Sunday, December 30, 2007

77; Annoyance

Sometimes our family gets on our nerves. We should expect that they would. After all, few people know us better our family.

Annoyance is a funny thing. Oftentimes people annoy one another without being aware of it. You could bring it to their attention, but then if they were annoying you by accident they’ll likely be hurt. There is an interaction in Jane Austen’s Emma, between the young Emma and her friend Miss Bates which struck me as just this sort of thing. The two of them, amongst other friends, agree to play a game where one must say three things, or something like that. Miss Bates inquires if dull things are permitted; stating that if that is the case then she’ll be alright in the game. Emma counters by saying that her difficulty will be limiting herself to just three.

“Ah!—well—to be sure. Yes, I see what she means, (turning to Mr. Knightley,) and I will try to hold my tongue. I must make myself very disagreeable, or she would not have said such a thing to an old friend."

Emma was certainly in bad form to have voiced her opinion of the dull Miss Bates to her face. Should she have, instead, saved it for behind her back?

Let’s get hypothetical. You know someone who annoys you, who you do not get on well with. There may be no specific incident that sticks out, there’s just something about them, how they talk, their mannerisms, their interactions, what have you, which sets you off. You find yourself often in their presence, and that presence is irritable.

Would you be comfortable voicing your complaints to them, your annoyance? Would it do more harm or ill to gripe and bitch behind their backs? Yet, people do not seek confrontation. Instead they stew as prunes in a pot do, often feeling as though an analogous reaction was affecting them. There is something unhealthy in such a decision. We may consider the utility or health of turning ourselves into prunes over other people.

I do believe that we can make the world a better place. Should we start on the annoying people? Is such a problem solvable? Of course not. Some people get on your nerves, but not your friends. Others get on only some people’s nerves, but not everyone’s. You know, like certain Presidents. We must also remember that in all likelihood you get on someone’s nerves.

Some wisdom from Jane Wagner: “I think we developed language because of our deep down need to complain.” People, most of the time, can think of ways their lives could be better. Curse that highly developed reasoning brain of ours, it can come up with ideas of a better life. If people wonder why rich people still feel unfulfilled, my guess is this is why. So, to pass time while we choose what card to throw down, we complain. We may call it small talk, if like. Small talk, if you look at it long enough, appears to be a very civil argument. Most conversations wouldn’t exist without disagreements or comparisons. That’s the other branch of the fork: we like to argue and complain, and then we discuss the differences that lead us to do so. All part of our ability to judge situations we think are better than our own.

Okay, this one’s getting long, so I better wrap her up. Here’s the point. People are unhappy, have been, and most likely will always be unhappy. Since they are unhappy they complain, for reasons that may range from the notion ‘misery loves company’ to the biological fact that when young creatures are upset they voice it so as to get things to change. Complaining, and I’m going out on a limb on this, is some attempt to affect change of situation.

If you are going to complain about someone annoying you, then, you are voicing the fact that you want to affect change in your situation. And, since your situation is dependent upon another person’s autonomy you will need to get your point across to them is you wish the change to occur. Were you ever upset about something and not voice it as a child? If your parents were like mine when you finally did let it all out, as people must do, they probably countered with the facts: they are not a mind-reader.

Sadly, they were right (I hope, jury’s still out on some of my family members). Most people aren’t hyper-sensitive to other people. In fact, most are just kinda thick, since, hey, we’re busy thinking about ourselves. So if someone annoys you, family or otherwise, my only recommendation is to approach them about it. Try not to be snarky or sarcastic, anything demeaning won’t get you anywhere, and is more likely to lead to those hurtful cases. No, just be blunt and honest. Let them know how you feel, tell them what it is, specifically, that annoys you.

Who knows how they’ll react. They may blow up in your face. They may not speak to you for a while, or throw out accusations of your own. Hopefully you’ll get the latter, since the best-case scenario is sitting down and talking it out with them. If they have had issues with you as well that makes the process a lot easier. That way the conversation doesn’t feel like a one-sided blame-fest. And, as I said before, most likely, you’re annoying too.

We won’t rid the world of annoying people anytime soon, but we can improve our lives by letting others know and having them let us know when we all get on each other’s nerves. Rather than draw this column out any longer I’ll kill it here; my annoyance having taken two pages to work out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

76; Documents

How does one prepare flamingo?

“Pluck, clean and dress a flamingo (sized according to how many relatives you really expect to take part in this feast.) Place the flamingo, head first, in a very tall pot (if you place it feet first, it may never get done). Add water, salt, dill and a splash of wine vinegar and bring to a slow boil. Toss a bundle of leeks and coriander leaves into the pot when the bird is about half done. While simmering, prepare a sauce with fresh corns of pepper, caraway and coriander, ground together with laza roots, mint and rue. Moisten the mixture with vinegar before adding Jericho dates and some broth from the flamingo pot. Remove the flamingo from the pot when done and place it on a very long platter. Add the sauce to the flamingo-less pot and thicken with starch. When finished, pour sauce over flamingo and serve.”

Okay, better question: Where does one find a flamingo for the recipe? Or perhaps better still: Why do I care?

Antiquity is full of documents. Many were lost at Alexandria, and lesser known but just as devastatingly at Ephesus. Still, quite a few are still around, like, for example, Roman cookbooks with instructions on preparing a tasty flamingo pot.

In culinary value these books are lacking (although you can apparently easily replace the flamingo with parrot). As books they would generally be considered curiosities. However this view may in fact be changing, and would warrant the cookbook another glance.

When Roman antiquity pops into my mind I think of a few great authors: Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, Plutarch, Livy, Tacitus. The question would be how many Romans do we think tackled The Metamorphoses and The Aeneid? Heck, if you asked most people today whether they read Cicero or The Joy of Cooking how many would of us would place bets on the Roman? Sure they might have a copy on their shelves, yellowing and slumping in the corner.

Which text, we may question, provides greater insight into the people we are supposedly interested in? We can claim, and many do, that we don’t care about the regular people of a society, merely that we are interested in their great products. That is, it is not the Romans that interest us, but their epic poetry and still-standing aqueducts. We must admit, though, that this gives us little insight into the lives of the average Roman. For that we are much better off reading on the preparation of flamingo.

In Other News: Time Magazine has selected Vladimir Putin as their Man of the Year. I’d say ‘told you so’, but Time did for me. Really, Putin isn’t that big of a surprise. Russia has reasserted itself as a figure to be reckoned with. Putin is stepping down as President, but no doubt he is going to continue to make an impact in the years to come (most likely as Prime Minister). After all, it is the largest country in the world. Kind of hard to forget its there, no matter how hard we may try.


Of course there are other uses for flamingos and steely-eyed Russians. One of them, I hear, makes a fantastic croquet mallet. And the other we can put in the zoo!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

75; Christmas

I have feared this moment since I made the decision to write columns. There have been some major obstacles over the last half-year, some which I have surmounted, and others which I have said I’ll try again later. But none of them come close to Christmas.

How do you write about Christmas? Everyone writes on Christmas. People who don’t write get inspired to write. People who do write face competition and a legacy so overwhelming it makes originality near-impossible. You could try reinterpreting something, like the bald kid, or the gift-bearing dudes, or the miserly Londoner. You could comment on personal experiences, Virginia, or looking beyond the world to see the spirit of the season. The latter comes up every year, yet never seems to make an impact.

Of course the tried and true writings are all out there: anti-commercialism; predictions, dire and placid; anti-political and anti-fanatical. Ecumenical and non-. Writings on families, friends, miracles, and civilizations. Anything the day is supposed to represent has been written on. I say day because I feel the notion of a Christmas season is a bunch of baloney. I’d elaborate, but I’m sure someone already has.

I could write an anti-nostalgic piece, lambaste Jimmy Stewart, Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle, Macy*s, and the rest of it. But, honestly, I don’t want this column to be a downer.

Like everyone else writing about Christmas I want my writing to say something important. To get out a message. If I have an option between broadcasting a positive or a negative message, I’ll choose positive.

This past year has been a doozy. I assume that’s true for everyone. Looking back on those scant few years which comprise the totality of my mortal time I cannot but help feel as if each has been extraordinary. Each year has helped form who I am, even the boring years. 2007 was not a boring year, for me, but if it was for you, do not fret. I have no doubt that there were elements, accidents, happenings and developments which had profound consequences on you. Whether you recognize them now or not is immaterial.

You know, (of course you don’t, but I’ll tell you anyway) I find it interesting to see which children’s books we latch on to. In my household my sister and I read and were read to quite a deal when we were young. I must have consumed literally thousands of children’s books by the age of twelve. Certain ones, however, stick out in my mind, for their pictures, or story, or who knows why.

We had no way of knowing, as children, which books were going to leave an impression on us. We just read them. We just read them, and enjoyed them, or disliked them, and moved on to the next one. Never did I stop and wonder if this book or that would be worth remembering. For remembering is an active part of aging, and I was generally unconcerned about it.

Remembering and concern do go hand in hand. The act of remembering is carried out because we are concerned about ourselves. That we will be forgotten, or that we will forget others. We switch our focus from engaging to preserving as we get older. Rather than reading books and finding new ones we shelve our books, and make space for old memories.

Christmas, perhaps, should not be a time of remembering. Or, to give the message a positive spin: Christmas should be a day for engaging. Creating, doing, acting, and being, all the positive ‘carpe diem’ verbs should be used. Rather than dwell in the unchangeable past create your own future, and celebrate not the old year or new prematurely. Revel in the day as a day, and you may create a memory that, years from now when you do feel like reminiscing, will undoubtedly be seen as a formative day. Keep it up throughout the year and the years to come and you need never worry about having an uneventful year to look back on.

Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

74; Flow

Paranoia is a subject very dear to me. It’s granted that neuroses are, by in large, Bad Things. Neuroses don’t, after all, do anything for you, do they? Some people might argue that phobias are useful since heights, spiders, ducks and doctors all are potential threats. The likelihood of them having any dangerous impact on your life, however, is kind of slim. And yet no one has phobias of heart disease, or bathtubs, which are responsible for…

Flow interruption. Writing, painting, ceramics, data entry, conversation, cooking: whatever it is you like to do or find yourself doing frequently you develop a flow to your work or art or pleasure. There’s just as much flow on the slopes or fly-fishing as there is reading or writing.

I wonder, at times, what is the goal of humanity. At other times, however, the more appropriate question is what is most important for humans. Is our goal, as so many have postulated, personal happiness? Is it achieving our true potential? Think back on the moments in your life when you felt you were living up to your fullest potential, as whomever it is you wish to be. Compare those memories to the times when you were happiest. Is there one that is of greater value than the other, or would talking about the value of such things be meaningless?

Perhaps our greatest moments are when we have our flow. Certainly when we achieve flow we are doing something we are good at. Often our flow corresponds with activities we enjoy doing: exercising, sex, cooking, gardening, coding, working, playing.

(Aside. Why do we not say ‘sexing’? Sex should be treated as a verb, shouldn’t it? It’s something you do, after all. Heck, ‘doing it’ has been code for sex since third grade. Yet we render it passive as something you have. Like a houseplant, or a good dinner. But you don’t say “I’m having a good dinner.” You say “I’m eating.” People wonder why the F word is overused, it’s because the F word’s coital implications actually act like a verb. It conjugates when ‘sex’ loafs about, totally dependent on the already overused ‘have’ to conjugate for it. And people wonder why ‘sex’ is treated with such disrespect.)

So I throw forth my theory that humans are supposed to flow for their living. It doesn’t much matter what your flow is, unless murdering, so long as you feel fulfilled while doing it. Of course culture will fall apart, followed by society, and then all of civilization. But we’d all just be in our groove and not minding it.

That is, until trash collection day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

73; Library Shift

Often I've spoken about librarians as pillars of society, and not, perhaps, without some conciet. For it is with great daring that I reveal that I am, in point of fact, a librarian.

So many burning questions. How do you know where to shelve the books? How do you desensistize the movies? Are librarians really better lovers? Can I get your autograph? Well settle down my children, and I'll explain to you what a library shift is really like.

4:25. Arrive early to shift, to the joy of those currently on duty.
4:26. Explain that I'll be right back to now despondent workers; flee.
4:30. Show up for my shift and stand around awkwardly while workers close out their shift.
4:32. Put the desk in order, straighten things, and tidy up.
4:33. Sit down.
4:35. Get up and start organizing the books to be shelved.
4:40. Check out book to patron.
4:41. Return to rearranging.
4:46. Finish rearranging, and sit back down.
4:47-5:00. Try and look busy as bosses leave for the day.
5:00-5:14. Internet.
5:15. Refill printer paper at computer station.
5:16. Internet.
5:17. See how many spins I can get in on my chair without using my feet.
5:20. Stop the room spinning.
5:22. Put out the bell and go into the back room to look at new purchases and books to be discarded.
5:25. Retun to desk and put bell away. Sit down.
5:27. Start to fill out time sheet.
5:29. Check watch.
5:30. Put on coat, crouch to sprinting position.
5:31. Relieved by next shift. Bolt out the front door amid whoops and hollers.

There you have it! I hope that helps to clarify what a regular library shift is like when you're doing desk duty. Surely there are more secrets to the business of being a librarian? Yes indeed, there are. But those are trade secrets.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

72; Sociopaths Part 2

Act 2 of 2

Where were we? Adbusters, Diogenes the cynic, and sociopaths, yes?

Last time was Diogenes, so let's move up the timescale to the French court of Louis XIV, within which dwelled La Rochefoucauld, who describes himself thusly:

"I am melancholy, and I have hardly been seen for the last three or four years to laugh above three or four times. It seems to me that my melancholy would be even endurable and pleasant if I had none but what be- longed to me constitutionally; but it arises from so many other causes, fills my imagination in such a way, and possesses my mind so strongly that for the greater part of my time I remain without speaking a word, or give no meaning to what I say. I am ex- tremely reserved to those I do not know, and I am not very open with the greater part of those I do."

His epitaph to his work 'The Maxims' is : 'Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.' This is followed by the first two maxims: 'What we term virtue is often but a mass of various actions and divers interests, which fortune, or our own industry, manage to arrange; and it is not always from valour or from chastity that men are brave, and women chaste.' And secondly, 'Self-love is the greatest of flatterers.'

Pleasant character. Sociopath? Probably. He, and Diogenes, Dostoevsky's Underground Man, Shakespeare's Jaques in 'As You Like It' ("All the world's a stage...") and so many other people and characters who resist society. Who care neither for the rights nor trappings of society, and seem to have some desire to remove themselves from the whole nasty business. Or make a point of showing the flaws. Or ridiculing them.

Are these excercises useful? Do these people do anything useful? Social commentary is fine, no doubt. It is needed for liberal democracies, sure. But to what extent do we wish Diogenes or La Rochefoucauld to exist in our society? Is it not that they point out the flaws in our socieities, (and all socieities must admit to their share) but rather they point out the flaw of society at all?

Why do we put up with society? Often society is not in our favor, and this is the argument we've come to hear, that while it may not be individually rewarding it is for the collective. The collective, the crowd, comes first, and by extension so do you, as a member of said crowd. Yet our relation as a member of the crowd is not the same as our agency.

I've brought up Adbusters, with some humorous intent, to highlight that this sort of commentary still exists. It is within the framework of the society, of course. Diogenes could only have been Athenian and La Rochefoucauld got on well in the salons. Adbusters is a magazine, which requires subscription, and also advertises a number of other products, such as $100 shoes made of hemp and old tires. They also feature a 'Media Empowerment Kit' described as such:

'Teachers - Adbusters Media Empowerment Kit will inspire your students to break out of the media consumer trance! Designed as a flexible teacher's aid, the kit features 43 lesson ideas, including personal challenges, group activities, discussion starters and eye-opening readings. Lessons are divided into three areas: Explore Your Mental Environment, Explore Your Physical Environment, and Create Your Own Meaning.

'Each kit includes: a lesson binder with photocopy-friendly removable sleeves, a DVD chock full of images and video clips, five full-color posters, Adbusters special media literacy issue: "The Game of Life". USD: $125.00'

Should I buy it? When I become a teacher is it my duty to have students question their society? Will I be fired if I do? Should that matter to me?

Empowerment is a funny concept. Should we empower people to resist the negative emlements of our society? Seems like a good idea. How about empowering them to rethink the usefulness of society as a whole? That's a horse of a different color.

No answers here. Oh! But yes I do! Last time I left a riddle to be pondered that revolved on sociopathic logic. The answer: The woman killed her sister because it would mean another family funeral, and so the man would show up again.

Hopefully there were no cheaters. How quickly did it come to you?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

71; Sociopaths, Part 1

According to some the following riddle is easily answered by sociopaths. The wording is, to my knowledge, my own.

A woman is at her mother's funeral. At the service she meets this guy, and really falls for him. However she doesn't get his number, address, or even his name. A week later she kills her sister. Why?

No 'albatross' answers, please. All of the information you need to solve it is provided. I'll provide the answer in the next column.

'Anti Social Personality Disorder' is the politically correct name to replace 'sociopath'. Recently I've been reading about an amusing fellow named Diogenes of Sinope, who sounds like a sociopath to me, although he's cited as a cynic. Here's a laundry list of his exploits, courtesy another Diogenes:

"On one occasion a man was reading some long passages, and when he came to the end of the book and showed that there was nothing more written, 'Be of good cheer, my friends,' exclaimed Diogenes, 'I see land.' A man once proved to him syllogistically that he had horns, so he put his hand to his forehead and said, 'I do not see them.' And in a similar manner he replied to one who had been asserting that there was no such thing as motion, by getting up and walking away.

When Lysias, the drug-seller, asked him whether he thought that there there any Gods: 'How,' said he, 'can I help thinking so, when I consider you to be so god-forsaken?'

He was greatly beloved by the Athenians; accordingly, when a youth had broken his tub they beat him, and gave Diogenes another. (Editor - Apparently the fellow slept in a large bowl, or tub, at one of the temples. And doesn't this tell you something about the ways of Athenians?)

When a man said to him once, 'Most people laugh at you;' 'And very likely,' he replied, 'the asses laugh at them; but they do not regard the asses, neither do I regard them.' He was begging once of a very ill-tempered man, and as he said to him, 'If you can persuade me, I will give you something;' he replied, 'If I could persuade you, I would beg you to hang yourself.'

Once, while he was sitting in the sun in the Craneum, Alexander the Great came and stood by him, and said to him, 'Ask any favour you choose of me.' And he replied, 'Cease to shade me from the sun.' Alexander said, 'I am Alexander, the great king.' ' And I,' said he, 'am Diogenes the dog.' And when he was asked to what actions of his it was owing that he was called a dog, he said, 'Because I fawn upon those who give me anything, and bark at those who give me nothing, and bite the rogues.' When Alexander was once standing by him, and saying, 'Do not you fear me?' He replied, 'What are you, a good or an evil?' And as he said that he was good, 'Who, then,' said Diogenes, 'fears the good?'

They also relate that Alexander said that if he had not been Alexander, he should have liked to be Diogenes."

Plato described him as "A Socrates gone mad." And so forth. He's a fun character in the Greek world, and one of the last. Sociopath? Perhaps. He didn't care for the rights of others particularly. Once at a banquet the guests threw him bones, playing off the common derision of his being called a dog. He responded in true form by urinating upon them.

Perhaps today's culturejammers and those who subscribe to the magazine Adbusters are like Diogenes. Fed up with the useless, trite and shallow they scorn society. Yet they are dependent upon it for their scorn, their magazines, and thier counter-culture. Diogenes could not have existed were it not for Athens, after all.

End Act 1 of 2

Sunday, December 2, 2007

70; Self-refferential

A long time ago, at least a month, I wrote about the atypical Disney film 'The Three Caballeros'. Good movie, still reccomend it. The movie sticks out in my mind due to it's unique animation and surrealist quality.

Just the other day a firend showed me on YouTube a clip from 'Life on Mars', an informative segment done in 1957, part 5 of which hypothesizes on what martian life may look like. View it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d76fiWRobU4

This was a response to my showing them 'Willy the Operatic Whale', also on Youtube in two parts. Not nearly as amazing as the clip above, but perhaps more likeable. Then another friend and I had a squeal over that cartoon, Lambert the Sheepish Lion and Ferdinand the Bull. And Coupling.

Media is increasinly important. Off-the-cuff references are increasingly part of our narratives, and almost always with pop and childhood ties. Cartoon shows, certain escapdes of Donald Duck, Homer, Cartman, or Phil Ken Sebbens become moments of shared nostalgia. There is a theory held by folks who are now in their young twenties that in the 90's children's television may have peaked. Those memories can always be shared, or often be shared, with the aid of sites like YouTube. Then the reference isn't personal, of your enjoyment of the show, but instead becomes a communal good time to be remembered. There are many groups on this very campus dedicated to getting together to watch things like Pete and Pete, Degrassi, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and other staples of growing up.

Another columnal reference ties into this. I'd posted a link to watch Senator Byrd's speech on dog fighting, citing it as one of the least-intended yet hysterically funny things I've sene in a long time. However some folks had apparently not taken the time to watch it, so when I showed it to them one evening it became a communal experience. A day or so later at dinner, I made reference to the epic part of the speech condemning barbarism. A few people laughed, others gave odd glances, universally translatable to "Excuse me, I'm lost. Will a sales spokesman come over here and help me find what I'm looking for?/answer my question/cite your reference?"

So it spreads. Now the joy of Byrd's speech has reached more people, more laughter when we reference him, and the media has become a part of our group's consciousness.

The stories behind references don' have to relate to media, I suppose. Any good story can be referenced. Some people, reading this, may find the following lines amusing:

"We're on a bench!"

"That's what I do."

"Eggum Nogguum."

"I feel sick, and Mike feels sick, and Jackson feels sick..."

"That would be some scary foreplay!"

"Hands up, Wediko!"

"Tomatoes are like...sex."

"There he is!"

Etc. In jokes? References? Shared social-cultural exchanges of identity and belonging in the politics of personal geography? Yes to the first two, no to the last.

Friday, November 30, 2007

69; Hungry Hungry Bloggers

My senior year in high school saw the school host a hunger banquet. About 70% of the people who came (which, as the event was mandatory, was a nice chunk of campus) sat on the ground and ate rice out of a communal bowl with their hands. Roughly 20% ate rice and beans at a table and had water, thier own bowls and a spoon. The remaining 10% had lobster, were waited on, and ate three other courses besides.

I was one of the groundlings. It was fun, I got enough rice, and got to commiserate with my fellow third worlders. That's the whole point. So I decided to go again and humble myself.

At the door you pick a card. I draw a black card. "Congratulations, you're high class."

Entering the set-up is the same, and I find myself being seated by waiters at the luxurious table. I am, at this point, the only person at the high-end tables. I've been seated so my back is facing the second and third worlders. Oh, the shame.

The night goes on, the statistics are read out, and we all feel bad at the 'high-roller' tables. But not too bad, and this is what I found interesting. After everyone was done eating (Except us. We were just being served cake.) they asked how many of us at the upper-end felt a desire to share our food with the lower levels. Almost every hand went up. I say almost becuase every hand went up except mine. Why not?

Well, here's how I viewed it. After we'd eaten our food they asked us if we wanted to share. However, not a single person who raised their hands after the fact had made any effort during the meal to do so. Frankly there was something hypocritical about it. If you'd really felt that way why didn't you just share you food? Nothing against sharing in the rules. Instead I chose to eat everything on my plate, something which some of the other high rollers didn't, all claims about wanting to share aside.

One of the last things that happened was asking people's reactions, and a fellow house-mate stated that the guilt didn't come from watching the third-worlders eat their rice, but from being watched by them. Everyone agreed on this point at our tables. We see pictures in the non-simulated world of hunger and destitution fairly regularly, that is they're not hard to find if you look around, yet there is some sort of assumption that we are not watched. It is a faulty assumption, and was the best lesson I got out of the night, the rememberance that we are being watched, and if there isn't some guilt from that, perhaps there should be. After all, there are plenty of hungry people in our country, you need not go to the third world to help out.

Moral conundrums were then set aside for old friends and Apples to Apples.

And Now For Some Shameless Plugging:

My friend from Bennignton who served me well as a mentor in my first year has a blog of his own. His writings (and Jon Carroll's) are what inspired me to start writing. (Actually it was their lack of writing, since I used to put their stuff on my wall and one week neither of them wrote anything.) You can check out his site at johnwiswell.blogspot.com. He is a fine writer, I've been reading his stuff for a long time, and on average it makes me chuckle or think.

My other friend from my first year at Bennington who graduated that year recently removed himself from Facebook because he now has his own webpage. He, too, is a writer, and a very good one. You can read about his playwriting at: www.walstonecounty.com. The page also has his essays, and in general the man is a very good writer, whose productions stand out in my recollections.

And, of course, a final plug to blogs.bootsnall/Jessica+Dillon/ my sister's travel blog. She is currently in New Zealand, and is about to go exploring for a few weeks before returning home for Christmas. Her blog is especially good for entertainment news.

Monday, November 26, 2007

68; Post-Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has passed. Any warm sentiments and inspirational words of kindness have been avoided. If you are looking for such a column I reccomend checking out Jon Carroll's. But, for me, Thanksgiving this year wasn't too bad.

I got home late at night and was greeted by two kittens. I'd not met these kittens before, but they start purring when you come within a few feet of them. A lot of my time would be spent lazing around on the couch with them reading anthologies of the Boondocks, Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine.

Sleeping in was a big part of my break. As were movies. I gave another crack at Singing in the Rain, and decided I still prefer An American in Paris. Also to fulfill my Cary Grant quota for this year I saw Charade and The Awful Truth. Both were fine movies, neither was great. What was great was watching part of the original Connections with James Burke. This miniseries is what got me interested in History, and I'd only seen one episode. Later he did two more seasons for the Science or Discoverey channel, which are good, but the first is the best. Its really really good. Watch it.

Part of the reason I didn't get too into the holiday spirit, however, was that I slept through the holiday. I stayed up late Wednesday night, and wasn't woken by anyone Thursday morning. So I rolled out of bed around 2:30, far too late to begin cooking. The only option was to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday.

Which we did. That is, we cooked everything that needed cooking. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, turkey, sweet potato soup, decadent brussell sprouts, exquisite cranberry sauce, sublime pumpkin pie. Even halving the recipe there was too much to be eaten. This is likely due to the fact that there were only two consumers. 1/4 of the family is in California and 1/4 is in New Zealand, where they don't even celebrate the holiday.

The holiday didn't feel right. I sat down gave thanks for friends, family, and Bennignton. But since the day was wrong the sentiment felt off. Does it matter which day the holiday is celebrated on? Thanksgiving and Easter change every year. Yet it feels odd to not celebrate it on the same day as everyone else, even if that day is an arbitrary third of the month.

What about fixed holidays? Christmas, New Years? I suppose Thanksgiving is particularly family-oriented, so its not as noticeable if celebrated a day off. Besides the parade in NY there isn't much spectcle to accompany Thanksgiving. The community spirit is set aside for a familial gathering. You don't drive around the neighborhood to see decorations, the traditions are based on personal recipes. The reason for the list of foods above is to share my family's story. I doubt if anyone else had the exact same combination. And even so, what kind of stuffing do you make? How do you prepare turkey?

If we chose to celebrate something like New Years or Halloween on a different day, however, it would be ruined. Asking door to door for candy a day late? Setting of fireworks early? The same goes for most holidays. You don't want to open your presents a day early, now, do you?

Perhaps that's why I felt perturbed eating potatoes and stuffing a day late. For while Thanksgiving remains free of the trappings it still is a holiday like the others. Should I care? Probably not. The food and company were nice. I suppose that's what's important.

With that in mind I announce that if all goes to plan my friend Rebecca and I shall be doing a fashion show next Spring. I can really only claim credit for the idea, Rebecca is the one with talent and skill without whom the project could not happen. But hopefully it will air and be awesome. The name of the show is 'Vagabondage: Where the hobo and S+M lifestyle meet". Only at Bennington could such a show exist, and could I find someone cool enough to be willing to lend thier time and expertise to putting together a show on such a premise. Now isn't that something to be thankful for?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

67; Modernity

First off some disclaimers. Given my current schedule I am finding near impossible to keep up with a column every other day, or for that matter a column every few days. I am hoping this insanity will be all but over after the Thanksgiving break. In the mean time I vow to update only one column a week. As a bonus, however, that which is posted will be of higher quality, and with a guaranteed 30% fewer spelling errors!

Now that's out of the way lets talk modernity, shall we?

Modernity has been on my mind. I've always bought a certain argument about the modern age. It runs something like this: The long 19th century pervaded as a popular mindset from the 1790's until the First World War. That is, people basically thought of history and philosophy the same way during this time, and that this view was Hegelian. History was seen as a dialectic force, a mechanism that would promise increasingly beneficial returns. As history goes on life gets better, progress progresses, and the world becomes a better place.

However Hegel's lovely historical philosophy was also couched in the notion that if it is rational it is must be real. And vice versa. But when WWI happened there was clearly a case of something very real, yet very irrational. And so the modern age ended and there was much rejoicing.

There is proof of this. The writers, the architects, the philosophers and painters after the Great War created radical things. Intellectually and artistically the First World War definitely was a watershed. It changed perceptions and how to look at the world. Not that it wasn't a watershed for non-artists and non-intellectuals, but the perception change did not take place.

Enter Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning by Jay Winter. Winter makes the case that general European populace made sense of the First World War in very traditional ways. The ways of remembering, mourning, and retroactively understanding the war were not disimilar to previous ways of doing so. It was commemorated and felt, perhaps, more strongly than in the past, but that was due to the scale, rather than the nature. As I see it the problem is that WWI could be written off as a fluke. Since it was the chaos and confusion of the trenchs that were so horrific the war had to be seen as an abberation of reason, but not a condemnation of it. Only the artists and intellectuals were upset, but there's good evidence to show that their frustration began in the decades leading up to the war.

Rational history would not, perhaps, be popularly condemned until after WWII. For the atrocities of the Second World War were not horrific in their disorder, but instead in their calculated, and rational order. The very beauracracy of the Holocaust is what makes it so frightening. The Second World War required a new means of understanding even in a popular level to try and make sense of it. You could not view such an event as a mere abberation, or slip-up of reason.

So modernity comes to a close with the end of WWII. But lets problematize this further. Early modernity, the Hegelian sort, had been transformed during the inter-war years academically and artistically. How are we going to deal with this transformation? We might jump and say that this is the foundation of post-modernity, but that would be false. Few disagree that Picasso, Mies van der Rohe, Hieddegger and Kafka were modern, and these were the voices of the time. TS Eliot's 'Wasteland', published in 1922, is seen as one of the halmarks of modern poetry. What, then, of all the Hegelian art, architecture and literature? What of the philosophy? Surely if Hegel's philosophy is seen as the intellectual road-map of the modern age, then philosophy in contrast to it would have to be something else?

The above paragraphs were composed six days ago. It has been a very busy time, I've not even been getting in contact with people I want to get in contact with. Subsequently to writing the above I've thought more about hte topic at hand and spoken and written more about it.

And I still have no good answers. More rumination needed.

In personal news, as means of an explanation, I have just registered for my Spring courses, set up my Field Work for the Winter, and have been getting on top of my work for this semester. Just one more week of this madness, and all should be well.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

66; Deception

An interesting study, courtesy the BBC, states the following:

"A Queen's University, Ontario, team examined volunteers' walks and the levels of sex hormones in their saliva.

They found those with alluring walks were the furthest away from ovulation.

A British expert said the research, featured by New Scientist magazine, supported the idea women disguise their fertility to deter unsuitable partners."

'Women disguise their fertility to deter unsuitable partners.' I, for one, am shocked. And I'm not sure if the shock is one of genuine surprise or outright sarcasm.

It's interesting to think that something so seemingly innocent as swishing hips would in fact be a deceptive con. Why should this be the case? That is, are we dealing with a biological or social phenomenon?

Such inquiry leads to unusual places. Did early female humans deter their mates wish hip sways? It seems somehow unlikely. We assume that life for less civilized humans was more difficult. Surely mating would be a top priority and concern. The more mating, the better chance of survival. Look at the mating habits of rabbits. Or squid. Lots of babies ensures at least some survive in difficult times.

A different peice of research states that in stressful times female births are far more likely than males. That leads one to think that in a stressful climate it requires only a few hardy males to impregnate numerous females, and so it is a natural check to help the population along.

So we establish that there are biological incentives as well as mechanisms in place to help increase the population, at least in stressful climates. Perhaps, then, it is only in less stressful climates that hips are deceiving. In these areas women may be more choosy about their mating habits, and so are able to cont heir partners. After all the deception is designed specifically in mind, as I see it, that should mating occur it's biological objective will not be achieved. If some dude is scoping some chick with active hips then the carnal intentions' side effects, leading to carnal actions, will be undermined by the ruse.

That doesn't answer the society-scince/nature-nurture argument of why any of this is the case, but I must confess that I had no real intention of doing so from the start. It was all a ploy to get you interested and reading. And I feel no regret.

After all, the nature-nurture debate has gone on since at least the Enlightenment. Why should it be resolved now?

In personal news: I have a nice lead for my Field Work Term job working in a high school in Dorchester. Registration for classes starts today. I finally got around to starting Aristotle's Metaphysics. Bowlarama on Friday instead of Midnight Movies.

Swashbuckling! High Adventure! Romance!

And A Variety Of Other Excuses Why I've Not Updated For The Last Week!

Apologies to follow...

Friday, November 2, 2007

65; Godwin's Law

Godwin's law states the following:

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

The law was posited in 1990, when 'online' was in it's infancy. But I think the law applies more broadly than Godwin realized, serving for all forms of discussion.

And this is not new. As early as 1950 Leo Strauss came up witht he mock Latin 'Reductio ad Hitlerum'. You've heard this argument. It translates to: 'Hitler (more broadly Nazis) supported X, there fore X is bad/evil.'

I'm currently in a class talking about Nazism, more specifically the Holocaust. The question is how do we make sense of it, understand it, perhaps even experience it? And once we figure that out how do we memorialize and remember it? Or pass it on? Within 15-20 years all holocaust survivors will have died. Their children, the second generation, will still be alive, but not for too much longer, and besides they weren't there. They don't understand it like thier parents did. And so we must ask ourselves, how do we convey it to our children? How are we going to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to our children if we can't make sense of it ourselves?

These are important questions. And there is a fear that we will forget. That the Holocaust will just be something we don't care about, since we have no way to relate to it. We cannot understand the Holocaust, as Elie Wiesel has tried to say many times. So are we deluding ourselves by watching movies and reading books about it? Can we talk about it, or do we have a right to in an academic space? Or must our understanding be personal? Is there anything worthwhile in trying to feel the horror for ourselves? May we just forget under these circumstances? It seems like the most societally normal course of action.

But, there is a greater fear than forgetting. That would be a concern that we won't care about the Holocaust. We will remember it, like slaverey, but it will cease to be something important to our discourse any more. Yes it was an attrocity, yes, we're glad it ended. If you have any concerns bring them up with the Natives.

This is why I find Godwin's Law so interesting. It reaffirms, to some extent, the notion that we're not going to forget the Holocaust. That fear seems unusual to me, since I can't seem to go three days without Nazis being brought up in conversation. But it is also the manner in which Nazis and Hitler come up that is troublesome, for it is unfailingly as a comparison, as Godwin noted, and generally in the Reductio ad Hitlerum fashion Strauss came up with. Surely this is an example of it's losing meaning. We bring it up tagentially. When Nazis are referenced to make your point, you invalidate the legitimacy of the discussion. Reductio ad Hitlerum serves only as an emphatic tool, rather than good reasoning to prove a point. I doubt the attrocities of the Holocaust, as an element of the larger Nazi attrocity, will be forgotten. But I am worried that it will become a rhetorical stand-by used to shut-down arguments.

Speaking of which, I find no enjoyment in ice cream cones. The first half of the cone should be good, right? Licking happily away tasting the delicious flavors you got on your cone. Then you realize that you got a cone. If you want to prolong the enjoyment of the cone you now need to start a campaign of pushing the remaining ice cream down into the cone with your tongue. You no longer taste the ice cream, you're busy trying to smush deeper into the cone what you have left. It dawns on you now that you shouldn't have eaten so much off the bat, and retroactively the earlier enjoyment of the ice cream is lost. Sometimes you can see me just fixed to a point woefully contemplating the melting treat in my hand as I endeavor to decide whether to eat it or not, knowing full well the dread I shall have to face upon it's consumption.

In the end I always try it, and the dread springs upon me with Jack-in-the-Box ferocity, causing wailings and groans as I frantically try to enjoy my ice cream.

Of course this sort of existential conundrum was typical in the lives of Nazis. So I guess what I'm saying is that since Hitler once ate gelatto with Mussolini ice cream is evil and so am I.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

64; Halloween

So it would seem apropriate to write a column about the holiday I am about to vigorously celebrate. Most of the campus is in a post-Halloween mentality, since the party was held on Saturday, but I resist. Halloween is on Wednesday? So be it. I shall celebrate on Wednesday.

My concern, however, is the topicality of these columns. Upon review nearly all of them have to do with specific events. Rarely do I write about things which I can recycle at any time. Perhaps that's why I kept the pet column up so long.

The pet column was my attempt to write on a subject that had nothing to do with the weather, politics, holidays or Bennington-specific information. It's intent was to be broadly applicable and identifiable.

This lead, inevitably, to a severe backlash in response. Some critiqued my pretentious writing, assuming I was not using hyperbole when I stated that "Cat people are what's wrong with the world." For the record all of my columns ever have always used hyperbole.

Then came accusations that I hate cats. No, I do not. I merely made the point that cats are dumb, equally so to dogs. Perhaps slightly less. But perhaps slightly more. Point is: they get stuck in paper bags. Not a bright animal.

From which it does not follow that I hate them. I am capable of liking dumb things. Examples: Slinkies. Democrats. Pet rocks.

Maybe it would be better to keep away from universal topics and instead write solely about current events. Like the upcoming holiday which is my favorite day of the year.

Halloween is the one thing New England has going for it. When I was growing up I would read books on Halloween. They always took place in this creepy place, with pumpkins and dead leaves and large orange moons. The houses were old and spooky and the trees and plants were different. When I was older I realized these were depictions of New England, aparently a real place, and not a mythic creepy land I had assumed was just the setting used for Halloween stories.

New England may not be real. As one of my professors said, "Vermont is a mythical place built on a foundation of granola." I wonder if this mythicality doesn't extend to the rest of the states. Only on Halloween do I get a sense of the New England I mythologized as a child, and so doing just perpetuate the stereotype those books taught me. All the same there is something special about that holiday, and celebrating it out here. Kind of like Chinese New Year in San Francisco. Some holidays are associated with places. And since the spooky night is my favorite I'm glad to be out here for it.

Birthdays are just dumb luck survival celebrations accompanied by presents. Christmas is a fictionalized guilt-ladden goodness knows what anymore. Increasingly I identify with Charlie Brown rather than Linus as I used to. On a bad day Ebenezer Scrooge. Christmas is as phony as the sentiment of the cards that accompany it.

But what am I doing talking about Christmas? Its almost Halloween! Let's get ready to scare people and dress up and eat sugar! And when that's over we can take out the Thanksgiving decorations.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

63; Pet people

Ask me if I'm surprised about an increase in rat conumption. Not at all.

Of course I am referring to the consumption of rats as pets. Ever since 'Ratatouille' hit theatres rats have been big pet store business. Sound familiar? Ever wanted to by a clown fish, say around 2003?

People are oblivious when it comes to animals. I don't mean to generalize, but they are. People want pets. Scientists, those shady and selctively trustworthy types, say pets are good for your health. Get something furry and you will live longer and have a better heart rate and cut down on anti-oxidants and calories. Or was that pomegranites?

So you get something furry to pet. I know many folks who are furry and wouldn't mind being petted, but they have consciences of their own, and insist on personal freedodms. Personal freedoms: another reason why getting a dog is not practice for a child or lover. People who need people are not people who need pets.

Pet people want control. For the non-furry critters they get to observe them in cages and tanks and control the heat, weather, food source, and play God. Of course the creature won't love you back, but I suspect that's the case in the real scenario anyways.

If you want control over something which adores you you get a dog. Dogs are happy and stupid. Some dogs are smart, but it's a type of smart that requires training and guidance from you, the master. That's why people have badly behaved dogs, they are not dominant. It's very primal and Konrad Lorenz would love it.

Cats are furry and aloof, an attribute often associated with intelligence. They want to be free! Therefore they must be smart. I think that argument only speaks to the owner's personality such that is that even a cat wants to be free from their presence. Cat people dote on cats because they see them as aloof and smart and selfish and perhaps even cunning.

Cat people are what's wrong with this world. Cats are anthropomorphized into these seeming vices, and we praise them for it. We wish we could live like cats. They are, as is a common repeating theme in my writings on humans, as selfish and egotistical as we wish we could get away with.

Yet cats are complex creatures. (Perhaps. This may just be our desire to see ourselves in the analogy as something more than yowling animals who like food but not your company.) They kill things, and go on adventures. Cats are known to attend secret cat-only meetings on fencetops and hidden places. Cats are mysterious. 'Lolcats' helps dissuade this theory.

Because cats are just as dumb as dogs. They aren't trainable, though. Cats do stupid things like get stuck in bags and chase strings that wiggle, and we embrace this. Perhaps we see these foolish things as part of our own nature. Yeah, we're composed most of the time, but sometimes the mood lightens and we make fools of ourselves and are thought endearing for it.

We're not, incidentally. But its a nice thought.

So maybe that's why people are now turning to rats. Think of your old cartoons, who go the upper hand, the cat or the rat? The rat always won out and was loved for it. Often the rat sided wiht the dog and the two fought the cat together, the little man with the brains and the big man with the brawn fighting the middle man with neither.


Are cartoons the opiate of the masses or a medium that lays down the ideological grounds for revolution? You decide.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

62; Weather and Seasons

The sun produces ultraviolet light, which in turn stimulates endorphins. So grey weather should make us feel blah, since we aren't recieving our gift of endorphin stimulation from above.

Somehow, though, I find crummy weather pleasant. Its not some affinity for Gene Kelly which brings it out in me either. Nice movie and all, but 'An American in Paris' was better.

My mood remains unaffected, O Ye Daemons of Crummy Weatherness. I shall prevail and flourish with the Fighting Spirit of Progress and Humanity!

On the bright side (intentional) the snow demons have been placated so far. Late October, in Vermont, and still no sign of Winter on the horizon.

Many people say to me, 'Ross, if you hate winter why did you come to Vermont for school?' I generally reply that I don't hate winter, I hate snow. I can't avoid Winter. I blame Northern Europeans for exporting it around the globe. But I can avoid snow. Not that I have in the past.

I went to high school in Colorado. In the rockies, about an hour down-valley from Aspen and the tourists and the richness and the skiing lodges, and quite possibly ice spiders. So snow and me go back at least to my adolescence. I quickly had a distaste for the stuff. My curiosity and wonder evaporated after about a month back in high school. Now it lasts roughly a week.

Snow is pretty, and it illuminates the night, and serves as an insulating layer for heat and other things. But snow turns to ice. And ice melts and mixes with dirt. And mud cakes the boots and trouser cuffs.

'Ah ha! You do not really hate snow!' my interogators reply, 'You hate mud season. Well join the club. Everyone hates mud season. You're laminated ID will arrive in six to eight weeks.'

They don't get it. Mud season would not exist if not for snow. Its equivalent to saying you like burritos but hate gas. (Not one of my classier examples, I admit. But it works.) Had you not eaten the burrito in the first place the gas would not be an issue.

Besides snow has many other faults besides brining about mud. Its cold and slick and can be formed into projectiles and yar boo sux.

In the mean time I sall concentrate on my Halloween preparation. Halloween is one of the few holidays I enjoy any more. Thanksgiving is tasty, but slightly guilty, Christmas is really guilty. Valentine's is an abomination. Halloween is just glorious. I think kids like to be tricked, and Jack Handy agrees with me:

"One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. 'Oh no,' I said, 'Disneyland burned down.' "He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. 'I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late."

And with that Deep Thought I take my leave to continue work on my costume and do a tribal dance to appease the snow demons.

Friday, October 19, 2007

61; Blogs

My sister Jess is travelling around the world. Like you do. And she has a blog of her writings of her travels, like people of our generation increasingly do. I include the following excerpt from one of her recent entries, and not just because it makes reference to my own blog:

"So, what do I check on a regular basis? (aside from Cleolinda and my friends blogs and journals – shout out to http://pokingbadgerswithspoons.blogspot.com/)

The news and columnists: NYTimes, SFGate, BBC, Jon Carroll, Mick LaSalle, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Violet Blue, and the latest Colbert Report because they don’t broadcast here.

I no longer check my non-profits on a daily basis (I know… I know…. I’m a bad, selfish person), but I still try to check out Grist for environmental news on a regular basis.

The movie stuff: Cinematical, Aint It Cool News, The Movie Box, Entertainment Weekly, Coming Soon, trailer spot, the Envelope, Box Office Mojo, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB. Occasionally; Variety.

The comics: Pearls Before Swine, Get Fuzzy, Sherman’s Lagoon, Sluggy Freelance, Questionable Content, PBF, XKCD, All Over Coffee, Doonesbury, Opus, the Editorial Cartoonists archive, Indie Tits.

Other: Go Fug Yourself. Occasionally I Can Has Cheezburger when I get bored. Once I get home, I’ll probably check out bandsintown regularly. And Craigslist and Citysearch SF. Let’s see… I spend time on Amazon and Netflix rating movies. Garbage Disco Box, but there’s nothing going on there now. Merle Reagle’s crosswords.

It’s amazing our generation accomplishes anything. Then again, we are very good at multi-tasking and budgeting our time. And it’s not as if my job occupies 8 hours of every day."

You can read up on her travels and musings, generally with regards to entertainment, at http://blogs.bootsnall.com/Jessica+Dillon/. The job she is refering to is her day job in Christchurch, New Zealand. NZ is the last stop on her year+ tour of the globe, having started in Ireland working, then travel through England, Scotland (with me!), Italy (with me!), Madagascar, Mauritius, and Australia.

Italy was particularly amusing. My sister and I get a plane from Gatwick to Rome. In the airport we find and get in touch with our mother. She had planned a trip to Italy for about two years and graciously timed it so we would coincide with Jess' travels and my spring break last semester in Leeds. We were there for half a month, and then went our merry ways. Whenever we were asked where we were headed next in the last days of the trip my sister was going to Madagascar, my mom was going home to Boston and I was going to Turkey to explore. The day after Easter each member of my family was thousands of miles away from one another strewn across the globe, considering that my dad lives in the San Francisco area.

It was cool. I felt like a global citizen, our family was cosmopolitan and world-traveled. I recognize that is shallow, but it was pretty nifty to have our family on three continents. (Four, I guess, if Istanbul is both in Europe and Asia.)

Two kinds of cosmopolitan lifestyle, one taking advantage of the diversity to explore on the world wide web, the other the advantages of the world.

60; Procrastination

Procrastination lead to agriculture. Picture this: you're a nomad. Forgaging? No one's better at it. In roughly 10,000 years some pope named Greg will invent a calendar that will clarify that this is taking place 8,000 uncivilized (read Christian) years ago. You forage, like everyhting else around you, and get tasty things from plants, as well as killing the other foraging things to supplement your diet. Somehow it seemed like an intelligent idea.

But not all plants are producing fruits at the same time. Shoots and leaves appear at different times. So what do you do? You want them, but you don't want to wait. So you leave and come back. Go do something useful somewhere else. Until one day. One day you don't feel like going anywhere else. (You know there's a nasty river to ford up ahead, and doing so will kill your oxen, mayhaps.) You'll just stick around for a bit. And you wait, your tribe goes on perhaps, and hey, you notice that all the plants sprout at the same time and then grow and ripen at the same time, according to type. Handy. So you plant some seeds and wander off, make a prediction, and return at the time you calculated to find a crop of what you planted has grown and produced fruit.

But not all. Let's say you planted a dozen seeds, now only six grew up. You wanted a dozen, but the animals and inclement weather carried off half. You eat what's there and then, realizing the tribe is wandering into mountain lion territory, make an excuse to stay back again and plant, and this time take care of all the plants and make sure you get the crops.

Incidentally this is all bogus.

But the tribe gets angry, claims you are dodging you're duty to protect the tribe. You say you'll protect them when they get back to where you've planted the seeds. You're procrastinating. You rather not go and forage, sitting around watching seeds is much easier, or so it seemed initially.

But was it? Oh, no. You're lazy procrastination did not pay off as you expected. You had to fight off critters, shelter the seeds from frost, build a fence around them, clear off other tribes, build economic infrastructure, invent Coca-Cola and crisps, build flying fortresses and write manifestos on population control.

And that's the history of civilization, yet again brought to you by me.

In other news: Turkish PMs decide to procrastinate joining the EU by backing an invasion in to Iraq to kill Kurds. The US decides to procrastinate open confrontations with China, instead giving the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dali Lama. John McCain procrastinated giving up the election by taking his mother campaigning to prove that he is not too old.

Also the BBC procrastinates on pronouncing a death sentance on bluefin tuna by attempting to raise awareness that it is overfished far too late. But as is the procrastinator's motto: better late than never. Unless of course it is in reference to unrenewable resources like species.

"And so the story ended./ Do you know it oh so well?/ Or if you need I'll tell you/ the end end end end end end end end and..." Slight hope in Love's lyrics not present in the reality of species loss. I think back now that 'The Lorax' may've proven a more forceful book had the onceler not saved a seed and finished his story instead with: "So, yup. They all died out. That's pretty much it. Thanks for the fifteen cents and the nail and the shell of a great-great-great grandfather snail."

This is why I'm going to teach highschool. The little ones still need to believe in hope. Once adolescence has them sufficiently jaded then I can go to work.

In conclusion this entire column, Loraxes, agricultural allegories, politics and tuna was brought to you by the letter P. P for 'Procrastinating'. Which is what I was doing when writing it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

59; Gallimaufry

Originating circa 1556, according to Mirriam Webster, 'gallimaufry' is a hodgepodge, originating from galimafree, a French hash (or by some sources English stew) comprised of various meats. It could also be synonymous to 'medley', although 'hodgepodge' suits me better.

I am working on creating a gallimaufry. It won't be a work of completey undecernible theme, there will be four overlapping sections. The notion is that the four areas that cover the ground are: Society, Philosophy, and Science. The fourth section, Personal, needs explanation.

"My work is not a peice of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever." Such a claim is rather presumptuous, and decidedly pretentious. Yet Thucydides' 'History of the Peloponnesian War' is still read nearly 3,000 years later. During his time the work may have not been to taste, but as a document it is vitally important for his audience, the people of the future, to make sense of the time. Xenophon, a connosieur, wrote more popularly, and has been lambasted in recent times for his poor accounts, by contrast.

Doubtless my Gallimaufry will not be as esteemed as Thucydides' 'History'. Yet in the act of compiling the point of view and notions of a person of my time and place I may be able to create a document of some value for the future. Which is why the fourth section must be Personal, so as to give a fair depiction of the author to the reader. Thucydides was writing in a particular position: he had been general of an Athenian navy, and had been exiled for losing a key battle. With this in mind the point of the 'History' takes a shift in purose, and speeches by Pericles or praises of Spartans make more sense. A description of the author will aid the future's knowledge of my position and biases.

Yeah, it may be pretentious for me to write this. Why am I worthy? What makes me so special or important to write this gallimaufry of how humans make sense of the world in this day and age? But these questions are precisely the point. An average person's views, that is of someone sufficiently rational, would be of use to those who wish to study this period. There are, however, elements of my position which are unique, such as my wealth relative to most other countries, living in the United States, being male, white, etc. It would not be far from saying that I am writing from a point of privelege. There is something fascinating about reading the Stoic 'Meditations' since they were written by Marcus Aurelius. Other writers of my time may not represent what is most current in science, for example.

The other point is to be guide. This age has produced a wealth (perhaps an excess) of the written word. Sorting through may be, I consider, a difficult task. Wading through novels, humor, cookbooks, histories, biographies, mathematical treatises, and so forth would be quite over-whelming. Hopefully my book can help give a good thumbnail sketch of what people generally thought. Presumptuous? Meh. I don't mind.

What is the world? What is our society? What do people think about thought? What do I think about all this? Just another way of wording my project.

Also its a part of my ongoing fight against specializaion. Specialization leads to beureacracy, I reason, which in turn leads to societal problems. Example: trash collectors. Not many people, given the choice, would choose to be a trash collector for their living, goes the argument. So how do we solve this? My notion is that everyone is a trash collector for a period. Yes, 'tis unpleasant, and no, we'd rather be doing something else, but it is for those reasons that we must all take a shift. Taking shifts leads to increased awareness and ownerhsip of your society and resources. But maybe that's just me. A book that transcends boundaries on subjects may, too, be blasphemy. But the feeling I get is that the time is right.

I acknowledge that these words can and may be used against me in a court of law.

Whatever. Its the effort that counts for me. If there was no effort I couldn't claim to have tried.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

58; Color paradoxes, B&W movies

Well, the Nobels are all but over. Technically Economics hasn't been dished out, but, eh, its economics.

Never read anything by Doris Lessing, so I can't really say anything about her taking the Lit prize. I thought the Chemistry and Physics awards were interesting and worthwhile.

Peace? Al Gore? I mean, he only got half the prize, but, really? It's hard for me not to think the Peace prize is just a political thing anymore. I think the other half, to the UN committee on climate change is deserved. I'm just wondering how the current administration will respond to Gore. I think the prize may be desserved, but perhaps conservatively, awarded a few years down the line.

There's no real doubt to my mind that we are affecting the climate, but I wonder if An Inconvenient Truth is worthy of a Nobel prize. I know Gore has done more than that, but if he were to be hit by a bus that would be one of his biggest legacies.

In other media news, since I don't linkspam, a few quick movie reviews.

Man with the Movie Camera, by Dziga Vertov, 1929. Absolutely amazing. An incredible tour d' force that should be watched by everyone with a brain. Really, probably the best peice I've seen so far in my quest to watch the great movies. It instantly shot into my top five, perhaps top three. It completely reinvents, in a way I've not seen duplicated, the grammar of cinema. And it's on DVD with orchestral accompaniment based on the director's notes which really is fabulous.

Metropolis, by Fritz Lang, 1927. Oh sweet Jesus. Why has this film garnered such a high reputation? It's so bad! Like, really, really, awfully bad. With all the subtlety of a brick to the groin ("THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN THE HANDS AND THE HEAD MUST BE THE HEART!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND!? IT MUST BE THE MEDIATOR!! HANDS, HEAD, HEART, MEADIATOR, MUST BE!!") The pancake makeup expressions, the ridiculous socialism and Biblical overtones, undertones and betweentones, the absurd scenes. Perhaps it was revolutionary when it came out, I don't doubt it. It has some great cinematography. But it simply has not stood the test of time, in my point of view. The acting is silly too. Only watch if you plan to MST3K it.

Also discovered in the past few days of tremendous entertainment: Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. What happens when you buy the rights to all of Hannah Barberra's cartoon creations and make your own surrealist humor show with them, voiced in part by Stephen Colbert? You get a full load of amazing incredibleness.

So that covers media and real news. Personally little to report. Bennington is going swimmingly. The habit of life back on campus has finally set in. The house is still predominately cool. Fire alarms are still going off randomly. Everything back to normal.

Here's a paradox I used to worry about as a kid. What if you visual light receptors in your eyes processed colors in negative? What I mean is, what if physiologically I saw red as blue, for example? I'd have no objective menas of knowing that what I saw as red and was taught to call red everyone else saw as blue. How do we know we see the world the same way, if our means of seeing may be reversed. In the red-blue scenario objective red (viewed blue) would always be seen as blue, with corresponding shades and vice versa. If someone asked me what color a lobster is I'd of course say red, since that was what I'd been taught that shade as it appears to me is called, even though it is objective blue.

Of course, blue lobsters exist. So that settles that. Right?

Breaking news! Nobel Prize in Economics goes to 1920's silent film actor for studying the economic ramifications of viewing green sunsets as green instead of orange as means for raising awareness about climate change.

Monday, October 8, 2007

57; Regular Column

It's Nobel season.

To heck with baseball, rugby, and all that stuff. Unless the SF Giants are doing well sport just doesn't interest me. But the Nobel Prizes do.

Its exciting! Developments in Medicine, Physics, Peace, Literature! And Chemistry! I don't care about Economics, but someone reading this might! Genes and Banks and Acids and Books!

And here's a huzzah to the the three scientists who won the first prize, in Medicine, for discovering gene targetting. It's really tremendously useful, speaking as someone whose parent works in biotech which has benefitted tremendously from the knowledge. If you want to make a couple mill get a PhD in genetics, work your ass off, and then study mice. More reliable than the lotterey, I'd guess.

In other news life is going well. Nothing shocking to report, I know, but sometimes, hey, life just goes well. I've started a three-year overdue reconcilliation project, met a bunch of cool alumnae this weekend and idealism is on the upswing. With regards to the alumnae this weekend was celebrating 75 years of Bennington, and lots of alumns showed up. It was really nice, although work-intensive, to chat with them and see how my dorm had evolved since back in the day. True story: There was a party in the '90's called the Fear and Loathing party which saw students breaking down the walls of the dorm, hiding bowls of stew in the beams, spackling, and sanding them up again before redisguising the holes with paint. Why? Who knows.

But things are good. And good is contagious. Considering the spread of the deaths and the plagues and the HIVs onthis campus at the momment mixing some good in the disease-pool is positive. Yeah, you might be on death's doorstep, but at least you've got a case of good to take with you when you go.

I am also looking in watching one of my favorite films this weekend if I can get my hands on it: The Three Caballeros. I will let Amazon's reviewer do the work for me:

"As a Disney oddity, they don't get much odder than Three Caballeros. Donald Duck receives a birthday package from South America, and the film proceeds to unravel like some peyote-induced hallucination. It starts out reminiscent of other Disney films, where shorts are cobbled together, such as "Make Mine Music" or "Fun and Fancy Free." The film has vignettes such as "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" and "The Flying Guachito." After them it careens straight into part-travelogue, part-stream-of-consciousness animation. Not helping out much are Donald's "friends," Joe Carioca (a parrot) and Panchito (a rooster). They spend most of the rest of the film watching Donald chase skirt. That's right, Donald Duck is a wolf in this movie, and he chases every live-action seƱorita who bustles across the screen."

I love this movie. Surreal does not begin to describe this lunatic film. If you thought Dumbo's pink pachyderms are odd this will blow you out of the water. And, hey, it has Carmina Miranda's sister Aurora! Live action spliced with insanity and surrealism that would make Salvador Dali gape in confused terror. Disney gets a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly, but they really did make some fantastic films back in the day. Although the 'Disney is sexist' argument cuts no mustard with me. As I once wrote before in response to an academic who thought Disney over-portrayed the barrel-chested hero and male dominance in fight scenes:

"So 17 films that have either a male-male fight scene, a barrel-chested hero, or both. 17 out of 46. Roughly 27%, or less than a third, if I'm not mistaken. Definitely not most. There was a string of them from 1991-1997, and a longer run from 1991-2007, but all the same the first male-male fight scene came out in Disney with Peter pan, almost 20 years in (not including Bambi). Barrel-chests are occasionaly heroes (Tarzan, Hercules, the Beast) but more often characters who do not fit this stereotype are the heroes, and barrel-chestedness is also commonly portrayed in villains. As such the physical build and body-type is not seen to be the important factor, but personality."

Statistics aren't that hard to find out. And Three Caballeros definately has none of the above traits, it is reamarkably sexist, and probably the most so in the Disney canon. But I choose to look beyond that and see the technicolor swirlings and hallucinatory mix of animation and live action. Does that make me an idealist. No. No it does not.

This just in! The Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to a team who studied the effects of 1940's animation on the mind's chemical balance! Helps add to writer's happy state!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

56; Evil

My desktop has few things on it. Front and center is Jean-Marc Nattier's image of 'Thalia the Muse of Comedy', whose original resides in The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Trivially it is also one of my favorite paintings. But this is not an art column.

What I realized was two symbols of modern evil had appeared on my computer's desktop. One of them I am responsible for, the other snuck it's way on during 'routine' system updates. I am reffering to Google Earth and iTunes.

I consider these programs to be evil. Google's image of the happy-go-lucky useful little search-engine-that-could is being replaced with the evil, soul-scarfing, malicious, giant. And iTunes, besides being clunky and a nuisance, is run by the evil Head Quaters. Should the two ever meld all hell would break loose. Demons, harpies and fiends would take to the skies, the ground would split asunder belching magma and flame, Murdoch, Schmidt and Jobs would wait a sec...Okay, research has shown that Schmidt, the CEO of Google is on the Board of directors for Apple. Maybe they need Richard Parsons of Time Warner to join them to complete the pattern. Some things come in threes, but evil may come in fours. Or sixes. Depends.

Lots and lots of people have these programs. Lots of people own Macs, use Windows, and trade in pounds of flesh for gold. Well, perhaps not the latter, but they're close. They also like to drive cars with poor gas mileage, buy cellphones and laptops, and eat McDonalds and drink Coke. Sin upon sins: they shop at Wal*Mart and watch Fox News! They are evil consumers who spent oodles supporting mega-super-giant conglomerations. They pour, willingly, billions upon billions into the pockets of the Murdochs, Parsonses, and Gateses.

And I have to live with myself as one of them. I have iTunes, use Windows, and have Google Earth. I own a laptop and a cell phone. Most people reading this probably fit the bill in some way or another. I take a self-righteous pride in being a vegetarian, not shopping at Wal*Mart, etc. It's democracy in action: by buying more expensive products elsewhere I choose not to give Lee Scott five bucks.

Oh what to do? I could go Deep Green. Renouncing the consumer world is the obvious first step, but to go Deep Green I'd need to fully reject materialism. The slippery slope of anti-consumerism leads to Deep Green if you let yourself fall down that bank. The Green voice will plague you, whisper in your ear:

"Sure, sure. Buying vegetarian is better. Good choice. But now wouldn't it be better if it was organic? Or free-range? Cage-free? Locally grown?"

"Well, I guess so..."

"And stop using those bags. Sure paper is better than plastic since you can recycle it,"

"And I do!"

"Yeah, but bringing your own tote bag will last forever, and you've already got it.

"While you're at it, why are you still driving a car to the store? It's only three miles. You can walk it. I'd suggest a bicycle, but you don't know where that frame came from, not to mention those wheels.

"Your house. Far too much in it, lots of uneccesarry stuff, inefficient light bulbs, electricity burning day and night. Especially night. Plastic, plastic everywhere. Most unrecyclable.

"Asbestos. Microwave ovens. Thin windows, air conditioners and forests of trees upon your bookshelves. Tsk tsk. Your not being very green after all, are you? You just want to pay lip-service to green and give your money to the man living the corporate lifestyle."

It's about then in the conversation I decide to watch some T.V. Morally wrong? Yes.

People in advanced societies can't handle their wealth and fortunate status. We can't cope with the knowledge that money I spent last night on something as frivolous as ice cream and Chinese food could have helped save other human lives. Or helped rebuild a broken city. Saved an animal at our local shelter. We must Schindler our eyesight. We cannot view possessions as things that make our lives easier. Instead they are potential human beings. Each item we buy, when we choose to endorse the profit of the big guy, very literally aides in the death of another. It is sobering, and disquieting, and the choices we make to do so are fully ours. No one else can claim responsibility for them but us. Of course it is more difficult, but unlike the people our purchases effect we at least have a choice.

So perhaps consumerism isn't such a bad force after all. Perhaps the real question lies in how we choose to consume, or overconsume. We can either buy things, stuff, thneeds, objects to make life better, or we can buy, invest if you prefer, in the bettering of lives for the less fortunate. It's up to you.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

55; hot sauce

So I once was a hot sauce guy. I had tried the brands and tested them against one another, and found my favorites, runners-up, had intellectual criticisms on hand for shunning purposes. Hot sauce was a magic ingredient that could go int anything, and make it better.

I thought that was going somewhere but I guess not.

Often times I'll write down a few interesting sentances about myself or the world thinking I could get a column out of them, and then find out that's not the case. For every column which actually goes up, there's usually another which never makes it beyond the introduction.
And that's how I write. Most good writers claim they begin at the end and figure out where the story is going before the finish. Many others create outlines, roadmaps of how their story or essay or what have you will take shape. I'm not sure if poetry starts at the begining or not, but then, I'm a little wary of poetry. Robert Frost is burried here in Bennington. It was a powerful will that stopped me from dancing on his grave. That and a wrought iron fence.

Speaking of which (that is speaking of wrought iron) it occurs to me that I've not documented Bennington College yet. When I graduated from high school the morning after graduation my mom and I took my swanky new camcorder and documented the campus. (It was also the morning after the senior party, and I was therefore in a less than amiable state. My mom makes a note of this in her narrative of the campus.) The unusual tour is now more a source of humor than archival work. The odd commentary, the interplay between the characters, the cinematography are all so unique and, in the right context, amusing.

Just the other evening my dorm-mates and I had a public viewing of a film in which I actually had an acting role rather than a tour guide position. And we couldn't stop laughing. I'm not sure if the film was supposed to be laughed at, but I'll say it was and in such a case it succeeded marvelously. When my dorm-mates informed the movie's co-stars that I'd shown it they, however, were less than pleased. But so it goes, here. I've seen many incredible films and animation projects. And I've seen a lot of shit. Shit that made we want to lose my eyesight for the greater good of my brain's sanity. Oh god, what did we do to deserve this horrible, meaningless, awful peice of unmentionable foulness-type shit.

Art at Bennington always risks that. It is undoubtedly cutting edge, but sometimes I think it wanders into incomprehensible. Which may be a good thing, although my conservative side thinks there should be a warning. "Caution: The Next Room You Are About To Enter Contains Some Really Wierd Things. You Are Not Advised To Try And Make Sense Of Them. The Artist Wished To Create The Incomprehensible." Yet, I suppose warnings would defeat the purpose, for they would provide a context of comprehension. The ultimae psych-out would be to put up those warnings on the entrance to an empty room. Then people would start bugging out.

Or as Pirraro suggested, wouldn't it be fun to create a life-size and accurate human sculpture out of bird seed and honey? Make it look like an old man, clothe it, put it in a wheelchair. Then role him into the park and watch the reaction of the passers-by as the birds descend.

This topic is also known as 'why Ross should never be an artist'.

Some things require emotion and passion and persistance, and others require thought and contemplation and reason. Perhaps there is some third category which requires both, but I've not encountered it. That may be a jaded view, but one must remember that you can't be jaded unless you can counter current jadedness with past joyfulness. And that, children, is a subject for the artists.

Or, you know, you could just paint a picture of a bottle of hot sauce.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

54; Greatness

Part of me wishes I'd not read the Don Quixote. The fantastic book by Cervantes, which is now one of my favorites, is thought by many list making types to be the best novel in the world. And that's a lot of pressure for a book to have, but I think it's not far from the mark. Many authors have admired it, as well as artists and other folk, you know, real people, have found inspiration in it. I'm not sure if it's the best novel ever, but it may be.

That's why I had to read it. There are conflicting notions on what we should do about the good things in life. One says you should pile it up for the end, save it, savor it. This is the voice in my head that makes me neurotically eat yogurt with fruit on the bottom without mixing it up, waiting and patiently eating my way down to the syrupy strawberries. The whole notion of retirement and retirement funds are based on this sort of reasoning.

The other kind of reasoning, and the kind that won out in my Quixote decision-making process, is that life's too short and who knows when it's going to end. Perhaps I'd not have been lucky enough to make it to this time and date, and if so I'd have died without reading what might have been the best novel on Earth. How sad would that be? If we get to choose our experiences then I, for one, want a plethora of great ones. And so we need to grasp and expose ourselves to greatness whenever we can.

Cut to last night. I've decided, based on criticisms and the pointing out of gaping holes in my personal '100 best movies' list, to get a movie education. Of course it's self taught, just like my quest to read the great books of the world. The time it takes to watch a great movie is, notably, far less than to read a great book. When I feel the need for some great culture quick there is now a new way for me to get it.

And so I finally watched Citizen Kane. Right off the bat: it's no Don Quixote. But it is a very very good film. Orson Welles' acting is superb, possibly the best I've seen yet. Some of the conematography is magnificent, some is, well, a bit dated. All in all I have to reccomend it as a solid, well-done movie that reels you in, and, of course, is all the more fun for having practically invented the noir.

From this point on, however, the quest is going to be fundamentally different. Once you've seen or read or heard the best the new challenge is to see if it can be topped. Is there something better? Is this, as Jack Nicholson said, as good as it gets? And with that query comes a fear, a tangible dread: Is it all downhill from here? Will I never watch a movie greater than that, read a book better than that, have a lover who was better than that? Dearly we hope not, we hope that life gets continually better. Automatically our minds switch from the drive to do things because of the lack of time we have to do them, to the realization that there may be more time than we think. Maybe we won't get hit by a truck, and, boy oh boy, what are we going to do now with the next 60 years?

What we do now is up to us. Some will raise a family, others will travel the world. Still others may do both. I'm 21 and holding, and though I've not made my mind up yet what to do next there's nothing to do but look forward to it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

53; Tidiness

I like to keep things tidy. My room has, over the years of it's transformation, been titled 'austere', 'monastic', 'sparse' and 'ugly'. Tidiness os one of those odd virtues which isn't a virtue at all. The whole purpose is to make life easier, more efficient. To quote Buckaroo Banzai "Wherever you go, there you are." I want to apply that principle to my stuff.

I own more stuff than greets the eye. Some of my stuff is in Pacifica, California. Some is in Boston, and some is still in Colorado. After a while You just don't need to carry as much stuff around with you. I could bring five posters, but three will do quite nicely.

George Carlin's best bit, in my opinion, is on losing things. Tidiness is the counter-artillerey against losing things. Yet sometimes things still get lost, as happened with my copy of 'The Oresteia', the cycle of revenge of the house of Atreus in three parts by Aeschylus. I'm not a big fan, but it was my personal copy that I think was stolen. But Carlin warns me:

"You know how some people thier first reaction is 'Who stole it? It's gone: Who stole it?' It's an ego defence. They can't handle the fact that they might have been stupid enough to lose something, even if it's something no one really wants.

'Hey. Hey! Who stole my toenail collection? And they also got away with my nude photos of Ernest Borgnine!'"

I have no idea why anyone would want to steal the Oresteia, but whatever. I left it in public, scoured the area after it disappeared, and have given up on it. If they really want to read a crappy translation of a meh play, they can. After all, we live in an age where people are more important than things.

Perhaps.

Getting back to tidiness. Tidiness is a mindset, I realized, instead of a virtue. I'm not just a tidy room keeper. I like to keep life, in general, kinda tidy. My inbox in my email. I always try to empty and archive it in the appropriate folder. And yet...

I realized that there has been, for over a year last Monday, a message rotting in my inbox. There's nothing to keep it company, it just sits there. Sadly it's a message I sent to myself: a link to some scientific papers by Hans Dreisch I'm interested in. I keep it in the inbox as a reminder that I should read it.

So my inbox is not optimally tidy. There is a quirk in the plan, this little defiant message. I tried to archive it in Gmail once, but throughout the day could picture it alone in the sea of other emails, unread and unloved. When I got back I restored it to it's rightful home in my inbox. Who knows how long it will live there. Perhaps it'll never be read, it will play the part of sentinal, and doorman, greeting the new emails as they arrive, encouraging them to chin up as they are archived in the sea of thousands of lost emails that constitute my account. It is defiant, a symbol, it has taken on meaning of it's own, nothing can stop it, it is the wilderness of the autumn of our lives, rage, rage against the dying of the light! Booorn freeeee...!

You know what else is untidy about my life? Cheese dip. That nasty 'con queso' salsa chese dip that has MSG and hosts of other crap. Here am I, trying to eat healthy, usually organic, vegetarian. But that stuff tastes so good, it is my vice.

But let's not discuss vices here. If tidiness is not a virtue than the inconsistency of my eating habits cannot be vices. Things here require that I go and prepare for class. The slef-same class for which I'm reading the Orestiea. And look! There it is, right where I left it! On top of the other ancient greek texts.

I'll return it to the library this weekend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

52; business

Okay, okay. I'm sorry. I should have updated much, much sooner. And I apologize. And I recognize that I am human, and fallible, and take full responsibility for my mistakes and any harm that may have come from my negligence to you, dear reader, or your loved ones.

I've been busy. Really, really, busy.

Not that my business is in anyway excusable for my behavior. Some people out there are doing far more than I, with tighter schedules. Example: My professor Mac, who also has time to work negotiations on Iraq on top of teaching. And I do seem to have found time on top of my work and course-load to have watched two films. (Start of long bracketed digression- The first is Leni Reifenstah's Olympia, both parts, which raises questions about nationalism and humanity and history, which I speak about far too much. But even if you don't like that stuff it's an interesting documentary and has great cinematography in the second half. (Interior brackets- particularly fun is watching Hitler's reactions to the games and 'the fastest man in the world' the black American Jesse Owens. End of confusing interior brackets.) The second is In a Lonely Place, starring Bogart as a writer. Also really good, for story and such, not tremendous in cinematography, but if you want to see something like Crime and Punishment in movie form this would be it. End of bracketed digression.)

My classes this term have a number of overlapping themes, one of which is a steady stream of papers. The other is the modernity. Modernity, like history, humanity, and nationalism, is something I don't wish to talk about here. I have to think and talk about them pretty much five days a week and then think and write about them on the weekends. After a while it becomes tedious and exhausting.

Bennington seems over-loaded with freshmen, and they are all learning how to cope and adapt to their first weekends, workloads, and assignments. The whole college seems to be on their schedule, and right now the campus feels tired and whelmed. Perhaps not fully overwhelmed, but definitely whelmed.

In other news: There is now an archive of these postings online in another venue: http://pokingbadgerswithspoons.blogspot.com/ Thanks to my sister Jess for creating and uploading all of them. Please feel free to not blame me as a consequence for any missed spelling or grammatical errors. I just don't care, and am very pleased that they're out there at all. They go back to my first rants in Leeds, England (3-13), my summer, and now Bennington.

Why are the Beastie Boys whining about science? Wait, now it just got good. Weird album. Probably good, though. Wait a sec, did he just say Galileo dropped an orange?

Background music aside. Other other news: I am officially accepted into the graduate teaching program at Bennington. So I'll be kicking around here for another year. Mixed reactions, of course, but overall positive.

Did you know? The Scottish kilt was invented in 1730's by an Englishmen? A little later another group of Englishmen invented the 'tradition' of the tartans being associated with specific clans. None of this existed before 1720, one of the most iconic 'legacies' of the Scottish Highlands. The tartan patterns were corroborated with a tartan producing company 'Messrs Wilson and Son'. And of course Sir Walter Scott is partially to blame with the perpetuation of the whole mythology of the Scottish past.

See, but here I've gone and started talking about history, nationalism and modernity when I said I wouldn't. I'm not rewriting it, of course, because I think the Scotts need to be exposed. (And I'm not referencing the invented kilt. *Shudder*)

In conclusion: Life is hectic, I no longer trust the Scottish, and sometimes our best laid intentions go astray and become the stuff of columns.

49; history and bees

History has never been straightforward. In the West you start with Herodotus who liberally intermixed the fantastic with the historical account of the Persian War. Thucydides tried to rectify this by adding objectivity, but even he is suspect. Reading the speeches, including the famous funeral oration of Pericles it has to be wondered just how well he remembered those speeches and if he was, in fact, even there to hear them. And 'The History of the Peloponnesian War' is rife with speeches.

The Romans tried to get things right, Livy and Tacitus gave accounts of the founding of the city and the Julio-Claudian dynasty with acceptable accuracy. Livy, however, relied primarily on court and official records, and Tacitus was suspiciously part of the inner circle. Still, more reliable than Greek works.

Perhaps that's why the next major historical work looked at the Romans with a critical eye. (Of course in between were works by local historians like Bede, but we overlook this as silly and dark ages, validity of said argument aside.) Gibbon wrote 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' and began to seriously screw with History. He looked back and rather than present what occurred he read into it a theory, and history then became the playground of theory rather than a realm of recording fact. Gibbon decided that based on the evidence the Roman Empire had fallen due to moral decline, and wrote his history with that in mind. Of course he had predecessors in this tradition, and so history's focus changed.

For anyone reading these arguments please note that they are simplified to an absurd degree. It's equivalent to presenting literature in the following matter: Homer, Virgil, Dante, Cervantes, Milton, Tolstoy. The end. History and historiography (the study of the study of history of which I am keen) is darn complicated and has roots back to the 1500s with a fellow named Giambattista Vico, whose looked back and first theorized that civilizations have a rise and fall through stages. Anyone who like Jared Diamond and/or stakes a claim in his books owes Vico. Tens and twenties will be accepted, as well as smaller denominations.

And so today, kiddies, historiography is as much an important field as history, since historians now interject theory into their writing to make it more interesting and sell-able, and other things which are Bad. And documentaries were born, and then they too were slanted. And a fellow named Foucault came along and said that people slanting things changes the thing's perspective, and everyone was in awe. And that's how we got post-modernism.

In other news: The Justice Department is urging for a two-tier Internet. Bees are be killed by an Aussie virus. Pavoratti is dead, and Bush and Roh had a weird debate about peace in Korea. Of these stories I think it's obvious which is most important in the long run: Bees! Ever since Eddie Izzard has been introduced into our vocabulary it's hard not to think of bees as amusing. From 'Circle' :

And you don’t get the normal perks of a normal job, like people who work in an office; they have other people there, you can flirt, you know? You go, “Hey! Oh, you’re new here, aren’t you? How are you getting on? Do you want a coffee? I was gonna go get a coffee- I can get you a coffee… You know, I like my coffee like I like my women- in a plastic cup!”

Beekeepers can’t do that! 2,000 bees…

“Hello, there, you in the street! You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Huh?”

“Do you want a cup of coffee? It’s no problem! (buzzing continues) No real problem…”

“I don’t want a cup of coffee from you! You’re covered in bees!”

“I like my women like I like my coffee… covered in bees! Now back off, back off!”
So that's what I think. That's a lie. That's what Eddie Izzard thinks, and I think it as well, and now I must off to class, and bees are dying, and oh, the tragedy, and if you don't like it no one's forcing you to read it.