Archive for the ‘Ranting’ Category

Hello again, world.

March 24, 2014 - 8:29 pm 4 Comments

*deep inhalation*

*blows off a thick layer of dust*

I’m not going to explain why I stopped writing for so long, because it’s personal AND boring, but the itch to exercise those muscles is getting pretty strong, so I need to stop self-criticizing for everything I might or might not write and Just Do It, as the overpriced brand has it. So, in light of that, I’m gonna start with a warm-up set commentating on an article I saw today. It’s LIFE ADVICE, y’all. Mostly about destructive self-criticism. So naturally I’m going to criticize someone else’s insights instead.

1. 1. Stop spending time with the wrong people. – Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you. You shouldn’t have to fight for a spot. Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth. And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends.

Mixed feelings about this. The first bit is good- people who like you will act like they like you, it won’t be a mystery, and you won’t experience much ambivalence over it that isn’t fairly recognizable as coming purely from yourself, and passive-aggressive or mercurial “friends” are a waste of time and energy. The same thing applies to dating- someone who is constantly giving you mixed messages is either a pointless time-waster or someone who is actually giving you really clear signals you don’t want to hear, and more to the point anyone who couldn’t be a good friend as well as a lover isn’t worth your time either unless all you’re after is short-term sex. (In the long term these people won’t make good partners in bed either.)

But I have a big issue with this line: “And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends.”. Yes, true friends will stand by you during the lowest times in your life rather than scattering as soon as you’re no longer that fun to spend time with, but a really true friend will kick your ass if you’re acting like your worst self. They won’t put up with it. They’ll tell you you’re wrong. If you’re really fucked up they’ll tell you to get professional help, repeatedly. And eventually, if you refuse to work to get better? They’ll leave, because you’re no longer the you they loved.

2. #2. Stop running from your problems. – Face them head on. No, it won’t be easy. There is no person in the world capable of flawlessly handling every punch thrown at them. We aren’t supposed to be able to instantly solve problems. That’s not how we’re made. In fact, we’re made to get upset, sad, hurt, stumble and fall. Because that’s the whole purpose of living – to face problems, learn, adapt, and solve them over the course of time. This is what ultimately molds us into the person we become.

No issue here. Good advice. The only thing I’d add to it is that no matter how painful dealing with the problem is, it’s not nearly as painful as living with indefinitely.

3. #3. Stop lying to yourself. – You can lie to anyone else in the world, but you can’t lie to yourself. Our lives improve only when we take chances, and the first and most difficult chance we can take is to be honest with ourselves.

Actually you can lie to yourself very well if you’re really motivated to, and a lot of the time you’ll do it without even thinking twice about it. It’s pretty normal, actually. But your life will go smoother in direct proportion to how well you learn not to. Also while lying to others is sometimes necessary and even honorable, it usually doesn’t help you to lie to them, either.

4. #4. Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. – The most painful thing is losing yourself in the process of loving someone too much, and forgetting that you are special too. Yes, help others; but help yourself too. If there was ever a moment to follow your passion and do something that matters to you, that moment is now.

You don’t actually get a cookie or a medal for martyrdom. And constantly feeling deprived or like your own needs don’t matter is a recipe for misery, and miserable people make lousy friends and partners.

5. #5. Stop trying to be someone you’re not. – One of the greatest challenges in life is being yourself in a world that’s trying to make you like everyone else. Someone will always be prettier, someone will always be smarter, someone will always be younger, but they will never be you. Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.

Actually if the real you is a shitty person with shitty values, no they won’t. But the good news is you actually CAN change that, it will just be a lot of work. But ultimately very rewarding work.

6. #6. Stop trying to hold onto the past. – You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one.

Having your brain taken over by constantly re-enacting past patterns, emotions, and experiences is one of the most effective ways to attach a metaphorical boat anchor to your own ankles.

7. #7. Stop being scared to make a mistake. – Doing something and getting it wrong is at least ten times more productive than doing nothing. Every success has a trail of failures behind it, and every failure is leading towards success. You end up regretting the things you did NOT do far more than the things you did.

Or, as we say in derby, “If you’re not falling, you’re not learning.” And most stuff isn’t going to leave bruises.

8. #8. Stop berating yourself for old mistakes. – We may love the wrong person and cry about the wrong things, but no matter how things go wrong, one thing is for sure, mistakes help us find the person and things that are right for us. We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future. Every single thing that has ever happened in your life is preparing you for a moment that is yet to come.

I sometimes think there’s a Shame Center of the brain that has no other purpose other than going over past regrets and embarrassments until we feel almost as bad about them as we did the first time, all over again.

9. #9. Stop trying to buy happiness. – Many of the things we desire are expensive. But the truth is, the things that really satisfy us are totally free – love, laughter and working on our passions.

Actually, working on our passions isn’t remotely free unless your passion is bodyweight exercise, and even then it costs in time and energy. Love isn’t really free either, it requires hard work, lots of time, and sometimes money- though real love usually (usually!) doesn’t feel like work.

10. #10. Stop exclusively looking to others for happiness. – If you’re not happy with who you are on the inside, you won’t be happy in a long-term relationship with anyone else either. You have to create stability in your own life first before you can share it with someone else.

More or less true. I don’t buy this sentiment’s close cousin, “you can’t love anyone else until you can love yourself”, though. I’ve known plenty of people who struggled or still struggle with loving themselves who did a lot better at it when they had a strong, healthy relationship- but it does take a lot of self-awareness and self-control to pull off.

11. #11. Stop being idle. – Don’t think too much or you’ll create a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place. Evaluate situations and take decisive action. You cannot change what you refuse to confront. Making progress involves risk. Period! You can’t make it to second base with your foot on first.

Mostly true. Sometimes taking action won’t lead to success though, especially when you have a basic belief that doing something is invariably better than doing nothing and placing a little faith in those around you.

12. #12. Stop thinking you’re not ready. – Nobody ever feels 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Because most great opportunities in life force us to grow beyond our comfort zones, which means we won’t feel totally comfortable at first.

Again, mostly true. Sometimes we genuinely aren’t, though, and failure when there was never a possibility of success isn’t necessarily beneficial.

13. #13. Stop getting involved in relationships for the wrong reasons. – Relationships must be chosen wisely. It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company. There’s no need to rush. If something is meant to be, it will happen – in the right time, with the right person, and for the best reason. Fall in love when you’re ready, not when you’re lonely.

You shouldn’t pursue love just because you’re lonely, as that will only lead to searching for anyone to fill that partner-shaped hole in your life, which NEVER ends well. (Healthy people you actually want to be with will correctly sense you see them as an object/spacefiller and not a person, and they’ll run like hell- but the people who are fucked up or exploitative might bite.) But we all get lonely, and it’s not a reason to back-burner it until we’re not. You might wait forever.

14. #14. Stop rejecting new relationships just because old ones didn’t work. – In life you’ll realize that there is a purpose for everyone you meet. Some will test you, some will use you and some will teach you. But most importantly, some will bring out the best in you.

I agree with the first sentence and nothing else. People don’t exist to serve a purpose for you, they’re people and they exist for their own damn sake, not to teach you some sort of lesson. Definitely avoid people who seem to bring out your worst self and stick with ones that bring out your best, but people are not FOR you and your personal development.

15. #15. Stop trying to compete against everyone else. – Don’t worry about what others are doing better than you. Concentrate on beating your own records every day. Success is a battle between YOU and YOURSELF only.

Yup. Though for certain very specific goals (like picking up your time on a speed/endurance metric, or a weightlifting personal record), it’s sometimes helpful to pick someone who is *already very close to you* and use them as a rabbit to chase- as long as it remains good-natured.

16. #16. Stop being jealous of others. – Jealousy is the art of counting someone else’s blessings instead of your own. Ask yourself this: “What’s something I have that everyone wants?”

Actually, that’s ENVY. Jealous is worrying that someone else is going to take or already has something you have. This is why we use the phrase “jealously guarding”, and refer to someone as jealous when they’re suspecting a partner of cheating. Technically speaking this bit of advice is telling you to drop envy for jealousy instead. This has been your pedant moment of the week.

17. #17. Stop complaining and feeling sorry for yourself. – Life’s curveballs are thrown for a reason – to shift your path in a direction that is meant for you. You may not see or understand everything the moment it happens, and it may be tough. But reflect back on those negative curveballs thrown at you in the past. You’ll often see that eventually they led you to a better place, person, state of mind, or situation. So smile! Let everyone know that today you are a lot stronger than you were yesterday, and you will be.

While it’s true that wallowing in self-pity and constant bitching will only get you more of the same, you still need to feel and process sadness, disappointment, and unhappiness and there’s nothing wrong with you doing so. Thinking you need to show a happy, positive face all the time will only make you feel a miserable secret self and terrible loneliness. Also, telling someone else to smile is a fucking asshole move, and sometimes what doesn’t kill us doesn’t make us stronger, it just leaves scars and crippling injuries.

18. #18. Stop holding grudges. – Don’t live your life with hate in your heart. You will end up hurting yourself more than the people you hate. Forgiveness is not saying, “What you did to me is okay.” It is saying, “I’m not going to let what you did to me ruin my happiness forever.” Forgiveness is the answer… let go, find peace, liberate yourself! And remember, forgiveness is not just for other people, it’s for you too. If you must, forgive yourself, move on and try to do better next time.

You don’t have to forgive to not being wasting energy and thought cycles on the person you haven’t and maybe will never forgive. Sometimes forgiveness benefits neither of you. Letting them ruin your life or your peace of mind after you’ve gotten clean away is letting them win, and living better is your victory- but you don’t have to forgive to do that.

19. #19. Stop letting others bring you down to their level. – Refuse to lower your standards to accommodate those who refuse to raise theirs.

Words to live by. Tit for tat erodes your own integrity and self-respect- or it should.

20. #20. Stop wasting time explaining yourself to others. – Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe it anyway. Just do what you know in your heart is right.

BULLSHIT. If you take it for granted all the time that your friends understand exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you’re going to lose friends, and your butthurt reaction when you discover you were NOT understood is only going to hasten the process. This is particularly important applied to partners. (Romantic or business.)

21. #21. Stop doing the same things over and over without taking a break. – The time to take a deep breath is when you don’t have time for it. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. Sometimes you need to distance yourself to see things clearly.

Fair enough, but far from universally applicable. If you’re a paramedic keeping someone alive on the way to the hospital, you don’t want to take a break, change what you’re doing, or pause to reflect. Less extreme situations sometimes also apply.

22. #22. Stop overlooking the beauty of small moments. – Enjoy the little things, because one day you may look back and discover they were the big things. The best portion of your life will be the small, nameless moments you spend smiling with someone who matters to you.

Agree. Happiness is a fleeting enough emotion you’ve got to savor it while you’ve got it.

23. #23. Stop trying to make things perfect. – The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done.

This is true. Although perfectionism is sometimes appropriate to time and place- perfectionists make good neurosurgeons, though you still have to close up that skull someday.

24. #24. Stop following the path of least resistance. – Life is not easy, especially when you plan on achieving something worthwhile. Don’t take the easy way out. Do something extraordinary.

Agreed, just so long as you have a healthy sense of proportion about it. Your life is not wasted if you don’t climb Everest or otherwise go down in the record books. Being a good parent and raising kids to well-adjusted, kind, productive adults is extraordinary. So is doing a job the way it should be done, every time.

25. #25. Stop acting like everything is fine if it isn’t. – It’s okay to fall apart for a little while. You don’t always have to pretend to be strong, and there is no need to constantly prove that everything is going well. You shouldn’t be concerned with what other people are thinking either – cry if you need to – it’s healthy to shed your tears. The sooner you do, the sooner you will be able to smile again.

You have to pick your time and place, but also words to live by. Take it from someone who has an ulcer without a helicobacter infection, purely from internalizing stress: it creates so much long-term misery permanent stoicism just isn’t worth the cost. Doesn’t mean you have to be public about it, though.

26. #26. Stop blaming others for your troubles. – The extent to which you can achieve your dreams depends on the extent to which you take responsibility for your life. When you blame others for what you’re going through, you deny responsibility – you give others power over that part of your life.

Yeah, though this really cuts both ways. If you constantly internalize everything bad that happens as having been somehow your fault or something you could have prevented, you will eat yourself alive and then you won’t be much good to anyone, including yourself. Psychologists call this internal vs external locus of control; people who are balanced somewhere in between are happiest and most successful. Plus taking credit for sheer gobsmacking luck will make you an arrogant ass.

27. #27. Stop trying to be everything to everyone. – Doing so is impossible, and trying will only burn you out. But making one person smile CAN change the world. Maybe not the whole world, but their world. So narrow your focus.

Take it from a lazy person: this is so much less work and stress it’s not even funny. Doesn’t mean don’t make an effort, but taking on impossible tasks just consumes you.

28. #28. Stop worrying so much. – Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy. One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time? Three years? Five years?” If not, then it’s not worth worrying about.

Would that people could just turn this off by thinking positive. Believe it or not, how much anxiety you experience, as well as how easily you can turn it off on command, is heavily genetically influenced- and people who draw the short end of that straw have to learn much more powerful coping methods, and in some cases use medication.

29. #29. Stop focusing on what you don’t want to happen. – Focus on what you do want to happen. Positive thinking is at the forefront of every great success story. If you awake every morning with the thought that something wonderful will happen in your life today, and you pay close attention, you’ll often find that you’re right.

I DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES I DO I DO I DO. Being able to visualize success clearly and move toward it is very important, but so is avoiding pitfalls you can see if you keep your eyes on the road and not the horizon.

30. #30. Stop being ungrateful. – No matter how good or bad you have it, wake up each day thankful for your life. Someone somewhere else is desperately fighting for theirs. Instead of thinking about what you’re missing, try thinking about what you have that everyone else is missing.

Ehhh. This is a good way of calming yourself in a crisis, but feeling like you have no right to your own unhappiness over your circumstances just because there are starving children in Africa isn’t going to lead to any sort of psychologically positive outcome. It’s not good for making kids eat their dinner, either. Is good for giving them a weird and dysfunctional relationship with food, though. And for that matter happiness.

Tune in next time for… I have no idea what, or when.

Ceci n’est pas une post title

December 12, 2013 - 11:54 pm 13 Comments

Recently, LabRat’s mother paid us a visit. This is not a happy occasion to put it mildly, but detailing this is not the purpose for which I blow the dust out of the keyboard today.

As part of the appeasement package, some of the art museums available in Santa Fe were tapped for afternoon visits. The fact that most were located near the damnable plaza, the tourist-packed heart of the oldest part of Santa Fe, and thus not well configured for the high vehicular traffic that tourist attractions draw deterred none but me, the driver of the ginormous pick-up.

The New Mexico Museum of Art was eventually selected as the top candidate, and thus we hauled the ponderousness of the truck and LabRat’s mother directly to the plaza to see The Art.

This did not go well. Allow me to present, with minimal commentary (until later), some of the pieces of art we encountered in this fraud of an institution. File names contain additional commentary, and those that are not terribly well in focus, I’m torn between calling art and just noting that the pieces were bad enough that focus would not really help anything.


Yes, that’s construction paper on cardboard.








I’m not positive these next two were actual exhibits, but given the rest of the museum I wanted to be sure to get a snapshot just in case I was standing in front of genius.

I don’t know, this one had a light shined specifically on it so I think it was an installation piece. *rimshot*

And finally, I present the best thing in the whole damn museum:

Now, to be fair there were two, maybe three pieces that were actually interesting and worth looking at. There was a decent Georgia O’Keefe repressionist piece. By contrast, there were roughly 15-20 of those bullshit “I sloshed my brush-water on loose-leaf” pretentious troll-pieces from Richard Tuttle. LabRat left insulted on behalf of the two good artists for having their actual work displayed next to such vapid drivel, while I was insulted the institution would willingly display so much that would be best used wadded up to light the fireplace and have the gall to charge money to look at it. Or go in the fireplace as actual fuel at Blogorado. I’m reasonably certain we destroyed thousands of dollars worth of art in the firepit there this year, but luckily it’s ok because my scrap pile must be worth millions. I’m sincerely tempted to select some random chunk of battered 2×4 with a nail sticking out of it, and attempt to deliver it as an addition the artist sent to the exhibit.

In fact, y’know what? Check this out:
I made that. Right now. Between typing the colon in “check this out:” and typing this line. I dare any one of you to find an expert who will say “Nope, that’s not part of this collection of pretentious bullshit.”

I’m not strictly sure photography was allowed. Frankly I don’t care. Being thrown out would very much have been an “Oh, don’t throw me in that briar patch!” situation. Forestalling my urge to redouble my efforts into researching a way to destroy all life on the planet from my back yard, most of the guest book broadly agreed that, in the words of art critic Hilton Kramer invoking the axiom “less is more,” “in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less…One is tempted to say, where art is concerned, less has never been as less than this.” One can hope that the curator in Santa Fe is similarly fired as the curator responsible for the exhibit that prompted that critique.

Finally, on the long hike back to where I finally managed to find a spot near the plaza big enough to accommodate an extended-bed extended-cab pickup, something caught my eye:

I could swear I’ve seen that emu head somewhere….
(And paging the ministry of irony, the piece is titled “Money Is Too Important To Take Seriously” and they want $3,600 for it. I actually do like it, infinitely more than anything I saw in the actual museum, but…. seriously?)

Neo-Luddism Rides Again

November 13, 2013 - 4:56 pm 8 Comments

So, across various sources that I read in the last few days there have come angry reactions to this piece of psuedo-intellectual reactionary bloviation. Which doesn’t usually come hipster-flavored, but hey, it’s the digital age and anything is possible. Except, according to the title and premise of the piece, getting lost. But swiping at low-hanging fruit is still totally possible in any age and with any technology, so let’s give it one more look than it really deserves.

We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.

Actually I don’t jump off bridges anymore (never did, truth be told) because it’s fucking dangerous. Those aren’t high-dive boards, they’re walkways over an unknown depth of water with an unknown amount of places to haul out and an unknown amount of sharp fucking rocks. I’ve done lots of things in various wild waterways, some adventurous and some not, but jumping off a bridge into one was something I recognized as just plain stupid long before I started carrying any sort of personal electronics around with me.

I’ve also never gone skinny-dipping in the ocean, although I’ve likewise spent some time on beaches, both before and after having service there was something it would even have been possible to care about. Why? I don’t like getting arrested, and even if I had a nudist beach available to me I’m entirely too conscious of what lives in the ocean and how much of it actually spends time close to the shoreline to be all that psychologically comfortable naked to it.

You know what has changed about my behavior on shorelines since I started carrying personal electronics any of the time (I do have a smartphone now, which I resisted for years, but I still turn off the ringer and stow it most of the time I leave the house unless I’m waiting for something alone.)? There is now one additional thing I leave wherever I put my wallet and keys. That’s it. That’s all. If you find the beach boring compared to your smartphone, you have other problems that have nothing whatsoever to do with Google or Instagram.

After this bit of inanity follows a bunch of stories about getting lost, some of them adventurous and exciting, and some of them experiences no one should miss unless they’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury. (Like losing his little brother in a busy city- something no parent or guardian would sign up to go through ever again.)

I’ve got a bunch of stories about getting lost, too. I’m one of those unfortunate individuals with no sense of direction whatsoever, a trait I inherited from both my parents, who also had no sense of direction. I don’t find being lost the least little bit romantic, mostly because it was a normal experience to me growing up and not in any way associated with young adult adventure. I’ve been lost in the woods on foot and in a car, stuck in a vehicle in deep mud or snow a couple of times because of a wrong turn taken trying to leave said woods, lost in a strange city on the wrong side of midnight and in the wrong damn neighborhood to be lost in while a young woman, lost in the empty gaps between cities in the West, lost when the weather presented some real dangers of exposure, lost without food, without water, and lost in more entertaining and hilarious settings. Occasionally it ended in a funny story or some bit of unexpected adventure, but mostly it ended with a lot of stress and cold and sometimes that delightful experience when you’re a small child of seeing real fear on your parents’ faces because they know your situation might not have a happy ending. I’ve had a lot of adventures I remember fondly, but pretty much all of them involved knowing at least roughly where I was fucking going and how to leave again.

I’ve also spent a lot of time eating on the road and in strange places. I’ve got stories about terrifying meals, having to pull over to the side of the road during a road trip so someone could puke after eating somewhere no one should, and a much more prosaic story about spending a number of years only eating in recognizable chain restaurants while traveling after hard lessons learned from those earlier experiences, unless I had a reliable voucher from someone local about where to eat.

I had a lot of fantastic experiences eating in small towns and on the road in the gulf coast south during college, because the biology and environmental sciences department, having to go on a lot of road trips for field trip and collection purposes, had an effective word-of-mouth network going for where to find the best hidden gems to eat. I still have memories of some of the best meals of my life from those times. It reawakened my sense of culinary adventure and made eating at chains somewhere new feel like a personal defeat.

Know what having small portable computers around me has allowed me to do? Repeat that experience everywhere. I can go anywhere there’s good food to be had with a pocketful of recommendations from chow hounds and road food enthusiasts across the nation, and I’m still having some of the best meals of my life that way, or at least something much better than chains and eons and light years better than food poisoning far from home.

I remember the time I picked up my girlfriend from her friend’s house in Massachusetts. She was going to school down in Georgia and this was the first time I’d seen her in months. “We’re back together…finally.” I tweeted, tagging both of our Twitter handles in the status. The flash on my iPhone annoys her and she asks me to put my phone away. I begrudgingly agree and I start to drive. I put my home address into the GPS and follow the voice. She asks me if I want to get lost with her. I ask her what she means and she tells me that she wants to get lost. I ask her where she wants to go and she shrugs. I tell her that there is an interesting looking coffee shop only 2.3 miles away and she sighs. I turn off the GPS and drive. A few minutes go by and I get antsy. I turn the GPS back on and follow the voice, she crosses her arms and is silent all the way back to my house.

Dude. Here is some free advice for you, since you apparently need it. She was not pissed that you didn’t get genuinely, running-out-of-gas, freezing-in-the-dark, scary-goddamn-neighborhood lost. She was pissed you wouldn’t put down your fucking phone and put your full attention on her, and more pissed that you couldn’t do that for even ten minutes without buckling.

You know what’s nice about putting down the damn phone and going somewhere that’s actually new? Being able to, if you need to, pick it back up again when you’re done and find your way back home. If you can’t take step one of that combination, the problem is not the alienating march of technology, it’s your complete and total inability to leave your comfort zone without being forced to by circumstances beyond your control.

I like being part of the most connected generation of all time BECAUSE it allows me to have adventures without major disaster or anxiety attack on the part of my loved ones. (Who tend to, as loved ones do, worry more about me than I do about myself, after experiences of me vanishing from the face of the earth for hours or a day after I said I’d be home.) I love being able to Wikipedia the old building I’m in and find out what makes it special, that I’d never have known otherwise. I love being able to eat truly new things I’d never have tried otherwise- because I’ve had turn-you-inside-out food poisoning while in the middle of a car trip before and IT FUCKING SUCKS.

I suspect what the author really misses isn’t being lost, it’s being young and having a sense of adventure about the world because all of it really is new and having the freedom to explore it at will is too. But I’m me and he’s him, and I can’t speak for him. I can, however, speak for my portion of the same generation, that hasn’t experienced any alienation whatsoever- and is still entirely capable of engaging with non-digital experiences without a competition.

What ABOUT them?

November 19, 2012 - 1:25 am 41 Comments

Well, we’ve covered birth control 101, in which we learned that hormonal contraception for women is a fixed cost that has absolutely no relation to how much sex she has or how many partners she has it with (and surprisingly often isn’t prescribed AS contraception but for other kinds of health care), and today, class, we’re going to have the 102, because apparently we still need to learn things!

Today I got linked to a post by Dr. Whitecoat, who appears to feel that a)The Affordable Care Act’s coverage of contraception represents a free handout to women, and b)that it offers nothing to men, who will nonetheless be part of the paying pool. This particular point of view, particularly that it represents a handout specifically to young, sexually promiscuous women, is shared by the Romney Campaign. To wit, “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women.”

Here’s a quick primer on birth control: there are three primary approaches with it. Surgical sterilization, hormonal contraception in various forms, which does not (yet) exist for men as it’s much easier to stop an egg from getting fertilized or implanting than it is to stop fertile sperm production, and barrier methods, which technically include female condoms and dental dams, but as I’ve never actually met anyone who’s used either, we’ll just go with “condoms and diaphragms”. There’s also various formats of spermicide delivery, but as they are really unreliable compared to everything else, they’re usually used as a backup to the barrier method in case it breaks or was put on/in incorrectly. There’s also IUDs, which technically is a surgical approach but is also temporary and only for women, so in effect it can be lumped in with the hormonal contraceptives.

All birth control methods have their upsides and their downsides. Hormonal contraception is fire-and-forget as long as you’re good about remembering to take your pill or renew your shot or your Norplant, but it has a number of side effects and does buggerall to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Of the barrier methods, diaphragms have to be fitted, don’t prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and are fiddly as hell to insert; they have the upside that once you’ve managed that you can have sex “spontaneously”, but that’s a sufficiently small upside I’ve never met anyone who uses one of those still, either. Condoms are cheap and protect against sexually transmitted infection, but they reduce sensation for most men that I’ve talked to, you’ve got to have them on hand and ready to go when you’re ready to have sex, and most of them come with spermicidal lube.

Yes, that’s actually an upside AND a downside. The problem with any form of birth control that uses the spermicidal backup is that the vaginal area is an ecosystem unto itself; it’s normally inhabited by friendly, acid-loving bacteria that keep things clean and healthy, but spermicide kills them as well as killing sperm. Use too much, too often, and most women will become vastly more prone to vaginal and urinary tract infections, since the acid-lovers aren’t there making things inhospitable for nastier-tempered invaders anymore. They’re painful, they’re unpleasant, and they stink. They can also be life-threatening- a UTI untreated can happily migrate up into the bladder or kidneys and start doing some serious damage. Condoms that don’t have spermicide exist, but they can be difficult to find, or at least I’ve never managed to find any on the drugstore shelves. Granted, it’s been a long time since I tried, but at the time, it was special order or nothing doing. (I had a friend with a steady boyfriend who was also allergic to the class of antibiotics most useful in treating urinary tract infections. This was the bane of her existence and led to some pretty serious illnesses.)

All contraceptives have tradeoffs, and which downsides you’re willing to accept have a great deal to do with what kind of sex you’re having, and most of the more serious downsides are the woman’s consequence. If you’re a single woman and having casual hookups, sex buddies, or other short-term relationships, condoms are absolutely the way to go: you need the protection from STIs way more than you need anything else other than the pregnancy prevention, and since you probably have no idea when you’re next having sex, there’s less risk that the spermicide will hurt you, and simply grabbing some birth control from the drug store or night stand when you need it is a much more attractive option.

However, if you’re in a long-term, exclusive relationship, particularly if you’re cohabiting, hormonal birth control becomes much more attractive. You’re having regular sex, so the effects of spermicide are a more pressing concern, neither of you (presumably, obviously there are exceptions and the exceptions will usually be using condoms) is carrying an STI and you’re not going to be picking a new one up anytime soon unless someone is both being horrible and doing it without a condom, and since you’re having regular sex, a form of birth control that’s a fixed, steady cost is much more attractive. Since STIs and infections have been taken (mostly, some hormonal birth control raises the risk of vaginal/urinary infections too) off the table, concerns about men’s sensation are much higher on the priority list now.

Now I’m going to get a little more personal, so cut just in case anybody’s sensibilities are more, well, sensitive than I expect.


Targeting Fail

October 25, 2012 - 5:16 pm 6 Comments

So once again learning from the pros at Popehat….

Hey Atomic Nerds,

I have been following your blogs for a long time and I am a huge fan. Anyway, we just came out with a product that I think you both would get a kick out of. It is a baby outfit that is actually part mop that cleans your floors as the baby crawls – perfect for lazy parents.

Check out our site and let us know if you want anything. We would love to send you some samples of our products.

Your product is fucking stupid and if you think we’re endorsing anything baby related you’ve very clearly never read our blog.

I should’ve looked into the option for a pony. I could’ve named it Adhesive Intoxicant. Or Huffer Sparkle. It’s a glue joke, son, work with me here.

Prep The Volcano Mounted Giant Laser

October 19, 2012 - 2:36 am 15 Comments

Venturing into the wilds of broadcast TV last night, LabRat and I were engaged in a bit of armchair quarterbacking while watching the CrossFit Games. What with the yanking shit out of our asses about how the athletes could do better considered pontificating about the events this year, we neglected to hit fast forward on the tivo at a commercial break.

This was a mistake.

Some typically saccharine blather starts up, explaining the happy life some couple is about to have together. The money quote, pardon the pun, comes in fairly early: “And they never fight about money because they found some retirement guys who work on salary, not commission, and got some straight advice and answers.”

Holy fuck it’s like they read my goddamn mind if I had been deprived of oxygen for six hours and hit with a lead pipe for four! Salary instead of commission?! Sweet merciful jesus-tits, that’s exactly the answer! How could you not want some schlub who makes the same coin at the end of the day whether he doubled your account value or lost everything? That’s exactly the lack of motivation I want in the folks running my money. Commission? Pfff. I don’t see how that could possibly motivate better service. I mean, that would be like giving the guy more money the better the job he did, and that couldn’t work.

Listen up, TD Ameritrade. You’re on fucking notice. StingrayTrade doesn’t do this sad-sack meh-good-enough salary bullshit. StingrayTrade wants the account, and wants to run it like woah, because, and this is the crazy part, the more money your account makes, the more money StingrayTrade makes, and StingrayTrade is very interested in making money. They even released a sequel advertisement:

“This is Carl and Sally. They’re not wishy-washy clownshoes like Karen and Jeremiah over at Ameritrade, those fucking schlubs who just bumble through life with the glassy-eyed focus of a tranqed duogong. Carl and Sally know what they want, and they want more money than God.

Ameritrade is bragging about how their planners are on salary. Think about all the wonderful things that have come from salaried employees, like the DMV, or the attitudes of convenience store clerks.

At StingrayTrade, we keep our staff on commission, so the more you make, the more they make. And we specially screen our employees to find people so greedy that even Scrooge McDuck thinks they’re going a little far. We want to make money. Some of us even get a sexual thrill out of making money.

This is Carl and Sally. This is Bruce, their StingrayTrade rep. This is Betsy, Bruce’s stabbin’ knife. Betsy is responsible for some really killer deals, and so Carl and Sally’s net worth has gone up 327% just this quarter. And if the Securities Exchange Commission knows what’s good for it, and for its sweet little daughter, they’ll just keep right on looking the other way.

This is Carl, Sally, Bruce, Betsy, and the new security goon they hired, Vinnie. And these are Karen and Jeremiah’s thumbs, because they couldn’t afford to keep them once StingrayTrade decided there was profit to be had involving them.

Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women, and then buy a couple senators just to rub it in. StingrayTrade. We want to make some fuckin’ money.”

I swear, one more non-threatening, soft-sell “Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody were nice” financial firm ad and I’m going to start recruiting out of white collar (and a few regular ones for good measure) prisons and incorporate.

A Few More Words

October 16, 2012 - 10:20 pm 5 Comments

So there’s this internet kerfuffle going down, as they do. A Gawker writer decided to publicize the identity of a long-time Reddit mod whose range of activities have historically been mostly dominated to creating and maintaining all that is most awful about Reddit*: he was most famous for creating and maintaining r/jailbait, a subforum for trading sexualized pictures of minors taken from more or less wherever (which Reddit eventually shut down- after six years and with all evident regret), but also in a long highlight reel of subreddits devoted to enthusiasms for various racist and sexist subjects, including r/creepshots, a sub for sexualized candid photos of women taken on the sly**. The fellow has subsequently lost his job and is generally very sad about having been outed against his will.

Ken at Popehat has said about all I would have wanted to say about the subject, better than I would have, typically. So if you feel I’m missing a point, it’s probably because Ken has already covered it.

However, from what I’ve observed in discussions about the subject, there are a couple of points *I* want to hit.

1) As a principle, “protecting the worst of us to protect all of us” actually has its intended effect generally more rarely than people seem to think. But when, in the process of “protecting the worst of us”, you do so actively at the expense of innocent others (like, say, the children and women who had their pictures posted against their will specifically for creeps to fap to), you’re not “protecting the worst of us to protect all of us”, you’re just protecting the worst of us, period full stop.

2) Being offensive isn’t virtuous. Neither, for that matter, is being inoffensive, but making an internet career out of making as many people angry as possible isn’t some form of activism, it’s just being an asshole. Being an asshole isn’t and shouldn’t be against the law, but neither does it grant you any sort of moral standing of its own distinction for the act of being willing to offend people. Being willing to offend people to the ends of some moral goal is noble; going out of your way to offend people because that’s just funny to you is being an asshole. Being an asshole as your primary hobby will open you to a lot of purely social consequences, including an employer in an at-will state deciding that they wish to disassociate themselves from a notorious asshole. Do people deserve to lose their jobs for being an asshole in one area of their lives that has little or nothing to do with their jobs? Probably not. Do children deserve to have their pictures yanked off their Facebook for a coalition of creepazoids to make their masturbation fodder for the day, just because “the internet is public”? Also probably not. Pick a moral standing- “public is public”, both pictures and personal information, or “posting with a baseline expectation of privacy should be private”, but trying for both at the same time as favors you most will impress no one.

*Also training and helping new moderators. The fact that this has been brought up as an argument for “he’s not all bad!” rather than a warning bell tells you everything you need to know about Reddit culture.

**Because apparently it’s a painfully important distinction, he only moderated Creepshots, he didn’t create it and evidently didn’t contribute. So, y’know, he only moderated it. For the public good and all.

I Declare Jihad

October 10, 2012 - 9:49 pm 53 Comments

Look, you hopped up pretentious fuckskids of inferiority masquerading as trendy, there is one goddamn thing that has been utterly fucking pivotal to the advancement and continuance of human progress in the history of the fucking world, eclipsed in importance only by beer, and I am utterly fed the righteous fuck up with every half-wit with an art history degree and a pot of boiling water fucking it up.

Coffee is not this fucking hard, people.

I may be biased by a recently uninterrupted string of bad experiences, but the continued existence of Starbucks backs my claim that shit-awful coffee is still way too common. What’s worse, Starbucks has been the model for every hipster-filled pretentious nouveau-trendy hole in the wall with shitty parking designed only to be accessible to people who’s job consists of carrying an ipad around all day and pretending they’re worth a tin shit in a gold mine. Over the last few months, I’ve been to more than a handful of coffee establishments, ranging from “Gimme some fuckin’ bean juice and get me out the door” to “Our organic free range fair trade cruelty free salmon bagel won best of the block for food served next to a tattoo parlor!” and a good chunk in between.

You know who had the best coffee out of the lot? The goddamn Obligatory Cow Reference in Secret Location, CO at Blogorado. The greasy fucking spoon. Was it great coffee? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s pretty damn good. Fellow coffee snob MattG insists that a good portion of this is due to the company we always have at the Obligatory Cow Reference, and I’ll allow that does bring a good bit of leniency to the standards, but that aside, the coffee is still pretty un-suckful.

The reason for this trend of bad coffee is that, probably thanks to the Seattle Shit-in-a-cup, burnt beans and overextracted brew has become way too accepted as “good coffee,” and it absolutely ball-shreddingly cunt-staplingly IS NOT GOOD.

Let’s take the first problem first: burnt coffee. Unless you fell out of the monkey tree yesterday, you’re probably aware that coffee beans have to be roasted before they can be ground and brewed. A few special cases aside, this happens between 375 and 425F, and can take from 90 seconds to 15 minutes. It will be a smoky process regardless, but apparently every goddamn roaster with ironic glasses has decided that more is more in terms of smoke, and the ideal output product from a coffee roast should look more like the trash can from Auschwitz than a small brown pellet. The fucking goal is to cook out the moisture, and break down the proteins, sugars, and phenolic materials into something complex and delicious. It’s fundamentally a Maillard reaction. That’s an art to do well, I will grant, but it’s not fucking rocket surgery.

Sugars go first, into formic, acetic, and lactic acids, which are responsible for tart flavors. As the roasting continues, acids and astringent phenolic stuff (like chlorogenic acid) are broken down to reduce overall acidity (this can be fucked up later even if done correctly here, don’t worry aspiring trendwhore baristas). This is, counter-intuitively, also where the bitterness starts to ramp up, and where we start running into that choking on a burnt log flavor, since the byproducts from the Maillard that cause the browning of the bean start to ramp up as the bean darkens- or in layman’s terms: IT’S FUCKING BURNT YOU GODDAMN BOIL ON THE ASS OF DECENT CAFFEINE DELIVERY. Body is shot like a car in Fallujah, and the only flavors left are hate and failure.

There’s an argument to be made that I should be pissed off about how they’re grinding the beans, but really, the brewing process is more at fault in any of these cases than grain size, from what I can tell, so I’m going to skip it. Ideally, you want to extract about 20% of the overall coffee solids to make a full, balanced cup of brew. To do this, you have to first get the proportion of coffee to water correct (Hint: You need more coffee than you think!) and second, you need the correct fucking temperature of water. Amazingly, we have had the technology to heat water to specific thermal levels for… let me check here… ah, right, THE LAST FUCKING CENTURY OR SO. Coffee water needs to be heated to between 190F and 200F. DO. FUCKING. NOT. FUCKING. BOIL. THE. FUCKING. WATER.* Higher temperatures extract more bitter compounds. Hence, over-extracted. Some drip machines are slapdash affairs, and compensate for inadequately heated water by leaving the water in contact with the coffee for longer. This is popular with conical filter machines. This also leads to over-extracted coffee.

The starting point for coffee to water ratios should be no lower than 1:15. Most of the old Better Homes and Fuck Dens from The Good Ol’ Days are actually not terrible on this point- one of my grandmothers of the “It was good enough before the darkies could vote, it’s good enough now!” mold insisted on 1.5 Tbs coffee per mug in the pot (using the average 11 oz mug). This gave a ratio better than double the starting point for standard American drip coffee to not suck, and it has served me well. Remember, it is always better to use MORE coffee in the brew; you can dilute if it’s too strong, but you can’t fix too weak.

The Obligatory Cow Reference has an old(er)-school basket type jumbo brewer. It’s got enough ass to get the water hot enough, they use enough coffee for the water, and the basket filter doesn’t leave the water in the grounds for too long. End result: Pretty damn good coffee, unfucked by some shitskid with a fixie.

Look, good coffee is a high art. It does take some practice. But you know what it also takes? Having a fucking example that wasn’t made from the ashes of Juan Valdez’ donkey brewed for half an hour at 212F as a starting point to judge your own output by. Are clove cigarettes really that damaging to the palate? Jesus, people.

So with the explanation out of the way, here’s what I’ve come up with as a rule of thumb. Call it Stingray’s Law of Brew Selection, or Stingray’s BS: If you see more pump bottles full of flavor shit by whatever brewing device is in operation, just get a glass of water and snort a rail of ground-up No-Doz, because I swear on a stack of dead civets that if I get one more shitty cup of mud from a fuck-leaving with a neck tattoo and a hole the size of a golf ball in the ear** I’m going to solve the problem with ten gallons of diesel and a fucking road flare.

*Unless you’re at an altitude where water boils pretty close to 200F instead of 212. Here at 7200′, small quantities will boil around 203F, larger batches where the weight of the water brings some pressure to the party will go higher, up to the 206-208 range. If you try to use a pressure cooker to get the temp higher without boiling, I will hunt you down and do violent things to you. Like make you drink your own coffee. There is a specific style that does this, and brews around 230F, but, uh, damn.
**Some days I’m really tempted to keep a nice, super-heavy Masterlock in my pocket for these special snowflakes, and then when the coffee sucks, beckon them in close, lock it through the ear and run like hell.

The Army of Meddlers Walks Hard

September 13, 2012 - 6:58 pm 3 Comments

White Rock, the detached suburb of Los Alamos we call home, is not what one could call “traffic dense.” In fact, there wasn’t a single other car on the road as I approached the intersection.

…which was why I was somewhat surprised when the pedestrian walking in the street shrilly screeched “NO TURN SIGNAL!” at me as I made a right. She looked like I took a shit in her official Busybody Bonnet when I replied “USE THE SIDEWALK AND WE’LL TALK.” Seriously, traffic nanny, I called the leg store and they said they didn’t have a single one for you to stand on with a perfectly cromulent pedestrian-specific lane right there.

(And if you liked this, please consider donating to the Prostate Cancer Foundation so men like me can live longer lives to piss off meddling busybodies of all stripes longer)

In Which I State The Obvious

July 25, 2012 - 5:38 pm 20 Comments

…Or, what should be the completely and utterly bleeding obvious to anyone with the moral compass imparted to the average five-year-old, but somehow apparently isn’t to some people.

Via Jennifer, apparently some people are upset that the NCAA decided to penalize Penn State’s football program for its role in the Sandusky scandal. These outrageous penalties include stripping the football program of some scholarships, and barring them from bowl games for four years. I regard these sanctions as amounting to some vigorous tickling of the wrist, with perhaps a whispered threat to slap if they continue being naughty, but apparently they are cause for sackcloth and ashes for some.

I suppose I should put my biases up front: I have a very low opinion of college sports programs in general. While I can appreciate the notion of a healthy mind in a healthy body, I think it’s completely ludicrous to set up our higher education institutions as feeder systems for professional sports leagues, or to encourage any student to prioritize sports when there is only a miniscule chance that that will be his or career, and even if he is riotously successful at that career, it will certainly be over well before their working life is. I think it makes about as much sense as tacking a poker league onto CERN, and it would not dampen my spirits in the slightest to see football (and basketball, and baseball) programs in general vanish from the American academic landscape.

That said, even if my heartbeat ran in tune with my alma mater’s sporting fortunes, I’m pretty sure I would not regard football as greater in importance to whether or not small children are raped. Sainted JoPa apparently stressed in a letter before his death that it was “not a football scandal”, on the grounds that whether a football coach rapes children on a recreational basis in no way reflects on the football program, if it happens in their locker rooms and showers and their games are used to lure the children in the first place.

But, according to the independent report, concern for the football program and an utter lack of concern for Sandusky’s victims dominated the discourse between basically all of Penn State’s leadership when discussing the delicate situation that was one of their coaches maybe having child rape as a sideline hobby. It wasn’t that they thought child rape was OK, it was that the possibility simply wasn’t foremost in their minds as compared to the pressing issues that were potential bad publicity for the football program and the much greater issue that was in any way upsetting Joe Paterno, who insisted on treating the football program and the students involved in it as his personal fiefdom, above and outside accountability to normal university rules. If you have lots of free time and no chronic high blood pressure problems, I recommend reading or at least skimming the full report; it’s a meticulously documented and lavishly illustrated ethnography of an institution subverted to the pure purpose of continuing a comfortable existence.

The NCAA apparently considered the possibility of imposing a four year “death penalty” on the Penn State football program, then backed off upon deciding it was too harsh. I disagree. If football has attained an importance within your institution such that the question of whether or not a child or children was raped on your premises by one of your coaches, and the identity of the child, is so uninteresting to you that the possibility only attains importance in the question of liability, you need to take a fucking break from football. This is like asking yourself if you need to step away from alcohol in the wake of driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile through the middle of your sister’s wedding after six bottles of Goldschlager; the answer should not be equivocal.

I am pleased Penn State had sufficient self-awareness to tear down Paterno’s statue. I would regard tearing down the stadium as well and salting the earth to be a proportionate response. And I think anyone who regards the ding in reputation the football program took, as well as the short break from bowl games, to be Penn State’s “darkest day” should consider the possibility of aversive therapy until the glory of the game shrinks to something like the level of importance that is the not-being-raped status of any given child.