The Rants, Raves, Gripes, and Prophecies of Paul R. Potts

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Sat, 12 Mar 2005 Baby Drinks

So, we had eaten dinner, and were having some hot chocolate: Isaac, Grace, and I were drinking it out of mugs.

Baby Vera started yelling (not crying or screaming, just kind of... yelling, and waving her arms to get our attention, basically saying "Hey! Hey! I want some too!")

She would not calm down until we gave her something to drink (a small amount of water) in a cup with a handle like ours. She neede a little assistance with the fine adjustments, but had the basic movements right, and managed to drink some water out of a real cup, holding it (mostly) herself, and then she appeared to be satisfied and stopped yelling.

She was born October 29th. That puts her age at... hmm... exactly 9 weeks from her date of birth to the last day of December 2004, plus 10 weeks to the day to reach 11 March 2005, for 19 weeks, or if you measure by irregular calendar months, a couple of days shy of 4 1/2 months.

She is nearly crawling, too. We've got to start getting the house baby-proofed!

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Dobson and Wonka

Baby Veronica is almost ten months old, and walking everywhere. She's getting ahead of our child-proofing again; she can now crawl over the barriers (pillows) we pile up to keep her from going up the stairs. This leaves us terrified that she is going to climb them, and fall down a whole flight of stairs; she is coordinated to get to the top, but not to get back down yet. Maybe the pile of pillows at the bottom would keep her from breaking her neck, but I don't think we can count on that. The arrangement of wall and railing in our apartment will not accommodate any baby gate we've been able to find, so we will have to come up with something else. Our ancient and badly-maintained apartment is hard to baby proof in other ways; for example, the downstairs bathroom door won't close all the way, so she can just push the door open to get in. We've been keeping the trash can in there, to keep it out of her reach, since she considers all manner of dirt and trash to make excellent toys. Also, she likes to visit people while they are sitting on the toilet!

I have a backlog of baby photos to put on the web site, and another roll of film will be ready to pick up as prints and a CD from Walgreen's tonight. Taking lots of photos guarantees that at least a few of them will be passable. So: more baby photos, as soon as I get a chance. I need a little quiet time on the computer, when baby Veronica is not trying to demolish and eat everything in the office. I've got some other things that have to get done first: some consulting work to finish, and some work to do in Quicken, to confirm just how fast our money is vanishing.

Grace completed her insurance class last week, and seems on track to take her exam this week. She is trying to review every day until the exam, so it stays fresh. It's a lot of obscure information to hold on to and regurgitate on cue, so we'll try and get her into the exam as soon as possible.

One complication is the van. It needed a new fuel pump, and we had it replace. We got one estimate, from a local shop we go to often, but it seemed ridiculously high, so we took it to a cut-rate place in Ypsilanti. Now the van is dripping gas and smells like gasoline. I think we should not even be driving it; I want them to tow it to their shop and fix it for free. I think they screwed up, big-time. This begs the question of whether we want a shop that screwed up so badly, creating a possible death-trap out of our van, should be entrusted to get it right a second time. I have to assume they will try to wriggle out of responsibility. And we can't keep throwing money at different shops; we already had to eat the cost of diagnosis at the first shop. Urgh.

I've found an interesting piece here:

http://www.family.org/docstudy/newsletters/a0021043.cfm

It is a newsletter from Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family), a conservative think tank. I bring it up because it is being quoted in the leftish media out of context; this is an interesting example of the left engaging in practices they disparage the right for so much: taking quotes out of context. It was published in the Nation, and is now being cited elsewhere, such as on Alternet:

http://alternet.org/story/24359/

Now, I may have my doubts about the overall thesis of the piece in question, which is that homosexuality can (or should) be "prevented" by early intervention in the lives of young boys or girls who show cross-dressing, or even artistic, tendencies. There's certainly a lot to unpack and seriously question in a thesis like that. A lot of Christians would disagree with Dobson's premises; even some of the crazier recognize that he is channeling some of Freud's more discredited ideas (Google for "dobson penis freud" if you're interested). I'm not going to take the whole thing on now. But the overall method Dobson describes is about how fathers need to be strong role models and engaged with their sons. This one somewhat bizarre is being quoted out of context -- and there is a lot of context -- is the following:

"He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger."

Um, indeed. But out of context, that does not seem like a good recipe for preventing young boys from indulging in narcissistic masturbatory fantasies. Or something. Actually, in my case, with Isaac, the first time he saw me naked in a pool shower, he was horrified, because he was never circumcised, and I had to tell him about how I was surgically mutilated as a baby, without benefit of anaesthetic... and how many other boys still are.

But be that as it may, the Nation's use of that line out of context reminds me of the reasons I stopped reading the magazine: basically, because of the tendencies of its authors to wallow in their own narcissistic masturbatory fantasies of what the right's ideas were all about, without actually unpacking and engaging their arguments, or even understanding them. It's kind of like believing that women go veiled in some Islamic societies because men hate them. There's a certain aspect of truth to that, but it doesn't begin to explain the history and cultural meaning of the veil. Lame.

Last night we went to see the new Willy Wonka movie at the IMAX theater at the Henry Ford Museum. It was better than I expected; some tepid reviews had left me with lowered expectations. That is probably a good thing. The IMAX format was a lot of fun for this film, especially during Oompa Loompa musical numbers. It isn't just a bigger picture, but filmed on much larger format film, so there is a very detailed grain to it that works especially well in this movie to reveal artificial-looking eyes (with contact lenses, in most cases, or digitally enhanced), and makeup (usually ghoulish). The wrinkled faces of Charlie Bucket's elderly grandparents are wonderfully expressive in this huge format. It's pretty much the ultimate Tim Burton film; he's gotten very, very good at what he does, and if you like Tim Burton films, you'll like this one. It is in some ways closer to the original text than the older movie, but gives Willy Wonka a back story and rationale. It isn't so true to the book, but I think it makes a better movie.

It's also made me give a little more thought to the Willy Wonka story. I find it interesting that the setting is a factory: a place which is inherently unsafe, because manufacturing requires energies and materials to come togther in large quantities, in which adult rules for safety must obtain, and in which the strategies of the various children (gluttony, begging and demanding, artificially inflated self-confidence, excessive smarts) and the parents that made the children that way can't protect them, probably for the first time in their lives, and so it is time for some hard life lessons.

It's really a Grimm's fairy tale, although everyone survives in the end, unlike the way things work in the original Brothers Grimm stories. Burton makes it even more complicated when he asks us to consider Willy Wonka's own family story and Wonka's own strategies are for confronting life's hardships. (Johnny Depp's Wonka comes off reminiscent of Michael Jackson). The film actually goes a little deeper in that respect. Charlie's character, however, and that of his grandfather are not explored deeply at all; in the book and original movie, Charlie's grandfather tempts him into his own naughty behavior (stealing "fizzy lifting drinks" and nearly getting themselves killed, and nearly losing the grand prize). In this film Charlie is flawlessly boring in his desire to give everything to his family; he even offers to sell his golden ticket to provide money for his parents. Fortunately, one of the grandparents tells him, in one of the film's best lines, that there are only ever going to be five golden tickets, but there will always be more money because "they print more every day." Sage advice to take a once-in-a-lifetime chance!

Sadly, upon questioning after the movie, Isaac was not able to come up with a single way in which this IMAX film was different than the usual films we go to. (The last film we went to was perhaps seven to nine months ago, when we went to see The Incredibles). The fact that the screen was eighty feet high and a hundred and twenty feet wide, the seating angled steeply down, the aspect ratio different, the picture incredibly sharp and detailed, and the sound piped through a 12,000 watt surround sound system didn't seem to register at all. Sometimes we worry about that boy. I guess we won't be spending the extra travel time and money to go IMAX showings again, although Grace and I enjoyed it. I expected Veronica to be nervous and frightened, but she actually just seemed quite fascinated and content to watch, even when the sound got very loud, and fell asleep for the second half. I wonder what that means about her.

In other news, I will be interviewing at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsbugh. I had a previous phone interview with a group in the Robotics Lab. This position would involve taking over maintenance and enhancement for a large Common Lisp application. It is also DARPA-funded and done as a kind of subcontract to Northrop Grummann. There are some ethical issues, since it is a scheduling program that is used to schedule Air Force planes, apparently for supply, refueling, medical evacuation, and for bombing, too. I really, really want the opportunity to work on a project in Common Lisp, and we would all really like to get out of Ann Arbor. I'll have to think hard about it. There is another embedded programming possibility in Ann Arbor, and the possibility of continuing at Visteon. It will all come to a crisis point soon, but at least there are some possibilities opening up; that wasn't happening for me a year ago.

In the little bits of free time I've been able to scrounge, I am reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun novels. I have long been a fan of the Book of the New Sun; I've read it several times, and have the distinct feeling that there is a lot that I failed to understand. This feeling was only intensified by picking up Robert Borski's book Solary Labyrinth, which features some highly speculative interpretation on the family connections and meanings present in the book. Some I agree with, and some I think are long shots, based on only the most tenuous textual evidence. Borski's book made me feel that despite having read the books at least three times, I may as well have been reading a different book altgether. Better and more readable than Borski's book is Attending Daedelus, which features some more understandable interpretation, and a very useful chapter that summarizes the plot of the New Sun books. These somewhat obscure books are available on Amazon; there is a new book of Wolfe criticism coming out, which I have pre-ordered.

I tried to read the Long Sun books when they came out, but after getting halfway through Nightside the Long Sun, I decided not to bother. In comparison with the New Sun books, the Long Sun books are written in a much different style. They are a third-person narrative, and the story is extremely time-compressed; the whole 4-volume series takes place in about three calendar weeks. While the New Sun books give the immediate impression of complexity and depth and a great deal of back-story, the Long Sun books appear deceptively simple: less of the New Sun's space opera style and more like a simple fable or coming-of-age story. However, I now see that it was this radical change in style that turned me off, and gave me the mistaken impression that the Long Sun books lacked depth and characterization. In fact, they are incredibly evocative. Wolfe has just evolved as a writer, and he is able to pack much more into seemingly simple events. There is a great deal of foreshadowing, both in "reality" and in carefully portrayed hallucinations and dream states, and careful use of particularly evocative words. Together these hint at the underlying story. The main character, Patera Silk, is a much more sympathetic character than Severain the Torturer and Autarch of Urth, but there is a lot more to him than first appears. Gene Wolfe is particularly fond of unreliable narrators, and since Silk doesn't fully understand all the things happening around him, at least not at first, it is up to us to find the "true" story. In Silk's world, magic is indistinguishable from technology, to paraphrase Clarke's Law. His world is truly not as it seems. In fact, these books are so complex beneath the surface that after finishing the second, I had to debate with myself about whether I should continue to the third or immediately re-read the second, just to try to understand more of what I had just finished reading!

I have also purchased the Short Sun trilogy, in preparation. I don't get much time to read these days, and even when I do, I am often distracted, so it may be a while, but I want to get to the end!

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