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September 29, 2005

More Books

Moon is at it again, suggesting I share what I've read from the list of the most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Wee! Here we go:

1. The Communist Manifesto: Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels
8. The Course of Positive Philosophy: Auguste Comte
9. Beyond Good and Evil: Freidrich Nietzsche

(Ones that didn't make the top 10)
On Liberty: John Stuart Mill
The Greening of America: Charles Reich

Of course, if we're counting excerpts and skimmings, I'll add:

6. Das Kapital: Karl Marx
10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money: John Maynard Keynes
The Origin of Species: Darwin
Descent of Man: Darwin
Silent Spring: Rachel Carson

But we're not doing that, are we?

September 28, 2005

Banned Books

Apparently, Moon has tagged me to join in the fun to count how many of the The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 I've read. Ok, here it goes:

# The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
# Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
# The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (I don't like Salinger -- the horror!)
# Blubber by Judy Blume (many, many moons ago. Back in my Catholic school, book club days)
# To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
# Beloved by Toni Morrison
# The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
# The Pigman by Paul Zindel
# A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
# Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
# Cujo by Stephen King
# James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
# The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell (I'm sure this will show up in some NSA/FBI database somewhere)
# American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
# Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
# Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
# Lord of the Flies by William Golding
# Native Son by Richard Wright
# Carrie by Stephen King
# The Dead Zone by Stephen King
# The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
# Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
# Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford (Wha?)
# How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell


Will Gideon, Keith, and Eli join in the fun?

The Dentist

I hate the dentist. I always have. I always will. It probably all started when I first went during kindergarten -- I had a month full of cavities, and it took two separate trips to fix everything. I still remember the fear when the anesthesia mask was being placed on my little face, and the terrible smell of the gas as I rather quickly slipped away. And I remember the drunken feeling upon waking after the procedure, my mouth packed with bloody gauze, and my father carrying me back to the car.

I grudginly went back every year through high school, never having to suffer through that experience again, but that didn't make me like the place any more. Once in college, I saw my chance to avoid the office. Fortunately, I was blessed with good genetics, and my wisdom teeth, a source of much pain and suffering for Jen, grew in normally, so in my mind, I had no reason to visit to see a dentist. It was around this time I formulated my theory (shared by Jen) that the dentist and hygenist, with all their sharp hooks and spears, do more harm than good. With all that picking and scraping, I, without a doubt, believed they were gouging holes in my teeth, in the best interest of their business.

I was convinced a few years out of university to visit the dentist for a check up and cleaning, and since I was little more than a manager of a small time climbing gym, I spent my hard-earned cash to be tortured for an hour. In the end, everything was ok (no cavities), and the dentist said while one wisdom tooth was a bit out of place (it grew in perpendicular to the rest of my teeth, though without pushing against them), it wasn't anything to worry about, especially since someone else wasn't footing the bill. I took this as "don't come back until you're in blinding pain."

Eight years later, we live half a block from a dentist. Jen, due to her condition, had to make a visit, so she made an appointment for me as well. I knew I could expect nothing but trouble from this, as several molars had chipped (due to fillings). I tried in vain to convince her to take my place, but to no avail. Off I trudged. The moment I walked in the door, that distinct odor of a dentist's office -- the smell of sterilized equipment in a tight setting -- brought all those childhood fears back. I envisioned drills and needles and the gas mask all over again. Soon enough I was in the chair, the sodium light in my eyes, the hygenist ready to strike with her mirror and pick.

Scrape, scrape, pick, pick, scratch, scratch.

"Perhaps you should floss more often."

Perhaps you should try to not put that pick in my gums every time.

Scrape, scrape, pick, pick, scratch, scratch.

I noticed the fingers on her gloves turning redder and redder, and I could feel the warmth of the blood. As she approached the front of my mouth, the scraping and picking and scratching became more forceful. I expected to see a tooth fly out of my mouth at any moment.

"Almost done."

This was proceeded by the hygenist placing her foot on my forehead, grabbing her pick with both hands, and pulling up so hard on my bottom teeth that she lifted me from the chair. To add insult to injury, she then flossed my teeth with all the gentleness of an assassin armed with piano wire.

A few minutes later I was spitting out mouthfuls of water mixed with flesh and blood (and tooth gunk), waiting for the dentist to have a look at what remained. I had two chipped molars, and he suggested simple crowns would fix those. He also suggested perhaps we do those immediately, but quickly changed his mind when he saw the carnage from the hygenist. As he talked, I explored my teeth and gums with my tongue, and was shocked to discover there was actually a small channel between my front teeth -- apparently this was either covered over in plaque, or the hygenist formed it herself.

A day later, and I can brush my teeth without spitting blood. My gums still hurt, but teeth aren't as sore, and, better still, I don't have a headache. The office is going to determine the best course of action for the crowns, given my job switch and all -- they will compare and contrast dental plans, if my current plan is better, they'll rush me back. But then again, on second thought, maybe I don't need one after all.

September 27, 2005


I haven't had a chance to digest the following links, but I'm anxious to:

Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business (via Reason).

The Great Revival of Public Markets (via the Project for Public Spaces).

The Oil We Eat (via Harpers).

More on these when time allows.

Technical Announcement

If anyone is still accessing this site from http://ankle-biter.net, please use the "normal" domain, http://anklebiter.net. The ankle-biter.net domain was a stop-gap measure when my last web host (most certainly a guy running a few machines in his basement) went down for close to a week. I don't feel the need to own this domain anymore, so at the beginning of October, it will no longer be mine. Consider yourself warned.

September 24, 2005


Aaron was brave/stupid enough to join me on a ride to scope out my new commute today. I was glad to have him along, as he knew a bit of alternative route to avoid the longest hill on Mt. Royal Boulevard. The ride was certainly a challenge, with at least one hard hill and several smaller bumps going either direction. For the record, the ride out felt a bit harder than the ride home, due to the nice, gradual downhill into Etna and Sharpsburg. I am quite happy I ordered a larger cog (18 teeth) earlier today, and I'll be continuing my search for a better pair of climbing handlebars. I spoke with another rider today who has a pair of moustache bars, and he said the jury is out on them. I'll likely go the bullhorn/TT bar route (and skip the whole scorcher look) in the interest of saving $70.

September 23, 2005

Moving On

After much sleeplessness and hand-wringing, I accepted an offer of employment from another company. It wasn't that I hated my current job -- I really liked the guys I worked with, I appreciated the fact our manangers were not cars-in-the-parking lot kinda guys -- but I was feeling uneasy with working for a multi-national company, especially in light of rumors that there were plans to out source a portion of our of quality assurance team. The work had always been every so slowly morphing from software development to agency web development (rapid cycles driven by graphic designers instead of folks with any sort of technical saavy. Despite those things, I wasn't ready to jump ship for just anything...

Then a friend emailed me, mentioning a position opened at his job (a small software shop specializing in human services software), and he asked if I was interested. Sure, I said, and off went my resume. Roughly five days later I had interviewed and had an offer letter in hand. Given the whirlwind nature of that, my inner Wembley came out, and I began to second-guess the decision (we, of course, have seen this behavior before). At the crux of the matter was the slightly longer, rather hilly commute to the new office, and the fact the office was not located downtown, and even in the city proper (it is in a small northern suburb). I took some comfort in the fact the office was not in strip mall hell, however, and I carefully balanced the location against the international scope of my current employer, and the suburb won.

So, in three weeks, I'll be starting a new journey. I'm excited to be back at a small shop doing actual software development. I'm also excited to make a few upgrades to my bike for the hillier commute -- in the end, hopefully I'll have something like this, albeit with a front brake.

Other Stuff

This year's Halloween alleycat has been announced -- the Spirits of the Streets race will be Saturday October 29, starting at the dinosaur in Oakland. Can't wait.

And, out of the corner of my eye -- PA State House gets bill calling for constitutional convention. Really?

September 20, 2005


I've nearly completed one consulting project (site launch later this week), and another should wrap up in a week or so. I plan on writing more, really, once those are finished. So, for today, I offer little more than tidbits and snippets.

I haven't written much about this year's World Rally Championship campaign, but not out of lack of interest. Sebastien Loeb has run away with the championship, winning eight rallies to Petter Solberg's two and Marcus Gronholm's one. The WRC, however, suffered a terrible tragedy this weekend during the Rally Great Britain, when Marrko Martin's co-driver, Michael Park, was killed in a shunt during SS15, the difficult Margham Park test. Most of the rally news outfits have gone dark, so details are hard to come by, but it seems Martin's Peugeot slipped off the road and hit a tree on the passenger side. Martin was uninjured, but based on reports, Park was killed immediately. Organizers halted the rally immediately. Marcus Gronholm pulled out completed, and Sebastien Loeb took a time penalty to drop down the rankings to avoid securing the championship. Organizers also cancelled all post event activities, and I wonder if the FIA will simply exclude the rally result completely.

Other stuff....Godspy has an interview with Pantagruelist Caleb Stegall. Some of the more interesting bits:

Where does The New Pantagruel fit politically? Is it left or right?

I would say that the driving political-philosophical force behind tNP has been a recognition of liberalism on both the modern right and left as the engine of religious and particularly Christian destruction. Which is, of course, tantamount to the destruction of western civilization.

We concur with Alexander Solzhenitsyn's remark referring to Soviet Communism and Western Liberalism that "the split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections." The disease being a corrosive world-immanent materialism that denies the life of the spirit, and ultimately, denies God.


Tell us more about how you understand our current situation and why the drive and discipline towards holiness is so essential.

When one lives as a modern—and we almost all do to one degree or another—he is implicated by nearly all the habits of his heart in the same culture of choice he believes he is voting against. When we fail to resist the symbolization of the modern world as a giant machine in which each part relates to all the others in a purely mechanical way, we give in to thinking in the most utilitarian way possible: how can I fulfill my needs and desires most efficiently? And the political question becomes: how can we configure the machine so that each part has the maximum freedom to pursue its own end as efficiently as possible, without interfering with the ends pursued by the other parts.

Society and work and even family and church become ladders to be climbed, and the central spiritual motifs of our time become mobility and choice, and the fruits of this are pretty apparent—massive dislocation, family breakup, the end of meaningful small town and rural life, center-city rot, the end of functional education, economic ruin of small producers and landholders, the devolution of political life into identity and victimization games, and on and on. The end result of which is a profound existential alienation in the soul of modern man; he is without a home.

And the pernicious logic of choice (which has a kind of weedy genius) in turn capitalizes on its own discontented and confused search for home and meaning by churning out a-hundred-and-one cheap and easy anecdotes. So we are awash in this expansive sea of popular mass culture which offers everything from Martha Stewart to easy birth control to empty entertainment to mega-lo-mart churches and discount-store religion. All of which functions to shield people from ever even approaching anything real: real faith, real truth, real meaning and contentment.

Interesting stuff.

Bike news. I've been considering some small changes to the Surly, mostly prompted by the possibility of a longer, hillier commute (more on that later). Minor tweaks would include a front brake (shocking!) and new/different bars (something a bit more friendly to out-of-saddle climbing than my Nitto track drops). I spied a pair of WTB Dirt Drops on eBay this weekend, but, as expected, the price skyrocketed rather quickly (these bars have been out of production for years, and are very popular among the fixed gear off-road community). On-One is making a version these days, but their version is running upwards of $80. Of course, these changes may never take place, and the Surly may stay in track bike mode...

There's been an interesting discussion going over here regarding the agrarian/localist vision and its relationship (or lack thereof) to Neocalvinism. I think I tend to fall into the "localist" category, though I won't deny the existence of the global marketplace and our need to act as stewards for it. There is, I believe, much truth in the phrase "global problems, local solutions." How can we expect to help farmers and factory workers in Asia if we allow our own to watch their lives dry up?

September 12, 2005


Changes ahead.

September 09, 2005

Sustainability and the Long Emergency

More here.

September 06, 2005

Visions of New Orleans (2)

Thanks to an email from a traveling companion, I can add a few details to the story in the last post...

Our friend's name was Willie Metcalf. Our friend also got lost on our journey to the out-of-way jazz club, increasing our fear that we may not make it out alive. And, lastly, when we managed to get back together at the end of the night, we gave Willie a ride home in our RV, sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (a staple on the journey) with him. Apparently, it didn't agree with him.

Thanks, Dan.

September 02, 2005

Visions of New Orleans

1993. Six of us from university piled into an RV (owned by the rather trusting parents of one our members) and headed south, with the vague plan to see New Orleans and perhaps a beach somewhere too. The days in the Big Easy blur together now, my memory a victim of time and age, but certain details I hope remain.

We spent a long afternoon wandering about the fringes of the French Quarter, lounging in Jackson Square and hunting used books. I'm still shocked what I found that day (Wittgenstein and A.J. Ayer), in the time before the rise of e-commerce and Barnes and Noble, when I would routinely spend as much on the thin paperbacks for my philosophy courses as literature students spent on their anthologies. That day, however, both volumes were mine for less than $10.

As night fell, we went further into the Quarter, looking for what we came for -- jazz. Unlike most of the other college students on Bourbon Street, we had no interest in cheap drinks and strip clubs. We started the evening as anyone should, standing in line to enter Preservation Hall. In one sense it is a tourist experience, but the band does preserve the roots of city, playing old fashioned, big band jazz. After the show, we wanted something a bit more authentic, so we walked up and down Bourbon Street (which was closed to car traffic every night of the year. The crowds on weekday night post-Mardi Gras were enormous. I couldn't imagine Mardi Gras, truthfully). The seedy underbelly of the city (and the Quarter) is on full display at night, with strip club owners attempting to lure patrons into their establishments. It's still early in the evening, but the alcohol has been flowing freely, and people around us are drunk, and loud.

We stop outside a club, the Open Door, to discuss our options. As we chat, on the other side of the window, the older African American man playing the piano smiles and waves for us to come in. We take this as a sign and file into the club, find a table, and enjoy the show. Afterwards, some of my friends, being better equipped socially than I will ever be, found the old man and began a conversation. He told us about a few more clubs we should visit, and said he'd be playing at a piano bar later that night, and we should meet up with him again. He promised after his set there, he would take us to a "real" jazz club. We shook hands and said our good byes, and I wondered if we would actually see the man again.

The club was at the far end of the Quarter, so we spent the next hour or so walking about off Bourbon Street. When you leave the mayhem of Bourbon Street, you really are taken to another time and place. I peek through gates and fences to see beautiful gardens and squares. People sat at on their balconies, enjoying the cool spring air.

An hour or so later, we are sitting around a piano, listening to our new friend and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We were mostly musicians ourselves, so this moment was perfect -- sitting in a quiet bar, listening to a wide array of jazz, listening to stories about the jazz scene and this man's place in it. As his set wound done, the man asked if we were interested in going to a "real" jazz club with him. Of course, was the answer. We filed out of the club and headed away from the quarter.

At this point, the naivete of six college students was readily apparent. Promptly, we left the Quarter, crossed a rather road, and entered another neighborhood. We were clearly out of our element, but somehow, comforted by the fact that our friend seemed to know every person we passed by name. We walked further and futher away from the Quarter (and further and further away from our home away from home, the RV). Finally, the man paused outside what seemed to be an empty storefront and announced "here we are, boys." For a moment I thought Here it is. I hope someone finds our bodies sooner rather than later. He swung open the door and with a flourish asked us to enter.

Immediately we heard the music from the band inside, and the small room was nearly filled with people of every stripe. It was loud, so conversation was difficult, but we found a section of empty wall and took in the scene. It was apparent this was the real deal, and most of the clubs in the Quarter were little more than tourist traps. I spotted the drummer from Harry Connick's trio (this was prior to Connick becoming the next Frank Sinatra), and I'm sure if I were better versed in the New Orleans scene, I would have seen plenty of other top musicians. A few moments later, a fellow who was leaning against the wall a few feet from us stepped forward, produced a trumpet, and joined in. Amazing.

An hour or so later, three of us decided we should walk back across town and recover the RV (before someone else did), and head back to the club and pick the other half up. If we felt a bit out of place on the walk to the club, we were most certainly out of place now -- three white college kids walking through a bad part of town well after midnight. We high-tailed it back to the Quarter, and soon enough we back near the art museum where our home away from home was parked. We managed to retrace our steps in the RV and find the club (did I think we looked out of place walking? Try being in an older RV).

* * *

I'm not sure what to say about the unfolding events on the Gulf Coast. Truthfully, this is sort of thing that we only hear about in other countries, or watch in the movie theater. For much of that area, vignettes like the one above are all that will remain.