Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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The Leading Cause of Death of the Pregnant Woman is her husband or boyfriend, according to a 20-minute presentation on Fox New's The Pulse, yesterday evening. Not just the leading criminal cause of death, but cause of death full stop -- more than disease and pre-childbirth complications.

Apropos the Laci Peterson case, the show focused on husbands/boyfriends -- often abusive beforehand, but sometimes not -- who kill their own child and wives/girlfriends, either because the pregnancy was unexpected or she refused to have an abortion.

The aforementioned stat came from a group, which was, if I remember correctly, the National Coalition for Battered Women or something like that. (Coalition for Women's Defense? On a 26.4 Kbps connection, I'm not looking for it now.) The pro-life implications of the finding were enormous, but unstated on the show.

Although I did not anticipate this particular quirk, it is another logical consequence of the pro-abortion mentality. It is already an accepted fact that it is OK to kill the child against its will when its life gets in the way of (=inconveniences) yours. Here, we only have an extension of this logic, fueled by the fact that abusive spouses have already removed the barriers of emotion and habit that check men from acting violently towards women. Here, we see enacted the claim that it is OK to kill not only the child, but its mother, when her will stands in the way of yours. After all, if murder is justified in removing the infant you don't want, is it that far to go to say that it is also "justified homicide" to kill its mother if she is unwilling to kill the infant herself? The show also had a disturbing one-minute segment of a tape-recorded phone call of one man's voice, dripping with rage, telling the woman that she promised him she would get an abortion and now she didn't.

Groups like N.O.W. and Gnarled (NARAL), who have so often defended abortion as justified if there is the slightest threat to a woman's health, emotions, etc., have ended up creating a culture in which murder is the primary cause of death of pregnant women.

Eve, Rat, Zorak, et al., take if from here.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/20/2003 02:58:00 PM | link

Philosophical Justification for Zorak's Misanthropy?

"Everyone should be chary about having dealings with 'others' and should essential speak only with God and with himself." -- Soren Kierkegaard.

That was quoted in Martin Buber, "What is man?" And because Buber doesn't give a damn about accurate citation, you have to hunt to find a better reference on your own.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/20/2003 02:40:00 PM | link

Labyrinthine Vertigo
was definitely the most romantic-sounding malady on the list I scanned while filling out forms at the walk-in medical clinic. That has such a 19th century ring to it, I can just imagine Kierkegaard saying "I suffer from Labyrinthine Vertigo, a cruelly paradoxical permutation of spatio-temporality no doubt sent to me by the Absolute as a punishment for my sins of seeking fulfillment in the world of things." (Then he would daub his forehead with a silk handkerchief and sighing, look off into the distance, growing somewht paler...) The urine-colored paper has a zillion other curious names like "calculus of the uterer" (funny, my brain has a hard enough time doing calculus...should I have been uing my uterer instead?) and "impacted cerumen" for when the kid has crammed a Cheeto in his ear.

So yes, the Oligarch is sick today. He rode the germ-sharing superhighway called Amtrak to CT and was taught a remedial lesson in Why He Abhors Public Transportation. So I shall continue to cram my pie-hole while Amoxicillin until I feel better. The only reason I went to the doctor in the first place is becaue I expect to visit lots of geriatric relatives later this week, and don't want to be the grim reaper of the family reunion.

That' all for now. Back to reading "What is man?" by Martin Buber, which is published in a collection entitled Between Man and Man. Sad to say, reading that book so titled in public in the DC and NYC metro areas merited me the "Are you gay?" look a few times. I should slap a pink triangle sticker on the front, tell them it's the greatest new thing in queer philosophy, and watch as they all try to figure out what Buber's 30 page rant about Heidegger is all about.

We shall see if blogger can accept this posting. I'm using a vintage 26.4 Kbps connection to get online, via the O.O. Toshiba Satellite T1910CS I salvaged and made able to run Win95/Opera to get online. (That's a 486 processor, mind you, with 20 MB of RAM, the max for this particular unit!)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/20/2003 02:18:00 PM | link

I am going on a trip to New England for the next ten days. I may not have blog access. Auf wiederlesen!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/18/2003 02:38:00 AM | link

The Old Oligarch diet plan
(I lost ten pounds in 2 weeks, your mileage may vary)

Using my vast amounts of medical knowledge culled almost exclusively from the art of Medieval barbaring and anecdotal articles I read on the internet, I cooked up the following regime to get in shape before (gasp! gak!) the 30th birthday which rolls around in several weeks.

1) Slash carb intake: a major breakthrough. I have friends who have tried "Atkins," and I think there's something to it. I could never do "pure" Atkins, but here's what I do instead:

The background: I LOVE sugar. But I bet I drink 1,000 calories in soda a day when I don't think about it.

The problem:: Every time I try to ditch soda for some alternative, I find the following happens: Too much coffee upsets my stomach. Tea stops working after a while and makes me relaxed and sleepy. I can't drink NutraSweet. So what to do?

The answer comes in the form of a large, yellow pill:

Productivity Capsule
Productivity Capsule

That's right: Step one is substitute caffeine pills for soda, and drink 1 gallon of ice cold water a day instead of a liter or two of soda.

2) Use this thing M, W, F for 20 minutes, run for 30 minutes if schedule permits T, Th.

3) Eat one light meal primarily in the starchy / sugary category for breakfast. (Oatmeal with a little maple syrup, usually, although I've done pop tarts.) I can't spring into action without some sugar. Delay breakfast for a long as possible, sometimes until 11am or noon. This assumes I get up at 8 or 9. If I get up at 11 or noon, I push breakfast back to 1pm-ish. Eat about 200 - 300 calories tops.

4) Fast until late dinner time. This is where the huge amounts of water comes in. Exercise shortly before dinner. Exercise reduces hunger initially, but you get plenty hungry after you've recovered from exerting yourself. I think exercising long after I've eaten my sugar in the morning helps to burn fat directly.

5) Eat a large, satisfying, greasy meal for dinner, around 7 - 8 pm. I let myself eat pretty much whatever I want here, but try to choose primarily meats, fats, and low-sugar vegetables (i.e. a primarily "Atkins" approach for my main meal). Eat about 1000 - 1300 calories.

This usually keeps me full until 2 am, when I should start thinking about sleep. Most times, I go to bed a little hungry. If I'm really hungry, I eat pop corn, but only once in a great while.

My goal is to go from 165 (my weight since around 1997, in grad school) down to 145 (my weight after Junior year in college). Yours truly was skinny as a rail as a Freshman, weighing in at 122, but that was "back in the day" when I could run 6 miles and Ronald Reagan was president...

If I believed in luck, I'd say wish me it. But I don't, and I don't think this merits a prayer request, so heck, I guess I'm just rambling.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/18/2003 02:30:00 AM | link

Tease? Please! I'd click if it included this option: Tell this ditzy girl her middle's sticking out, her pants are falling down, and she's left her sweater in the dryer for too long.

Anybody else get these ads?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/16/2003 09:57:00 PM | link

T. Crown wrote to say:

I bit some bullets; and the "Could God make 1+1=72" bit struck me as screwy, but I couldn't put my finger on why. But how can a being whose power is
without limit be impotent to effect a change, even if it is in himself?

To use a little different (more Platonic / Aristotelian) terminology: I don't deny that God could have made the created world differently than he did. The various forms of created existence (the way plants and animals are, the properties of various molecules, etc.) could have all not existed, and totally different things in their stead. That's one point.

A second point about what does exist now is that a lot of our knowledge about what "goes together" is contingent. There's nothing essential to the meaning of cat that says it must have hair, but we come to expect this as a "norm." But it's not a logical norm, just one deduced from experience. We know -- and are a bit surprised by -- the discovery of hairless cats (there are some; they look as nasty as you image), but even though this upsets our empirically-corroborated expectations of what a cat is, it doesn't imply any logical contradiction between "cat" and "hairless." In this case, if God wanted to make the world such that cats were predominantly hairless instead of hairy, or more strongly, make it an absolutely necessity that all cats were hairless, that wouldn't imply any thing contradictory, nor impossible IHMO. (Because there's nothing essential to cats being hairy.)

This aforementioned sense of "what goes together" (i.e the possibilities of accidents inhering in substantial forms, if you talk Aristotle) is very different, IMHO than the way in which "1 + 1" goes together with "2". In this case, I don't know what it means to ask whether God can make the world such that 1 + 1 = 2. 2 means 1+1. To me, asking whether God could make things such that 1 + 1 = 2 is the same as asking whether God could make things such that: into if the at. "Into if the at" doesn't make any sense. It's a series of words, but the conceptual referent of the words is empty. So in one sense, God "couldn't" do that, but that's because what is asked to be done is itself, nothing, incoherent, non-being. Or, to put it equally, in other words: Could God make it such that 1+1 = 72? Yes, sure. But in that case, what you call "1" really means the concept "36", or that which you call "72" really means "2."

It would be the same as if someone asked: Could God make a cat that X, and by "X" the person proceeded to give a complete description of a Mercedes, and nothing other than a Mercedes. Then sure, God could make a Mercedes, and we would just call it "cat." In this case, we're basically using different labels for the same concepts ("Mercedes" now means what "cat" once meant.) I assume most people have no trouble positing that our words could refer to totally different concepts without much problem. If the 1+1=72 question doesn't want to be understood in this fashion, the more trivial of the two ways we could understand the question, then it's up to the asker, IMHO, to show what exactly he means when he suggests 1+1=72 as a possible state of creation. If it's not utterly incoherent, the question's back on the table, but I don't think it's coherent.

The epistemological reasons underlying why it isn't coherent to say "could 1+1=72?" raises all sorts of interesting questions about the relationship between our ability to conceptualize and reality itself. I'm sure some philosophy of math guy has bent his head around this more than I have. I know that a number of philosophers used the question of why it isn't coherent to say "could 1+1=72?" as preludes to ontology or phenomenology, for example, Husserl. But I'm not going to get into that here. I'll leave it at the fact that it is simply incoherent to say "could 1+1=72?" without addressing why it is incoherent, which is a separate question, and, in my mind, this question is what's really interesting about this mental exercise, rather than a theological point.

OK, that half hour's being redeemed by going on the blog...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/16/2003 09:51:00 PM | link

Take the Battleground God quiz.

A fun quiz. Definitely a mile above most other surveys out there. Provocative questions about traditional theology of God issues and thought-provoking analysis, although not always orthodox. Has the annoying habit of calling God "she." According to the quiz, I took 1 direct hit and bit 2 bullets.

[Quiz spoiler below]

I don't think my "hit" was really a hit, but that's because the quiz author has a voluntarist (Scotist) slant on the question of whether God can do that which is logically impossible (make 1+1=72), and more importantly, whether it is good because God wills it, or God wills it because it is good.

The answer to this question, as far as I understand it, is that God wills all things for creatures by willing his own Being. So there is a standard which exists outside of and independently of the created world. but this is God Himself. Yet this does not mean that God would do something different if He "wanted to." In fact, the question is poorly phrased. God wills what He wills because it is His Being ("nature") to will it. Because there is nothing outside of His Being which determines it, God is both, strictly speaking, not constrained from doing anything differently (what would constrain Him?) nor free to do anything different (for to will something contrary to His nature is to will nothing, non-being) so the latter option is a logical impossibility, since to intend nothing is the definition of non-sense. That's at least why I always think the problem with "Could God make 1+1=72" lies in the fact that the referent of the statement is incoherent.

I know it's a sticky wicket, so please don't go nuts if I've flubbed the issue in a two-paragraph summary.

The two "bullets I bit" basically derive from the fact that I think the definitions of what one considers "external evidence" vs. "firm, internal conviction" are nebulous. I tended to answer in such a way that purely internal conviction was not a sufficient basis for belief, because I believe that a response to grace is not a purely internal conviction, a subjective "quirk," as it were. The author of the quiz seems to mean by external "empirically verifiable by third parties." This materialist presupposition leads to tension in my answers, according to the quiz.

But see! That's the beauty of it. Even arguing why the quiz isn't "quite right" provokes interesting discourse. (Just like the Matrix, even if it's not "the best" in terms of its philosophy, it's still more thought provoking than the great expanse of movies out there.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2003 02:48:00 PM | link

In a speech today in New Britain, Connecticut, President Bush gave an outline of his proposed reforms to the US health care system. There were lots of proposed changes, some of which seemed to make good sense (such as closing loopholes in patent law for drugs which allows companies to drag out their proprietary ownership time of new formulas by doing things like changing the color of the pill, adding different non-essential ingredients. (Or in the case of Prozac, which Bush didn't mention, conveniently withholding your once-a-week, delayed release pill until the patent expires on the once-a-day version.)

One of the items Bush mentioned concerned capping the amount of money for which people could sue their doctor for intangible damages ("pain & suffering") to $250,000. Bush's point was that this measure, among others he mentioned in immediate context, would lower the amount of insurance doctors must carry and help reduce frivolous lawsuits from clogging the justice system.

I'm not a lawyer, but I can't see anything wrong with a federal-level law that puts a limit on the absolutely absurd levels of compensation people seek from companies just because they have money. (The woman who sued McDonalds for millions because of the hot coffee, etc.) I'd like to see it extended over everything, and indeed, at a lower threshhold. It's almost as digusting as the people who seek financial remuneration for the death of a family member after the criminal incarceration of the murderer has been addressed.

After this minor waltz into the world of political policy (ick! let's get out of here! back to metaphysiscs!), your Oligarch returns to Rahner's Hearer of the Word.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2003 01:45:00 PM | link

Ohhh...New blogger interface.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2003 01:28:00 PM | link

From TheOnion.com's "This Day in History" Take-off on fake news:

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2003 03:18:00 AM | link

Here's something nice. Leonardo Difillipis is apparently making a movie about St. Therese of Lisieux. Like all things pious and Catholic, it's poor, so it needs your donation. Check it out. It looks good. Press release follows:

Dear Friends in Christ,

I wanted to update you on my trip to Rome for the Vatican screening of THERESE. Everything went really well and I thank you all for your prayers.

On May 7th, the day before the screening, I was granted a special audience with His Holiness Pope John Paul II. Just like Saint Therese 100 years earlier, I knelt before the Holy Father, grabbed his hands, and asked him for his prayers. Then I gave him a rose and a copy of the soundtrack of the movie. Lourds Ambrose, our cinematographer, hand-carried the actual film reel in its canister and placed it at the Pope's feet, where the Holy Father blessed it. This was a very special encouragement for our group, and I know the Holy Father's prayers will bring many graces for THERESE.

The next day was the screening before a crowd of over 225 Vatican officials, cardinals, bishops and evangelization directors from 110 countries. Many people all over the world were praying and offering up sacrifices for the screening’s success, and I have to say that because of these prayers, everything went off without a hitch. From a technical standpoint, where so much can go wrong, especially in a foreign country, the sound and picture were the best they have ever been, which is really a miracle. Everyone was crying when it was over, and then I got up and told them all how important it was to get Therese's message to young people. They didn’t know Lindsay Younce, the film's star was in the audience, so they were thrilled when I introduced her, and gave her a tremendous ovation.

In the coming weeks we will see the fruit of all this effort, as the cardinals, and other officials get back to us, about ways to facilitate Church endorsement and support. Although the Holy Father has not yet seen the film, we are very grateful for his blessing and are confident the preliminary steps have been taken with this trip to get him to see it.

I know so many of you share our vision of bringing THERESE to movie audiences throughout the world. Here’s what you can do to help:

Visit the movie website, http://www.theresemovie.com and forward this e-mail to friends so awareness of the film spreads around the world. We need to send a clear message to Hollywood of the phenomenal interest in Saint Therese of Lisieux and that large crowds of people will come to see this film. This is a grassroots movement and you can make a huge difference.

We need your financial contribution right now if we are going to get THERESE in theaters this fall! As you all know, this whole movie making and distributing adventure is incredibly expensive, and we are trying to raise $1,000,000 to fund the launch of the movie. This movie has been made by Therese’s “Little Way,” supported completely by gifts from individuals and organizations that believe in this work. Never before has a feature film been produced by donations. We ask you to continue to support this miraculous effort, so that THERESE can “preach the Gospel on all five continents at the same time,” just as she wished to do.

Please join us by making a contribution to THERESE.

You can safely donate online by clicking here: https://www.stlukeproductions.com/shoppingcart.asp.
Or you may contact us toll-free at (800) 683-2998 or at (503) 524-7760.
Or you can mail a contribution to Luke Films, P.O. Box 761, Beaverton, Oregon, 97075.

This is your movie too. Let's work together to bring about what Zenit calls "A New Renaissance in Catholic Film."

God bless you and I will keep you updated on the movie's progress,

Leonardo Defilippis
Luke Films & Saint Luke Productions

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/11/2003 06:03:00 PM | link

Absolut Sodom: another reason to buy Skyy vodka (which tastes just as good and is cheaper). Yet Skyy makes ads like this, which puts a spin on this, now doesn't it? I guess it's Luksosowa for me.

Check out Vodkaphiles for Vodka reviews and recipes. Be sure to check out the section on the linked page concerning "Vodka as medicine." Zorak makes fun of me for this, but I swear it's true!

Thanks to Trav, I've recently discovered the massive difference between shaking and stirring certain drinks, including the martini. So if you're shopping for a shaker, check out Cocktailshaker.com, although the page on The Ritual even pushes my envelope for fetishization of alcohol-serving practices. (I can forgive them though...)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/11/2003 05:54:00 PM | link

I rank #1 on Google for the search "english norwegian Eviscerated" (thus capitalized by the searcher).

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/09/2003 04:15:00 PM | link

The ultimate Neo cassock from AbbeyShot.com, providers of movie-inspired clothing. This one sells for $420, ten times the one from buycostumes.com, but this one is supposed to be a fashionable garment, not a costume. (Link from Zion Switchboards.)

N.B., if you adopt this as your trendy new style, you're sartorially bonkers. Just pay homage to the coolness of the movie clothes by letting the good Catholic priests who wear the cassock be considered pop-culture chic for once, while the fad lasts.

Fr. Jim et alia, you're now on the cutting edge of pop fashion!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/08/2003 11:37:00 PM | link

Last Matrix blog for a while: because Heidegger calls
Funny: No one can tell you what the chronic is... at Matrix Essays.

I've received several e-mails which ask or share theories about Gnostic and/or Masonic themes in the movie. For example, one reader writes:

"According to many (especially those interested in occult lore and the history of such things as the Grail, Knights Templar, etc.) The Merovingians were the offspring of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail (Saint Grail = San Graal = Sangreal or "Royal Blood") was the offspring in her womb.... It may well be that the Brothers are using the term "Merovingian" in some related way. I.e. that the Merovingian is Jesus/Neo's offspring (with Trinity?) from an earlier incarnation? Hmmm... I dont know, but it might hold together. And why else name her "Trinity" of all things?"

I'm aware of these kinds of theories, but I chose not to comment on them for the following reasons:

1) Although these "occult lores" all have similar themes and "secret histories" of the "real core" of Christianity, there are dozens of variations and permutations of the story, each with their own particular way of talking about the central illuminati hierarchy and how important Biblical and historical figures did what they did in fulfillment of the Grant Occult Purpose. The legends tend to be syncretic: they hodge-podge from one another. To that end, sorting them out and picking the best fit of the many legends out there is a long slog through swampy territory. Moreover,

2) They're not worth much time as belief systems or histories. That doesn't mean the Wachowskis aren't thinking of them, but I don't have much personal investment in decoding the symbolism along those lines as a disinterested exercise. If someone else wants to, by all means. But, furthermore,

3) I'm not sure that Masonic / Illuminati type legends which are Medieval or Enlightenment-era in origin explain the movie so well as Gnosticism or the Middle Platonic worldview. This could be eisegesis on my part. I err on the side of making my pop culture interpretations deeper than they should be. The movie seems to deploy along primarily philosophical lines, which means, to me at least, that the historical references are constellated around the core philosophy of the movie, not the other way around. They seem to be fairly serious about their use of philosophy (cf. my earlier post about Reeves reading Schopenhauer, Kant, etc.) Because the philosophy is relatively serious, I'm guessing the historical references won't be to totally wacked-out occult lore. I could be very wrong. But:

4) A lot of these "occult lores" have some basis in the same Gnostic / Middle Platonic symbolism I just mentioned as the more likely basis of the symbolism. (E.g. see Cacciaguida's post about Cathars as Medieval Manichees, a flavor of Gnosticism.) Thus, if the Wachowskis are thinking Gnosticism, and the occult lores are based on Gnosticism too, then by transitivity, there will be some (at least vague) resemblence between certain themes in the movie and the themes of occult lore because their common source.

Which brings me to my answer about why she's named "Trinity" -- In some versions of Gnosticism, there was a tendency to subordinate the Three Persons of the Trinity as lower gods in a divine hierarchy of divine beings. Morpheus is a lower-eschelon Olympian Greek god, and Trinity would occupy a similar lower-tier position in the Gnostic hierarchy of "divine beings." Neither of them are "major dieties" like The Architect, but yet they're not like the other "mortals" in the Matrix. They are "minor gods."

I have a few theories on Gnostic decodings of the character & ship names, etc. -- which, in an unblogged interview, the W. Bros said were all chosen very carefully and are not scattershot allusions. But I don't have the time to try to puzzle the loose ends out in writing. Sorry!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/08/2003 03:43:00 AM | link

June 6th is the 59th Anniversary of D-Day,
The greatest invasion in modern history, and the most important US military action since the Civil War. Take a moment to say a prayer for the souls who fell on the beaches that day to liberate Europe.

This UP article records that the recent low point in US-France relations has led to very few American tourists at Normandy this year.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/05/2003 02:04:00 PM | link

Vast hits from people looking for Neo's cassock and "buy Neo's cassock." You can get Matrix costumes at buycostumes.com.

The link will take you to an inexpensive version of Neo's outfit. Searching the site brings up Trinity, Morpheus and the Twins as well, although they have opted for a long-trenchcoat variant of Trinity's oil-slick vinyl bodysuit. (I'm sure every girl wants to lose 30 lbs and develop rock-hard abs just for a Halloween that hides nothing.) Most two-piece coats / shades combos sell for $40, not including wigs or a suit for Morpheus / the Twins.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/05/2003 01:58:00 PM | link

Since I've written so much about the Matrix lately, here's my explanation of Pickstock's After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy, based on the scene in Reloaded where they have to take out the power grid in order to destroy the mainframe that runs the Matrix.

Edmund Husserl as Morpheus
Catherine Pickstock as Trinity
Hans-Georg Gadamer as The Keymaker
A Priest as Neo

Morpheus: Something's gone terribly wrong with contemporary philosophy. It's being dominated by a sterile post-Enlightenment worldview. I believe we are at the end. Something must change. I once wrote in...

Neo: We don't have time for your phenomenology now, Morpheus. People are spiritually dying out there, plugged into that thing. Cut to the chase.

Morpheus: We have to refute modernity at its roots.

Trinity: But to do that, you'd have to take out a whole school of philosophers.

Keymaker: 27 schools, to be precise. But there is a way. You need to take out the power source: Descartes.

Morpheus: I'm on my way. (Plugs into the Matrix, writes Cartesian Meditations)

Link (watching events from The Neb): Morpheus, you've got Kant coming in fast.

Morpheus: I can handle that mofo all by myself. Tell Neo to restart the source.

Neo: I'm going in. (Grabs copy of Missale Romanum, plugs into the Matrix). Trinity, you stay here.

Keymaker: They should have waited. There is a back-up power supply to the Matrix. If Morpheus destroys Descartes and Kant, but not the back-up system, the whole ediface won't go down. Neo's liturgical renaissance will be destroyed in a post-modern counter-assault on language itself when it realizes the security system of Cartesian subjectivity has been breached.

Trinity: Who is the backup?

Keymaker: Derrida.

Trinity: I can't stand here and watch Neo die in a sea of intertextuality! I'm going in.

Keymaker: Derrida is an incredibly complex system. How can you possibly hack him in time!?

Trinity (Gritting teeth): Give me 250 pages and I'll tear that whole building down.

A sleek, black paperback shoots off the roof of Blackwell Press. BOOM! A Massive explosion at the modernist ediface...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/03/2003 05:00:00 PM | link

Patromorphosis, or why I hate dealing with strangers.
I'd like to thank the apartment maintenance man, the exterminator, the hairdresser, half of Radio Shack Corp., the car repairman, and an employee of Staples for turning me into my father.

My father firmly believes that when he does business with anyone except a trusted friend or time-tested salesman, he should expect to get taken advantage of. (Dad sometimes bring on trouble by behaving aggressively suspicious of everyone from the get-go, something I try not to emulate.) Dad's attitude has so much empirical confirmation, I no longer resist it as sheer grumpiness. Let me elaborate. Consider it a five-part play.

The Maintenance Man: Our garbage disposal doesn't work. It won't grind anything, even if it's as soft and slight as a spoonful of porridge. Your Oligarch is a do-it-yourselfer (an attitude fostered in part by Dad's observations), but since we live in an apartment, we are not allowed to do any major repair. Plus, why should we pay for a new appliance we're not going to own? So I call it in, together with a problem with backflow in one of our bathroom sinks and a leaky faucet.

The guy arrives, fixes the faucet well, and I think, "Good." Now I tell him about the backflow in the bath sink. For those of you who don't know, backflow is when "used" water is draw back into the domestic line by a vacuum, and then comes out your faucet. I run the sink and show the man the dirty brown water. I'm pretty sure it's backflow, but he claims it is a "rusting" copper washer. I'm skeptical, but I let him change the washer. Backflow is a major repair, so I give in. Maybe he's right (though I doubt it), but it isn't a good sign of his willingness to actually solve the problem.

Now the garbage disposal. "It won't grind anything," I tell him. He looks down at the drain in the sink, and begins the following exchange: "You have to run water when you use it." "I do run water." "You have to turn it on often and let it run." "I do that. I know how to use a garbage disposal. It won't grind anything at all, no matter how long it runs. (Sensing his resistance, I add...) It needs to be changed." The repairman bends down, opens the undersink cabinet, looks that the label on the bottom of the disposal and says with a grin, "It's relatively new." (If "relatively" means 4-5 years, maybe...) At this point, I become incensed. "So what are you saying? I'm lying to you?" "Oh, no, you just have to run it. It's new." (Me, raising voice) "I don't care how new it is. I'm telling you, IT DOESN’T WORK."

Finally, a stroke of brilliance. I have some old homemade barley soup. Its about as mushy and soft as anything gets. I show it to the man, and pour out a cup into the disposal. I run the water and turn it on, and let it grind for about a minute, staring the guy in the face while the disposal rumbles and rumbles. Then I stop it, pry up the rubber flap and make him look inside. Finally, the a**hole consents to change the disposal. Why didn't he want to in the first place? Probably because he was lazy. He grunted and groaned throughout the whole operation. And you betcha, I watched over him to make sure he did it right the first time.

A week later, the bathroom sink is still spitting out brown water from time to time. Copper washer indeed. If I wasn't home, I'd have to call this guy back ten times to get anything done correctly.

The Exterminator: We get a notice this week that the building is being exterminated, without further explanation. This means one of two things: Someone is having a bug problem in the building, or it's an annual thing. The memo tells us to anticipate "increased activity" after the spray, which further has me worried that someone else's bugs are going to come swarming into our hitherto bug-free apartment. Emptying cabinets is optional, the memo says.

Background: In my stint managing a downtown-DC mid-rise apt. complex, I oversaw two different professional extermination companies in their weekly activities in the building. I know the basics of the trade. Because emptying all your cabinets is such a pain, many places have switched from using a repellent chemical spray to an attactive chemical gel, which can be put carefully in small dots in the corner of your cabinets, without fear of spraying on your foodstuffs or utensils. These work reasonably well in the long-term if you don't have a big problem, but they take longer to work, and worse, they draw roaches to the bait. This means that if you don't have roaches and your neighbor has lots, you are only making the problem worse. They reproduce in hoards in your neighbor's place, and then come to yours when they smell the bait. Those that eat the bait die, but what if they wander somewhere else on their way over?

So I want the whole place sprayed as insurance. I empty everything from the kitchen and both baths. I clean and wash the floors, so the spray can be nicely applied directly to the tile surfaces. The apartment is in ideal condition for the guy to come and spray the cabinets, floor perimeter, pantry bottom, etc. in less than five minutes.

The guy comes with this little squirt can of repellent, and sprays around the pipe chases of the three sinks. I ask him to spray the cabinet bottoms and perimeter. He says he's got something different for the cabinets. Ok. I wait, and he gets this crappy, powdered bait. Not ever the good stuff. The powder scatters everywhere -- if they're not using gel, they're in the stone age. I tell him that I would prefer it if he sprayed the cabinets. He says he's "not allowed." I assure him there's no food items, children, etc. that will get into the stuff. Nope. Can't. How about the baseboards? Nope. "The EPA doesn't permit it," he says. EPA my ass. Thankfully, he forgot something in his truck. While he was gone, I got the names of the chemicals he was using. I didn't have time to check online when he was here, but it turns out it's fairly safe stuff, as bug spray goes. There's no such "EPA regulation." They guy is just plain lazy or his manager is incompetent and is dead-set on doing the bare minimum, which never solves a bug problem.

Since I can do it myself on this one, I've gone to bugspray.com and stocked up on the appropriate weapons-grade bug sprays. They've got some good articles, although the ordering interface is primitive. See a pattern emerging? How about this one:

The Hairdresser: Since I'm home in the day, I get my haircut in the late afternoon at the nearby Supercuts. It's cheap, it's not always a great haircut, but hey, I don't care. Mid-afternoons are rarely busy. But this time, the place is packed. They had some product-demonstration for the stylists earlier in the day, so the shop was closed. A number of people are waiting for particular stylists. I tell them I don't care who cuts my hair, since I haven't been enough to remember who's who and who's good or bad.

I tell the woman what I want done. So much off the top, showing her with my fingers, and clipper the back and sides with #5 (the blade setting which gives the longest cut). Now, I've been getting this same haircut since I was 15 years old. I know what's involved. The woman is in a rush and suggests: Why don't I just cut off all your hair with #4?

At this point, several possible responses come to mind: 1) Um, because I don't want a crew-cut. 2) How short is your memory? etc. But I patiently explain that no, that's too short for the hair on the top of my head. I am dumbfounded by the reply: All men's haircuts are basically the same. It doesn't matter whether I cut your hair with the scissors or clippers. At this point, I'm amazed at the audacity of this woman. I tell her absolutely not, she's not going to clipper my entire head, she will cut it the way I've explained. She proceeds to give me the quickest haircut of my entire life. It's not great, even for Supercuts. But hey, she gets me done in time to take another client in the space of time it's taken her co-workers to do one. This time, it's greediness and total lack of concern for the customer, rather than laziness.

Radio Shack: I've been shopping at Radio Shack for years, especially in my electronics-geek phase. I love the store. It is one the few places you can find in any city that stocks resistors, diodes, chips, multimeters, scopes, all sorts of plugs, computer parts, etc. Most of my experiences there have been very positive. I don't know whether its regional (Southerners can't do science?) or just lately (Americans get stupider as time goes on), but it's been just awful shopping there. DC was the worst, but that's what you get when half your urban labor force in retail is ghetto-educated. Example:

A friend of mine found an MP3 player. It needed a compact flash memory card. While shopping there for something else, I ask the manager if they stock compact flash. He tells me what they have in the store. I don't have the money that day, but I get it from my friend and return the next day. I ask the cashier (different guy, just a sales associate) for the 64MB compact flash memory card. "We don't carry that." I gently assure him that they have it. "No, sir, we don't have that kind of card." "I was just in here yesterday, and was told you did carry it." "Nope." So I thank the guy and look in the display case 5 feet from him. I come back and point at it: "Give me that." The salesman looks at it, says "Oh" vacuously, and rings me up.

The man's ignorance is bad enough. He should have expressed some level of shame for not knowing his product line. What really peeved me is the attitude: "Who the hell cares?" "Whatever. Wanna buy a cellphone so I can get a fat commission?" It's laziness, pride and ignorance all rolled into one. Appalling.

A month later, I'm looking for a DC power supply for my digital camera, which is ancient, and came without one. Because it's a camera, it draws high amperage, and so I need a supply that can put out a lot of current. I browse their selection. The salesman comes over (different from either of the two aforementioned), and asks what I need. I tell him I need power supply capable of giving me the most current at 6V, ideally 1000mA. He browses over the few dozen, pulls out one confidently, and gives it to me. Either this guy really knew his stuff, or he was being lazy. The one he handed me put out 800mA, but I was looking for 1000. I ask him: "Are you sure this one puts out the most current of any you have here?" Yes, he was certain. I thank him. Five minutes later, I produce a 1000mA, and indeed, even a 1200mA. I bring it to the register. He sees that I have a different one. "I thought you were certain," I remark. No apology...same attitude. Jerk.

The kicker: I installed a RAID array on the "experimental" computer. Since the power supply was fairly limited, I need to split the two molex-type power cables into four to power the four drives in the array. Radio Shack has always carried these molex Y-adapters. I go to the Radio Shack on Maple Ave. in Fairfax, VA. I browse around, but can't find where they've got the molex. They are clearly re-arranging the store (things in boxes, etc.), so I figure they might be hidden away. A saleswoman asks me what I'm looking for. I explain to her what I'm trying to do and what I want. (Since "molex" isn't really a standard term.) She tells me that Radio Shack doesn't make such a thing. I assure her they do. She tells me, no, I would have to go to CompUSA or Circuit City for that. I repeat that a) They make them, b) They usually stock them, and c) I don't know why she's sending me to their competitors. She's confident, however, that she's right, and goes to peddle an $80 robot to some kid whose parents are in the store.

I ask the guy behind the counter for the catalog. I find the molex adapter part number. He punches it into the computer. Not only do they make them (big surprise), there are three right there in the store!. I buy two, show them to the saleswoman, and leave. Idiot!

The Car Dealer's "Service Associate.". He's not the mechanic, since he doesn't work on the cars. He just bilks customers like me, who don't know much about cars. I bring the car in for an oil change and to fix a rear light electric problem. I anticipate the rear lights will cost me, since it's not a bulb or anything simple. (The electrical side of the car, I understand...) Oh forget it, you get the picture: $800 and two visits later, I've paid for two additional repairs I didn't anticipate, and turned down a $1000 repair. To top it off, the bastards didn't change the oil. Consultation with my mother-in-law's long-term trusted mechanic: the $1000 repair was completely unnecessary for an older car like mine.

The Staples guy is too much. But I can't blog it now.

The point: The average person you deal with in every retail sector is likely to be ignorant, lazy, proud, incompetent, too harried to do the job right, or some combination of the above. Misanthropy & Self-reliance: Point, set and match. Civic optimism: 0.

Why are people such idiots? And what has happened to customer service? There's no deference to the customer, no humility, no self-respect, no willingness to master one's job. It's a miserable cultural trend. Dad was right: If you don't know them, presume they're already intent on abusing you at your expense. That's why I'm a xenophobe.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/03/2003 12:19:00 PM | link

Bloggers, the glory days of massive numbers of hits from Google will soon be over.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/03/2003 09:03:00 AM | link

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/03/2003 09:03:00 AM | link


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