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 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: 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.