Dec 10

Watchpiece

I think Watchmen is a dirty masterpiece. It’s a bunch of arcane weirdness that should not work but does. It’s a bolted-together, slapdash kaleidoscope of half-assed tropes and pretentious moonshine and hocus-pocus that somehow equals out to something really beautiful and profound.

It’s not for everyone, but I love it.

Dec 10

For T

In this season, early fails the light
And early folds the will for future plans
No reason for guessing at that which might
Or could have been in other lifespans

The meal has been laid on the table
As the westering sun glowers it last
But I find myself restless and unable
To do anything but pace, my food bypassed

So many dead, erased before true night
Each stretched by a world that hands
Lives taut like an overburdened cable
That snaps with no relief, no holdfast

I saw you battle Ravana, victory in sight
Mane of your hair aflame like firebrands
Yet the mounts of hell ever pour from their stable
And you could not defend against all the past

Dec 10

Ray Of

Lately, as people my age tend to, I’ve been attempting to grapple with my early life. I had a fairly traumatic childhood. I was ill-suited to the place I grew up, a misfit, and a natural contrarian to boot. So it’s a measure of comfort to ponder this time and lay to rest any ghosts present from then.

This is a ghost story, too, but I didn’t realize it until yesterday.

This is an actual picture of Tia, when she was 17 or 18. Don’t bother reverse image searching it, nosy nellies. I think I have the only copy.

But first let’s start with the corporeal. I’d heard of the girl named Tia sitting next to me in English class. Around my school, she was almost legendary both for her actions and her personality. I figured she’d never speak to me. Why would someone like her talk to someone like me? But she did, that very first day, and from that day on I ended up knowing quite a lot about Tia and the sort of person she was. And as the reject that I had been and still to some extent was, even after that first day I expected her to find another seat, somewhere closer to her friends — but she stayed there next to me that entire year and we got to know each other pretty well.

And Tia was, more than any other thing I can think to say about her, unwaveringly kind. She’d give away more of herself without a thought than anyone I’d met before or since. It was her greatest merit and likely her worst weakness.

Here’s what I found out as I talked to her over the next two years, separating the fact from the rumor. The rumor was that she’d done something horrible and her parents had thrown her out, glad to be rid of her. The reality was that her father had abused her with her mother’s knowledge and she’d taken the unprecedented step of somehow achieving legal separation from her parents at the age of 15 and living independently. She was thus by herself altogether and struggling. Struggling, beautiful young girls in a place like where I come from tend to attract bad elements, to say the least.

Remember now, this was in 1993 sometime. The internet wasn’t really a factor. Calumnies and libels didn’t spread, as they do now, like smoke on the wind.

Later that year, on the phone sometime outside of class, she told me that she worked at a club as a dancer. I said something like what kind of club, what sort of dancer, just making conversation. She paused for a moment and then told me it was the kind of club where she was nude. She was 15 years old. I was only 16 myself. You have to understand, back then the world was different, especially where I grew up. It didn’t even occur to me to tell anyone or to call the police even though I knew it wasn’t good, that nothing was right with that. Tia was my friend and I didn’t have that many, though far more than I did in early high school or middle school. The last thing I would do would be to blow up her life which is all that telling anyone would’ve done. I know that most of you reading this probably won’t understand but times were absolutely not the same and rural North Florida was a different world.

As I write the above, I know that for many the fact of what she did, even while so criminally young, will define her. But there was so much more to her: she wrote and did art. She was a good painter. She liked to swim. She spent a lot of her free time teaching herself how to oil paint when I knew her. She’d often come to school with paint on her fingers, on her clothes. I haven’t, respecting her family’s privacy, told you her real name, as her true name was Hawaiian and it means “beautiful ray of sunshine” in that language. It described her perfectly, revealed exterior and the greater presence within. She was kind to everyone, never said a hurtful word to anyone that I ever heard or saw, even when they deserved it. She had a wonderful raucous laugh that took over her whole body and made everyone who heard it smile sympathetically, no matter how cynical or jaded.

I asked her then if she was happy, and she said that she was, mostly, but not to tell anyone else, that it was far better than being abused by her father. And I did not tell a soul, not until now, when the story of Tia became for me something that can only live in my mind.

Because Tia is dead, has been for years like so very many of my North Florida compatriots, and I kind of wish I didn’t know that. I wanted to be able to imagine her out in the world doing the amazing and bounteously kindhearted things that she was certainly capable of doing — not lying in a cold fucking grave, likely next to the father who raped her. It makes me enraged that she had to grow up there, in that place, that eventually consumed her and turned all that was wonderful about her against her, ground into dust and ashes, forgotten. Well here’s me not forgetting.

To close on a less somber note, I will tell you my favorite memory of Tia. It started in class one day, AP English, where we had to read Shakespeare aloud. Hamlet, to be exact. Most of the kids could barely struggle through it, of course. I’d read it before and knew all the words and what they meant, so when my turn came I read it like it was a story happening in front of us to real living people, not some archaic words in a musty old book.

I think this caught Tia off guard, that I could do such a thing. Our conversations, though she was plenty clever, had never really strayed much into the intellectual (unless you consider painting).

As I was reading my part of Hamlet, I saw her look over at me, surprised, and not look away. After I was done, she leaned a little closer to me and said, “I liked how you read that. I felt it, really felt it. Read more to me later?”

I said, “OK, but you have to read some, too.”

“Deal,” she said, and for a few months we read each other plays and books and articles over coffee for her and Mountain Dew for me, sometimes in her tiny little place on the edge of town, sometimes in the library. Those were good times because she felt all of life more deeply than most and it expanded my capacity for empathy too, I’d wager. My very favorite memory of that time, though, is reading a Dave Barry column to her, doing funny voices, and seeing her face transformed with laughter over her coffee, as wild and as free for a moment then as she was always in her heart but could never be in this life of armor and sacrifices.

She was a good person and she’s gone and god it’s not fair. The world didn’t deserve her.

Dec 10

System to System

The fundamentals of most fields aren’t that hard if you’re properly intelligent. Any one can be learned to an undergraduate level in 3-4 months. I know because I’ve done it in many fields. There’s a reason I’ve read hundreds of textbooks; it was not just for fun.

And it’s not that I remember all the facts or even all the principles from all those fields, though I do remember a great deal. Not even an undergrad remembers that much, I must point out; studies shows this pretty conclusively. The reason to do all that reading and learning, then, is that it becomes latent knowledge that’s easily refreshed and it greatly increases the range and accuracy of your bullshit detector. This is absolutely invaluable. It prevents propaganda seepage, or at least greatly reduces it, and it allows you to understand how systems function or do not, which is the primary challenge of our era.

College, mostly, is a racket. If you care about knowledge it’s very easy to obtain yourself, especially now. There’s nothing stopping you but will and time.

Dec 09

Munroe

Your xkcd passwords are pwned.

This was always a terrible idea, and Randall Munroe gets way too much credit…for everything. His comics are barely funny. His ideas are generally execrable.

A good password: ?q}UEW8'&a6k0E{V^M%n'9T!SKHS=bkP

A bad password: Anything in the dictionary, anyone’s name, anything shorter than 12 characters, any combination of anything in the dictionary, anything found in any book anywhere, and anything Randall Munroe thinks is a good password.

Dec 09

Penalty for Traveling

Angie Schmitt is odd to read because she whipsaws between some truly insightful ideas to just awful, intelligence-deficient takes such as this:

Traveling is probably the best thing I’ve ever done, whether it was on my own or state-sponsored. I would not trade it for anything. This person said it best:

Schmitt’s example just shows that for the vast majority of people, real competence and insight can only be had in the very, very narrow area they study intensely. Outside of that, they are no better than GPT-2, just spewing word salad everywhere. (That said, I think Allison Brooks who replied to her misunderstood Schmitt’s message a bit, too.)

Dec 09

Origin of Migraine?

Looking for a martial arts school (Krav Maga, Systema, or similar) that emphasizes real fighting ability, not pretend kung fu shit, but where I don’t get hit in the head a lot. Got hit in the head, hard and frequently, as a kid and it did not result in good things. Don’t think I got it as bad as football players do, but then again I had no helmet and little to no warning. Need to preserve my brainpower.

Will see what I can find….

Dec 09

FSHBSC

It’s the most fucked up, shitbiscuit argument that because people have been wrong about apocalyptic predictions in the past (although sometimes only narrowly so), that we should not do anything about climate change.

That’s like saying that because you didn’t get in a car accident the last time you drove 140mph down city streets, you should therefore always drive 140mph everywhere.

In other words, total dipshit stuff. A slow toddler wouldn’t buy such arguments, so it’s mystifying that grown-ass adults do.