oh, and some content

I am almost drunk enough to go make chocolate chip cookies. In the meantime, though, I'm'a play some KoL turns and post this fragmenary bit of content. Thank you, by the way, Amber and Lorena, for your kind words about my sonnet and such! I like to think I am not losing my touch.

This thing will be a song, but so far I have only the first verse and chorus. Slight inaccuracies in scansion are covered over by vocal show-offery which, alas, you cannot hear yet:

can't get me moving
unless I'm dragged up by the chains of duty
but if I stand still
I can't wave my hand and call forth beauty
gotta find what's left of me
at the end of the live-long day
gotta hope it's enough
enough, enough to give away

I'm in the middle of it
I'm in the middle of it
come get some, come get some from it

she slices, she dices...she is finally blue-collar

On my last day off, which was Thursday, I went up to my old college to try and get the last bits of paperwork done which were keeping me from my degree. Mom stepped in like a champion, got leave from her work to go visit their plant up in the area so she could give me a ride there, and even paid the last couple little fees I had on my account at college, though she could ill afford to do so. I am greatly in her debt!

Tomorrow, however, is my second off day in this week, so I can afford to spend a little time blogging. Ah, the comfort of the written word. Even generating 3000 words in five hours did not sate me. I must write more, for the peace of my mind. So I write.

These days I am reminded of Idle Theory, a concept delineated by a fellow named Chris Davis as one of the factors in determining evolutionary fitness. I wish I could find his original page, which had some nice diagrams and such, but I will explain briefly. Idleness is the amount of time and energy which an organism has left over after it has satisfied the basic requirements of immediate survival--food, sleep, etc. Think of it as the profit margin of effort. Organisms with a very small amount of idleness are vulnerable to environmental changes. A small change in the requirements for immediate survival can mean the difference between life and death for something living on the edge. In contrast, living things with high levels of idleness can afford to spend their extra time and effort seeking out interesting mates, scouting out new territories, playing internet games, et cetera. Societies, which are themselves organisms in a sense, also change their behaviors based on idleness. Societies with low idleness tend to emphasize virtues such as hard work, thrift and rule-following--because if those virtues are not practiced by most individuals most of the time, that society will burn through its "profit margin" of available effort and collapse.

For me, personally, this is the lowest level of idleness I've ever attempted on an ongoing basis. Oh, I had some worse period at Aigre Doux (now defunct, Clarissa tells me, so I suppose I can use its name!), but those were periodic, not continuous. Let me show you some deli-counter-worker math:

8 hours per day at work
3 hours per day in transit (1.5hr train + walk time)
8 hours per day sleeping
6 hours per workday for other activity.

See, at the office-type jobs I've had in the past, internet access was part of worktime, to a limited extent. I could play my KoL turns, make the occasional blog post (in bits and pieces, by keeping the window open behind other work), and read random stuff to keep my imagination sizzling. I sat on my butt and typed and talked on the phone and spoke a lot of doublespeak.

Now my day is spent on my feet. I lift meats and cheeses out of the counter, on and off the slicers, work the slicers with hitherto-unused arm, shoulder and back muscles. I often lean my entire torso into the cold salad case to carefully scoop out, say, potato salad, without smearing tuna salad or curry on my apron or elbows in the process. It is like a combination of contortionism, spelunking, constructing a stone wall out of smallish rocks, and playing an endless game of tug-of-war with a gaggle of children. And I haven't even been on the café side and learned to make sandwiches or fry chicken in super-hot grease yet!

The thing is, though--I am happy. I feel like the guy at the end of Office Space. I'm doing something constructive and real. So what if my back feels like it has a knife stuck in it between the hours of seven and nine pm most nights? So what if the customers ask me to thin-shave a full pound of our messiest, juiciest meat at 8:45pm when I'm supposed to be disassembling and cleaning the slicers and sweeping the floor, when the auto-slicer is done for the night and I must do it by hand? I can hack that. That is no frickin problem. I sing while I slice, I banter with customers, I try to convince the nice ladies from the café side of the counter to teach me Bosnian. I've only been here a couple weeks, but I can weigh by the quarter-pound with either hand now and I know half the item codes by heart. And apparently all my coworkers like me, because I like them and think they're cool, and I'm sunny and polite and work like a fiend and sing.

For some reason, my day-to-day sense of identity is tied up in my work to a fairly large extent. Maybe it's because so much of how I remain socialized is a conscious process; the personas I use in daily life are assembled "by hand" rather than by instinct. And much of my consciousness is swept up in the self-check routines by which I create and assure my continued sanity, functionality. So there's not a whole lot of tolerance in me for identity concepts not directly supported by incoming data.

Oh, there is a residue. Life events and decisions leave a mark, little permanent records which say "you rose to X challenge to Y extent. you reacted to A crisis with B level of competence." Each little possible area of life I am able to approach with what I deem to be honor and nobility, by that increment is my heart eased and my childhood certainty weakened--the certainty that I am useless and without value. Not sure where it came from. Perhaps that knowledge is down in my spaghetti memory somewhere, safe to recall only when its poison is nullified.

Nobility is being equally comfortable, confident, competent, equally able to belong, in all places and all circumstances. Heinlein has a quote about it, a quote which I don't recall verbatim that ends "specialization is for insects." Honor is integrity in action: that you behave at all times and in all ways so that the world you wish to experience is the world which your actions make more possible.

In previous jobs, then, I have demonstrated to myself that I can be white-collar, that I can be an egghead amongst eggheads. That I can type numbers into a screen all day and night and still have the wherewithal to go to altavista's babelfish and crib enough Spanish to tell the dishwasher that his money was direct-deposited to his bank account and he should have it within three business days. That I can research the doings of a city which I have never visited, through news clippings and random statistical journals, well enough that my supervisor can go to that city's government and ask the right pointed questions about how they handle their finances. That I can shout down an aged building owner, whose concept of how business is done was cemented in the fifties, in a vain attempt convince him to pay for renovations required by fire safety regulations passed into law in the nineties. All these things I know about myself.

But now, now if I can keep this job for enough months to satisfy myself, I will have proved to myself that I can put in eight hours of real work, like a real person. Oh, the mad mad lengths to which we go for self-respect. It is worth it.

Besides, my unemployment was about to run out. There is some irony, as this back-aching job pays only $8.20 an hour, and thus nets me per week exactly the same amount as I used to get from unemployment, for doing nothing.

Still. I am happier, because even in a time of extremely low idleness, I am happier doing something than nothing.

from Lamuella, with love

Hi everybody!

I've been working nights in the deli this week (2-9), so I'm still getting myself adjusted to the new schedule. Mostly I've been doing my writing on my hour-plus CTA commute where none of y'all can see it, so nyah for now. Next week, because I seem to be working out well and have full availability, I'll be getting the full 40 hours! The week after that I'll be switched over to the café side of the counter, where I get to (anticipatory cringe) learn to fry chickens, in addition to learning how to create sandwiches and pizzas. The accompanying happy sandwich-making and pizza-making songs, however, I will not need to learn how to create. So either I'll learn how to make shorter evening-time posts, or I'll get used to getting up a little earlier and making my long, long posts in the morning.

Either way I'm hoping to stay at this job at least long enough to qualify for union health insurance, explore setting up my 401(k) with at least partially company stock, get caught up on rent, start untangling my various debt service obligations, develop a sufficiently strong and healthy musculature to not be in constant pain from all the lifting and slicing, and get forged in the crucible of the holiday deli/café counter rush. It is an ambitious plan, but a refreshingly unambiguous one.

I like having a nice predictable work routine. I am an exceedingly non-territorial person--to an extent pathologically so. Most of my territorial instincts are, were, or have been sublimated into various things which are carried with me wherever I go. So for me temporal feng shui is, I think, even more important than spatial feng shui, in terms of its ability to promote calm and ordered processes of emotion and thought. And I think I'm getting better about physical space habitation as well. These sorts of things are all connected: time management, learning to be comfortable and belong wherever you are, taking ownership of space and self, developing the confidence to make decisions, etc.

Blog is a secondary consideration in all this. Though I do regret that my new schedule has planted my work hours squarely on top of those hours when I would normally be talking to people on the phone. Perhaps I should add a cell phone to my list of things to get back or fix up, so I can at least have brief convos on the train around 10pm at night. We shall see!

In the meantime, here's a sonnet I've been working over the last couple train rides. I'm not wholly satisfied with it--it's only the first full revision, and poems are rarely polished until the third. But hopefully it's a nice read anyway. :)

[building materials]

To build a soul, a solid cornerstone
can give straight lines, square edges to its walls.
Each brick and board is one true thing you've known
forever. Mine get tangled where they fall,
just like my hair when I've walked in the rain,
wet, hatless, wrestled by the wild, cold wind.
If I can tame this snarled and dripping mane,
I'll know what's in it, and how to begin.
What's good will anchor firmly where it's set;
what's wicked snaps the moment it is tugged.
I'll plumb, with the best measures I can get,
each stone, and fill these trenches I have dug.
Up from its edges, planted right, below,
a true home for my waking soul will grow.

This is a Fiat Lex healthcare reform post. Enter at your own risk.

So I've gone and bitten the bullet; I've decided to do a healthcare post.

This is thanks to Amber for linking me to "The Doctor Is In", whose most recent post is also about the healthcare reform bill. His links to the Library of Congress and HTML versions of HR 3200 always time out for me--I guess a lot of people are reading that thing!--but I found another link to the proposed healthcare reform bill which has worked well for me all afternoon. Later on in my post, you will need this link if you want to look up my textevs. I cite both by section and paragraph numbers and by page numbers.

Dr. Bob brings up summaries of some key things which he finds worrisome, with a refreshing lack of reliance on polemic. (In other words, no rightist "totalitarian zmobies killz ur granma while gubmint breaks into ur house 2 force vitamins down ur froat!" and no leftist "this bill is a fixeverything and must pass immediately 2 save all the childrens or else ur greedy fatcat who hatez teh poor!") So if you have inclination and time, do go read him! I agree with him on the worrisome-ness of several key points, and he presents them more succinctly than I will.

To briefly sum up my reaction to HR 3200:
It has taken socialized medicine and privatized medicine and combined the worst aspects of both. It is a well-intentioned piece of crap. I do not think that it will work. Although even if it does get passed, I might possibly be able to afford to keep my internet on--if I take up selling drugs, or offload a kidney, or quit smoking for a year and sell an ovary. And I will enjoy all the healthcare, so that'll be some comfort.

Personally I want us to have fully socialized medicine like France and Canada and England. Healthcare is one of those things for which demand is so ridiculously inelastic (people's need for it is not sensitive to price) that socializing it is the only sensible course of action, just because of the economies of scale (things, even bureaucratic institutions, get cheaper when you buy in bulk). But I am getting both sidetracked and ahead of myself!

Back to our new friend the document, namely HR 3200.

My love of long, complicated, unbelievably boring documents goes back to childhood. As a child, I would apply for those "sweepstakes by mail" things. Y'know, the ones which made it very easy to enter the sweepstakes if you ordered a throw pillow or set of 36 coasters with seashell pictures on them, but extremely complicated and fiddly to correctly enter without purchasing anything. American law requires all sweepstakes to be enterable without a purchase, but it's not in the sweepstakes company's interest to make it easy for you to do. So I developed a cheeky sense of pride in my ability to wade through tiny, tiny print and successfully foil those who meant said tiny print to prevent me from getting things for free. I never did win anything, but the skill set and the cheeky pride persisted.

The key thing with a government document is to ignore the fact that it's over a thousand pages long and filled with paragraph upon paragraph of impenetrable detail. The strategy that tends to work for me is to zero in on indexes, write down the page numbers of any pertinent thing I find via use of said indexes, and always, always follow up on it when one paragraph references another paragraph. Seriously. Don't get blinded by those paragraph and section numbers. In general, if you have to follow through multiple citations and change which keywords you're following once or twice, the information you get at the end of the search will be very useful indeed.

In wading back and forth through HR 3200 I was interested in a few basic, netspeakable questions:

--What we get to has?
--How much we pay for get this?
--What is catch?!?

Here is what I found.

What we get to has?

p.8, Title I Section A (c)
"Acceptable coverage" (as defined on p.76-7, II A 202(d)(2)) essentially means being enrolled in a qualified health benefits plan created under the new rules, a healthcare plan one already had under the old rules, Medicare, Medicaid, armed forces health plans incl. Tricare, or VA benefits.

Minimum acceptable coverage under the new rules would mean enrollment in a "basic plan."
A "basic plan" (according to p.85, II A 203(c)) is a plan which contains the "benefits package required under title I for a qualified health benefits plan."
"essential benefits package" includes the following "minimum services to be covered" (copied from p.27-28, I C 122(b)):
"(1) Hospitalization.
(2) Outpatient hospital and outpatient clinic services, including emergency department services.
(3) Professional services of physicians and other health professionals.
(4) Such services, equipment, and supplies incident to the services of a physician’s or a health professional’s delivery of care in institutional settings, physician offices, patients’ homes or place of residence, or other settings, as appropriate.
(5) Prescription drugs.
(6) Rehabilitative and habilitative services.
(7) Mental health and substance use disorder services.
(8) Preventive services, including those services recommended with a grade of A or B by the Task Force on Clinical Preventive Services and those vaccines recommended for use by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(9) Maternity care.
(10) Well baby and well child care and oral health, vision, and hearing services, equipment, and supplies at least for children under 21 years of age."

How much we pay for get this?

The first part of the answer to this question deals with premiums.

An "affordable premium amount" (according to p.135, II C 243(b)(1)) is calculated as:
"The affordable premium amount specified in this subsection for an individual for monthly premium in a plan year shall be equal to 1⁄12 of the product of—
(A) the premium percentage limit specified in paragraph (2) for the individual based upon
the individual’s family income for the plan year;
(B) the individual’s family income for such plan year."

Paragraph II C 243(b)(2) contains a chart which I'll copy shortly, but first I want to go over the formula real quick. A is the percentage bracket you fall within on the chart, and B is your family's yearly income. So your "affordable premium" = A*B/12.

The chart from page 137 is below. I've removed the actuarial values because I don't know what they mean, and shortened the descriptions for the columns. Since this bill provides for the healthcare reform act to be phased in over three years, the affordability percentage slowly increases as the plan progresses. "FPL" stands for the federal poverty line--I'll copy that chart in a moment.

Income % of FPL.........Yr 1.....Yr 3
133% through 150%....1.5%....3%
150% through 200%....3%......5%
200% through 250%....5%......7%
250% through 300%....7%......9%
300% through 350%....9%......10%
350% through 400%....10%....11%

This chart gives us the values for A in the equation above. "A" is your "affordable premium amount", and is thus the maximum percentage of your income which must be dedicated to your health insurance premium. From what I read in II C, the law seems to work as follows. If your monthly insurance premium is greater than "A" and your income is less than or equal to 400% of the FPL, then you get "affordability credits" to pay the difference between your provider's premium and whatever "A" is for you. These credits are paid directly from the government to your provider (p.129 II C 241(a)(2)) and can't be received as cash (p.132 II C 241(e)).

The FPL guidelines are as follows:

Family size...Yearly income

So, let's take me for example. For tax purposes, I am a one-person household, so the FPL for me is $10,830 per year. If, at my new deli job, I were to work all 35 of my hours per week all 52 weeks of the year, my gross yearly income would be $16,380. I'd be earning 151% of the FPL amount. This puts me in the second bracket (150-200%), so in Year 3 under this bill, "B" in my equation will be 5%. Let's calculate my "affordable premium amount"!

(16,380)*(.05)/12 = $68.25

It does seem pretty reasonable. Kinda-sorta.
Except that my net pay, in this highly likely scenario, is about $1120 per month. And I live in Chicago, and have utilities and things in addition to rent. So even if I get off my duff and get food stamps already (and we assume I eat no food which is not purchased with food stamps), $68.25 is still a prohibitively huge amount. There is no freaking way I can afford to pay that. At least not if I want to remain a smoker and also keep electric, gas (which gets crazy spensive in the winter), phone/internet service, and the ability to pay $2.25 per ride to take the train to and from work 6 days a week. Oh, and do laundry at my local laundromat, since my building has no laundry machines.

People with higher incomes, on the other hand, seem to be upset about the cost-sharing stuff. I have not been able to find specifics on cost-sharing beyond the following:

Regarding enhanced, premium, and premium-plus plans (from p.87, II A 203(c)):
"(3) ENHANCED PLAN.—A enhanced plan shall offer, in addition to the level of benefits under the basic plan, a lower level of cost-sharing as provided under title I consistent with section 123(b)(5)(A).
(4) PREMIUM PLAN.—A premium plan shall offer, in addition to the level of benefits under the basic plan, a lower level of cost-sharing as provided under title I consistent with section 123(b)(5)(B).
(5) PREMIUM-PLUS PLAN.—A premium-plus plan is a premium plan that also provides additional benefits, such as adult oral health and vision care, approved by the Commissioner. The portion of the premium that is attributable to such additional benefits shall be separately specified.
(6) RANGE OF PERMISSIBLE VARIATION IN COST-SHARING.—The Commissioner shall establish a permissible range of variation of cost-sharing for each basic, enhanced, and premium plan, except with respect to any benefit for which there is no cost sharing permitted under the essential benefits package. Such variation shall permit a variation of not more than plus (or minus) 10 percent in cost-sharing with respect to each benefit category specified under section 122."

Let me sum that up, briefly. (Although I'm sure you're all a-quiver to see what's in section 123(b)(5)! I know I am!)

Basic plans charge the amounts we learned how to calculate above and provide the services listed above. Enhanced and premium plans reduce the amount of cost-sharing, although the total reduction in cost-sharing (per p.87, II A 203(c)(6)) cannot exceed 10%. Whatever that means. Cost-sharing money applies only to the list of "minimum services to be covered" I have copied above (from p.27-28, I C 122(b)).

Premium plans not only reduce cost-sharing; they also provide vision and dental care. I have no idea what effect the three tiers have on premium amounts, although I have some vague idea that, after Year 3 of this bill (per p.131, II C 241(c)(2)), affordability credits can also apply to enhanced and premium plan monthly...er, premiums.

(Why the crap didn't they choose another word for the super-cool plan, knowing that "premium" already has another definition in an insurance context? Arrgh!)

If anyone with a more proprietary interest than me in the cost-sharing math is willing to look up some more textev on this issue, I would be truly grateful. Perhaps my dear stalwart cohort of readers would also be grateful for further textev--though who knows but they themselves?

By the by, before I copy/paste it, section I C 123 is entitled "Health Benefits Advisory Committee", and 123(a)(2) says that if this bill were passed today, Surgeon General Sanjay Gupta would be the chair of the advisory committee. Honestly I myself don't know much, if anything, about Dr. Gupta because I am lazy. So make of that whatever you will. And tell me about it!

Anyway, here's p.30, I C 123(b)(5):

(A) ENHANCED PLAN.—The level of cost sharing for enhanced plans shall be designed so that such plans have benefits that are actuarially equivalent to approximately 85 percent of the actuarial value of the benefits provided under the reference benefits package described in section 122(c)(3)(B).
(B) PREMIUM PLAN.—The level of cost sharing for premium plans shall be designed so that such plans have benefits that are actuarially equivalent to approximately 95 percent of the actuarial value of the benefits provided under the reference benefits package described in section 122(c)(3)(B)."

Ohhh, that's what those actuarial values were for. I think. Y'know, those actuarial values in the table from page 137, which I left out 'cause I didn't know what they were for. Maybe this is what they're for? You look it up, if you've got the brain energy! I'm'a move on to my last point now.

What is catch?!?

(per p.167-8, IV A 401(a)): If you do not get health insurance, you will be taxed. The tax for failure to buy health insurance coverage will not exceed your "affordable premium amount." It is calculated according to the following formula:
"In the case of any individual who does not meet the requirements of subsection (d) at any time during the taxable year, there is hereby imposed a tax equal to 2.5 percent of the excess of—
(1) the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income for the taxable year, over
(2) the amount of gross income specified in section 6012(a)(1) with respect to the taxpayer."

I'm assuming this refers to 6012(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code, since the health care reform bill only goes as high as 2541. After much digging--way too much digging--here's section 6012 of the Internal Revenue Code. If you don't get it, don't worry; I don't get it either. If you do get it, please explain it to me. This magnificent bastard of a document has eaten my brain.

As for another thing I was troubled about, I'm having trouble finding a part where individuals have to comply with certain government-defined health maintenance standards in order to obtain coverage. If you have found it or know where it is, please point it out to me. I did find the part where employers have to fulfill certain standards in order to be approved providers (starting on p. 143, III B 311), but that's less scary and more sensible.

This deep digging into labyrinthine documents only reconfirms my initial suspicion. Namely--on the one hand, fully socialized medicine would be better for me personally, at least. And on the other hand, yes everyone is angry, yes everyone should be angry, but everyone is angry at the wrong things for the wrong reasons. And that makes me angry! Rrrreow!

I'm going to quit now while I still have a head on my shoulders. I've spent, not counting bathroom and food prep breaks and one brief phone break, around five hours on this post, so I better be freakin' done with it.

Hasta mañana, ladies, gentlemen and persons of indeterminate gender. I'm'a go play Solitaire and drink beer until KoL rollover now.

Now available at the deli counter! Also content update. Will explain.

All righty righty.

So I may have mentioned earlier (or you may have seen my profile update, or Facebook update if you know me irl and have my Facebook) that I has a part-time job! It is part-time only in the sense that my manager isn't allowed to schedule me more than 35 hours a week. But given my total availability and her perptual short-handedness, I will always get those 35 hours. Since I have no second job and am not in school, I will be earning slightly more than I've been getting from unemployment very, very soon. Which is extremely good news for me and my future debt-reduction plans.

I am now a deli person at [major chain grocery store]. Which, if I have mentioned it by name earlier, I must go and edit it out. Because major chain grocery stores tend not to like "true confessions" employee blogs. Especially ones which say things like "oh, we only wash the dishes twice instead of three times like it said in the training videos, and I only switch plastic gloves when going from deli cuts to salads instead of between every item."

Oh yeah. The above things are true. Heehee. I even had to learn the hard way not to speak with my head inside the deli counter, on my very first day. The look of mute horror on the customer's face when a teensy weensy bit of spit flew from my mouth into the edge of a dish will, alas, stay with me forever. I console myself that this particular dish was one which must be taken home and re-heated before consumption--but still, I did not throw away that entire dish of food. Instead I left it there. *cue scary music*

Still, I like working in a deli. In sharp contrast to most other jobs I've had, it feels like real work. And it only makes my back hurt and my feet hurt, not my soul. (Mind, emotions, personality, whatev.) I don't have to make any sketchy moral compromises to get my job done--apart from the abovementioned hygiene things. Which are negligible in an emotional-impact sense. I don't have to deliver any worse bad news than "sorry, we don't have any by-the-pound ricotta cheese." And every one of my co-workers knows exactly what she is doing and is perfectly happy to help me out because I'm nice and energetic and catch on quickly. Yes, "she"--I've only met one male deli worker so far, not counting the sushi guy. Who, by the end of day one, I'd already forgotten was there, since he does his own thing and has his own station and supplies and all. His sushi's pretty good; I had some today.

But at this job, I feel like Arthur Dent making sandwiches, or that guy in the Dean Koontz book whose day job as a fry cook at a diner gave him the emotional stability necessary to problem-solve for ghosts in his free time. Not that I deal with ghosts. Happily that talent, if indeed such exists, is one I lack. In terms of what's on top of my theory stack regarding ghosts, I'll give you a quick summary:

a) If there is such a thing as ghosts, they are part of a natural ecosystem which extends further than human science can currently measure. Whether it was designed that way by a knowledgeable entity or happened thusly for some other reason, if our ecology extends into the invisible, then I can assume the invisible side of it is structurally comparable to the visible side. Meaning it has lots of stuff for people and things to do.
b) If visible people deal with invisible people to any extent, it is at most (when done sensibly) an extremely tiny part of incarnate life. Thus, if there are invisible people, and things for them to do, it should follow that dealing with visible people would constitute an extremely tiny part of discarnate life.
c) Therefore those ghosts who have nothing better to do than hang around and bother those incarnate people who can see them are the spiritual equivalent of the homeless beggars one sees on street corners or in subways. They are there to take what they can get and should not be expected to have much of value to contribute. Because if they did, y'see, they would be off doing whatever it is alleged invisible people ought to be doing.

So ghosts neither frighten me nor concern me much. I don't perceive them myself, but if they exist, they are at worst nuisances and at best opportunities for benevolence.

What a bunny trail that was!

On to content update, and a word of explanation beforehand. I commend to your attention the internet monk, who may or may not be a monk, but is certainly a cool Christian guy with a thoughtful blog. He has recently been working on a series called "The Evangelical Liturgy" which is quite good: the latest post has links to the earlier ones.

However, a slightly less recent post of his entitled The Devil's Sermon inspired me to write a song. It was one of those things that I read which struck an instant chord. "Yes!" I said to myself. "This is the sort of thing which makes me so very angry!" After having had some time to digest and process those feelings, the following song emerged. It is a poor, poor shadow of a thing compared to Ravel at the war. It is whiny and small. The guitar chords that go along with it are grungy and make it sound a little less small, but still. I hope I can write more things in the future which, like "Ravel", are more about inspiring stories and less about my own frustrations. But I'm back on the horse (the songwriting horse) after more than a month's hiatus. So I wrote this and you get to read the lyrics if you wish, and perhaps you will enjoy them or at least find them interesting.

(Upon reflection I've decided to leave the s-word in the chorus unbleeped. So be warned, if you do not like reading it, because it is there.)

[it's not fair]

the Jesus
you tell me about
has nothing to do
with the fire in your eyes
forgive me
I'm starting to doubt
your words as
half substitutions and lies

if he's really there
if he really cares
why should I dig through
all this bullshit
it's not fair

the Jesus
I've read all about
didn't judge so harsh
he loved everybody
forgive me
I'm figuring out
just what is
so much worse about me

if he's really there
if he really cares
why should I dig through
all this bullshit
it's not fair

the Jesus
I started to see
till you pulled back
and your friends were laughing at me
forgive me
cause I do not know
if I want
to find Christ then where should I go

if he's really there
if he really cares
why should I dig through
all this bullshit
it's not fair

Miércoles con los Amigos Invisibles vol. 19: have a frank and productive Zaraday!

I have many things about which I wish to write. I will briefly name a few before getting on with this post: My new job as a part-time deli worker at Dominick's. (Back and feet very unhappy, brain very happy indeed.) These three posts at Bruce Droppings, wherein an ex-pastor talks about how the way Christianity is practiced in America today can exacerbate or even cause mental illness (with thanks to Geds for recommending them). A post at barkingreed which contains a wonderful, beautiful Wendell Berry poem, from which I selected my new "about me" quotation. It is a lengthy quote: originally I was torn between either the first two sentences or the last three. Since I think it is heinous, outside of strict academic writing, to post bits of a poem with "[...]" for a piece cut out, I included the whole section. And am quite pleased with it.

On with the post.

Earlier today Dave was asking me, "what do those letters in your blog subtitle stand for?" My answer--really the only sensible answer--is that "they are Discordian mumbo-jumbo which mean whatever a given individual takes them to mean, which more or less means that they mean nothing." More nothing, if one takes them to mean nothing, and less nothing if one takes them to mean something.

I did not go on to tell him that technically, they stand for "Paratheoanametamystikhood Of Eris Esoteric" and "Keeper of the Sacred Chao" (Chao is pronounced cow), respectively. I was quite pleased with myself for my restraint. Which of course now I have ruined, by going on to explain it anyway, in the less-useful literal way rather than the more-useful roundabout one. Alas.

On a whim arising from this exchange, I Googled Zarathud a few minutes ago and found that today is actually the holyday of Zarathud, patron saint of the season of Bureaucracy! Which, again, means more or less nothing. There are of course no hints anywhere as to how a dutiful student of a given Apostle is to celebrate said Apostle's day: this is only right and proper. My own view is that a ritual has value to oneself in direct proportion to the degree of participation one exerted in the design and execution of said ritual. By this measure, a ritual designed entirely by oneself but performed entirely by another is of the same value as a ritual designed entirely by another but peformed by oneself.

I feel I must mention a very important caveat, however. The "design" of a ritual includes not only the external components--words, gestures, costumes, props etc.--but also the psychological and emotional machinery by which one invests those components with the energy of one's will. So let's say that the outward plan for carrying out a ritual, as well as the symbol set in which it is framed, were authored by others. If a dutiful student were to design the whole internal part of this ritual for themselves and then perform the ritual themselves, it would have at least three-quarters as much value as a ritual of comparable potency which was that person's own creation from beginning to end.

When I use the word ritual above, the definition I have in mind is #8 on the dictionary.com list: "any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner." Yes, this can and does include rituals performed in a religious context. However, my remarks are meant to refer to ritual in the broadest possible sense, as it is my personal belief that all things are holy. Not all actions, thoughts or ideas are holy, but all things are holy. And persons are also things and thus holy in essence, though persons, by the power vested in them, may generate unholy actions and ideas from time to time.

Questions such as "what kind of 'value' should I take this to mean?" and "how am I meant to compare the 'potency' of one ritual to that of another?" are beyond my expertise to answer. If you are interested in how I came up with my own usable-but-incomplete answers to those questions, the story is almost certain to be longer than you would enjoy reading. Therefore I will not explore these matters further at the moment. For a similar reason I also will not, just now, undertake to answer the question "what do you mean by 'holy'?"

Instead, I will move on to another subject. No one is going to ask me about it, but I have thought about it carefully and have an answer prepared. Question in next paragraph, answer in the following paragraph, discussion to follow.

A quick read-about of the Discordian Saints, plus a more than passing acquaintance with yours truly, would seem to make it clear that the saint whose personality I most resemble is Sri Syadasti. This is the patron of the season of Confusion, whose full name is said to translate, "All affirmations are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense." The impression I have of myself is that I confuse as I breathe--constantly, with little effort and only occasional awareness. Confusion is natural and comfortable to me. It is my native habitat, the territory from which many of my perspectives on life and humanity arose.

Therefore it would be of very little use to me to consider myself a student of Sri Syadasti. We do not take the name of a religion in order to remain as we are. We take such names into our identities in order to become what we yearn to be. We do not, unless we are lazy to a truly unholy degree, become students of those who would teach us the things we already know.

One impression I have of the five seasons*, the five apostles**, the five elements***, etc., is that they are symbolic depictions of how human beings react to change. Let me give you as quick rundown using the seasons:

1. Chaos. "This new thing is totally cool. It's, like, awesome. Everyone should have some. Here, try it. No, seriously! C'mooon, it'll be fun. Please? Just listen to me tell you about this thing for just a sec--"
2. Discord. "Hey, this is MY thing! UR DOIN IT WRONG! No one ever said there was more than one side to this thing, so my side is the only correct one! Gyaah!"
3. Confusion. "Wait, this thing isn't just your thing and my thing. It's, like, like a lot of different things. There's more to this thing than meets the eye, man. It's almost like it's a thing, but it's really not a thing, or else it is but not exactly, and it's all mysterious, or something..."
4. Bureaucracy. "This thing is a thing in the following ways. (List appended.) The number of ways may be subject to change without notice in the following circumstances, known and unknown. (See chart.) Persons with appropriate qualifications may pronounce expert opinions regarding the thingness of stuff when their opinion is called for, and even though experts disagree regarding which experts are experts, their opinions shall be recorded as fact."
5. Aftermath. "The experts have all become liars. The stuff doesn't really involve things anymore. The mysteries became puzzles whose answers some jerk scrawled in pen all over the front of the workbook. And their spelling was bad, so the answers didn't even make sense. This sucks. I'm outta here."

The idea I have about this is, if one is aware that this series of states is going to happen, one has a better chance to adequately prepare for them.

It is much like Douglas Adams' description of astrology. Picture the universe as a piece of blank paper with very slight grooves in its surface. These grooves are largely invisible to the naked eye, and to feel them with a fingertip would crinkle the paper and alter them. But if you sprinkle sand or iron filings or pepper on the paper and give it a little shake, the granules will settle into the grooves, making them visible. So if the universe is the paper, then the symbol set one chooses is the granulated substance. And the little shake is the application of thought and effort.

Thus, when I sprinkled the abovementioned symbol set and gave it that shake, a useful thought occurred to me. Since my experience of life in general tended to be characterized by one phase of the process more than any of the others--namely Confusion--it would be most beneficial for me to focus my efforts on learning the lessons of the next phase--namely Bureaucracy.

Of course, using different "granulated substances" produce different ways of describing the subjective life experiences I am trying to understand. One of the things I think it is important to be able to do is to filter the same data through many different symbol sets, many different perspectives. I'm pretty confident this skill is one of the things Discordians are rather encouraged to do, although given the nature of Discordianism, it isn't really possible to be certain.

Now, if one can enter into a given perspective with complete sincerity--believe in its principles and precepts honestly and with unambiguous favor--then the information one gets from its use will be of a much, much higher quality. (See the discussion of rituals above for my reasoning on this point.) This holds true, albeit in a lesser degree, even if the belief is entered into temporarily and for the sake of argument. Any way you go about it, the more of yourself you can put into a belief system, the more its recommendations for your life will prove useful and have personal significance for you. The more you are able believe, the better will be the results you get from believing.

So, by putting as much of myself as possible into a given filter while I am using it, I get the best results. The more filters I am able to use, the more information I can get on a particular issue.

And in my view, the best course of action on any given issue is an action which is recommended by every filter I am able to use. That happens when, no matter which perspective, which set of beliefs I enter into, a particular choice is always among those recommended. This is the situation I refer to as "turtles all the way down."

Edward Current, an extremely sarcastic and parodic fellow, has a video entitled "I've converted to every religion (just in case)". He came up with it as a way to mock Pascal's wager. But I would do it, I swear to dog I would, in all seriousness, just for the lovely lovely information. Mmm...information. And the turtles, oh yes. The pretty happy turtles, of whom there are more every time I turn around and all of whom say they will be my friends. Just like the rocks on the beaches of Santraginus V! My capacity for belief is getting bigger all the time, always just barely behind my capacity to suspend disbelief and just barely ahead of my capacity for disbelief. Someday, if these trends continue, someday I do so hope I can give even the mighty Gödel's theorem a run for its money.



* Chaos, Discord, Confusion, Bureaucracy, Aftermath.
** Hung Mung, Dr. Van Van Mojo / Patamunzo Lingananda, Sri Syadasti, Zarathud, Malaclypse the Elder.
*** Sweet, Boom, Pungent, Prickle, Orange -- or as they are known in the Kingdom of Loathing, Sleaze, Hot, Stench, Cold and Spooky.

dude. seriously. cool.

Okay, okay, I know I'm posting like some kind of a...a thing that posts way too much today.

Partly it's because I will, as of Friday, almost certainly be employed at Dominick's. I've never worked in a deli before! And as of next Wednesday, I may very well be employed at an outbound call center. It involves reading from a script, getting stockholders to cast their proxy votes. If I am lucky, I will be able to simultaneously surf the internet, at least for KoL purposes. If not I will at least get to experience the Zen of scripted phone conversation.

But a few posts ago, my girl kisekileia suggested some of my issues seem to match up with Asperger's Syndrome. As a smart lady and an Aspie herself (is that one of those things you can say about other people? or only okay if you're a member of the category?) her suggestion carries weight with me. So I looked into it.

This article over at the Autism Society of America is a good introduction.

But what really piqued my interest was this page, which has diagnostic criteria. I'm'a copy-paste Gillberg's criteria, and bold those things which either do apply to me, or definitely did when I was a kid, before I started to do serious overhaul of how I interacted with people.

1.Severe impairment in reciprocal social interaction
(at least two of the following)
(a) inability to interact with peers
(b) lack of desire to interact with peers
(c) lack of appreciation of social cues
(d) socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior

2.All-absorbing narrow interest
(at least one of the following)
(a) exclusion of other activities
(b) repetitive adherence
(c) more rote than meaning

3.Imposition of routines and interests
(at least one of the following)
(a) on self, in aspects of life
(b) on others

4.Speech and language problems
(at least three of the following)
(a) delayed development
(b) superficially perfect expressive language
(c) formal, pedantic language
(d) odd prosody, peculiar voice characteristics
(e) impairment of comprehension including misinterpretations of literal/implied meanings

5.Non-verbal communication problems
(at least one of the following)
(a) limited use of gestures
(b) clumsy/gauche body language
(c) limited facial expression
(d) inappropriate expression
(e) peculiar, stiff gaze

6.Motor clumsiness: poor performance on neurodevelopmental examination

(All six criteria must be met for confirmation of diagnosis.)

The "imposition of routines and interests" thing still counts, I think, even though which routines and interests I focused on would change from time to time. Obviously I don't know if my motor skills were up to developmental par. On the other hand, I've always been kind of bad at sports, or anything that required non-choreographed coordinated movements.

Yeah, I know, it's dangerous to self-diagnose anything. Especially neuropsychological stuff, where a host of different symptoms can be readily applied to different disorders. And the psychologists I've had over the years never brought this up. On the other hand, since most of the criteria involve social interactions with peers, they wouldn't have really had a chance to observe it, and would have had to rely on the information I gave them.

It would be nice, though, to be able to point to some faulty brain wiring as one of several causes for the social awkwardness that caused me so much trouble. Very nice indeed. After the hard part's over, too, so I'm in much less danger of getting a complex about it.

some of the good guys

Talked with Amber on the phone again, and because I am extremely lazy, I'm putting up the links to some cool things I found here. In the blog window I already had open, rather than open a new window and put them in an email.

In addition to being that lazy, my other reason for posting these here is that I want everyone to see them, even though I told Amber about them first. Well, second, if you count Dave who was in the room with me and hence got to hear me go "squee!" for the birdy and the cake. And also weep for the cake. (Different cakes, though.)

In this Pleiotropy post, Scientica Pro Publica 9, there is a video of a crow that demonstrates one reason why they are my favorite bird. This crow has a straight wire and is confronted with the conundrum of a basket of food hidden at the bottom of a very tall glass. And this thing has a brain smaller than my cat's brain! And my cat can barely play fetch!

A tale of two circles by barkingreed. Just like there are two Americas, there are also two Christianities!

Charity, conclusions and cake over at slacktivist. Evangelism: UR DOIN IT RITE

More Geeky Cupcakes at geekologie. Including one that I want to find out who makes, so I can have it made for some birthdays next year:

And something I covet for my very own use and enjoyment:
:D For this, I would learn to sew a straight line by hand!

the distributive middle: part 2

(Even though this is more of a conversation, I like to start things off with a quote. The Rambling Taoist has been doing a verse-by-verse ramble through the Tao Te Ching, and this is one of the ones I really like.)

Stop being holy, forget being prudent,
it'll be a hundred times better for everyone.
Stop being altruistic, forget being righteous,
people will remember what family feeling is.
Stop planning, forget making profit,
there won't be any thieves and robbers.

But even these three rules
needn't be followed; what works reliably
is to know the raw silk,
hold the uncut wood.
Need little,
want less.
Forget the rules.
Be untroubled.

~ Ursula LeGuin rendition

(The below is as follows: Amber's quotes of my previous post in italics, Amber's comments in bold and blue, my responses in plain.)

"But an experience of this caliber in which the Great Big Thing of Refulgent Wonder and Unadulterated Joy came up to me in some way and said, "You should call me Jesus. That's my name, has been all along. Thought you should know." That would convince me."

If this is what you really, really want I will pray for it to happen. I have the joy and hope of salvation and want you to know that joy. It is strange to me the tormented twisty anguish that you seem to be feeling but how can I help. I am glad you are seeking answers.

I thank you as always for your support and good wishes!

However, I wish to nitpickily say that the above is not “what [I] really want.” It is what I would accept. I would not even then be terribly pleased about it, but I would be convinced.

What I've been trying to do in these posts is explain the tormented twisty anguish that is so strange to you. It’s what I was feeling, for those years when you and I did not talk to one another about what was happening inside us because we each had other concerns and other stuff to talk about. I am glad you had "the joy and hope of salvation" to sustain you during that time. The promise of salvation and of heaven after death was rarely joy and hope to me. If you’re up for a long, long bunny trail, I had a somewhat lengthy comment on this Geds post where I discuss it in some detail.

(Though I now, on reflection, want to point out there is a fourth option to the three I mentioned in that comment. A person can combine the mind-manufactured imaginary friend with a dimly-glimpsed recognition of the big, good thing and attempt conscientiously to bring the former gradually into alignment with the latter. It can be done, and I hope it is what the majority of nice people are working on deep in the bottom of themselves.)

And you are helping. You are helping me sort out my negative feelings about Christianity. When you can look and listen to my story that I spent too long being too ashamed and afraid to share, without treating me like a leper or rejecting me, that is helping. So even if it's not what you would most prefer, you are still doing something good for me!

Now, if only I could get a dozen Christians who are at least as willing to listen compassionately as you are, and a dozen atheists who could actually refrain from snarking at the Christians or calling them names long enough to really listen to their perspective. Then this crazy blog would be halfway to my goal for it!

My new goal, that is. It already served and outlived its original goal, which was to both provide me with a secure outlet for my crazy ramblings and enable me to use said ramblings as reference material in my continuing quest for a semblance of sanity. The tipping point was when I determined that ‘the sneakiest one knows where the rat faucet is.’ And no, I am NOT going to translate that, this tangent is long enough already.

"Things that are unlikely to convince me, or any other person whose mind is not yet made up, include things the Jesus described in the stories did not do, to the best of my recollection. He did not threaten people with hell, even by reminding them obliquely that hell exists."

Okay, I will have to stop sending you greeting cards that say things like Happy Birthday, I love you, oh by the way Hell exists just so ya know, Laterz!" Ok seriously from my limited Bible scholarship I actually agree with you on the whole sheol vs. lake of burning fire thing. (No, I repeat, no relationship to the movie Joe vs. the Volcano). I believe you understand that people are trying to be kind. For example if you saw people walking past you into certain death (insert humerously improbably form of certain death here) even though it was their life and their choice you might point out 'that way danger, easy to avoid, go this way instead'.

Teehee. No, you are not the person I was chiding with this statement, nor really this whole paragraph. I do get that when you bring it up, and that is rarely, it’s because you believe that this is true. And you don’t want to see your sister either a) suffer eternal torment and pain for rejecting the advances of the One True Love, or b) suffer eternal loneliness and regret for rejecting the advances of the One True Love.

My central issues aren’t as existential as Ryk’s—he finds himself unable to reconcile the concept of the perfectly loving ultimate being with a being who would consign any sapient entity to limitless torture while it still has the will and self-awareness to recognize its mistake. Ending the selection process at death seems kind of arbitrary for a being who invented the complex relationship between life and death, and has shown itself, according to the books, able to conquer both. But I’ve wrapped my mind the idea of hell and/or the grave to the extent possible given my extremely limited actual information versus the riotous host of claimed information. While it is a curious thing, it doesn’t pose a structural problem for me in terms of being able to expend effort to overcome my disbelief—certebus parebus, all other things being equal.

I appreciate your care, but I must point out that we still disagree about the location of the danger. In the place where you say there is danger, I have found refuge from harm. In the place where I remember there being danger, you say there is safety. If a random stranger came up to me on the street and earnestly told me about the dangers of hell and the joys of salvation, I’d feel kind of like Charlie the Unicorn in episode 3, after they’d already taken his kidney in episode one. (It’s a weird video, if you haven’t seen it, but definitely SFW.) I believe you that your God is not, in fact, after my kidney or whatever, but that is mainly because a) I trust you and am willing to take your word for it, and b) I am seriously doubtful that I have any metaphorical “kidneys” left to steal. This is therefore a matter which requires close scrutiny on my part.

Just please try not to overanalyze and think things. Analysis is good but your last couple have posts have seemed almost frenzied. Yes, eternal salvation is worth being excited over but remember. God is Love, you've read about that. Remember that fruit thing. Okay so it was talking about people being known by their fruit and a good tree brings for good fruit etc. I think God is like that too, the love of God does not bring frenzy and stress. (okay Mom, Pearl and I are reading a kind of cowboy up devotional that is about stuff like developing patience and character through hardship but that is different).

Ah, overanalyzing and overthinking. (I think I may safely assume you still wish me to think things—just not to overthink them!) Frenzied, eh? *shakes fist playfully* I’ll show ya frenzied!

Seriously, though, I am glad we had a chance to discuss this one on the phone. The tone of frenzy, as I mentioned then, may come from the fact that this part of my personal story is something I hadn’t “gone public” with, especially within the family, while it was happening. The main motives for the kinda-secrecy were fears--fear of being misunderstood, rejected, or oh-so-well-meaningly emotionally pressured into what I then perceived as a lifetime commitment to despair, self-loathing, shame, and worthlessness.

And “by their fruits you shall know them”, like most of the things said by the Jesus of the Gospels, is really very good advice even if one is not religious! My favorite thing to do is actually to take the logical inverse of statements like these; in my experience they actually have equal predictive power, and the different phrasing helps my brain not gloss over the advice as an oft-heard cliche.

“If you’re not looking at the results of their actions, you don’t really know them.”

“If it doesn’t set you free, it isn’t the truth.”

“If you wouldn’t want someone else to do it to you, don’t do it.”

I like the thing is says somewhere in the new testament about "God does not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a strong mind." I know you have a strong mind Viz and I pray for you to also have a spirit of power and love. Oh gosh, this is why I'm glad we read scriptures as kids, now I'm reminded of the perfect love casts out fear verse. Okay, I'm rambling back to your post.

Again, thank you for your good wishes.

I’m working towards a spirit of love; a spirit of power is something I’m decidedly not working towards in any specific way. As my guy Gareth Knight says, if you truly desire a thing, work to obtain its causal antecedent (that which causes it to exist). Love is antecedent to true power, so that seems to be the right track.

As to not having previously acquired those beneficial spiritual attributes through communion with God, who knows? Perhaps I was asking in the wrong way, or as I feared at the time, without sufficient earnestness. Perhaps the only times I actually experienced God back in the day were those “mountaintop experiences”, which with a few notable exceptions were mostly those big group sessions where the group’s emotions drove back the chaos in my own mind. Maybe all that baptism in water and baptism in the spirit and asking Jesus into my heart as my personal savior just didn’t take. "Sorry, none for you." If so, alleged God and I would have a few things to discuss if communications ever were established. Pointedly.

"Jesus did not sigh at and turn away and whisper over those who were being led astray. Instead he took people who had lost all hope, and helped them to see themselves through his eyes--as redeemable, as worthy, as wonderful.

Which is one of many reasons, many reasons I've gone into here and elsewhere, and some I've yet to name, that the idea of returning to Christianity in truth fills me with trepidation."

Golly, he just sounds so trepeditaion inspiring and annoying. Who is he to go around loving people and stuff.

"The person in those stories is a damn hard act to follow." So you want to follow that act? I am pleased to hear that. Perhaps you can encourage me to do likewise. That whole feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisioned stuff he instructed his followers to do is stuff I believe in but can be hard to remember when there is shiny cable and internet to be distracted by.

Heheh. Yeah, loving people is pretty audacious. It’s kind of like with listening to people. At one end of the spectrum, some soak it all up without seeming to get any benefit from it, while at the other end, some seem totally unwilling to receive it even when you desperately want to give it to them. Small wonder the guy in the stories got killed. If humans don’t eat one alive for trying to help them, they take mortal offense that one dared to offer them help.

It IS a scary example to contemplate following, even in small ways. Like you say, good and fun things in life are distracting. And the God you’ve described to me doesn’t seem like to sort who would want his followers to be eaten alive or killed. (Unless they decided they wanted to make a really, really important point by doing so.) Most of the preachers I thought were not full of hooey over the years advocated making the most of the places you already were. Loving people more than expected, helping people more than strictly necessary, listening to people whom no one else wanted to be around.

So hey, maybe if I were a follower of this neat imaginary friend, it would be easier to become that kind of person faster and more efficiently. In the meantime, I have a pretty happy life, and I perversely kind of enjoy doing anything the long way around. You get to know where you are better that way.

Especially (no offense meant, sweetie!) when I have grave suspicions that the shortcut involves chloroform and kidney thieves.

shiny things 2: the "diamonds?!?" edition


bright metal melts away.
Attention is the hardest thing
to pay.

Hi there, folks. This blog has been a pretty heavy place for the last little while, and I for one need a short break from all the deep thinking. That cinquain above is one of my favorites of mine (what an awkward phrase that is!). I hope someday to have an office with a desk over which I can have it framed. Cause, y'know, like my all-caps-having motto, tis a good thing to keep before my eyes on a daily basis. Though they are not fluid, like glass, or easily marred, like silver and gold, diamonds nonetheless decay. Slowly, over the course of centuries, a few at a time, atoms of carbon on the surfaces of the stone will loose their bonds with their neighbors and drift off into the air. Like water from the surface of a pond, or skin cells flaking off a body. In merely human timescales, yes, they provide a good image of permanence. But in the longer times needed to measure the ages of stones, stars, species--diamonds are not forever. The only things that last forever are the things you can't take back, the things that echo through time, that change whatever they touch. Which is why the hardest currency is attention.

Gah! You see what I'm like when I get my pontificatey-thing all revved up? I could go on like this for months!

And so in the interests of happiness, sanity, and warm twinkly feelings in the brain, I've decided it's time for another edition of shiny things. I want to focus on Dave's favorite among the gemstones: diamonds. (My favorite is probably opal, so don't you fellow opal-lovers out there get discouraged. I'll get to 'em.) Even all by themselves diamonds are pretty, though I think they do best as supporting players for more colorful stones. However, diamonds are more notable as symbols of wealth and opulence, and as such inspirers of greed, violence, and truly, truly bizarre design concepts. I'm talking about forms of weird which go way beyond mere aesthetics. So today's theme is: people do the darnedest things with diamonds.

Of course, no discussion of diamonds would be complete without bringing to the forefront the issue of diamonds as an excuse for slavery and bloodshed. The caption on this photo translates, "What price for these diamonds?" Which is one reason I'd be hesitant to go around buying diamonds even if I could afford them. I've read jewelers' forum posts where professionals expressed grave doubts about the reliability of "conflict free" guarantees on any stones. For the simple reason that somewhere along the chain you get back to the guarantee being only a given seller's unsupported word that, indeed, the things they're selling were not obtained by forced labor or as a result of murderous theft.

This was the same forum where I found an awesome explanation of how to tell real diamonds apart from simulants quite simply. Dad had left behind some shiny pebbles, and I wanted to double-check what they were without having to pay a jeweler's fee. The poster (alas that I cannot find this forum now!) put up a very good picture. He'd drawn two dots on a piece of plain paper and put two stones face-down on top of the dots. The man-made stone refracted the dot cleanly into a sharply-defined circle. The genuine diamond, being full of microscopic flaws and inclusions, scattered the image of the dot into an indistinguishable blur.

So if you ever find yourself in possession of a pile of shiny pebbles, give the dot test a try. One of these days I might dig some of Dad's old (hardly-used) jewelry-making supplies out of their boxen and try my hand at it, secure in the knowledge that I'm not trapping real, valuable stones in my clumsy creations.

This, however, just makes me a little sick. In a slightly different way than the violence does.

Who would do this to diamonds? Who would do this to a dog? Who would do this?!?!!

Perhaps this is part of the answer.
My first reaction to this diamond pacifier from Itsmybinky was something like this:

"Ha. Go on, website, pretend these are actually for babies, while in the next breath advising they are not recommended for actual use because the jewels are a choking hazard. Riiiight. Actual use by babies. What kind of moron is going to buy this little bauble for an infant who won't be able to appreciate the complex symbolism until they're too old to care? Oh, no, my friend. Roleplaying ain't just for geeks with dice."

But then I read that they were designed originally for Donald and Meliana Trump, as a souvenir gift for their infant son. So I guess somebody really is crazy enough to spend $17k on a pacifier the baby can't even use. (And I should get my mind out of the gutter.) Who knew?

See, I just didn't understand the price structure up at the top. If you want to buy a diamond-encrusted gift for an adult, a mere $17k will not cut it. Unless you're just, like, friends or something. This here diamond-encrusted wedding dress (dress design by Renee Strauss, jewel design by Martin Katz), for example, will set you back a cool $12 million.

Make sure you mark that down. In case you ever become the richest person in the world and want to walk around in / purchase for your female companion a dress with which you could conceivably purchase (or at least feed, clothe, and house) a small country. This is the dress for you.

Are you not marking this down in your dayplanners? I don't hear flipping and scribbling.

Dang. I guess we're all too poor to be able to really be stylish.

At least we can still surf the internet in style, though. Right?

Gaah! Nooooooo!

Not only must I live with the shame and uncoolness of not owning a Mac, I must now also live with the shame of not owning a diamond-encrusted, 24-karat gold Mac.

Woe, woe unto me. Well, I'd better go check the time. I'll just glance at my still-reasonably-cool cheap watch* to see if I can still make it to the store--

Wait, what?

Oh, the sorrow! Oh, the piercing envy which hath piercéd my organs in various hurtsome ways!

Just think of all the different places and events you could legitimately wear this. Any place where it would be appropriate to show off your extreme wealth in the form of diamonds mounted in a skullhead pattern, and where you weren't worried about your watch getting stolen. Anywhere you wanted, really. Except for work, bars, rock concerts, weddings, graduations, funerals...

Hmm. I suppose you could wear it to award shows. Assuming you got invited.

By the by, the website where I found this, geekologie, posts about some other really weird and interesting stuff. Like a gun operated alarm clock, running jackets made from blow-up dolls (nsfw), and a sandal for smuggling booze. Odds of you being able to wear/operate any of those on an airplane: close to zero. I think this guy goes on the science tab on my sidebar. Rock.

Moving on!

Here the artist Damien Hirst has taken the whole diamonds 'n' death theme in a startling and very, very expensive direction. This life-size diamond-covered platinum skull is entitled "For the Love of God" for some reason. It set a record for the most expensive piece of art sold by a living artist. What I want to know is, how the heck did an artist afford the materials to make this astonishing bauble of great and shiny creepiness? Blackmail? Extreme disco blackmail? Pilfering bits of pacifiers and dresses?

I didn't want to end on such a macabre image, so here's the Hope diamond. Gorgeous, huge, genuine, named something positive, and as far as I know, safely tucked away in a museum somewhere.


That's how diamonds should be.

*In the interests of accuracy, I do not in fact own a watch. I am a city dweller surrounded by banks with those flashing signs that display the time and temp, buses which display the time on a convenient little scrolling marquee up at the front, and endless passersby whom one can stop and politely inquire as to the time. (They all have cell phones for that purpose.) Even if I had a watch, I doubt I'd wear it, for much the same reason I let my earring-holes close. One less thing to compulsively check even when I don't need to be worrying about it. One less accessory get in the way of my movements, catch in my hair, fall off, or otherwise distract me more than it provides me with enjoyment.

P.S. Extreme disco
blackmail is my new favorite phrase. Aww yeah.