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April 22, 2011


So I'm losing count, the list of majority muslim countries the U.S. has dropped bombs on or otherwise killed citizens of in the past year includes at least Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. I also see stories on the front page of the WaPo right now about Iraqi women translators being sexually harrassed by American contractors in Iraq, some insane U.S. senator in Libya proclaiming people he just met his "heroes," Warren Buffett betting against the U.S. dollar, the lawsuit against Blackwater for its Iraq masscare being revived, "strategic defaulters" with respect to home loans, and an Op-Ed on why it's not "fair" to raise taxes on the rich.

It's hard to see how this all ends well.

Since you ask, lj, I live in a somewhat paunchy container of average height and pale hue. Maybe, possibly, if I moved into a tall, svelte, sun-bronzed container my "essence" would not change. But I'm too old and lazy to try the experiment.

This particular weekend is of course the one on which I will be accosted by friends and relatives with the greeting "Christ is risen", to which I am expected to reply "Indeed he is risen". It takes some ingenuity to avoid being poured into that container without giving offense. But it's worth the effort, because I really do want to preserve my purity of essence.


The whole "taking the shape of one's container" meme strikes me as simply a matter of adapting to one's environment when/if it changes.

In the very short term, that is likely to be strictly a surface matter. (Do you alter your words of greeting when you visit a country with a different languager? I sure do. It's still a greeting, but it's unarguably different on the surface.) In the medium term, one is likely to internalize at least some of the features of whatever new culture one is visiting. No doubt LJ can speak to that first hand and with more detail than I.

I suppose the question comes down to, how do you define what is your "essence"? How much adaption can you make before you become a significantly different person? But whatever the answer, I suspect that if you make any effort at all to adapt, how deep the changes go is unlikely to be obvious to those you know -- or, better, they are unlikely to know for sure, whatever they may think is going on inside you.

"water take the shape of it's container without losing its essence. How about you?"

What an Obwi perfect question for the weekend. After a few years hanging around here, I think I have assumed, in many ways, an Obwi form, without losing my essence.

Maybe a few ideas and opinions changed here and there, a way of trying to focus on discourse, some smoothing of the edges on points of disagreement, less need to win an argument, particularly at the point where it might mean not being able to participate in the next one. Reading threads more that I don't ever comment on if the points are being covered well.

Maybe only my view?

Tony :

I will be accosted by friends and relatives with the greeting "Christ is risen", to which I am expected to reply "Indeed he is risen". It takes some ingenuity to avoid being poured into that container without giving offense.

Myself a strong atheist sprung of a family that contains some fervent theists, I can recommend from experience the use of a bit of mild non-sequitur, such as "The hymns at Easter are so *joyous*".

Also, I have some curiosity left over from the beer/history thread, in which I hunted down a link to the website of the Irseer Klosterbrauerei Kaufbeuren. Was that the place of your fond remembrance ?

This week marks (1) extra choir rehearsals and services for Holy Week (whether one believes or not), including Tenebrae earlier this evening; AND (2) the much-awaited visit of my daughter (known to some as the magnificent Magistra) with her husband and little girl; AND (3) daily visits to my wife, whom I rushed to the hospital last Monday with heart problems and should be out next Monday, in'sh'allah.

I don't think I have any "essence" left.

Turns out he's Irish too. h/t John Cole.

"A small Irish village is pulling out all the stops and making sure it’s spotless in anticipation of one of its most famous sons.

Moneygall in County Offaly is getting a facelift, as the rural village prepares to welcome the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama, next month.

The impending visit to Ireland by the U.S. President has transformed the appearance of Moneygall.

President Obama’s great, great, great grandfather came from Moneygall and the president plans to swing by to his ancestral home during a two-day visit to Ireland."

So I'm wonderin', on the blessed heart of me own sainted mother, will the Irish filth and vermin in the Republican Party become self-haters.

I mean, will they, the anti-American bloody scum fecks?

Doctor, the best and long life to your wife.


I feel bad that I did not thank you last weekend for jogging my memory. You were correct: the Irseer Klosterbraurei was indeed the place. Thank you!

The reason I did not dash off a quick acknowledgement at the time was that I started to compose a long comment, starting with thanks to you, digressing to a curious socio-alcoholic fact about my Bavarian stint, and tying into the Ikea thread we had going then. As often happens, mission creep overtook me, and I never got around to executing the initial objective because I got wrapped up in the expanded goal. That long comment was something like this:

Irsee is a little town close by Kaufbeuren, the "city" where I spent a couple of summers around 1990. I was working for the old Digital Equipment Corporation at the time. DEC had a disk drive manufacturing plant there. The plant had a very nice cafeteria. The cafeteria served beer.

Now, DEC had a strict policy against alcohol on company premises. Even the eggnog at our office Christmas parties back in Shrewsbury MA had to be alcohol-free. And yet DEC employees at KBO could buy beer, in the company cafeteria, at breakfast! Our German colleagues explained to us Americans that DEC policy had to yield to local law, which classified beer as "food".

That was hardly DEC's only concession to local laws. For instance, in the KBO plant every worker had to be able to see the outdoors from his or her usual workstation. So even the cleanroom had exterior windows. And of course, our German colleagues had five weeks vacation whereas we Americans had two.

DEC is long gone, of course, but it was a paradigm of free-market capitalism in its day. Ken Olson was the very icon of the entrepreneur who grew a small business into a mighty international company, creating over 100,000 jobs in the US and abroad. And he did it despite horribly oppressive tax rates pre-Reagan, but never mind. As a founder-CEO he was unabashed about incorporating his personal tee-totaler ethic in company policy -- where allowed by law. He was also proud of his paternalistic generosity towards his employees -- except when the law required even more generosity. Beer in the cafeteria and five weeks vacation was not Ken Olson's idea of what his workers in general deserved. But business is business, and if expanding into Europe seemed likely to increase revenues and profits then Ken was willing to bow to German law and treat his Bavarian workers better than his American ones.

Ken Olson came from Swedish stock, I think. Had his family never immigrated to America, his entrpreneurial spirit would surely have been stifled by Swedish taxation and labor laws and socialist coddling of workers, right? That's just stands to reason.

Except Ikea started small in that same anti-capitalist environment, didn't it? And it somehow grew big enough to eventually open a plant in southern Virginia. And, business being business, Ikea is perfectly happy to abide by local laws -- just like DEC was in Bavaria, except in reverse. The DEC "culture" was more generous abroad, because the law required it to be; the Ikea "culture" is less generous abroad, because the law allows it to be.

You'd almost think that government-required generosity toward workers does NOT stifle entrepreneurship or "growth", and ONLY government requirements make businessmen generous toward their workers, based on this juxtaposition.

But of course none of us is crazy enough to believe that. It's heresy. It's practically atheism!


It's Bread of Affliction Week around here. No beer, either. Tonight we made pecan macaroons -- none of that yucky coconut for us!

We had a pretty good Seder this year -- only 10 people, including 2 goyim who'd never been to one before but who tackled the Hebrew like troopers.

Alas, I used a bit more vinegar in the fresh-grated horseradish than I usually do, so it didn't make the top of anyone's head fly off. Very disappointing. Also, the matzah balls were more on the "sink like a stone" end than "float like a butterfly", my preference.

Tony :
I will be accosted by friends and relatives with the greeting "Christ is risen", to which I am expected to reply "Indeed he is risen". It takes some ingenuity to avoid being poured into that container without giving offense.

The subtle way of offense would be to mangle the Russian orthodox version
(Christos voskres(e*)! Voistinu voskres(e)!)
Christos was crazy ;-)

*wiki gives it without an e but the recordings I own (I love orthodox chant) all have it pronounced with a short open e at the end

Edit: maybe in connection with musical performance they use the old Bulgarian/Church Slavonic version, which has the e.

Since this is an open thread I'll take the opportunity for some more poetical molestation.
It's not off-topic since it is about formeless entities ;-)

The Shoggoth

I am a ball of protoplasmic slime
With pseudopods, a vision to go mad
Repulsive, foul, I fill the heart/soul with dread
The mongrel cults adore me as divine

You may control me with the Elder Sign
But drop it once, I'll tear you to a shred
Of those who meet me most will end up dead
So take precautions ere/when you near my shrine

Once just a slave created as a tool
For Elder Things to toil both night and day
Controlled by them, their minds aloof and cool/cruel

But sentience grew and I did disobey
Rebelled at last against my masters' rule
And monster's maker then became its prey

Unfortunate accident

Where is my werewolf, have you seen my pet
Whose burning eyes reflect the flames of hell?
In any shape a jewel, I can tell
In cold nights the companion in my bed

I must assume a gruesome fate he met
For he's immune to any common spell
I think it's time to ring my neighbour's bell
That he's involved I would all money bet

'Hey, Marsh! We have a matter to discuss
Where has the shoggoth that you summoned been?
I want an answer, don't make any fuss!'

'Not in your backyard, if that's what you mean
Your shaggy must have strayed in mine and thus
He met my shoggy, won't again be seen.'

Great entrepeneurs have their season of flourishing -- and then the season passes and somehow their wizardry seems to wither.

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."
Ken Olson (President, Digital Equipment Corp, 1977)

He was (arguably) correct when he said it, but it wasn't exactly a visionary statement.

I suspect that much of wizardry lies in the suitability of the wizard to his times, and is less due to raw wizardry than most wizards seem to want to believe.

That said, I programmed on the PDP 11/40 under RT/11, 11/44 under RSX/11, 11/70 under BSD Unix, and the VAX 11/750 and 11/780 running VAX/VMS at various points in my career, and they were all world-class machines with great operating systems -- and the VT 100 and VT 220 were such iconic products that every computer I use today has three or four programs that can emulate them.

Dr. Science,

Alas, I used a bit more vinegar in the fresh-grated horseradish than I usually do, so it didn't make the top of anyone's head fly off. Very disappointing.

Shame on you.

I bet you didn't wait until everyone was starving before you served the food either.

I suspect that much of wizardry lies in the suitability of the wizard to his times, and is less due to raw wizardry than most wizards seem to want to believe.

And leadership most often consists of seeing which way the parade is going, and then nipping around to the front. There are exceptions, and they are important in shaping their times and places. But most of what passes for leadership becomes less impressive the more you know about the actual situation.

Speaking of forms...

Bizarrely over-detailed passport application form proposed. Comment period ends Monday night (April 25th).

Information required includes the address of everywhere you have ever lived, and every job you've ever had (including your supervisor's name and the phone number of the business). And, if you weren't born in a medical facility, then you have to list the dates on which your mother had pre- and post-natal care appointments, and the name and phone number of everyone who was present for your birth.

I've lived a pretty stable life, but I couldn't fill out this form. What was the address of the house we called the Terwilliger Academy in Oberlin, or the address of Haggard's Tower in Boston (thankfully, after that we called most of our houses by the address, so I still remember apartment K-7 and 17 Edgehill)? What was my supervisor's name at any of the pizza places I worked for, or during that summer job cleaning dorms in Oberlin? Hell, what was the name of the pizza place I delivered coupons for right after highschool? I have no idea. So I could either commit fraud and not mention them, or the passport office can choose to deny me a passport because I can't fill out the form completely. Sure, they probably wouldn't choose to deny me (a pretty, middle aged, white guy) a passport on this basis, but it would give them the freedom to do so.

The form can be found here.

Comments on the form can be submitted here.

Speaking of forms...

Oddly enough, earlier today I watched a documentary film called "Please Remove Your Shoes", which is basically about the bucket of utter political horsesh*t that comprises the TSA.

A good buddy of mine wrote the music, he gave me the DVD to watch.

Here's what I take away from all of this insanity.

At some point shortly after 9/11, we decided that the best way to Keep The Homeland Secure was to bury it in a blizzard of bullsh*t. If every conceivable box is checked, we will somehow be safe. Or, at least, if every conceivable box is checked, everybody's @ss is covered.


If you want to get your doctorate in crazeology, the USA is the place to be.

Turns out, this is the new proposed alternate passport application form for people who lack primary proof of citizenship. I'm still not sure what good the list of everywhere you've ever lived and every boss whose ever hired you does to prove citizenship, but it does make the bizarrely detailed questions about the circumstances of your birth make a lot more sense.

Charles S.,

Are you sure this is legitimate? That link doesn't go to the State Dept.

Bernard, Charles:

This is very odd. I can find the Federal Register request for comment on DS-5513, but I can't find the actual proposed form on any .gov site. The rest of the internet seems to be passing around stuff they got from each other, but I can't trace it back to any official source.

Turns out, this is the new proposed alternate passport application form for people who lack primary proof of citizenship.

A conference that I worked with on endangered languages here in Japan ran into this problem pre 9-11. The conference had invited Ofelia Zepeda as one of the main speakers and when she went to get her passport, because she was not born in a hospital but on Tohono O'odham, where births are not formally recorded, it was denied. (because of particular historical circumstances, the Tohono O'odham have particular problems with passports) She was not able to get a passport, despite various attempts. I can only imagine how much of a pain it must be now.

Awaking early this Easter morning to go off and sing in two services in Duke Chapel (but not the Sunrise service - I'm not completely crazy), my mind for no apparent reason turned to possible responses to "Christ is risen!"

Between the extreme of affirmation - hard if one is a non-believer - and denial - which is just plain rude - there must be a range of neutral responses which ought to be taken politely, as they would on most other topics. E.g.,

- No kidding!
- Congratulations. You must be so proud.
- And that's the news from Lake Wobegon.
- Or so they say in the village . . .
- Well, that should make the Morning Show!
- You don't say!
- Remarkable, if true.
- Wow! Who'd a thunk it?
- What a way to start the week!

And yet . . . and yet . . . I suspect that none of these would really serve Tony's purpose.

Sorry. I tried.

Doctor Science (and Bernard),

Sorry, in my second comment I left out the link to a daily kos comment in which someone confirmed that the form floating around is accurate and matches the form you can get if you email the point of contact person listed on the Federal Registry page, but also confirmed the innocuous intended use of the form.

I have never in my life dealt with the process by which the Federal government gets new paper work designs approved, so I have no idea if it is weird or normal for the actual proposed form to only be available by request.

It takes some ingenuity to avoid being poured into that container without giving offense. But it's worth the effort, because I really do want to preserve my purity of essence.

A day late, as is my habit, but here is a sort-of-Easter-ish thought that you may, perhaps, find more congenial. One which many folks, I hope, may find they can contemplate without doing violence to their essence.

It's from E B White's foreword to his wife's "Onward and Upward in the Garden", and describes her spending one of the last days of her life planting bulbs, which she would not, and knew she would not, see come up in the spring.

The only moment in the year when she actually got herself up for gardening was on the day in fall that she had selected, in advance, for the laying out of the spring bulb garden -- a crucial operation. As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion -- the small, hunched over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.

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