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.


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: 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?”


“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.

46; shower knobs

My computer decided that it hates me. This is not unusual, I suppose most of us have had to dig in and fight for our computers against nasty viruses. Sadly mine seems so screwed up that I'm probably going to have to take it to professionals for mental cleansing and spiritual guidance so that it can get back on track with life and start over by picking up the pieces.

Of course this means I'm using someone else's computer, which freaks me out. Granted this used to be my main computer, but I've not used it in about a year. The keyboard acts different. The mouse is strange. The monitor is wonky.

It's the same feeling you get when you drive a new car, or a car that's not yours. It seems vaguely similar to what you know, and yet, it just doesn't handle right.

I think a lot of people would be fine with life if they never had to change anything. They'd put stuff back exactly where it belongs so they could always find it, they'd always take the fastest route to work, there would be a comforting regimentation to it all.

Like showers. There is some magical place on your shower knob or dial that you set your morning shower to. Every day. Either you keep it set on that spot, or without thinking your hands turn the dial to the perfect coordinate and presto, perfect shower temperature.

Have you ever gone into the shower and found the knob has changed?

Your mind starts to race. Why has the knob changed? Who changed it? What happened last night that could have lead to this?

You vaguely recall that you were chatting up this girl at the bar, attractive, long black hair, and awoke.

You go into your bedroom. There's an indent on the side of the bed next to you. You pluck a long black hair off the pillow. You look to the side table, and where there once was your wallet...

You call your friend Bob. Bob was with you at the bar, he'll know what happened.

"Bob, Bob! What happened at the bar last night? My shower knob!"

"Well, you were really smashed, out of your head, and you went over to the bar and tried chatting up this Rastafarian fellow with long black dreads. He was making fun of you so we took you home.

We put you in the shower, and turned it on cold and hot, then we put you to bed."

"But I found black hairs on my pillow! Someone slept next to me last night."

"You have a German Shepherd, remember?"

"Oh yeah. Here boy! Good dog. Well, my wallet is also missing. What happened to that?"

"You'll get that back when you deserve it. Goodbye."

44; renaissance men

There have been a number of persons in history who could be described as renaissance men or women. Jefferson, Da Vinci, Franklin, Leibniz, Buckaroo Banzai.

Banzai is a rock n' roll neurosurgeon astrophysicist, whose popularity has lead him to become a comic book hero. He also has traveled into the 8th dimension.

Not quite as impressive as Banzai but perhaps of greater realistic concern is Dr. Brian May, former rock musician with Queen whose thesis 'Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud' was accepted earlier this week, pending a few minor revisions. Apparently Dr. May intended to become an astronomer before joining Queen 36 years ago. He wants to continue his research now since he was keen to study "some pretty spectacular stuff".

Yes, the night sky is filled with some pretty spectacular stuff.

(Quick Query: Does everyone else have the same problem typing that they write 'brain' instead of 'brian'? Dr. Brain does sound pretty cool, though, even though they'd have to be a lame villain in Saturday Morning Cartoonland. Many cartoon villains seem to have some obsession with brains, large brains, talking brains, angry evil word-domination-aspiring brains. But what does this mean? Do we, as humans, have some hard-wired fear of our own brains? The brains of others? And why do babies feel comfort being rocked to sleep? These are just some of the thoughts that keep me up at night. That and all the spectacular stuff in the sky.)

In other news: I'm headed up to Maine through Monday. I'm excited to be going and staying in Acadia, which I hear tell is a very beautiful park, one of the most so in this country. Also I've never been to Maine, so I can check it off the list. Do other people have these lists? I mean, it seems fairly common for people to want to all 50 states, right? Or they have a list of countries they need to go to before they die. Sights they must see. As they say: Places to go, people to see, doctorates to receive. Little did you know these postings are a segue into journalism is a segue into publishing is a segue into politics is a segue into Supreme Ruler Of The Earth and Protector of Venus (TM). Perhaps I'll throw some teaching in there as well.

Off to pack for points North.

43; war

It's over. It's all over. Checkmate, game over, sayonara sanity.

From Bush's recent address on the Iraq War:

"Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens." So now even Bush is comparing Iraq to Vietnam. He's right, of course, and when Bush starts speaking the truth I get scared. When things are so flipping obvious that the White House bubble is burst, then things are very bad indeed. When the president states that the current situation is turning into Vietnam then things are over.

Most worrisome, though, is the fact that he says 'whatever your position in the debate'. What is this debate? That Vietnam was a bad idea? That we actually could've won if we'd stuck around? There's no debate at all, only, perhaps, in the mind of a lunatic war-time president. Vietnam was a bad idea. Robert Macnamara, the Secretary of Defense who started it, and LBJ who inflamed it, have both said it was a bad idea. And we'd never have won. They would have kept fighting until they were all dead. That is not victory, that's a prolonged massacre, and we didn't have the abilities to do so, not without unleashing some weapons that shouldn't exist. Speaking of which, from the same speech:

"The ideals and interests that led America to help the Japanese turn defeat into democracy are the same that lead us to remain engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Should I be emigrating? We've successfully transplanted democracy twice: Germany and Japan. Both times we did it quickly and only created a basic Constitution and temporary government before handing the power over, keeping some reserves in place to ensure that things went smoothly. Why did they? Because both countries had suffered total defeat. And in the case of Japan it came at far too high a cost. People say the war would've dragged on for years and years if we'd not dropped the bomb. Sure. I'll grant that, even though there is disagreement. I also do think the Japanese would've fought to the death, to the last man. Probably true. So without the bomb America may have been bogged down in war so costly to our soldiers, we could never win. So what?

Victory is not the purpose of war. Victory at any cost is a price too high to pay. It was too high in Japan, and it was too high in Vietnam. In Vietnam we made the right decision, in Japan we did not. Millions of innocent civilians are going to die in the Middle East from this conflict. There is no doubt about that. Note to that millions will not die from Iraq alone, for this is not, as assumed, going to be a civil war when we withdraw. Sunni Muslims make up most of the Middle East. Shi'ites are found in only two places: Southern Iraq, and most of Iran. When the Sunnis attack the Shi'ites then the Iranians must come in to defend them: they're the only people who will. And when Iran gets involved and throws it's muscle behind them then the Sunnis will call on alliances of religion in other countries, and what you've got there is called a regional war. Our withdrawal, or perhaps our entry, will be noted as the analogous assassination of the archduke Ferdinand, the catalyst that started a wave of alliances and a regional war of untold devastation.

And Vietnam was the same, the region became inflamed in wars and revolution, let's not forget the Khmer Rouge also started up when we left, refugees were everywhere, it was a god-awful mess. If we had pulled out of Japan without the bomb it would have been a mess, Manchuria, Korea, and other areas would have been in serious conflict for a long time. But unless the remnants of sanity are totally annihilated, we will not achieve total victory in Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or ever again. Victory is no longer the purpose of war. It was, for a long time, but it is no longer. There will be no victory in Iraq, the best we can hope for now is Vietnam. The fact that Bush is denying that that route is hopeful is worrisome, but not quite as scary as if he were forced to be telling the truth.

42; gym

For some unknowable reason gym from 5th through 8th grade was usually led by me. That's because every day would start exercises and stretching, and I led the class in jumping jacks, sit-ups and push-ups.

Perhaps I'm fretting too much about my lack of muscle these days. Let me rephrase that: I am fretting about my lack of muscle these days.

Granted, I wasn't very fit back then. I still would run a 10-minute mile. I was still always picked last for teams. Dodgeball target? Of the worst sort. That's probably why I led the stretching and warm-ups, since it was the only thing I could do to get a decent grade. Grading PE: Not a good idea. I'm all for PE, I think it's a good idea, would that it was pervasive in the upper levels of schooling. If you go to a liberal arts college you may have some core requirement, but basically you can get away scott-free through four years without physical exertion.

(Aside: Who was Scott, and why do we wish to be free of him? Sources seem to disagree. One says that a 'sceot' was an English tax, so if you were able to avoid the taxman you were 'sceot free'. The other is that the origin is 'scotch' which was a term for 'scratch', and so to get out without a scratch would be 'scotch free'. Apparently there are no Scotts involved, and I apologize to any who may have read this and felt offended that people wanted to escape their presence. People still might want to escape Scott's presence, but the catalyst for doing so will not be my writing, and likely instead will be the personal faults that Scott portrays in public. It's okay, we all have them. We can't all be perfect. Keep up the good work, Scott.)

And now you know a little less about the English language. Anyways, back in 5th-8th grade PE the sport of choice was basketball. Like everything else I was picked last for basketball. But I did have one talent: pivoting. Of course many people had this same-said talent, but since it was my only talent, and they could do other things like shoot and pass I made a big deal of my pivoting abilities. So did the coach. He was a good coach, awarded kids for putting in their effort and trying to do things, even if they couldn't catch, or shoot, or only would duck after the lacrosse ball was slung in their direction.

But I could pivot like nobody's business. The ball would be passed to me, I'd've swarmed by 7-foot fifth graders who were already shaving and dating girls and going on business retreats with the CEO, golfing in the afternoons with coach...Anywho, I could always squirm and pivot my way out of the crowd and pass the ball. Or try to. Trying was what coach cared about.

Not to boast, but I was also half-way decent at shot-put.

Regardless, in the real world: A Malaysian man was arrested for practicing dentistry without any training or schooling for the past 27 years. Count them: 27. One: If he was able to get away with it and maintain his patient base for three decades he must've been okay, even without training. Two: Want to get away with a crime? Go to Malaysia. Maybe forty years later the police will catch up to. This fellow had his own practice in the city, it's not like he was underground or moving and hiding to avoid detection.

Also: Earthquakes in Peru and floods in N. Korea. Prince Albert of Monaco (Sorry, another aside. How many times do you think he's asked if he's in a can? Or are we assuming the Monacan royalty is too classy for that?) was presented two nerpa seal pups from Putin. My former worries about the Russian leader? Melted, assuaged, pacified. How can someone who deals in seal pups not be a good guy? Obviously I was mistaken in thinking he's a shifty, sketchy snake.

And your guess to what a 'nerpa seal' is are as good as mine. Apparently they live just in Lake Baikal. Now don't we feel a little smarter knowing that?

41; massage chairs

There is either optimism or naivete at work here. I mean, how often can you actually sell one of those? Oh, sure, everyone comes in and looks at them, and tries them out, but do they ever buy?

Of course if it was your job to sell them, you'd only need to move about one a week, I figure, to still be doing well. I wonder if they're bought that quickly.

I am pondering Brookstone massage chairs. Sure, they have their own brands and labels, but really they're just the massage chairs that you go and sit in when you're tired out at the mall. Or wherever there is a Brookstone near you.

Just the other day in the mall some poor salesman was assaulting a fellow in one of the chairs for a hard sale. And when you're in the chair you really can't get out of them easily, the guy's legs were up in the air, and he was rippling like a jelly mold. He just had to sit there and get his mooch massage ruined by this sales kid's schpiel. He took a card, and when the massage was over went back for round two of shopping. I doubt Jeremy the sales kid will get a call.

You know what else is hard to sell? Steam calliopes.

When I was a kid I read a copy of a Donald Duck comic where he had to sell steam calliopes in Indian (native American) territory. Of course, being Donald Duck, he prevailed in his task and sold the calliopes to the natives. Not before a lot of pidgin English dialogue was exchanged, though.

This debate seems to come up frequently: Donald or Daffy Duck. The best scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was the piano duel between the two speech-impedimented ducks. (Impedimented? Note to self: Invent less cumbersome word to replace 'impedimented'. Perhaps 'impeded'?) Frankly, of the Disney canon, Donald is superior, not counting Scrooge. But in cartoondom in general the award goes to Daffy. Daffy is as selfish and egotistical as we wish we could get away with. No scheme is too low, and unlike Bugs' smart alecky-ness he rarely has to rely on cross-dressing to get his point across. My two favorite cartoons star Daffy.

Then again in the papers my favorite cartoons star the egomaniacs Bucky, Rat and Duke. So perhaps I'm just swayed by cartoon selfishness. After all no matter how many times Daffy's beak is blown off for smart-aleckyness he can pick it up, dust it off, and put it back on again.

So yeah. Donald and Daffy. That's what I've got. And massage chairs. Don't have, but wish I did. And man, oh man, how funny would it be to have Donald Duck try and sell you one of those chairs? I'd buy one.

40; dreams

So the other night I had three dreams. The first two were about marriage and the third about Elvis and James Brown playing baseball. For the sake of this post I'm going to stick to the first two, even though the first was a rather moving performance by the two washed-up down-and-out former musicians turned baseball players. Especially touching was Brown's speech to Elvis after a strike-out and how this was his last chance to make it and...

Well, I'll not bore you. Of course some say that nothing is more boring than hearing about other people's dreams. If so, then it's too late, your a paragraph in and there's no stopping this thing now.

For the sake of anonymity the person I married in the first dream will be refereed to as A&W, the latter M&M. I just got done eating a not too filling dinner. The first, anyway, was a friend from college with whom we'd moved in to a large home, only t was more of a menagerie. Lots of critters on all floors, but we were blissfully happy, raising animals exotic, living an eco-happy life, and dwelling in a nice house with a really big staircase. The staircase, that was very important, it seems.

Of course, we were both still young, this couldn't've been but a year from now. Being young and blissfully happy, and probably in love, helps. Especially when you live in a zoo.

The second started out not as being married at all, but instead being trapped with M&M on top an elevator. Not inside, on top, while the elevator was, we dared not imagine, accelerating towards top floor. Anywho after all that (but before the Godfather of Soul's amazing double-play) we seemed to be married and living together in a place not unlike my college, which was unusual, since M&M in real life has never been there. We, again, were blissfully happy, although the life we lead was completely polar to the one in the dream before. The very tasteful apartment was well-furnished, to the point of being ornate, and I think we were 'people to know'.

What may be strangest is I really probably would be happy in either scenario.

The next logical step, of course was dream analysis. I have a dabbling of skill in that field myself, but I've never had to figure out for myself or my friends what marriage symbolizes in dreams. Here are the possibilities I found out:

(A) "Joy without profit"
(B) "Important developments, transition"
(C) "Uniting parts of your being"
(D) "Death"

So there seems to be quite a range, or at least disagreement. There was also option (E)"Wish fulfilment", but that seemed too obvious. It would be glorious to end up with either of these fine people, in either circumstance (which I later figured to be the extremes of their personalities being represented in the homes in which we co-habitated.) To be fair to the analysis there was no ceremony in either dream, I just got the feeling we were married. Probably good enough to rely on, after all I'm boring you all with paragraph after another on what were not, in truth, very exciting dreams. Had I been chasing tigers in Africa the dreams would have been more story-like, and Hemmingwayish, but alas it was not to be.

Given my four options, however, and each came up multiple times, I fear (A) the most. Whichever happens I don't want it to be 'joy without profit'. I can handle important developments, for those would come whether I dreamed about them or not. I can handle the task of uniting the disparate parts of my being, after all that is one of my life goals, and death I can handle too. But joy without profit seems so cruel. Too cruel.

Anyway it was all followed up with a nice inspirational sports story, so all's well that ends well, right? Let's hope if I marry either of them things turn out for the best. Come to think of it even if I don't marry either of them, since neither is particularly likely, I'd still like things to turn out for the best. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, September 17, 2007

39; kids today

"Hold me like you'll never let me go:/ 'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane,/ Don't know when I'll be back again,/ Oh babe, I hate to go."

And before John Denver no one ever could express their feelings of a loved one leaving on a jet plane. It strikes me as so dreadfully unusual that so many sentiments seem to have not been recorded in song before the 1900s, when popular music really took off. How did people cope?
"I'm feeling kinda upbeat, honey, let's go listen to the 5th." "No, no. Too sad for that. Let's stick to the oldies: a little Palestrina?" "I feel like singing about milkshakes as euphemisms, but have no words to express my feelings as of yet."

"Well, how am I supposed to sing my praises to gorgeous rounded booty? Sir Mix-a-Lot isn't invented yet. I'll need to stick with Bach. I'd Toccata your Fugue any day."

Oh, those silly aristocrats, with their canoodling and classical music. As Wolfgang said, "There's no sex in the upper loge."

Somebody stop me.

Today is parent's day here in Natick. The kiddies get their parents on campus to watch them in class and rummage around in the dorms, and critique dining hall food. Frankly I've had it up to here with the notion that these pupils are 'kiddies', though. These kids are all in 6th grade or older. Heck when I was their age I got myself to school on the bus, made my own lunch, and would leave a note on the weekends when I wanted to got to one of the museums or park across town by bus. These 'kiddies' need a dose of independence, says I. Let's throw them in the lake and see if they can swim. If they can, good, they're able to cope with surprises and life on their own. If they drown, then heck with them, I don't want to be looking after kids who don't have basic survival skills. They shouldn't be allowed in public.

George Carlin says all kids are too sheltered, and he's right. Bill Cosby says they're brain-damaged, and he's right. Yet if they are brain-damaged, shouldn't we shelter society from these creatures for society's sake?

But, really, I'm going to be a swell dad. I'll give them full access to my library and albums. It'll learn everything I teach it, and when it grows up it'll appreciate everything I've done for it. And take care of me and my new hot wife in our old age. Isn't that what everyone wants?

While I'm at it I also want a million dollars. And a good song that describes why I feel broken and sad but unable to cry. Perhaps I'll write one.

38; censorship

Does censorship exist anymore? I seem to remember when censorship was a big deal. Each year at my high school the librarians would celebrate Banned Books Day and encourage us to read books that were banned in other places. Many of the banned books were quite boring, of course, but some were juicy or even excellent. I think Judy Bloom is still the record holder for banned items, but I could be wrong.

The problem with all of this is that, to my knowledge, eBay and Amazon exist in all states, and probably all countries that have the Internet, AKA Everywhere. Can't find a book that's baned in your state our county at the library? Get it online. We're not living in a Fahrenheit 451 world yet. You can buy any book you want ever made. People say Dick Cheney is scary and evil and up to no good, and this is true, but if he was really really evil I'd not be able to buy his wife's romantic novels off Amazon.

'Sisters', by Lynne Cheney, published in 1981 by Signet, ISBN 0451112040, is the story of "a strong and beautiful woman who broke all the rules of the American frontier...Sophie Dymond had overcome nineteenth-century prejudices to succeed as publisher of a hugely popular women's magazine. But when she left New York to revisit her native Wyoming, where her sister had died mysteriously, she left her prestige and power far behind. Waiting for Sophie was a world where women were treated either as decorative figurines or as abject sexual vassals...where wives were led to despise the marriage act and prostitutes pandered to husbands' hungers..."

And to think, in as late as 1960 the Brit's were having obscenity trials over DH Lawrence. I wonder if 'Sisters' would pass the qualification for 'being of literary merit'. Somehow I doubt it. Then again I hold reservations about the literary merit of DH Lawrence, but I know many fine people who disagree, so what do I know? I know that the prosecutor had an archetypal British quote from the case when he asked whether the book is one "you would wish your wife or servants to read." And there was a sort of pause, and everyone looked around, checked the decade on their clocks, and the mythical sixties commenced.

One thing I found different about Amazon in the US versus UK, and perhaps this is a form of censorship, is that in the UK Amazon you can't buy a tank. I found a JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank on Amazon the other day, but the UK counterpart has no tanks. And yes, you read that correctly, it's called 'Badonkadonk'. And it's affordable at only $19,999.95!

Also: No guns! No guns on Stuffy and British, or just Common Sense?

Or, perhaps, censorship? What are people allowed to have access to? If you're reading this you might say people should have access to all books. How about rare books? Should the Library of Congress be allowed to loan out books that there's only one copy? What about the original Constitution or Magna Carta? How long can I have those out for before their due back?

Oh, but you say, oh, those things are unique, they could be hurt, they could be destroyed. If it's rare we need to lock them up and that way everyone can have access without having access. Rare items, those belong in museums. We can't keep dodo skeletons on the hold shelf for more than a week ma'am. No, the moon rocks are part of Special Collections and must be kept in the museum. That Poison Triggerfish is the only one in captivity. It has to be kept in the Aquarium at all times, which is why you'll see it's marked 'Reference'.

Alas I may not have convenient access to these items. They are being withheld from me, locked away in the Smithsonian, or the Louvre, or the San Diego Zoo. Sure, they're there whenever I want to go and see them, but maybe I can't got here today, eh? When's the next time I'll be able to see Michelangelo's David in Florence? Probably never.

Perhaps it's not censorship. If there are multiple copies we can usually get a hold of them. Books, CDs, videos, guns, animals. Can I rent a panda yet? Nope, still on the waiting list. Why not try a Golden Retriever?

And then there's the black market. You can ban Harry Potter for 'witchcraft' and Salinger for saying 'fuck', but galldarnit, I can get my hands on them if I want. If need be I'll use a gun I got off the Amazon black market to help procure my desired purche.

Let's hear three cheers for the end of censorship!

37; recent life developments

Recent Life Developments:

Finally bought and read Jeff Smith's 'Bone'. The epic graphic novel clocks in at 1300 pages. Is it worth it? Oh yes. Besides being well illustrated and engaging the work is very funny and a great page-turner. It won a whole bunch of awards, including 10 Eisners. And it takes less time to read than 'Deathly Hallows'.

Also I've been raiding the Massachusetts inter-library loan system for CDs. I think the librarians are starting to get suspicious. Recent aquisitions: In The Wee Small Hours, SInatra; The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest; The Muddy Waters Anthology; It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy; Horses, Patti Smith. Also bought my own copies of Superfly by Curtis Mayfield and Happy Trails by Quicksilver Messenger Service. Woot.

Most interestingly I went and saw Blue Man Group last night in Boston. It was hysterical and fantastic. As my friend said after we'd left it's not really so much a show as a piece of performance art. Performance art that happens to be taking place in a theatre. It was ridiculously fun and nifty and everyone alive should see it and take their families and friends and start a cult. Maybe that's taking it too far. But if you can see it, you should try.

The show was a culmination of a nice, if particularly hot, day in Boston with a friend. We wandered from Trinity, whose architecture is so cool it is something I think people visiting Boston should make a point of seeing, to Newbury Street via Prudential Center and PF Changs. I'd never been to a PF Changs, but they make a mean tofu. Delicious. Delightful. Denevermind.

After moseying up and down Newbury we were joined by more friends and finally completed our party near the Charles Playhouse for Blue Man. The only way I think the evening could've been better is if we'd hit up a Coldstone or Finale. But everyone was stuffed, so perhaps adding a diabetic coma on top of the masses of food we ate would not have been wise after all. In fact I'm sure it wouldn't have been. Type-2 diabetes?

I do so love the desserts, but perhaps I should be working out more. Sobering fact: I weighed more three years ago than I do now. So, since I can't gain weight the developed-world way through eating I figure I must starting exercising and get a little muscle mass. Someone told me the other day they appreciated the indent of my chest as a place to rest their head. As glad as I am that they like this feature, having a chest that can double as a cereal bowl is not really to my liking. Pecs! Abs! Gluts! Biceps! Triceps! Quadceps! Any kind of cep! I'll exercise them all!

Let's hope I don't hurt myself.

The difficulty about writing a 'Recent Life Development' column is that no matter how long it's been my life, though filled with developments, is short on adventure. People want to hear about adventures, not developments. If the baby starts kicking that's a development. If you go into labour in a Wal*Mart that's an adventure. People try and pawn off stories of developments as adventures all the time. Or at least the people I know, myself included, do. Going Shopping: Not an Adventure. The Late-Night Trip to Wherever: Not an Adventure. That Funny Thing That Happened That Time: Not an Adventure.

Giving birth, white-water rafting, backpacking or hitchhiking, mountain biking, camudding, base-jumping, airports, jungles, deserts, lost at sea, the New York City Port Authority: These are adventures. Climbing mountains, trekking and scuba diving can all be said to be adventures. At least the first time. If you are a professional skydiver then skydiving is no longer an adventure, it's your job.

Let's see, we've covered graphic novels, CDs, Blue Man, exercise, Boston, and adventures. Sounds good to me.

36; Flag!

There was a lot of that, and we built up empires - we stole countries! That's what you do, that's how you build an empire. We stole countries with the cunning use of flags! Yeah, just sail around the world and stick a flag in.

"I claim India for Britain!"
They go, "You can't claim us, we live here! 500 million of us!"
"Do you have a flag?"
"We don't need a bloody flag! It's our country, you bastards!"
"No flag, no country, you can't have one! That's the rules that I've just made up..."

That's what Eddie Izzard says on the subject. The Canadian Foreign Minister says "This isn't the 15th Century, you can't go around and just plant flags and say 'We're claiming this territory.'"

Frankly I say it's just rather amusing but what does Santa Claus say about it all?

"I think the Russian's choice to plant a non-rusting titanium flag underwater at the North Pole is a clear territorially ambitious claim and political move that doesn't affect me in the slightest, having moved my operation to the dark side of the moon many years ago. They can have the puddle that was once my Arctic home. Good luck to the Canadians, Americans, Denmark, and Norway who have claims to it. Maybe the Rooskees will make a move on the Antarctic next. But if bitches come to the moon I'll be defending myself. They've been warned."

At which point the jolly old man rocketed off.

Are those "sneaky fucking Russians" making claims on the North Pole, though? Perhaps they are symbolically claiming the Earth. It is the top of the World, after all, everything converges at the poles. Maybe they're just being strategic and moving from top down, using the grid system.
And I apologize for those of you complaining that Russia has come up a lot recently, but frankly they have the news that's most interesting at the moment. Or at least the news that's funniest. I mean, really, who claims the North Pole?

In other news, however, there are ghosts in one of the girl's dorms here. The little 'uns are afraid and all, though I must admit that I may or not have something, without admitting anything, to do with the possibility of any thumps they may or may not have attributed, falsely or otherwise, to supernatural presences.

Ghosts, though, are generally harmless. At least my experiences with them have been. A little contemplative, actually. I think the ghosts I saw were judging me. Darn judgemental ghosts.
Russian ghosts don't contemplate you, though. They just give you material for articles before planting a flag on your head and claiming it's a hat. And then they make all claims to the body below the head. Watch out!

35; Meh

"The weather was rather meh." "I dunno, she was being all meh." "How was the show?"

"Meh." Adjective. Source unknown. 1. A feeling of slight dislike or distaste accompanied by lacklusterness or disheartening qualities. 2. Underwhelment. 3. An adjectivization of the blahs.

It could be a lack of endorphins in my diet, which translates to a lack of chocolate, which has led to a meh weekend. It could be the intense work I've had to do as an RA, being on duty three nights in a row for increasing time-shifts. Perhaps the prospect of registering ten-year olds tomorrow is getting me down. I far prefer adolescents to kids and preteens. Less civilized, sure, but easier to relate to in their particular form of decivilized nature.

So throw out an adjective. That's the way language grows, add a new word when the old ones don't work for you. However did we survive before 'groovy' and 'quadrilateral'? These are words that didn't once exist, yet surely quadrilaterals and groovy folks did.

As Calvin said, "verbing words weirds language." If we keep verbing and adjectivizing words we can come up with anything, any word to describe any thing. If that isn't hopeful, nothing is.

Some words are working too hard already, though. 'The' is exhausted. 'Cool' is rightfully tired of being over-used for a secondary meaning. Of course 'Good' is just laughing at 'Cool' for relieving the burden it's carried for so long.

Others want more use. 'Fractional' doesn't get a lot of play. Nor does 'Truncated'. And technical or scientific words have just gone on strike and only allow certain people to use them. Really it's a lot like high school cliques. The popular words get all the action, lead the lives full of action, even though that action may not be in their best intentions. Jargon words are like school clubs; you only really understand them if you hang out with them, no social butterflies amongst 'Phenomenological' or 'Quixotic'.

'Paradigm' gets around a lot, though. That word's a total slut.

And 'Meh' is a new kid. You don't even know when they showed up, took no notice, but soon you were talking with them and using them and hanging out with them. Meanwhile 'Groovy' and 'Gnarly' are trying to tempt her to smoke up with them behind the theatre. Ah, the world of etymology is a fascinating one.

Incidentally, 'Etymology'? Not getting any either. But I'll still use it, since I didn't either, and you gotta stick together like that. Maybe if I'd made friends with human beings rather than words I'd have had a better time of it.

Probably not.

34; Icky

"Icky, the belligerent hissing penguin..."

Of course the word I wanted to describe Icky was 'malevolent', not 'belligerent'. But though 'malevolent' had the correct meaning 'belligerent' had the correct sound. Oh what was I to do?

Oftentimes the right word is the wrong sound, I find. Only when the two combine through luck does one get the correct outcome. Generally I find the outcome to be poetry.

Incidentally Icky is a foot-high penguin made of hair, cardboard and duct tape. His only produced sound is a low warning hiss, much like a velociraptor before strike.

He has a mate named Sticky. One of these days they're going to catch me off guard and something initially terrifying and in retrospect amusing will occur.

Some friends of mine and myself made a little poetry this afternoon, perhaps. We make poetry all the time, we just choose not to record those instances of beneficent word alignment in our daily lives. Some people have enough gall to harness this fortune and become poets. Some try and harness it and become lunatics. Some are indecisive and do both. For the purposes of this article being a useful source of information for our lives I suggest if you pursue the latter option that you become a poet first, and then a lunatic. After you choose to loose the battle with sanity there aren't generally rematches. But many say they are happy to won out over it in the end.

Working of a round-robin exercise, where you can only respond to the line before yours, we attempted to write the opposite. Example: "She will say no" would have the opposite, perhaps, of "He said yes." Below are our two outcomes:

"One day I woke up to find he was gone, but there was a note.
Today I went to sleep to dream she was here, but she didn't leave a note.
You woke yesterday from the nightmare of him, only to find a note he left.
I went to sleep today to the dream with her, always losing the song she brought.
You woke up last night from life without him, never lost the speech he took."

"Wednesday, yesterday, Shannon took two of these and called me in the morning.
Friday, tomorrow, Bill brought one of those, not speaking to her that night.
Monday, yesterday, Sue took two of these singing with him this morning.
Saturday, Hue gave half of that after speaking with her last evening.
He gave the other half to her when they woke up the next morning.
She took the whole thing from him after they went to dream the last evening."

If "I went to sleep with the dream of her, always losing the song she brought" isn't poetry, what is? I know that's not the line from above, but I assure you the meanings are precisely the same. We must only worry that in times the original is unfaithful to the translation.

33; youtube and politics

So the important US politics-YouTube article would be about the Democratic candidates answering questions about their policies from YouTubers last evening. However, besides Edwards' stating that he doesn't support gay marriage, I don't really care this early on in the game what they're saying. Undoubtedly opinions will change, and statements be reneged.

The more interesting story combining US politics and the time-wasting YouTube phenomenon is that of a post from CSN 2 of Robert Byrd, Senator of West Virginia, also 90 years of age, speaking out against dog fighting. Byrd is a very senior citizen, a Democrat, and third in line if Bush is shot (after Cheney and Pelosi). He is also a comi-tragic speaker. He repeats himself after enormous pauses, often three times. His mind seems to wander from the subject and he begins talking about other things. A speech which would normally be covered in 5 minutes takes over twenty. Watching the old man speak about a subject he is obviously passionate about, a decries many, many times as barbarous is, sadly, at times humorous.

For the actual videos of YouTube: and

Part of the problem is that his timing in the speech is that of a comedian. The awkward pauses and unexpected deliveries, that's the backbone of spoken comedy. The unusual meanderings are the same gold that make Robin Williams and Eddie Izzard so funny. (He at one point begins to relate that he has seen a man electrocuted. Why this is of relevance is not mentioned, and starts back in on dog fighting.)

There is some tragedy, though, in it as well. You can't help but feel embarrassed for the old man up there, speaking out to a mainly empty room, about the atrocities of dog fighting. He is adamantly against it, and gesticulates wildly. Many speakers know to mention things in threes to make an impression. Byrd seems aware of this, but employs the trick every few words with semi-ludicrous results. Part of the transcript from the second half:

"The training of those poor creatures...Weigh those words...The training...of these poor creatures...weigh them...The training of these poor creatures...To turn themselves into fighting machines is simply barbaric....Barbaric...Barbaric!...Barbaric! Let that word resound from hill to hill and from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley, across this broad land! Barbaric! Barbaric! May God help...those poor souls...who'd be so cruel....Barbaric!...Here me! Barbaric!"

The speech may have been inspiring if it didn't take nearly three minutes to get across those three muddled sentences.

In other news: I'm now 21. So I can now legally drink. Of course, I choose not to, but the sentiment is nice, I suppose. I still can't run for office or rent a car or motel room, but I can drink! No longer is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms only 2/3 of a bureau to me! Is there a Bureau of Porn? How about a Bureau of Renting Cars?

We can judge a society by what they accomplish, and what they build. Or we can judge them on their rites of passage, and what they deem responsible for adults. What does that say about our society?

There's a third option, and my personal favorite: We can judge societies based on how they treat their citizens and other human beings. As a matter of fact: I'll drink to that.

32; summer of 69

"Oh when I look back now/ That summer seemed to last forever/ And if I had the choice/ Ya - I'd always wanna be there/ Those were the best days of my life."

Yes, it was the Summer of '69. Idyllic times, to be sure. Judy Garland had just died, 74 U.S. soldiers too, in a boating accident, the Stonewall riots, the Manson murders, all topped off with border fights between Russia and China. Yes, those must've been the best days of anyone's life.
Oh, there were good things that summer as well, of course. The first troops were brought out of 'Nam, and the Apollo 11 moon landing, as well as Woodstock. I'm sure that's what Bryan Adams remembers when he thinks back to being a teenager that summer. Selective memory: Useful for high school.

I dearly hope high school was not the best days of my life. I figure I have roughly 55 more years on this planet, I don't want them spent reminiscing about awkward moments with girls, acne, hazing, and bad grades. Even the good parts: student council, dorm head, the good grades, the friendships that have lasted, I still don't want those to be my life's peak. A high school teacher of mine wished that those are the worst days of our lives, so that our lives get better with each passing year. Who doesn't want that?

Or as Springsteen laments:
"Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture/ A little of the glory of, well time slips away/ And leaves you with nothing mister but/ Boring stories of glory days."

Of course, and take this on the authority of a rumor whose source is uncertain and forgotten, there is a Chinese curse that declares, 'May you live in interesting times'. Perhaps wishing for our lives to get all the more interesting as we go on is not advisable after all. Then again perhaps I'm only displaying my psychology of equating 'better' with 'interesting'. Can our lives progress and continue to be increasingly 'better' if they are no longer 'interesting' lives? Should we be envious of those who have lived of their glory days? Their personal high school summers of '69?
I know when mine would be: Spring of 2002. So far those days may have been a peak. Maybe I should just be glad of the memories? And yet. Yet it somehow seems defeatist. More than that, I feel like I'm cheating my future self. It's not fair to the 55 years of Ross down the road that they have only consolation in the fact they once lead a good life and had good times so many years ago.

But therein lies the conceit. There might not be a grizzled, addled 75-year old Ross. Ross might end tomorrow, all needed for that experiment is one frail mortal Ross and one 18-wheeler. Combine. There's an outcome that doesn't need scientific method to prove itself to us, yet somehow cruelly the world likes to provide it.

Kierkegaard cautioned against, or at least made aware the difficulty this places us in. He gives the following example: A man is walking down the street in Copenhagen and runs into a friend he's not seen in some time. The two meet each other pleasantly as dear old friends and the he is invited to dinner next Thursday, at nine. Our man promises, swears, that he will be there. Upon departing one another's company our man is struck on the head by a falling roof tile and lies dead.

Acerbically Kierkegaard asks us should the man who promised to attend the dinner instead said "I shall be there, you can count on me, unless, of course, I get struck on the head by a falling roof tile?"

We cannot take into account the vast danger our world presents us. How could action be possible? How could one leave one's house? Or stay in it? We cannot choose to live our lives with our mortality staring us down, or every roof tile will be a harbinger of doom, every car on the road a death trap. They could potentially be so. I do not dare deny that a roof tile, car, or other human being may not in fact be the source of your or my demise. To pretend that no such threat existed could be called foolhardy. Yet as typing, or reading, there are more nuclear weapons on the face of the earth that could annihilate the human species than we dare think about.

That's what Bryan Adams meant. Those days were great days. They were also horrible days. For some the Spring of '02 may conjure up the worst memories and tragedy; for me there is joy. What allowed that joy to flourish was the knowledge of my life fully understood, and I have endeavored dearly not to lose it. Of course we can die at any moment, to say so is, I apologize, a waste of words. It's taking advantage of that knowledge and seeing the opportunities arise from it. The opportunities to live each day as better than the last is surely enough to dispel the fear or consequences of the end of our lives, however they may come, don't we hope our last moments to be ones contentment? Isn't there a wish to die in glory and and the height of life? Some people say they don't want to grow old, for they fear that their lives will rot as an apple too long on the tree.

I may only hope that their days get better with each passing year to dissuade them of their notions, and curse them that they may live in interesting times.

31; cereal games

I was a ruthless whaler. The pods would scurry away from my whaling ship with the sluggish deliberation, darting at the last moment, but always falling prey.

Never mind that the whales were cereal flakes and the analogous Pequod a spoon. I devoured them whales. It was fun. Sometimes the whales were the last of the dinosaurs, or occasionally forests. I was an equal opportunity destroyer. You had to be in your cereal games. The little flakes/rings/puffs/crispies/marshmallows/whatever-the-hell-they-put-in-cereal-these-days were about to meet their timely demise in your relentless maw. If the demise was not timely then the creatures you were wiping out would become soggy. Soggy and Captain Ahab don't mix.

I wonder at times if children do this all over the world. The urge to play is certainly felt throughout the world's population of children. Of course not all eat cold cereal for breakfast. Some don't eat breakfast at all, but I like to pretend that they're making up for it with a big lunch. If they're not eating either it's simply too depressing for this article. And the cereal must be cold, hot cereal only works for different kinds of games. Oh no! That's no ordinary Cream of Wheat! Beware the Mutant Alien Blob! Of Death!

Cold cereal: Interactive. The pieces can escape from your spoon. They are to children, who do not hunt for their food most of the time, like the patient bugs on the Serengeti played with and pounced upon by lion cubs. Bugs, cereal, playing with your food, lions. It makes sense to me.

Toast is only interesting if airborne. Eggs? They just melt. You could pretend that the yolks are Chernobyl and the whites the surrounding country-side, but that seems a little morbid. Also your parents might notice you staring at running yolks and mumbling under your breath and get suspicious. Attacking cold cereal whales is all part of the process of trying to eat the darn things.

Grapefruit is interactive, but not in the way anyone wants. Grapefruit is a fruit best enjoyed alone with no one in a thirty-foot squirt radius. Eyesight will be lost, families will be destroyed.

"Why'd you squirt grapefruit juice in my eye?"

"I didn't mean to!"

"Ow! You just did it again!"

"Hee hee hee."

"Jefferey eat your cereal while your sister's at the table!"

*Mumbling*: "No! Noo! Save us! But the mighty T. Rex was no match..." *nyom nyom nyom*

Of course 'grapefruit' and 'enjoyment' are words I don't often combine in the same sentence, but then again neither are 'enjoyment' and 'cranberries'; yet if you combine the juice of the two it is quite delicious. And with that tidbit of wisdom I leave you for the high seas. Will we be whalers today, or lumberjacks? Only my cereal bowl may tell...

30; Hearst castle

So when I build my college I always assumed there was going to be a menagerie somewhere on the grounds. The purpose of this collected assortment of beasts was to be of use to the biological and environmental science departments for study. When I draw up my Bic pen blueprints I had the animals scattered up the side of a hill leading up to the college, through which a switchbacking road leads up to the main gate.

Think of it: You're driving up to a college you've heard is one of the best in the country, going up a windy road up a hill, and voila! Crowned cranes and wombats lumber by next to small African gazelle. The cry of a peacock and the roll of a kookaburra's laugh sound as you enter the gates. A lammergier swoops down in front of your car. Welcome to Jurassic Park.

I started wondering where I got the idea for this cinematic entrance, when it occurred to me that it was stolen. Twice as a child I visited a place in which you make the same entrance, only the fauna consisted of large antelopes and some zebras as well, if I remember correctly. The place didn't need grandiose gates at the top of the hill, the view of what was atop it was spectacular enough.

Hearst Castle was built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, and is located in the otherwise devoid San Simeon, California. The front of the main house looks like a Spanish cathedral and is modestly named 'La Casa Grande'. It has a Greek baths outdoors and a Roman baths indoors, each of whose tile works was expertly done as to create an optical illusion. It boasts 56 bedrooms, one of the first private movie theatres, and, of course, the world's largest private zoo.

The estate is a blend of Italianate influences and Art Deco. Whole sections of the house were brought from intact from Europe. The only palaces I know of that rival it in splendour are Blenheim Palace and Versailles. (Or so I'm told. I've not been to France.) In the United States there can be no more opulent dwelling.

William Hearst was famously lampooned, and the Castle with him, in Welles' 'Citizen Kane'. The man had such a profound impact on American history it's hard to imagine him not being the focus of one of the greatest films in our canon. His whole life was so over the top, he was the closest thing to royalty we had at the time, and he knew and embraced that feeling.

For me it's a pilgrimage. I go back every six years or so, and I hope to go back again soon. Generally I don't revisit places, because I figure there are more things to be seen out there that are worthy of my time. But Hearst Castle holds a special place in my heart, and I need to go back to remind myself of the awe of the 'enchanted hill'. It's something out of a picture book, it doesn't seem quite real, the blend of old-world and California style, (architect: CA's Julia Morgan). If you were anybody during the thirties and forties you wanted to be invited to the Castle. It was Camelot before the Kennedys.

Maybe when I build my college it won't have the menagerie. Perhaps its best if we, instead of copying, create anew. Anyone can go and visit Hearst Castle if they want to and have $20. But my college, maybe, should be something unique. The world's first sustainable college? That, I think, would be impressive. Even more so than wombats.

29; pessimism

It's no great revelation that within the heart of each pessimist is a core of optimism. I'm not sure if it works the other way 'round, but I do remember the day I first realized that particular fact about human nature. The most devout pessimist still is preparing for the worst, but when the worst usually doesn't occur they can be pleasantly surprised.

The position is rather rational. Bad things happen in life; and we can either prepare or not. If we don't prepare we are living our lives as if nothing goes wrong, whereas preparing for the worst-case scenario leaves one more confident, but with a rose-tint of assuming things will work out for the best, after all.

Having lived as such for many years I can find no other way to explain it. I consistently assume things won't work out, or go wrong, or tragically occur, but the don't. 98% of the time they go well, we make it through, and we move on. I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my stomach. Probably anyone else reading this has the same, and that's fortunate.

And pessimism, it should be clarified, does not go hand-in-hand with cynicism. They are separate: Pessimism is a life-outlook that prepares for the worst. Cynicism, on the other hand, has two historical forms, the ancient and modern. Ancient cynics would merely defend their views against any and all attacks. If, say, an Epicurean cynic, then you'd defend your stance of Epicureanism against all rival philosophies/ religions/ life views/ what have you.

Modern cynics, however, are much more dangerous. They do not use cynicism as a tool to confirm any other outlook besides their own right to by cynical. Today's cynics have no greater philosophy they are defending at all costs besides the philosophy of their own cynicism. It is recursive, and futile, with as is the case with most recursive and futile endeavors, unproductive. It merely hampers action or activity, unlike pessimism which encourages it.

So there are cynics who are also pessimists, and not only prepare for the worst, but also refuse to hear any other points of view that don't allow for cynicism. Pessimism is forgiving like that: it'll allow cynics into the fold, since no one else wants them. (Well, perhaps the nihilists do, but they aren't saying much one way or the other.)

In other news, perhaps good reason to be pessimistic after the last column I wrote: The British have expelled their Russian diplomats. It has to do with their anger over the whole KGB officer killing their guy thing. There are details, but they're not interesting with the exception that he was killed by radiation poisoning.

And as we slip deeper into a John Le Carre novel what are the headlines from the New York Times? 'New Populism is Spurring the Democrats on the Economy'.

As columnist Jon Carroll said, "Anyone who survives this process is, by definition, not someone I want to vote for. Do we really need people who have the stomach for begging for money for 19 months?"

But while we pessimists brace for the Republican victory in 2008 perhaps the questions on our mind should not focus on populist economics as much as it should UK, US and Russian relations, or as I like to think of them: The Decent, the Bad, and the Ugly. Whatever outcome I hope to be prepared.

28; Putin

So Vladimir Putin's thinking must be running something like this:

"I'm president of the largest country in the world. Historically my country is near-impossible to attack, as confirmed by Risk players everywhere. Our country holds key positions in certain U.N. groups, so that the world needs to listen to us. We don't need to answer to the EU, nor are we considered part of Asia. Our longest rivals, the U.S., are bogged down in a military quagmire, which everyone has confirmed is becoming a regional civil war. They may be there for years, and their strength will only be increasingly sapped.

'Meanwhile North Korea is starting to fold to the pressure of the U.N. and U.S., and there's been no reports of suspicious activity in Iran for awhile, the UN has just reached agreements for inspections. The most volatile region in the world is Africa, with three known regions of slaughter in Somalia, the Sudan, and Nigeria. South America? Flouting leaders who are anti-American.

'The time to assert Russian power has never been better."

And so today it is announced that Putin decided to suspend the pact of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This means the rest of the parties, Europe, has '150 days' after notification and that Russia will no longer allow 'inspections or exchange data on its deployments'. NATO: displeased.

The CFE has been cited as the single piece of policy that was most beneficial to wrapping up the Cold War. Now Russia has decided that those weapons discussed under the treaty should be unmonitored and, likely, increased: battle tanks, combat aircraft, heavy artillery.

Of course the main player in this will be the U.S. The U.K. has also had difficulties with Russia recently, especially publicized was the death of Litvinenko by radiation poisoning by the KGB. If there is a catalyst, however, it will be seen as the missile base that the U.S. has decided to place near the Russian border. Does anyone think that was a good idea? Probably even Bush is regretting that one, since he's tried to patch things up through talks with Putin already earlier this month.

Since this one seems to be about news of impending doom, a little more cheery stuff on that subject, eh? Might as well get all the bad stuff out of the way, after all.

So in California concerns for global warming are rising. There's many reasons to be concerned in the Golden State, of course, but in particular the wine industry is now beginning to fret. Vineyard operations aren't easy to control in the first place, a lot of the time you do all you can to cultivate the best crop you can, and then sit back for weather to take over.

Weather in California, like everywhere is getting worse. After the citrus industry was hit by a crippling freeze now the vineyards in No Cal are rightfully getting anxious about their vines' reactions to heat. The wine industry pulls in about $45 billion annually, no sum to be sneezed at. And agriculture, whether tropicals shipped to the other 49 states or seasonals sold on the roadside stands, is still a huge backbone of the state's economy.

Luckily we have Schwarzenagger. Schwarzenagger, Schwarzenagger, he's our man! If he can't fix it, no one can!

Can they?

Column 27 waiting

One of my friends was in Boston with family. Four were at Echo Bridge admiring the hemlock. One was on a field trip to a theatre and one working in town. The other two were around but busy practicing piano and, I assume, sleeping.

So I was stuck in the office. I don’t mind offices, but being alone in one can be a horrid bore. Our paychecks had come, and we discussed the discrepancies in amounts before taking our separate leaves of one another. And so I got to sit and, true to relate, began twiddling my thumbs for want of something to do.

My only job was to answer the phone, which had a ring rate of about once an hour, and keep my sanity with the help of my robot friends. I wish I had robot friends to keep me company, but sadly the only thing close to a robot was the stereo which I had no interest in listening to.
‘Spend a week in the desert and you’ll start talking to the lizards. Spend another and the lizards will start talking back.’ Though the office is void of lizards the temptation to talk to oneself grows as time passes, and for me the time doesn’t have to be very long at all before I strike up conversations with appliances:

‘Man she’s been gone forever. How long does it take to go to the corner store? It’s been, like, twenty minutes Mr. Toaster!’

The temptation to call people and bother them to hear their voice gets to you. But when your job is to answer incoming calls you can’t be on the phone chatting to bore your friends. And I had already eaten my back-up donut.

And then I realized the person I was office-sitting for wasn’t coming back. She said she’d gone for a routine doctor’s appointment, but that was patently a lie. Or even if it wasn’t a lie to escape to Chicago and start a new life with a dashing young man, the possibilities at the doctor’s office of something going wrong? Immense. She’d be in Urgent Care until next Tuesday. No way could she have left me here, and my friends left me here, without some nefarious reason.
It was the classic horror-story plot, and I’d been the fool to open the basement door after breaking from the group.

Of course she came back. Or at least I hope she does, for I’m writing this still waiting for her to return. But she’ll come back. She’s got to. Otherwise: nice knowing you.

column 26 writing

So this will probably be the worst column of the week. One of them has to be, after all.

The thing about writing a column is that you start at the beginning. Most writers don't do that. Starting from the end, knowing the plot ahead of time, mapping, outlines, all that jazz. But I never do. The beginning of the column may be about the French aristocracy's cohesion during the French Revolution, and end talking about why the HAL 9000 is the best villain in film. They're not so different. The French are less villainous, though.

And since we're disclosing things today it seems, I would be lying to not say that there are some days that I don't care to write anything at all. But if excellence is persistence and practice then my commitment to write nearly every day sure is arrogant. Someone can write every day and still be lousy. Anyone can do anything every day and still be lousy. It's just easier to notice when the action is public. Ever had a boss who was a pain to work for every day? Case in point.

Luckily my boss is quite nice and great at her job, so I don't complain. I have time over to read, write, hang with friends and listen to music. Sometimes I have to do these things for my job. Trust me, I couldn't ask for a sweeter deal, except in terms of pay. However, seeing as I'm writing in the world's richest country, shouldn't really complain about that either. There was an article by the BBC on how the cost of a banana is now more than a house in Zimbabwe. When my mom sold her house in San Francisco it was the cheapest in the city, collecting only $500,000. How many bananas is that? Or more importantly, how many houses in Zimbabwe?

I think to some extent we just don't get conversions in this country. Do you know how much energy you use taking a shower? The amount of water that is used in a ten-minute shower, and the temperature, considering how many joules it takes to raise x amount of water y degrees, times the volume you got from the amount of time spent showering. You'll get some nice figure if you do this experiment at home. You only need a bucket, a thermometer, and the Internet. When you find that out then find out how much energy it takes to lift a rock a yard off the ground and put it back to the ground, in a three second cycle. The rock should weigh about ten pounds.

Try lifting something as light as ten pounds up and down every three seconds for ten minutes. Your arms will ache. You may want to never touch a rock again. I couldn't hard lift my arms for the rest of the day. Find out how much energy you just burned doing it, in joules. Then compare to the shower.

My results? For a ten-minute shower at 100 degrees the amount of energy consumed was the same as lifting that rock, non-stop, for 24 days. Or maybe it was 12 days. A long, long time. Of course you could see it another way: 12 of me lifting that rock non-stop for one day. Or double that for half a day. Or 1,536 people for ten minutes.

Yet the real force isn't coming from us. It's from rivers, coal, wind, the sun. Nuclear energy, perhaps. There's the lesson behind all this: As much as consume the energy we are harvesting it from others, not ourselves. Our energy comes from food and water and that comes from geologic forces and the plants and animals that have adapted to these forces. So, you see children, the choice of the rock is not arbitrary, as it represents our dependency on the wonderful world of geology for our very survival and our debt to this molten rock we call home...

And the sun. Musn't forget that glowing ball of gas that keeps most of us alive. Of course one day the sun will expand and engulf the rock. Maybe we'll be gone by then. Not that it really matters. Eventually the universe expands and entropy freezes energy and any remaining life, or it collapses back in on itself in a fiery ball, re-initiating the big bang chain.

And with that cheery thought I'll close this one out. Told you it was going to be a bad one today.