff, and let me try. It was pretty fun.

At one point, when I was being bullied at school, a friend gave me a revolver that would only fire blanks -- it was a .22 starter's pistol with a half-blocked chamber. So I carried a gun to school a couple times. Never showed it to anybody, but the idea was that, if someone started something, I probably could scare them off. Never came to that, though. I had it hid in my sock drawer, and my mother found it when doing laundry.

I'm not THAT stupid -- I usually did my own laundry, so I don't remember why she was looking through it. She wasn't snooping though, I don't think -- as far as I know, Mom didn't snoop a whole lot.

My wife and I got our licenses to carry some time ago, largely out of curiosity. We realized that we were generally anti-gun, but from a position of ignorance, so decided to take a firearms class, see what the process was to get a license in Massachusetts. We did so, discovered that handguns are fun, and that the Massachusetts process didn't strike us as either too onerous nor too easy. It's not perfect, though.

I never owned a firearm, and let my license expire, but recently re-upped it after Trump was elected, and bought a couple pistols. For fun -- I don't carry, and just keep them locked up except when going to the range.

I mentioned to my upstairs neighbor Ben that we live in the city in Eastern Massachusetts in which it is easiest to get a license. In this state, the decision to issue or not issue a license to carry is up to the local police chief, so it is incredibly variable how hard it is to get one. But in Melrose, their policy is that they will issue one unless they have a specific reason not to.

Leaving the decision to issue or not issue a license to the discretion of the local police chief has pluses and minuses. On the one hand, it lets the decision be made by people who really can take things like, "I dunno -- the boy just seems off, y'know?" into account. On the other hand, it lets the decision be made by people who can take their own prejudiced takes on "I dunno, that kind of person is usually pretty off, you know?" into it. It's highly flexible, highly adaptable to weeding out people who shouldn't have guns, and the most abuse-able system there is. Imagine that you've got a police chief who thinks that marching in support of the Confederate flag is a good thing, and marching in support of Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street is a bad thing.

That... probably didn't take all that much imagining, did it?

It does seem to do an okay job of keeping guns under control. Note that when we had a terrorist attack, it was done with firecrackers, pressure cookers, and ball bearings. Note also that it killed only three people. Injured and crippled tons more, of course. Many seriously. But that shows that guns are deadlier than other options.

Ben has decided to start collecting firearms. He used to collect hand-to-hand weapons, but these are way more moddable. Basically, he mentioned yesterday that this is scratching both his "collect shiny weapons" itch AND his "kit-bash and mod tech" itch. We've been trying to set up going to the range together once a week, and bringing as many other friends as possible as often as possible, just to get out of the house and be social. So, open invite to any of you guys who want to get together to shoot.

AR-15s are specifically illegal to buy and sell in Massachusetts. The law calls them out by name, as well as by characteristics. If they weren't, I would be looking to buy one, because they are super-popular not (primarily) because they are super-deadly, but because they're the Toyota Camry/Ford F-150 of rifles. Super-common, easy to find parts for, easy to repair, easy to modify, affordable, reliable, does everything you want without being fancy. The reason they're used in all the mass shootings is because they're used in EVERYTHING. They're just plain the most common rifle there is in the United States. If you don't have a reason to get something else, you get an AR-15.

Because AR-15s are specifically illegal in Massachusetts and some other states, gun manufacturers have made works-the-same-as-but-is-cosmetically-different versions for those states, and I have looked at some. It's annoying, because the cosmetically different ones are ten times the price for no increase in quality.

I don't know. Look -- we have actual Nazis marching in our streets. And I'd like those Nazis not to have AR-15s. On the other hand, I WOULD like people who AREN'T Nazis to have AR-15s, because the United States has such a weird law enforcement lack-of-system that it's pretty easy for Nazi sympathizers to become law enforcement in some places, get law-enforcement-restricted weapons, and hand 'em out to Nazis.

And, of course, while assault rifles are scary, we also have the much more significant issue of out-of-control handgun violence.

Things I AM sure of -- the NRA isn't helping. Blocking research into gun violence isn't helping.

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Superb Owl [Feb. 4th, 2018|08:22 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Given that it's Superb Owl Sunday, I thought I'd tell a little bit about the first superb owl I saw.

When you say "owl", no matter how many barn owls, screech owls, or pygmy owls I've ever seen, the owl I see is Spooky, the Great Horned Owl who lived at the Boston Museum of Science from 1951 to 1989. In the wild, ten years is a good lifespan for a Great Horned Owl, but even in captivity, thirty-eight years is amazing. Although I believe that there have been a handful of owls who have lived longer since then, as advances in veterinary bird medicine have continued, thirty years is still a good run for a zoo owl; thirty-eight would be amazing even now, and was unprecedented then.

Spooky actually liked people. Oh, it's not like the audience got to touch him or anything, but you would go see an animal presentation, and the presenter would be teaching you things about animals and birds, and Spooky would be sitting on the presenter's shoulder the whole time, just watching the audience, and seeming to enjoy the whole thing. When I was a kid, seeing Spooky was one of the things that we ALWAYS made sure to do when we went to the Museum of Science.

The other thing about it was that Spooky lived long enough that seeing Spooky the Owl as a kid was an experience that my parents shared with my sister and me. They'd seen the owl, and loved him, and then, when they grew up and had kids and took us, we could see the same owl, and love him just as much.

And that's why, when I think of Superb Owl Sunday, I think of Spooky.

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Mental illness awareness day [Feb. 1st, 2018|09:35 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I see that February first is supposed to be a day to talk about mental illness, so I figured I'd talk about mine. Bipolar II, lifelong.

It's one of the less dramatic mental illnesses, I suppose. I don't hear voices, or lose track of reality, or black out, or make incredibly dumb spontaneous choices, or backstab people who thought they were friends. On a day-to-day basis, I seem like a pretty normal guy, and, on a day-to-day basis, I am.

But I'm a couple weeks out from being forty-four, and I've never held down a full-time job for more than a couple months, because I can't. I've never finished college, because I can't. Bipolar II has seriously curtailed my life.

I think most people who knew me in high school can attest that I'm not unusually stupid or unusually incompetent. I was seriously socially awkward and weird in high school and college, but in ways that most people found amusing and not particularly offensive, mostly. I mean, I can definitely think of specific times where I acted problematically, but not significantly more than any other socially inept nerd. I think I appeared to be headed for a completely normal life, with a decently-paying job of some sort, a family, normal stuff.

But there were definitely things which had Gone Seriously Wrong at points in my life -- a year when I was unable to enter a school building, for instance. I got a lot of support from my family, partially because my mother had gone through something similar, so my immediate and extended family shrugged it off as a thing which happens -- sometimes a kid just freaks out and can't go to school, and so has to go to the library and teach themselves for a year. And I pretty much did, and I pretty much did okay doing so -- but, looking back, that wasn't a great sign.

There were months I couldn't accomplish anything, ever since I was a teenager.

In high school, my grades were weird. I've said that you could recreate my high school transcript by taking a six-sided die, and writing A, B, C, D, F, Incomplete on the sides, and just rolling it. Ignoring subject, or difficulty. Or how I'd done the previous term. At graduation, there were actually several of us who were either going to not graduate or graduate as part of the National Honors Society, and it wasn't clear which one. But most of the other people in that category had been having weird things going on in their lives at the time, and I had been coming out of a completely normal home life with no disruptions. The only thing that was wrong with me was me.

I got to college on the strength of that I do well on standardized tests, rather than my transcript. Brandeis overlooked my terrible high school grades, and let me in, and I'm happy for that. I didn't get that much out of the classes, since I rarely went, but the people I met are still important to me today. Including my wife, who is the only reason I'm not a homeless bum.

I would always do well for a month or so, then get hit by a depressive episode. During a depressive episode, I can't function. I can't explain it, and I always thought it was a moral failing, and it FEELS like a moral failing. But, if it's a moral failing, why does it hit in a cyclical pattern? If I'm lazy, why does it come and go? And why is it somewhat treatable by medication?

I am deeply grateful for a question Rich Pacheko asked me at one point when we were in our late twenties or early thirties: why am I not successful at anything? Because I SHOULD be. I am reasonably smart, reasonably personable. I learn things reasonably well. Indeed, I may be above average in a lot of those things, but I had trouble managing to keep a job as a second-shift gas station/convenience store clerk. I'm not saying that "convenience store clerk" is necessarily an easy job, but it's definitely a job that many people are capable of doing, and that, externally, you'd think I'd be able to do. And that became a question I had to face.

And I could. For a couple months. And then the cycle hit, and I kept calling in sick because I couldn't get out of the house, sometimes, not even out of bed. The sine qua non of having a job is actually showing up for it, and I couldn't.

Because, I originally thought, I was morally deficient. But, by that time, I had been dealing with it long enough that I had to accept that this was genuinely medical.

Lis helped, a lot. I don't deserve her, but that's okay, because marriage isn't about deserving the other person -- it's about helping each other out. The bit which I don't understand is that, during those times, I WASN'T helping her out, but she was willing to put in the work to help me get to be at least a net benefit to her, so long as I was also doing whatever I could to put in the work to become a net benefit to her. Except, "whatever I could" was often not very much. Somehow, she put up with me, recognized when I was putting in the limited work I could, recognized when I wasn't, and somehow got me to where I am: a net benefit to Lis's life, even if I'm not as MUCH of a benefit as a healthy person would be.

She deserves someone healthier than I am, but she's stuck with me for over half our lives anyway, and has decided that the way that she will get the healthier-than-I-am person she deserves is to push me to be healthier.

And I am healthier. But I'm not healthy. The meds help, a lot. The therapy helps, a lot. Doing the amount of work that I can manage to do helps, a lot. But I'm still sick, and I'm still not able to do the kind of work that I could have expected to be doing in my mid-forties.

My friends are doctors, lawyers, programmers, authors, artists, chefs, mechanics, engineers, researchers, plumbers, and generally very good at their jobs. All jobs with a lot of skill, all jobs which are hard, all jobs that take a lot of work to learn how to do.

And I SHOULD have been able to do a similar amount of work to get good at SOMETHING. But I'm not good at anything. I'm okay at a ridiculous number of things -- I can cook, shoot, pick locks, do first aid, build things, repair things, play guitar, sing, teach, program computers, write, research, massage, develop molecular cocktails, brew and distill, grow food -- all sorts of things. But none of them quite well enough to make a living at it, because I can only focus on learning something for a couple months. Whatever I can learn in a couple months, I can do; after that, a downturn hits, and I'm out of it. And sometimes I can go back and pick up another couple months, but mostly I can't. So I am not even a jack of all trades -- I'm somewhere around a five of all trades. But a LOT of trades.

And that's because I have a mental illness, which has chopped my life into two or three month chunks. With incapacity between those chunks. Medication and training has helped me lengthen those chunks and reduce the length of time of that incapacity, and even be able to manage very basic tasks during the incapacitated times. And I am deeply grateful for all of that, and deeply grateful to all the people who have supported me in getting that far.

But I am mentally ill, and, unless there is a medical breakthrough, I expect to be mentally ill for my whole life. I can manage the illness, with help, but I can't cure it.

That's disappointing, and it also hurts that I'm forty-four with nothing to show for it, and that I will die without any particular legacy. I won't have a business, or a body of writing, a scientific discovery, or children. I can be useful in the world, but only in a support role. I can help other people, and that's good, and I'm grateful for the ability, and I take pride in the successes of people I've helped.

But I'm aware that I'll always be a background support character, not a protagonist. And that's a hard thing to come to terms with. But it is what it is, and what it is is the result of having been born with a deficiency called bipolar II.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/801815.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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One of those "wasn't gonna be happy being social, wasn't gonna be happy being antisocial" weekends [Jan. 15th, 2018|03:36 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Made it to Arisia for afternoon-to-night of Saturday, but not any more than that. Just didn't want to leave the house on Sunday. I did end up doing a lot of cleaning of the kitchen, so that's something, but still -- the reason I didn't see most of you was because I wasn't there most of the time. I felt all disgruntled and bad about not being there, but I also felt disgruntled and bad about the idea of going. Not disgruntled at the idea of BEING there -- the idea of GOING there. It was the travel part.

I think I really should consider actually getting a hotel room rather than commuter-conning. I don't enjoy commuter-con as much as staying there. But that involves money and planning. For Lis and me, the "planning" is actually more of a deal than the "money" thing. And Lis doesn't do Arisia -- she does Boskone and sometimes Readercon, but one-or-maybe-two cons a year is her annual large-groups-of-people limit, and Arisia was the one to drop off.

*shrug* Dunno.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/801546.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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Seven dragons and a baby... (Podcasts I think you should listen to) [Dec. 20th, 2017|07:25 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Seven dragons and a baby marching on the town
The villagers are frightened but the baby calms them down
The baby says that he knows that dragons can be awful
But if they want some breakfast that the dragons will make waffles

So Lis and I have added a podcast to our podcast-listening routine.

I listen to three podcasts which could be loosely characterized as "two hilarious people talk about in interesting topic":
  • The Dollop, a "biweekly podcast" (meaning, once a week -- they started out twice a week, and after people got into an argument about whether "biweekly" means "twice a week" or "every two weeks", they decided that it means whatever they want, and so, when they dropped down to once a week, they saw no reason to change the "biweekly" designation) about American (or occasionally Australian when they're on tour) history. Comedian Dave Anthony researches a weird topic, then explains it to comedian Gareth Reynolds, and they riff on it. What makes the podcast so much fun is that you're listening to two talented improv comedians grapple with absurd and often disturbing things in history.
  • Saga Thing, a whenever-they-get-around-to-it-because-they-have-actual-jobs podcast about the Icelandic sagas. John and Andy, who are both tenured professors at actual universities have been friends since grad school, when they bonded over being geeks interested in Vikings. They are going through all the Icelandic sagas, summarizing them for our benefit, then counting up the bodies, choosing the best bloodshed, notable witticism, and cool nickname, picking one of the characters who is enough of a jerk to banish from Iceland, each picking a character to join their own crew, and then giving the saga an overall rating. What makes the podcast so much fun is that you're listening to two geeks who are both skilled speakers (being professional lecturers) who have terrific geeky senses of humor, discussing an interesting topic they both love in an vastly entertaining manner.
  • Sawbones, a weekly podcast in which Dr Sydnee McElroy explains a weird and probably horrific topic from medical history to her husband, Justin McElroy. If that description sounds a little bit familiar, I think I remember Dave Anthony mentioning that he got the idea for The Dollop partially from Sawbones. In any case, it's a setup that works. What makes this so much fun is that Sydnee and Justin are adorable together, and they choose truly bizarre and wonderful things from the annals of terrible medicine. Their theme music, Medicines, by the Taxpayers, is also pretty cool.

And there are two podcasts that Lis and I listen to together, both of which could be described as "an ensemble of creative improvisers collaboratively make a story."
  • In Film Reroll, a group of friends, mostly in theater and otherwise with performing backgrounds, take a movie, make GURPS characters of the main characters, and play the movie. What makes this one so much fun is, well, a whole lot. Mainly the people, obviously. Their most common GM is Paulo Quiros, and he is the most frighteningly brilliant GM I've ever heard. But if I had to choose an "audience favorite", well, ALL of them are brilliant and everybody loves all of them, but I suspect that, if most people had to pick an absolute favorite, the most votes would go to Jocyelin "Joz" Vammer, who is, well, not a "LEEEROOOY JENKINS!" type, but she DID pick up a catch-phrase of "sever the spinal column!" Honestly, most of the time, I like their version of the movies even better than the originals.
  • The podcast that we just picked up, and which this post is theoretically about. We just started listening to Hello from the Magic Tavern. The conceit of the show is that a man from our world fell through a portal to a magical world, and, instead of going on adventures or anything, settled down in a tavern and decided to host a weekly podcast. He's got two co-hosts, a wizard and a talking badger (actually a shapeshifter, but he's gotten really comfortable in the "badger" form), and, each week, they have a guest and talk about stuff. This is "worldbuilding by 'yes, and'". The idea is that anything that is said on the podcast is canon. Whatever the guest throws in is real, and they go with it. It seems like the guests tend to have a good overall idea of what the world is, but they come in with their own ideas of fun things to do, and, whatever they do becomes part of the worldbuilding. Because the worldbuilding is improvised and agglutinative, it's a good idea to start at the beginning to listen to it. There is, sort of, an overall plotline -- the wizard really IS trying to put together a quest to defeat the Dark Lord, for instance -- but that's not at all the point. What makes it fun is the character interactions, the guests, and just seeing how the Land of Foon develops as people throw more and more weird stuff in. Like, well, that song at the beginning. Someone mentions that there is a popular song called "Seven Dragons and a Baby". Then someone wrote it.

Anyway, those are the things I'm listening to these days, and suggest you do, too.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/801085.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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The problem with populist uprisings is that I'm Jewish [Dec. 14th, 2017|06:27 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The Verge points out that, with the Net Neutrality thing, none of the people who wanted to kill it even ever bothered to pretend to make a bullshit argument about why it should be ended. They didn't even pretend that it was good for the country, or that it was anything other than a giveaway to large media companies. They were quite open about the fact that they were screwing over the American people, and that they didn't care.

The tax bill, they at least made some fake arguments that it would help people. They were obvious lies, and they didn't try very hard to make it sound like they were working on behalf of the people, but they at least pretended a little. Nonetheless, the folks in power are less and less even pretending to care about democracy.

And, well, that leads to the barricades and the guillotines. And there's a large part of me that's okay with that. I'm not saying that some of my friends are stockpiling weapons; I'm just saying that some of us have developed a recent interest in collecting interesting firearms. And I've been reading up on trauma medicine.

But here's why MOST of me ISN'T okay with that: populist uprisings always come after the Jews eventually.

We Jews are often on the front lines in social uprisings. The anarchists, the international Communist parties, the violent wings of the unions -- lots of Jews were involved in all of those. And if the fascist wing of the Republican party manages to corrupt voting to the point that there is no way to get them out, and if there DOES come an uprising, Jews will be there.

And after that? After that, people will talk about the rich bankers and the media that were controlling all the things that got us into this mess in the first place, and what they'll mean are "Jews", and people are going to talk about how Zionism is genocide, and then they'll come and kill us.

So I want this to be solved at the ballot box. Because if it comes to the cartridge box, it doesn't matter who I side with: the winner will come kill me next.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/800937.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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Just finished watching the Netflix Western GODLESS [Dec. 9th, 2017|07:29 pm]
Xiphias Gladius

The ending was deeply unsatisfying. I mean, like, not UNUSUALLY unsatisfying. Sloppily unsatisfying. They set up all these characters and plot beats and traits and stuff, and then ignored them. It felt like they ran out of time and just didn't bother to pay off most of it.

Lis says that the creator intended it to be a feature film, and stretched it out, and that makes sense. There's about two hours of plot and characters in those seven hours. There were entire subplots that were there that probably weren't in the original idea, and they never paid off.

So, yeah. Not 100% awful, but it would have been mediocre-to-average if they even bothered to have any of the things they set up pay off. As it is? Bad, but not so bad as to be notable.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/800703.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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80s music and consent culture [Dec. 8th, 2017|10:53 am]
Xiphias Gladius

Obviously, I've been spending a lot of time recently thinking about #metoo, the attempt to deal with the universality of predatory men, and consent culture generally. And, driving just now, because I hadn't downloaded any podcasts, I was listening to 80s music.

The three songs in a row I heard were "Jessie's Girl", "I Know What Boys Like", and "Johnny, Are You Queer?" (which I wasn't as familiar with; I suspect it didn't get as much airplay...) all about not having sex, for different reasons, all of which have things to say about how we Gen-X'ers grew up and what we learned about consent.

"Jessie's Girl" is about a guy who considers women to be a thing you possess, rather than entirely people with agency. He believes, wrongly, that women are programmable -- do the right things better than other people, and the women love you instead of them. This is the PUA culture concept, which the narrator buys into. But it's not clear to me if we, the audience, are supposed to buy into that idea or not: certainly, it's not working, but are we, the audience, supposed to take away from that that the singer simply isn't good at it, or that his fundamental premise is wrong? I certainly got the former message, and took away that, if you know the right things to do, you get the girl, which is a concept focused on the centrality of the men's action, rather than the women's. Nonetheless, it's clear that he doesn't feel that he has a right to have her react; only a right to attempt to get a reaction.

"I Know What Boys Like" is, in a sense, the obverse of the same message. The singer enjoys being attractive and unavailable. Her enjoyment is in seducing and then disappointing and frustrating men. What does that say about consent? There is a message that this is her right: the men she seduces nonetheless don't have a right to her body. On the other hand, she's kind of being a jerk, too. Are we supposed to be on her side, or feel that what she's doing is wrong? Me, I get the message that she's allowed to do this. She has the choice to consent to what she wants, to the degree she wants, and the fact that she initiates some interactions don't obligate her to do others.

The third one, "Johnny, Are You Queer?", is another message from the point of view of a woman, and I think I'd put "Oh Mickey" in the same category. Those are women who are attempting to seduce a men, WANTING to have an actual romantic/sexual relationship, (unlike the singer of "I Know What Boys Like"), but are themselves being frustrated by a lack of response. In "Johnny, Are You Queer?", she has a potential reason why he's not responding. I didn't get a sense of judgment from the song suggesting that it was a bad thing if he was -- just that he needs to come clean about where they stand, and it was unfair to keep her hanging if she had no chance. So, in that case, you have a woman who has agency, but is also looking for consent.

Weirdly, "Oh Micky" is kind of weirder about consent. The singer of THAT song is pressuring the man who clearly isn't into it. And it's a remake of a song, "Oh Kitty" where the sexes are reversed, which makes the dubious interaction even more clear -- the male singer of that song is feeling entitled to sex, which she is denying.

And it's weird that I can hear that clearly when it's a man singing about a woman, but it's not as obvious when a woman is singing about a man.

I have no conclusions here about what the messages are, or what I internalized from them. They're just things I'm thinking about.

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/800336.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
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LAST POST [Apr. 17th, 2017|09:39 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I'm not going to bother deleting this, in case anyone happens to check it out. But I won't post here any more.

I'm at
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New terms of service [Apr. 3rd, 2017|10:24 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
"May Not post ... political materials."

Well, I'm out. I've got a facebook and a tumblr, which I'll start using more. I've got a dreamwidth, too.

Look for me as xiphias, xiphiasgladius, IanOsmond, and IanDavidOsmond.
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Apparently, some people wonder if emojis will replace written language. Well... [Dec. 7th, 2016|01:36 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Will emoji replace written language, says the occasional overwrought clickbait headline? Well, no. It works the OTHER way.

🐮 :cow:
🏠 :house:
🐫 :camel:
🚪 :door:
🎦 :cinema:
⚓ :anchor:
🔪 :knife:
🏢 :office:
🚲 :bike:
✊ :fist:
✋ :hand:
🔱 :trident:
🌊 :ocean:
🐟 :fish:
💈 :barber:
👀 :eyes:
👄 :lips:
🎣 :fishing_pole_and_fish:
💉 :syringe:
😐 :neutral_face:
😄 :smile:
❌ :x:

Ox, house, camel, door, window, hook, weapon, wall, wheel, hand, palm-of-hand, goad, water, fish, support-pole, eye, mouth, hunting/fishing, needle, head, tooth, marking symbol.
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"Moana" question for language geeks: [Dec. 6th, 2016|08:00 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
One of the big songs in "Moana" is called "We Know The Way", which is about how the main character's ancestors were island-discovering travellers, rather than villagers who lived a, frankly, pretty darn idyllic life on just one island. And it starts out with lyrics in a Polynesian language, before going into the English lyrics that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote. Opetaia Foa'i wrote the part in his own native language, Tokelauan. Tokelauan is a language with only a few thousand speakers, which means that Google Translate doesn't help much.

That said, over at Bustle.com, someone made a game try at poking together a translation by running it through Samoan, which it's a cousin of, and Maori, which it's a more distant cousin of, and was able to pick out a few words and concepts that seem to make sense. But I'm wondering if anybody has an ACTUAL translation somewhere.
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ARRIVAL, a short review. [Nov. 25th, 2016|10:26 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
The Ted Chiang short story "The Story of Your Life", is, like all Ted Chiang short stories, too internal, too thinky, and just too abstract to be filmable.

But they did anyway.

And it's brilliant.
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Thing I learned about bubblegum [Nov. 21st, 2016|06:44 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
So, what IS that distinctive bubblegum-like smell and flavor? What is it made of, and what is it supposed to be?

It's a simplified artificial strawberry flavor/scent plus a simplified artificial banana flavor/scent. It makes me wonder if it would be possible to do something with actual strawberries and bananas to play off of that, but I suspect not. Real strawberries and real bananas are far to complicated -- and I think that the artificial banana flavorings are based off of the might-as-well-be-extinct Gros Michele banana, rather than the modern Cavendish, so, unless I got my hands on enough Gros Micheles to experiment with, I'm never going to find out.
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Doing my part to bridge the cultural divide [Nov. 11th, 2016|08:50 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I got my firearms safety certificate last night, which means that I can go ahead and apply for my LTC today. So I spent last night with gun rights folks -- people who are very much not politically like me. It gave me a chance to socialize a little during breaks, and get a sense of what they're like.

I mean, I've done construction and stuff, so it's not like I HAVEN'T known blue collar people, but my life's been mostly in the liberal bubble for decades. So this was a good chance to get out of that for a night.

And I remembered, yeah, these people DO have a lot of good qualities.

And there there are still a bunch of 'em I don't like very much. *sigh*

I was going to suggest that a bunch of us should all sign up and get our licenses together, and then start making friends at gun clubs, and build some bridges, and then break some of the bubbles, get to know them, let them get to know us, be less polarized. And I still think that's a good idea. But... do I really want you guys hanging out with people who complain about how awful it is that schools let kids be upset these days, instead of telling them to shut up and suck it up when people beat them up? I mean, yeah, I do, because I think it would be good for them to get to know us, and good for us to know them, but... it'd be kind of a difficult thing to ask of you all.
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A H.P. Lovecraft Mythos thing I learned... [Sep. 19th, 2016|09:55 am]
Xiphias Gladius
I know that at least some of you know Charlie Stross, Neil Gaiman, and/or Joe Hill, and I found out something that one or more of them might find interesting.

Miskatonic University was based on Bradford College, in Haverhill. Bradford College closed in 2000. Since 2008, the campus has been a Pentecostal ministry college.

Pentecostal Christianity has a focus on encouraging possession by good spirits and discouraging possession by evil spirits, and offers absolutely no training or theory in HOW to do it. It is based on having people just open themselves up to demons and then freak out. Voudonistas, Catholic exorcists, shamans from every culture everywhere on the planet have established rituals and objects and things to lean on; Pentecostals don't, and just try to do exorcisms on sheer instinct, bravado, and willpower. Also, they are completely democratic in this, and let everybody try, not just cadres of trained experts.

I just want people to think about that for a minute.

But really, I want Charlie Stross, Neil Gaiman, and Joe Hill to think about that for a minute.

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Look, Barbara loyalists -- I get why you're mad. But look at it from the characters' perspe [Sep. 6th, 2016|01:25 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
Lis and I just watched STRANGER THINGS, and I've got something to say about one of the controversies about it...

Spoilers for STRANGER THINGS.Read more...Collapse )
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Drinking more. [Aug. 26th, 2016|08:16 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
As I've changed my diet, I've reduced the amount of sweets I give myself as treats. In compensation, I've increased the amount of alcohol I drink -- not cocktails, which, they way I prefer them, include quite a bit of sweet liqueur, but as neat liquors. As such, I'm drinking a lot more straight scotch, bourbon, rye, gin, and the like.

I must start by apologizing to Canada. It turns out that Canada CAN turn out a delicious rye, a feat which I had previously deemed possible only by the United States; I had previously believed that Canadian whiskey was only called "rye" out of politeness. I have previously commented that the only reason that I drink Crown Royal is that they throw a bottle in every time I buy a dice bag.

Turns out that the Crown Royal Northern Rye, however, is worth every penny it costs, and, indeed, is a bargain at the price.

Although it's not expensive (more expensive than the baseline Crown Royal, but not by THAT much), it's impossible to drink enough of it to get drunk upon; you are forced to drink it slowly, to savor it, simply because it tastes that good.

The downside is that I ENJOY being buzzed. And I DON'T enjoy drinking bad liquor. So I've been looking for stuff that is good enough to drink a fair bit of, while being cheap enough to drink a fair bit of. Beefeater Gin, for instance, hits that point for me. As does Bacardi rum, if I find decent things to mix it with, Jose Cuervo Tradicional (their silver reposado offering), Rittenhouse 101, and several others.

Anyway, the point is this: during the "Gin Crazes" which happened periodically in the first half of the 1700s, people were buying and drinking gin by the PINT, rather than the shot, as is more typical these days. Given that a pint is more than ten shots, I used to think that this was absolutely mind boggling.

But nowadays, with my greater consumption of gin, I must admit that, while I would never DRIVE in this condition, I apparently can still TYPE after a pint of gin.
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(no subject) [Aug. 24th, 2016|07:31 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
an ungendered, multi-use monogarment for everyday wear. It will be disseminated in two forms: as a pre-made garment for purchase, and as an open-source pattern, available to download free of charge. The Rational Dress Society is currently developing a comprehensive new sizing system that can accommodate up to 248 different body types using gender-neutral terminology.

It reminds me of Soylent, in that these are both products which provide a suboptimal solution to a problem that does not exist, by inventing a brand new thing which already exists and anybody can easily buy.

These things are mansplaning and columbusing in physical form.
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History fact for the day [Aug. 23rd, 2016|07:28 am]
Xiphias Gladius
Thing I learned: George II of England, who reigned in the middle of the eighteenth century, 1727 to 1760, had several mistresses, but wasn't really THAT into any of them. However, his wife wouldn't let him get rid of them, because she felt, and he agreed, that it would be inappropriate for a man in his position to NOT have mistresses.
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DAREDEVIL on Netflix. Also, whiskey. [Aug. 21st, 2016|08:10 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I'm nearly finished watching Season 2 of Daredevil. It follows a number of classic Daredevil and Daredevil/Punisher plots pretty closely. The only downside: I'd forgotten just how close a parody both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Tick are. I keep giggling at bits for which I'm more familiar with the parodies.

It is impossible for me to get drunk on good whiskey. Ignoring the cost difference between good whiskey and bad whiskey, it's impossible to drink good whiskey fast. I am physiologically forced to drink it slowly and to savor it.
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The new THE TICK [Aug. 20th, 2016|01:47 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
As some of you may know, there's a new THE TICK series coming out, and being released for Amazon Prime. The first episode has dropped, and, on the heroin dealer premise, it's available for free.

Lis and I watched it, and we like it. It's a slightly different feel than the cartoon or the Warburton series, but is slightly closer in tone to the earliest comics. THE TICK has always been a reflection and parody of the superhero-related media at the time: the comics were a direct parody of the Daredevil comics that were right then (to the point that one of the characters was a female martial artist named "Oedipus" whose costume was a canary-yellow version of Elektra's costume). The cartoon took on the basic tone of the Batman Animated Series, and so forth.

This one takes the visual and tonal qualities of the Netflix Daredevil/Jessica Jones shows; indeed, the director of the new show worked on the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight movies. As such, THE TICK has shifted slightly, visually and tonally, to match what is current. But it is still absolutely the same Tick. Arthur is somewhat different, although recognizable, because he is filling a different role.
The first episode is available here.
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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:

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?"
"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.
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