Friday, December 19, 2008

Word Play

So metonymy, which I referred to, is apparently not a subspecies of synecdoche, as I claimed, but -- interestingly -- is rather defined as whatever the hell you were talking about: the substitution for a thing of a second related thing.

A ha!

As it turns out, that term I was thinking of, asyndeton, means leaving out conjunctions in a list, as in:

I love sushi, football, breasts.

Asyndeton but then I found Jesus.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Haven't Played Racquetball in a While

SCOTT: I can feel the blisters forming on my feet. It's like I've got bubble wrap in my sneakers.

Do I Stand Alone?

VICTORIA: Really, anyone can start a non-profit, age doesn't matter.

SCOTT: I should start my own. In fact, I know exactly what its purpose will be: campaigning for the reintroduction of the wolf to Washington DC.

VICTORIA: It's about time. The squirrel population here is out of control.

SCOTT: Yes. Wolves will be fed a steady diet of squirrel meat prior to release to whet the appetite.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

'Tis the Season

CVS CLERK: That'll be twenty-five dollars. And would you like to donate a dollar to charity?

No. But thanks for making me feel bad.

Monday, November 24, 2008


LEAH: And how are things on the job front?

SCOTT: Not bad. A friend is helping out by sending my resume to a few people he knows. It makes me wish I had been nicer to more people in my life. Like, I remember this one time, this lion came up to me and said, "Hey, do you think you can get this thorn out of my paw?" And I was like, "Fuck off!" And now that lion works at Pricewaterhouse.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Facebook Status and the Meaning of It All

Mike Myers is thinking that its all one big cosmic joke.

Scott Scheule:
It's worse than that. It's one big cosmic joke, and it's being told by Dane Cook.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Willie

Today is the four hundredth anniversary of Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon.

I'd never seen it--actually pretty enjoyable. Also, more celebratory of animal cruelty than I'd have imagined.

Available here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

And there's a joke about not wanting to get pregnant again and the "SUFFICIENT" stamp

Hanah: Someone on my message board who had a baby the day before Charlie was born, just found out she's accidentally pregnant again.

me: Yay!

Hanah: That's not yay. That's oh my god, two kids less than a year apart.

me: I'd be excited, were it mine.
I'd say, Oops, I did it again. And I'd make that joke many times.

Hanah: you're not the one who has to be pregnant while carrying around a baby who can't walk

me: This is true. It's too bad women can't see things from our point of view.

Hanah: One of the documents on my desk is stamped SUFFICIENT.
Where can I get such a stamp?

Are you dropping hints for a Hannukah gift?


Just got a Sondre Lerche ticket. I believe this is the first time I'll have gone to a concert that wasn't classical since my high school Billy Joel phase. But damned if I don't love that Norwegian pop.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Someday I'd like to look into my genealogical origins. Someday I'd like to do some actual research, but until I find the time for that, there's a great shortcut: George Wackenhut. Nobody in my family has achieved lasting fame, to my knowledge, except my first cousin twice removed, George. George is, to my knowledge, the only one of us with a Wikipedia entry. George rocked: he made a massive amount of money, he despised hippies, and he referred to the first President Bush as "that pinko." Notably, he had chairs in his office made out of dead elephants.

What's more, George has had an 800 page book written about him. Not a best-seller, but interesting to devotees of the security industry.

The book has an impressive family tree including my great great grandfather, Johannes Wackenhut. The tree stretches back to the earliest known Wackenhut, Aberlin. Includes coat of arms. Aberlin was born in "1475 in Egenhousen, deep in the Nagold region of the Black Forest in southwest Germany." He was a farmer and a judge and my Great (12) Grandparent.

Johannes emigrated from das Vaterland in 1881, the first of his family to leave. He had served in the Prussian Army, but was too young for any of Bismarck's wars. He headed to Pennsylvania, like many German immigrants, because William Penn had guaranteed religious freedom in his state. He lived at 2311 Adams Street in Philadelphia, which apparently was a crappy part of town then and doesn't look much better now.

He married Christina, whose head was shaped like a walnut, and they had my Great Grandmother, Caroline. She went by Carrie. Apparently she was Catholic, and my great grandfather, Joseph Scheule, who was Protestant, couldn't care less. Joseph's father threatened to disown him if he married her. So he married her. And his father disowned him.

Much later, Joe's father -- my great great grandfather, who'd also been born in Germany -- pleasant man that he was, sued the son he had disowned for support. The judge sided with Joseph.

Anyway, I think I'm going to read cousin George's biography.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Still Have Trouble Understanding My Spanish Coworker

CARLOS: I heard there might be no tomorrow.

SCOTT: "No tomorrow?" My God, what's going to happen?

CARLOS: No. "Snow tomorrow." There might be "snow tomorrow."

Oh. That's a relief.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Visiting Richard and David in Ambler

Richard and David now have their own place in Ambler, Pennsylvania. They pay reasonable rent. The only catch, the floor has a sixty degree tilt. (The cat has to be tacked down.)

By the way, did you spot the pitcher shaped like a breast?

How about now?

Boob now brandishing boob.

Mom decides mammary pitcher is worth not having any children living at home.

Dad unpacks five months worth of Costco meat from cooler--perfect housewarming gift.

E.J.: suspicious.

Penn State game, classic rock, two bedroom apartment--Dad has flashback of college, forgets where he is, goes into twenty minute rendition of Whipping Post. Luckily, we allotted time for such an occurrence.

Puff is a very happy bunny. You can tell from her considerable second chin.

Photographer, acting suspicious.

Generally, we tolerate each other's company, but a little trip to the winery can't hurt, esp. given how David acts in public.

Richard's nonplussed.

Exploring lovely downtown Ambler.

More lovely downtown Ambler.

The evening's venue. (It used to be a train station--get it?)

Richard almost smiles.

Dad still unable to figure out how he nabbed such a good looking woman.


Opening chorus from production of Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare Theatre. All male cast. We laughed a lot, felt a bit uncomfortable when dudes kissed, then laughed some more. Wonderful production all around.

My Friday dinner. A Hawaii roll or some such. I was not aware fish roe came in so many different hues. Definitely a color scheme to save for the Yule.

The Scotch tasting. Note the earthy color of the twenty-one year old.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Jay and I went to a Scotch tasting. It all tasted like burning to me, but apparently various years were supposed to be reminiscent of orange groves, macadamia nuts, figs, and cherry blowpops. Anyway, the point is, we each had a few shots of a malt that apparently sells for $850 a bottle.

SCOTT: You know, Jay, I've been thinking.

JAY: About?

SCOTT: About the founding of Rome. Now, as I remember, the city was founded by Romulus and Remus. And some prophet said to them--"Look, we'll name it after whoever sees a sign." So the brothers walk off in opposite directions. Remus saw six white doves, and he figured, "Hey, I saw the sign." But Romulus went off and saw twelve white doves, and he thought: "I saw the sign!" Then they fought, because Remus said he was first and Romulus said he saw more, and Romulus killed Remus. So they named the city "Rome." Anyway, the point is, if Remus had won the fight, the city would have been called "Ream." So, in retrospect, it's good Romulus won.

I was going by memory. Here's how Wikipedia describes the event. You can evaluate the strength of my recollection.

Once Romulus and Remus arrived at the Palatine Hill, the two argued over where the exact position of the city should be. Romulus was set on building the city upon the Palatine, but Remus wanted to build the city on the strategic and easily fortified Aventine Hill (The Greek author Dionysius, however, places Remus' location at a place named "Remoria" after Remus himself. The precise location of Remoria is not known today). They agreed to settle their argument by testing their abilities as augurs and by the will of the deities. Each took a seat on the ground apart from one another, and, according to Plutarch, Remus saw six vultures (which were considered to be sacred to Mars, their father), while Romulus saw twelve.

Remus was enraged by Romulus’s victory. He claimed that since he had seen his six vultures first, he should have won. When Romulus began digging a trench (or building a wall, according to Dionysius) where his city's boundary was to run on April 21, 753 BC, Remus ridiculed some parts of the work, and obstructed others. At last, Remus leapt across the trench, an omen of bad luck, since this implied that the city fortifications would be easily breached. In response, Remus was killed.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Scheules... Unsober

SCOTT: I never saw The Strangers.

RICH: Liv Tyler?

SCOTT: Yeah... that one.

RICH: Huh... that must be... the... uh... sequel... to that existential book.

SCOTT: The Stranger?

RICH: Right.

SCOTT: Wow. I did not think that was the reference that was coming.


Dude, I thought you were going to drop a Billy Joel reference. But no, my man goes straight for the Camus.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gladiator Found

There must be a word for hardcore fans of Roman history. Romanophile? Latinophile? Regardless, I'm one of those.

They've discovered the tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, who was the inspiration (along with Narcissus, Commodus' actual assassin) for the Maximus character in Gladiator.

And when Macrinus died his son erected this magnificent tomb for him between the River Tiber and the Via Flaminia, the road leading north-east across the Appenines to the modern seaside resort of Rimini which Macrinus must have taken many times on his way to confront the Quadi and the Marcommani.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scheule Genius

SCOTT: So I usually spend two months between my haircuts, though I know I'm supposed to go once a month. But I finally found a reason to go monthly.

DAVID: What's that?

SCOTT: Incredibly hot hairdresser.

DAVID: Nice.

SCOTT: In fact, I've spent all day today trying to get my hair to grow so I can go back again soon.

DAVID: Makes sense.

SCOTT: Maybe I'll smear some Rogaine on my head. Ah! Or glue on a blue fright wig. 'Yeah, I don't know what happened, I just woke up and my hair had grown six inches and turned blue.' 'Huh--that seems to happen to you every week.' 'Well, you see, Vanessa, I live close to power lines, so...'

DAVID: I don't see how that could not work.


DAVID: One time I found this dead crow on the driveway, and I brought it to school. Then I just kept it in my locker for a while and waited until lunch--during lunch I slipped it into Billy's backpack, and positioned it so the head was hanging out.

SCOTT: That's ingenious.

DAVID: Yeah. He was walking out of class later and a girl behind him saw the head hanging out and started screaming.

SCOTT: I love that you saw a piece of roadkill and thought, 'What can I do with this?' For David Scheule, every corpse has a silver lining.

Monday, October 13, 2008


SCOTT: Right, but being O positive, the Red Cross has no intention of leaving me alone.

JOSHANA: I'm B positive.

SCOTT: A very optimistic blood type.


Saturday, October 11, 2008


Jay and I are essentially the same person. There are differences, but they're random; they happened because of some quantum collapse of a wave function, some modal shift in a lotto ticket. For example, I'm a right libertarian, and he's a left libertarian, which only means that he hates Republicans and Democrats but in a pinch will vote for a Democrat and I hate Republicans and Democrats, but in a pinch--if I voted--I'd vote for a Republican.

Also, the human population of the world divides itself into two pertinent groups. Some people have trouble falling asleep, and some people have trouble staying awake. I, of the former, listened to Jay, of the latter, hiccup after his eyes had closed during the movie we were watching.

And I tell you that tonight, somewhere, in some pocket of the human experience, genocides are indeed occurring. Lovers fated to be together are dying alone. Somewhere, the family pet has been run down by a careless driver who can't appreciate the enormity of his sin.

But, nevertheless, it's impossible not to smile, watching a movie and listening to my friend, now dreaming on the couch, his diaphragm periodically spasming, sounding high notes every ten seconds, his iPhone on his chest. I snap a picture, watch more of the movie and laugh by myself, then tousle his hair and say I'm taking off. He rumbles awake and says he's going to bed.

On the way home, the moon isn't whole, which would be perfect, and it isn't a sliver, which would be pathetic, but fat and pregnant with light. Sprinklers are working their shiny wet forcefields over the DC parks. A cab driver with an African accent is friendly as we swim through lights to Pentagon City.

And life is something to be cherished--isn't it always?

Friday, October 10, 2008


Scott: You know what they should call a museum about Salvador Dali?

what should they call the museum?

Scott: Dali-wood.

no comment
oh wait.
I decided earlier today that instead of "no comment", I'm now going to say "further affiant sayeth not"

Shall we try it again? Ask me what they'd call the musuem.

Hanah: what would they call it?

Scott: Dali-wood!

Hanah: further affiant sayeth not
how did that work?

Scott: I feel really put in my place.

Hanah: haha
I hope you're putting this on your blog

Scott: Ha, I can if you like.

Hanah: further affiant sayeth not

Scott: But don't overdo it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Cloudy days are too
But the tropics are too hot.

So I thought
That someday –
A long way
Away –
God’s going to have to craft me a heaven.

For others, too.
A few.
(Scarcely better.)

Here’s a tip from me,
Mr. Gee Oh Dee:
Better start your plans
Sooner than

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Works Cited

In 1919, [Joseph Schumpeter] agreed to join a commission on the nationalization of industry established by the new socialist German government. A young economist asked him how someone who had so extolled enterprise could take part in a commission whose aim was to nationalize it. "If someone wants to commit suicide," Schumpeter replied, "it is a good thing if a doctor is present."

Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers


October 3rd, 2008

This evening’s program with the National Symphony was an overture by Beethoven, followed by his fourth piano concerto, and after intermission, Shostakovich’s Fifth. I bought a chorister ticket, because: 1. I’d never been in the chorister, and I was curious, and 2. chorister seats are cheap. You have to go through a box to get to the chorister, and there you are, nestled between organ pipes behind the stage, looking down a cliff at the tops of the musicians’ heads. The conductor faces you the entire time, and you feel as if you’re, if not part of the symphony, liable to be drafted at any moment. Which, for those of us completely bereft of talent, is terrifying.

Oh, and some jackass booed, loudly, after the National Anthem. Who does that? Nobody paid much attention: we all were embarrassed—not by the guy, but for him.

The view from the chorister is good—more on that later. My guess as to the reason for the affordability of the seats is that the sound is rather muddy, which isn’t surprising, as the orchestra’s arranged to project music in the opposite direction of us choristers. So while we get ample percussion, the woodwinds are strangely distant, and even the piano comes out sounding over-pedaled.

But from my perch, I also got to see Hélène Grimaud’s adorable tush every time she bowed. I personally, heroically, kept clapping long after she finished the concerto, bringing her out once, twice, and then the hat trick, to bow again and again.

I came for the piano concerto, which is a piece I’m fond of, but I was most moved by the Shostakovich. The symphony is—and I mean this term as a positive—gruesome. Lonely melodies in the woodwinds, interrupted by snide marches, and now and then a plaintive swell of strings. There’s a disgusting waltz that left me feeling ill, tense. I’m seldom so affected by a performance, much less by a piece by a composer I’m not particularly fond of.

In the chorister, the percussion-heavy finale actually shook the seats.

Shostakovich was the most prominent victim of Stalinist censorship. It’s an open question as to whether Stalin actually disliked his music, or simply needed a whipping boy to keep the rest of the Soviet artists in line. Nowadays people like to read hidden dissent in all his pieces, finding in his sycophantic odes to Communist glory some buried message of protest.

Some of this is a snipe hunt. But, nonetheless, the Fifth Symphony’s finale, entirely hammered out in D minor, ends in a sudden blare of major, timpani notes bouncing, brass unleashed. It’s hard to believe this was anything but kowtowing to the authorities, for ending in minor would be tragic, and what source for sadness could there be in the Soviet state? So a howl of agony ends in a cheerful smirk.

The effect is ridiculous. Even after the major takes over, the composer throws in a few discordant notes (but not too many!) to make us question the authenticity of this sudden joy. And the percussion is too heavy, everything far too loud, and the irony is there, even if kept as ambiguous as safety demands. But sarcastic or not, it still sounds silly and incongruous, and I wish he could have written the ending he’d wanted and the piece deserved.

Leah’s short friend—whose name I don’t know to spell and whom I will thus, in the spirit of political correctness, simply refer to as the Smurf—commented that live performances must be so distracting for the classical music lover, for he can no longer concentrate solely on the music, but rather has his attention continuously drawn by the movements of the performers. I agree—if I want to learn a piece, attending a performance is a lousy method; I prefer finding a score on the IMSLP and following along.

Still, the Shostakovich had my full attention.

I’ve been listening to lectures on economic history. As to the Marx lecture, which I enjoyed: at some time I ceased dividing people and ideas into groupings based on good and evil, and began rather to distinguish things based on what is interesting and what is not. I’m happier for that, though less zealous.

Friday, October 03, 2008


9:00 EST/ 8:00 Central

The VP debate's getting started.

SCOTT: I'll watch, but I'm going to have to drink.

JAY: That's all right. I've got a full bottle of Scotch.

9:15 EST/ 8:15 Central

SCOTT: We're out of Scotch.


I want to say something, but I don't want it to be gay.

Go for it.

JAY: You look really good lately. Muscular, and you've lost weight.

Nothing gay about that... So... you want to make out?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Cultural Sensitivity Fail

SCOTT: Have a happy Rosh Hashanah?

JOSHANA: I did. Matzah ball soup!

SCOTT: So, tell me, do you celebrate the real New Year's too? Or just the fake one?


October 1st, 2008

My great aunt had a stroke and is rapidly dying. She’s currently unaware of her surroundings. She was or is—depending on theological niceties—a lovely woman whom we’ll miss terribly.

Death was not something I dealt with frequently as a child. Something about the spacing of the generations. But in the past eight years or so, relatives have fallen off more frequently, as if the crop had ripened and is now ready for harvest.

I am sometimes aware, after a long conversation with someone I love, of a terrible fear. I’ll put down the phone, a smile on my lips over some closing joke between us, and be floored by my own affection for the friend, the family member, and like a cold shower the thought comes: what about when something bad happens to that person?

I don’t mind my own pain when it comes. My old fears and depressions have been with me since puberty threw my brain out of whack, and I’ve pearled them all over so they sit in me, large but smooth. And new pains I can handle—I know how to rationalize away their sharper corners, how to act on them and distract from them. God has yet to strike me with anything that can’t be suffered through and eventually poeticized away.

But sadness in other people, people I love, is different. I have no access to it, no clue how to handle it, how to get a hold on it, how to make it stop. When people I love hurt, and I’m left with nothing but bromides to keep repeating like a white incantation, I understand why people pray.

So, for example, I’ll think after talking to David: “My God, I love that kid.”

And I pause, and realize the gaping vulnerability stuck open in me.

I suppose we all bleed for each other. We play music on a doomed ship.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

An Alito-Scalia Mix Up I Could Understand

SCOTT: In fact, I've met Justice Thomas. I saw him in a restaurant in Delaware and went over and tapped him on the shoulder. I introduced myself and told him it was my birthday. He said, "Well, happy birthday, Scott."

LEAH: I can't believe you tapped Justice Scalia on the shoulder.

SCOTT: Thomas.

LEAH: What did I say?

SCOTT: Scalia. I guess all originalists look alike to you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Goy of Learning: Multiculturalism with My Favorite Jew

Hanah: he's at day care now

me: And you've nothing to do.

Hanah: are you kidding? I'm cooking rosh hashanah dinner

Of course I was kidding. I would never forget Rosh Hashanah.

Hanah: heh

It doesn't seem fair that you get two New Years. I don't want you celebrating the other one.

Hanah: it's also my Jewish birthday

So you get two birthdays? How does that work?

I'm 27 and 28 at the same time

me: My good friend Hanah turns out to be in a state of quantum superposition.

exciting, isn't it?

I had no idea you were so unstable.
Well, some idea.

for 19 days this year!

So is every Jewish birthday just the normal one plus 19?

i'll explain when i have my other hand back

me: I'm not sure I want to know.

breast pump

I was right.

could be worse

At least the financial sector's doing ok.
Wait a tic.

I forgot about charlie for a few minutes. Am I a bad mom?

No, it's ok, because I happened to be thinking of him for those few minutes.


me: Anytime.

FanoftheSitcom227 (10:48:14 PM):
i'll have to watch

Remy Boncouer (10:48:32 PM): Plus it's a decent movie besides. And Vivien Leigh is gorgeous.

Remy Boncouer (10:48:38 PM): Or was. When she wasn't dead.

Remy Boncouer (10:48:41 PM): Isn't that always the way.

Works Cited

Of course, it wasn't long before the water turned silty, brackish and then disappeared altogether. As cruel as Caldwell B. Cladwell was, his measures effectively regulated water consumption, sparing the town the same fate as the phantom Urinetown. Hope chose to ignore the warning signs, however, preferring to bask in the people's love for as long as it lasted.

Little Sally
What kind of musical is this?! The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart.

Like I said, Little Sally. This isn't a happy musical.

Little Sally
But the music's so happy!

Yes, Little Sally. Yes it is.

Such a fever. If only I had a cool, tall glass of water, maybe I'd have a fighting chance.

But don't you see, Mrs. Strong? The glass of water's inside you, it always has been.

It has?

Of course it has.

Mark Hollmann, Greg Kotis, Urinetown

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Old Movies

Seven years ago, I rented Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, found it awful, and decided that all old movies were overrated. But last month, Todd insisted I watch a few Hitchcock flicks. I've seen most of the oeuvre at this point--and they're all brilliant. So I've misjudged classic cinema.

I'm watching Gone With the Wind now, which is also wonderful.

What other old movies are worth watching?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Natural Numbers

I've gotten hooked on Teaching Company lectures--they're typically about 12 hours long, covering various topics (there's a link to the left that goes to Goodreads, where I've listed ones I've completed). I'm currently on a mathematical one--the proof just given is cute:

Hypothesis: Every natural number is interesting.


1. Suppose any natural number is not interesting.
2. Is there any natural number less than that number that is not interesting?
3. Yes?
4. Well, what's the smallest natural number that isn't interesting?
5. Now, isn't the fact that that number is the smallest number that is not interesting... interesting?


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Works Cited

Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is.

Terry Eagleton, Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching

The Self

September 23rd, 2008

I had a thought while writing another entry. I imagined a drastic change inflicted on a person, such that the determinant is nearly entirely new. Picture Phineas Gage, picture Holocaust survivors, picture schizophrenics drugged into normalcy. These are changes wrought from the outside—and sharp changes, to make them clear examples—but we can picture more organic transformation.

The best example, for me and I suspect for many, is the difference between me and me ten or twenty years ago.

I don’t have much in common with him. Some threads are the same, but what he held sacred—love, God, a conviction that the world is a very cold and hopeless place—I jettisoned (sometimes I wonder if this was prudence or cowardice). When I find a piece of him, like a poem I wrote for Mrs. Taylor’s class, or a picture of me with glasses and braces, I don’t recognize it as me. The feeling’s the same as finding something similar by my grandfather; I think here is something related to me, and special because of that—but did I do it? No.

I read things from two weeks ago, and I think: “I remember writing that.” But the farther we go into past—five years, let’s say—the harder it is to identify with the author. I think, “Look how silly, or blind, or stupid he was.” If you criticize, I’ll heartily agree. And, what’s more, I won’t feel ashamed—because he isn’t me. I have pieces of him, yes, but no more than twins have pieces of one another, and I have genes from my father and mother. But twins are different, and I’m not my father, and I’m not my mother.

In the other entry, I was trying to remember a crush I had a long time ago, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t get into the same mindset—I didn’t know why I did what I did, what it was like to be the person who did what I did. He was so fragile, and so fervently and even sweetly in love. He went to the practice rooms in the bottom of Scales at midnight to moan sad songs. Who I was, him, he proved impenetrable to me, holding things secret from his future self, perhaps because he thought I’d judge him for it, which I would, and criticize him, which I also would.

What governs the pieces I deem me? What is the rule for which action I’ll say, “Yes, I did that, me!” and those which I’ll say, “I did that, but I was a different person.” It’s not pride—I’ll own up to plenty of embarrassing things, and eschew things that would do me proud. (When, for instance, my mom tells me the complexity of books I read at a very young age, I feel pride, but it’s the pride a parent would feel when his child does something proficient, ahead of his age.) Is it temporal proximity? But why should that be the metric?

I thought, “What if it’s voluntary? What if I select the things I want to be a part of myself? What if this happens at every moment, every second a culling of the things we will own up to, a choice made from the much larger selection of everything we might say is ours?”

So I tried it. I thought about actions I’d taken I no longer want to be my parts, and I—I didn’t let go—I abstracted, I stepped back, I looked at them the way I’d look at somebody else’s behavior: interesting, perhaps, but that’s all. And I just failed to collect those pieces.

It was, surprisingly, and I imagine deceptively, easy.

Still, a sudden sensation of novelty and relief pervades. And an almost painful sense of loss.

I’ll probably abandon this particular writing in the future.

Nozick’s theory of the self in Philosophical Explanations is similar.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More News on the Pet-Nouveau Front

Scott: It just hit me--perfect pet: the bat.
But I looked it up, and apparently they're really miserable in captivity--but I bet dogs and cats were like that too at the beginning.

How much space do they need?

I dunno. Maybe you can just put a little house in your backyard and get them to return.

So if you domesticated it it might be OK.

I don't know. I'll have to talk to a bat expert.

But it'd be fucking awesome to walk around town with a bat on your shoulder.
Or hanging from under your arm or something.

Holy shit. Or a little leash?


Bumblebee Bats! How much space could they really need?

They're small, but cool.
And they eat bugs. Also good.

And endangered--we'd be doing the world a favor by raising more of them.


Plus, it's about time we groomed a species to take over after us, you know, after we all destroy each other.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


September 21st, 2008

Love is a Jonestown cocktail crafted by self-conscious scientists in preparation for a wild spring break. Love is a childhood sweetness that gets thoroughly and delightfully dirty. Love is an anarchy of plumbing, tipped vats of fluid roaming the ocean-spanning interstates of arteries and barreling around the hallways of themselves to form episodic, ever chaotic, microcosmic tides, eddies, pointless, hallucinogenic maelstroms, a surf’s up around the legendary monuments of the body—smell the brain that bore the charge, hear the heart that sped it, taste the organs that thrust it home, and touch the soul that bled it—coasting on waves crashing down aortal sluices and vena cava corridors, then to feed the intricate capillaries which appear in the interstices of the flesh like forests of figure eights, invasions of tiny eels, dazzling floods of infinity symbols, to reemerge no less the potent, the colony of silly blood cells set to dance the endless jig of being, which is the spirit of that original jubilant mosh pit, populated in old by the newborn and joyous stars, the first condensate of the cosmic spittle.

Love, life’s MacGuffin, dribbled down the rim of grails, washed ashore on unmanned isles, smoothed by centuries. Love, the historiographic infection, killed its every traitor. Love seasons stories and when we dare to be so gauche as to sterilize the specimen with our spotlights it mutates its every bit, over and over, until it drips with ten thousand teratomatous purses, and even then nothing stops its reinvention until the monstrosity has becomes original again. Love is the working hypothesis of every motive and is shoved into the police lineup no matter its alibi during the night in question.

Love is Ivesian, a syncopation at its finest and a static crackle at its most common, a cross rhythm of ramming heartbeats and cash register trills, muscular explosions and our words, squeaky with tenderness then rich with hunger, and our worlds, fun with friends and then futuristic with children, who steal the torch, never realizing we purposely left the display case unlocked.

Love dies slow deaths in nursing homes, where the dementia etiolates spouses that have become as familiar as birthmarks and as old as furniture. There love melts in agonizing slowness, evaporating like the water in a forgotten reservoir, exposed to the hot and cancerous sunlight each day until nothing remains but a memory of moist earth.

Love is rationalization par excellence, a pantomime we began at the first arching electric discharge of attraction, where something about her voice or his eyes or her skin or his nose took no prisoners, sparked the gas, carved up the atoms, and started the whole corrugated self-deception apparatus bubbling.

Love is a gamble with the problem of induction, and so those who don’t feel it will say they do and those who do will say they’re not sure. Love’s fruit is sparse and often inedible, but no one seems to care and I don’t see why I should either. And so love sometimes combs the coastline, a majestic beacon that winks forever at the curtains of waves, their shuddering mass striped with the reflection of the moon like a line of scrambled, snow-colored yolk, and so we may conclude that even alone love is proud, locked in a limbo that may be a wait and may be a death sentence and may be nothing more than what it claims to be: a touch of something beautiful, hidden in the heart.

Love is my favorite irrationality.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Works Cited

Zeno, the disciple of Parmenides, having attempted to kill the tyrant Demylus, and failing in his design, maintained the doctrine of Parmenides, like pure and fine gold tried in the fire, that there is nothing which a magnanimous man ought to dread but dishonor, and that there are none but children and women, or effeminate and women-hearted men, who fear pain. For, having with his own teeth bitten off his tongue, he spit it in the tyrant’s face.

Plutarch, The Moralia


LEAH: I'm not worried--our neighborhood seems to be pretty safe.

Actually, a friend of mine was stabbed in that neighborhood.

Stabbed? Ouch.

You think that's bad--someone I knew was beheaded.

Oh yeah? How's he doing?


Mark is not only the oldest of the gospels, but also much shorter than the others, leaving out the story of Christ's birth. The Greek apparently leaves much to be desired as well. Matthew and Luke, as I understand it, copied Mark's work and spruced it up, as well as elaborating at both ends of Jesus' life.

To their detriment.

For evidence one need only consider the undeniable genius of the original version of Mark, which ended at verse 16:8, so that the conclusion takes the following pendent form (from the King James):

[1] And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

[2] And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

[3] And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?

[4] And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.

[5] And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.

[6] And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

[7] But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.

[8] And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.

No resolution at all, just an empty tomb, and three taciturn and frightened women. What pregnancy.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Works Cited

“Prisoner at the bar, you have been accused of the great crime of labouring under pulmonary consumption, and after an impartial trial before a jury of your countrymen, you have been found guilty. Against the justice of the verdict I can say nothing: the evidence against you was conclusive, and it only remains for me to pass such a sentence upon you, as shall satisfy the ends of the law. That sentence must be a very severe one. It pains me much to see one who is yet so young, and whose prospects in life were otherwise so excellent, brought to this distressing condition by a constitution which I can only regard as radically vicious; but yours is no case for compassion: this is not your first offence: you have led a career of crime, and have only profited by the leniency shown you upon past occasions, to offend yet more seriously against the laws and institutions of your country. You were convicted of aggravated bronchitis last year: and I find that though you are now only twenty-three years old, you have been imprisoned on no less than fourteen occasions for illnesses of a more or less hateful character; in fact, it is not too much to say that you have spent the greater part of your life in a jail.

“It is all very well for you to say that you came of unhealthy parents, and had a severe accident in your childhood which permanently undermined your constitution; excuses such as these are the ordinary refuge of the criminal; but they cannot for one moment be listened to by the ear of justice. I am not here to enter upon curious metaphysical questions as to the origin of this or that— questions to which there would be no end were their introduction once tolerated, and which would result in throwing the only guilt on the tissues of the primordial cell, or on the elementary gases. There is no question of how you came to be wicked, but only this— namely, are you wicked or not? This has been decided in the affirmative, neither can I hesitate for a single moment to say that it has been decided justly.["]

Samuel Butler, Erewhon

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Windlover

I caught your cadence, cooed in another’s voice—her choice of clauses
Cleaved with air, there! the twin of your tattoo, which clip-clops
Down the cobbled pitch of a cathedral tone—that yours alone: how it drops
In caverns of caramel and buckles stone. Tempo, pulses and pauses
Beating fresh between the terms, the rhythm draped on the stranger’s verbs, flung
As high as a bird unbound, each sound unwound and set to soar
On the winged wish of the word—I almost heard the thrumming reeds that moor
The silken syllables you swirl in the world behind your tongue.

Not you, I knew, but each trace chased, each collage cut collected by hand
One more mote of the wild winter that whirls
From the bursting pane of glass. And my love has lit each shard with a band

Of light so rare it colors the numbing night—and the coming white pearls
Of snow. So my heart hears the hum, the substance and the sand
Of you, not you, you, Osiris in the dew of a thousand scattered girls.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

From Class to Crass: Literary Announcement to Yo Mama Dadaism, in Six Easy Steps

Scott Scheule:

If you didn't know, Stephenson's latest has hit stores.

Jay Tamboli:

Damn. Now I really need to finish Infinite Jest.

Scott Scheule:

I don't think that book's finishable.

Jay Tamboli:

Xeno's Paradox.

Scott Scheule:


Ease up on the dianetics.

Jay Tamboli:

It's a Greek name, right? I bet either spelling is acceptable.

Scott Scheule:

Nope, just the one.

I bet either spelling of your mom is acceptable.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Existential Prayer

Ah, Meaning, you who contoured the neural muck and set its slave limbs to dance,
You who left Eden’s door ajar for the coming of the waddling snake,
Seduce my soul and crease my mind
And tug me taffy-thin
So the mortician will know how to paint the expression I merit.

Ah, Meaning, you who splash us with sticky sex and lay mines in the moments of our love,
You who ruined the children and pushed them into the labyrinth stinking of meat,
Retreat into the citadel of the cells
Where you play the piper for the meiotic march:
Ride the cramping crests of our hearts while you plot.

Ah, Meaning, you who dangled duchies before the eyes of Caesars and Khans,
You who drew borders in the sand and summoned cyclones,
Keep the blood of the enemy honey-sweet,
Candy the brains and salt the muscle;
Hide the ploughshares up your sleeve like the ace.

Ah, Meaning, you who infected God and passed from Him with the Genesis spark,
You who gild the seraphim they nailed to our eyes,
Ring us now with our halos of thorns
And electrodes of brotherhood;
Cull our daughters so we remember the lands where the daughters are already dead.

Ah, Meaning, the bisque of my veins and the cosmological constant,
You who evade scientific vagaries and rule stronger as myth,
Give no quarter, spare no dime,
Litter no breadcrumbs and ignore my prayer.
Only flash once a decade out of some desperate dusk, so we may clutch a thousand dawns undeterred.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


The blastula blisters like the eye of a bee,
Foamy cancer,
And monstrous by the blood,
Affixed to the vine and soul of her mother.
Does she swell as the rutting oil, does she thrust beneath the earth?
Has she gathered her sweet pus
And fed her brood?
(For she knows the gentle magic to twist the carbon in.)

She unravels like a bat, limbs reaching out of its ink-drop form:
Four fat caterpillars or roosting anemones
Desperate for the self-made spark of the world.

The tuneless tuba of her heart
The itch of the nerves
The oily down and the lingering tide of this womb-bound sea—
All to drop like a walrus
Fisted through a faucet,
And the trek like life in the beginning, when Eve suspected no end.
She slips, she plummets, she demands the breath
To announce in that soon lost neonatal tongue:
“I am here! I am here! I am here!”
And so you are, my darling girl.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What I Learned Today

What do Bob Dylan's Lay, Lady, Lay and Clapton's Lay Down Sally have in common?

ANSWER: They use the wrong verb. "Lay" is transitive. "Lie" would be correct. Unless Clapton was instructing some guy, probably drunk, to lay down Sally before he drops her or bumps her head into the chandelier.

True grammarians also insist Layla should be Liela.

In addition, behold the interrobang.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I am a Genius

A Long Island–shaped cloud centered the sky,
Stuck in its throat a quarter of lemon,
Which was the moon, past the broke down jaws
Of the fish, shining through cumulus scales.
I thought of an X-ray in a sitcom:
Framing the lambent ghost of a toy car
Or a wedding ring in safe deposit
In the aching stomach of a child.

The door splits wide. “Please! Help my fish!” I say.
“Fish?” says Doctor One. “Fish?” says Doctor Two.
“But this is a people hospital.” One.
“Not a fish hospital.” That’s number Two.
“He ties the aquarium together,”
I say, “Oh please help.” “Very well,” says Two.
“Let’s get him in water,” says Doctor One.
“Brilliant move, Doctor One!” is Two’s reply.
“Throw him on the slab,” Doctor One commands.
“And get the lead apron,” advises Two.
The machine hiccups. The fish somersaults.
Doctor One: “Ah, I see the problem now.”
Two, M.D.: “He’s got citrus of the throat.”
“Out damned lime,” I say, “Out!” “No good,” says Two,
“It’s terminal. Is there any family?”
“Tetras and loaches, schools of angelfish.”
“I don’t want to tell them.” Doctor One weeps.
“No, no,” I say, “This can’t be Herbert’s end.”
“One treatment,” says One, “Experimental.”
“Anything.” “Throw him in a glass,” says Two,
“Add two shots Gin. Brim with tonic. Stir well.”
“Purple parasol. We’ll drink the lime out.”

Now a blob, a vaporous amoeba
Full of drizzle and soot, meaning nothing
And never to be a lamprey again.
But the moon’s been passed; it straggles behind
Like a radioactive kidney stone.
Clouds float forever. Or they become rain.


SCOTT: I've been thinking that the secret of racquetball is not, as I thought, in the shoulder, but in the wrist.

JAY: Yeah?

SCOTT: Today, I've been snapping my wrist a lot to hit the ball and it's quite effective.

JAY: I don't know. My best days have been ones where I swing from the shoulder.

SCOTT: But listen. If the secret's in the wrist, that would explain why I do so lousy those days after I work on my arms in the weight room. Whereas today, when I did my legs and shoulders, I feel fine.

JAY: Tough to say.

SCOTT: Also, this explains something else--why are you shaking your head?

JAY: Because you're going to say something about masturbation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Plotting the evolution of the human species thus far, using the measures of over fourteen noted experts, leads to the inescapable conclusion that we are, as a race, approaching a sort of intellectual singularity. If this trend continues, as we have every reason to suspect it will, barring nuclear calamity or a whole shitload of Sasquatch attacks, eventually the race will produce a being so intelligent that he will be able to do all the activities of traditional human beings, but with more skill. Thus, he in turn will be able to create a being smarter than himself, and the successors will repeat the process at a faster and faster clip, until intelligence advances towards positive infinity.

The first genius being will be known as Charlie Volokh, and today he entered the world weighing a mammoth 9.5 pounds, nearly all of that brain. I wasn't there, but I assume his telekinetic powers displayed themselves soon after the birth. With his advent, the Human Age has ended, and the Era of the Volokh has begun.

So bring it, Big Foot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hollywood Widow

August 11th, 2008

When I say I met Jack Warden’s widow a week ago, I mean I narrowly escaped her. I didn’t know who Jack Warden was until I looked him up, then instantly recognized him as the grandfather from Problem Child. (I apologize, Jack, but I can’t control the order of my associations. For what it’s worth, you were great in Being There.) Of course, I didn’t know who she was when I first sat down in the row ahead of her, on a southbound train taking off from Penn Station.

I eavesdropped. Not purposely—I was trying to read a Bradbury book—but her voice, spritely and cheerful, was not to be ignored. Biographical clues trickled out. I realized the two boys she talked to across the aisle—behind me—were not acquaintances, but strangers she’d seized. They sounded French, and, as it turns out, were.

She was not. I can’t recall her origin, but I remember she mentioned it, among the sea of things she mentioned. Nicaragua, perhaps. Honduras. Maybe Mexico—regardless, she later lived in France. Her and the French boys shifted languages without warning, mid-thought, mid-sentence: English, Spanish (which I could follow), and French (which I could not) formed a cosmopolitan braid.

She lives in Georgetown. A recurring theme of the discussion was sites to see around DC, mainly museums. Apparently, this was to be the youths’ first time there, and she wanted to make sure they saw everything of note. She dropped that she’d married a famous actor, but the name was yet to come.

The French kids were just kids. They were mildly interested in the chattering woman, and offered the occasional rejoinder or jumping off point, but you could tell they were trying to read or texting someone. The entire car could tell, though Warden’s widow could not.

We learned how she came to the United States. We learned her opinions on art—Picasso came up, I believe. More accurately, we learned a third of all this, the remainder occurring en français or en español, but we pieced it together.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Train travel hypnotizes me, a haze of white noise stirred by the metronomic click of the wheels. Perhaps I dozed. But every minute or so a tinkle of laughter erupted and I snapped awake.

I suppose I envy her. Keeping a dialogue brewing for thirty minutes takes all my concentration—performing a two hour monologue, as this woman ended up doing, is completely beyond my powers. It’s not that I want to talk that much—much less about myself—but I’d like the option.

She acknowledged that she primarily talked about herself and defended with something like, “It’s the subject I know best.”

We went through French politics and the Prime Minister’s engaging wife. This segues nicely into the American Presidential election, and so the conversation went. The topic churned for awhile—mandatory praise for Obama—but how we happened upon the following, I don’t recall:

“Now slavery was awful, terribly awful, just evil,” she said, “But it was so long ago! We have to move on from it. How long can you blame the past?”

Maybe this was the point her husband got his second mention. This time the French kids asked for the name; I overheard and Googled. She returned—she always did—to the topic of DC sites (to her credit, she omitted the Spy Museum). She wanted the boys to call her, and she’d lead them to everything of note.

Some thread of conversation eventually roped me in: she was fumbling for the name of an artist she met once, and started describing his oeuvre. The French kids were useless.

“Warhol,” I said, turning around, “Andy Warhol.”

“Andy Warhol!” she squealed, “Yes! Thank you!”

“Happy to help,” I said, and because her smile was infectious, I smiled. It was the only time I saw her face—a soft brown, at least fifty, probably older, once gorgeous, with a smile that emitted light. I was afraid that any further discussion and I’d be snared, too, so I quickly went back to my book.

When she took off for the café car (promising to buy the French kids whatever they wanted) I watched her walk down the aisle. The moment the door sealed behind her, I turned around and grinned.

“I have never heard anybody talk so much in my life,” I said to the French kids, who only smile slightly, as if completely understanding some peoples’ need to talk. They didn’t find her as fascinating as I did. Maybe they wanted a bigger name than Jack Warden.

After I pointed out the obvious, everyone in nearby seats let out a sigh of relief and talked at once:

“She’ll never stop!”

“Heavens, I don’t think she ever took a breath.”

“Are you kids all right there?”

“How can anyone talk so much?”

And we laughed at this momentary bond and went back to whatever we were doing. I read.

When she came back, she didn’t waste a moment. But the conversation turned sad, and I didn’t want to hear anymore.

“You will call me tomorrow, right?” she said to the boys, reaching out and touching a forearm, “I hope you will. We’ll have so much fun. Oh please call, please call. Promise me.”

Yes, they said, yes. But it was non-committal—we all heard the tone.

There isn’t much more. She stopped talking and read a magazine. I may have finished my book, I may have fallen asleep. I got out in Wilmington, leaving the rest of them two more hours of travel before DC. My parents are impressed by the company I keep, until I find out that Jack Warden and his wife separated twenty years ago and never reunited. For my Mom, this lessens the experience—and, though I don’t know why, I understand the feeling.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New York

August 10th, 2008

Since I offed my car, I arrive at the city in two ways: ejected into Chinatown pandemonium from a bus without air conditioning stocked with poor students, or sputtering via Amtrak into the catacombs below Penn Station. As I now have a job, I consistently splurge on the second option.

I’ve never seen the outside of Penn Station, though I’ve been shunted through it a dozen times. For all I know, the entire complex is dug into the mud beneath the East River, fed by a dozen tubes. Speaking of water, the tide of people rushing through grabs a hold of me and my duffel bag the second I’ve detrained, and it tosses me through newsstands until I’m thrown against a subway map.

I speak DC metro, a dialect that shares many phonemes of its New York variant. Sadly however, despite scattered cognates, the two are mutually incomprehensible. I speak of the Red Line and the locals exchange looks with sympathetic half-smiles. Ergo, I end up on the wrong train—or I end up on the right train, but it skips my stop for no apparent reason.

Backtracking several times, I finally hit daylight and the reaction is always the same: utter fear. DC’s crowds are lax—people stroll about on bloated lunch breaks on luxuriously wide and perplexingly clean sidewalks. The crosswalks tick down the time to the next signal, and things unfold like the innards of a neat pocket watch. But NYC crowds surge over and through each other like army ants stripping a carcass.

But today, there’s no time for terror and no time for carrion, because I’ve got a job interview. Hence the suit, despite the heat. Gloriously, I even manage to pick the right train.

I always run into the same landmarks when I’m in the city: the glassy cube marking a subterranean Apple Store, a Met Life logo perched on a skyscraper, watching my every move, like Jesus or Batman. I zigzag down from the southeast corner of the park (later Joey tells me the firm’s in a nice area).

Miraculously (or is it because I now have a Google Maps-enabled iPhone?) I find the building ninety minutes early, leaving time to eat a ridiculously expensive lunch and to go hit on the girl attached to the nicest pair of legs at the nearby Borders. (Grinning, I text Tamboli: I just got gunned down like a Kent State sophomore.) But this only knocks off a half-hour, and the heat is an entity unto itself on my back, so I return to the office and beg to be let in an hour early. I’m happy to wait on the couch.

The punctuality ends up impressing the interviewer. Indeed, I excel when I’m finally interrogated. Also, everyone in the office wears shorts and T-shirts. I’m reasonably sure I’m the only person on the island in a suit.

That done, I’m left with the rest of the day. Joey and Meagan plan on dinner, but they work late, so I spend hours writing. I generally avoid caffeine, but seeing as I just aced an interview, I treat myself.

This is enough time, as it usually is, to get used to the city. I end up on a bench in the park, people-watching, comfortable and happy. Notably, I don’t take off the jacket. For one, I look good. For two, if I’m going to spend the money to dry clean an outfit, then I’m going to enjoy an entire day’s worth of it. Meg finally calls and I head northeast to some Brazilian place.

Buses I find even more mystifying, but everyone is perfectly obliging. In fact, a couple is kind enough to make sure that not only do I get on the right bus, but that I get off at the right stop. (I say couple, but I couldn’t identify the sex of one of them. This is another phenomenon more prevalent in New York than the District of Columbia.)

There was a time I was afraid of running into college friends. What if whatever affinity we had no longer exists? What if we ended up just talking about old times and other alumni, unable to connect on anything new? But I haven’t worried about this in a while. I see friends annually to biannually, and sometimes have no other contact with them in between. And yet, we’ve never failed to fall into the same rhythm—sometimes it’s even improved.

The Hipps are no exception. We talk about old times, sure, but we talk about current elections, and new careers and directions in life with the same gusto. And we always laugh, and we always smile, and we always end with affectionate handshakes and hugs.

This isn’t because we’ve failed to change. Joey’s off to graduate school—not in music, either, which is the major we shared in college—but in finance. And Meagan, who’s an actress, has become involved with a hedge fund, a job she amazingly adores (her speech has become rapid, I hypothesize, as a result of being in a business community). So you see, we haven’t failed to change at all.

No no. But I have, and herein I suspect lies the reason we can always pick up where we left off. For no matter what comes—never mind the pregnancies and the weddings, the cross country relocations, never mind Joey’s continually coarsening politics or Meg’s new ability to rattle off quotes from the NYSE, or the friends who abandoned art and the friends who abandoned work, and never mind the changes in sexual orientation (granted, this has only happened once… so far), and never mind the sometimes rapid series of boyfriends and girlfriends, for despite how fast the rest of the world spins, I remain precisely the same. I neither grow nor mature. My tastes don’t falter, my ridiculous political opinions don’t bend—I shine on, a boring beacon in a world of flux.

When Meg and Joe moved to New York, I helped unload the van. Bizarrely, the day of my interview is also the day Meg’s plan to redesign the apartment comes to fruition, and she’s arranged for sales of several pieces of furniture (furniture that years ago I helped Joey drag up three flights of stairs in a Brooklyn shithole). Joey and I end up taking the same furniture out to the car of the new owners.

We go for drinks and dessert (I’m partial to pecan pie and ice cold martinis) and say goodbye. It’s far too late to grab a train home, so I snag the last available room at the YMCA. It’s on the top floor, and a narrow window opens onto an attractive view of Central Park and, beyond, the East Side. In the morning the buildings look like ghosts in the green.

I really have to move up here sometime soon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Oscar News

Lately, with my lack of blogging, some have expressed worry. I'm actually doing quite well, but kept busy with reading, attempts at writing, social obligations and weight lifting, I have little leftover time for the internet. I feel robust. The blogging impulse has been diverted to keeping an offline journal, where I record things that, for varying reasons, are too sensitive to publish. I occasionally borrow a passage from this for here, as with "On Pain" below, when there's no one to be offended, except ABBA, who sucks anyway.

But I'll leave you with the best thing I discovered on the Internet recently. It's a piece by Annie Proulx, the author of Brokeback Mountain. The movie based on Annie's short story lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to Crash, and the piece is her reaction. My favorite quote, selected for its unabashed 6-year-old chutzpah:

And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash - excuse me - Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline.

National Book Award-grade snap! "Don't like it? Kiss my Pulitzer, bitches."

If you enjoy this short piece by Ms. Proulx, I can't recommend anything else. And if you didn't, then still try The Shipping News, which is much more impressive.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

On Pain

July 17th, 2008

When it comes down to real pain, pain that twists, I haven’t had my fair share. But I’ve had some. One time, the last time I was adventurous, I drove a go kart around a cauliflower-shaped track at a Club Med resort in the islands, the whole time with the pedal licking the floorboard. We--the cart and I, for we were as one beautiful organism--took a turn at top speed, flipped, then did a magnificent airborne cartwheel which I finished by flying across the gravel using my belly as a sled. That hurt.

Once, in Venice, the gum over my left incisor swelled up like a spongy red button, full, I’m told, of thriving, probably hunter and gatherer-level, societies of bacteria. Pushing that button--not even pushing: whispering against it--made tears squirt out of my eyes, instantly.

I had met a girl in Italy. My life meandered in a hazy dream between make-out sessions. Dental anguish be damned. During a break from Italian class, while we were engaged in the age-old sport of the young, a simultaneous struggle to swallow the other’s head, she pulled back and her mandible impacted my incisor. The pain knocked me out of the bed like a lead pipe to the face. I panted against the wall and moaned—then we made out some more.

Healthy teeth seldom swell up. Later, doctors suggested filling the root with hot resin. I opted to be awake for the surgery, why not. So I, under a local anesthetic, watched a doctor and nurse spread my lips to the circumference of my neck and use my mouth as a vase for all sorts of long metal instruments. They dug a little shaft into the tissue in the maxilla, rooted around in there and discovered the bacteria, who were now entering a very tiny Bronze Age. These should not be here, they decided, and so they began excavating the colony.

I then realized the anesthetic did not work. But I was out to prove something, so I just wrapped my fingers around the armrests tighter. The digging, involving tools that raked, scraped, and sliced, progressed. I did not moan, did not weep. I did, the surgeon told me afterwards, start to tear up, which is why he decided to re-anesthetize the gums. A braver man might have protested.

Also once, at age four or five, I was on a swing in my grandfather’s backyard and a branch cracked off high above and brained me. I fell off. I touched my head. It felt like someone had smothered my hair with cold cherry cobbler. I cried. Dad laughed. It’s been twenty years or so, and looking back, I finally see the humor.

These form my repertoire of painful experiences.

None of these, even accounting for the time gone by, separated or together, come close to this evening, when I endured thirty minutes of the Mamma Mia! soundtrack while browsing in Barnes and Noble. “This must drive you nuts,” I told a thin blond girl stacking the shelves. “Yes, and this is only the first time we’ve played it,” she said.

After I got home to Pentagon City, I swung by the Borders, a much better store. Latin pop, for five minutes--annoying yes, but not as bad as the CD that came on afterwards, which was, of course, The Mamma Mia! soundtrack. Where the fuck is the Antitrust Division?

I made for the door, but my feet stopped.

Yes, Money, Money, Money is awful, really awful, Cthulhu-awful. But there’s something alluring in that awfulness. Oh, captivate my heart, you Swedish sirens! Or maybe you’re Danish, I missed that Behind the Music. Whatever--take me to your Waterloo! Shiatsu my brains to jelly!

No. No! I stumbled out into the mall, panting.

I pass the test. I will diminish, and go into the West. The prophecies predict I’ll have stopped whistling Fernando by then.

I’m skeptical.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Re: Wanted

To each his own, and in that vein, I don't get the Angelina Jolie thing. She's weird-looking. Not quite Jennifer Garner it hurts my eyes to ponder her perplexing features weird, but still strange. Whenever I see her, I think of the Mother Brain from the short-lived--and totally awesome--classic animated series Captain N: The Game Master.

You are glad you tuned in for this.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Works Cited

Twelve hundred million men are spread
About this Earth, and I and You
Wonder, when You and I are dead,
"What will those luckless millions do?"

None whole or clean, " we cry, "or free from stain
Of favour." Wait awhile, till we attain
The Last Department where nor fraud nor fools,
Nor grade nor greed, shall trouble us again.

Fear, Favour, or Affection -- what are these
To the grim head who claims our services?
I never knew a wife or interest yet
Delay that pukka step, miscalled "decease";

When leave, long overdue, none can deny;
When idleness of all Eternity
Becomes our furlough, and the marigold
Our thriftless, bullion-minting Treasury

Transferred to the Eternal Settlement,
Each in his strait, wood-scantled office pent,
No longer Brown reverses Smith's appeals,
Or Jones records his Minute of Dissent.

And One, long since a pillar of the Court,
As mud between the beams thereof is wrought;
And One who wrote on phosphates for the crops
Is subject-matter of his own Report.

These be the glorious ends whereto we pass --
Let Him who Is, go call on Him who Was;
And He shall see the mallie steals the slab
For currie-grinder, and for goats the grass.

A breath of wind, a Border bullet's flight,
A draught of water, or a horse's firght --
The droning of the fat Sheristadar
Ceases, the punkah stops, and falls the night

For you or Me. Do those who live decline
The step that offers, or their work resign?
Trust me, To-day's Most Indispensables,
Five hundred men can take your place or mine.

Rudyard Kipling, The Last Department

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Zombie Argument and its Implications

I wish to clarify my thoughts on the zombie argument for dualism. There are two issues I've puzzled over lately: 1. Chalmers's defense of epiphenomenalism, and 2. Whether the proper interpretation of the zombie argument is the disjunctive: Type-D (interactionist dualism), Type E (epiphenomenalism), or Type-F (panprotopsychism) as Chalmers claims, or--as his opponents claim--the only option, if the zombie argument goes through, is Type-E dualism, i.e. epiphenomenalism.

I discuss the latter first.

To recount, the zombie argument goes like this: If we can conceive of physically identical versions of ourselves that nonetheless lack consciousness, then such beings are logically possible. If such beings are logically possible, consciousness is not logically entailed by physical facts alone. Hence, physicalism is false and some form of dualism is true.

The forms of this true dualism on the table are as follows: 1. Type-D dualism: interactionist dualism. Consciousness, though non-physical, can have effects on the physical world. 2. Type-E dualism is epiphenomenalism, in which consciousness has no effect on the physical world. 3. Type-F dualism is panprotopsychism, in which the essence of the physical is in fact consciousness, or protoconscious properties. I'm not familiar with Type-F dualism, and will not discuss it in depth.

NB: I am not sure where Leibniz's parallelism would fit. It is closest to, but not, Type-E, and should probably be classed alone as Type-P.

Type-E dualism is the easiest target, because it leads to the odd question of how we're able to talk about consciousness if it has no causal power. Assuming this criticism is good—as later I will deny—the opponent of the zombie argument would be much advantaged if he could prove the only possible outcome of the argument is Type-E dualism, and not the more defensible full disjunctive of Types D through F.

The argument to show that only Type-E dualism is an option to the zombie proponent goes like this: the zombie argument requires a mirror of the physical world without consciousness. If consciousness has physical effects, we cannot mirror the physical world without it. Ergo, the only option left to the zombie proponent is the brand that contains a consciousness that has no effect on the physical world--Type-E dualism.

Chalmers, in correspondence, denies the second line in the argument: "If consciousness has physical effects, we cannot mirror the physical world without it." This is wrong, says Chalmers, because we can mirror the physical world sans consciousness even if consciousness has physical effects: the result will be a world where some physical events occur, but without causes (those events that would have been caused by consciousness were consciousness not removed from the world). Odd, yes, but it remains logically possible--which is all the zombie argument requires to go through.

When Chalmers made this point to me, I was unsure if it worked, because I wasn't sure that effects without causes were logically possible. The more I reflect on it, however, the more I think Professor Chalmers is correct. I can conceive of effects without causes. Indeed, as I pointed out to Chalmers, if the universe we have had a beginning, it might very well have been a causeless effect.

The result is that the dualist can retain casually efficacious consciousness, even through the zombie argument. He has all options on his plate: Types D through F.

As to the second issue, that of Type-E dualism and Chalmers's defense, remember the question is "How can we talk about consciousness if consciousness has no effect?"

Chalmers's move is to deny a causal theory of reference: to wit, he denies that we need to have a causal connection to things we reference. Chalmers's zombie twin says: "I am conscious" and is wrong. Chalmers says "I am conscious" and is right. Even if his own consciousness has no connection to what Chalmers is saying, what Chalmers says is nonetheless true. His consciousness has not caused the belief, it is the belief. Ergo, says Chalmers, epiphenomenalism remains viable.

I see nothing wrong with the argument. The only objections I've found have been ones insisting that a causal theory of reference must be true. Richard Chappell, on his blog and in correspondence, points out that it surely is not—we can speak of, for instance, the dead space outside the boundaries of our light cone, or things that don't exist, like unicorns. Neither of these can have any causal influence on us, and yet we refer to them easily.

I know of no counter.

If these defenses succeed, the metaphysical landscape is as follows: the zombie argument, if its premises are correct, proves that physicalism is false and some form of dualism is true. Type-D, Type-E, and Type-F dualisms are all possible candidates. Type-E dualism, though superficially flawed, remains viable.

It should be noted that Chalmers admits the zombie argument is weaker than the inverted spectrum argument, et al, so we are dealing with one of the more easily criticized arguments for dualism. Nonetheless, I see no flaw.


Chalmers's extensive analysis of the zombie argument, among others, occurs in his The Conscious Mind. This is also where he presents his defense of epiphenomenalism. One can also find a more specific presentation in his paper, The Content and Epistemology of Phenomenal Belief, available here. Richard Chappell has an easily understood summary of that argument on his own blog, here.

For a more thorough explanation of varieties of dualism and materialism, see Chalmers's paper Consciousness and its Place in Nature, available online here.

Chappell's argument against a causal theory of reference is on his blog, here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

M. Nightwatch

The Happening's been screened for critics and the results are said to be horrific. But the question remains: is it horrific enough to be fun to go and jeer at, like Lady in the Water (a.k.a. That of Which We Do Not Speak), or just horrificly boring, like The Village (a.k.a. That Other One of Which We Do Not Speak)?

My theory is that plants, in an act of revenge for us destroying the environment, are releasing a gas that forces M. Night Shyamalan to make movies. A sequel, It Happened, will concentrate on the unfortunate moviegoers who go to see the original Happening. Afterwards they all leave the theater and methodically commit suicide in a variety of gruesome ways. Plus there'll be a full on frontal scene of Marky Mark, so studios can bill it as Shyamalan's first NC-17 picture.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Entirely Mostly True

Things happen for a reason. For instance, I never buy new clothes, because I look good in everything. Still I probably should buy new clothes now and then--but it's always easier to just wash the same old thing.

However, last time I put my whites through the wash, they came out speckled with marks of blue. Ink. Looking through my drawers, I found ink on all sorts of clothing, formal clothing, business casual, bright colors, workout clothes. Obviously there was a bit of ink somewhere in my wardrobe, and one washing spread it to others, and the next washing spread it to another load, until we had an epidemic on our hands.

So I picked through all my shelves and closets looking for infected bits of clothing. Blacks had to go as a rule--ink wouldn't show up on them anyway. Casualties were high.

Finally, I found a pair of shorts with a big puddle of ink on one of the pockets. Aha! thought I. So I opened up the pocket, and KERSPLOOSH! a squid leapt out and wrapped itself around my face. So I'm blind, dancing around the apartment, muffled cries for help coming out, with a squid enveloping my head like a big wet turban, and my roommate Bob comes in, sees me and my squid-bonnet and starts yelling hysterically: "Oh my God! It's Squidman! I knew this wasn't over!" So now I'm trying to pop a half a dozen tentacles from round my neck while trying to convince Bob to put the shotgun down. Eventually we managed to cram the thing into the garbage disposal.

Now I've got to buy new clothes and lock my door when I sleep, because I don't know who the hell Squidman is and I don't want to find out.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Phew, It's Hot

Took the Orange line out to the Dunn-Loring stop, wandered around through the heat for awhile, found the Red Cross, was quizzed, stuck and drained. When she pricked my middle finger, it geysered for a while and made a mess of everything. We all laughed at this and then I fainted.

I got an umbrella this time for my efforts.

I'm afraid of needles. Now I go all the same, and I've never fainted looking at one, and I even watch it pop into the vein at my elbow crook. Nonetheless, I've got a feeling of unease when I know I have to give blood--my mind will race for excuses to go do something else. So I push harder and make myself do it. I don't like being afraid of things.

I swayed on home, then collapsed into bed and slept. Woke up at 5 and spent the rest of the day sending out job applications.

It was, all in all, one of my more productive.

I'm Enjoying the Volokhs' Rum

You know, since I gave blood three years ago or so, the Red Cross has called me twice a day. They want my blood so bad. They want it even though it's swimming with antidepressants and Bacardi Gold--hell, maybe that's why they want it. And yet, I haven't been back since.

I was thinking of a way they could incentivize me to return. Here's what I came up with. They should tell people who receive blood whose blood they're getting. Now of course, this should be an opt-in program: I can choose whether or not I want recipients of my blood to be able to find out who donated for them. If I do choose so, the recipient gets my name and address. Maybe they'll mail me a Thank You card, and I, seeing the concrete productions of my charity, will be encouraged.

Or perhaps they can just tell me what happens with my blood. They don't need to give me a name--they can redact all the details they need to. I'd just like some idea of what my blood's being used for. I think most people would. I think seeing one's blood in action would give a lot of incentive for donation.

This is on my mind because I'm giving blood tomorrow. I'm not a good person (do I really have to stress that?). I just like cookies and free T-shirts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Writing Group

ME: Do you mind if I hang up this flier?

What's it for?

ME: A writing group I'm going to start.

I have lots of friends who like to write about sex.


Yeah, if they joined, you probably wouldn't get much done. But I bet you'd get laid.

Well that's the only reason I'm starting this group anyway.

CLERK: Sure, same as any writing group.

ME: Here's my email.

The Irrelevance of the Status of Oughts

What I'm about to say strikes me as obvious, but no less illustrious a personage as a coblogger had to have the point explained to him, so I'll spell it out.

Much is made of whether morality is objective or subjective. While it's an interesting ontological question, when it comes down to the question of which moral system is right or preferable, the question is entirely irrelevant.

To wit, some seem to think that if they can prove morality subjective, then utilitarianism wins over rights theories. This is bullshit. If morality is subjective, then even the basic axioms of utilitarianism are subjective. There is no objective command: Thou shalt increase utility. Rather, there is only the preference of the individual for a world with more utility, which is just as subjective as the preference of an individual for a world with strong property rights, or no capital punishment, etc. By the same token, if morality is objective, then one can equally well believe that it is objectively right to increase utility or that it is objectively right to respect deontological rights.

Some also seem to think that believing morality subjective leads to moral relativism. This is just as wrong. To be sure, my subjective moral preference may be for a world where right or wrong is decided by community standards. But my subjective preference may just as well be otherwise. And by the same token, moral relativism could easily be true, if morality is objective. It would be a fact of the matter that whatever the community standards are, they fix right and wrong. Or not.

There is a tendency for some to pass off a particular morality as objective, while others are just baseless opinions. Economists love this. It gives one side a rhetorical punch--they can claim to be the one who doesn't believe in spooky disembodied moral commands. Rather they believe in cold hard scientific fact--that is, of course, they believe in their personal moral preferences. This leads to the same conversation again and again, where the other side has to point out that the ontological status of morality cuts both ways. This game of More Materialist Than Thou is tired, and it's time to move on.

In sum, the question of whether morality is subjective or objective, like the blogosphere, has theoretical but no practical import.

Crossposted at Distributed Republic.