Upgrading WordPress (… finally)

So I went ahead and upgraded WordPress to the [at present] most-recent version of 2.6.3. It actually went pretty painlessly and I'm excited that there's a new widget for tag clouds (I had been running 2.3.1 that I installed almost exactly a year ago). If you're on the main JayceLand page, then you'll have to go to the blog home page to see them. Even the plugins still work, and the theme I tweaked seems to function okay too (although I'm now using the built-in sidebar instead of a custom one).

Vote Obama to … Stop Abortions???

In a more bloggerly mode, I thought I'd just post a quick link to Why I'm voting for Barak [sic] Obama … and I hope you will too. Reason 5: The Sacredness of Life by Brian D. McLaren. He's [apparently] a Christian who opposes abortion, but argues that we should work toward effective means of reducing the number of abortions by eliminating some of the key reasons people get them. Further, he goes on to say that overturning Roe v. Wade will not be effective for it will revert to state-control of abortion laws, of which he estimates that 16 states will ban abortion, netting a maximum possible reduction of the number of abortions in those states — about 10% of the national total. And that doesn't count the possibility of crossing state lines to get a legal abortion.

My Ballot in the 28th Congressional District, 56th State Senate District, and 131st State Assembly District

So I went ahead and downloaded a copy of the ballot for my district today. I try to do this every year so I can tell who I'm voting for and figure out for whom I would like to elect. Obviously we've got a presidential race, along with quite a few local big-money races, as evidenced by the irritating volume of advertising going on. But what about the rest of them? And did you know there's a proposal for an amendment to the State Constitution?

I'm pretty sure everyone has made a decision about the Presidential race. Barack Obama and Joe Biden seem to represent rational argument and a hopeful future — with the caveat that Obama is as new to Washington as John F. Kennedy was. John McCain and Sarah Palin stand by their maverick, wildcard approach to change — with the caveat that McCain may change his platform once elected just as he did when he became the Republican Party candidate, and he selected a vice presidential running-mate who (as best as I can tell) is approximately as qualified as I (or anyone) is to be lead the United States.

Anyway, here's a breakdown of the other candidates that I'll be voting for:

  • State Supreme Court Justice, 7th Judicial district (vote for two)
    • Joanne M. Winslow (Democrat, Independence)
    • Paul M. Riordan (Democrat, Independence)
    • Robert Lunn (Republican, Conservative)
    • Elma Ann Bellini (Republican, Conservative)
  • Representative in Congress, 28th District
    • Louise M. Slaughter (Democrat, Independence, Working Families)
    • David W. Crimmen (Republican, Conservative)
  • State Senator, 56th district
    • Richard A. Dollinger (Democrat, Working Families)
    • Joseph E. Robach (Republican, Independence, Conservative)
  • Member of Assembly, 131st District
    • Susan V. John (Democrat, Working Families)
    • Jeffery R. Morrow (Republican)
    • Rafael Colon (Independence)
  • County Court Judge
    • Frank P. Geraci, Jr. (Democrat, Independence, Conservative, Working Families)
  • Family Court Judge
    • Joan S. Kohout (Democrat, Independence, Conservative, Working Families)
    • Gail A. Donofrio (Republican, Independence, Conservative, Working Families)
  • County Clerk
    • Thomas M. Hasman (Democrat, Working Families)
    • Cheryl Dinolfo (Republican, Independence, Conservative)

and "Proposal Number One, An Amendment"

Amendment to Article 5, section 6 of the Constitution, in relation to additional civil service credit for members of the armed forces of the United States

The proposed amendment would eliminate the requirement that veterans who were disabled in the actual performance of duty in any war be receiving disability payments from the United States Veterans Administration in order to qualify for additional points on a civil service examination for appointment or promotion. Under the proposed amendment, the disability must only be certified to exist by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The proposed amendment would also update the reference to the "United States Veterans Administration" to instead refer to the "United States Department of Veterans Affairs" to reflect current federal government structure. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

The race I knew the least about was the 7th Judicial District for the State Supreme Court — an important race indeed and I'm glad to not be blind-sided by it. I was comforted by a September 30, 2008 Democrat and Chronicle article which outlined the positions of the four candidates: they all appear to be suitably qualified and respectful of the power and responsibility they would hold. The Democrat and Chronicle endorses Robert Lunn and Elma Ann Bellini, and Joanne M. Winslow was the subject of a favorable article at the Gay Alliance of the Genessee Valley website. My detailed (but imperfect) search on Google didn't yield any other primary sources, although a website called MPNow offered a bland but favorable article on Paul M. Riordan from the Brighton-Pittsford Post, and an article from the Daily Messenger summarizing the candidates.

In the 131st District Assembly race, three candidates are competing. The 500 results of a Google search for the candidates was so dominated by incumbent Susan John that I opted to search for the challengers, but even that search did a poor job of narrowing the results as "Rafael Colon" appeared often in results unrelated to the 131st District. Anyway, Project Vote Smart offered a fact-sheet style "biography" of Susan V. John, but no useful information on Raphael Colon nor Jeffery R. Morrow. So … I just shrug at this one — Susan John has not been on my radar as doing a bad job or anything.

And then there's the New York peculiarity of voting for County Clerks — in my mind, a position that should simply be appointed as part of the cabinet of the County Executive. Thomas M. Hasman is running against incumbent Cheryl Dinolfo. You'd think this would be the perfect kind of job anyone could be appointed to as a favor [and I'll be damned that I can't remember the term for that kind of "payback" job …] because it just involves moving information around, keeping things organized, and making sure the government is accessible to the people.

But still there are huge problems with the Monroe County Clerk's office. In an October 27, 2008 article on RochesterTurning, author "stlo7" points out that it's not just the thousands of social security numbers posted on the Monroe County website [that's right: publicly available and ripe for picking for identity theft], but now it's erroneously reporting people as criminals. Dinolfo is proving herself totally incompetent, while Hasman has a fully stocked resume for the position: "background in computer security and records management with the National Security Council,"[Rochester Turning, October 28, 2008], and "experience in information-technology security, records management, and administration — including several years in the White House during the Clinton administration"[City Newspaper, October, 2008]. Anecdotally, I recently needed to have a mortgage company clear up a title search problem on my house, and when the person I spoke with looked to the Monroe County website to find some forms, she commented that it was one of the worst organized county government websites she'd ever seen. Monroe County is dysfunctional enough, but we can at least fix the Clerk's office — and hopefully foster some positive changes.

Don't forget to vote, damn it!

Steam Train Foliage Tour in Arcade

Ali and I joined some of the people from MEETinROCHESTERMySpace link to go on a foliage tour on The Arcade and Attica Railroad (278 Main St., Arcade). We had a nice drive down as it was a nice sunny day, but it became quickly evident that the autumn colors were pretty much gone. We arrived early enough to get lunch at Marco's Pizza and Subs (289 Main St., Arcade) which was a decent little place, right across from the railroad.

After lunch we headed right over and boarded the train: a half-dozen or so train cars (presumably from an old regional service) powered by an authentic steam locomotive. The ride itself was rather short, covering some 15 miles or so in about a half-hour. I imagine the scenery is quite impressive when the autumn colors peak, but now it was just that pre-winter drab. The train was full of mostly families with small children — and since there was an open car at the back and a snack bar, it seemed they were all in constant motion. Once we arrived at Curriers Depot at the other end, the engine was disconnected and run backward on a siding to connect with the back of the train and we could get out for snacks and get a close look at the running engine. They then reconnected the engine to the former-rear of the train and ran the engine backward to Arcade.

Overall it was a fun time — and definitely something different and unique — but it was really unfortunate that the scenery was at its least attractive phase.

Dogtown, Oh My God

After Ali and I had lunch at Dogtown Hots (691 Monroe Ave.), I headed to The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) to check out the installation there: Sam van Aken's Audition. Ali and I went to the opening reception last week, but both Thumper and Oh My God were works based on sound, and it was pretty much impossible to fully experience them with all the crowd noise.

I have to admit I was enamored of the idea of Oh My God: a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-high wall of mismatched speakers, impossibly arranged to form a perfect rectangle. I knew from the opening that it sporadically played voices and sounds. I sat in front of it for (what turned out to be) nearly the entirety of its 7-minute loop. The phrase "oh my God" — versions thereof collected from famous and not-so-famous media sources — emanates sporadically from one randomly-selected speaker. And then from another, and another, and so on — gradually playing more and more frequently until building to a cacophonous and overwhelming climax.

As I was letting myself get lost in the experience, I recognized a few of the voices and their sources from popular movies and television. Sometimes I'd recognize a voice that was played earlier being played in a new location. I was also aware of the digital distortion from the variety of low sampling rates and MPEG-styled compression artifacts — a specific kind of harmonic whine that tended to distract me. But certain voices I didn't recognize (save for their intonation), and they brought me specifically to the events of September 11.

In reading the information binder for Oh My God, it turns out that was, in fact, Aken's inspiration. In unavoidably viewing the terrible footage that day over-and-over until he became numb to it, the one thing that rang out was a woman's voice saying, "oh my God" in one of the clips. [In case you don't recall, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists piloting hijacked commercial airplanes on September 11, 2001.]

I was kind-of saddened that the point was so … simple: that this impressive-scaled work, reminiscent of the ideally-packed order of Manhattan's maps and its skylines, was just a reflection of the numbness achieved by repetitive playback of an event by the media by creating numbness to a phrase by parroting its own frequent use in media.

I still want to like it so bad, but I'm at a loss to find any more depth in it. But hey: maybe that's the point too.

On Bullshit at the Bertrand Russell Society Meeting

I headed to The Bertrand Russell Society at Verb Café meeting at Writers and Books (740 University Ave.) for Ted Lechman's discussion of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit. [Got it?]

The tie-in to Russell was a short pamphlet he wrote in 1943 titled An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish: A Hilarious Catalogue of Organized and Individual Stupidity. Frankfurt's book was written in 2005 and professed to provide a philosophical definition of bullshit (also known as rubbish, malarkey, hokum, and humbug). Lechman generally spoke from Frankfurt's point of view, adding his own views where necessary.

The colloquial definition sets bullshit on the true-false spectrum — that bullshitting is a form of lying. Lechman argued that this is a flawed definition: that bullshit is much more anchored in motive than in truthfulness. My analogy is that fitting bullshit into the true-false spectrum is as valid as fitting apathy into the love-hate spectrum.

I think a linguistic flaw is the concept of opposites: for you can argue that love is the opposite of hate, and (in my opinion more strongly) that apathy is the opposite of love. Yet apathy is also the opposite of hate — and now we've got a triangle of opposites which is logically impossible. As the old joke goes, "two wrongs don't make a right but three lefts do." [Which I credit to 2NU in their song, "This is Ponderous", but I'm sure it's older than that.]

Anyway, Lechman was trying to suggest that bullshit comes from a motive of misdirection, not of deception. Thus, lying is the deliberate act of deceiving — of knowing the truth but professing something else. Bullshit is the deliberate act of misdirecting attention — of not caring about the truth of a statement, but stating it anyway to draw attention to someone else.

I think his perfectly constructed example was of one who states, "America is the greatest country in the world" to other Americans. It's a statement that has no provable truth, for there are statistics that favor America and those that don't. The purpose of making such a statement, though, is to suggest that oneself is great — that by complimenting the country and therefore its people, the people then express praise in complementary appreciation.

However, I deviate from Lechman's and Frankfurt's definition there. I think that bullshit can be as simple as assuming logical fallacy is more valid than logical argument. To me, this definition allows for a more innocent form of bullshit, where the bullshitter actually does have truthfulness in mind, but is ill-equipped to make an argument.

So in the end, I guess I support Lechman's (and presumably Frankfurt's) definition that one form of bullshit requires an apathy toward the truthfulness of a statement and an ulterior motive. However, I feel there is also another form of bullshit which is simply using logical fallacy as if it is superior to logical argument.

Stuff White People (including me) Like

My friend Christina pointed me to a site — a blog, actually — that has been the bane of my existence. It's Stuff White People Like (as well as a like-titled book by Christian Lander) and, to my self-reflective, obsessively analytical brain, it's a nightmare.

Well, first, I was reading along and thinking, "gosh, that's funny" — each item, one after another, actually did reflect things that I liked or that I recognized that most people I know [and most of them are white, I might add] liked. It's amusingly written as a guide to non-white people on how to assimilate into white culture — a sort of field-guide or cultural travelogue. Christina mentioned it because it's as if white culture were invisible — assumed by default — so there aren't really anthropological studies of it … at least that either of us could recall.

But then about page two, and 35 or so entries in, I started to panic. Was there anything unique about myself at all? I mean, here it was: a definitive list of all things I was, with only a 10% miss-rate. At least "White people like to claim understanding of what it's like to be a minority by reading 'Stuff White People Like'" was not (yet) on the list — despite tangentially-related topics like "#20 Being an expert on YOUR culture" and "#62 Knowing What's Best for Poor People".

I'll have to contact the author.

Barefoot Running with Stretches

This morning I went out for another run barefoot. The last few weeks I cut back as my right heel was hurting — I felt it was indicative of an inflammation on my Achilles tendon and my chiropractor — Dr. Karen Santini at The Greater Rochester Chiropractic Office (30 Allens Creek Rd.) agreed. She used a cortisone ultrasound application and suggested I add calf muscle stretches. In a brief search I couldn't find a description (or pictures) of what she had showed me, so I'll have to explain.

She said there are two calf muscles: the gastroc (or, more formally, the gastrocnemius) and the soleus. To stretch the gastroc muscle, stand on a stair or step. Put one foot backward so your toes and part of the ball are on the edge of the step. Keep your calf relaxed as you shift your weight backward onto that foot, allowing your heel to drop below the level of the step. To stretch the soleus, put one foot on the next step as before with the heel hanging off. Keep your calf relaxed as you shift your weight forward onto that foot, allowing your heel to drop below the level of the step.

I gave it a go and it seems the run went fine — if I did shorten it to 15 minutes or so.

My Winnipeg at the Dryden

I went to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg. Maddin described it as a "docu-fantasia" (or was it "docutasia") about his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada, duh). And, barring a better word, it was exactly that.

It's hard to discern what was fact and what was fantasy — for instance, did Maddin (also acting as narrator) in fact rent out his family home to stage reenactments of his childhood? Were the events described real in any way? Does it matter? I had a similar reaction to the feverish dream of his former film, Brand Upon the Brain!. Winnipeg shared the poetic and metaphoric use of visual effects (rather than the more traditional use of creating a false reality).

My friend Christina has a theory about Rochester: that people don't leave because it's hard to move in winter, but when spring arrives, everything comes up green and beautiful, summers are fantastic, fall is beautiful in its own right, and before you know it, it's back to winter and you can't leave. Maddin shares a similar view of Winnipeg: that people are so sleepy there that they are unable to stay awake long enough to stay on the train that leaves town — to escape.

So I guess, in the end, it succeeds in being a documentary about Winnipeg — that which he was supposedly chartered to do (and evidenced by the title card announcing funding by The Documentary Channel) — albeit an extraordinarily personal one. But, nonetheless, one that appears to succeed in documenting the spirit of a city.