company of three, black peppermint tea

Tag: reddit

“No belief is sacred. No belief should be allowed to go unchallenged for any reason.”

by cloudier


If you really do chose your religion, then how do you explain that so many people born in North America are Christian, and so many people born in the Middle East and Muslim? If it was up to us, and all the religions were equally appealing to someone, wouldn’t you expect a general distribution of religious preference within any given population?

I happen to have been born in in a Middle-Eastern country in which apostates (those who leave Islam, like my family) are brutally executed, The Islamic Republic of Iran. I also happen to have gone to elementary school there for three years, where I was made to shout, “Death to America! Death to Israel!” over and over and over again at the beginning of each school day for three years without the slightest clue as to what I was really saying. So, if you want to talk about being born into a regime which forces its religion on you by fear of death and brainwashes you as a child into adopting its politics, I feel I have some authority in the matter.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize the political opinions of others; we must do it, within reason and decency. And we should stay away from rigid parties which become very aggressive when their ideology is questioned.

This is precisely the problem. The only reason a society like Iran’s exists on the face of the earth is because it’s being allowed to exist. People who don’t have the slightest clue as to what’s going on in Iran (the mental molestation of children in schools; the brutal stoning of 9 year old girls who are buried waist deep in soil and have stones thrown at them until the teeth break into their mouths and eventually enough of their organs fail for them to die slowly, all because they wore pants or held hands with a neighborhood boy; the nearly 400 people who are executed yearly by being hung in clusters of dozens from a single street light, carefully so as to not break their necks, and left to writhe around in that cluster desperately, being suffocated for the agonizing 40 minutes it takes for them to die) like to paint Iran as some sort of victim of western colonialism that needs to be left alone. On the other hand, people who do know what’s going in Iran are either too selfish and concerned with their own government to care, or they let themselves be bullied by the cretins in charge of the Iranian government and scared out of saying anything that might be considered hostile. It’s not terribly different from how the civilized world allows entire states to be openly gay-bashing without challenging them and openly ridiculing them for their savage beliefs. People should be ashamed to be homophobic in the 21st century.

But people believe what they believe because of their life experience which taught them that believing in X was good and believing in Y was not; they may be wrong, but are they really to blame for believing in something more than they are to blame for being of a certain color?

The role of reason and logic is to allow for beliefs that are not based on personal experience. If your beliefs have the potential to harm others, even the slightest bit, you have absolutely no excuse for them, even if you were one of the kids standing next to me on that school yard every morning who wasn’t quite as lucky and didn’t manage to leave before the rape of his psyche became permanent. If you’re capable of logic and reason, I’m going to challenge you when I disagree. Whatever excuse you have for coming to that belief is invalidated once you’re faced with the better alternative, understand it, and choose not to adhere to it. I’ll gladly criticize and ridicule you for that.

Those who are unable or unwilling to have these conversations aren’t to be tolerated or surrendered to. I understand, more lucidly than most people, that the words that come out of people’s mouths can be placed there by others and not at all be that person’s fault, but by excusing such people you allow them to create more like themselves. The teachers that led us in chanting, “Death to America! Death Israel!” at 6 years-old were no less brainwashed than many of the students they no doubt affected. That’s not going to stop me from trying to put an end to it.

If you’re willing to have a reasonable discussion about your beliefs, then be ready to be criticized. I welcome your efforts to do the same. If you’re not willing to have a reasonable discussion then stand the fuck back, because I for one don’t have any intention to respect any culture of brainwashing murderers and am sure as hell not scared of them. No belief is sacred. No belief should be allowed to go unchallenged for any reason. The murder and mutilation of children isn’t a matter of “cultural tolerance.”

a shout-out for /r/depthhub (:

by cloudier

meet depthhub


There is no conspiracy from big pharma or the physicians (any that I know anyway) trying to keep them alive to bilk them for money. It is a cultural problem – death is not a natural part of life. Once, most people died in their homes. Now, I can’t remember the exact figure, but it is something like 20% of all deaths occur in long term care facilities, and 50-60% of the rest happen in hospitals.

Death is a natural part of life. But in American culture it isn’t treated that way. It is seen as a failure of medicine. Everybody is a fighter, nobody dies. And as a provider it would be unethical of me to even try to deny you care that you request, even if it were my perogative. So there is no cost analysis, no thought that goes into it. Most of the health care dollars are spent in the last 6 months of life. The overwhelming majority of them. Why? Because Death is hidden and unnatural and we do our damnedest to fight it for our loved ones and ourselves.


We all know what happens as an alternative to designing millions of possible endings: at best there’s two or three choices that have any impact on the plot, they’re clustered at the end, and all they do is select some variations on the ending sequence. (Games that allege to offer massive player choice instead offer irrelevant player choice, but change some lines of dialogue in unimportant ways.)

The question is why this is viewed as preferable. A game presents a choice, often in the form of a forced moral dilemma, and then once you’ve made it and the associated cutscene ends, the choice no longer exists.

Even the choice of killing one of the two other human party members in Mass Effect is only made meaningful if you for some reason use both in your party, since neither of them have enough narrative heft to really imprint, and of course BioWare isn’t going to completely bifrucate the game at that point. Compare to the railroad ride of Final Fantasy VII, where Jenova murdering Aeris still causes mental anguish for a lot of players. (Then there’s the “decision-making” of the last level of Mass Effect 2, where the logical connections are so obscured that the game turns into Reservoir Dogs. If they wanted to make a postmodern commentary on movies about organized crime, then at least they succeeded on that front…)

Despite that, “player choice” in RPGs is still seen as a good thing, and I just can’t see how.


So, this month [3] we have elected <sigh> [4] J.S. Bach (1685-1750). Why sigh? Because it’s predictable. Why predictable? Because in classical-music circles, I think his name is invoked more than any other as the best composer of all time. (As Radar is advised in MASH when dating a classical-music buff, just say “ah, Bach”.) Why best? Read on!

Life and times

Briefly, Bach lived in a small region of Germany and didn’t really get out much. The notable exception is when he traveled 250 miles north, on foot, to see the great composer and organist [5] Dieterich Buxtehude. Afterward, his appointments were as music director in noble courts and a church: first somewhat briefly in Weimar, then briefly in Köthen, and finally a long time in Leipzig. He was responsible for directing small orchestras and choirs, both amateur and professional, as well as music education, plus he had to be able to play a whole variety of keyboard and stringed instruments. This kept him composing nonstop, and had the consequence that his earlier work is largely secular and his later work largely sacred (based on Lutheran translations). This also means he didn’t really do opera, even though it was just coming into vogue in the Baroque era, but some of his sacred oratorio isn’t that far off.


Bach was at best somewhat well-known in his lifetime but especially obscure afterward. He was certainly recognized as an unequaled keyboard player; one of his side jobs was testing out new organs for their manufacturers and it’s rumored that his [6] ubiquitous D minor Toccata and Fugue was written to help him stress-test their power and responsiveness. There is a story that a famous French organist had challenged him to a keyboard contest, but upon hearing the surprising cadenza at the end of [7] the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto #5 (surprising not just because it’s totally punk shredding, but also because the harpsichord hadn’t really been a concerto instrument prior to that), the Frenchman called it off!

However, after J.S. died, he faded from the public eye as Baroque music went out of style and the new fad was Classical, including the work of his sons [8] J.C., [9] C.P.E., [10] J.C.F., and [11] W.F. He remained a little bit of a cult classic: Mozart and Beethoven were both introduced to his work late in their lives and frantically started writing fugues as a result. But he didn’t really reappear for the general public until [12] Mendelssohn revived interest with a performance of the masterpiece oratorio [13] The Passion According to St. Matthew. Other works were only gradually rediscovered; the famous solo sonatas/partitas/suites that every string player learns as a student were only resurrected for that purpose by [14] Joachim in the late 1800s ([15] violin) and [16] Casals in the early 1900s ([17] cello).

Why he’s so damn famous

Of course, Bach is best known today for being history’s essentially undisputed master of [18] counterpoint. Counterpoint is polyphony, i.e. multiple voices carrying independent musical lines at the same time, but there are a lot of rules it has to follow. They may seem arbitrary when described, but they’re glaringly obvious if you hear them broken. This is difficult, maybe a bit like solving a Sudoku except it has as many columns as the piece has measures, and there’s no guaranteed solution, and it’s under a bigger variety of constraints, and it needs an overarching musical structure to make it sound appealing. The difficulty increases exponentially with the number of voices. Two make a good challenge, three is noteworthy, and four is a show-stopper. For example (nearly every textbook example of counterpoint is from Bach), [19] this fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier.

In 1747, Bach met [20] King Frederick the Great; Frederick showed Bach one of the first true pianos, then challenged him, on the spot, to improvise a three-voice fugue based on a complex theme of the king’s own invention. He did. (This is shocking.) Then Frederick challenged him to do it with six voices, which everyone thought was a joke. A short time later, Bach mailed him [21] precisely that, in what would become part of a suite of clever, punny variations on the King’s theme, A Musical Offering.


by cloudier

I’m trying to find my neighbour’s lost cat, but he hasn’t told me what it looks like. After a couple hours of looking, I’m pretty sure his cat isn’t white, because if it was white I would have found it by now. It’s also possible that his cat got eaten by a cougar and isn’t here at all, but I really hope that isn’t the case. I heard some noises in the corner of my back yard, so I think his cat might be somewhere over there, but it’s possible that all I heard was the wind blowing leaves around.

The “everything you need to know about the Higgs boson” thread

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”

by cloudier

Isaac Asimov

WHEN I was going to college, the United States was not yet out of the Great Depression, and I knew that I was not going to get a job after I graduated in 1939. The only thing I could do was to go on to graduate work, obtain some advanced degrees, and hope that the situation would have improved by the time I was through.

Now the problem was this: In what subject was I to get my Ph.D. (assuming I could be smart enough to get it and could find the money for tuition — for in those days there was very little in the way of grants to help out the impoverished)?

I was hung up between history and chemistry. I thought I could handle either one, but there was no question in my mind that I was more interested in history.

However, practical reasoning entered the field. I said to myself, “If I get my degree in history, then the chances are that if I get a job at all, I will get one in some small college, far away from my beloved city of New York, and that I will be working for a mere pittance with almost no possibility for advancement. On the other hand” (I continued saying to myself) “if I get my Ph.D. in chemistry, I may get a job with a large research firm for an ample salary with lots of room for advancement and with a chance, even, of winning a Nobel Prize, since I am so brilliant a person.”

So I went for chemistry, and eventually, after a four-year delay because of World War II, I obtained my Ph.D. in chemistry in 1948.

The result? I went to work in 1949 as an instructor in biochemistry in a small medical school, far away from my beloved city of New York. I was working for a mere pittance and with no possibility of advancement. (Nor, I quickly realized, was there any chance at all that I would come closer than a light-year or two to a Nobel Prize.) As I frequently say: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” (Hamlet said that also, and he may even have said it first.)

Chemistry was a big flop in another way, too. I really didn’t like it and I was no good at it (except for being able to learn an encyclopedia of stuff about it, entirely because I can learn an encyclopedia of stuff about anything). What’s more, as time went on, I grew less and less interested in it and, eventually, in 1958, I was fired simply because I was so uninterested in it that I refused to do any research. (I didn’t mind teaching and writing books about it — I loved that.)

Of course, by that time I had another career, that of writing. In fact, my writing career began even while I was in college, when I was deciding what to do with myself — history or chemistry. Becoming a professional writer was a third option, but one that I didn’t consider for even a split-second.

At the time I made my decision, I had sold a story or two, but never in my wildest imaginings could I possibly have believed I would ever do more than make occasional pin-money out of those stories.

And to tell you the truth, for a long time, I never did more than that. By the time I began my work at the medical school, I had written 68 stories and sold 60 of them in the course of eleven years. That was not too bad considering that the major part of my time had to be spent in my father’s candy store, or at my graduate studies, or at a wartime job. However, in all that time, my total earnings for all eleven years amounted to $7700.

After I had been at work at: the medical school for half a year, my first novel, Pebble in the Sky, was published, to he followed soon by others, and royalties started coming in; but even at the time I was fired in 1958, my literary earnings amounted to only $15,000 a year, enough to keep me going for a while in the absence of a job, but not enough to make me comfortable. (By that time, I had a wife and two children to support, too — and I was middle-aged.)

Now let’s go back in time, to the point when I was first thinking about writing. Again, I had two choices. What I really wanted to write was historical fiction. I wanted to write a new kind of “Three Musketeers.” The only trouble was that that would mean research. I would have to spend at least three years doing research in order that I might spend one year writing, and I didn’t want to do that. I just couldn’t do that. I wanted to write, not sit around taking notes.

The alternative was science fiction. That required research, too, for I had to know science. But I already knew science thoroughly, and besides I could make up science of the future — so I began to write science fiction, and as you all know I did pretty well.

But only pretty well. What was it that made me rich and famous? I’ll tell you. As I continued to write science fiction, the urge to write historical fiction continued to gnaw away at me, and the impossibility of spending enormous time at research continued to keep me from doing anything about it — until a brilliant thought occurred to me, a thought that was at once encouraged by the great editor, John W. Campbell, Jr.

Why should I not write historical fiction of the future? I would deal with a social system, with politics, with economic crises, with everything that is to be found in history, except that it would all take place in the future and I would make it up. I wouldn’t have to do any research.

Therefore, I began writing my Foundation novels, and my Robot novels, and, in due course, I became rich and famous.

Twice I had shoved history, my one great love, to one side, and despite that, it was history, in the end, that made me. I repeat, “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” (Is it possible Hamlet stole that from me?)

5 myths about prostitution

Indeed, the high-end sex workers I have studied routinely see themselves as acting the part of a counselor or a marriage therapist. They say their job is to feed a man’s need for judgment-free friendship and, at times, to help him repair his broken partnership. Little wonder, then, that so many describe themselves to me as members of the “wellness” industry.

on marketing and stuff

People who are satisfied and secure in themselves and don’t see a need to change the way they are generally make terrible consumers of products designed to enhance one’s self-image based on the norms these same corporations are dictating to us. So these companies expend every resource they have in their marketing arsenal to make sure we never become those kinds of satisfied people. They hate satisfied people, because satisfied people don’t make them any money! And because they control the messages about sex, they can also control the most effective way to make you insecure and dissatisfied: by causing you to wonder if you are getting laid enough, or are getting laid by enough women, or whatever.

On discussion

by cloudier

The recent discussion on feminism, much of which has been neatly summarised in Kerrie’s post, has been very fun. It also makes me feel like I’m very shit at discussing things clearly and convincingly but I suppose the only solution to that is to discuss more.

As far as I can tell, discussion involves:

  1. Comprehending the other person properly and understanding how their view of the subject is different from yours and why.
  2. Writing a response that conveys your ideas to another person in a convincing manner – not in a succinct and English-essay-esque manner, where the responder already knows what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.

Also, I don’t intend to offend people and dislike offending people, so tell me if I do.

All this discussion reminds me of Michael Su’s dead grade forum, as well as how inefficient forums are – it was difficult to tell who was replying to who. WordPress comments are better than forums: wordpress comments have a basic form of threading. (However, unlike blogger, you can’t edit the CSS for free.) I reckon reddit’s comment system trumps forums and wordpress comments for discussions but I doubt that we could get enough people and activity on a private subreddit for people to overcome the (small) learning curve and then continue to return. Haha and there’s no ego OHH MORE BLOGVIEWS factor, but I’m still going to put that out there and hope that enough people are interested. (:

Irrelevantly I don’t think I understand belonging and I think I shouldn’t have stayed at home if only for English.