Put On Blast

I groused on a social media site about how I thought both major political parties in the US were venal and stupid, and someone unleashed an absolute masterwork of rhetoric on me in DM. It was unconvincing, because they apparently knew me about 1% as well as they thought they did, but still… mastery was in motion.

Over the last week, I mentioned on a social media site that I thought both the Democratic Party and the Republican party were venal and self-serving, evil.

A well-meaning acquaintance from waaaaaay back took it upon themselves to warn me away from such statements, and took issue with a number of actions undergone by the GOP as proof that they were evil… and since the Democrats were not doing those same things, clearly the Democrats were… apparently less evil.

They were rather unclear on the actual results of the Democrats’ inactivity; they didn’t actually say “less evil,” or even “good,” it was just about Republican activity. They took the conversation to private messages (direct messages, or DMs), which was … probably a good thing, but it was also vastly amusing.

That message chain was over 380 messages long. They wrote 286 of them. It was a work of art, really, and utterly unconvincing for some pretty simple reasons, few related to their actual assertions. (This is why it was amusing to me.)

It was a rhetorical masterpiece, manipulative from the very beginning, and clearly so, whether they intended it to be or not. I don’t know how self-aware my acquaintance is, but if they were trying to say “members of my tribe are definitely not evil,” and they expected to be representative, I think it’s safe to say that they actually more or less validated my original assertion without meaning to.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t know if they were trying to assert that they were representative. Nor do I know if they had any curiosity about how evil I thought the parties were, or what I thought about individual members of the various political parties, because at no point did they bother to indulge any curiosity about what I meant.

(This was also amusing to me, because I’ve written clearly about how I see the parties and how I see the parties’ members, and at one point they said they actually were aware of my public stances, even though the entire lecture was predicated on an assumption that my public stances were … not what I actually think at all.)

The “taking it to direct message” was a smart move on their part, because posting a lecture on social media – even if it weren’t piecemeal like DMs are – makes one look arrogant, and DMs allow a tone that a generalized lecture does not. Also, taking it to DM allows manipulation through familiarity (“remember when…”) that public messages do not. Privacy also prevents observation and public correction; when a hundred people see a statement made in error, one of those hundred might observe the error publicly… and call it out.

It also implies that the one being corrected (me, in this case) is being protected by the lecturer (“I’m keeping your shame in the shadows, not calling you out publicly”) and that carries with it an assumption of shame.

I remember this person; I don’t know that we’re friends, exactly, as we’ve had no conversations of any depth whatsoever for the past … probably decade or so. If we have had conversations, I don’t remember them.

This actual unfamiliarity coupled an assumption of insight was the cause of the first error they made, actually, because I don’t consider them to have any actual insight into my thought processes or motivations, and they were literally trying to speak to those thought processes. (And that’s despite me writing publicly for decades now. I may not publish on a consistent basis, but I still publish, and the Internet doesn’t forget. My stances have changed over time, but I’ve tried to be honest about that, too, including acknowledgement of ideas and views I think were in error and hopefully out of ignorance. Ideas like… “the Democrats might actually be the good guys.”)

If my brother, who knows me well, had said the exact same words, they’d have carried an impact, because my brother does know how I think, and why, and he has access to an authority in my life that randoms from the Internet do not.

Of course, the randoms from the Internet could always… ask. I like to think that’s what I’d have done, had I chosen to correct someone on the Internet: find out if they’re actually wrong, first, you know? After all, this was initiated on social media, a medium that has as a primary flaw a … lack of representation of nuance. As people are rarely without nuance in their actual lives (regardless of how they appear on social media), you’d think the first thing would be to isolate what is actually being thought before setting phasers on “kill”… at least, if the lecturer has any social awareness themselves.

The lecturer started off with a long string of messages (short ones, and they were sent before I realized I even had any direct messages, as I don’t lurk on social media sites very much) where not only was my expertise questioned (“people like you rarely know as much about unrelated subjects as you think you do”) but my motivations questioned (“people who say such simple things are overly certain without cause” and “people are willing to undertake extreme actions”) and an explicit disassociation (“I’m no longer following you”).

(These are not quotes. I’m not likely to quote my lecturer here except by accident. Some of the words may be the same, but I’m not copying and pasting anything. All quotes should be assumed to be paraphrases filtered through my own lenses. I do have the entire conversation logged, because it was hilarious, but still: I’m going to avoid identifying the lecturer if I can.)

They also claimed specific expertise: they had multiple degrees and their parents were college professors, you know. So they knew. People with certitude could be dangerous, and my assertion exposed certitude. (You might even say the lecturer was certain. That is, if you thought things like that were funny, like I do.)

That brings up another rhetorical trick they used, actually.

I like words. I read quite a bit; I don’t know if I read more than the average bear or not, because I don’t know how much other people read quantitatively, but I think it’s safe to say that I read a lot. I believe most of the people who know me would agree with that statement. (I don’t read the most out of my circle of friends, I think; I know someone who I think reads more than I, for example, but I think even they would say that I’m pretty well-read.)

I read things in many genres. I read nonfiction and fiction. In nonfiction, I’ll cover history, philosophy, math, programming, music, science, the mechanics of writing (most books on writing are not written especially well, go figure!); in fiction, it could be anything: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, horror. These are representative, not limiting. I’ll read almost anything I find interesting if I can.

The result is that my language is … broad. I read a lot of words, and words I like will enter into my lexicon. (Words like “lexicon,” for example.) When I write, I try to use words that are clear enough, I guess, but I’m often writing as myself and therefore, especially as I warm up, I use words that are more natural for me to use and retain my voice, as opposed to restricting myself to a simple set of 1000 words like Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer” book.

I could restrict my vocabulary more than I do, I suppose, and when writing for specific purposes I do, but in private messages where my conversational partner assumes familiarity? I’m more likely to use the language that occurs to me innately than I would otherwise.

My lecturer took exception to this. I used a word whose meaning I thought would be fairly clear from usage, and not only did they go pedantic on me (“that is not what that word means, specifically”) but they declared that I sounded like a self-educated high-schooler, along with a specific term that I’m sure was supposed to be an insult.

Oddly enough, I am a self-educated high schooler. My comment to that, written through laughter (because it was funny!), was that I had me a high school diploma lying about somewhere, if I could only find it… (It’s also been recorded as an actual fact that insulting the person you’re trying to convince is very effective. It worked for Trump, right? I’m pretty sure my lecturer would have gone ballistic at having such a equivalence pointed out.)

But notice what’s happening, rhetorically: they were trying to use my very language against me. They didn’t ask what I meant (even though I thought it was clear through usage); any attempt to clarify was met with disdain for the term.

And it goes on! One of the other rhetorical manipulations they used was simple entrapment through falsification. They started off (in public) enumerating a number of sins of the GOP, sins that … honestly, probably are sins. (They were presented without specificity, and in very coarse terms, were probably accurate; it’s when you drill down that you find that there might be some justifications for those particular sins. Note the use of the word “might.”)

I didn’t bother addressing those. Why would I?

I was making an assertion of venality on the parts of both major parties, after all; if someone presents evidence (even lacking nuance) that validates that at least half of my assertion was true, why would I disagree? They were saying that I was right, after all.

Of course, they took issue with my statement that it was both parties and not just one, making it an attack on the blue tribe as well as the red tribe, and there was the source of the offense. How dare I say the blue tribe is bad, too?

So in the lecture they presented a number of grave acts on the part of the GOP, and challenged me to dispute them, saying to tell them anything the Democrats had done that was “as awful as” this, or that, or the other.

I did not dispute the acts themselves. I could have; those descriptions lacked nuance, after all. And they didn’t take place in a vacuum, and what’s more, if the Democrats had wanted to do some of them, they would have (and they’ve tried, in some cases. But they failed, so they “didn’t do them.”)

But … disputing them would have been both a strategic and tactical mistake, on multiple levels.

For one thing, strategically, those terrible things agreed with my assertion that the GOP is evil and stupid. Disputing them defends a party I do not want to defend.

For another, tactically, disputation gives a falsifiable angle of attack; there are a lot of rhetorical ways to address such disputations. You could go for precision (“You said this happened in January 1995, when ACTUALLY it happened in early February, you don’t know what you’re talking about”) or widen the scope of the disputation to incorporate external facts (“Well, you’re failing to account for von Moltke in 1887, who …”)

Lastly, it’s a strategic error about intent. I had stated early in the lecture (when I had finally started paying attention to it and interacting) that I had no intent of trying to convince anyone of anything, that my lecturer should feel and think what… you know, they felt and thought. My permission wasn’t necessary, nor was my approval, but I wholly feel that people should be who they are. I was making a statement about my own feelings, after all, and I didn’t mind what anyone else thought. I’ve said so publicly and in many forums.

If you think I’m trying to convince you to think what I think, you’re missing something very simple about me: I’m happy to influence people positively, I guess, but it’s a passive influence. If you think what I think because of something I said, it’s because you read something from me and thought – to yourself and for yourself – hey, he might be right.

I try really hard to not decide things for other people. I don’t even tell my kids what is right to think; I tell them what I think and why, and if they find that compelling, we agree. If they don’t, we disagree, and everything’s fine between us; if they tell me what they think and why, well, maybe I’ll change my mind. (I’ve changed my mind and behavior inspired by arguments from my kids multiple times. I’m proud of them.)

So… for me to dispute these claims about the GOP… what would it serve? I’m not trying to tell my lecturer that they’re wrong, after all; if they don’t realize their own contextual errors, well, who am I to correct them? And that their error reinforces my own decision – I think their assertions lacked nuance, but the result was the same, after all – well, that only makes a disputation stupid.

I may not be the sharpest light bulb in the shed, but I ain’t outright dumb. When my “opponent” makes my point for me, I will let them.

But the request was to show what the Democrats had done that was “as evil as” those acts, which were mostly focused on legislative actions to counteract Democratic motivations.

That, too, was really pretty elegant on the part of the lecturer. Note what they’re doing: they’re ascribing a generalization to all Republicans.

It’s like saying “All Republicans are racist” because some Republicans are racist. (After all, the non-racist Republicans – were they a thing – would surely eject their racist brethren, right?)

But that’s not the way the world works, on any level, and actually indirectly ties into why I think the Democrats are venal and stupid, too.

It’s worth pointing out that neither party is monolithic. I know a lot of people in both parties, and members of both constitute my “inner circle,” people I do listen to with great intent. I think they’re good people, even when they agree with the things their parties do with which I disagree. I understand these people, and why they agree with the things I find wrong. This is important. I know them, they know me, we respect each other, we can dialogue in good faith and we know it. The parties are evil. It doesn’t mean that the people who make up the parties are evil, individually, although they might be. This is something my lecturer seemed to fail to understand, based on what they said to me.

I used the word “racist” a few paragraphs ago, right? … what does that word mean? It has a technical meaning, I guess, but applying it technically to anyone will lead to a conclusion that all people are racist, and if all people are racist, this deserves a reaction, and any racist’s assertions should be discounted.

But “any racist’s assertions should be discounted” is an assertion. And if all people are racist, well, that implies that the person who says that is also racist, and therefore that assertion too should be discounted. Taken to an extreme, the implication is that mankind is beyond redemption, that any person can be attacked for any reason (at the very least, you could accuse them of being racist, and they could deny it; but wouldn’t a denial be exactly what a racist would offer?)

It’s a black hole of suckitude. (It also lacks nuance. It’s why I can know people who I think actually are racist, without deciding to excommunicate and cancel them without reprieve.) And one of my greatest problems with the Democratic Party as a whole is this whole leaning into a failure of terminology and nuance. For a Party as a whole to lean into being unable to assert what a woman is… that’s awful. You can carve out specifics all you like, but to be unable to generalize? There’s a rot in that oak, and it needs to be chopped down and burned.

And words matter. If you can’t use words, you can’t discuss. If I say “the GOP is evil” and you change what the understanding of “evil” is to suit your purposes, I lose the ability to talk about the GOP being evil. (Does the new definition even mean that I think the GOP is evil?) We can’t come to a meeting of the minds, because that requires an ability to establish a common ground, and if you change the meaning of words, there is no common ground. You’ve built a wall between every human, that you can erect at will.

That’s a dominance game, and it’s insidious and explicit, and it is what I consider to be evil, and yes, I do consider it to be worse than most of the short-sighted things the GOP does. The GOP can be countered by an electoral cycle (and a lot of education about rational thought.) The destruction of the ability to teach rational thought (“what does that even mean? Let’s change it”) … that’s something that requires burning down a culture and rebuilding it.

I think that is evil, and a great evil, at that, maybe even the greatest. It provides a mechanism to invalidate the ability to do good. And my lecturer never once asked me about what I meant when I referred to it. They didn’t care. They had an axe to grind, and they were a-grindin’.

After a while, the conversation ended, with them asking me to stop messaging them (remember, they messaged me initially), and I accepted that request. That was around message number 330 or so. They then sent nearly seventy more messages to me, reprimanding me for writing as I do, for thinking as I do, adding a few other rhetorical manipulations (“I told someone something positive about you, and you didn’t know about it, how could you not be overwhelmingly grateful for something you didn’t know about?”) along the way.

I remain unconvinced. If I really, really cared about what a casual acquaintance thought about me, specifically, and assigned power to their perception, I might have been swayed, but given that there was no exchange, no consideration for anything I thought or said, it ended up being funny to read – and in some ways, it might have convinced me that my original assertion (that both major parties were evil, and that one party’s evil was more difficult to address than the other’s) was even more true than I thought it was.

Jalen Hurts, Clemson, Politics, Teamwork

Things I am thinking about having thought about:

  • I feel bad for Jalen Hurts. Swapped out for Tua Tagovailoa, despite having been the guy for Alabama last year… and this year, gets put in on Alabama’s last drive for mop-up duty, when the game’s already lost and there’s no flexibility left to exploit. “Go in and lose us this game, Jalen!” — despite Hurts being a consummate team player. Never mind that I was thrilled that Alabama got crushed – I still feel bad for Hurts, who’s been the kind of teammate everyone wishes they had.
  • Speaking of, congrats to Clemson! I don’t like your team, because I’m a Seminole fan through and through, but you dominated. Good job. Now I hope you lose to FSU next year. And every year.
  • Glances looks neat.
  • Few things are as comfortable as seeing a co-author respond to a topic with “eek!” … oh wait, I meant uncomfortable.
  • I was highly displeased with the resolution of the Dr. Pepper National Championship trophy mystery. “Are you wearing a wire?” is burned into my ears now – hilariously phrased – but the resolution was dumb and manipulative. I get enough of that from politicians.
  • Speaking of manipulative politicians: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is playing games like a master. “Republicans are attacking me on social media!” with respect to her dancing… meanwhile, it’s one tweet from one anonymous account. Yes, it’s a stupid thing to complain about (the tweeter’s problem!), but her reaction is… overblown, too. It sure plays into her base, though!

Managing Social Capital

There are a lot of authors who talk about managing social capital, especially in terms of relationships… but from what I can see, most people fail to apply the rules of social capital beyond personal relationships, even if they’re wise enough to manage how they interact with their significant others.

It also turns out that I and a friend of mine actually worked out a form of social capital back when we were ne’er-do-wells in an office together, and it occurred to me that our description of social capital was actually a pretty apt way of seeing it, even though it was really more of a joke at the time.

First off, what is social capital? From a paper on social capital from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:

Lyda Hanifan referred to social capital as “those tangible assets [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit”.

In other words, when you give something to someone else, you build up your social capital with that person. Likewise, when you take something from someone else, you lose capital with that person.

The more that you contribute, or give, to them, the more likely they are to contribute or give to you. Likewise, the more that you exhaust your social capital, the less likely they are to respond positively to you.

Willard Harley describes it in terms of a “love bank,” mostly because he was describing relationships: when you do something your significant other likes or wants, you “deposit” into your balance, and when you do something your partner does not like, you debit your balance… and when it reaches zero, you might lose your partner.

That’s all well and good, I suppose, and I find the metaphor pretty accurate. But I’d like to present mine, nonetheless, because mine includes the idea of severity.

The way I see it, you have different grades of contribution. You can do something that builds your social capital a lot, or you can do something that detracts from it a little.

And because I came up with this idea when I was generally going without something to eat, I thought of it in terms of food.

First off, let’s think of the positive aspect. There are three denominations of points: brownie points, pie points, and cake points.

A brownie point is a small thing. Hold the door open for someone to walk through? Well, that’s a nice thing, but it’s small… you can probably consider yourself to have earned a brownie point with that person, unless they’re crazy-stupid with some oddball political philosophy that sees you holding the door as some kind of power play over women or men or … whatever.

(Social capital, like most other things, still involves the eye of the beholder.)

But … what if it’s raining, and the person is holding grocery bags, and you go out of your way to open the door, possibly even — gasp! — inconveniencing yourself to do so? Surely that transcends mere brownie points!

And it probably does. I’d think this was worth ten brownie points, but that’s a lot of brownies to carry around — let’s call it the next denomination up, the “pie point.”

So ten brownie points is one pie point, so far. But imagine there’s another level up from the pie points; if you earn a lot of brownie points, well, that adds up to a lot of pie points; that’s still unwieldy, so let’s say that ten pie points adds up to something even more magical, something used only in representation form, like the $1000 bill — the “cake point.”

Earning a cake point sounds pretty tough, and it probably is. Most people who have cake points have done so by earning one brownie point at a time, like filling a bucket using dewdrops.

One might earn a cake point with your kids, for example, by surprising them with a new iPhone, perhaps, or with tickets to that show they didn’t think were available any more, but these are very rare events and, truthfully, probably aren’t actually cake points; they’re more likely to be two or three pie points. (After all, gratitude is fleeting; “Sure, you got me an iPhone, but then you took me to McDonald’s, and that counters that stupid toy!”)

Now… the negatives. What’s the opposite of a brownie point? You can’t just say “I’m taking away a brownie point,” because that implies that there are brownie points to take away, and one assumes neutrality before anything else. So negatives work the same way as positives, just with different things… and in my case, they’re actually not very representative, but they’re the best I could come up with in my misspent youth.

They are, in order: okra points! Onion points! And worst of all… Brussels Sprouts points!

Now, please recognize: I’m a child of the South. Truth is, I love okra done properly, and since I’m in the Southern United States, it’s easy to find okra done well. Likewise, if I’m grilling a hot dog, you can bet your pie points that I’m slappin’ some onions on that puppy, so to speak. And while finding Brussels sprouts done well is a bit harder than finding good okra, well, that can be done, too.

But the analogies still hold up pretty well: an okra point is generally perceived as a mild offense. Forget to hold the door for the lady who was seven steps behind you? Well, okay, in today’s feminist world, that’s a very minor offense indeed, but chances are you did just earn yourself an okra point — which counters one of your brownie points, if you have any.

Watch as the door closes on the poor lady holding a wet grocery bag in the rain? You cad! You probably just earned a slather of okra points for yourself… maybe even an onion point.

And… ghosting that girl who you decided you really didn’t care for all that much after all? (Why did she have to be a Patriots fan?) … I’m sorry, but it really doesn’t matter what your reasons might be: you probably did just earn yourself a Brussels sprout.

(Sad truth: it’s a lot easier to earn onion points than pie points, and it’s also far easier to earn a Brussels sprout than it is to earn a cake. BTW, Suze, I am sorry.)

So how does this apply? It’s really a fairly comical way to think about how you interact with people. When you ask a question that serves yourself, well, you’re really asking something from someone else: they get a brownie point for answering, you get an okra point for infringing. You want few negative points and as many positive points as you can manage to earn.

(It’s safe to assume you actually don’t start off with a neutral balance: you probably start off with five brownie points that you either increase or negate immediately.)

But if you want to be consistently liked, answered, interacted with… it’s worth thinking about how your social capital is actually being managed (and what horks off the people with whom you talk) — keep track of your okra, your pies, your onions — if only to keep yourself on track so that the people around you keep wanting to give you what you want and need.

(Reposted from Medium because I don’t have the ability to keep track of every freaking social platform out there.)

The Story of my Hand

Back in October 2016, I had a hospital stay, with surgery for an infection in my left thumb. In some ways, it’s not that big of a deal, in other ways it was a very big deal – they used terms like “life-threatening” after the surgery was successful. There’ve been some long-term effects, some physical, some intellectual, but by and large I’m fine now.

This is the story, the best that I can recall, but note that it’s been quite a while now and there were circumstances that make me a slightly unreliable narrator. With that said… this is still the best that I can recall.

It started with a sick cat. Something was wrong with her; she would spasm and go into fight or flight mode for about five to ten seconds, biting as hard as she could to address whatever it was. It was scary to watch, but we loved the cat so we were trying to take care of her.

She actually bit me hard enough to draw blood three times; twice on my left hand, once on my right hand. It was inconvenient and painful, but I thought I was okay. I’d clean out the injury, put Neosporin on it, and move on. There were no real effects from this apart from the local injuries themselves – but they did convince me to not allow my wife or my kids to try to take care of the cat, because I didn’t want them injured.

However, she bit my hand again one Sunday. I was trying to bathe her, and in the process she spasmed again – and latched hard, hard enough for me to lift her whole body up with her using her teeth to stay attached to my hand. She bit through the flesh of my left thumb, including one puncture on the pad of my thumb, and went through the meat of the second joint.

I have a pretty high pain tolerance, but I have to say, that hurt a lot. (Not the worst I’ve ever felt, but… let’s just say I’ll be happy to not repeat the experience.) After I managed to dislodge her, I finished bathing her, trying to keep the blood from my thumb from getting all over. After that, I cleaned the new wound and put more ointment on it, and bandaged it.

The next day was uncomfortable. I had to keep my left hand elevated. If I didn’t elevate it, there was a lot of uncomfortable pressure and some fluid leakage. I didn’t mind the fluids – I was trying to keep it drained – but something about it didn’t feel right.

The day after that – day two after the injury – I thought it was going to get better; I figured if it wasn’t better by the third day I’d go to a doctor. However, I did notice a red line following the vein, going up my arm to my elbow.

From what I can understand, this was a bad, bad, bad sign. But I’m a tough old bird, and I don’t fear any medical procedure except for amputation, so I didn’t really worry too much – what concerned me wasn’t the pain or the red line, but the fact that I couldn’t use my thumb at all.

The next day showed up, and the red line was less visible… but my thumb was still as swollen as it had been, and just as painful. My thought was that I needed to have the wound debrided (i.e., cleaned out).

So off to the walk-in clinic I went, because it certainly wasn’t an emergency, right?

At the walk-in clinic, I did the standard dance about insurance and conditions. (“It’s my thumb; cat bite.”) I finally got into an examination room, where a nurse came in to take my vital signs and pain level (on a scale of one to ten, a “six”), only to find that my blood pressure was through the roof. I don’t remember the numbers, but they were apparently astronomical, to the point where blood should have been squirting out of my eyeballs or something.

That’s very unusual for me; my blood pressure is normally right where it’s supposed to be, mid-to-low normal. It was concerning, I guess, because it was different from the norm, but I was at the clinic for a cat bite, so I kept trying to refocus their attention.

The nurse kept saying “We can treat that blood pressure, we need to get that down,” to which I answered “… cat bite.” My blood pressure was definitely on my radar at that point, but addressing my blood pressure was not the same as addressing the fire in my thumb.

After a few rounds with the nurses, the walk-in clinic’s doctor showed up: “Sooooooo, let’s see what we can do about that blood pressure!”

“… cat bite, you mean,” after which I held it up for him to see.

He saw.

That was the last he mentioned of my blood pressure.

I immediately got an x-ray taken, to have it sent to an orthopedic surgeon (like, within five minutes – which was the time it took for me to get my wedding band off.) He then called the surgeon’s office, and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After a while, the walk-in clinic’s doctor came up with a plan of action: I’d get intravenous antibiotics (I forget the name), with another battery of medicines to be taken orally, and I’d call in the morning and the evening to report progress. He then gave me the prescriptions for the medicines (and referred me to an emergency room for the intravenous antibiotics), and I prepared to go home…

… and then the clinic’s phone rang.

It was the surgeon. I didn’t hear that conversation – I only saw the doctor talking on the phone from a different room – but the walk-in clinic’s doctor laughed about it; he said that he (the walk-in doctor) described what his plan was to the surgeon, and the surgeon said “you know, that’s a great plan, I think you did a good job, but no, he is going to do this other thing.”

The surgeon said that I needed to go to the emergency room for a possible 23-hour stay (after which you have to be admitted, and everyone was trying to avoid that.) At the ER, I’d be monitored, my pain would be addressed (“this doesn’t look like a ‘six'”), and I’d get enough medicine to kill a goat. Then I would be able to go home and try the oral antibiotics.

“Well, that’s a plan, then,” I thought. (It was, in fact, a plan.) So my wife and I picked up my son from his school and traipsed off to the closest ER, which was a Women’s Hospital.

When I got there, everything went smoothly as one could expect; it’s never any fun to wait in an ER to be admitted, but I wasn’t bleeding out, and I was stable. They gave me the standard battery of questions (and had the same observation about my sky-high blood pressure) and everything progressed pretty smoothly, I guess. My pain was still about a “six.”

We finally got to an actual room in the ER, where they hooked me up to an IV and started pumping antibiotics and some pain medicines. I was bored out of my skull for about a bit, until they came in to ask me to have another set of X-rays taken – the first ones from the walk-in clinic were okay, but not good enough.

The pain medicines, by the way, didn’t do a thing. I went in with my pain at a six, and my pain remained a six.

After the x-ray, more boredom. I didn’t have a book, I had my wife and son, but they were bored; there’s nothing to do in a hospital but wait, really, and we were all trying to be patient. (I’m not good at being patient like that.)

After another hour or so, the ER doctor came in, and congratulated me. I was being admitted, but not at that hospital; like I’d said, it was a women’s hospital. Not being a woman, I needed to go to a different place. The plan was to admit me for long enough that the antibiotics could take hold, with surgery as an option if necessary.

Ambulance ride time! I’d never ridden in an ambulance that I remembered, so this was actually exciting.

I had to send my wife and son home, though. They needed to eat, they needed to recharge, I’d be fine.

The ambulance ride was interesting; I kept asking them to turn on the siren, but they wouldn’t. (And they shouldn’t have; I don’t fault them for this, but I also don’t fault myself for trying to get them to turn the siren on.) However, they also noted my sky-high blood pressure (like, nearly 80 points higher than it should have been, I think?)… and they actually addressed it.

They gave me a morphine derivative. I don’t remember which one it was (“fentanyl?” … yes, it was fentanyl), but they hit me with it and my blood pressure dropped like a stone back to normal levels. Whatever they hit me with, it was good. My pain dropped to … something, I don’t remember what it was (it still hurt) but I became rather calm and faintly silly (more so than I normally am), and they seemed satisfied with the result.

If it made them happy, I was happy too. I was in a good place, a mellow place, and the only drawbacks were I just couldn’t use my hand at all, and there was no siren. (There was no emergency, so obviously indulging me would have been ridiculous, and I wasn’t expecting it.)

Getting to the hospital was fine; they wheeled me up to my room in the orthopedic ward, and were quite nice. The bed was weird; I sank in it. I don’t think I ever quite got comfortable, but that’s okay; the bed did its job. It did bed-like things; I couldn’t ask any more from it than that.

The first nurse was great; she asked if I wanted anything, and I was starving by this point. I asked for something to eat – anything – and for apple juice. I wanted lots of apple juice; she asked if two containers would be enough, and I said, “Sure… as a start.”

She brought me a package of peanut butter crackers and two apple juices. By the time she’d opened the crackers for me (as I was one-handed) the apple juices were gone, might I please have some more?

She got me more apple juice. I inhaled those, and asked for more apple juice.

I don’t know how much I actually got down, but I didn’t feel like trying her patience past a certain point; I stopped asking for more. She was nice about it; I was okay, and stable, and no longer as thirsty as I was.

Somewhere along the way, a set of doctors came in to examine my hand and ask me about everything with it. I explained; I asked about the options. They gave me the rundown, from antibiotics (the passive plan), to surgery (a “possibility,” with a range of outcomes, one being a new life as Nine-Fingered Joe.)

I was not having that last option. No way, no how, no body, no nothing. Amputation was off the table. They could do whatever they wanted to, but I was leaving the hospital room in one piece, even if it was in a body bag.

The morning nurse came in for the pre-dawn shift, an awesomely sarcastic fellow named “Chuck.” He was great; bantered with me about the injury, scolded me for not taking it seriously enough. Constantly made jokes about amputation. I liked Chuck, he was great, but the amputation jokes were not funny, Chuck. I mostly asked Chuck for more apple juice.

He brought me some, but only a little; he, um, said that someone had asked for enough apple juice to empty the ward’s supply and that he’d have to scrounge to find more. I said nothing of who I thought the culprit might be.

To his credit, he actually borrowed some apple juice from other wards to bring me some. Like I said, Chuck was great, except for those amputation jokes. (They were not funny, Chuck.)

Then they came for me. There was no-one left to speak for me – oh, wait, this is just a story of my hand, and not apocalyptic literature from Martin Niemöller.

They did actually come get me in the morning. From what I can tell, all of the stuff they kept telling me about antibiotics and waiting to see what would happen was irrelevant; they knew I didn’t particularly want surgery, but it wasn’t really an option. They had kept reminding me that it was a possibility, and in the morning, it went from the “possible” to the “it’s going to happen in a few minutes.”

I really don’t know if they ever entertained the thought of not operating. I guess they were willing to see if the antibiotics would attack the infection quickly, but it’s hard for me to tell; one way or the other, I was going into surgery.

Surgery was rather surgery-like; I prepped (which didn’t involve much, being just on my hand), I waited, I was bored. After surgery prep, they anaesthetized me, then moved me into the operating room, which I saw briefly but barely remember after that, and then I was out.

Things apparently happened when I was out.

I woke up a few hours later, back in my hospital room; my wife and youngest son were there. My hand felt like it’d been hit with a brick. A heavy one. One that hurt.

My pain was finally above a six… and the staff had decided that my pain tolerance levels were off. What to me was a “six” was a “ten” to them. If I said I was at a four, it was time to hit me with sedatives; a six, or a seven, was serious business. I thought this was an overreaction, but … what did I know? I spend most of the time there apparently on a morphine high.

After that, it was all downhill. I was on an antibiotic schedule; my hand hurt like it had been scraped out (and it had); I acquired a new set of stitches, and a bunch of funny dreams. I woke up in the middle of the night after my surgery, shaking with anger at the nurses, because I had a dream of a dead, beached whale… and the hospital staff wouldn’t help… the dead… whale. In my dream. I was apparently castigating the staff, gently. I can’t imagine what that sounded like.

I actually got out of the hospital a day or two later; one of my sons had a football game, and while it might not have been bad for me to stay in the hospital a bit longer, I was on my way out of the woods, and I didn’t want to miss my son playing football. I had to change and clean my dressings; not a big deal, it wasn’t comfortable but it wasn’t bad, either.

I still only have about 85% of my left hand’s range of motion. My left arm is also notably weaker than it was, and probably always will be; there’s a ribbon of scar tissue under the skin, running from my left thumb up to about halfway up my forearm. (That’s where the infection had traveled, and what I think made the surgeons decide to act so fast – if it’d kept on going, I’d be typing this as a ghost.)

I resumed giving blood to the Red Cross not too long ago; I think they used five units of blood on me during surgery, and this wasn’t even a major surgery – nothing like heart surgery or anything like that, probably among the lesser operations that I myself have had.

We still miss the cat.

Repost: A brilliant new film idea

Inspired by the apparent congruence between the book World War Z and the film World War Z, I was struck by an imaginary conversation that led me to a very marketable idea.

Here’s the conversation:

“Let’s call it ‘Tom Sawyer.'”

“But the main character’s named Philip MacGillicuddy, and it’s about an invasion of flying robotic robots with lasers that cause impact damage.”

“Hmm, good point. Let’s name the love interest ‘Becky Thatcher.'”


The Trailer

“A taco stand. A man. A plan. Panama. A flying robot invasion that denies every law of physics we can think of. In theaters 2014: Tom Sawyer.”

The script almost writes itself:

PHILIP: I'm almost sort of like Tom Sawyer. The character. 
        In the book.

BECKY : Except you're not named Tom, and you're not like him, 
        you coward.

   BUCKET, a robot that looks like a soda can with a 
   rounded top, enters.

BUCKET: Hey! I's a bucket! And I talk jive! Slap yo mama and 
        feed me wingnuts!

PHILIP: Ha! Ha! Ha!

BECKY : Shut up.

PHILIP: Ha! Ha! Ha!

    BECKY cuts off PHILIP's right hand.

BECKY : Philip... I am your-

BUCKET: Slap yo mama and feed me wingnuts!

    ROBOT enters, laser guns blazing, ricocheting laser bolts 
    going everywhere.

ROBOT, robotically: I am from the future and I have come for 
       your water, sacks of meat.

BUCKET: Slap yo mama and feed me wingnuts!

PHILIP: Okay, take it all!

    BECKY dances for seven long minutes for INJUN JOE, 
    the name I just made up for the ROBOT. A number one 
    pop song, written by JUSTIN BEIBER, plays.

See? It’s perfect!

Repost: Java sucks without semantic awareness

This is a short post from TheServerSide.com that I’d written way back in 2008. It was written in humor, which many who read it did not quite understand, but the point remains for those who wish to see it:

A conversation with someone highlighted yet another problem with Java, a fatal one:

Java’s lack of semantic awareness. Without this, coders are unable to use examples from the web, lessening whether Java is actually usable or not. Here’s a representative sample of the conversation:

Person1> What I want is x.contains(y).
Person2> That's the method name that the Collections API provides, 
         though, and it does exactly what you say you want.
Person1> But my collection isn't named 'x'!

This is a clear example of where Java, had it understood that when the first person said ‘x.contains(y)‘, he meant to use his collection name, would have been able to compile and execute the code properly.

He would have been able to find an example on the web using contains() and cut and paste it, et voíla! Executing code. Java needs semantic awareness. Without it it will die.

I’m reposting the original content here to preserve it for posterity.

The problem doesn’t go away, though: today, someone else did the same thing.

Person1> questions.get((int) spinner.getValue()) = new Question(); 
              tells me left hand must be a variable
Person2> You want put() then
Person2> or set, whichever
Person1> because it is an ArrayList?
Person2> because it's an OBJECT.
Person1> shut up.  You just said nonsense saying to use .put() 
         on an ArrayList

Um… yeah.

Repost: Writing prompt: a greeting card and a response

So I’m trying to write more often than I have, and by golly, I’m going to try to use writing prompts if necessary to make it happen.

So here’s today’s:

Write a poem in the disguise of a postcard message. Continue by writing a reply postcard message.
Thinking of you with words so trite
They're not very nice but feel so right
I'll say hello within this page
It's not fair for eggs to be laid in cage.


Thanks for the thought, you lazy git
You picked some rhymes and made them fit.
What can you expect from a card that's free
Better, I'd hope, but it's not to be.

You’re welcome.

Repost: I love new words

I love words. I love them a lot. I could cuddle them and hug them and call them “George.” I have read dictionaries and encyclopedias, in search not only of new knowledge, but in search of wonderful, new, intriguing words.

I have favorite words, and I rejoice when I find new words.

Reigning champions on the favorite word dais: “spackle” and “eigenvalue.” I’ve worked construction before (and fixed my own homes, thank you); spackle is pretty ordinary (but a fun word.) I have never, to my knowledge, correctly used “eigenvalue” in context. (I’ve used it incorrectly a lot. It’s one of my favorite words! Eiiiiiigenvaaaaaaaluuuuuuuuue.)

Today’s new word comes courtesy of Grantland.com, in Video Games Killed the Video-Game Star: “bathykolpian.” In context:

…unless, that is, you expect a string quartet to be playing while you present your girl with her De Beers engagement ring or a bathykolpian hottie to whip off your trousers at the first whiff of Axe’s Dark Temptation body spray.

I … was imagining something from H. P. Lovecraft upon reading this.

Tentacles, seaweed, claws, while being curiously physically attractive somehow. I don’t think I actually thought this imagery through very well; it’s sort of like imagining a magazine dedicated to Cthulhu fetishes.

However, it’s nothing so dramatic; “bathykolpian” means “deep-bosomed,” after a moment’s research on google. However, the glory here is first that it’s a new word, and second that it sounds totally cool. I know I’ll not have any use for it in ordinary life, but that doesn’t detract from the happiness of a new word.

The article actually had one other piece of advice for video games, although I’d say the advice would be well worth following in real life as well:

There is, anyway, only one story worth telling in a zombie game, and here it is: See those zombies over there? You should probably get away from them.

Noted. If I see zombies, I’ll probably get away from them.