Saturday, September 24, 2005

Scale 7 Artifact, part 12


Journey (part 2)

Daniel stood up and flexed his knees to test the light gravity. The ship would be accelerating or decelerating for most of the trip so there would always be light gravity. Before Daniel could walk over to the porthole, a hatch opened to admit Peter and Zareda.

"We're on the way!" Peter shouted. "I call first out on the moon!" he stepped to the porthole to put his arm around Sarah's shoulders. "You can be second," he assured her.

Sarah stiffened a bit and looked back over her shoulder to see Zareda's reaction; Zareda was ignoring it.

Daniel felt an urge to slap the young man on the back of the head. It had been obvious from the beginning that Sarah was interested in Zareda and that Peter was interested in Sarah. Daniel also suspected that Zareda was interested in Sarah but didn't know what to do about it. The whole thing had the potential to turn ugly. Since they were all stuck together for at least the next two years, that could mean "very ugly".

Daniel was wondering if he should do anything about it. Of course he shouldn't. He should just stay out. It was really none of his business. The young people didn't need an old man meddling in their romantic affairs.

Daniel cornered Zareda the first moment he could get him alone and asked pointedly, "Hey, Zareda, why don't you like Sarah?"

Zareda was understandably startled at the question since Daniel had said that he wanted to talk about defense tactics.

"Why would you say that?" Zareda asked. "I like Sarah."

"Well, you act like she has leprosy or something."

"I treat her just like I treat everyone else." Zareda said mildly.

"Yes, and when a girl flirts with you and you continue to treat her like you treat everyone else, it counts as a rejection."

"She was flirting with me?"

Daniel felt the urge to slap Zareda on the back of the head again. "She's trying, you idiot, but she's getting no response."

Zareda stared at him for a long moment. "How do I know when she is flirting with me?"

"Well, she's not going to do it any more." Daniel told him sternly. "You've rejected her enough that I'm sure she's given up by now."

"Can ..." Zareda paused. "Can I do anything to ..."

"To get her to flirt with you again?"

Zareda looked away, embarrassed.

"No." Daniel answered firmly. "It's too late. She took her best shot and you rejected her." It was hard to read Zareda, but Daniel thought the young man looked suitably depressed.

Daniel paused for a moment to let his words sink in before continuing. "No, you can't do it the easy way now. If you have any romantic interest in Sarah, you're going to have to do it the hard way." Yes, there was a spark of interest, quickly covered up.

"What makes you think I have any romantic interest in Sarah?"

"Well, because you are a young male and she's a young female. A very attractive one too. Her I mean. Not you."

"But would it really be a good idea to have romantic entanglements on the mission?"

"Probably not. You two aren't going to be at your peak performance with hormones raging. But we have two months aboard ship. If you get started now, maybe you can get the hormones under control by the time we get to Moon 3."

"But wouldn't it be better to wait till after the mission?

"Look, Zareda. Sarah made an effort to get your attention and you shot her down. For some women, that might be no big deal, but Sarah is a bit shy, she really put herself on the line by taking the initiative, and I think your lack of response hurt her feelings..."

"I didn't mean to ..."

"Yes, yes, you were just dumb, and if you work quickly, you may be able to overcome that bad start. But if you continue to ignore her for the next two years, you can kiss any hope of a relationship goodbye. Also, I think Peter is going to be a problem."

"Peter can be a dick sometimes." Zareda offered quietly.

Ah, hah! So Zareda had noticed that Peter was flirting with Sarah and that Sarah didn't seem to appreciate it.

"Well," Daniel said reasonably, "If you and Sarah became an item, then Peter would have to lay off. I would appreciate that, because then I won't have to confront Peter."

"OK," Zareda said, "I'll ... I'll ... I don't know what to do."

Daniel suppressed a sigh. "You've never had a girlfriend?"

Zareda started to lie, Daniel could see it in his eyes, but then he lowered his eyes and shook his head. "No. It's not that I haven't wanted to, but ... the whole process always seemed very mysterious to me. How do you tell a girl that ..."

"Well, you are in luck." Daniel told him. "I was older than you before I had my first girlfriend and I'm going to give you some advice. You are an introvert like I used to be. You have two major handicaps in social situations: first, you are too self-conscious. You have to think about everything you say or do, wondering if it was the right or wrong thing. That's bad. Don't do that.

"Second, your analytical approach to socializing is compounded by the fact that you really aren't very interested in having a social life, so you don't analyze it. You never do anything without analyzing it first, and you have never bothered to analyze social interactions. That leaves you helpless because you have neither social instincts nor social knowledge. and your lack of interest prevents you from ever developing either.

"Basically, you are a moron. Socially of course. Intellectually, you are a genius, but in social situations you are underdeveloped. Culturally handicapped. In short, you are socially retarded."

Zareda grinned and Daniel smiled back, "You know, that's the first time I've ever seen you smile?"

"No," Zareda said, "I smile all the time."

"You never smile." Daniel said firmly, "And that's part of your problem socially. Let's see your polite smile."

Zareda remained stone-faced.

"Are you smiling?" Daniel asked.

"Of course. Can't you tell?"

"No, I can't. You need to practice your smile in a mirror."

"I can't do that." Zareda protested, "I would feel stupid."

"Yes," Daniel said, "But you are stupid. Socially stupid. Or have you forgotten already?"

"OK, but..."

"If you are so self-conscious that you can't even do something like practice smiling in a mirror, just because it would be embarrassing if anyone knew about it, then you are a hopeless case and you may as well resign yourself to life as a hermit."

"Sometimes that doesn't sound so bad."

"I know," Daniel said seriously. "For people like us, socializing can be very hard. Painful even. But take my word for it. Once you make the effort to learn how to do it, you will find that it comes much easier, although it is never effortless. And it is very rewarding. Trust me."

"OK," Zareda said, "I'll give it a try."

"Your next assignment is to use your newly practiced smile while you strike up a pointless social conversation with Jackie."

"Jackie? Not Sarah?"

"Jackie. You need to learn to walk before you fly, boy. First learn to talk to women when there are no hormones adding to the stress. I did it by striking up conversations with waitresses, female barbers, and other women I encountered in non-social settings. I'm afraid that you won't have those opportunities, so we will have to make do."

Zareda stared at him for a moment. "Are you actually proposing to give me socialization lessons?"

"Well, " Daniel laughed, "More like tutoring than lessons. I just want you to know a few things: pay attention to social situations so that you have a better idea how to act, don't worry so much when you don't know how to act, and like any other skill, you have to practice social skills. If you take that advice seriously that's all you really need."

Zareda nodded. "I'll think about it."

Daniel nodded and started to leave but he turned back, "Oh, and for future reference --you won't need this for a while-- when you put your arm around Sarah, put it around her waist, not her shoulders. The shoulders are too awkward. Just slip your arm around her back and put your hand on her floating ribs on the other side. If she kind of melts into you, then you need to give her a little squeeze as a response."

"What if she doesn't melt into me?"

"Then you blew it." Daniel said. He opened the hatch and ducked out.

Friday, September 23, 2005

the black hole of philosophy

You know, it isn't like I haven't been doing a lot of writing lately. The reason you haven't seen much of it here on my blog is because I've been wasting hours in debates over at Maverick Philosopher. There are some really smart people over there and I've become a bit compulsive about arguing with them.

The last time I was this involved in discussions in philosophy I worked at a university. That was a problem, because any time an interesting book came up in the discussions, I could walk across campus to the library to pick it up. Then I'd find some related books on the shelf. Then I'd stop by the fifth floor where the old books were kept to look for something interesting in the same area by a forgotten author. Then I'd spend the next several weeks reading and getting nothing else done.

I don't work on a university campus any more, but there is a public library within walking distance of my house. The only thing that has kept me away so far is the certainty that they wouldn't have what I wanted at the local library and I would have to order it from the central library. So far, the lack of immediate gratification is enough to keep me away from those devious books.

I'm really busy at work. I don't have time for this...

money, politics, and floods

I was debating whether to rant about this, but it seems pretty significant now with Rita bearing down on us.

Michael Williams complain about the 200 billion dollars that the government is spending to rebuild New Orleans. He quotes the Wall Street Journal:
To put that $200 billion in perspective, we could give every one of the 500,000 families displaced by Katrina a check for $400,000, and they could each build a beach front home virtually anywhere in America.
Are they going to be that generous to the other people who lost their homes to Katrina, or only the people of New Orleans? And what about the people who are about to lose their homes to Rita? What if five times as much damage is done by Rita as by Katrina, is the government going to spend a trillion dollars to make it all better?

And how much is going to actually be used to help people? It isn't easy to spend 200 billion dollars. The way this money gets spent is that thousands of people hop on the gravy train, begging for grants to build buildings or sculptures, or teach Tai Chi classes to poor pregnant women who were made to feel helpless by the loss of their homes.

All of these projects get funded largely based not on how useful they are but on how knows who. In relatively honest environments, it's mostly based on friendship. Contractors and heads of NGOs build up friendships with various government functionaries who then approve grants for them out of friendship. Oh, and maybe a job when they retire from government service.

In unusually corrupt places, and it seems pretty obvious that New Orleans is a pretty corrupt place, there are actual kickbacks and money actually disappears (rather than being spent wastefully).

George Bush and our loyal congress people know this as well as we do. They just don't care. They spend money to hush up critics and maybe work up a bit of good will for the next election ... and leave following generations to pay off the debt.

And to make matters worse, the entire project is painfully stupid. Why in the world would anyone rebuild a city below sea level? Are they freaking insane? It is inevitable, absolutely inevitable that there will be another flood and more people killed. How many people are going to die for Bush's popularity? How long will it be until people drown for Bush's popularity and for profits to a bunch of public parasites? It's impossible to say, but meteorologists are predicting that we are entering a period of increasingly severe hurricanes. And then there are the terrorists. We are giving them a thick, juicy target with melted butter on top.

Frankly, I'm sick. I've gone from being a lukewarm Bush supporter to an outright opponent. I thought he was an honorable man who just had some political differences with me. Now I think he's a political hack trying to buy popularity with my tax money (and our kids' tax money) just like any other corrupt politician. I'm sick of George Bush and I'm sick of the corrupt Republicans in Congress who back him up and tear away at our nations flesh like a pack of hyenas, each ripping out his own piece of pork.

And I'm disillusioned. All my life I've blamed most of our nation's problems on the Democrats. When Nixon was president, it was the Democrat Congress that abandoned our Vietnamese allies to slaughter and imprisonment and gave a huge victory to the Russian Empire. When Reagan was president, it was the Democrat congress that wouldn't let him reduce spending. When we had a Republican Senate, we had a Democrat president who put up judges that didn't believe in the Constitution. But today we have a Republican president and a Republican Congress and we are spending more than ever, ignoring genocide in Africa, and still nominating stealth judges to the Supreme Court. You know stealth judges like Souter was.

Is it all because Bush doesn't want to make the losing party mad? Or is it because he really has a lot in common with the losing party and he just hid it well enough to get elected as a Republican?

I don't know. I don't care. Why support Republicans when they are just like Democrats? Can anyone tell me why?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

public displays of affection

Michael Williams links to this story about a couple from Israel being fined for public kissing in India. If you ever watch a movie from India, you will notice that they never kiss. There are always a lot of scenes where it looks like a couple is about to kiss: the faces draw together, the lips are slightly pursed, but at the last moment, the couple is always interrupted, or one of them turns away shyly or mischeviously, or their faces miss each other as they hug. I get the impression that it's supposed to be teasing the audience with almost-shocking behavior.

I wonder when we will start to see articles about how sexually repressed the people of India are and how it causes all sorts of cultural maladies?

UPDATE: Indiblog has linked to this post with an apparent misunderstanding of the last sentence. It was supposed to be ironic. It was a jab at the people who accuse Christians of being sexually repressed, not at Indians.


Eric Ashley is taking entries for the very first Storyblogging Carnival of the second year.

a message from the president of Iraq

Jalal Talabani writes "Thank you for liberating my country. Please don't leave before the job is done." (link from Dean)

I hope America's allies in the Middle East are beginning to take some initiative in the media offensive. The terrorists are long-time experts at it. I don't know if it will help though. American media has a history of far harsher criticism of America's allies than of America's enemies.

religious tolerance

This is pretty unbelievable (link from La Shawn). A chaplain for the Washington Nationals was suspended for counseling someone according to traditional Christian belief. Doesn't sound like so much to get worked up about, does it? Here's the problem, the question was about the salvation of Jews who reject Christ. The player asked if these Jews are "doomed" and the pastor nodded.

The player had to apologize for offending people. The team's president, Tony Tavares, said "I don't dispute his (the minister's) right to teach his Christian beliefs. It's just the way this was done, turning this into some public pulpit . . . that's what troubles me," but according to the account, there was no public pulpit. One player asked a question of the minister in private and the minister answered it with a nod. The player repeated the incident to a reporter in private, and the reporter published it to the world. So, who gets suspended for turning it into a public pulpit? Why the minister that answered a private question in a private setting.

Tavares is a liar. He panicked when a Jew accused the team of preaching hatred in the locker room and now he is trying to cover his butt by coming up with another excuse for his panicked reaction. Tavares has offered to provide religious services for Jews and Muslims. So Jews, who think that Muslims and Christians are lesser beings are OK. Muslims who think that Jews and Christians are going to hell are OK. But Christians who think that Jews and Muslims are going the hell, well, we just can't have that kind of hatred around our sensitive players.

And what about Rabbi Herzfeld who is using the press and the grievance industry to attack a Christian for being a Christian? He wants to punish a Christian for his beliefs. This hypocrite is trying to achieve his ideal of religious tolerance by a method that amounts to religious persecution.

What is more hateful, to say that God is going to punish sinners or to personally set out to punish people that you think are sinners? To warn someone that they are going to hell for their religious beliefs or to try to get someone fired for their religious beliefs?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

acquired narcissism

This fascinating post (link from Milblog) by Dr. Sanity offers a psychological explanation for some of the looniness on the Left. Actually, it's more of a characterization than an explanation, but it's interesting.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

nukes, bribes, and poles

Captain's Quarters reports that both France and Russia are helping Iran to avoid international pressure over it's nuclear program. Doesn't this sound familiar? Weren't France and Russia at the forefront of efforts to protect Saddam? We now know that there was bribery at high levels in the Oil For Food program and that some people who supported Saddam were beneficiary of the bribes. We also know that both France and Russia were involved. Now we have another situation where a terrorist-supporting country with a lot of money is engaged in activities which ought to have everyone's hair standing on end, and it is getting support from Russia and France.

Why in the world would they be doing that? We can dismiss their own explanations out of hand. They don't care about Iran or the other nations that might benefit from these programs. And although simple anti-Americanism might be a partial explanation, surely they wouldn't be that reckless out of simple resentment.

No, the only reasonable explanation here is bribery. Whether personal (in the form of payoffs) or national (in the form of sweet oil deals) remains to be seen.

Either way, the US has to adjust to the fact that we no longer live in the unipolar world that we have enjoyed since the fall of the Soviet Union. The repeated actions of Russia, France, and some other European nations show that we are facing, not just a few religious fanatics, but a coalition of oil-exporting nations (I'm including Venezuela) supported by Islamists and several second-tier powers like France, Russia, and Germany. This coalition is not only working against US interests; I believe some members are actively trying to expand their territory by fomenting and funding revolutions. China, by contrast is a distant threat.

The US needs to start taking this coalition seriously. One thing we need to do now is to take whatever drastic measures are necessary to end our oil dependence in the shortest time possible. Imagine if during the Cold War we had been dependent on the Soviet Union or her satellites for 60% of our energy resources. How could we possibly have won the war under those circumstances?

There are two things that the government has to do. First, they need begin a program of taxing crude oil and raising the tax gradually to make oil less and less attractive as an energy source. They need to let industry know where the taxes are headed so that companies can plan for ways to avoid the expense (at the same time, reducing their dependence on oil). Second, the government needs to make it cheaper to build atomic power plants by eliminating the endless legal challenges.

These two changes would encourage and allow the free market to solve the problem for us. What is depressing is the certainty that no one in the Federal government has the motivation or the courage to do either thing.

UPDATE: There is a discussion going on over at Dean's World about biofuels. My position is that we should not subsidize these petroleum alternatives (or nuclear power, for that matter). Rather we should get rid of the artificial constraints on nuclear power and then raise taxes on petroleum to reflect the true cost to America of being so dependent on foreign sources of energy. Let the free market find the best alternatives, whether biofuels, nuclear, some process involving coal, or even one of the green alternatives like solar, wind or wave if they can be made to work more economically than the others.

By the way, one alternative is not to tax all petroleum, but rather to just put heavy tariffs on petroleum from outside the US. This would alter the incentives a bit so that in addition to favoring slightly more expensive biofuels, it would also encourage the exploitation of hard-to-extract source of petroleum in the US. I feel that we would be better off finding alternatives to petroleum than new sources of petroleum, so I slightly prefer the tax to the tariff.

Also, I would also demand a corresponding reduction in other taxes so that the overall tax burden on the economy does not increase.