Wednesday, April 9, 2008

100; This is the End

Okay folks. So now that college is winding down I've taken a look at some Bennington alumnae. Here they are, some famous, some not, some interesting, and some dull.


James Bloom, Professor of English, Muhlenberg College, PA. Author of four books.

Dick D. Zigun, Founder of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, "The Mayor of Coney Island", also playwright and freelance editorialist.

Sue Temple, Viola Instruction, Fort Collins High School.

Bret Easton Ellis, Generation X author of American Psycho, Rules of Attraction, and Less Than Zero.

Helen Frankenthaller, post-modern abstractionist Painter and Sculptor.

Diza Sauers, Assistant Director, Business Communication, University of Arizona.

Michael Pollan, Professor of Journalism at UC Berkley, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Elizabeth S. Niebling, Reference Librarian, Phillips Exeter Academy.

Timothy Daly, Actor, voice of Superman on the animated series.

Roshan Houshmand, Artist.

Roger Kimball, Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion.

Susan A. Wilt, Assistant Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health.

Andrea Dworkin, Writer and Feminist, anti-pornography activist.

Stephen Fowlkes, Artist and Professor, woodsculptures.

Merce Cunningham, Choreographer and Dancer.

Holland Taylor, Actress, "Two and a Half Men", "Legally Blonde".

Susan Crile, Professor at Hunter College, NYC, and Printmaker.

Carol Channing, Actress and Singer, "Hello, Dolly!" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes".

Jennifer H. Mieres, Director of Nuclear Cardiology, NYU Medical Center.

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States.

Joan Tower, Composer, multiple Grammy winner.

Sally Smith, Educator, founder of The Lab School.

Kathy Halbreich, Exhibition Director, NYMOMA.

Alethea Root, Academy Award-winning Production Designer.

Edison Arantes do Nascimento, "Pele", Soccer player.

Thom Yorke, Singer, Radiohead.

Ieoh Ming Pei, Architect, pioneer of Modernism.

Jerry Fallwell, Televangelist and Pastor.

George Carlin, Comedian, winner of multiple Grammys.

Willard Smith, Jr., Rapper and Actor, "Independence Day", "I Am Legend".

Steve Jobs, CEO and Co-Founder, Apple, Inc.

Betty Grable, Actress, Singer, Dancer and Pin-Up.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States.

John Brown, Abolitionist.

Juan Ponce De Leon, Conquistador.

Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, "Madame de Pompadour", Courtesan.

Murasaki Shibu, Author, The Tale of Genji.

Nicodemus, Pharisee.

Johnny Cash, Musician, "At Folsom Prison".

Koko, Gorilla.

Your Mother, Whore.

As this will be be my last foreseeable column I'll be keeping it up for a while. I hope all y'all who read these things enjoyed them. I enjoyed writing them. If you are feeling deprived of columns you can always catch a Bathroom Monologue ( or my sister's fledgling entertainment news blog ( And of course, there is the archive of my columns at ( Thank you, Google.

Thanks for taking the time to read my work. Be well.

Friday, April 4, 2008

99; And now a word from the Internet

"Hokay, so. This is the world..."

"I'm a shaaark!"

"A magical leopluradon."

"It's not like a truck..."


"Doug what you did was rape."

"Lobster's made of Meat!"

"Simpsons did this chart??"

"We like the mooon..."

"If I'm not avail you taco nazi!"

Garfield: "..."

"All your base are belong to us."

"Sexy construction worker! ...And Frog."

"I has a bucket."



"It's a no-no. And you like it."


"Kitten Huffing."

"John Freeman walked real fast..."

"And yes, this is a written threat."

"It's me! Every Girl Ever."

"Hello. I am Prince Ngongo from Nigeria..."

"Joker pulls boner of the year!"

"Porkchop sandwiches!"




Monday, March 31, 2008

98; More Theories

So I was thinking about butts, breasts and eyes. I understand butts and breasts, but I don't understand eyes.

That is, when a guy looks at a woman's chest or rear there is a rational explanation.

According to my theory of Unified Gandering (UG), there is a biological explanation for men staring at women's breasts and butts. I will also divulge my corollary about men being interested in younger women.

It must be recollected that the theoretical starting point is that sexual intercourse is undertaken with procreation in mind. And we must remember that the purpose of procreation is to ensure that your genes get passed on to the next generation.

Now primates, in general, are nasty things. Especially when they are young. Primates have one of the longest periods of development of any animal. They take a long time to mature to adulthood. As such the parental involvement of primates is far more intense and lengthy than that of, say, a toad.

"Have you laid all the eggs?"

"Yes, Mort. Aren't they darling?"

"Nope. Want to go back to the pad and abandon the little swimmers to their fate?"


And they hop away into the sunset, leaving their young to metamorphose on their own. Primates can't do that. Young are a necessary burden if you want the species to survive. This explains breasts. Breasts are an indicator of milk production. Historically the better off one is, the larger the breast size. Undernourished females will have smaller breasts than well-nourished females. So if you are sizing up a mate you want to make sure she can feed your child, and won't abandon it to fend for herself.

Okay, so it makes sense that butts are also gauged in sizing up a mate. There's a pretty consistent correlation between round butts and big hips. Big hips, mating-wise, are a good thing. It means they will be more likely to have a successful childbirth. You want your sexual partner to have big child-birthin' hips, and big mammaries to nourish your progeny.

(Again I am increasingly perplexed by the baby boomers. Twiggy? Seriously? What is wrong with our parent's generation?)

I should also take a moment to address the other cardinal sin of male actions under the UG theory, namely that men tend to gander younger women. But this should come at no surprise. A younger female is less likely to have mated with other males, and therefore more likely to be a good candidate to raise your young. If she's older she might have her own young to care for from a genetic rival. That's why the Nature channel always shows herds of animals like elephant seals with harems of females. Ever notice that the story is the same? Old male, Alpha, controls breeding rights with a bunch of younger females. Eventually he gets too old, and the female elephant seals start talking about him behind his back, make unfavorable comparisons to Hugh Hefner, begin noticing his ear hairs, etc. Other male, Beta, decides he is strong enough, smart enough, (he's feeling good, been seeing a therapist once a week) and senses the time is ripe to usurp Alpha. And guess what? He does. Every time. But the point I wish to emphasize is the old male-young female thing. Older stronger males get breeding rights with young females.

So that explains everything: butts, breasts, and younger women. With one exception, and this is the fatal flaw of my theory: eyes.

You can look at two pairs of brown eyes (that's four eyes in all) and say that one pair is pretty and one isn't. That's not to say the other pair are ugly. I think your eyes are just fine. They just aren't for me.

That's the whole crux. Eyes shouldn't matter. But they do. Humans are friggin' aesthetic and it drives biology wild. Should the distance between the eyes or the shape of the jaw matter to us? Maybe. There could be some biological reason for each being pleasing. And given the butt-breast argument I would imagine there is a strong biological reason for proportions being pleasing. But eye color?

There's really no good reason for it. People have prerequisite colors. (Bed-filler wanted. Only blues need apply.) Even within one over-arching color, like blue, we distinguish some eyes as 'pretty', others as not.

Why this is I have no idea. Perhaps it's the first steps of man past the UG stage.

After all, humans are supposed to be smart. Maybe basing mating preferences on something other than biological instincts is a step in the right direction. Or maybe we'll end up killing ourselves off. Either way it's a win-win.

Monday, March 24, 2008

97; The Carpenter's bi-monthly board meeting

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax-- Of cabbages--and kings-- And why the sea is boiling hot--And whether pigs have wings."

"I agree. For far too long the committee has neglected these pressing issues. I suggest we take them in order they come. First we should hear from Dave as to the state of progress his group has reached regarding shoes."

"Thank you Mike. Our committee, as you know, has been investigating the shoe question for a few weeks now. Our team has been dedicated to finding answers, and have really been putting in a lot of hard work and a lot of time to this."

"Any conclusions thus far?"

"None yet, Walrus. But we figure witha slight budgetary increase we'll be able to make some good headway before the end of this Financial quarter."

"Okay. Can you report any preliminary findings?"

"Well sure," Cindy piped up, "We've been able to come up with some findings. I think what Dave meant to say was that we'd not gotten as far as we'd've liked. Not that we hadn't gotten anywhere at all."

"I understand. And?"

"Regarding shoes?"


"You wear them on your feet."


"Very good. Can we move on to the ship agenda?..."

"Before we get to that," Brad interjected, "Janet and I have another meeting at 3:35. Would it be okay if we were to step in and present our findings about flying pigs? Is that alright with you guys?"

"Yeah, yeah. I think that'll be fine."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. No. You guys go ahead. You've got that meeting to go to."

"Thanks. Well, Janet, you want to start?"

"Sure. So as you know our group was investigating whether or not pigs have wings. We actually came to some interesting preliminary conclusions on this. You're all familiar with the phrase 'when pigs fly'. Our report shows that this phrase is not actually consistent with a realistic outlook for our projections both of reality, and more importantly, for our company."

"What course of action do you suggest?"

"Well, our team unanimously agreed that we would be unable to implement any effective solutions without a budgetary increase. Assumed that was given we would be able to further investigate how this view came up in our company, and perhaps locate it's source. Then, of course, we have to address why this view was held unchallenged for so long."

"Perhaps we should not be too hasty in turning this into a witch hunt. Many members of the senior advisory board, the CEO and myself have all been known to use the phrase 'when pigs fly' with regards to this company. I don't think that prosecuting past mistakes is necessarily the right course of action in this case."

The Walrus concurred. "Let's see if we can shift the focus of your project into a more proactive set of guidelines that focus on further prevention, instead of using your resources on trying to track down something whose origins might be anywhere within the company."

Of course the Walrus knew exactly where the phrase had come from. But it was in his interest, and his boss' interest, to keep this investigation from going too far.

Friday, March 21, 2008

96; It's the Time of the Season for... Puppies?

My thoughts on relationships have been rather bitter recently. I think it's sort of fitting that the first column I posted was written at this time last year, and dealt with the same feelings. Of course that column was the flip side of the emotion:

"But, to be honest, Spring Fever is one of the few things we wish was contagious. It's cousin, happiness, is contagious. And we can catch a mild case of happiness from someone who has Spring Fever without getting bowled over by the full works. But the only way to guarantee catching it is through close proximity with someone you care about."

And reading this is when I realized I'd never written out a column on my theory of puppies. And since the theory of puppies is one of my central theories regarding human nature, I suppose it would do well to write it down. Preemptively I should distinguish that the theory is not originally mine, but my friend Dana's. When she described it to me the first time something clicked, and so I have carried it on as my own.

So there are two patterns to weave together here: The first is about this time of year and why it is either great or sucks. The other is the puppy-connection to human nature. I'll take them in that order.

Every November I begin, like many, to feel amorous. And why not? The weather outside is cold. Those months are stuffed with emotion and sentiment and a particular emphasis on not being alone. An empty bed in December can be a sorry sight indeed. And, anthropologically, I have observed on my college's campus an empirically verifiable trend, (significant at that - p<.06) that relationships start in abundance during those two months before winter break. Now you could be a nay-sayer and attribute this to the cycle of the school: In September you're still getting your bearings, in October you are scouting prospects out, and not until November or December are you ready to enter a relationship. That's a fine explanation too. I do not criticize alternative explanations. But I may choose to embrace my own.

Enter Spring. Except it's not Spring. Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox. The first day of Spring. What did it do here? It snowed. That's the problem with this time of year. Not only do you have the cold weather thing affecting you, you also have Spring playing on you. This is the time of year after all. Rabbits, eggs, procreation, birth, May revelry, etc. Only not quite yet. We are in Winter-Spring limbo. If you're with someone then all is cozy and fab. If you are alone I have a rope, lead pipe, and a wrench you can borrow.

So let's talk about puppies. I have a mental image of two adorable puppies curled up in a basket together. I think it was from a greeting card. What is so adorable about these puppies? I mean, they're cute and all, no doubts. But there's something about them being asleep in that basket together that evokes a particular feeling. If the image was two puppies frolicking in a field the emotion wouldn't be the same. They may still be cute, but they wouldn't have the same 'awww' quality.

My wise friend Dana let me in on the secret. The 'awww' doesn't come from a knowledge that those puppies are sexually or romantically into each other. They aren't in the basket together because they are 'into' one another. It is, in fact, exactly the opposite of this understanding which provokes our sentiment. What makes the puppies adorable is that they are fond of each other, but not in 'that way'. Puppies are, after all, supposed to be innocent. It would be unsettling to think of the puppies sleeping together in a sexual, or even a romantic context. They are simply curled up together because they find each other warm and comfortable, and if you find someone warm and comfortable then why wouldn't you curl up and sleep with them?

See where I'm going with this? People can do this too. People should do this too. We are social primates. Pack animals. There is an inherent human craving for closeness. It would be striking, and is striking, to encounter people who don't have this drive.

But, (and I recognize I'm taking a Rousseau-ean line with this) society is totally not cool with that. If you are seen cuddling with someone in public they assume that there is something 'more' to be read into it. Often times Society is right, and will enjoy nothing more than to brag about it a week later when it comes out that you're sleeping together euphemistically. Then you take a stick and chase society down and give it a piece of your mind.

But, folks, it doesn't have to be this way. We can embrace our inner puppy nature, especially at this time of year, and get close to one another. We can start a curling-up-together revolution. We can change our state of mind, for that's all it is friends: a state of mind. Let us embrace our animal natures and do as the animals do. Let us lie in the grass, and cuddle on the couch and embrace on the bed. You can make it happen if you want it.

There is a better way, I have seen it, and it involves sleeping together. Can I get an Amen?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

95; Guys

This one was inspired by two different sources and one condition. The condition is the average Bennington workload, wherein I have had very little time to write. The First source was my rediscovery of a fantastic website, the best of craigslist ( This site is the greatest depiction of humanity on the internet.

Craigslist is a website that began as a sort of message board for San Francisco. You could buy things, sell things, look for people, jobs, join groups, book gigs, whatever. It quickly branched out to pretty much everywhere. I've gotten multiple jobs off of craigslist. My mom bought her house off craigslist. It's a nifty site. There is also a 'Best of'. This isn't the best of New York, or Boston, or San Diego. It's the cumulative best of all the different sites, all categories. From unbridled optimism to moving pathos. From "Jar for sale. May contain ghost." to "To the guy doing my wife..."

The other source which prompted this was a gal pal who asked me point-blank, "What's wrong with guys?". This was, mind, in the context of relationships. Of course there's a laundry list of offenses. Yet I was moved by some anonymous fellow on the 'Best of' who wrote the slightly abridged (noted in parentheses) following transcript. It was an excellent defense, and I thought I'd share. It seemed somewhat pertinent to the Bennington dating pool.

"I see this question posted with some regularity in the personals section, so I thought I'd take a minute to explain things to the ladies out there that haven't figured it out. What happened to all the nice guys?

The answer is simple: you did.

See, if you think back, really hard, you might vaguely remember a Platonic guy pal who always seemed to want to spend time with you. He'd tag along with you when you went shopping, stop by your place for a movie when you were lonely but didn't feel like going out, or even sit there and hold you while you sobbed and told him about how horribly the (other) guy(...) treated you.

At the time, you probably joked with your girlfriends about how he was a little puppy dog, always following you around, trying to do things to get you to pay attention to him. They probably teased you because they thought he had a crush on you. Given that his behavior was, admittedly, a little pathetic(...)Besides, he totally wasn't your type. I mean, he was a little too short, or too bald, or too fat, or too poor, or didn't know how to dress himself, or basically be or do any of the things that your tall, good-looking, fit, rich, stylish boyfriend at the time pulled off with such ease.

Eventually, your Platonic buddy drifted away, as your relationship with the boyfriend got more serious and spending time with this other guy was, admittedly, a little weird (...)time passed, and the boyfriend eventually cheated on you, or became boring, or you realized that the things that attracted you to him weren't the kinds of things that make for a good, long-term relationship. So, now, you're single again, and after having tried the bar scene for several months having only encountered players (...)you wonder, "What happened to all the nice guys?" (...)

You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy. You laughed at his consideration and resented his devotion. You valued the aloof boyfriend more than the attentive "just-a-" friend. Eventually, he took the hint and moved on with his life. He probably came to realize, one day, that women aren't really attracted to guys who hold doors open; or make dinners just because; or buy you a Christmas gift that you mentioned, in passing, that you really wanted five months ago; or listen when you're upset; or hold you when you cry. He came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he'd have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.

Fact is, now, he's probably getting laid, and in a way, your ultimate rejection of him is to thank for that. And I'm sorry that it took the complete absence of "nice guys" in your life for you to realize that you missed them and wanted them. Most women will only have a handful of nice guys stumble into their lives, if that. So, if you're looking for a nice guy, here's what you do:

1.) Build a time machine.
2.) Go back a few years and pull your head out of your ass.
3.) Take a look at what's right in front of you and grab a hold of it.

(...)So, please: either stop misrepresenting what you want(...) It's time to (...)deal with reality. You didn't want a nice guy then, and he certainly doesn't (...) want you, now.


A Recovering Nice Guy"

Sunday, March 9, 2008

94; It starts with an earthquake...

My apocalyptic visions as a child were perhaps abnormal. I think I got the idea from frequenting museums. If the world was going to end what knowledge did I want to have at my disposal?

There were other sources that lead to this notion, of course. I had read "The Giver" and "Fahrenheit 451". I envisioned a ceremony where we were all getting onto a spaceship and could only bring a few (the number varied depending on how lenient I was feeling towards humanity that day) things on board. What would you bring?

I always tried to think of things other people would forget. Why worry about the Mona Lisa? Someone, probably a lot of people, have thought of it. No need to bring a copy of War and Peace: 2,000 other people thought of it already.

According to some versions of the vision there were only four or five of us getting on the ship who were responsible for all of humanity's culture. I would be in charge of picking something like one hundred pieces of art, or books, or pieces of music. The decision had to be made on the spot, and my choices were broadcast to the earth's population below the launch platform, who listened intently to make sure I didn't forget anything (no consulting allowed). It always played out that I forgot some masterpiece that a white-haired man with glasses had dedicated his life to. Naturally I felt bad for him, and the fact that his life's work was going to be destroyed, likely by hostile aliens.

What, in another scenario, would you do if you couldn't bring artifacts? The actual songs, poems, scientific achievements, architectural wonders, all were lost. With only your memory to rely on what would you dedicate your mental space to remembering? Would you remember song lyrics, or novels? Scientific equations or Euclidean proofs? And how would you pass on the information, by writing or speaking? What about visual achievements?

No matter how bleak my recurrent apocalyptic visions got they were always, at heart, optimistic. If you're bothering to save something, after all, then you must have a purpose in mind for it. The artifacts, the knowledge were going to be passed on to someone. The human race had a future yet.

This brings me to the collector's mania. If one chooses to dedicate their time, money, and life to collection they usually have one of two views in mind. The first view is that they are collecting things of monetary value, and so they will, at a later date, sell these things and their investment will turn a profit. The other form of collector is the type who collects things with the design to pass them on.

Personally, as someone who collects books and music, I think I'm still working under the end of the world assumption. My library of albums and classic literature is to serve more of a database function than as something I intend to sell. I suppose it could be viewed as something to pass on to my children, should I ever be unfortunate enough to procreate, but they'll have to fight me for it.

Here's a question to wrap up these musings on materialism: If you realized your house was on fire, what one thing would you take with you? A sentimental object, or one of great worth? Your hard drive? I once knew a woman who actually had to make that decision. The choice? Her dirty laundry basket. All her favorite clothes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

93; Opening a Can of Worms

"So what is the problem here? In a nutshell: too many people writing about politics. Everybody's got to do a piece, and everybody's got to have an angle, and the angle is either viewing with alarm or noting with approval, and noting with approval isn't very interesting, so there's just a whole lot of viewing with alarm." -Jon Carroll, from the SF Chronicle

Number of bloggers in 1995: 0. Number in 2008: roughly the population of the United States.

I have a friend who is into worms. Earthworms, particularly, are fascinating. One may be tempted to inquire why, and one may receive answers, very enthusiastic answers, about how most earthworms in New England are actually invasive European worms and their effect on the ecosystem is monumental and the west was really won by the great deeds of worms and not men. When you walk away, blinking, you'll also have a nifty fact to parse out at cocktail parties. Or in your column.

But, my oh my, what a change I have witnessed. The poor fellow, this sympathetic creature, was subjected to earthworm study without stop for too long. To compare his portrait before and after:

Then: *Bounding with glee* I get to study earthworms! All the time! I'm going to know so much about them! *Kisses baby, does cartwheels, and breaks out in soft shoe*

Now: *Slouched over the bar, barely coherent* Wroms@! Motha...GraAaH. They...They... ...They. Wormies. Gimme 'Nother?

One can only hold out hope that some emotional duct tape will be found for him.

These topics were related in my mind when this article began and I think it had something to do with how I needed to write a column. But more than that there was the element that overexposure is a Bad Thing. Too much of a Good Thing is a Bad Thing isn't particularly newsworthy, I realize - Ah! Now I remember where I was going - and that's part of the reason for my relief in completing this writing exercise soon. Everyone is out there gabbing, but all that overexposure to gabbing has lead to an overwhelming experience.

If, as Jon Carroll points out, everyone is writing on politics, and trying for different angles and viewing with alarm, then what's the point? You only need a few people to do it. The number of people watching a tenement burn down doesn't affect the horror or the consequences. You might argue that a broader audience allows you to spread it around more. And this is useful why?

Well, the main argument is that if more people are made aware then they are better informed. And if you accept that notion then you can get good results like an informed citizenry who makes democracy work. Taking issue with the initial assumption, however, is what I'm getting at. Just because more people view the fire doesn't mean that they'll be any better informed. They still won't know the cause of the fire, or perhaps who is involved, or what's being done inside the building. See where this metaphor is going?

When it comes to politics, if you see the politician's face on the television more it doesn't mean you have a better understanding of who they are. You only get a better idea of what they look like. And if millions of people see that face it's no more likely that they as a group will have a better understanding than you did. It would be more likely that, collectively, they have a worse understanding. Rumour, gossip, misinformation: all of these are present and inflamed by the numbers of people involved.

Now, what I'm saying may be kinda dangerous. Advocating a position of limited informed citizenry is definitely a peculiar stance, I'll admit. The concern regards "just a whole lot of viewing in alarm". Sure, some people viewing with alarm can be a good thing. Alarm is often necessary. I am reminded of the fellow who came to speak a few years ago at Bennington through the Social Science Colloquium who was trying to raise awareness about Darfur. Without people like him getting the word out awareness wouldn't have been easily possible. But it is important to stress that he was a very well-informed person, who had spent time and energy on cultivating an understanding of the situation. Had we, during the Colloquium, been subjected to a presenter who wasn't very well-informed, our understanding would not have been as valuable. Or if we had heard thirteen presenters on Darfur we'd not have had exposure to all the other wonderful topics that were brought up in that series.

To wrap up: If all the bloggers are writing politics then you lose out on their value, and you lose out on all the other topics to explore. Being presented with this volume of angles and opinions and alarm can leave one overwhelmed, much like my friend who dug earthworms, but is now sick of them. Had he spiced up his investigations by occasionally dissecting butterflies instead he may have been a happier scientist.

Oh no! It''s...another column taking an angle on how people write too much about politics! The hypocrisy! The horror!

Friday, February 29, 2008

92; Where does he get his sources?

All right, all right. All right, already! ALL RIGHT.

So many people have been heckling and bothering me, trying to break down my door to have me update. I appreciate your concern, and here I am, updating.


I apologize for keeping up the Human Rights column for so long. I could come up with some bullshit excuse about keeping it up there. I could claim that I felt everyone should be familiar with the UN's Human Rights, and this was my subtle way of providing that information. It's not true, but it's a nice thought.

In reality the past few updates were written in a flurry many weeks ago, and I was able to stagger them appropriately. Having subsequently returned to school, and taking an absurd number of credits, I'm quite swamped.

Let's get this ball rolling, then. First off: Upon inquiry I've been asked to write about piglets, happy rainbows, plastic boardgame pieces, and Shakespeare in Love. Not only will I write about them, I will rock the socks off all of them.

On January 26th a firecrew saved nearly 1,000 piglets in Buckinghamshire from a blaze, according to the BBC.

On January 9th the Secretary of Schools in England failed to list the colors of a rainbow correctly, in an article amusingly titled 'Rainbow error makes Balls blush' (Ed Balls being the secretary) according to the BBC.

Yesterday an article on whether depression is actually good for you appeared, citing some psychiatrist's claims that rather than taking pills depression "can force a healthy reassesment of personal circumstances," according to the BBC.

On February 7th Rachel Lowe, creator of the boardgame Destination sold her idea, lambasted publicly by critics, to Disney and Warner Bros. for two million pounds, according to the BBC.

Speaking of plastic toys: A giant pacific octopus, as of January 10th, made friends with a Mister Potato Head in a Cornish aquarium. "Louis is well known for his curiosity and intelligence", according to the BBC.

John Fletcher's portrait was bought by the National Portrait Gallery in London for 218,000 pounds. John Fletcher was a rival and sometimes collaborator of William Shakespeare, according to the BBC.

And why is it when I search for 'love' in the BBC databse I get an article titled: 'Cake-eating contest death warning'?

Oh, and today is leap year. According to the BBC.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

91; Universal Rights

Hypothesis: All people are different, but equal.

To clarify, we must acknowledge the diversity of the human population and individuality of its members, while affirming an equality of rights for all.

The UN has come up with 30 rights "as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations" known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thirty rights are a lot to remember, though. So I thought I may try and consolidate, a la Carlin, the number of rights into a manageable number. Here goes.

One and Two read: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." I think saying 'all beings' covers all the other predicates, doesn't it? Basically the second article is just a redundancy. We can par down these articles to saying 'all people are free and equal.' This brings us to numbers three and four:

"Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and No one shall be held in slavery or servitude." But surely 'liberty' discludes any form of slavery? So we can ax the fourth article, and for that matter the fifth "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment", since torture is clearly in violation of 'security of person'.

Article six reads: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article seven: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. So far as I can tell these are basically saying the same thing, namely 'All people are equal, (which automatically excludes the notion of discrimination) before the law.'

Article eight's statement, "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law" and nine: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile" just reiterate this same concern, and further that no one will be arbitrarily arrested, which is already covered by the right to liberty earlier noted. Ten: Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. But this is not so distinct from number eight, which we agreed is covered by number six.

Eleven is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and so we can sum up articles 6-11 with 'All peple are equal before the laws which will assume thier innocence.'

Twelve: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation, and Thirteen that all persons have freedom of movement. Fourteen asserts: "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution." Certainly these are all instances of encroachment of liberty, already secured.

Fifteen is odd: Everyone has the right to a nationality. Sixteen: Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. I think we can combine these into saying that you have a right to have a home, since a home implies family and location. Seventeen adds to this with the right to property.

Eighteen is freedom of religion, nineteen covers expression, and twenty peaceful assembly. Twenty-one: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. To consolidate: 'All persons are allowed to think what they want, with whoever they want, worship whatever they want, and vote.'
Twenty-two is pure repitition: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security. This is just an amalgamation of security and the political liberty already described.

Twenty-three is the right to work, and twenty-four is the right to limits on work, which can be summed up as 'All people have the right to work a reasonable ammount.' Twenty-five covers the right to a healthy standard of living. Twenty-six, the right to education. Twenty-seven, "the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community". I think this last one sums them up nicely, so we can say 'All people can get an education and have a good standard of living.' The right to partake in one's culture is already covered under 'social security'.

Finally the last three state a right to have these articles enforced, that all states should implement these articles, and that persons are free to develop thier personality, which I consider an exercise of liberty.

What do we have left, then, of the above thirty?

'All people are free and equal,' Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,' 'All people are equal before the laws which will assume thier innocence,' 'Everyone has the right to a home,' 'All persons are allowed to think what they want, with whoever they want, worship whatever they want, and vote,' and 'All people can get an education and have a good standard of living'. I sum these up in the following statement:

All people are free, and can use that freedom to better themselves in a society which grants them their liberty and societal rights before the law.

Monday, February 18, 2008

90; Liberal Arts

Here are some sample college or high school courses I wrote up a few years ago. (There's no other context. Sorry.)

LIT 2121.01
The Graphic Novel

Dillon, Ross

BAM! WHACK! CRUNCH! HASSELHOF! In this course we will be exploring the young field of the graphic novel and what makes them distinct as a novel from a comic book. Readings will include: Moore, Watchmen, Speigelman, Maus, Gaiman, Sandman, Herge, The Case of the Blue Lotus, Eisner, City of God, Smith, Bone, Thompson, Blankets, Deitch, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Miller, The Dark Knight Returns, Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid in the World, and Brown, Ed the Happy Clown.

PHI 2212.01
America meet the East: Indian and Japanese spiritualism of the 50s, 60s, and 70s

Dillon, Ross

In the middle decades of the last century America saw a popular influx of Eastern philosophy and spiritualism in popular culture. We’ll explore the traditional Hindu and Brahman philosophy that was popularized by such movements and figures as Ram Dass and the Hare Krishnas in the first half of the course, and then focus on the Buddhist, particularly the Zen movement for the second half, popularized by Kerouac, Berrigan, D.T. Suzuki and other religious and popular philosophical figures.

CMD 2112.01

Dillon, Ross

What makes a stand up routine work? What differentiates between a stage comedian and a stand-up comedian? In this course we will take a cue from the masters of stand-up comedy and work on our own presentation of material that is designed to play to and make the most use of the stand-up comedy venue.

PHY 2111.01
Introduction to Wave Mechanics

Dillon, Ross

What are wave mechanics? How does wave mechanics apply to Newton’s physics? Quantum physics? My life? We will help answer these questions delving into the fascinating and complex realm of wave mechanics and its uses and difficulties explaining our physical world and the application of wave mechanics to the phenomena of your world including your cat.

ECN 2221.01

Dillon, Ross

Fuck the system! Never did me any good anyhow. If we reject capitalist economy what do we have left to choose from? Well, there’s socialism, Marxism, fascism, and anarchist approaches to economy. Excluding the latter we’ll investigate the three remaining forms of economy and ask where they got their roots, and how they’re related to capitalism as well as the arguments they make against capitalism and the grounds for rejection.

WCV 2111.01
The Vikings

Dillon, Ross

An elite group of warriors who ransacked and terrorized their neighbors, or peace-loving spiritual explorers and agrarians? In this course we are going to try and solve the mystery of the Vikings, the apparent discrepancies of their society and their impact on our Civilization. Research and two papers are part of this course.

DGA 2111.01
Numbers, Computers and Art
Dillon, Ross

In this class students will work with automatic art creation, using programs and statistical variabilities to generate art patterns and discover what art can be made by a computer or programmer asking when is the art is art and who is the artist?

PSY 2221.01
Are You Crazy?

Dillon, Ross

What is sanity and insanity? What are the measures of a sane mind compared to a normal mind? In fact, just what is normal, in terms of a healthy mind? This course aims to challenge the preconceptions of our definitions and explore the historical definitions and sometimes grisly treatments of insanity compared to sanity. Students will research topics of their choosing and interest.

All courses four credits, and meet during the period of that other class you have to take.

Friday, February 15, 2008

89; Happy Something

Let's just get rid of holidays. Anyone?

Holidays suck, and they do so for many reasons. You may dislike that most holidays have become too commercial. You may dislike that you do not share the sentiment the holiday is supposed to express. You may even dislike the historical roots from which our holidays are formed (Christmas, Valentine's, St. Patrick's, Easter and yet we claim to be a religiously tolerant country wha?).

If you squint the holidays sort of seem to correspond to the seven deadly sins. One could argue that Thanksgiving is for gluttony, Christmas for greed, Veterans day for wrath, Easter for guilt, Halloween for sugar, and Arbor day for hippiness.

Oh, and Valentine's day. For lust, obviously. Because that's what St. Valentine was all about. But wait! Just who was this guy anyway?

Well, first off, he wasn't just one guy. They know the one whose feast day we are supposed to be celebrating was buried on this day north of Rome. Except they're not sure if it was one guy or two who was buried, if they were both named Valentine, or what they did that was so special. Technically, like St. Nick, he's not even a real saint anymore, ever since 1969. Celebrating a feast for him didn't even start until 469, when our favorite Pope, Gelasius I, singled Valentine out as one of many "whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God." Which is some pretty good PR for someone whose sanctity couldn't be proven one way or the other.

We know he died. He may have died somewhere between the years 269 and 273. And he may have been a preist. Or a bishop. Or a martyr in Africa. Oh, and I didn't even get into the theories of how Valentine's is just a cover-up for that wildly popular pagan festival of Lupercalia.

And guess whose to blame for pinning the bawdy romantic love element onto this obscure person(s)? Geoffrey Chaucer. My reverence grows.

From which we end up with chocolate and greeting cards. What a mess. Two guys (probably) burried on a road outside of Rome, one maybe a bishop, the other maybe a preist, and both likely named Valentine. They don't know when these guys died, though they think they were martyrd, and it would be two hundred years until a Pope decides that this random fellow is worthy of a saint day. Which in the fourteenth century gets warped by an Englishman to reflect the interests of his times.

Basically I think this was a shrine that got out of hand. Reading through the history of the church they erected on the road, which Pope after Pope adorned and beautified, makes me think tht since this shrine was so near to Rome and was obviously popular they sanctified the guy in a hurry, and to prove they really meant it gave him a nice church, which, by 1425, was described as the church "beyond the gate without walls, [that] has no preist". It gets better, since the church (technically a basillica by this point) was built on top of ancient Christian catacombs. What's most likely is that Valentine, whoever he was, was just one of many Christians on the site, which would explain why it was so popular.

In case your interested in relics, by the way, the poor man's bones, (which they identified in the catacombs) aren't actually there anymore. They're in Ireland. Just thought you'd like to know if you were now planning a pilgrimage to his final resting place, which is now Dublin.

Writing this on Valentine's day I must confess I have a little more respect for the holiday. It's rather impressive the course history took that some guy, living somewhere, who died for his beliefs has been elevated to such a prominent position. Well, prominent in Europe and North America, at any rate.

All of this has been given as an example of why not to have holidays. Their messages and meanings, far from being universal, are warped and twisted through odd historical tales and persons. (Seriously, Chaucer? That's just so awesome.) If we question why these days are worth remembering then we often find ourselves at a loss. Not to mention the fact that many holidays aren't days at all, but moving landmarks, of course tied-in to the seasonal changes which differ yearly (most egregiously in the case of Easter.)

So you can celebrate the day if you want to. Or you can leave your friends behind. But I rather express myself when I choose, without having to make a special show of it due to a Catholic Pope thinking some dead Christian was pretty popular. That doesn't even make sense.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

88; BINGO!

Is the order of things important? To rephrase that in two ways: If you get to the right conclusion do the order of the steps matter? or, If you approach things in the wrong order can you achieve the same understanding form the conclusion?

On the 'right order' side of the argument you have examples like reading Dante before Virgil, creating a logical argument, solving a math problem without getting lost, or building, well, nearly anything mechanic.

In the red corner, representing 'order doesn't matter', are scavenger hunts, getting rich and famous, putting on your socks and underwear, and writing the introduction or conclusion first.

For you, perhaps, there is a vital order as to whether you should put on your socks or boxers, or you don't much care if you read Morgan before Mendel. (Geneticists. Mendel's experiments in plant hybredization blew the whole thing open, which Morgan followed upon with fruit flies. But you may ask yourself: are fruit flies more interesting to me? And you may ask yourself: can I stomach Mendel's prose? And you may say to yourself: this is not of any interest to me. And you may say to yourself: this is not my beautiful wife!)


Like most choices neither choice is the right choice. Each choice has potential to be the right choice, but there is no inherent quality to the choice which makes that choice the correct choice. And if you can follow all that then choosing to read this column was obviously the right choice.

You see my problem is Myers Briggs personality tests. The Myers Briggs test takes four categories and splits them into dual-choice options: Introverted or extroverted? Intuitive or Sensitive? Thinking or Feeling? Judging or Perceiving? Based on this you can get sixteen different categories of people. Further: based upon the combination of characteristics you can determine personality types, how people behave, think, and are likely to act.

So the query leads us to ask (in this case showing my preference to handle things in the right order): What is more important to our being? To take a case example, a friend of mine was raised for 18 years in San Francisco. Does that fact bear more relevance to trying to understand my friend's mindset than his being extroverted or introverted?

The priorities of the human condition. A plateau that we have arrived at before the final summit. If everyone is unique just like everyone else it is due to a sort of gigantic Myers Brigg dichotomy.

To take an example, start with a sample population, say the human population. Now isolate only those persons who are American citizens, narrowing the pool to about 350 million. Then isolate persons who live in Massachustetts, roughly 6.5 million. Then pick only those who are Republicans, or gay, or married. Eventually, if you add enough categories, your sample size will get to one.

But can we do this test with non-quantafiable conditions? In essence that is what the Myers Brigg test does, is asks you personal questions, which you cannot find on survey data. Nowhere in the Massachusetts State statistics will you find what percentage of the population considers themselves Thinkers rather than Feelers.

Bringing us to the ascent ahead of us. If people can, theoretically, be defined by a series of predicates, then I propose the possibility of a perfect human. Hear me out.

The idea of these predicates being applicable in every category would also lead to things like 'good listener or bad listener'? or 'industrious or generally lazy'? Virtuous traits would also be quantifiable. As such someone who had all the virtuous traits would be an ideal person.

Yet this may be a bit rash. Okay, I confess. That would be extremely rash, and the problem is inherent throughout the argument. While I may be 'generally lazy' until I'm 20 years old, the next twenty years of my life may be regarded as 'industrious'. If that person were to croak on their fortieth birthday would they be marked up based upon the first twenty years or the latter? In a word, the element which is lost is the question of change.

Let's create a grid. There's only one row, but thousands of columns. The columns are all labeled after virtues, and the row is either checked or unchecked. It's a scorecard, and everyone has one.

But the order doesn't matter. Someone may have 'humility' checked, whereas their boss may have 'good management'. Eventually, theoretically, you can get every box checked. You can look around and say, hey, I've got patience down, but that guy doesn't. Of course he'll be thinking that he's got good hygene, and you've got possum-killing breath.

So far I've not met anyone who has eberyhing down. Lessons I've learned have yet to be learned by others. Then again there are hundreds or thousands of lessons left for me to learn. The order doesn't matter. It may help, in certain cases and specific scenarios, but, to my mind, I think it's more in the camp of scavenger hunt. People will continue to develop at different rates, learn different lessons, and sometimes even regress. It's all good. The game eventually ends, and our scores are erased. All you can do, as they say, is try your best to make the summit. Or win the game. Pick your metaphor.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

87; Wind-up

I'm winding it down.

These columns have been fun, I'll admit. They've given me a chance to rant, think aloud, and write some, hopefully, amusing pieces. I hope some people have enjoyed them.

When I began writing them, at Leeds, I was in a very different place in my life. The excersise spurted out of two concerns. One was a lack of stuff on my shiny new Facebook page. These were the days before applications my friends. (Less than a year back, and yet it feels like so much longer, doesn't it?) At first I filled the space with entries by my friend John Wiswell's mighty blog, The Bathroom Monologues, which I may just plug in every installment from here on out. Seriously, go read it. The other column I would place in that section was Jon Carroll's actual syndicated writings from the SF Chronicle.

One week they both had a lack of material, and so I had to find something to fill the void. This coincided with the other concern I mentioned, namely that I had way too much time on my hands. I was bored, didn't have any social life and no friends. School was unpleasant. I had no movies to watch (although I eventually resorted to watching full episodes of MST3K on YouTube. That's how bad it got, friends.) I was obsessively try to cultivate some musical background and appreciation. But that was a slow task.

Usually Ross would, I can hear those who know me contest, read something long and pretentious. Yeah, that's generally the case. But it wasn't happening. I've pondered nights away, now as well as at the time, as to why I was unable to get any reading done during those months. Sometimes you just can't get up the... I rather not finish that sentence.

Actually as soon as exams were done I was able to read again, so, you know, that still leaves hosts reasons open.

And you know what? I needed to rant. I needed to philosophize aloud. Looking back on my journals of the time I made notes about what conversations I had. I don't need to do that anymore. I no longer feel the need to rant.

I kept writing after England, though. Transitions require pondering. The culture shock of adaptations, new surroundings, new friends and environments: those changes defined the last summer. That change required more writing. The second concern was still valid, as well: there wasn't enough to do.

Finally I arrived back at the place I'd fled. Everything that had happened that sumemr became another episode and another set of changes had to occur. Applying jumper-cables to old friendships, and one of those little flint-scratching spoons to start up new ones. So the writing continued, with issues and what have you.

* * *

So. Full circle. I think I'll be silly and play out this column until I hit #100 (the tally is kept on the actual blog site for those reading this on Facebook). The way I figure that ought that'll be roughly one calendar year.

Part of my concern is that I'm not saying anything too great these days. I can reread my old columns and laugh at them. None of my recent stuff has made me laugh. Current events are okay, but are, after all, the topic of roughly ten bazillion blogs out there.

Give or take.

Intellectually I'm not very active at the moment. I'm reading like crazy, which means translates to a lack of tackling new ideas, and instead doing some absorbing. But if you want a review of books try Oprah. If you want movies and television, on the other hand, you can read my sister's capable blog.

What, then, is the point? Trying every few days to come up with something entertaining. I thought it wasn't going to be that bad, and, heck, at the start these were daily. Then they were every other day. Now they are when I can muster up enough energy.

That's the reason. When the enjoyment has become a chore, it's time to move on. When the product has become a bore, it's time to move on. I'm no longer finding myself which ample time on my hand. If anything next semester is shaping up to be the busiest in my academic career.

The other pleasant half of this is that I have a social life again, am happy, and am able to talk to people, philosophize, and rant in person. Definitely beats Facebook, I think.

Bearing that in mind I will earnestly strive to make these last installments some of my best. I rather go out with a bang, and I hope they are satisfactory to your tastes.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

86; Bookstore Optimism

Bookstores can be nerve-racking places. They try not to be, and I give them due credit for their efforts. The atmosphere they try and convey is an inviting one of relaxation and comfort. A worries-away kind of space.

So many bookstores, even the individual ones, as well as every Barnes and Noble or Borders come with coffee and sweets. There's a mythos that nothing's better, or cozier, than spending a day curled up with a beverage, a pastry, and a good book. The stores know this, and they hope that you know this.

As if that weren't enough the Borders and Barnes and Noble places have become not bookstores, but entertainment stores. Movies, music and books all in one convenient place, and hey, don't forget to grab a scone.

(There's something worrisome here. Has entertainment now been parsed down to those things which you read, listen to, or watch? What happened to play? And what happened to do? Can't a hike, a bikeride, or a conversation count as entertainment? In My Documents there's a folder named 'My Videos', another called 'My Music' and a third called 'My Documents'. No sign of 'My Conversations'. Or 'My Adventures'. Yet I might like to have a folder presserving those things the most.)

The bookstore's difficulty, I find, is not the coffee, or the movies, or the music. I can always go to a small store to avoid that stuff. Not even the magazines daunt me. The daunting factor are all the books.

I love to read. Reading and me, we go way back. (Not really. I wasn't a big reder until high school, and wasn't a reading nut until maybe five years ago.) No matter what section I am in, there are multiple books I want to buy. Multiple books worth reading in Science, multiple in Philosophy, multiple in Poetry and History.

Diagnosing this isn't anything new, and I realize that. When we are given too many choices we feel trapped, uneasy, unable to make up our mind. The bookstore daunting is similar to the toothbrush aisle daunting. Over four hundred models of toothbrush to choose from. I remember once just turning to the woman next to me and asking her to choose for me.

Unlike toothbrushes, however, I plan to get to all those books. When getting a toothbrush I expect it to serve me well, have the bristles turn to mush, and be thrown away, afterwhich I get to go through the whole choose a new toothbruch expereince again. Yet, with the books, I won't come back after buying and reading one and looking for the same model. You need to a pick a new one every time. Unlkie toothbrushes, which you can safely gauge as the kind for you, in the Fiction aisle there is no hope.

This whole thing points to two bigger causes, that I must again concede aren't my own discoveries. Choices like these show us, 1) that we are damned lucky individuals who have problems like these to worry and write about, instead of writing about last night's bombing campaign or the lack of fresh water availability and 2) that if you are having these sorts of problems you must be an optimist. Only an optimist would worry about books in this fashion since only an optimist would think they'd get to all of those books 'some day'.

Now we approach the real question, right at the end. Are there such things as pessimists? Just to put my cards on the table, I think the two require one another to exist. But let me know what you think, and that'll be the topic for next time.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

85; Travels

Okay, so I wrote a column a little while ago about my travels, it was installment one of five. Oh, you don't remember it? That's probably because it was never posted.

Here was my train of thought, late as usual: The most interesting thing I've done recently was travel around Europe. I bet those travels would make interesting subject matter for my column. I shall write a multi-part series of these travels.

The problem with this scheme was that I'd already written such an account. I emailed everyone I knew at the time all about my two-part travels of Spring Break and Post-Finals. Indeed they were good times. But they weren't times I wanted to retell so soon after I'd experienced them, and, you know, told them the first time.

This lead to a mini-crisis. Was I a bad writer? What did it mean that I couldn't retell a story multiple times? Was this a case of writer's block? Did I need to take a couple aspirin, and chill the heck out?

The problem (I know, I already identified the problem, this should be labeled the heart of the problem. But it's too late for that now, I'm on a role, I'm writing, we're going to make Chatanooga by sunset...) was that I couldn't tell stories differently. I mean, things just happened, I reported the facts, the concurrent emotions, and my observations. Those things hadn't changed, so how could I rewrite the story?

There was always the option of using different words. Different words, drawing out elements, elaborating and sprucing up were all there. But what does that do to the story? The things happened the way they happened, putting extra emphasis into my step as I crossed the bridge from Europe to Asia wasn't going to change anything except highlight the fact that it was Real.

At times the column, for the sake of presserving interest delved into the fanciful. For example, my initial foray into Scotland is recorded thusly:


(While our (hero) was hanging out in northern England Ross' sister Jess has infiltrated the southern part of the country from Ireland.)

Jess: Bwa ha ha. I shall rendezvous with my brother in the north. I shall bring 500 cavalry, 1,000 mercenaries, 2,500 crack troops, and send orders to my armada in Cornwall to sail north. Together we shall form an alliance and take Scotland by storm!

Ross: ...

(Instead, the storm turns into a blizzard, and the two venture into the country under rather chilly circumstances. All the troops peished at Hadrian's wall.)"

So there you have it. If you want the original story of my travels let me know. I'll be more than happy to send you a copy. Otherwise you're just going to have to wait for it until I'm either willing, or able, to provide.

Monday, January 28, 2008

84; Untelling Title

First off a blog plug: My sister's new blog, entertainment and current pop culture related links, news, and opinions. My blog is also still to be found at, where you can find a full archive of my work and can leave comments. And no blog plug would be complete without mentioning John Wiswell's mighty blog, The Bathroom Monologues: I must confess his is my favorite of the three.

Now, to take a chapter from my sister's book, a bit of current events.

First off my opinions of Sea Monsters 3D. I'd never seen a 3D movies before this. There is definitely something to Don Hertzfeldt's parody of 3D movies (if this doesn't make sense: check out 'Intermission in the Third Dimension'.) I was expecting lots of big scary sea reptiles to pop out at me and eat things with some scientific facts. Rottentomatoes gave it a 100%, so I figured I was in for some jolly good mindless entertainment.

Instead I get served a feel-good family-oriented story of a bug-eyed snaggle-toothed sea lizard who is affectionately coined 'Dolly'. 'Dolly, a Dolichorhychops, has a family and dies peacefully in her old age. They then provide a montage of earlier scenes from her life. (I would have put that in caps, since, for the love of God, THEY DO A MONTAGE OF HER LIFE, but I'm trying to remain calm. Godzilla must be so ashamed. I would say Nessie should be as well, but she already sold out to a family film earlier this year.) So, surprisingly, Sea Monsters 3D did not actually provide what I expected it to: scary sea monsters eating each other. Yes, there was a little of that, but I would've been happier to see a solid 45 minutes of monster munching, fights and chase scenes.

Secondly I just recently finished Shakespeare's Sonnets. I must admit I am not a fan of Shakespeare's plays. As works they definitely fall into the 'better on stage than page' category. The exception to this rule is Hamlet. But regarding the other plays I've read, (Mainly tragedies. Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and two comedies, The Tempest and As You Like It.) I think a good performance of the work is preferable to reading the text. Unlike, say, Racine or Goethe who are enjoyable to read.

Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the Sonnets. I did not know that, taken together, they tell a story with distinct characters and plot developments, heartbreaks and triumphs. Of course some I'd heard before, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day..." and "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun...". Reading those poems in the context of a larger story, though, let me see them in a new light. The story is a love triangle, and you can play along and guess if Shakespeare was talking about real people, who they were, and of course if he was gay. If you're into that sort of thing. Otherwise you can just read them and appreciate that he seemed to have a knack at writing Shakespearean Sonnets.

Thirdly I got a new album. Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. Recorded in 1969 and produced by Frank Zappa. I was expecting this album to be all sorts of things, none of which it ended up being. If you've heard Frank Zappa, and combine that with free jazz and delta blues poetry sensibilities you might be able to picture it. The band practiced over twelve hours a day for eight months to perfect the seemingly cacophonous sound. As such they were so dialed that it took only five hours to record the double album. It's good. I don't think I would have liked it much had I not exposed myself to some other things before, but Trout Mask Replica is enjoyable, funny, and musically interesting and well done. Frankly, the seeming nonsensical lyrics are no odder than one of Dylan's ballads about Desolation Row or the Gates of Eden.

Let's recap. Sea monsters, sonnets, and experimental art rock. I'm sure you cold combine those three somehow. I'm not sure if it would be better to be hear, read or watched. Watching it in 3D would probably be fun, though.

Friday, January 25, 2008

83; Laughing heartily

Weekend Mentality: Noun. 1. The state of mind which causes a person to postpone their enjoyment and 'let go' at the end of the work week. 2. The bane of modern society.

The mind frame most modern humans share is that the weekend is a time to relax, be yourself, have fun, and do what you want. Since this past weekend was a three day celebration it would seem especially appropriate for us to ask ourselves whether this is a good idea. Is this how we ought to live, not doing what we want until Friday and Saturday night abandon?

Well, first off, I suppose we should ask whether we should be allowed to do what we want at all. For some the answer would be no, right off the bat. These would include: 'Committing murder and getting away with it', 'Seeing if I can jump from a fourth story window and land', 'Using my sexuality to get favors and break marriages' and '48 hour chocolate pudding diet'.

Other things we want to do are not, societally or morally, wrong. Camping, reading, sports activities. Even passive things like catching a movie or watching television aren't morally wrong decisions (FOX and SPIKE pending review).

How many times in your life have you heard the phrase 'carpe diem'? I have no doubts that I will be sick of carps and deities by the time I'm forty if this rate keeps up. (Of course, it won't keep up. Once we settle to a certain point people stop reminding us that we have options beyond chicken or fish. That's the evil trick of 'It's a Wonderful Life': It tries to convince us that setting aside or hopes and dreams for a mortgage and kids is really swell.Of course there's no way of knowing until you try it, I suppose.) 'Seize the day'. Good idea, I think we'll all agree. Why postpone the day, if that day may never come?

In a way the Weekend Mentality is a form of optimistic release. You make a bet with the world each Monday that you will be alive and well come Friday night. Why not? So far, if you're reading this, it's played out thousands of times that you have, in fact, survived the week, got through school, got through work, and were allowed to relax and enjoy yourself.
The following excerpt comes from Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher:

"Of all ridiculous things the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy -- to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work. Therefore, whenever I see a fly settling, in the decisive moment, on the nose of such a person of affairs; or if he is spattered with mud from a carriage which drives past him in still greater haste; or the drawbridge opens up before him; or a tile falls down and knocks him dead, then I laugh heartily. And who, indeed, could help laughing? What, I wonder, do these busy folks get done?"

We should pause here, a moment. First off, only a few years later Melville would open Moby Dick with a similarly melancholy and yet simultaneously frenzied character who has to control himself from walking down the street and methodically knocking people's hats off. Was Kierkegaard's narrator just reflecting his times? I think not.

If anything our world has gotten busier still. The fact that Melville, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Turgenev and others all felt the need to create such characters should be viewed, perhaps, as the first reaction to the then-initially changing world we've inherited. Why should we feel so much more comfortable that a tile will not strike us dead? If not a tile, why not the then-unpredictable, now most colloquial bus?

Rebel against the Weekend Mentality. Don't just put off your life to be celebrated two days a week, that's just not enough. Your life is special, and sacred. You have a duty to you, if you think at all highly of yourself at all, or feel that life is for the living, to indulge in your passions. Daily. If your job is your love then start indulging in your hobbies daily. No one tells us to take time for ourselves except the people concerned with our health, and when it comes to you who would you rather listen to? The person whose duty it is to make sure you're at your best, or the one who wants to work you?

Never forget that you have possibilities.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

82; Bennington

I wrote this a while ago. Last night I saw the movie 'Accepted' , which had been recommended to me, and enjoyed it. My thoughts concerning my school were as fuzzy as being smothered inside a pair of warm wool mittens. Yet, my thoughts on my alternative education are not always so rosy, as this article which I set aside show:

What on earth drove Aristotle? I mean, would you want to go to his school? The man wrote on everything, and lectured on everything. He's responsible for systematic logic, literary analysis, biology and genetics, and vast strides in philosophy, physics, and politics. Just counting his major works, that is. If you want to probe deeper he goes on to write on meteorology, economy, rhetoric, and on and on.

On the other hand you had Plato. He also wrote voluminously, is not as dry as Aristotle, but hides his philosophy in dialogues. Plato was rather exclusively writing on philosophy as well, although he occasionally went into politics and some natural science. I wonder to what extent his pupils had a hard time telling which ideas were the old man's and which were Socrates'.

Socrates was dead, after all, and only a few people wrote about him. Primarily there was Plato, secondarily there was Xenophon, and thirdly you had Aristophanes. Plato had an agenda, Xenophon was barely a historian by any account and also wrote in dialogues, and Aristophanes was one of the funniest people in antiquity, who wrote 'The Birds', 'The Frogs', 'Lysistrata', and 'The Clouds' which lampooned Socrates (amongst others).

Why didn't Aristophanes found a school? Plato's Gymnasium was very progressive, and liberal artsy, as was Aristotle's Lyceum. I'm sure if they were around today they would be very prestigious. The Lyceum might be like Bennington, and the Gymnasium something like Williams. As such I retract all of my previous critiques of Aristotle, and go home team.

I'd trade the broad-scope of the Lyceum for Aristophanes' school any day. Let's pretend he did found it, and named it something appropriate, like the Comedium. Wouldn't it be fun to go to a school whose focus wasn't philosophy, or liberal arts, or the good life, but comedy? The Comedium would have prestigious faculty, founded by a man whose writings would be just as revered as the Athenian pedagogues. The classes would be certainly surreal.

What would you major in at the Comedium? For that matter, what would be offered? Would there be Play writing, Acting, Clowning, and the like? Fruit-Remnant Physics? Advanced Fish Application Theory? Would they be more broad: Wit, Sarcasm, Irony, Puns?

Perhaps the classes would be broader still. You go to registration having no idea what you'll get. A haphazard selection lands you in a combination of courses half of which you have no knowledge of what they're about. You'd be concerned about your schedule's impact upon your major until you remember you don't have one, and you're a senior. Instead a bunch of jokers sat around and made fun of your aspirations years before, and you've been reeling ever since.

The courses are silly. They study the interplay between physics and Argentinian fiction; heartbeats and music. Anyone sitting in on the class would be prone to laugh, if not from the the material than from it's presentation and the odd conversations that arise from such lunacy. Except that the students and professor aren't laughing. They've each gone though intensive training at their respective initiations to put on perfectly dead-pan performances. For the students it was their first meetings with the jokers. For the faculty it was when they signed a contract agreeing to work for what must be, and commonly was, described as an utterly ridiculous administration.

The administration, after all, would have to be run by a nut. For there is a spark of insanity in all good comedy. Whoever ran the place would have to be wackier than everyone else. Their decisions and actions would be designed to utterly flabbergast those who come in contact with, or feel the brunt of, them. Those working under them would have to blend their lunacy with capability, although the two would be parcelled at random. Some students wishing to find help would later wish to tear out their hair, while others felt a warm fuzzy afterglow after meeting with administrators.

Financially the place would be precarious. There would have to be a calculated absurdity in their decisions. Lots of money would go to the random and meaningless, with enough going to the vitals just to keep them afloat. The whole institution would be lop-sided as a result. The students wouldn't find any of this funny, of course. After prolonged exposure to such humor they'd have become immune to it, and were merely practitioners of the craft. They would create the most fantastic and obviously ludicrous things, passing them off as serious and meaningful. Students would be like monks, so far into their world and craft that they didn't realize they were all just goofing around.

Could such a place exist in the real world? Would any faculty choose to teach there? What students would go to a school with such policies and actions?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

81; Stuff 'n Things

JRR Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll. Brits who feel the need to escape their own dreary land through fantasy.

I just saw a movie which did not particularly move me called 'Stardust'. It's based upon a novel by Neil Gaiman in which (as you learn right at the beginning) you have to cross a wall to enter a world of fantasy. Gaiman throws his hat in with the wardrobes, looking-glasses, and paintings his predecessors were creative enough to come up with as portals.

Just pointing out similarities. I have read and enjoy all of the mentioned authors. There is something to be said for commonplace things being a portal to a hidden realm. When I was a child I dearly hoped it was true. Eccentrics, once wealthy enough (since those seem to go hand in hand) love nothing quite so much as a good secret passage to adorn their mansion.

(Scoff all you like. If you were a wealthy eccentric what would you want? Money? You have it, and can buy eccentric things. Companionship? You have money. You're not a philanthropist, unless, of course, you give your money to quirky and amusing things. You have a pad. Why not make your wardrobe a passage to another realm, say, the scullery? Delightful.)

I will, however, grant that Stardust had one of the most entertaining sword fights I've ever seen, and Robert De Niro was quite amusing.

In Other News: There's something truly disturbing in the fact that I missed out on Wyoming's caucus. I missed it entirely, had no idea of the date, or the winners or anything.There have been, as of 1/16, four caucuses: Iowa, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Michigan. Romney has won two of those, McCain one, and Huckabee one. Giuliani must be pretty sore.

Maybe we should lay off of Tom Cruise for a bit. Yes, he's crazy. We already knew that. More empirical proof of his being crazy won't change that opinion if it just confirms what we already know. That he is getting more press coverage than Wyoming is a little troubling. I doubt Wyoming will be the key to the election race, but it will certainly be more key than Tom Cruise.

Special Other News Inside Existing "In Other News": From the BBC:

"The "darkest ever" substance known to science has been made in a US laboratory.

The material was created from carbon nanotubes - sheets of carbon just one atom thick rolled up into cylinders.

Researchers say it is the closest thing yet to the ideal black material, which absorbs light perfectly at all angles and over all wavelengths."


That's what I've got for 'ya. British fantasy, eccentricity, Wyoming and darkness. One day, in Cheyenne, a man with a Cockney accent named Alec O' Toole found a portal disguised as a hassock that lead to total darkness...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

80; School

If there are generations, mine does not like to work. The past century has pushed back the working age with new discoveries of age barriers. First children were exempt when enough of a case was raised to support the idea that they weren't just miniature adults. And they were told to go to school, likely because the adults soon found out that children are not creatures best left unsupervised. Supervision and public schooling went hand in hand from the start.

But if you thought the little ones were a hassle wait until you saw what they were getting up to after they got out of school. In the words of Diesel and A-Rab: "The trouble is he's growing/ The trouble is he's grown." And voila! Adolescence was invented. So you decide these people aren't ready for the real world. But child labor laws don't protect them, so they need to work. Problem is, they aren't much interested in work, because, hey, hot rods, electric guitar, cigarettes and grrrls. (To be fair, it was grrrls which started off this whole thing, since adolescents aren't just, um, mentally different from children, catch my drift?)

So you're no longer children, since you're sexually charged, but you don't have the sense that comes with being and adult. What do you do, but continue to go to school? That way you can have fun and not have to work 3/4 of the year. Swell plan, Skippy, but if you thought kids needed supervision high schoolers need even more.

Once you're out of there, you can go get a job. Only, now almost everyone has a high school diploma, and, as we learned in Econ 101, if you have an abundance of something, it's value will drop. In this case the value is the amount of money you make working a job backed with a high school diploma. Besides, what happened to all that stuff you used to like? Sure, you've sobered up a bit (literally or otherwise). But all those fun things are still fun, and work is still, for most, unpleasant.

Enter college. In 1946 about 2 million people 18 or older were in school. 1964, it had increased modestly to about 5 million. By 2004, however, it was 17 million. The same thing had happened as in high school, more and more people got a college degree, and the value of a diploma started to drop. You did get four more years of freedom, but as confirmed young adults the price of not having adult obligations could make your head spin. Oddly enough this level of schooling doesn't follow the other's in that the students are barely supervised at all, in the time arguably the most important for them to be.

The last 20 years have had a fixation on not entering the workforce. Movies like Office Space and Clerks are lauded as comedies of our time, not to mention the rebirth of collegiate comedies on the market. Time is set aside for travel, and we live with our parents longer, our first jobs will likely not be the jobs we define as our careers later in life. This may be a carry-over from high school summer jobs. Get the money, get out, and move on to better things. Careers now begin at 30, not 20 or 12.

Apprenticeship has disappeared. Young lads off to work under a master and learn the trade has gone the way of Republican fiscal responsibility. What a difference the years make. We have a system now that not only discourages such behavior, but a potential populace which also wants no part of it. If you can delay entering the working world you do, to the tune, in some cases, of nearly a decade later than our parents.

There should be a joke at the end of this discussion, but there isn't. I just wonder what trends will be like in the future if this keeps up. Will people all get PhDs and not start their careers until 40? Will we retire at 80 and 90, thanks to longevity and late starts? Do you really want to retire that late in life? Even if you scored a twenty year retirement, it's doubtful you could enjoy it like those who retire at sixty-five. Out of the workforce, and straight into the home. There's a chilling thought. Maybe we should get out earlier? Ah, but then we'd be uneducated and end up spending thirty years doing something we don't want to do. Which, ironically, is the very fear which spurned us to prolong our education in the first place.

Monday, January 7, 2008

79; Not Much To Say

Sweeny Todd, 2007 version. Saw it on the big screen, don't think I needed to. Nice visuals, nice cast, good songs (overall) and I didn't like Johnny Depp. Depp is a nice actor, and has many fine performances under his belt. Sadly, when Johnny/Todd walks off the boat at the beggining he is already a half-cocked crazy round the bender.

All I'm saying is I wish there had been more character development on Todd's part. All other regards, fine movie.

Since the world is in a state of normal disarray here we go with a jolly personal update column.

Boston is still cold.

I have now begun work at Codman Academy Charter Public School, where I'll be working for six weeks. I assume there will be more stories of this institution as time goes on.

Television has once again reared its head in my life. I am not a big fan of television. Maybe this is due to my fear of comitment. Recent consistent source of television amusement: how i met your mother, produced by ee cummings.

Of course no update written within the last two months would be complete without a mention of the goings-on in Iowa. Diagnosis: I like democrats. I intend on taking part in my state's primaries, and will vote for who I want. When the presidential election comes there will be only two, or maybe three candidates who will have running mates who've not yet been determined. When all those facts are in I will truly care and participate in our system of slighlty battered democracy.

While I'm writing this Jon Stewart is doing alright. The writer's strike is still going on, and Jon is making the best of it, I suppose.

There are kittens playing luca libre in our living room.

Books have also recently appeared on my doorstep. I am generally okay with this little to none of time, as their subject matter pertains to causes that I don't care about or beleive in.

However I am delighted to find the books currently showing up are instead my holiday purchases.

That's it folks. An assortment of statements regarding topical personal issues. I admit I am tired and have nothing more to say.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

78; IKEA

I really do want my columns to be more upbeat, positive, and generally reflective of the optimism that I embody. The last entry, on annoyance, was not in that vein. Nor, I'm afraid, will today's be. This is because I have some choice words regarding the IKEA company.

Let me give a little background info that may help you, dear reader, understand my position. I am not, by nature, a shopper. There have been a few times and stores in which shopping has delighted and even enthralled me. That is, I am not an anti-shopper on principle. Shopping can be enjoyable, and I fully acknowledge the realities of this complex world we live in.

Bearing that in mind I've also had enjoyable visits to hairdressers, dentists, doctors, and sewage plants.

Shopping should, in my mind, be an efficient task. I realize that I am only aiding the unfortunate and perhaps misleading stereotypes about how guys act, unfairly at that. But I will not shirk from telling the truth of the matter. Dawdling should be limited to pet stores, Brookstones, and jewelry stores, the latter if so only to build up the fortitude that will be required when dating. Basically, go in, get what you want, and get out.

(It has been brought to my attention that in the above paragraph my comment on jewelry shopping is unfair, sexist, biased, and evil. I assure the reader, of any sex, gender, or sexual preference that the first three accusations are completely unintentional.)

IKEA attempts to thwart easy shopping at every turn. Those are literal turns, mind you, since the store is laid out in a maze-like pattern, with different sections and shortcuts to other parts of the store you don't want to go to. The fact that the man who came up with snakes and ladders has designed the store I am shopping in does not bode well.

Some of the furnishings and finishings appeal to me. This is due to their cleverness, utility, and artistic merits and not their cheapness. Let's just say. Unfortunately the things I am looking at in the maze are not for purchase. Why is this? I was under the impression I was in a store. Surely the items hanging, draping, sitting, and sofa-ing around me with the price tags hanging off of them are there to be bought. But no. These items are display items. The ones I can take away are downstairs, in bulk.

IKEA has now fooled me. I do not appreciate being fooled. It is analogous to walking by a sushi restaurant, being told what is in the window is what you get, and finding out that those items are inedible plastic models, your California roll is made with imitation crab meat, has browning avocado, and won't be ready until next Tuesday. Considering their calculated inefficiency this added wool over the eyes maneuver has just earned IKEA a second strike.

Downstairs I voyage, into the warehouse. Combating incomprehensible Scandinavian labels in a chain store probably visited by one Danish woman a year I eventually find what I had already found upstairs. After purchasing the item the only reasonable destination is home.

Some assembly is required. Expected, the requisite tools are collected, instructions read, and process begun.

Three hours later I make, and hold, the following vow:

I will never, ever, buy anything from the IKEA company without just cause. 'Just cause' may be defined as: on penalty of death, severe economic hardship coupled with insanity, unforeseeable supernatural forces beyond my control, or a direct act of God.

The products IKEA produces are of such shoddy quality and a source of such pain in the assery that the low low fares at which I bought them do not, to even a fifth, compensate for the frustration of assembly. Remember how IKEA had two strikes already against them for inefficiency and trying to fool me? The inability to put their horrible furniture together is not strike three. It is strikes four, five, six and seven. Strike three was the food court they put in the store right after you pay and check out, coupled with the single shopping cart ramp in the parking garage, fences blocking off all other means to get to the car.

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, there are not enough words in the English language for me to voice my distaste of your existence. Luckily the English language allows me to make my own in cases when the language provided is inadequate to express myself.

You are a sveltrite, parbody, flamberish farzbopple, Ingvar. A quarpalean, wivklean, amperositor. Jiboolish, niomensch, and reptflavit.

Flamberish farzbopple.