One stone, two... checkboxes!

Last Saturday began somewhat deflatedly, what with Kel and I recovering from our decadal (aluminium?) anniversary — where, between cocktails at Cavallero, whole bottles of wine to accompany kim-chi pancakes at Goshen, and a significant number of beers at the Tote, we had got somewhat schickered. And when I overdo it, I'm usually depressed as a bastard by the light of morning. It didn't help that a day of shopping chores loomed.

But despite this handicap, and despite several consumerist wild goose chases before noon, I achieved two things I'd never done before: I bought a refrigerator, and I got to ride in a big-ass tow truck when Kelly's ute broke down carrying it home.

I know that little red Datsun 1200 is much admired, so I can assure you it's back on the road, albeit with a disconcerting rattle in first gear.

Joseph | 30 Apr 2007

A good idea

A good idea, which is to say, an idea that makes your daily activities easier / better / more intelligible, usually finds its twelve apostles. These evangelists, not satisfied with having been improved by that good idea, perceive some sense of duty in promulgating the idea to others, so that more lives may be enriched in the manner of their own. So runs the argument from altruism.

In my workaday labours as a software inventor at Inventive Labs, one such good idea is Ruby, which is a programming language. I have been a professional programmer both without and with Ruby, and I inordinately prefer the latter.

An aside: this isn't a post about a programming language. Even if you are not a programmer, stick around. None of us, least of all me, knows where this is going – but at least you can see how long the scrollbar is.

Ruby, as anyone in this field will surely tell you, has its fair share of evangelists. I can't give you an exact number, but it is probably somewhere between twelve and 27,900. I don't think all of them are altruists. Many preach Ruby from their bloggerly pulpits because they find relief in the sensation of being participants; because if they are doing it, they'd rather not do it alone. Actually I wonder if it's a species of benign schadenfreude, that would be real schadenfreude if not for their belief that the good idea was, in fact, good. It's kind of hard to explain. This link may be relevant.

People attempt to convert other people to ideas they believe 'good' not so much for a private beatitude, or to receive gratitude, as for intellectual creature comfort. It's not unreasonable to extend an evolutionary argument from this. There is also a matter of pride, and obviously 'being among the first' becomes statistically more assertable as the corpus of converts grows larger.

It is within this context that I would like to affix the much-observed and somewhat sudden phenomenon of atheist literature. There's a useful summary of it here. A loose band of heretics, often scientists railing against intelligent design, but sometimes politicos hoping to wet-blanket the so-called clash of civilisations, are arguing against the existence of any knowable higher power. I must admit that I am curious to read them. But peevishly I haven't; their enterprise bothers me. It seems like they want to convert the religiousi.

I have been an atheist since shortly after I realised I was not the Second Coming. Laugh, because that's amusing and only mildly true. Actually, though I descend from a line of devout Catholics, disbelief is something that came relatively easily to me. The agonism of atheism largely befell my parents' generation, and though I bear some grievances against the Baby Boomers, I have to respect them for this. The worst my atheism has had to endure is this perpetual recidivism into superstition; the challenge not to hope for something beyond, not to believe in something inexplicable that explains a lot of things, to reject a prophesied good that subsumes the weighty problems of my everyday. I strongly believe it is important too, as one of those lucky enough not to have suffered any great injustice, that I do not blow up these little things that get me down, that – and this really is the crux of it – that I choose to operate in a certain, certainly problematic this world rather than an uncertain, retributive promise of the next.

In short, atheism is, for me, a good idea. By forsaking any next world, my agency in this world is greater. I act now, because even less than oblivion confronts me. I will be good, at least as good as I can be, because to be good makes me feel like a better person, and that somewhat assuages my existential doubts. Only I determine what is good, ultimately, and it doesn't trouble me that the only real measure of my life will accompany me to my grave. A generous obit wouldn't go astray, don't get me wrong. But in fact, another aspect of my atheism that I am still learning is that it needn't be morbid.

There's a lot more I could say about my belieflessness, and if you buy me a beer I will, but other than to strongly deny that my life is meaningless, I won't go any further right now. And this is the point: I'm not trying to convert you. If you believe in one or many deities, I am fascinated by you and would love to compare notes. I don't scorn you, you are my equal, and what's more, strange to me. Perhaps there's something you know, or suspect, that I don't. Understand that I'm going to argue with you vigourously, but if you're converted, I'll be immensely disappointed.

Here is where the good idea gets skewed; the evangelists deny this position. They seem to try to prevent our conversation, for their own craven desire to be not alone. Ah, may they rot in hell.

Joseph | 23 Apr 2007

Bout de dernière minute

Me (via text message): Any last minute tips on l'election for me?

Vincent: I have gone into my delphic trance and the only thing I can tell you is that according to le monde 3.3 million new voters have registered since 2002 (making the total 44.5 million, a peu pres). That's the young and ethnic minorities, and more than half of those registrations were made in the last quarter of '06, around the time most candidates were announced. Il semble qu'ils veulent prendre les choses en main.

Some things you should know about this:
a) Vincent is very often on the money.
b) But I didn't say I would be broadcasting his reply, so don't hold him to anything.
c) That is a ridiculously long text message.

(Postscript: Me: A-ha! Thanks. Il sera interessant s'ils font cela! ... croissant.

Vincent: Tres bien dit, mon vieux!

Can someone please translate? I don't speak French, Babelfish is spouting nonsense - have I committed a faux pas?)

Joseph | 22 Apr 2007

RSVP for any future costume party you may hold

Dear        ,

Many thanks for inviting me to your soirée with the hilarious theme of        . It sure sounds like an interesting challenge. Unfortunately, I'm unable to attend, as I am old and curmudgeonly.

- Joseph

Joseph | 20 Apr 2007

Electioneering in Oz

To an amateur psephologist, like for instance me, aught-seven is an interesting year. As we speak there's a democratic disturbance in the world's newest republic. From this distance, and with the level of ignorance I have in Timorese history, it's a lesson in how difficult it is to establish a democracy, even when the people are willing. Next week there is the muddied water of Sarko v Sego, a much-anticipated clash you'd be a brave one to call. Numerous upstarts threaten to steal the thunder of one or the other.

Against all this is the pop and crackle of next year's US presidential primaries, sounding much louder this time than in aught-three, not least because there's twice as many of them. I'm on firmer ground in my knowledge of these running battles than East Timor or France, but the pace of change and paucity of empirical data here still leaves me dizzy. I wonder whether by early next year McCain will even be in the running -- his latest misadventures in an Iraqi marketplace reinforcing the impression that this septagenarian has lost his bead on sound political judgement. Plus he's a creationist homophobe all of a sudden. On the blue side it's all about Hilary and Obama, or so it seems from 16696km away. However, don't discount John Edwards' ability to split the middle. People will start to whisper that he could carry the South. I suspect it won't be Hilary v Obama by next March.

But what I'm following closest is this year's Australian federal election, presumably to be held in October. It's eleven years since Howard and his cohorts came to power. In that time, and especially since the start of his second term, his government has piled ignominies upon those of us who want this nation to be an independent citizen of the world, a real middle power, not just respecting basic principles of human rights, but upholding and proselytising them. Now, for the first time, there seems to be a mood in the bunker to be rid of him. Or is it the first time? In April 2001, Bomber Beazley was a shoo-in. And do we really want to dethrone him? Well I do, but across the 20 million of us there may be a different story. This graph tells a tale:


Chart courtesy of OzPolitics.

If — and this 'if' is statistically improbable — that green line has its head above water in September, then we can contemplate donning the red shoes and singing ding dong, the witch is dead.

But even then a thought troubles me: if somehow we are celebrating the demise of the Wicked Witch of Bennelong in October, how many months further down the yellow brick road will we be pulling aside Rudd's curtain, to discover a man who can give this cowardly lion of a nation no heart?

Joseph | 12 Apr 2007

Good thanks

I'm good thanks. You might've heard I'm living by myself now, in a loft above my office in the dusty heart of Collingwood, where I feel oddly at home for an Essendon supporter. My goldfish are in the kitchen and I have a pair of quail out back, pecking at a creaky chicken-wire aviary I built one Saturday afternoon.

Life and I are actually in furious agreement these days. It's almost embarrassing. I want of nothing so much as a little more time.

So I don't think of you that often, and when I do I wonder why. I must admit I don't read books like I used to. I hardly ever write at all. Perhaps it's true that my life was once richer, that these greys would have once seemed black or white. But certainly it was a greater torture, those valleys were abysmal and there seemed to be a lot more rain back then. I can't imagine my old bones are up for that again.

I went for a walk the other day, a bursting blue-green day, when I accidentally found a waterfall. In my own suburb, in dirty urban Collingwood. Actually it's a man-made and quite well-known waterfall. Still, new to me and I was impressed. A week or two later a body in a bag was found at that waterfall, but this is Collingwood after all.

I didn't do it, for the record.

I have become addicted to sport, no matter the kind. I discovered peer-to-peer television recently, and followed the Women's Curling World Championships in March quite fervently. My money was on Canada, who were basically unstoppable, but I was quietly rooting for Denmark. It occurs to me that sport, or more specifically spectating, is an early-onset indicator of boredom. Furthermore I suspect some correlation between my reduced interest in literature and this new compulsion for observing human competition. I think I want more stories without plots, more narratives whose endings I cannot guess. A little less predetermination, a little more happy entropy.

Ah but look at this: I've gone on too long. I promised myself that if I spoke to you again I would be the soul of brevity.

Yeah, I'm good thanks. How the hell are you?

Joseph | 8 Apr 2007

stuff & nonsense

  • Topographic viewTopographic view
     shows elements on a webpage according to how deeply nested they are. It's a bookmarklet for web development.
  • The qualifierThe qualifier
     renders controversial statements on this page harmless. Reinstate the slings and barbs by refreshing. Also a bookmarklet.

  • jjmap
    American Diary

    Two weeks with the apple and the lone star (illustrated).

all posts, ordered by month in reverse-chronological order:

In Words

In Other Words