Disclaimer: The opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect my actual opinions.

August 28, 2004

Fear my hair

I have living hair. When Dr Frankenstein declared, "It's alaaayyve!," he was talking about my hair. My hair is actually part of an interdimensional creature. Most of the creature exists in other dimensions, but one part -- the really stupid and obnoxious part -- protrudes into our dimension, and manifests itself as my hair. My hair has been conscious and self-aware since June 1983. Its sole purpose in life is to humiliate me. It was created by God to punish me for some transgression in a past life, possibly involvement at a senior level in the Spanish Inquisition.

Many months ago I decided to give my hair its freedom and let it grow (let it blossom, let it flow), figuring it couldn't possibly look any worse than it does when it's short. In fact it can look worse. Much worse. It can, it seems, look like I'm balancing a sheep on my head. I conjectured that were my hair longer it wouldn't curl quite so much. It does. It curls even more. Like Duncan's horses, my hair did turn and eat itself.

And so, today, I visited the barber. Visiting the barber is without exception a regrettable experience, and today was no different. All would have been well: I carefully explained to the barber (from the Greek "bar," or "near-sighted," and "ber," or "exceptionally clumsy") my requirements, namely something short enough to be tidy and less mirth-inducing, yet long enough not to bring to mind photographs of Hitler Youth meetings. He set about his task quite happily. Then my wife arrived.

"Shorter!" she shrieked (with malice aforethought) from the periphery of the vast fog that is my reality when I'm not wearing my glasses.

"What...?" I call weakly. "Where are you? Where am I?"

"Make it shorter!" she yells again and then, to my dismay, the barber invites her to the chair, entirely without my permission.

"How short?" he asks her. "Like this?"




"Now wait a minute!" I begin to protest, but the barber has already begun shearing, and my wife has evaporated into the mist. I sit for a miserable eternity until I'm allowed to put my glasses back on and examine the result.

"There, take a look at the back," demands the barber, holding up the mirror. I, frankly, am more concerned about the front, where I used to have hair.

"Yes... Yes. It is quite short, isn't it?" I manage to gasp.

The barber beams proudly. My wife looks on from the sidelines, making fraudulent "hey, nice haircut!" faces. I consider legal action or, perhaps, a mob hit.

In other words it was no different from any other haircut I've ever had. You'd think I'd be used to it by now. I leave you now to fetch my hat.

August 26, 2004

Sarcastic unemployed person: Job hunt "going great"

By Ross Thomas

Unemployed person Ross Thomas, 27, was being sarcastic earlier today when he described his job-hunting efforts as "going great."

"No, seriously. Everywhere I apply I'm accepted immediately," he said. "I've got employers climbing over each other. I feel sorry for them, it's kinda degrading."

Thomas, who's been searching in vain for journalism jobs in his area for over a year, came close to actually getting a job several months ago when he made it to the second-round interview stage for an editor-in-chief position at a local university's student newspaper.

"In the end I just wasn't what they were looking for," he said sarcastically. "They wanted someone with experience in running a student newspaper, as well as possessing Linux system administration skills -- an unusual combination. My skill set (running a student newspaper and administering Linux systems) clearly didn't gel with their requirements."

Two days ago Thomas lowered his expectations significantly and applied for a full-time position at a nearby computer store, where he would be expected to deal with customers and build computers.

"I'm not surprised they've not got back to me yet," he said with a hint of sarcasm. "Even though I have over 20 years of experience with computers and have built at least half a dozen systems from scratch, they'd naturally want to consider the other, far less qualified, candidates too."

But Thomas is determined not to let the disappointments make him bitter.

"I'm determined not to let the disappointments make me bitter," he said in a tone of bitter disappointment. "It's their goddamn loss."

Thomas said he will call the computer store tomorrow to "follow up" on his application, and that if he is ultimately rejected he'll visit the local employment centre to obtain the telephone numbers of the city's various fast-food outlets.

"Working at McDonald's won't be so bad," he said, a single tear trickling down his cheek. "If Hunter S Thompson can write a masterpiece on going to a motorcycle race in Las Vegas, and James Joyce can spin an acclaimed novel from a single day in the life of one man, I'm sure I can use it for inspiration in my own writing."

Thomas denies that he has an inflated opinion of his value to employers.

"Look, it's not like I compare myself to James Joyce or Hunter S Thompson, or Alan Turing or Linus Torvalds," he said. "And anyway, Auden used to write copy for the Post Office. And I wouldn't call my life a 'catalogue of failures,' either. So shut the hell up."

Though his prospects are grim, Thomas retains a cheery outlook on life.

"Did Alan Turing despair when things didn't go his way? No. Did Linus Torvalds throw in the towel in the early days of Linux, when making it into a viable operating system seemed like a pipe dream? He did not," he noted. "And I'm quite similar to both those guys. So I'm going to retain a cheery outlook on life even though my prospects are grim."

August 24, 2004


I was reading some more on Gnosticism today and found something fairly extraordinary, considering my previous post. Here's an excerpt from the Testimony of Truth, a Gnostic text contained in the cache of documents discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945:

But what sort is this God? First he maliciously refused Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge, and, secondly, he said "Adam, where are you?" God does not have foreknowledge? Would he not know from the beginning? And afterwards, he said, "Let us cast him out of this place, lest he eat of the tree of life and live forever." Surely, he has shown himself to be a malicious grudger! And what kind of God is this? For great is the blindness of those who read, and they did not know him. And he said, "I am the jealous God; I will bring the sins of the fathers upon the children until three (and) four generations." And he said, "I will make their heart thick, and I will cause their mind to become blind, that they might not know nor comprehend the things that are said." But these things he has said to those who believe in him and serve him!

Reading that kind of blew me away. Perhaps I'm thinking the right things after all. That said, I'm thinking them about 1,900 years after someone else did, so I guess I don't have too much to crow about ;).

August 22, 2004


Here's something to make up for days of neglect. I've been thinking about Genesis a lot recently, and here are my thoughts on part of it (chapters 2 and 3). Feel free to skip this if you find theology type stuff fantastically boring.

Genesis 2:15-23

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. […] Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." […] The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. […] So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; […] and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. […] Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."

God creates man, then decides man should not be alone. He creates all other creatures, which the man names, but none of them are suitable. Finally God makes woman from the man’s rib, and this at last is a helper fit for him.

Would not an omniscient God create man and woman simultaneously? If the God of Genesis is all-knowing, why would he go through the rigmarole of having Adam name all the creatures in an attempt to find a suitable helper? Surely an omniscient God would know from the beginning that the only fit mate for man is woman.

Genesis 3:1-3

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, `You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, `You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

God, of course, made the subtle serpent. What is “subtle?”

  • So slight as to be difficult to detect or describe; elusive: a subtle smile.
  • Difficult to understand; abstruse: an argument whose subtle point was lost on her opponent.
  • Able to make fine distinctions: a subtle mind.
  • Characterized by skill or ingenuity; clever.
  • Crafty or sly; devious.
  • Operating in a hidden, usually injurious way; insidious: a subtle poison.

(From www.dictionary.com). The serpent, then, represents something difficult to describe or understand; something ingenious, with fine distinctions; something devious and hidden. What could be a better description of the human experience? The serpent represents life as we know it now, and that is of course an orthodox interpretation.

Genesis 3:4-7

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

The opposite of knowledge is ignorance, and that’s how God wanted these people. He didn’t want them knowing good and evil and, on the literal level, lied to them to prevent them gaining this knowledge. In God’s eyes ignorance is life, an eternity of worshipping him. The serpent knows the ramifications of eating the forbidden fruit: they will become like God. This implies that the serpent is already like God, since if the creature weren’t already aware of good and evil, how could he have this insight? From where did this knowledge come? Since God created the serpent, was it he who gave the creature this understanding? Or did the serpent come to perceive God’s designs independently? If knowledge is so dangerous that God expressly forbade the humans from attaining it, why did he create a creature that knew the truth, or that was capable of attaining the truth, a creature that would then turn around and give the humans precisely what God was trying to deny them? Why would an omniscient God sabotage himself and his creation in this way? In fact, why did he endow the humans with the ability to possess this knowledge? Why did he create this magical tree in the first place?

Perhaps it was a test. Did the humans love/fear God enough that they would resist this temptation despite the implorations of the serpent? But a test implies that God doesn’t already know which way they will decide. Can a God be called all-knowing if he needs to set a test in this way? Furthermore, without knowledge, can free will even exist? What does it mean to say that Adam and Eve didn’t know good and evil, right and wrong? Does it mean they were unable to tell the two apart, or does it mean they were capable only of good? Either case leads to an awkward situation: in the former, they didn’t know disobeying God was wrong, and should be forgiven; in the latter, they weren’t capable of badness, and thus eating from the tree was good. Alternatively, perhaps the serpent somehow injected them with either culpability or the ability to perform wrong prior to them making their decision to eat, but this is unorthodox and imbues the serpent with God-like powers.

Genesis 3:8-10

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

How could these two hide themselves from an all-knowing God? Why would an omniscient God need to ask, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:14

The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

The statement “because you have done this” is intriguing. First it implies the serpent chose to reveal the truth to Adam and Eve, i.e. the serpent had free will, and thus knowledge. Second, it implies God didn’t know how the serpent would decide; the serpent is somehow outside of God’s omniscience.

Genesis 3:15-19

To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The punishment begins. The pain of childbirth, and presumably the danger associated with it, is greatly multiplied. Man is given rule over woman: the birth of misogyny. Man is subjected to lifelong toil. Humans become mortal, and will one day die. It is hard to imagine a greater punishment for their transgression (assuming it was a transgression at all, given their lack of knowledge when they made their “decision”). You are now like me, says God, you have what I have, and your reward is subjugation and death.

Genesis 3:22-24

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" -- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

It is apparent that the remedy for mankind’s mortality already exists in Eden. The tree of life, should its fruit be eaten, would undo God’s punishment of death. This raises the interesting question of why God created this tree to begin with: if Adam and Eve had not eaten of the tree of knowledge, their immortality would not have been taken from them and they would have no need for this life-giving fruit; yet an omniscient God would already know that he would expel the two from the Garden in order to prevent them gaining back their immortality once they came into possession of knowledge, making its creation redundant. This would seem to be the ultimate cruelty within an especially cruel punishment: God has taken away man’s immortality, and possesses the means for man to retrieve it, yet prevents him from doing so. Even if we consider, as the orthodoxy holds, that man’s eternal salvation is provided for through belief in Christ, it’s undeniable that countless generations were subjected to the agony of death in the millennia before the Crucifixion, and those who deny Christ still endure it, and always will.

One of us. This is perhaps the most intriguing phrase of the book, if not the entire testament. Either God is referring to the Trinity (“you have become like one of the three natures of me”), which raises many interesting questions, or he’s referring to one of us gods, which raises even more.

If he is referring to the Trinity, to which part does he refer? The Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit? The Son was the only aspect of the Trinity who became human, of course, so this would be the logical choice. Or perhaps “one of us” is not meant to select any particular aspect, but is referring to them all: they all, individually, possess the knowledge which humans have now obtained. The concept of the Trinity, always considered somewhat convoluted by non-Christians (and, frankly, a lot of Christians), is most definitely required to explain this peculiar phrasing while maintaining the monotheistic nature of the faith (though many Muslims consider the Trinity to be a form of polytheism). It is to explain this kind of wording, as well as the observation that “elohim,” the Hebrew word usually translated as “God,” is in fact plural, that the concept of the Trinity became official Church doctrine after the First Council of Nicea.

Alternatively the God of Genesis was referring to gods in general. From an orthodox point of view this is polytheistic and thus heretical, but it’s possible to postulate more than one god, all of whom are somehow a part of the “one true God,” sometimes called the Godhead. Viewed logically this is no more of a contradiction than is the Trinity, in which the aspects are simultaneously separate and one. But this approach implies that the God of Genesis is not in himself the whole of the Godhead. Yahweh, in this light, becomes just one of potentially many gods, moving Judeo-Christian beliefs much closer to other religions both past and present. This belief, that Yahweh is one of several or many gods, is part of the great secrets revealed by various non-orthodox traditions, the “hidden knowledge” of Kabbalism and Gnosticism.

To be continued...

August 06, 2004

Studs and sluts

Time for another entry in what I like to call my "annoy as many people as possible with my half-assed theories" collection. Today the topic is why promiscuous men are lauded (or at least tolerated with a roll of the eyes) and why promiscuous women are condemned (or at least viewed by most with a certain degree of contempt). If you're sitting comfortably, let us begin...

It's the genes, stupid. Isn't everything? Come with me to a time way back when, in the distant past, when men wrestled sabre-toothed tigers and considered the possibility of somehow projecting a moving image of the world around us (preferably the exploding fireballs around us) onto a giant screen so they could watch it while scratching themselves, and women gathered berries and dreamed of the day someone would invent cute shoes. In those halcyon days the males of the species would try to have sex with as many females as possible, starting with the most attractive and ending with the least, and again ad infinitum, while the females of the species would (rapes aside) consider each potential suitor in turn and allow one of them to, er, fulfill himself.

In slightly more detail, men would first approach the most attractive female. That is, the woman with the clearest skin, brightest eyes, shiniest hair, etc. -- all the things that contribute to sexual attractiveness and, not in the least coincidentally, also indicate good health. He would attempt to win her over. Whether or not he succeeded would depend on the female. If she considered him sexually attractive -- meaning the same indicators of health men sought but also muscularity indicating strength, as well as non-physical factors such as the male's status within the group (often indicating ambition and intelligence) and so on. If the woman considered the man worthy, she would allow him to have sex with her. This, she may or may not have been aware, would often lead to pregnancy.

Thus it was that the healthiest, most attractive women and the healthiest, strongest, most ambitious men tended to find each other, while the weaklings, the unhealthy and the lazy tended not to reproduce, and thus it was our species grew ever stronger and more clever with each passing generation. This is how our genes control us, the way genes control every animal on the planet. The genes (and memes, but that's another topic) are in charge.

This natural order did not cease to exist once we became civilized and began building SUVs. It is still very much present today, as exemplified by all the attractive, healthy females on the covers of magazines, the chiseled male models, the obsession with fitness and fatness, and in many other ways. One of the most interesting ways is in how promiscuity is viewed.

As I said above, male promiscuity is far more socially acceptable than female. Why is this? Have women been systematically repressed so that they feel their sexuality need to be hidden, as it were, under a bushel? Yes, of course. No argument there. The real question, though, is why that's been the case, almost universally. Why has a woman's expression of her sexuality been frowned upon? You guessed it: those millions of years of heritage we all carry round with us, in tiny troublemaking spirals.

Men, as we've established, are somewhat less than picky when it comes to choosing a mate. Certainly he'll start with the one he finds most attractive, but if she is unreceptive he'll continue through the rest, quite content, in the end, to sew his seed in whichever field is available, and then, the next day, move on to another. His task is simply to procreate as often as he can. Women, on the other hand, have a great deal more responsibility. With every partner comes the possibility of pregnancy, thus it is very important, from the point of view of the survival of the species, for her to choose wisely, and mate with the best candidate available. If women had the same mentality as men the very concept of "survival of the fittest" would collapse. It is incumbent upon them to find the strongest, healthiest, most powerful man, so that she may have a strong, healthy, powerful baby.

Women who behave the same way as men -- sexually, I mean -- those we call "sluts" and upon whom we pour scorn, are seen by our genetic mind as threatening this order, and thus threatening the survivability of the species itself. Genes care little for equality, only for producing better and stronger copies of themselves, and women who are less than careful in their choice of mates undermine this process. While we're mostly unaware of this genetic influence, it is always present in the dark, ancient areas of our minds. A promiscuous man, on the other hand, is simply fulfilling his destiny, which is to spawn as many copies of himself as possible.

None of this justifies the stigma we place upon women who behave like men, of course. It merely explains it. It's a reflection of reality rather than an attempt to excuse inequality. With the advent of modern contraception this stigma should no longer apply, since women can control with unprecendented precision by whom they become impregnated. For a woman to indulge in "casual sex" is no longer a threat to the species. But tell that to the genes we inherited from our contraception-less ancestors.

There, I had my turn. Now it's yours. Be gentle ;).

August 05, 2004


My wife just posted some pics of our trip, but I thought there were some better ones in the bunch, so here you go. I might add "titles" later.

A letter

Dear Umberto Eco,

I'm 58 pages into Baudolino, your latest novel. It is, I'm sure you're aware, about a 13th century peasant boy who was adopted by Emperor Frederick.

There are two kinds of novels that frustrate me. The first kind is typified by those of John Grisham and Dean Koontz, in which my suspended disbelief is threatened by the occasional highly dubious grammatical construct (apparently they're too famous to have editors). Your novels fall into the second category, in that I am forced with some regularity either to consult a dictionary ("chrism"? "catechumens"? "the mirabilia of that urbs"?) or attempt to decipher Latin or Greek ("kyrieleison pighe pighe"? "Chronica sive Historia de duabus civitatibus"?).

I'm sure "Gesta Dei per Francos" was an awfully witty way to end a chapter, and "(Polanos de Polunia, wrote Otto, gens quasi barbara ad pugnandum promptissima.)" was a valuable paranthetical addition, but I'm afraid I don't rank amongst the eight people in the world who understand Latin, and thus they were both lost on me entirely.

You may be "one of the world's finest writers" (New York Times), but you make me feel stupid. Perhaps the guy at the New York Times felt stupid, too, and that's why he called you a fine writer.

There seems to be a decent story emerging, though, so I'm going to persevere. I'm going to ignore your pretensions (slash symptoms of genius) and assume anything important to the story will be in English.

Hugs and kisses, Ross