Friday, May 09, 2003

I want my soulless superstrong manservant, and I want him NOW!

Teresa Nielsen Hayden points to a website helpfully describing how to create your own golem. A golem, for those of you who don't know, is a creature that kabbalistic rabbis can create out of earth, and has certain uses:
Golems follow the instructions of their master without question. They are rumored to be extremely strong and practically indestructable. They're good at carrying out menial tasks and are handy around the house. Golems also make great town defense systems.

It's a great concept, but I think it needs updating. Such beings were no doubt a lot more useful in the days before machines started doing essentially the same thing. If we want a golem for the 21st century, we need to get over this "muteness" thing and get them into the information age. Personally, I could really use a golem who can:
-- harass PR people
-- read SEC filings, and pick out the important parts
-- write HTML code
-- come up with snappy ledes
Then we'll be talking.
America's dumbest plagiarists

Kieran Healy and his fellow academics swap their (least) favorite stories. A sampling:
A student turned a paper into my father that was a copied email. Apparently, the student's brother had taken the class a few years earlier and had sent his brother the paper.

Problem was, instead of copying just the paper, he copied the entire email, including the messages at the top of the email.

Those messages (paraphrase):

Can you send me your Congress paper? This class blows.

Reply: Yeah that class blows. Here's the paper.

Great way to start your paper.

(Via CalPundit.)

Thursday, May 08, 2003

At home

I did manage to do one good thing with my crappy weekend: I finally talked to someone at All Saints, the liberal Episcopal church, about its charitable activities. I didn't feel up to dealing with CA -- loud and aggressively cheerful isn't what you want when you're depressed and ill. But I thought I might be up to All Saints, so I went to the "newcomers coffee" in the interregnum between the early and late services.

There wasn't really an organized event at all, though I misremembered the time and showed up 15 minutes late. The rector's office was open but empty. Still, on the lawn in front of the church there were many tables set up, with piles of leaflets connected to every lefty cause you can imagine -- antiwar, environmentalism, gay rights, feminism, even abolishing Indian sports-team names. I didn't see anything about local street ministry, though, so I meandered around until a white-robed woman came up and introduced herself to me. She was the director of stewardship, if I remember right, and when I told her what I was looking for she took me to the rector's office and piled on some more pamphlets, including a directory of all the church's ministries. This church's agenda is huge, and I haven't waded through it yet, but I'll write more about it when I have.

The last time I was at All Saints was the day after Easter, the day I heard John died. I had landed there in the afternoon, still in shock, after a friend from church had taken me out to lunch and listened to me ramble on. I had been there maybe 10 or 15 minutes when Telford called my cell phone to see how I was doing, and I talked with him a long while. As I wandered around the lawn on Sunday, I saw a planting of Japanese anemones that rather oddly brought it back to me. I had been staring at them, in that half-seeing way you look at things when you're on the phone, while I was talking to Telford. I wonder if I'll ever be able to look at them without thinking of that.

But there was another memory that came back to me, of John himself. A couple years ago he showed me around his hometown, Turlock, in California's Central Valley. It's not a very big town, so we did the downtown on foot. At one point he took me off to a side street, lined with unremarkable bungalows with little handkerchief lawns. He walked along peering at the houses, and finally stopped in front of two houses that were much like the other houses, but smaller, tidier, and newer. "Here," he said. "These are the houses I helped build for Habitat for Humanity."

I knew he'd volunteered for them, but this was one of the few times he spoke of it. One of the other times was last summer, when he saw how glum and aimless I was, and he urged me to volunteer for them myself. I liked the idea, but was too flaky to follow through. I think I should reconsider it now. If not that, something like that. I remember John's satisfaction in looking at the houses, the way few of us in white-collar jobs get to look at the results of our work. Here's the house I helped build. Someone lives there now.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


I linked below to Lynn Gazis-Sax's second post about the Jonathan Rauch article, but I highly recommend reading her first post discussing it, which outlines her philosophy on laws governing sexual behavior. It covers the same stuff I wrote about semi-coherently last week, but she does a more thorough job of it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Ad absurdum

My death-penalty post generated some interesting comments, and I apologize for rudely walking out on the conversation. Unfortunately my moods are swinging all over the place, I guess because I'm still grieving. I was pretty depressed through the weekend, and on Sunday I was suffering a bad hangover, not from partying but from Nyquil (that's a new one for me -- guess I'm getting old.) I wrote to Telford a while ago that I felt too emotionally fragile to discuss something as emotional for me as theology; and then, of course, I promptly went against my own advice, and realized I was right the first time. So I'm not going to discuss the subject further here, at this time. But after I posted Pen put up several more interesting posts on the subject, so go read him.

Yesterday was better. After work I went to the gym for the first time since before Easter(!) and then went out to dinner with a friend to his favorite Italian restaurant. I had a delectable spaghetti al cognac, washed down with chianti, followed by an excellent tiramisu, made all the tastier by the fact that, for some reason, he insisted on paying. It also went down easy because it was accompanied by entertaining conversation on unserious subjects, like Hollywood. Well, it's pretty serious for him -- he's an aspiring writer who's been trying hard to break into TV since before I met him, three years ago. But the ridiculousness of the business was coming home to him in the meetings he's been having lately with network execs, who are planning now for the fall season. His agent told him that to look like a "real writer," he had to dress down as much as possible -- jeans, T-shirt, baseball hat, and, if possible, about three days' stubble. The goal, he was gravely told, was to look as though he'd just rolled out of bed for a 5 p.m. meeting. My friend's conclusion: "I'm trying to break into an insane asylum."

This reminded me of an article by Jonathan Rauch that Lynn linked to recently. The article has many interesting subjects, but in the part I was thinking of Rauch criticizes a theorist who wants to do away with sexual norms:
The fact is, there are going to be norms; the question is always, What sort of norms? In Warner's world, the norm would be one of extreme social permissiveness. People who expressed anything but approval of sexual adventurism would be stigmatized: shamed for engaging in the oppressive act of shaming. If you don't think this can happen, ask any student or professor who has been on the receiving end of a P.C. vilification campaign.

The Hollywood writer's "uniform" seems like another example of this kind of anti-norm norm. Probably it started with some successful writers who flaunted their bohemianness by dressing like they didn't care about their appearance; as a result, everyone who aspired to be in their place slavishly imitated the look. The result is that, if you care about your appearance, you try your hardest to look like you don't care. It's pretty silly, but it's human nature, especially in a system as brutally hierarchical as Hollywood. Why my friend wants to get in I don't know, but I wish him the best...