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[Friday, March 14, 2003]


"The thing I can't figure out is what exactly you're trying to say with this."

You have to imagine the above being said with a prompting gesture that involves lowering the entire head while moving the hands in circles, as Supervisor A (yes, I have two, whom I'll unimaginatively call A and B, tempting though 'Natasha' and 'Boris' might be - only A is Russian) does after reading early drafts of my papers. My usual writing style involves pouring everything remotely relevant into a text file and then trying to put it into some sort of order, and for a change you, my Loyal Readers, are to be subject to this.

Gemma (see blogroll for link) was treating everyone to golden nuggets of James McIntyre, the Canadian Cheese Poet ("Who hath prophetic vision sees / In future times a Ten Ton Cheese") at the Serial Diners (see blogroll). Some Googling to find the text for myself resulted in my discovery of a monument to the Mammoth Cheese. This site is worth, if merely for the laconic "Back to Big Things in Ontario" link at the bottom.

Before I actually linked to the Diners here, I was going to refer to them as the Dining Philosophers, thus allowing indulgence in two vices: giving cute aliases to your friends in your blog, and theoretical computer science in-jokes. However, I have the link so I may as well call them by their right name, and besides, the name is already taken. Curses.

Alright, enough tomfoolery, back to giant cheese. Via no less august a source than the Library of Congress, I discover that Thomas Jefferson was once presented with a mammoth cheese, by some Baptists (note: insert Life of Brian joke here), though at 4 feet in diameter and 17 inches in height it is considerably overshadowed by the Mammoth Cheese from Perth, Ontario. Much as I would like to crow over this, the difference is more one between 1802 and 1892 than between Canada and the US; McIntyre envisions ever bigger and better cheeses with Late Victorian sun-never-sets-on-the-Empire complacency, not anticipating that the generation being born was destined more for horrible deaths in the trenches than for towering achievements in cheese. At any rate, Jefferson's cheese bore the legend "The Greatest Cheese In America for the Greatest Man In America!" (somewhat biased source). Further down in the LOC document. we discover:

Daniel Dreisbach from American University in Washington presented his views about "Thomas Jefferson, a Mammoth Cheese, and the 'Wall of Separation Between Church and State.'"

Let me tell you, we rarely have such opportunity for deadpan wackiness in titling in my field. There is also a novel in which Jefferson's cheese plays a vital role, but it doesn't seem to be a retelling of the story so much as a kind of How to Make an American Cheese. (Indefinite article quite vital.)

That's about enough cheese for now. I still need to do a write-up on how great the Creaking Tree String Quartet are, but in the meantime: they rule.

"My home is not a place, it is a person, sir. People." -Lord Aral Vorkosigan, in Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

posted 1:33 PM |

[Monday, March 10, 2003]


One-liners and after

A couple of sayings made me think recently.

The first was not precisely a one-liner: it's that bit from, I think, Spider Robinson about librarians. Roughly: "Librarians are the secret masters of the world. They control information. Don't ever piss one off." Now, this has become one of those shibboleths that makes me want to put my hands over my ears and sing the Smurfs theme song at the top of my lungs. The only bits of business more annoying, I think, are the cutely defensive little digs at vegetarians: "If God didn't want us to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Ah heh heh heh.

Apart from it being played, though, why do I find this so annoying? I think it's because it's the right cause, wrong arguments. Librarians are important and cool and deserve lots more respect than they get. But they are not "secret masters of the world". They don't "control information". I mean, come on! Librarians don't have access to your embarrassing personal e-mails, ready to be slipped to the press at the worst possible moment: your ISP does, and Echelon/Carnivore do. Librarians don't have access to your credit information, to wreak subtle havoc upon: the banks do. Circulation librarians know what books you've signed out; reference librarians know what questions you've asked. End of story. And it would surprise me if they're collating this information into a huge database deep beneath Ann Arbor, ready to be turned like Bill the Butcher's fist against their enemies.

Give props to librarians because organizing and classifying the vast amount of knowledge produced and required by a literate, technological society is a vital and worthwhile profession; and because keeping all of it accessible and usable, and guiding someone to the information they need, takes a lot more than a search engine; and for their advocacy of privacy rights and free expression. Respecting them because they "control information" and you "shouldn't piss one off" is not far from respecting doctors because they could poison you: insulting.

And since this came up recently, too, I want to re-assert that Spider is wrong wrong wrong about triads.

Which brings me to sex.

The other zinger which crossed my path recently was the Wildeism to the effect that "you don't pay a prostitute for sex, you pay her to go away afterwards". Like most Wildeisms, this strikes me as a quick laugh over absinthe but a poor guide to the actual world of human beings. Still and all, it got me to thinking. Okay, let's postulate that the sex trade exists because people are willing to trade goods for sex without affection. Dehumanizing? Perhaps, but not nearly so much so as the fact that we can buy and sell food and shelter without hospitality! Once, as a species, we have entered the Bizarro world where we can hand a person some goods, eat a meal they serve and sleep under their roof, and then depart in the morning with absolutely no sense of connection or obligation -- once we've swallowed that camel -- the idea of doing the same with sex, which is not even needed for continued existence, is surely a gnat. The fact of sex workers is not nearly so freaky, after a little thought, as the fact of 'hospitality' workers.

posted 10:52 PM |