Archive for March, 2011

There Is No Fire Truck Of Certainty

One of the biggest problem in communicating is that each of us recognizes a different threshold of certainty, and it’s really hard to get across in every day conversation. “True” is kind of like “red”. It’s impossible to know that what I see as red is the same color that you see as red, because our language doesn’t give us the tools to describe the experience of a color. We can say something is red like a fire truck, but it never gets past that barrier.

In real life, though, it doesn’t really matter if our reds are the same, as long as there’s a reference point. We can all agree that whatever a fire truck is, that is what “red” is. Certainty doesn’t have a reference point. There will always be some jerk telling you everything you think is true is actually lies, all lies! People end up talking past each other because they’re using the same words to mean different things.

Richard Dawkins brings this up talking about evolution:

There was a time when people thought the world was flat. Then it became a hypothesis that the sun was the center of the universe, and then there was the hypothesis that even the sun was not the center of the universe. In the ordinary language sense of the word “fact,” is it a fact that the earth orbits the sun and the sun is part of the Milky Way galaxy. There’s never a hard and fast line when something ceases to be a hypothesis and becomes a fact. You realize with hindsight, that something has become a fact. Philosophers of science, of course, will say that nothing ever becomes a true fact, that everything is just a hypothesis that can never be adequately proven and that we could all wake up one day and discover that everything was just a dream. But in so far as the general public ever uses the word fact, evolution is one.

This effects us more than just in some “Hey, we could all be in the Matrix, man!” kind of way. We live in a world where science is a larger part of our lives than at any other point in human history. Keeping up with it all in any meaningful way would be a full time job. So we have to rely on authorities to translate the state of science. But one thing that’s hard to put across is exactly how strongly we know this.

I am not trying to shed doubt on the scientific process itself. Throughout history, science may not always have been right, but it has always been progressively better than what came before. That is, from time to time new discoveries overthrow our understanding of the world. It’s likely to happen again at some point in the future, maybe within our lifetimes. But never has a new discovery taken us back to an older way of looking at the world. It’s like looking at the world in progressively sharper resolution; we continue to see more, not less.



Categories: Science!

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Charles Schultz could be one depressing motherfucker.

Categories: Uncategorized

It’s Been A Long Week

Categories: Uncategorized

The Organ

Hammond Organ

My neighbors are going to hate me.

On Friday night, I went to Joe Harvard’s Rock ‘n Talk in Asbury. Joe had apparently told Mark that he had seen a church organ sitting on the side of the road somewhere down Bond St. Treasure like this is hard to leave alone. As soon as he told me, we were out the door.

We didn’t have much in the way of directions. Bond St only goes in one way from where we started, but it goes on for a couple of miles until it hits Deal Lake. All we knew was that it was outside of a church.

A waitress outside of Trinity and The Pope was having a cigarette. Mark says “ask her, she looks like she would know where the nearest church is”.

“You think I look like I would know where the nearest church is?” she asked.

Mark backed off for a second. “No that’s not what I meant. We’re just looking for a church on Bond Street”. Then he doubled down. “But maybe you do know where it is. Maybe you’re trying to trick us, and keep the organ they’re throwing away”.

The waitress pointed to a building around the corner, saying she thought it might be a Mission of some sort. There didn’t appear to be an organ out front, so we decided that must not be it. We thanked her and moved along.

At this point I started to despair. I told Mark that it’s crazy to think there’s just a free organ sitting on the side of the road, for the taking. There was probably a band setting up, and they must have just left it there momentarily while they were loading in. And it was starting to get to be that every building looked like it could be a church. I picked up the pace when I saw a large, aging brick building. That must have been it. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was just an elementary school. We decided we couldn’t keep going on foot.

We walked back and got my car. Since this street is one way, going in the wrong direction, we went up Main St till about we hit the end, then came back down Bond, creeping along to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

We did find it. A Hammond organ. I’m no expert, but it looks old. The back had come off, and it looks like someone dumped a bag of asbestos in there, covering the tubes. The power cable had been cut. There was no way of knowing if this this still worked. It was clearly not going to fit in my little car, but ridiculous finds call for ridiculous measures. We planned to come back in the morning.

The next morning, Mark and Keith go and stand watch over it. After several failed attempts, Erin and I found a U-Haul in Asbury that rented me a brand new cargo van (barely 7000 miles on it). Lifting that thing took all 4 of us.

Right now it’s sitting on my porch, covered with a tarp. Eventually I’ll have to find someone who has some clue as to what goes on inside of these things. I sure hope they make house calls. Then I clear out a spot somewhere inside my tiny apartment. Look out for my all instrumental Hammond solo album due in fall of 2011.


Categories: Adventure

History’s Pisser

Ron’s West End Tavern has been in existence, in one form or another, for well over 100 years. When President James Garfield was shot in 1891, and he was brought to Long Branch to recuperate this was where his doctors would get drunk after their shift watching over him. Probably explains why he didn’t make it.

The men’s room was a living piece of that history. For a hundred years, men had carved names and insults into every inch of the dark wood walls. When they ran out of fresh wall space people began carving into older carvings. The room marked time like geological strata, preserving incomplete moments from random points in the past.

It felt like some place special. The old wooden walls had absorbed punches, cigarette smoke, and just about every bodily fluid known to man. The urinal was some sort of historical artifact, shaped like a pelicans beak. The faucet creaked when you turned it on or off, and there was nowhere to dry your hands.

The room was small, but two people could fit inside, making it as much as a place for private conversations as it was for doing your business. It was a quiet, safe spot in a bar that can get as loud and raucous as any other.

The bar is still there. The same bartender has been minding the shop for as long as anyone can remember, and it’s still a patchwork of it’s different eras. Old books and novelties sit on the shelves next to framed pictures of 80’s b-list celebrities. The Soprano’s pinball machine is still in the corner. The crowd is still a mix of older regulars and college kids, and the music is either a classic rock station or an anything goes spin at the jukebox. But the bathroom’s gone.

Don’t worry, after drinking your 4th mason jar full of beer, you won’t have to go piss outside. There’s still a restroom. But it seems like it’s been grafted on from outside, like you just stepped out of the bar. The room was gutted. The wooden walls torn out and replaced with gray knife resistant tile, held immaculately in place with white grouting. The strange protruding urinal is gone, and in it’s place is a standard Home Depot bargain toilet. There’s a small, white sink wedged in the corner and a stack of paper towels placed neatly on it. It’s only been there a couple of weeks, and looks like no one’s bothered using it.

I asked the bartender what gives. That was a room with character. Now they have an impersonal, industrial rest room. She said that old bathroom was a pain to clean (wait… they cleaned it?). The new one they just hose down every night. Voila! Instant sanitation. As she was explaining this, another customer came running up to the bar. What happened to the bathroom, he asked. What did you do?

I get the feeling that Ron’s tends to change mostly by addition. New nicknacks are added to the pile next to the old ones. This was a major subtraction. Those walls could have been the subject of history thesis papers for years to come, as grad students tried to make heads or tails of what was recorded on it. But she didn’t seem troubled by it. She didn’t share our sense of loss. But she did tell me that the ladies room has not been touched.

Categories: Dive

Tsunami Dreams

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am terrified of tsunamis. Always have been. I know all the routes inland from Long Branch, Asbury Park, and Point Pleasant by heart. It’s something that will wake me up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, feeling the walls to make sure they’re still dry.

I have dreams of standing on the beach and seeing a wall of water 25 feet tall coming to wash these shores clean. Maybe it’s repressed Catholic guilt. Some sort of weird baptism fantasy. I don’t know. I should probably see somebody about that, right?

Turns out tsunamis aren’t really like that. There’s no giant wave crashing from above. But the reality is no less terrifying. It’s just unrelenting force, growing outwards from the coastline, plowing everything in it’s way.

This video is probably the craziest one I’ve seen yet from Japan.

Categories: Uncategorized

Lou Reed’s Manager Threatened To Kill Guy Over $1200

I figured that at aged 60-something old Uncle Lou would have calmed down some, but I guess he still hangs with a pretty tough crowd.

Categories: Uncategorized

Karate Kid Part III Blogging

So Daniel-san wants to defend the title he won in the first movie. But Mr Miagi refuses to train him, because karate is supposed to only be for self defense, not for trophies. But then an evil billionaire keeps humiliating Daniel until Mr Miagi changes his tune.

Isn’t that still just fighting over pride? The same thing as the trophy, pretty much? Sure they promised to keep coming after him, but didn’t it occur to him at all to call the police? No instead, they decide that they need to beat Cobra Kai (again) in the tournament (again), even though that’s what got them into this mess in the first place.

Beating these douchebags once caused them to declare all out war, so it’s likely that beating them again is just going to piss them off more. Meaning that in no way can this be called self defense. You’re just antagonizing them.

Maybe Miagi knows this. He’s a smart guy. Maybe it’s not about self defense at all. Maybe he’s just pissed off and wants to let these guys know who’s tough. At that point, he’s training Daniel for revenge. Which is the same as what the Cobra Kai is doing.

Karate Kid Part III is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s better with the Rifftrax.

Categories: Uncategorized

Copyright now, Copyright forever!


Can you imagine if one day you walked into a bookstore (I know, people don’t do that any more. We’re imagining here. Bare with me) and you couldn’t find any works of, say, Shakespeare, because his decedents were given back copyright to his works, and sold them to Disney who decided that no one could publish any of his plays any more. They wanted to focus on “building the Shakespeare brand”, and the plays were too old fashioned. However, they did promise that the theme park would be awesome.

Seems crazy. For one thing, Kenneth Branagh would be out of a job. So would a thousand mediocre English professors. That would destroy the tweed sport coat industry. And on and on through the society. All this why? The author is long dead, and won’t care one way or another.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “intellectual property” and the way we value profit over ideas and creativity. And it just so happens that the day after I start a new blog, the NYT has an article that touches on a the idea of perpetual copyright.

First off, let me point out that IP law is not there to protect you. In it’s current incarnation, IP law exists to protect Time Warner. And Disney. And the few other multinational corporations that own most of the media we consume. These people literally own the bulk of pop culture like baseball cards stashed in a closet. And if there’s one common strand of DNA built into every big corporation, it’s it’s never give up what’s yours for free.

So every 20 years or so they grease up a few congress-critters and get copyright extended for another 20 years, and you’ll never be able to make your release your home movie remake of Enter The Dragon without getting sued. Some company owns the copyright to that movie and they’ll be damned if some punk kid is gonna take it out for a joyride without paying up. And now they want to claw back movies, songs, and books that have already gone into the public domain.

Of course, things don’t have to be that way. Copyright terms are by nature arbitrary, and most of society seems to feel that works of art are more important as resources to me mined than they are as commodities to be traded (see: AutoTune the News). People want more access to media, not less. We’re breeding a generation of half man/ half lolcat cyborgs, and then outlawing their behavior.

Think about the disconnect between our public discourse and the way regular people live. Music, movies, and ironic Alf tee shirts are our first language. So would we be better off with more toll collectors and less media? I doubt it, but the worst part is that the benefit of average people isn’t even part of the debate. Copyright law has been so twisted that Congress is now in the business of taking things that belong to the public and giving them to giant media corporations. Does this help society? I mean, it’s not like the money that goes to whoever owns the rights to Guernica
could be used for anything more productive, right? Or could it be that some kid not seeing this painting because their art teacher couldn’t afford a license will live a little duller life? And shouldn’t that count for something?

Categories: Uncategorized

Getting Meta

Okay, generally I don’t like “meta”. I guess I ‘m just not Post Modern enough to appreciate infinite regression. Mostly because it’s horribly self indulgent. I’ll save this for another post where I drive myself insane by going double-meta.

But let me indulge for a minute with a blog post about blogging. Like everyone in the world, I’ve used Twitter, Facebook, and even Myspace before. Also, I’ve been up on Walking English for years, using Blogspot. But when I wanted to try something a bit more long form, I looked back at Blogspot and it didn’t really feel cut out for the job. It still looks like it did in 2004.

I had heard about WordPress before and have seen some impressive blogs on the service. The templates looked cleaner. So basically I had a drink and said “what the hell?”

First impressions are good. I like the templates. There are still ones with garish colors or weird formatting. People are always going to demand stupid. But the simples ones don’t look empty. They look clean and uncluttered without feeling cheap and amateurish. They’re black and white without feeling colorless.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There are a lot of ways you can customize your blog. Pages, polls, widgets, feedbacks, and more. Honestly it’s kind of confusing as to what sidebar does what. Having that power there is nice, but can be a little intimidating at first. Luckily, the defaults look fine, so I don’t feel like I have to spend time tweaking settings.

Lots of bells and whistles, but they stay out of the way pretty well. Enough so that you focus less on the meta and more on the blogging.

Categories: Uncategorized