Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Virtues of Bad Art

There's no real reason for this to be here. I just wanted
a picture and I don't want anyone to think that I'm
some sort of armchair artist. I'm competent enough
to criticize the incompetent, that's all
Also... ordinarily I wouldn't post any art that 
I've already given to someone, but I'm no longer
 obligated to be nice to the recipient
 and he didn't like Bertrand Russell. So. 

Now, I have two professional artists in my immediate family, which means, of course, that I regularly hear Tennyson-length monologues on how people should learn how to draw properly, how calling oneself an artist doesn't automatically mean that one can actually do art, and how "bad is not a style." 
But I appreciate people who make bad art. You see, my opinion on their choice of vocation is, to paraphrase Shaw, 'that if they tried to do any useful work some competent person would have the trouble of undoing it: a procedure involving a net loss to the community, and great unhappiness to themselves.' So really, if they're making bad art, then at least they aren't out there screwing other things up for the rest of us. Result: in increase in the world's total utility, and a decrease in the net inconvenience to me.* 
If the price of that is a few eyesores and the occasional inane ramble about someone's "artistic vision," then so be it.
I'm not going to quibble with anyone about whether such a thing as "bad art" actually exists; I am entitled to a subjective opinion that there exists genuinely bad art, and I will not be dissuaded. Anyone who thinks otherwise has clearly never been through in The American Wing in the Met. (The portraits I'm talking about are secreted in a rather inaccessible room above the Frank Lloyd Wright section and hidden behind rows of silver pieces, pottery and fine art, all of uncertain artistic merit. Someone might almost think they didn't want anyone to find it.)
*Like all good naive utilitarians my definition of utility is pretty much contingent on my own notions of personal utility. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

This assumes, of course, that I have heart....

Alternate title: wherein I answer a flippant blogging prompt with a dignity entirely unworthy of the exercise for vaguely satirical purposes and (of course) my own amusement.
...the prompt being: 
Five Ways to Win My  Heart
I would like to point out straight away that I'm very grinchy, and due to the commercialization of Christmas my heart is unlikely to grow three sizes anytime soon. 
However, though my good opinion once lost is lost forever,* it's not that hard to earn my good opinion. Here's a cheat sheet:
1. Be Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock.
Obviously this one is never going to happen, because even Cumberbatch only pretends to be the world's only genius consulting detective with devastating good looks. Did I say I'm easy to please? I lied. Moving on:
2. Live your philosophy. That is: be consistent. 
I don't care what your philosophy is.** I don't need people to agree with me, but they need to agree with themselves, and have the cojones to actually follow through on it. 
3. Engage in nerdity.
This requires some explanation: I don't really care what your area of expertise is. If you can make a living by being really enthused about organic chemistry... awesome. If you flip burgers, or fix computers, and spend your free time regaling me with legends of the old Klingon Empire... also awesome. (Maybe?) But have something you can think about deeply, something that you can be creative with, talk to other people about. Care about something.***
4. Even if you don't believe in objective morality, act as if you did. Or rather: even if you think that the rules don't apply to you because you're extra-awesome or something... follow them anyway. 
I'm not talking about an honestly held philosophy here. What I mean is: I don't want to hear about how your sloppy, neo-Nietzschean tripe entitles you to do whatever you want. No one ever thinks 'Well, there are simply superior beings out there, that naturally know better than me, and therefore they're well within their rights to oppress me, and to act without regard to societal norms or any bourgeois notions of morality' and so it always implies that you're somehow better than other people, which, even if it were true... if you say it, you're not just a jerk, but an idiot. Jerks I can tolerate if they entertain me and don't trip little old ladies, but idiots and I... we don't get along.

5. Care about your work
You may not like your job. That's okay. You are not alone. It's a safe bet that most people, throughout most of history have hated their jobs. Seriously. Who wants to scythe grain, and then winnow it, and then grind it, and then cook it, all pretty much by hand? And that's if you're lucky (that is, if you don't have a catastrophic hail/rain/drought, and a local warlord doesn't come by and burn your fields, or press you into service, or tax you to death, and there isn't a plague that year).
My point is that in the grand scheme of things, serving coffee is not so bad. I've done it. I hated each everloving second of it, but it didn't kill me. So I'm not denying that some jobs suck. Some jobs are thankless, menial and demeaning. Some of them shouldn't even exist. But that's not the fault of your coworkers, or your customers (if you work in a service industry). It's probably not even the fault of your bosses.
Obviously if your job involves landing my plane or handling nuclear warheads I have very personal reasons for wanting you to care about your job, but I'd like for you to care about what you do regardless. 
Because even if what you do doesn't "matter," you matter. You are connected to other people, whether you like it or not, and what you do affects them. So this isn't about being a good secretary/garbageman/hairdresser/economist/president, this is about being a decent human being. Thinking you're above doing something (whether it's something that you're paid for or not) is a fantastic way to make yourself miserable, even if you're lucky enough to not transmit your misery to anyone else. So please don't do that. 
N + 1This one is somewhat obvious, so it's not on the list proper: Don't be a jerk. Think about other people. Hell, just think
That is: Don't litter like a jerk. Don't smoke while I'm trying to swim laps in the pool. Like a jerk. Don't leave junk lying around on the floor where little old ladies can trip over it. Like a jerk. Don't call people names. Like a jerk. When you have the opportunity to screw stuff up without suffering the consequences: Don't screw stuff up. (Again, if you do it when you're going to suffer for it, then you're not only a jerk but an idiot.)
See? Not hard. I'm actually super-easy to please. 
*This is basically Jane Austen's subtle way of calling me a judgmental bitch from beyond the grave. 
** Okay, not true. I care a little bit. Okay. I care a lot. But I also know that trying to beat sense into people's heads never works. At least if people are consistent maybe they'll eventually see that they don't like the implications of their philosophy/religion/world-view. (I live in hope.)
*** Of course, being a snob, there are some subjects for obsession that I consider better than others. The (obviously and necessarily incomplete) ranking goes thusly: 
Mathematics > everything
"Real science" and/or literature > having a useful trade/hobby, e.g. being a knowledgeable outdoorsman, mechanic, jam-maker (I don't highly value jam myself, but it fits the criteria, perhaps that's another blog post), quilter, chess-player etc.
Elaborate Star Trek-type universes > Star Wars and weird/dumb hobbies (e.g. Renaissance fairs, bird watching, stamp collecting etc.) 
Weird hobbies >  reality TV or cat memes
**** This seems like a non sequitur but it's really not. Also, stop using the word "boobs." Because it's horrible. No really. I'll even allow you to say "bosom" if you promise to stop. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

In Which I Embarrass My Mother to Communicate My Regard

So my mom is awesome.
Yours truly. (I'm not posting a picture
of her as a Mother's Day present to her.)

And this is not just me being biased and generally pro-myMom here. I mean, I admit, sure my data-set is skewed, and I am drowning in confirmation bias, but still. Awesome.

Because everyone* thinks their mom is awesome, bear with me and just let me give you an example of why my mom makes most other moms eat her dust: 

I was at a very stupid age. Pause. That probably requires some clarification; I don't mean the stupid age where I was young enough to think that racing toilet paper was somehow a good idea (as opposed to just being a great way to clog the toilet... yeah, just don't ask), I was a little bit older than that.  
So -again, bear with me- for some reason I was not allowed to wear deodorant (it could have had something to do with the fact that, not even being a tween, I didn't need to wear deodorant, or possibly because my mother didn't really want to share, a concept which I confess I didn't understand at the time, not being a deodorant-user, and which I still have difficulty with when it comes to other desirable, differently-ownered objects). Unfortunately I had a habit of only following the rules I thought made sense (and my views of what 'makes sense' can be conveniently narrow) so at the first available opportunity I naturally used her deodorant. I have no idea why I didn't use my father's, as it always smelled much nicer. Or perhaps I had thought it through to some degree, because my mother's deodorant didn't smell like anything. It was one of those salt crystal deodorant stones that you buy for way too much money in health food stores.

So... apparently I should never play poker, because I must have looked really guilty as soon as I came out of the bathroom. My mother, being a sharp lady -- and a mother, which apparently gives you +5 dexterity or something like that -- noticed that I had finished my shower, and immediately drew the correct conclusion, deducing in true Sherlockian fashion that I had succumbed to temptation.  (...and no, I can't really remember why the whole notion was so tempting, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.) 

So she asks me... "Did you use my [still wet] deodorant stone?" and I respond with the single-digiter version of:  "N...n... no, of course not, why would you think a silly thing like that? Silly." as I glanced  guiltily towards her toiletries. Of course I get the mom-eyebrow, which is like the Spock-eyebrow squared. I fiddle casually with my hair towel. "Are you sure?" and I'm positive now that the world is ending because, while I have minimal respect for the rules, I rarely get caught, so I am a godawful liar and I know it. I nod reluctantly at my approaching doom, until it occurs to me that she has no ProofShe knows that I did it, but she can't prove it! I am saved. (I'm still referred to as 'the swamp monster,' so my congenital inability to keep anything clean and dry easily explained the wetness of the stone. So I thought. ...and like most small-time criminals my general thinking was sound, it was the details that tripped me up.) 

I must have looked unbearably smug at that realization. (Actually, I'm told that I always look unbearably smug, it's like my version of resting bitch face apparently. So I must have looked more smug. Or perhaps that was when it started.)

But like I said. My mom is awesome. And this is where those seemingly-unnecessary details in this seemingly unnecessarily long 5-paragraph epic come into play. Because she looks down at me -- slowly, slowly, slowly the eyebrow goes up, daring me to guess what's coming -- and casually says "So if I came over there and licked your armpit it's not gonna taste like salt right?"


There is, of course, no doubt in my mind that she will actually do it. My mom does not make empty threats, now or then. (Though fortunately or unfortunately, she no longer threatens me, merely retaliates against real or imagined wrongs done by sharing unwanted details about my conception, and entrusts everything to my own sense of self-preservation. So. Much. Worse.)

She takes a step towards me. Naturally I confess the whole sordid affair. 

That's love. Being willing to lick your kid's armpit for the sake of their moral development.

The reason I'm sharing this (slightly, okay, okay, very, strange) story is because my mother has already told half the US anyway. No, seriously, I'm sure that lots of people have embarrassing and more-than-a-little-stupid stories of their mothers and/or children, and simply have too much good taste to tell them.

I have no such limitations. So, because I have the emotional range of a teaspoon, the only way I know how to communicate my regard (apparently) is to humiliate myself on the internet:

I love you mom. I would hope, if I am ever unfortunate enough to have children like me, that I will have the cojones needed to lick my kids' armpits in the name of justice and truth, if the need should ever arise.

*Sometimes when adults say "everyone" they mean: "a large majority of people, and I don't want to address the minority here because that would be uncomfortable and weird and would decrease the rhetorical impact of my main point."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Grammar Ain't Everything

So I'm a linguistic descriptivist, which basically means that I think the most important part of communication is... actually communicating. Shocking, I know. Basically, if you have something worth saying and you manage to get your point across, I don't really care if you split infinitives, or scatter participles, or fail to conjugate properly.*
...but you know what the second most important part of communication, or rather, writing is? Not sounding like an utter dumbass. 
...and the best way to not sound like an utter dumbass? Don't use words when you don't have any friggin' idea of what they mean. 
E.g. if you don't know how to use "whom" properly, then don't ****ing use it. If you don't know what "e.g." means: then don't ****ing use it.** If you don't know the difference between "eloquent" and "elocution:" don't ****ing use them. If you can't figure out how to use Elizabethan, Middle, or Victorian English properly, then, please -- for the love of god or some other ontologically valid being who may or may not be a purple spaghetti monster dressed in suspenders, I'm begging you -- don't ever use them. If you don't know how to use a semi-colon: learn how. 
In short: I would much rather someone speak and/or write their own dialect/register of English fluently than speak Standard Written English like a second language learner. Because, you know what? Second language learners have an excuse. We don't. (NB: if you went to public school in Florida, Wisconsin or Louisiana you get automatic second language learner status. People from other states have to fill out an application.)

(This comic found on the always-excellent Language Log, because, while I'm crazy, I'm not crazy enough to write my own comic, or to root around and risk getting stranded in my bog of a hard-drive for a picture of Archibald the Asparagus.) 

And because I'm already way over my cussing quota for this post (as George Carlin says, - said? is he dead now? - it's like 'the n-word' it doesn't matter if you don't actually say it because you made me think it), here's one from The Oatmeal as well. He actually behaves himself in the comic itself, but normally... well, let's just say that most of them earn their PG-13 rating. 
*Don't get me wrong. I would really, really, really like it if people would stop writing "you're" when they mean "your," "it's" instead of "its," and mixing up "discreet" and "discrete." (That's like, 80% of my freelance livelihood right there by the way; righting/re-writing people's homophones and shifting their apostrophes.) I'd also like them to learn how use the subjunctive, and how to construct the past and present perfect tenses properly. But I can realize that it's not that important in the grand scheme of things. And people do make mistakes. I get that. It's cool. I would much rather than people have imperfectly 'formatted' thoughts that are worth hearing/reading, than read/hear grammatically correct trivialities. It's not like I'm super-careful in casual writing myself (and by that I mean that most of what I write makes my English-teacher auntie weep). But it looks like I'm not going to get that either. So I take my daily dose of Fukitol and start half my sentences with conjunctions in a passive aggressive bid to frustrate humanity out of its stupidity. No results yet. Yeah. I don't know. I really didn't think this through...
**It means: exempli gratia, 'for the sake of an example,' so, really, you could just say something boring and English and simple like "for example:", 'i.e.,' on the other hand, means 'id est' (that is) which usually introduces some sort of clarification or definition. But again, you could just use the boring old English "that is" and never have to think about it again.  
Also, as you've probably gathered from the preceding paragraphs, I could totally do without anyone ever trying to write period English. Ever. Again. There is no profanity in any language I know that can adequately express my feelings on the subject. Stop, people. Just stop, okay? I can barely tolerate the Quaker 'thee' in the old Star Trek, and I'm told they're using it correctly
But it looks like that probably won't happen either. So... que sera sera.
Oh, yeah, and another thing: for god's sake, look up the definition and spelling for foreign phrases; make sure it actually means what you think it means. Google is literally at your fingertips. Even if you've got the wrong spelling, the right one will come up; this is one of the few moments in life where other people's incompetence/ignorance will actually work for you. 
And proof read. Do as I say, not as I do.