Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Is There a Radical In the House?"

Here are the pictures that the Clinton and McCain campaigns don't want you to see: Reverend Jeremiah "God-Damn-America" Wright assisting President Lyndon Johnson's heart by-pass surgery in 1966. And a letter from the White House thanking Reverend Jeremiah "Too-Radical-for-North-Carolina" Wright for his help.
When President Bill Clinton was undergoing his personal crisis after the Monica Lewinsky affair, he invited a group of religious leaders, including the Reverend Wright, to come and pray with him (Reverend Wright visited the White House twice during this period). It was at this meeting that Clinton said he had sinned and at which he mentioned Monica Lewinsky by name. Hillary was present at this meeting, as was Al Gore. Rev. Wright received his second letter of thanks from the White House following the meeting.
These facts paint a more complex, more compassionate picture of the Reverend than the continuing incessant replays of "God damn America!" do. Apart form the constantly-replayed sound bite, I've never heard one of Wright's sermons, and I'm guessing that you probably haven't either, but I imagine that more goes on in his church than constant refrains of "God damn America." ("Hi. Welcome to Trinity United Church. God damn America!" "Nice seeing you today. Death to the Great Satan!").
What the Clinton campaign is doing is relying on the nation's abundant capacity to confuse and muddle facts (Iran/Iraq, Tibet/Nepal, whatever) and make Jeremiah Wright into Louis Farrakhan, since Barack Obama has emphatically rejected Farrakhan's message. But doesn't "God damn America!" sound like something Farrakhan would say? Don't underestimate the stupidity of the public - it won't be long before some people will be thinking that Rev. Wright is the leader of the Nation of Islam.
These are Willy Horton-style tactics. Rev. Wright isn't running for office. But every afternoon, as one of my coworkers here in Atlanta listens to Sean Hannity's radio show in his office, he hears Hannity air the "God damn America" sound bite about every 30 seconds. He just can't get enough of it.

Rise above this, America. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is not the Reverend Louis Farrakhan. The anger and rage expressed in the Reverend's sermon are not the emotions of Barack Obama, who has explicitly stated that he disagrees with Wright's statement. But when I pointed this out to my Hannity-listening co-worker, he said, "Yeah? Well why did he meet with a member of the Weather Underground?"
In 1995, State Senator Alice Palmer introduced Barack Obama, her successor, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. While Ayers and Dohrn may be thought of in Hyde Park as local activists, they’re better known nationally as two of the most notorious — and unrepentant — figures from the violent fringe of the 1960s anti-war movement. To read anything more into this unremarkable gathering on the road to a minor elected office as part of some conspiracy ("God damn America!") is as ridiculous as saying Ronald Reagan was a communist because he met with Mikhail Gorbachev. You rise high enough in politics and you're going to meet a lot of people - unfortunately, not all of them are going to be pleasant (e.g., Tom Delay).
The right must be awfully afraid of Obama's message and policies, because they're doing everything they can to talk about everything else but these.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Last Easter Sunday, I gave the morning talk at the Zen Center and said that I refused, among other things, to singularly discuss the recent tragic events in Tibet. While I find the recent acts of the Chinese government deplorable, I don't want to single out the Tibetan Buddhists as "my people" and complain about their plight, all the while ignoring similar or worse tragedies in Nepal, in Dafur, in Iraq, in America ("Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries"). If I were to talk only about the plight of the Tibetan Buddhists, I would be falling into the same trap of discriminating between "us" and "them" that causes so many of these conflicts to begin with.

(Those of you interested in the situation in Tibet should see the excellent commentary in Mumon's blog. Those concerned about Nepal should read Jimmy Carter's op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times.)

But anyhows, a couple weeks ago I found myself in a bookstore (Portland's outstanding Powell's) trying to select one among the several new books out on the subject of atheism. I had narrowed my selection to Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. To help me decide, I looked at the index of each book to see what they had to say about Buddhism.

According to Dawkins, "I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life."

Great. My belief system will not be challenged by the formidable Richard Dawkins. But Hitchens accuses no less than the Dalai Lama himself of claiming to be a "hereditary king appointed by heaven itself" and of enforcing "one-man rule" in Dharmasala, his exile community in India.

I could see that this could get unpleasant, so I chose the Dawkins book over the Hitchins, and so fell right into the trap of duality that I spoke about on Easter Sunday. I chose the book that said, in effect, hooray for my side and a pox about the other, not only wishing others ill but, more importantly, distinguishing between an "us" and a "them."

In any event, I bought The God Delusion, but before allowing myself to sink into it, I also bought Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale to better acquaint myself with his other work before starting in on his theology. I have to say that I found The Ancestor's Tale a great read and a fascinating book, and I plan to blog soon about some of the lessons I learned from the 600+ page tome.

But back to the Dalai Lama and Hitchens' criticisms. While I want to dismiss his characterization as uninformed, no less an authority that Pankaj Mishra (An End To Suffering) recently noted in The New Yorker that "the Dalai Lama can appear a bit dull. Precepts such as 'violence breeds violence' or 'the quality of means determine ends' may be ethically sound, but they don't seem to possess the intellectual complexity that would make them engaging as ideas. Since the Dalai Lama speaks English badly, and frequently collapses into fits of giggling, he can also give the impression that he is," as a journalist noted, "not the brightest bulb in the room."

Sadly, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is probably the best in several centuries of his lineage. As Mishra goes on to note, the Ninth, Tenth Eleventh, and Twelfth Dalai Lamas all died young, some rumored to have been poisoned. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama barely escaped an assassination attempt, allegedly by his own regent. His plans for Tibetan reform and modernization were thwarted by a monastic elite that lived off the labor and taxes of peasants, and in 1934 they punished the reformist politician Lungshar by having the knuckle bones of a yak pressed against his temples until his eyeballs popped out. Is it any wonder, then, that Mao considered religion a "poison" and sought to modernize and liberate Tibet from theocratic rule?

None of this is any apology for any of the recent brutal and indefensible actions by the Chinese government, nor is it a justification for the cultural genocide in which they are engaging. But I do hope that it helps blur the line between "us" and "them," between the "good guys" and the "bad."

I will work in the meantime on blurring the line between "nice" Richard Dawkins and "mean" Christopher Hitchens.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

St. Pius

Here's how karma works: sometimes I slams you over the head, and sometimes it slips right underneath your nose without you noticing it. Other times it tickles your funny bone, or at least your irony bone (Is there such a thing as an irony bone? Or am I thinking "ironing board"?).

Anyway, no sooner do I finish posting a rant last night about the Pope and the Catholic Church, claiming their good deeds are done only for their own selfish purposes, when my phone rings. Who is it? Why, none other than the St. Pius Charity, offering me assistance for a problem I didn't even fully comprehend yet.

A little background: one of the activities that occurred while this blog was on hiatus was my having to evict the tenant in the Unsellable Condo in Vinings. He lost his job around last May, and thereafter paid his rent sporadically, in installments, usually delivered in person and in cash (usually in denominations of $100s). By August, he stopped paying altogether and by September I delivered 30-day notice to leave. It took about 37 days to get him out.

According to the condo by-laws, only 25% of the units can be leased, and all existing leases, like the one that I had with my tenant, got grandfathered into the 25%. But according to the rules, upon termination of the lease, I had 90 days to get a new tenant or else lose my grandfather status, and I was told that there was a long line of owners waiting to lease out their units. Since I couldn't sell the condo, I was financially dependent on the rent to cover my associated expenses.

The trouble, however, was that I was spending most of my time then in Portland, and the tenant left the place a real mess. It needed re-painting, extensive cleaning, vacuuming, a carpet shampoo, etc., as well as several repairs. All that's difficult to get done when you're on the opposite coast. To complicate matters, I managed at one point to lose the keys and had to spend more time getting them replaced. By the time I finally got the condo rentable once again, it was mid-December and I had only two weeks left on my 90-day window, and those two weeks were through the winter holidays.

By Christmas Eve, I was getting desperate, but a new tenant finally arrived. He seemed somewhat less than credit-worthy - he couldn't pay the whole deposit at one time, had no real credit history, etc. - but I was able to confirm that he was employed as a security guard at Morehouse College, carried a real gun and everything, and he had a lovely family - a wife and two adorable kids. I decided to take a chance, as I didn't have much of an option since the 90-day window was closing.

Things went alright through January, February and March, but early this month (the 9th if you care) he called to tell me that he was going to be "a little late" with April's rent since he had lost the security-guard job at Morehouse, but was going to be starting a new job real soon, and could pay me in a week or two. I agreed to wait (what option did I have?).

So, back to last night. After finishing my post about the Catholics, the phone rings and St. Pius' asks me if I'm planning on serving my tenants with papers.


As it turns out, the family is struggling to meet the rent, and have applied to charity to help them out. The good folks at St. Pius heard their case and decided to help them, providing of course that their story checked out. The call to me was part of the fact finding. "We'll cover it for them," the rep said, referring to April's rent, "but we want to make sure that they come up with at least part of it." Okay, whatever.

It truly saddens me that the family is struggling and appealing to charity for assistance. The children are so sweet and well behaved -they deserve a better life. And I hate it that the father has to admit that he can't provide for his family, and is forced to accept hand outs. But at at the same time, it concerns me that my tenants can't pay their rent. I'm not going to do anything sudden to them, and I do not want to put them out on the street, but I do have to make some hard decisions, especially if I'm going to pack up a moving van and move to Portland for good. In that case, I need a steady and reliable tenant, not a family on the dole.

But isn't it ironic that I question the charity of the Catholic Church, and then I turn around and am immediately the beneficiary of that very charity? Go figure.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why I Don't Do Political Posts, Part 23

So Bill Maher called the Pope a "Nazi" on t.v. (actually, he said the Pope "used to be a Nazi") and now Fox News, among others, is calling for HBO to take him off the air (actually, if Fox News is opposed to you, you must be doing something right).

Two weeks ago, on his HBO show "Real Time," Bill Maher did a comedic commentary on the recent arrests at a polygamist compound, noting that if the police really wanted to go after a child-abuse cult, they could start with the Catholic Church - after all, their leader "used to be a Nazi and wears funny hats," cutting to a picture of Pope Benedict in, well, a funny hat. Hey, it was a joke, okay? Chill out.

But Bill apparently got a lot of angry emails over that one, so the next week, last Friday, he admitted that he erred and that the Pope, in fact, hadn't been a Nazi, but was instead was only a member of the Hitler Youth Brigade back in the 1930s. "What 13-year-old could resist the peer pressure to join the group?," Maher asked rhetorically (um, the one who would become Pope?). Actually, Maher points out, the Pope hadn't pledge loyalty to the Nazi Party but instead to Hitler himself, "which actually is kind of worse."

So now several Catholic groups and Fox News are saying that Bill's "apology" didn't go far enough, and that he should be taken off the air. His remarks have even been equated with hate speech and the moral equivalent of anti-semitism, but directed toward the Catholic Church instead of the Jews.

What, Pope Benedict hadn't been a part of the Hitler Youth Brigade? There hadn't been an epidemic of child abuse by Catholic priests, and a conspiracy to cover the scandal up? Maher pointed out that if the Pope had been the CEO of a child-care company, he would not only have been fired but also indicted, and called the Catholic Church the "Bear Sterns of child abuse."

Those protesting his comments (which, remember, were supposed to be jokes) state that Bill's "hateful" comments ignore all of the good that the Catholic Church has done over the years - the education, the charity, the health care, and so on. True, they have done these things, but always with the ulterior motive of a "mission" - "You want some food? Well here, but are you ready to accept Jesus first?"

All of this is reminiscent of the flap that ensued after the talented and passionate singer Sinead O'Connor tested the tolerance of the audience on Saturday Night Live by tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul back in 1992. She tore the photo into pieces, urged the audience to "fight the real enemy," and threw the pieces towards the camera. On live t.v., while singing Bob Marley's War, a capella. Although she had intended the act to be a protest of sexual abuse of children by the church, her career went into an immediate tailspin, from which it never fully recovered.

Bill Maher has been championing the progressive view for many years, and has had the courage to say out loud what many people think, but fear to say (before "Real Time" his previous show was aptly called "Politically Incorrect"). It would be a shame to have his voice silenced by those same forces that silenced Sinead O'Connor. Sometimes, I feel a palpable excitement in the air on Friday nights knowing that Maher is going to be on the air, live, at 11 pm, saying something both outrageous and truthful, along with guests and a panel of thoughtful, articulate persons on both sides of the political spectrum.

So is it surprising that the intolerant right wants him shut down, and are using (and inflating) his comments on the Pope to wrangle his termination from HBO? They even hinted at a boycott of the station. "HBO costs me something like an extra $15 a month on my cable bill," complained one of the on-air hosts on a Fox News talk show. "I'm not paying that to hear this kind of rubbish."

Whatever. If you don't like it, don't buy it, but don't insist that others not be able to buy it just because it's not to your liking. And I thought the right was so in favor of a free-market economy.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


In other news, and to follow up on a long-running thread (suture?) formerly woven through this blog, we've saved the park.

After several months (actually years going back before my involvement) of contentious debate, the neighborhoods have prevailed and managed to save the lovely meadow in historic Tanyard Creek Park. Best of all, we managed to preserve the meadow while at the same time getting the multi-use bicycle and pedestrian trail with its associated neighborhood and greenspace inter-connectivity routed through a compromise path to the west of the meadow. The west-side route should allow the historic meadow to remain the cherished greenspace that it is today while making the trail a more diverse and beautiful route through the neighborhood.

They say you can't fight City Hall, but we did and we won. Of course, the solution is so apparent and intuitively obvious one wonders why there was any resistance from the City to start with.

Last Thursday, I walked through the park after work just to remind myself that the whole struggle was worth it. While there, I met a young woman whom I've known through the course of this battle, a vocal defender of the greenspace, and we got to talking about my planned move to Portland. I complained about the amount of time the relocation is taking, and how I hate living in what I call "In-Between Land," not yet where I want to be and not wanting to invest myself any more in my present situation. How, then, is one to live one's life?

"You've got a life here in Atlanta," she said. "Just go on living it."

Very Zen-like, here-and-now advise from a non-practitioner, and the words went straight to my heart. Without clinging to the past, without dreaming of the future, I can enjoy my life right now, this very minute.

Right now, Atlanta life for me is mostly getting the house ready for the market. Yesterday, the landscapers finally came by and swept away the winter's leaves, trimmed bushes and ivy, and generally did a great job of making the outdoors look terrific. I've been enjoying just walking around outside in my property again, the first time I have since first heading to Portland.

(Of course, it would be much easier to enjoy if I hadn't chipped a tooth at work late Friday afternoon, too late to make an appointment with the dentist. As it is, now I have to wait until Monday morning to call, and hope that I can get an appointment before I have to head back to Jena, Louisiana on Wednesday. But for now, I have to walk around with yet another gap in my crooked smile, while my tongue runs over the unfamiliar jagged edges of broken tooth.)

Next week, the handyman should arrive to fix up and repair some mostly interior things. The odd part is that all of this is making me appreciate the house all the more (it is starting to look pretty good), and to more appreciate my life here in Atlanta. (Hey! We're getting a new multi-use trail and we're keeping the lovely meadow!) The irony is that in order to move out of this house, I have to first make myself at home in it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tyranny of the Unconscious

According to a report in the journal Nature, researchers have found that your brain makes up its mind up to ten seconds before you realize it. By scanning brain activity while decisions are being made, the researchers were able to predict what choice people would make even before they themselves were even aware of having made a decision. The work calls into question the "consciousness" of our decisions and may even challenge ideas about how "free" we are to make a choice at a particular point in time.

“We think our decisions are conscious, but these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.

Dr. Haynes and his colleagues imaged the brains of 14 volunteers while they performed a decision-making task. The volunteers were asked to press one of two buttons whenever they felt the urge. Each button was operated by a different hand. At the same time, a stream of letters were presented on a screen at half-second intervals, and the volunteers were asked to remember which letter was showing when they decided to press their button.

When the researchers analysed the data, the earliest signal the team could pick up started seven seconds before the volunteers reported having made their decision. Because there is a delay of a few seconds in the imaging, this means that the brain activity could have begun as much as ten seconds before the conscious decision.

From this data, the researchers concluded that the unconscious mind already made its decision 7 to 10 seconds before the conscious mind "decided" what to do. What might this mean, then, for the nebulous concept of free will? Since most people's definition of "free will" involves conscious decision making, is there really such a thing as free will if the unconscious mind had already made the decision a priori? If choices really are being made several seconds ahead of awareness, “there’s not much space for free will to operate,” according to Dr. Haynes.

One way to resolve this issue was suggested by the somewhat daft film What The Bleep Do We Know? Looking at data from a different brain-imaging experiment which considered the time between sensation and perception of the sensation, researchers in the film concluded that the brain must use quantum time-reverse symmetry to send a signal back in time. Taking their theory to the recent experiments implies that once the conscious mind has made its decision, it sends a signal back 7 to 10 seconds into the past to tell the unconscious brain how to behave.

Fun to consider but back here on planet Earth, Dr. Frank Tong, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, says it is likely that "neuroscience will alter what is meant by free will." Since the participants were consciously aware of their decisions a full 7 seconds after they were made, this suggests a lack of free will. In other words, this implies there is some unconscious (zombie) process that controls the decision making, not the conscious self.

I propose that neuroscience will alter what is meant by the self. Looking at the experiment, I conclude that there is in fact free will as long as the "self" making the decision is not restricted to the conscious mind, but includes the unconscious processes as well. I don't "decide" to produce digestive enzymes, but the gall bladder still leaks them out without my conscious decision. I don't decide to grow my fingernails out, but there they go. Are my gall bladder and fingernails not part of "me" if they're not controlled by my conscious mind? Or are they just things possessed by a separate "ego self?" Or to put it more broadly, am I (the ego self) just my mind consciousness, residing in this body, an entity separate from the self, like a hermit crab residing in a shell? This argument goes all the way back to Descartes' philosophy of mind/body duality. "I think, therefore I am," but am I only what I think?

According to one on-line commenter, the experimental results are not surprising since, among the qualities required for survival and procreation, consciousness is one of the least important. Totally insentient trees and grasses are surviving and reproducing. Many animals get along fine without a brain. Do they lack free will?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Disaster and Renunciation

I’m slowly getting the house ready for the move to Oregon, but I’m not sure Oregon’s getting itself ready for me – disturbing news from the west coast concerns mysterious swarms of earthquakes off the coast of Oregon. There have been more than 600 quakes over the past 10 days, according to the Associated Press. The biggest was a magnitude 5.4, and two others were more than magnitude 5.0.

This shouldn’t be too surprising, as western Oregon overlies a subduction zone, where continental crust of the North American plate is overriding oceanic crust of the Juan de Fuca plate. As the oceanic plate sinks and melts due to the earth’s heat, the magma rises to the surface in the form of the Cascade volcanoes (such as Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens). Since the Juan de Fuca plate is also sliding past the adjacent Pacific plate as it heads toward its continental subduction zone, offshore earthquakes are not uncommon at the transform faults marking the plate boundaries.

This is basic, first-year geology. What’s interesting about the recent swarm of earthquakes, however, is that according to the AP they have a pattern, magnitude and frequency more commonly associated with volcanoes, not transform faults. And according to all the accepted geologic models of the area, volcanoes should form beneath the overriding continental crust, but beneath the offshore oceanic crust. “Scientists don’t know exactly what the earthquakes mean, but they could be the result of molten rock rumbling away from the recognized earthquake fault zones off Oregon,” the AP reports.

According to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program, there was a magnitude 5.2 early Saturday morning, as well as a 5.0 Thursday evening and a 3.8 Tuesday night. But all of these were close to the Juan de Fuca-Pacific plate margin, exactly where you’d expect to find transform-fault quakes.

But according to a news release on the Oregon State University web site, a swarm of hundreds of quakes have in fact been detected off shore in the last 10 days. OSU marine geologist Robert Dziak calls the earthquake swarm unique, because it is occurring near the middle of the plate, away from the major, regional tectonic boundaries.

My concern is not about devastation of Portland by one (or many) of these quakes – if I wanted to worry about an earthquake in Portland, I’d worry about the Portland Hills fault running through downtown Portland. I’m also not worried about a new offshore volcano popping up off the Oregon coast – that would actually be kind of cool and Portland is used to being near active volcanoes, like Saint Helens and Hood.

What worries me are tsunamis generated by this seismic activity. Portland is at very low altitude - only a few tens of feet above sea level – and although it is protected from coastal storms by the Coast Range, that barrier is breached by the Columbia River. My nightmare scenario is a huge tidal wave crossing the open ocean, crashing into the Coastal Range and rolling up the Columbia valley. The height of the wave becomes amplified by the narrow valley walls, until the water meets the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers just past the Coast Range, where the wave collapses laterally and sweeps the short distance up the Willamette to Portland, quickly inundating the city beneath tens of feet of water. “Portland is drowning, and I live by the river,” to paraphrase The Clash.

But meanwhile, back here in the alpine heights of Atlanta, GA, I’ve still been getting the house ready for the move. Friday, I met with a realtor – the same one who represented me when buying this house – and we talked about pricing. I’ve only lived here a couple of years and so still owe the bank a substantial share of the value, and on top of that there are realtor and closing costs to consider. And since we’re apparently in the worst real-estate market of the last 20 or so years, a fact confirmed to me by the agent, I was concerned if I could still get a price for the house sufficient to cover my payout, the realtor commissions, and other costs without having to bring my own cash to closing.

But the realtor, while still encouraging me to price the house as low as possible so as to compete in this buyers' market, still agreed that I could get a price high enough to walk away with anywhere from $75 to $100k in my pocket.

So, encouraged by this news, Saturday was a major house cleaning, getting rid of clutter, including the big dysfunctional television that’s been sitting in my dining room for two years now. I also got rid of a desk in the spare bedroom, as well as all of the so-called e-waste I’ve accumulated over the past decade or so – three separate computers and all of their associated peripherals, including one dead flat-screen monitor.

I’m something of a pack rat and it stung a little to hand the computers over to the junkman I called to haul all the stuff away. Who knows – maybe I could have salvaged some RAM from one of the computers, or resurrected one or more of them. But once they were gone, it actually felt good to have divested myself of what was after all just junk. And as the junk truck rode off down the road with my television, computers and old desk, I sighed with relief and then inhaled my first sweet breath of renunciation.

Post Script (9:50 pm, April 13): A magnitude 4.0 earthquake occured off the Oregon coast at 1:44 pm Pacific time.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thou Shalt Always Kill

Okay, so the song's already a year old and I'm just discovering it now (hey, I'm old, okay?). But I still have to believe that Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip have recorded the best song of the year. Watch the video, or just read the lyrics below.

  1. Thou shalt not steal if there is a direct victim.
  2. Thou shalt not worship pop idols or follow lost prophets.
  3. Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Johnny Hartman, Desmond Decker, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Syd Barret in vain.
  4. Thou shalt not think that any male over the age of 30 that plays with a child that is not their own is a pedophile. Some people are just nice.
  5. Thou shalt not read NME.
  6. Thall shalt not stop liking a band just because they’ve become popular.
  7. Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry.
  8. Thou shalt not judge a book by it’s cover.
  9. Thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover.
  10. Thall shalt not buy Coca-Cola products.
  11. Thou shalt not buy Nestle products.
  12. Thou shalt not go into the woods with your boyfriend’s best friend, take drugs and cheat on him.
  13. Thou shalt not fall in love so easily.
  14. Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants. Use it to get into their heads.
  15. Thou shalt not watch Hollyoakes.
  16. Thou shalt not attend an open mic and leave as soon as you're done just because you’ve finished your shitty little poem or song you self-righteous prick.
  17. Thou shalt not return to the same club or bar week in, week out just ’cause you once saw a girl there that you fancied but you’re never gonna fucking talk to.
  18. Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals no matter how great they are or were. The Beatles were just a band. Led Zepplin - just a band. The Beach Boys - just a band. The Sex Pistols - just a band. The Clash - just a band. Crass - just a band. Minor Threat - just a band.
  19. The Cure were just a band. The Smiths - just a band. Nirvana - just a band. The Pixies - just a band. Oasis - just a band. Radiohead - just a band. Bloc Party - just a band. The Arctic Monkeys - just a band. The Next Big Thing - just a band.
  20. Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.
  21. Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements and never will be.
  22. Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music.
  23. Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music.
  24. Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music.
  25. Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music.
  26. Thou shalt not pimp my ride.
  27. Thou shalt not scream if you wanna go faster.
  28. Thou shalt not move to the sound of the wickedness.
  29. Thou shalt not "Make some noise for Detroit."
  30. When I say “Hey” thou shalt not say “Ho”.
  31. When I say “Hip” thou shalt not say “Hop”.
  32. When I say "He say, she say, we say, make some noise" - kill me.
  33. (Uh, I forgot where I was) Thou shalt not quote me happy.
  34. Thou shalt not shake it like a polaroid picture.
  35. Thou shalt not wish your girlfriend was a freak like me.
  36. Thou shalt spell the word “Pheonix” P-H-E-O-N-I-X not P-H-O-E-N-I-X, regardless of what the Oxford English Dictionary tells you.
  37. Thou shalt not express your shock at the fact that Sharon got off with Bradley at the club last night by saying “Is it?"
  38. Thou shalt think for yourselves.
  39. And thou shalt always kill.

Precepts for a modern age.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Looong time since my last post, but we'll say no more about that. The question I keep getting, however, is what's happening with the move?

In order to move to Portland, I have to sell my house in Atlanta. And in order to sell my house, I have to first get it on the market. But before I get it on the market, I have to get it ready to show.

The critical time in selling a house, realtors tell me, are the first few weeks that it's on the market. A house on the market for more than a few months is generally considered somehow undesirable in an unspecific sort of way, sort of like a year-old profile on, and is subject to low-ball offers, if it gets any offers at all (sort of like

So the goal is to get the house all squeaky, Better-Homes-And-Gardens clean, so that those sincere about buying a house are impressed and the house sells quickly. Besides, I want to sell the house quickly, not to maximize profit but so that I can move on to the next chapter of my life, and not linger here any longer in In-Between Land, as in "in between" the past and the present (of course, we are always in the here and now whether we realize it or not, but some conditions cause our minds to dwell on the past or to fantasize about the future).

Now, getting this house of mine showcase-ready is no simple job, and outsourcing is obviously the key. Last week, I finished my taxes, and already got a big fat $10K of a return deposited into my bank account to fund the outsourcing. But if only the contractors were cooperating.

The typical scenario is this: I call a contractor, leave a voice mail message, wait a day, call again, leave another message, finally get a call back on about the third day, set up an appointment for something like a week after my first call, and, a week after that, finally get a cost estimate for a scope of work that is nothing like the job that I had requested. It doesn't matter if the contract is for landscape maintenance or handyman repairs, the pattern is about the same. It's frustrating.

I've now been back from Portland for almost a month, and feel no closer to getting the house on the market than when I first returned. Of course, after returning, I had to spend the better part of a week in Houston and then a week in Jena, Louisiana, which didn't help me make any progress at all. All I have managed to accomplish has been to get a quote on moving expenses ($6,410, in case you're curious) which I forwarded onto to company management (hint: "y'all pay for it"), and this morning I finally got a plumber in here to fix the non-working bathtub in the main bathroom.

That bathtub hasn't worked since I moved in here. The pre-closing inspection indicated that there was a leak under the house from that tub, and I had told the sellers to fix it as a condition for closing. They provided paperwork documenting it had been repaired, but upon moving in I discovered that turning the faucets wouldn't produce any water, so I assumed they"repaired" it by merely shutting off the flow to the tub. I've looked all over the house but could never find the valve, so I just sort of forgot about it (this house has two other fully functioning showers). But since it's now time to move, and since everything has to be perfect, I got a plumber in to locate the valve and get the tub working again.

Well, funny thing: he found the valves all right - they were the faucets I had incorrectly been tying to work. Turns out that what I thought was the hot water faucet is actually the hot/cold regulator, and the other faucet, which I thought was for cold water, is actually the flow adjuster. But for the flow adjuster to work, the temperature faucet has to be in an "on" position, not closed. You basically have to turn the right faucet on the desired temperature, leave it there, and then turn the left faucet on to the desired flow rate. It may sound complicated but it isn't once you understand it. There was nothing wrong with the plumbing - I just didn't know how to operate my own bathtub. Boy, did I feel dumb. At least the plumber only charged me the minimum visit cost ($29). I think he was embarrassed for me, too.

So now I've gotten the tub fixed and I have a quote for moving expenses. I'm still trying to get the yard maintenance done (major leaf and branch removal from the time I was away all last autumn and winter), the spare bedroom re-wallpapered, the front porch painted and spruced up, and a mirror and light fixture installed in the main bath. And those are the jobs that I can foresee. The realtors' lists are even longer, but it's not their house now, is it?

But the good news is that at the rate things are going, by the time I get everything done, we may be out of this recession and I'll be able to find a buyer with enough money to pay a decent price for this house.