Inhuman Swill : November 2008

The Flame

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We had a fine, fine time at the SFWA mill-and-swill last night, saw tons of great people. But what we appreciated most about the evening was that when we got back to our hotel—not even drunk!—and found that room service wasn't answering its phone even though it will still supposed to be operating, we just walked around the corner to one of those all-night Greek diners and ordered a couple of gyro platters. Midnight dining in midtown, man. It really hit the spot.

Bridge and tunnel

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We're back. Not five minutes on the street, as we're walking down Ninth Avenue, a guy leans out a car window and asks, "Do you know where the Latin Quarter is?"

So I put on my best wiseguy and say, "Yeah, it's in fuckin' New Orleans."

I know, it doesn't make any sense, what I said, but we're fucking back.

I'm not one to announce my daily word count, but I will say that progress is beginning to be made. Today it was made at a Starbucks on Greenview after I got my B12 shot at the doctor's office. Yes, it turns out I have quite a B12 deficiency, which might explain the tingling I sometimes feel in my back and legs, not to mention my frequent fatigue and general lack of energy. I think it's too early to chalk today's productivity up to the vitamin boost, though.

Retrogression progression


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Of the Six Fundamental Machines inscribed by the Builder in the Cornerstone of Time, the Wheel and Axle lends itself to perhaps the most stupendous domain of potential recomplications. Picture the sky as a giant clockwork mechanism—each planet a semiprecious stone set in the rim of its own great wheel, ticking about the axis of a star that is in turn a chip of diamond studding the rim of its own greater wheel, one that inscribes a unique but interdependent path about the center of gravity of a galaxy that is itself less than a cog on a still greater wheel that in concert with hundreds of billions of others drives the engine of the Universe. Fractal geometry on a scale to beggar the imagination.

Now zoom in again to picture yourself on the rim of your own planetary wheel, observing the progress of a friend on the rim of another wheel in the same system. Assuming different rates of travel, to watch that friend is sometimes to see an apparent reversal in his course. This loop of retrogression, as it's known, stems from the fact that you the observer are yourself a passenger on a body in motion.

All things in the Builder's creation serve not only their own functions as objects but also as lessons for his children. Thus does the Wheel and Axle teach us that to move forward is sometimes to appear, perhaps even to ourselves, to slide back.

There are plenty of sources that list the distances of various stars from Earth, but does anyone know of a source for looking up the distances of stars from one another? If not, I may have to dust off some spherical geometry that I would rather leave in its rusty box.

Specifically, I need to know the distance between Tau Ceti and Van Maanen's Star.

Update:  I found the specific answer I needed—Tau Ceti and Van Maanen's Star are 6.2 light-years apart—but I'd still be happy to be pointed toward a more general resource.

"Hello, and what seems to be the problem with your 1-800-FLOWERS online order, sir?"

"Well, I'm not really sure. All the voicemail told me was there was a problem and I should call."

"All right, sir, I can help you with that. Let me just look up your order. One moment."

"Thank you."

"Okay, sir, um, well, it seems the problem is that the florist can't print that word on the card."

"Ah, makes sense, okay, I see."

"Is there, um, something we can change that word to, sir?"

"Well, how about just 'mothers'? Will that work?"

"Yes, sir, 'mothers' will work fine. Let me just make that change. We'll get this back to the florist and get your order out right away."

"Thank you very much."

"Thank you for using 1-800-FLOWERS, sir. Have a nice day."

The bottom of the deck

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No, Ella is not awaiting a date with the hangman. This is not a gallows but the new deck that's being constructed on the back of our house, and Ella is eagerly awaiting the day when the second level is complete and the back door out of our kitchen no longer opens on empty air.


Right now, Ella is mightily confused as to why we don't let her out the back door anymore.

No access

Waiting for the re-up

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Thanks to Netflix, I've been enjoying a steady diet of The Wire, an episode a day on average—um, sometimes two. I'm nearly to the end of the third season. I watched Episode 10 last Thursday. The fifth disc of Season Three, with the last two episodes, was supposed to arrive Friday.

Friday's mail came and went. No DVD.

I didn't start to panic until Saturday's mail had also come and gone with no sign of my re-up. Trembling a little, I logged into Netflix to report the disc lost. Netflix told me that occasional delays are to be expected, and that I would not be able to report the disc missing and request a replacement until Monday.

I began to sweat.

The first thing I did Monday morning, even though the day's mail was still hours away, was to at last report Season Three Disc Five of The Wire missing and to request a replacement. Not an hour later I received email from Netflix telling me that they had just processed the return of the disc I had reported missing.

By now, spots were swimming before my eyes. They had received the missing disc?! The only scenario I could construct that could explain this is that the post office had somehow delivered the DVD on Friday to the wrong house, where that good citizen had recognized the error and straightaway put the disc back in the mail.

I started to feel nauseous. How close had my re-up come? Had it ended up miles away, or had it come to rest as close as next door?

I had to stop thinking about it. That way lay madness.

But hope still remained. Tuesday. There is a Netflix processing center right here in Chicago, which meant that at least I would have my replacement disc Tuesday. I only had to wait one more day. I wet my cracked lips as best I could with my blistered tongue. One more day.

I soon received email confirmation that my re-up had indeed shipped. It would arrive ... what? What the fuck? Wednesday? Why are you busting my fucking balls with this Wednesday shit, Netflix? That's no way to fucking do business! Wednesday?

Sorry, pal. Wednesday's the best we can do. Veteran's Day, you know. No mail.

Aw, shit fucccin mutherfuafhuoahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh_&^$+@~%@%^%&^@!_#(&^%------------

Dear signmaker

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Um, yeah, it's not a "condo" if it's for "rent."

I don't know about you, but I am incensed about the LDS Church's over-the-pulpit exhortation of its members to mobilize and help pass California's Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. When I first heard about it, in fact, my first reaction was, "Damn, they need to have their tax-exempt status revoked."

Now you can help urge the IRS to make that happen. Here are all the instructions and supporting documents you need in order to:

File a Complaint Asking the IRS to Revoke the LDS Church's Tax-Exempt Status

If the Church is going to jump into the political arena (yes, okay, they've never not been a player in the political arena) and try to legislate a segment of our population out of their legal rights, then it's only fair that they as a corporation should share this country's tax burden. They pulled this same kind of nonsense 30 years ago to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment,* and who knows what they'll try next if their actions are left legally unchallenged?

I will never understand the idea that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples somehow threatens the institution of marriage. "Defense of marriage" makes no more sense than, say, "defense of Sunday," the idea that your belief in the sanctity of your Sabbath should mean the I can't buy a beer that day. In a pluralistic society, that's just a ridiculous, backward, and fearful proposition. Observe your Sabbath the way you see fit, and feel free to restrict the definition of a sanctified marriage inside the walls of your own church. But don't try to extend that limited thinking into the public sphere—at least, not without seeing your organization transformed into a de facto political action committee.

Mormons at large seem unable to equate their anti-gay activism (and let's be honest, the Church can equivocate all it wants, but in pushing this legislation against gay marriage, it is supporting discrimination against gays) with the anti-Mormon persecution they suffered throughout much of their early history. Mormons only wanted to be able to practice their odd little religion and their uncommon marital practices in peace, but state after state ran them out with torches and guns. (Okay, again it was more complicated than that, and had more than a little to do with the early political goals of the Church and how threatening those sounded to their neighbors, but let's take it as a given for the sake of this discussion that the persecution was entirely unprovoked.) If anyone in the world should be more sympathetic to the goal of earning society's approval for an unconventional brand of marriage, it should be the Mormons. I mean, come on. They are the sorest losers I've ever seen.

Jon Stewart is much funnier on the topic than I am:

By the way, people claiming to be Mormons attacked and beat several Proposition 8 protesters outside the Los Angeles temple last Friday. Here's news video from KTLA. I think most of the Mormons I know would be appalled by this behavior, but it demonstrates to me the dangerous lack of proportion that can take root in some people's minds when the dominant social force in their lives tells them it's okay to discriminate.

A revocation of the Church's tax-exempt status will likely never come to pass, but at least your IRS complaint can send a small message.

* The Boston Phoenix article to which I linked on the subject of the ERA was mainly an assessment of Mitt Romney's chances as a presidential candidate. So you don't have to scan the whole thing, I've reproduced the relevant passages here:

For a crash course in Mormon political power, consider the important role the LDS Church played in the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have guaranteed women equal rights under the law. Passed by the House in 1971 and by the Senate in 1972, the ERA enjoyed widespread national support and seemed destined to succeed. By 1976, 34 states had ratified it; only four more were needed to make it part of the Constitution.

Then the Mormons got involved. In October 1976, the LDS Church's First Presidency—consisting of the church's three highest-ranking members—issued a formal statement opposing the ERA: the amendment, the First Presidency warned, might "stifle many God-given feminine instincts" and lead to an uptick in homosexual activity. This denunciation had a near-immediate impact in Idaho, home to a relatively large Mormon electorate. The Idaho legislature had previously given the ERA the requisite two-thirds approval, but this was undone by a January 1977 referendum in which a popular majority opposed the amendment.

Next, the LDS Church turned its focus to the state-level International Women's Year (IWY) conferences taking place around the country. These gatherings had no formal role in the amendment process, but served as highly public barometers of female support for the ERA. As Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn recounts in a forthcoming anthology, God and Country: Politics in Utah (Signature Books), LDS women in numerous states worked to block pro-ERA resolutions at IWY conferences. The process was top-down, and controlled by the Church's (male) leadership. In Hawaii, for example, Mormon women received these written instructions: "Report to Traditional Values Van, sign in, pick up dissent forms. Sit together. Stay together to vote. Ask Presidency for help if needed." At other state conferences, male Mormon coordinators staked out various rooms and informed their compatriots when a particular vote was pending; the Mormon women in attendance then rushed in to participate. This kind of discipline and cohesion allowed the Saints, as the Mormons call themselves, to dominate conferences in states where their total numbers were quite small. For example, Mormons represented about four percent of the total populations of Washington and Montana, but accounted for half or more of the women attending each state's IWY gathering. And in both Washington and Montana, every proposed pro-ERA resolution was defeated.

In addition, under the guidance of Gordon Hinckley—then a special adviser to the First Presidency, and now the president of the LDS Church—Mormon-led civic groups were set up in a dozen states. Anti-ERA speakers were invited to speak in LDS Church buildings, and massive letter-writing campaigns were launched. Here, too, the Mormons' limited numbers belied their ultimate effect: by one estimate, Saints generated 85 percent of the anti-ERA mail sent in Virginia, where they made up only one percent of the population. Ultimately, after a promising beginning, the ERA was defeated. And while it might be going too far to say the LDS Church killed it, it certainly put the amendment on life support. True, Mormons made common cause with conservative Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists in their battle against the ERA, a collaboration that paved the way for the political sector now broadly known as the religious right. But without the LDS Church's timely intervention and efficient opposition, the amendment probably would have passed.  [full article]

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