Monday, December 28, 2009

Santa's late delivery

There was a package waiting for me today at my office. Now, given my inordinate (and, what with my generally pleasant personality, inexplicable) number of enemies, I was naturally suspicious. However, it turned out to be a belated holiday gift.

Wrapped in about twelve pounds of excess shipping material were three cans of chocolate-coated potato chips. Apparently every holiday season Needless Markup produces them in a particularly cholesteric example of the conspicuous consumption to which NM serves as a kind of temple.

Although you won't find these things on the approved list of foods for any kind of reasonable diet, they sure are tasty!

Friday, December 25, 2009

You'll shoot your eye out!

While the loss of an ocular organ seems unlikely, given the nature of the gifts I received, one should never discount human ingenuity.

Anyway, here's what I got from various friends, family, and other assorted well-wishers:

Some clothes
Some money
Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio
A biographical work on Thomas More, statesman, philosopher, and Catholic bigot
A book on the Somme and another on Ancient Rome
A nice pen
Gift cards
A Star Wars lego tie fighter (the one Vader flies in Star Wars)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pointless Factoid XXIX

The California State Bar establishes Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements for practicing attorneys. Failure to complete the requisite amount of CLE can result in disciplinary action.

In other and completely unrelated news, I have about two weeks to finish some twenty hours of legal study...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

More than meets the ire

Last night I saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Now, when you go into a movie like that you're not exactly expecting a masterpiece. You understand that the limitations of the genre and, more crippling, the target audience combine to guarantee a mediocre viewing experience. But you hope that cool fight scenes and an interesting character or two shroud the essential shallowness of the film. This time? Not so much.

Transformers was not, at least, an unmitigated failure. The acting is tolerably done, which on the scale of action flicks, is practically Oscar worthy. I am not the biggest fan of Shia LeBeouf, but this movie plays to his strengths, and he is able to carry much of the film. The redoubtable Peter Cullen is a treat to longtime Transformers fans and recent converts alike as Optimus Prime. But the best performance is put in by Sam's parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), especially Ms. White as the mother.

That is, however, part of the problem. Transformers seems to suffer from an identity crisis. The film has a strong comedic foundation, with both amusing scenes and witty one-liners. But these flashes of mirth seem, sandwiched as they are between meaningless metallic mayhem and overblown dramatics, stolen from another movie. Micheal Bay seems to believe he can transform his movie between action, comedy, and drama at will, but the transitions are stilted and ultimately detract from those parts of the film that work.

Fight scenes are supposed to be the highlight of an action film, but it seems that the modern trend illustrates a direct correlation between the amount of CG and the degree of dullness. It can be at times difficult to distinguish the silver Decepticons from each other (poor characterization of the villians is a general theme among the two Bey Transformers movies), and even when you can tell, you don't care to make the effort because it doesn't matter who just shrugged off the latest atom bomb.

I don't want to give away what, in an impressive illustration of ambition, aspires to be the plot, but it does such a good job of hiding that I feel compelled to mention that if you don't at least look for it, you might not find it (though I doubt you'll miss it). The portrayal of Megatron as a loyal and conspicuously obedient servant (and the continuing failure to cast Frank Welker, the original voice actor) would infuriate any true fan of the 80's cartoon. Soundwave is finally in this movie, but he's a freaking satellite, when they could have easily made him a CD player, and he doesn't sound like he used to either.

Sadly, even with all our technology and the ability to merge CG robots seemlessly with the real world, we've yet to make a Transformers movie superior to that from 1986. Perhaps even worse, this is also true of the soundtrack. However dated and (even at the time) annoying the mid 80's power ballads may be, at least the animated film had more than one song. Revenge of the Fallen pushes that new Linkin Park tune so aggressively you expect an advertisement for concert dates is coming next.

See it, if you have to. But don't expect any more than meets the eye.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Grey skies are gonna clear up

Alright, so it's been a little mopey and pathetic around here, even for me (which is saying something). So I have committed myself to ensure that at least the next few posts are somwhat less dark and miserable. Stay tuned for mirth and other diversions!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The rewards of failure

I am a very talented person. Intelligent, articulate, polite but without pretension, and particular without undue severity. It is true that, at times, these traits lay idle, or are even appropriated in lesser or even dubious causes. Yet even so, I remain a man with vast and disparate capabilities. Up until now, the primary use of my talents has been in the conservation of personal energy. I have honed the art of cutting corners to such an extent that my endeavors are ultimately, and invariably, doughnut shaped.

The reasons for this are several; probably some of it is good old fashioned sloth. To a certain extent, I like the idea that I can succeed with ease where others manage only through the expenditure of great effort and the assumption of much care. Of course, it is difficult to evade the accusation that a fear of failure, or success, or in one of psychologies more interesting and tormenting little vices, both, may lurk about.

At any rate, and for whatever reason, I had yet to encounter any enterprise in which I felt the need or the desire to exhaust every eventuality (how's that for aliteration!). That is no longer true, and if the outcome is in some sense disappointing, the end results have proven unexpectedly encouraging.

It was something of a surprise to find how interested I'd become in a successful resolution, and indeed how quickly the aspiration took hold. But having inspired my ambition, I became dedicated to achieving my goal in a way that I'd never really experienced before. I tried my best. I employed all my talents, pursued every opportunity, and spared no efforts. And in the end I fell on my face.

I mean, I didn't just fail. I blew it by a long shot. If it was a race, my shoe laces were tied together and I never got off the starting blocks. In a different situation, I think the whole experience could have been frustrating or humiliating, or even soul crushing. But as is, I find already I look back on it with a kind of (perhaps morbid) amusement.

For the first time I actually tried my best, and it wasn't anywhere near good enough. And yet, everything was still in place. The sky didn't fall, the sun rose the next day. It is unexpectedly liberating, like when you run as fast as you can for as long as you can. Then when exhaustion forces you to stop, you look back and see how far you managed to go, and you realize that in the future, you might get further yet.

It goes without saying that nobody changes over night. But I count this experience as a positive one. Of course the pessimist in me is not surprised that my first genuine effort would have been expended in a hopeless exercise, but I am not discourged. I may try again sometime, or if not, I might yet employ the same dedication to a new task. After all, now that I've fallen flat on my face, I know it hurts a bit, but it won't kill you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pointless Factoid XXIIX

Legal case citation, though subject to an amount of variance, follows a general pattern illustrated by the following example:

Apple v. Banana, 21 Mk Blv 986 (2021).

That means the case involved the parties Apple and Banana, and it can be found in volume 21 of Make Believe, page 986, and that it was decided in 2021.

To use an example from real life:

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

So, Miranda was one, and the State of Arizona was the other. It's in volume 384 of the United States Reporter, page 436, and it was decided in 1966.

Some volumes have multiple series, so you'll see something like Cal App 3rd, which stands for the California Appellate Reporter, third series. In many instances, these indices are not government sponsored, but rather are compiled by third parties. Because these works are not protected by copyright, anyone can print them, and so there are often competing volumes. In such cases, it is customary to site important cases in several or even all of the major reports for the jurisdiction.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


It may be strange to say, on a blog dedicated to excessive self-flagellation and the magnification of ubiquitous trivialities, but there are certain insufficiencies and disappointments of which I have never complained. This is not due so much to any masculine stoicism, nor the eventual resolution brought by the passage of time, but rather because, to put it in simple terms, I was afraid to confront it.

And so this topic may have remained unexamined still, except that I have recently resolved to abandon the comforting crutch of avoidance for the less certain, but ultimately more rewarding (hopefully) promise of personal honesty. That is, honesty to myself about myself.

Probably even a few weeks ago I could never have written this post, or if I had it would have been left forever unpublished, or at best buried through the judicious use of back dating. But with the help of a good and paitent friend, I've learned that what you don't say is far more hurtful than what you do.

With this newfound, and yet unsteady dedication, I turn to review in earnest a topic of great personal dissatisfaction. Appropriately enough, for Father's Day, it is my relationship with my own.

I should start out by allowing that my parents were very young when I was born. My dad was 23, my mom 19. The undeniable fact is that, to a certain extent, I ruined their lives, and though I can be assigned little blame, still the realization is actual enough to prompt some degree of guilt. Had they had their first child later, no doubt everyone would have been happier. This is not to say that they didn't adjust, or that they would wish things were different. But it is undeniable that basically I screwed things up for everybody.

The actual problem, however, is that at 23, and with the subsequent demands of family life from such a young age, my dad lacked any of the attributes of responsible parentage aside from a firm sense of responsibility. When I came, and then almost two years later my brother as well, he took a job he hated and worked to provide for us, and I respect that effort. Unfortunately his own displeasure grew, and when combined with his volitile personality, explosive temper, and generally poor disposition, it produced in him a growing discontent that he was unable to properly manage.

While I in no sense wish to imply that my childhood was an unremitting misery, neither would it be accurate to say that it was not miserable. The fact is that the behavior of my father would, by today's standards, be considered physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive. He could be brought into uncontrollable rages by trivial infractions or insignificant accidents. Setting the wrong dinner fork, or using a TV tray that he wanted were among the most absurd triggers, though there were others.

His anger could be a terrible thing to behold, especially to a small child. When enraged he delighted in subjecting us to blistering evaluations and tirades of endless profanity. In those unfortunate situations where emotional wounds seemed in his judgment insufficient, he proved willing to resort to those more readily apparent.

On an absolute metric of physical abuse, probably what we received was fairly mild. We were never punched or kicked, used as footstools or ashtrays. But we were hit, and by which I mean to indicate more than spanking or a little whack aside the head, though such indulgences may also have made occasional appearances.

During my father's rages, my mother would usually stand off to the side. He never, insofar as I know, was physical with her in the least, but whether through fear or agreement, she abstained from intervention, except when it seemed he had finally lost the last semblence of control.

Even with my limited understanding of psychology, I know that such experiences have left deep wounds, which yet are still raw to the touch. In many ways the personal deficiencies that trouble me on so many levels are attributable, either directly or indirectly, to these events. Of course I do not mean to lay all my inadequacies at my father's feet, and at any rate these incidents ended long ago, and it is reasonable to say I should simply get over it.

In a very real way, part of me never actually matured. Or, if it did, it did so in some stunted and twisted sense. There is a piece of my soul that never grew up, but rather learned to grow over itself, with layer after layer of insufficient rationalizations and imperfect defenses. I have lived with the fear that, in the end, I may be nothing more than the little boy who tried to shield his head from his father's anger. And it is an apprehension that still colors everything that I am.

But I realize now that whatever my father's errors, in the end the responsibility is my own. Fear offers only hesitation and discontent, and it is my fault and mine alone if I accept them. I am still broken, I think, and probably will always remain so in at least some fashion.

But I am unwilling to condemn myself to a life of misery, nor through some misguided sense of anger, allow the responsibility for my own contentment to rest with others. For a very long time I was bitter and angry and hateful, but those emotions have wearied me, and provided nothing in recompense. So while I may not be able to completely abandon them, at least no longer will I rely on them.

Interestingly enough, my current relationship with my dad is tolerably pleasent. We have a stable, if somewhat shallow bond based on some mutual interests and a generally pessimistic view of life. I know in my heart I will always hate him, at least in part, but that is no longer the dominant paradigm of our interactions. It may seem like that is not much. But it's more than I had before.

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Sometimes you read something and it sticks with you for a while. Like one time back in Junior High, when I read The Stand, it freaked me out and I spend the next week sleeping with the lights on. Of course, not every genre is going to affect you the same way, but inevitably there will be a few works from every literary flavor that lingers on the palette.

Earlier this evening, I was treated to a taste of such a work. While the story was somewhat incomplete, it was not only compelling, but it has also inspried me to improve my own similar writings.

Of course, that is a concern for the future. Right now it's almost four in the morning, and I have court in five hours. I shall lie down, and hope sleep comes soon (though I rather doubt it will)!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Land of Opportunity

Having my own office is somewhat exciting, and I rather like just following my own rules. I know that, in the long run, I'd never really be satisfied working for another person anyway. That being said, at this point in my life, and especially with the economy the way it is, I'd much rather have a steady paycheck. The thing is, my chosen field is small and, sadly, one where the government is the single largest employer. With counties all over the state in the grip of cutbacks, I have thus far been unable to secure full-time employment in Criminal Defense work.

Accordingly, I have today started to apply to such jobs out of state where the absence of local bar admission is not a total prohibition to employment, provided the candidate agrees to secure a license as soon as possible. Thus far I have limited my applications to the western states, such as Nevada. I don't really care to leave California, but if I do, I'd rather go to Arizona or Washington than say Montana. Unfortunately, though somewhat predictably, most of these kinds of jobs are in the dismal states.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pointless Factoid XXVII

Inter-Uterine Devices (IUDs) are the world's most popular form of reversable contraception. Interestingly, the non-hormonal IUD used in the US is essentially just a T-shaped piece of plastic with a copper wire wrapped around it. Strings extend from the uterus into the vaginal cavity.

IUDs work because the presence of a foriegn object in the uterus prompts the endometrium to produce compounds hostile to sperm and egg alike. The devices have strings so that the wearer (if indeed that is the proper term) can determine that it still remains properly emplaced, and to aid in the IUD's eventual removal. Apparently these strings may be noticeable during sexual intercourse which, I would think, would be a little odd.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A hill of beans, and other cinematic legume references

As it seems this blog, taken alone, may have provided some of my associates with an inaccurate depiction of my varying qualities and insufficiencies, I have decided to take this opportunity to respond to a few claims levelled at me in recent weeks.

Problems: In an absolute objective sense, I don't really have any. I'm not going to starve. There isn't a rebel army looking to chop me to pieces for being the wrong tribe. I've got all my limbs, most of my mental faculties, and a standard of living the envy of millions. Such difficulties as I may encounter are first world problems; I'm not fabulously rich. The girl I like doesn't like me. I wish I was a little bit taller. I wish I was a baller (try identifying that song without recourse to the internet!).

A friend of mine recently claimed that I make spilled milk sound like the Noahchian deluge (though not in those terms, which probably goes some way to proving the point). And, I suppose it is a charge with some degree of validity. I concede that the literary style I have affected is burdened by, among other imperfections, an unnecessary recourse to the dramatic. We tend to see formality as an inevitable indication of importance. When it is employed to catalogue personal disappointments, there may seem to be Byronic pretensions.

To the extent that they exist, they're unintended, and really in life I am closer to Charlie Chaplin than Charlton Heston. My problems seem important to me because they are mine, but I do not flatter myself that they are either particularly unique, or unusally oppressive.

Depression: On occasion blogging seems to be, at least for me, nothing other than a litany of literary self-flagellation. This charge, like the other, has a hint of truth to it, but such validity as it may claim is due more to selection bias than simple disatisfaction.

I use my blog as a forum where I can engage my issues on my own terms. It isn't really even meant for public consumption, and while insofar as any reader may derive amusement from my endeavors they are welcome to do so, I write (for the most part) for a solitary, introspective audience.

Accordingly, if I've had an awesome day, or struck some unusual fortune, rarely do I feel the need, or even the interest, to describe it. Like most people, I assimilate success easily. It's only failure that necessitates discussion.

Inhibition: A friend recently accused me of having "taboo" subjects which, I think, is not particularly damning (as we all have our own little limitations), but he meant it to encompass even such topics as should be commonly suitable for discussion. Again I must concede some accuracy in the accusation, but I actually think it misses the mark.

The reality is that I believe I display a remarkable willingness to describe my own limitations and express my frustrations. Admittedly, such volition is restricted primarily to the printed word, but it is at least in a venue of universal exposure.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (29, that is)

I hate my birthday.

Now, when I say I "hate" it, I do not speak in the simple chronological sense, and the increasing nearness of inevitable mortality. Nor do I express insincere protestations in the hopes of garnering attention, gifts, or social events of dubious value (such as "surprise" parties). Rather, I hate my birthday because it is the one day when my insecurities and inadequacies grow beyond the respectful bounds of colorful idiosyncracies, instead assuming a troubling primacy over my psyche.

For the other 364 days the disparate slivers that forms what passes for my personality maintain, more or less, a kind of workable cohesion. Even when I am unhappy or distressed, these things are in me in the adjectival sense, as in I feel unhappy. But today these terms take on the trappings of nouns, and as a consequence I am unhappy.

The reality is that my miseries, to the extent that they even warrant such a term, are no greater on the 29th of May than they were on the 28th. It is my inability to properly internalize them that makes the day so difficult, and hence why I view it with something akin to dread.

But though my problems are no larger today than any other day, they do loom more prominently in the mind. I am plagued by unfulfilled ambitions and affections, which trouble me as incomplete, or unbecoming, or even in some instances both, or neither, or more.

Some of them seem no further than my fingertips; others may as well be on the moon. But either way I lack the capacity to consumate them, and the good sense to divorce them. Strangely, it may seem that those within my grasp would frustrate me more, as there I am my own obstacle, but in an ironic turn I find I press and strain against the impossible, until the effort replaces enthusiasm with exhaustion.

David Hume once wrote that reason could aspire to no other office than to serve passion. In my everyday life I acclaim reason and disdain passion, regarding even its pleasures as deleterious. It may then be fitting that on the 29th of each year I am forced to pay the compounded interest of sentiments deferred the rest of the year.

But even so, I hate my birthday.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Four days in Xanadu

This weekend I was at Kublacon, a gaming convention in Burlingame, near the San Francisco Airport. It's four days of RPGs, CCGs, LARPs, miniatures, board games, and sleep deprivation. To these activities must be added drinking, socializing, and more than one or two hook-ups, as despite the general stereotype assigned to nerds, cons tend to have something of a party atmosphere, and gaming is at its heart a social hobby.

As usual I had a good time, managing to play a wide variety of games and meet up with a number of people I only encounter at these events. Such "con friends" occupy an unusual strata among the layers of social relationships. You see each other infrequently, but that in large blocks over a short timespan, and amongst a sea of like-minded strangers. Even someone ill-disposed to quick attachment would find that con events can help forge instant, though shallow, bonds.

Aside, or simultaneous to hanging out with con buddies, I managed to fit in a lot of gaming. On Friday I helped run my brother's Napoleonic War board game. We had a good mix of new and veteran players, and the game developed an interesting dynamic and ended, appropriately, with an unlikely resolution.

On Saturday I filled a seat in the Game of Thrones tournament, but was solidly defeat by almost all my opponents, including my brother. After that I gave Vampire: Prince of the City a try but didn't really care for it, and watched as a friend playtested his homebrew CCG. The highpoint of the day, and in some ways the con itself, came later that evening when I ran my Serenity game Love in the Time of Compression Coils (apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the title). Upon finishing that game, I spent all night battling a master strategist for control of the ancient Mediterranean in Pax Romana.

Sunday was a little less busy than Saturday, but I still managed to play several games. I beat my brother in Zombies, almost destroyed the Galactica as a Cylon in the BSG board game, lost to friend and stranger alike in Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, gave Carcassone another try (won, but still don't care for the game), and played Race for the Galaxy and La Havre until Monday morning.

Now exiled once again to the real world, I'm already looking forward to the Labor Day weekend con. If only September weren't so far away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Northern Sirens

Their album came out on April 28th. R&B isn't exactly anyone's first idea of Swedish music, but these guys are pretty cool.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stealth Mode

There is something about RSS feeds that I find objectionable. What exactly it is I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that I don't like the idea of being tracked. Therefore I have, insofar as I understand the process, gone into the settings and disabled feeds. Whether or not this will actually do anything I can't really say, but at least for the moment it makes me feel pretty sneaky.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Life Imitates Art

Every so often we have a moment in our own lives that resembles more a scene bound by celluloid than reality. Earlier this evening, I had one such experience. In itself it was a trifling affair of little note, a misunderstanding born of mojitos and poor judgement, that subsequently assumed somewhat epic pretensions.

Maybe another day I'll go into more detail, but for now I'll just note that, without the benefit of laugh tracks or montages, movie scenes aren't always as fun to live through as they are to watch.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ebb and Flow

It never rains but it pours. When I was in trial, and without time to accept other work, I had to decline a number of potential cases. Now that my trial is done and I have all this free time, there's nothing to do.

All I've done this week is write a contract, revise an NDA, and give a nickel's worth of free advice on landlord-tenant law. Thursday is another volunteer session, this time at the bankruptcy clinic in Oakland, which however good it may be for karma, does little to help the balance book. I did pick up another translation editing assignment. Better than nothing, but not much.

I think I need to marry rich.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

First rule of Fight Club

Don't talk about Fight Club!

P.S. I hate that movie.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Gmail: Now with drunk filter!

Apparently drunk people sending email is a rather common occurrence now. Common enough, at any rate, for gmail to have a feature meant to help lushes avoid sender's regret. I think I know a few people who should sign up!

Unfortunately, their gain is our loss, as experiencing and cataloging the escapades of the inebriated is one of the great joys of sober visitors to drunk land.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Arms hurt, and other stumbling blocks

Just returned from the gym, where my complete lack of upper body strength continually manages to manifest itself in new and humiliating fashions. This prompted me to consider a few things that are, for me, stumbling blocks.

1) Pull ups.
2) Unguarded left turns.
3) Homophones.
4) Appropriate human social responses.
5) Water conservation (I'm a lengthy showerer).

Of course, the first step to solving a problem is identifying it. Thus, from a certain perspective, I'm on my way to self-improvement. Unfortunately, were there a #6 on that list, it would be an inability to progress any further than a single step on any personal project.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

One step forward, two steps back

My continuing quest to become even just a decent person suffered another setback this evening.

Earlier, a friend informed me of a recent complication. Although I naturally expressed, and indeed felt, sympathy for the trouble, still I enjoyed my role in it. Were the matter of greater importance, or the dilemma of more substantial dimensions, such bemusement as I may have experienced would have been transformed into worthier sentiments. Or, at any rate, so I hope.

This episode highlights what is a persistant obstacle in achieving what is, for most people, an automatic and appropriate level of selfless sympathy. I am admittedly in many ways a wretched person. But one, at least, with the grace to feel badly about it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sadie Hawkins

Jury selection began in my case today. I thought it would have taken only one day, but we're going to be back at it tomorrow. Of the first twelve, four will be excused for cause, meaning we'll need to seat their replacements, voir dire them, and potentially obtain more "volunteers" from the galley.

I think jury selection is the closest I'll ever come to understanding what Sadie Hawkins dances are like for women. Sixty people are called into the galley. I look at them and form snap judgements regarding their prospective suitability. Then twelve are called into the jury boxes to answer questions. The first series of queries are generic, then each side gets to ask specific questions.

Technically speaking, the attorneys are allowed to ask questions only to determine the legal suitability of a juror. But really, they are used to pry into a person's soul, to determine in the span of two minutes the reach and depth of their passions and prejudices.

Interestingly enough (at least to me) is the fact that jurors seem to take the questions very seriously. You don't really hear people espouse views that they think will get them off the hook, even if in other ways it's obvious that they'd like to be excused.

The courtroom works a kind of magic on the people inside. They seem to understand the enormity of the circumstances, and it ennobles them above their parochial concerns. It really is a sight to see, and I say that as no friend to my fellow man.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Limitations of Perfection

Excluding a whimsical intermission on the nature of reality, this post marks the conclusion of that series in which I described those traits I would find desirable in an ideal woman. Now the ink has been spilled, and my childish desires uncovered, but all the same, what was the point?

To be sure, I can't really say there was one, except that at some moment (likely induced by boredom and sleep deprivation) I felt the exercise to be of some value as a diversion, and perhaps of some interest to any passing reader. But like all good aspirations, the definitions serve to illuminate my personality to the same degree, at least, as the erstwhile subject.

What exactly that light has revealed about me is a matter of some interpretation, but at the very least those inclined to draw a favorable conclusion will admit that my standards are not entirely shallow. As for them who may draw the alternative inference, well, there was already enough out there about me to criticize at any rate.

Of course, it goes without saying that there is no such thing as an absolutely perfect person, and indeed even insofar as I have defined the term yet it is still too ephemeral and unrealistic to survive the rigors of real life. It is unfortunate to admit that ones aspirations may not be achievable, or even realistic. But as to this subject the true difficulty arises upon consideration of the contrary conclusion.

What are the chances that you would ever meet the one right person? And how could you even be certain he or she was it? For that matter, what are the chances that you could find your perfect job? The ideal home? The right friends? How do you know you even have the life you're supposed to have? These are indeterminable, and not entirely because their values are indeterminate, but rather instead as they are subject to the uncertainties of human existence.

We accept the imperfections of life because we have learned that reality itself is a kind of compromise; one we navigate as surely as circumstances permit. We do the best we can. This is a comfort to us even when we fail, because it is not clear that there is anything better. But suppose there was?

The real tragedy would be if there was such a person (or job, or life, and so forth), or several, and yet you were never to meet. Or else perhaps even worse, you may remain together for years in cordial association, unaware of the potentials, or unwilling to test them. This is a melancholy thought, and one that, as with all discussions of the possible is best considered briefly and with a shallow investment, but one that should never be entirely forgotten.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Stuck in the Past

During one of my many sleepless nights, it occurred to me that the entire world we perceive no longer exists. Whether from sight, sound, or touch, everything that we know comes from stimuli that travels to us, is received and then processed by the brain, and finally rendered as a conclusion we call reality. But in actuality, each of these steps takes some amount of time to complete, brief though it may be, such that our world is not the present, but the infinitesimally recent past.

This leads to two interesting, though related, conclusions. First, everything around me could completely disappear, and in fact I would be unaware of it for some measurable period of time. I would be like Schrodinger's Cat, for an instant, in a world both whole and complete, yet entirely empty as well.

But secondly, and personally more interesting, is the fact that no amount of effort can ever bring me to the present. No matter what, light will still take time to reach my eyes. My brain will still require time to process the information. Thus, no technological or personal development can ever give me an actual view of the current reality. That we cannot relive the past is a social and literary truism, and yet we actually live in an expired universe. It's the here and now that's unattainable.

Of course, these observations have very little application in the real world. But anyone who didn't expect that conclusion is new to blogging.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Perfect Woman #1: Imperfection

While it may be something of a surprise (though probably not much, if you know me), it turns out that the most important qualities to me are problems. The thing is, there's really no perfect person, and if there were, she'd be somewhat boring and insufferable, and certainly taken at any rate.

In the end, I think it is our own personal miseries that make us interesting, to the extent that any of us can claim to be. Below are the imperfections I'd want in a perfect girl.

1. Basket Case

There is this scene in Broadcast News where Holly Hunter breaks down and weeps, for about thirty seconds, and then she dashes off to face the world. She is a load bearer, the Hollywood prototype for an entire lineage of (what are now sort of cliched) professionally fulfilled, social basket cases. Carried on her slender shoulders are all the insecurities of two or three normal people.

These weigh her down not because they are so heavy in themselves, though they may be, but rather because she thinks about them, she knows them, and they represent everything she doesn't want to be, but inevitably is. There is something about the nobility of anyone willing to struggle against such a burden that I find incredibly compelling.

2. Mercurial

I am attracted to people who are just slightly unstable. I'm not talking about a crazy knife girl or anything, but it is exciting when you're never quite sure what another person is going to do. More than that, though, I like people with fickle moods.

Maybe because I'm somewhat reserved, I would want someone whose feelings come on suddenly, like a summer storm, only to burn out in a violent flare of emotional activity. My perfect girl isn't a drama queen, but a tempest of feeling, aspiration, and insecurity that is, even at best, only imperfectly contained.

3. Lonely

My perfect woman would be, in some sense, a lonely woman. There would be a part of her that was distant to the world, too fragile to survive exposure even to those closest to her. But while she wouldn't share it, she would indulge it with occasional bouts of solitude, or at least the longing for it when life makes actual seclusion impractical.

Greta Garbo once famously proclaimed that she "wanted to be left alone," and that is a sentiment my ideal mate would understand.

4. Regrets

At the center of all compelling personalities is a sadness that never really goes away. In her own way, my perfect girl would be a profoundly sad person. She would have numerous regrets accumulated over the course of her life. Some of them may be a bit whimsical, like childhood aspirations of becoming an astronaut.

Others would be more profound. A lost love or a broken friendship. The relationship she wanted but never had with her mother. Paths not taken or choices made because of fear of failure, or success, or abandonment.

These she would keep and at times consider, and they would stay with her and form an undeniable part of who she was.

5. Unattainable

Lastly, my perfect woman would be, to put it simply, unattainable. Whether through distance of geography or sentiment, commitment to another person, absolute dedication to a cause, or even just a simple dislike of me personally.

Part of this is psychological. Her unavailability relieves me of the responsibility to pursue the matter any further, and that is a concept that comforts my numerous crippling personal insecurities. Part of it is just a "grass is greener" effect. She looks better if someone else has her.

The truth is, for whatever reason (and probably for multiple), I have very little interest in romance. Admittedly I have the same feelings as anyone else, and even occasionally the same inability to properly control them. Even so, I regard such pursuits generally with suspicion and even, though it is somewhat unbecoming, a certain degree of disdain. So my perfect girl would be someone who, perhaps at the start inspired some of the higher and lower passions, is intellectually and even to a degree emotionally compatible, but ultimately socially unavailable.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Perfect Woman #2: Personality

The penultimate post is a brief review of the preferred personality of my perfect girl. Because some people are visual learners, I have selected a photo of Holly Hunter to serve as exemplar this time. Her character in Broadcast News is probably about as close as Hollywood has come to depicting what I'd want in a woman.

1. Whimsy

For many people, life is a series of unconnected irrelevancies punctuated by blurry parts at either end. They go through every day with what's in front of them, and that's enough, or at least there doesn't seem to be any other choice.

But for my perfect woman, reality is more like a movie musical; everything seems normal, until all of a sudden you're in a big dance number. She should be given to random acts of spontaneity, and waylay conversations with bizarre (though strangely, still somehow relevant if you're clever enough to follow the thread) non sequiturs.

2. Humor

A sense of humor is absolutely essential before I can consider anyone tolerable, let alone perfect. If you can't go through life laughing, then I don't really see the point of going through it at all. My perfect girl would have an insatiable love of comedy, though one tempered by intelligence and good taste.

She would understand why The Three Stooges are funny and Jackass isn't. It would take more than a football to the groin to get her giggling, but Jerry kicking the tar out of Tom would be a riot. She'd love The Princess Bride and The Quest for the Holy Grail.

But most important of all is that she takes life itself in stride, with an inexhaustible store of good humor, given a wicked, if gentle, edge of cynicism and irony.

3. Hobbies

Maybe because they are so important to my own life, I find it difficult to relate to people without hobbies. It isn't essential to me that she be into gaming or movies or literature, though that might be nice. What is essential is that she have hobbies of her own, for which I have little interest. All hobbies look stupid to the uninitiated, and I would want her to be vaguely defensive to any criticism of her own past times.

4. Feisty

My perfect woman would be almost unbearably combative. Our verbal spars would be one part foreplay one part Olympic event, but never simply for affectation or the release (or creation) of sexual tension. Rather, the interplay of our personalities would be intellectually volatile and express itself as a function of varying intolerance.

This would be a symptom of a greater infection, one that renders her by turns uncompromising, aggressive, and opinionated. When losing heated arguments she fights harder, not to avoid defeat, but to forestall the admission through mutual exhaustion. For me, the perfect girl would be a spitfire. Stubborn, feisty, and at times even defensive, but without malice or complete inflexibility.

5. Independent

The last personality trait I'd consider essential in an optimal mate would be fierce independence. I'd want her to be able to have gone through her entire life without meeting me, and still have had a perfectly fine time. She should have her own ideas, opinions, and suggestions. We'd disagree all the time, and she would have little difficulty in expressing her own positions.

I don't really care what her job is, but whatever she does, it should give her a sense of personal and intellectual fulfillment, from which she derives an important sense of empowerment and confidence. She should have goals and aspirations that are entirely particular to her, and the drive to pursue them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Perfect Woman #3: Brains

A great body is nice, but it's just empty packaging if she's slim on smarts. In part three of My Perfect Woman, I turn to the intellectual merits of a mate. By the way, Mira Sorvino (pictured above) graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University. It's not my fault she's gorgeous too, so no complaining about the example photo for this one.

1. Wits

For me, there is nothing so enticing as the natural tension between two clever people. An entire genre of film (Screwball) was built around the interplay of words and ideas. These proved so capable of creating the necessary romantic tension that the overt sexual references which are so common today were completely unnecessary (I recommend the classic film His Girl Friday for a perfect example).

My perfect girl would be clever. She would be obscenely, absurdly clever. But whereas for most people wit, insofar as they have it, serves as a veneer for personal deficiency, hers would be profound thought and rational consideration given a charming, breezy form.

2. Reflection

My perfect woman would be a deep thinker. She'd have an opinion on the major issues of the day, the great existential questions, and the inscrutable mysteries of the universe. And yet while she would have given these subjects serious attention, they wouldn't weigh her down or induce an unbecoming severity.

3. Education

An ideal mate would have the kind of thorough education that leaves one well prepared on any subject, confident in their abilities, and eager for further intellectual enrichment. This is less a matter of degrees per se, though those are nice too, but it's really about the mindset common (but neither universal nor unique) to those who have spent several years in the acquisition of expertise in a particular field.

I would also want my perfect woman to be faintly protective of the relevance of her preferred subject, to a degree inversely related to its practical applications. If she could have a Ph.D. in philosophy, that would be particularly appreciated.

4. Vocabulary

Few deficiencies make conversational partners more tedious than a tendency to use the same word excessively, or to finish every sentence with a particular phrase (such as "you know" or "basically"). My perfect woman would have a versatile and even, to a certain extent, excessive lexicon, but one she would employ with becoming self-restraint.

Oh yeah, and she would also acknowledge the linguistic efficiency of the word "hella," and be no stranger to its use.

5. Practicality

Finally, my perfect girl would have certain practical intellectual capabilities that I'd find useful in every day life. Chief among these would be flawless spelling, echo location of parked automobiles, and eidetic recall of phone numbers, names, and other incidentals of social interaction.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

My Perfect Woman #4: Looks

This post is a little shallow, but I never claimed to be a saint. Statistically speaking couples of approximately the same degree of attractiveness tend to be the most successful. Which means I'd be pretty much stuck with the Wicked Witch of the West. So long as the subject is the perfect woman though I can be as unrealistic as I want!

1. Voice

I'm crazy about voices. My perfect woman would have a versatile voice, by turns warm and inviting, or conspiratorial and mischievous. She should sound friendly and accommodating, but still have underneath the perceptible malice of excessive wit. Her laugh should evidence comprehension and shared amusement rather than just simple mirth.

2. Legs

There's not really much to say here without straying into the crass, so this entry will be pretty short. But her legs wouldn't be!

3. Glasses

Glasses are absurdly attractive on women. My perfect girl would have glasses. Preferably her eyesight would actually be messed up, because the alternative is that she wears them as an affectation, and I wouldn't like that. Not that she has to be blind, but is a little farsightedness too much to ask?

4. Flames

Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but for me it's redheads. I'd want her hair to be the color of copper in sunlight, bright but not light.

5. Elegance

My perfect girl has a kind of natural elegance, readily apparent in everything that she does, but without vanity or display. She would be marked by that state of grace of confident and content people, with a glow that persists despite her indifference towards her own appearance.

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Perfect Woman #5: World View


This post is the introductory volume of a five-part series detailing those characteristics that would be present in what I would consider a "perfect" woman. To start things off, we'll look at the world view I'd want her to have.

1. Decent

I am socially very liberal, mostly because I deny the right of any person to dictate the limits of acceptable behavior to others. Carried to it's logical extreme this principle would result in anarchy, but I do not demand that it be pushed quite that far. But what I do expect, and would require in even a tolerable woman (let alone a perfect one) is a decent respect for the self-determinative rights of others. She doesn't have to like homosexuality, but I expect her to support gay marriage. She may dislike religion, but I require her to protect it's free exercise. She may disapprove of affirmative action, but she has to hate racism.

2. Irreligious (at least somewhat)

I am an atheist. My perfect girl need not be herself. I don't need someone who thinks the same way I do. It wouldn't really bother me if she did identify with a particular religion. But I couldn't countenance a fundamentalist, especially one that seeks to push her views on the rest of the country or to legislate her particular brand of morality. The only other view I couldn't accept is someone with no opinion. It's alright if she had a faith. It's alright if she didn't. It's not alright if she never thought about it.

3. Objective

Objectivity is very important to me. Too many people now, especially in the political arena, determine a desirable conclusion and then tailor their positions (and their "facts") to suit. I find this practice intellectually bankrupt, and indeed one of the greatest bulwarks protecting prejudice and inequity. My perfect woman is someone who values rationality, can admit when she's wrong, and is willing to surrender the blind comfort of partisanship for the admittedly less reassuring, but ultimately more rewarding rigors of objectivity.

4. Curious

My perfect woman is someone who thinks about the world. She wonders why things are one way and not the other. What other people consider useless trivia she sees as a window whose view affords a more complete picture of life. She doesn't have to be an existentialist like me, but she should have an opinion on the subject.

5. Restive

I would want a person who was motivated by a perpetual, and insatiable, appetite for life. Even though she'd be a better person than anyone would ever need, still she should be worse than she wants to be. I'm not looking for a perfectionist. In fact, I have very little use for perfection, and a good deal of suspicion for those who pursue it. But what I do want is someone who is never satisfied with the status quo.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I, Methuselah

This weekend I went to the 2009 North American VTES qualifier in Berkeley. VTES (I still call it by the original name, Jyhad) is a card game where you take on the role of an ancient vampire (a methuselah) in a bid for global, or at least table, domination.

In one sense I'm not really that into card games. I play borrowed decks, aren't up on all the rules, and am indifferent about collecting. But I do enjoy playing the games themselves, so I'll attend these bigger tournaments, even though it requires a little bit of driving and some expense.

In an unexpected turn of events, I managed to do pretty well, and have now qualified to play in the national championship. Of course, five out of eighteenish (not sure exactly) people qualified at this tournament, so it's not a particularly cruel cut. Still, that outcome was much better than I expected, and I was pleasently surprised that my luck held the whole day.

The actual championships are in Atlanta this year, so it's not like I'll be going. But I could if I wanted!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Crushes and the Common Cold

As a kind of preamble, I have decided to detail my theory of crushes. I read a lot, and I watch way too many movies, and so I've been exposed to a lot of theoretical (and theatrical) models of attraction, but I don't really think any of them have done a very good job of explaining the processes. After giving it some thought, I think I might have come up with something that works.

In my opinion, a crush is the romantic equivilant to the common cold. Both can come on suddenly and through even the most tangental or incidental contact. They each leave you distracted and even, at times, miserable, but they have the good graces to depart after a week or so. Best of all, it seems like you only get each strain once, and for your efforts lifetime immunity is your reward.

I personally crush hard. Which might seem kind of strange, until you remember that I can stand very few people. So those I do get on with, I really like (not that you can tell from how I treat them). This is as true of my friends and social acquaintances as it is of potential romantic partners.

But whereas when, in those rare instances in which I meet someone tolerable, I work to develop friendships, I do my best to avoid crushes like the plague. Of course, that's not exactly something I have any control over, but when I have the misfortune of becoming infected, I can at least take steps to stop the spread.

I just got over one particularly virulent strain, though not, I'd admit, without effort. Actually, that I caught the bug at all surprised me to no end, because I'd known her for quite a while, and never really thought of her in these terms at all. In fact, she's not really someone I deal with much, outside one small and compartmentalized part of the basketcase that is my life.

The absurdity of the circumstances made recovery easier, but I realized that were it not for the impossibility of advancement, I might have had more to contend with than a simple cold. In a lot of ways, she's exactly what I'd want in another person. Intelligent, paitent, humorous, and labored with a becoming, and yet not so severe as to be annoying, insufficient estimate of self-worth.

Generous to a fault, but possessed of a certain gentle cynicism that allows her to draw unfavorable conclusions of other people in a way that is still somehow endearing. She can share a private joke, play the rogue or the coquette with equal (and sometimes alternating) vitality, or even just turn loneliness into shared boredom.

Of course she has her faults too, a great variety of personal inadequacies and other annoyances, but it is the nature of the infection to consider those of little importance, or even to some degree desireable. Shaking the bug was a little more difficult this time than it has been in previous occasions with other people, but I find in fact that I derive more joy now that I can resume our previous friendship than I ever did from the delerious daydreams of limerence.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cult of Personality

Even as an Obama supporter, I freely admit that much of his appeal is based on personal, rather than strictly objective, factors. He has an engaging personality, a compelling life story, and a physical stature appropriate for the leader of the free world. His election is a historic event in the life of our nation, and a positive sign of the progress made in racial relations.

This is not to say that I feel his election was due solely to externalities. I happen to agree with many of his positions, and with most of his proposed solutions. I think the last administration has been so incredibly harmful to the country that it requires a stark and total repudiation.

The risk going forward is how to judge President Obama's progress, and here I call for caution, not from the right, but from the left. Obama could solve world hunger and bring about a golden age on Monday, and the Republicans would find something to criticize on Tuesday. Nor are they necessarily excoriated for doing so. It is their job, and a republic needs a free opposition.

The real danger is that those of us who supported him may not hold his administration to the kind of strict inquiry required of public affairs. Obama is incredibly popular, and much of his campaign was explicitly anti-establishment. We must be careful to avoid a cult of personality, and always remember that we elected him to effectuate policies we believed in. This charges us with the obligation to be objective; a burden far more demanding now than it has been the last eight years, but one we cannot evade.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Protean President

Obama inag

Barack Obama's inauguration as President of the United States, aside from a generational defining and historically sweeping event, was also one of the most impressive pieces of political theater I have ever seen. His speech was a measured, well-crafted and memorable statement of the principles by which he plans to govern, the challenges we are to face, and the ills he hopes to avoid.

Although given to a very friendly crowd, his performance was dignified yet still uplifting, and would have been well received by any objective observer. Even those critical of his positions or of him personally should still be compelled to admit that the inauguration as an event, and his participation in it, was quite impressive.

The task now for President Obama is to actualize the many goals he outlined during the campaign. His supporters, and indeed objective observers as well, understand that he has inherited a plethora of potential disasters from President Bush. The opposition, already unwilling to take responsibility for the last eight years, despite their total repudiation by the country at the polls, will be quick to pounce on any perceived weakness.

Obama was elected on a platform that promised change. It remains to be seen how much room he will have to maneuver, with the legacy he has been left by Bush. But even if he cannot fulfill all his campaign promises (and they never do), I expect him to continue to work towards those goals, even while resolving the problems left by the previous administration.

That may sound like a tall order, but nobody ever said being president would be easy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pointless Factoid XXVI

An international driver's license cannot be used to replace a suspended or revoked national license.

Ask me how I know that one day. It's a funny story.