Monday, March 30, 2009

You can copy a newspaper with it...

Picture a toy chest, filled with a variety of toys. Ther're frisbees, blocks, sailboats, all sorts of fun toys.

Each toy is different, but each is fun, and is used differently. A frisbee and a sailboat can both provide amusement, but not if you sail a frisbee and toss a sailboat.

That is, each toy has a purpose.

Amongst this collection is an egg of silly putty. What is its purpose?

The way one enjoys silly putty is from the acceptance that its purpose is what you make of it. You test its extremities - how long, flat, and tall you can make it - while realizing that every silly putty tower must collapse upon itself.

That's my best description of philosophy. By engaging questions, impossible questions for which answers will never be found, you are testing your own extremities and ingenuities. Philosophy is mental silly putty.

Most kids mess around with silly putty, but don't properly engage it. Instead they sail sailboats, throw frisbees, and build with blocks. Some dress up in costumes and pretend. Others march stuffed bears.

Every kid has had the silly putty experience, though. And that is not true of the rest.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Basically, the American experience can be described by the phenomenon of feeding ducks.

When I was a child I liked to go to the ponds in Golden Gate Park and feed the ducks pieces of bread. When I grew up I learned that it is bad for the ducks to feed them.

Look those two sentences over again. Concerning the first sentence, did you ever ask yourself why? Why do families take their children to feed the duck? Our excursions were not unique - many young children can be seen throwing pieces of bread to ducks. But why?

Those two sentences tell you quite a lot about our society, or at least the society I grew up in. Many people never fed the ducks since, of course, their town had no ducks. I have counseling slots open for these people after work.

Yet the need for counseling merely underscores the 'why?'. Kids enjoy this. Why? I would look forward to it. I would take a bus across town for an hour to get to the park where my sister and I would dutifully bring bread for the ducks.

Did we think the ducks were dependant on us? They apparently got on fine without us the other days of the year. Did I have a particular vendetta against bread?

Maybe we just liked playing God, controlling these stupid, silly creatures. If the ducks were in one area you'd throw the bread into another and watch the quackers rush over.

There was always a hero and a villain. The hero never got any crumbs, he was a tragic hero, and the villain was the gluttonous successful one.

Already at this young age my liberal sensibilities were forming.

Recall the initial sentences: "When I was a child I liked to go to the ponds in Golden Gate Park and feed the ducks pieces of bread. When I grew up I learned that it is bad for the ducks to feed them." We've addressed, if not solved, the 'like' factor. A savvy reader would have picked up on my upbringing from other clues, as well. The fact that I have to go to a park relates my urban setting, as did the bus reference. There's a goldmine of inferences about being raised in an urban setting and the retreat, the urge, to escape to a patch of wilderness in the big city.

The fact that I wasted bread on lower orders is also a powerful testament to the affluence which I was granted. Such behavior would be inconceivable, even criminal, elsewhere.

Let's look at the second half now. Bread, it seems, is not healthy for ducks. They eat it, I suppose because it tastes good, or is easier to catch when thrown at their heads than hunting for insects and fish. (Do ducks eat insects? Do they eat fish?) At a certain age I went from enjoying feeding the ducks, which were also apparently a nuisance in the park, to silently shunning and thinking scornful thoughts about those harmful imbeciles who fattened and promoted an unhealthy pestilent duck population.

Greatest testimony of all, is how often this happens to us. Not ducks necessarily, although ducks work for me, you may have your own, but something that was innocent fun or enjoyable as a child which you learn is actually bad.

This is not a tremendously new discovery. Many people for a long time have said that growing up is a loss of innocence. But it's not. Growing up is a loss of innocence in America. The more I consider it the more I realize how this affects our national character, if we still claim to have such a thing.

Of course the 'loss of innocence' is true for many parts of the growing up experience. But increasingly pain, suffering, and sexual activity are all familiar to people before their adolescence, the traditional age for loss of innocence. (Which, in and of itself is a distinctly American myth, propagated by one Anna Freud. But the sturm und drang of the American adolescent is not here or there. Except in the sense that it is everywhere: another successful American global export.) These losses are especially common for those who live in the second and third world (remember them?). Feeding ducks is wasteful, consumerist, childish, irresponsible, and a number of other synonyms that people equate from the past eight years with 'American'. It is an extravagance that only the middle class and upper class can afford.

Moving on from this self-flagellation, I am more concerned with the second element, that of discovery. More specifically I think we can take these ducks and apply them to school. When we are children in first grade we put on Pilgrim plays and meet the nice Indians. Note: the indians are a monolithic peoples, the Pilgrims are British, and the two get along. Ten years later you have to relearn the whole scenario, and from a different point of view, namely that of slaughter and extortion and tension of colonialism and settler's wants conflicting with a variety of people's needs.

Each semester I cover Columbus with my students they are surprised to learn the realities of a cruel, morally reprehensible individual who is going to Hell if there ever was one.

Couldn't Columbus be a bad guy from the start? Why don't the first graders learn about the sorrows of imperialism? I mean, they can handle sorrow, loss and develop their ethics at this time. You need not provide graphically scarring details, but it would make my life easier.

So much what we learn as a child is overturned when we get older. Maybe this way we could ease some of the hormonal storms and stress of adolescence, as well as that horrific distrust of preteens, who are slowly realizing that everything they've been told is lies.

Just a thought in consideration for unhealthy ducks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Here are some unfortunate considerations:

Scientists who study spider intelligence increasingly are discovering that certain arachnids show signs of intelligence.

Take, for example, jumping spiders. Jumping spiders, of course, need to have a little more mental processing than your average layabout web weaver. A jumping spider has to catch its prey actively, which requires 3D spatial imaging, as well as the ability to judge distances and determine outcomes.

Studies have shown that these little buggers also have a decent memmory and can be goal-oriented. They also, like bees, have a means of communicating with one another. Ever seen a spider flip its little front legs around in seemingly random swirls? It's trying to talk to you.

Does this make me want to squish them more or less? I can tolerate spiders at a safe distance. That distance increases with the increase of size. I'm fine being mano a mano with a goliath bird eating tarantula. But it better be at least five feet away. Six would be better.

If it's behind glass then there's no problem. I can walk right up to it. Because it can't get on me.

There's something to contemplate next time you have to take the life of a fly and mosquito catcher.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


The night was hunch-backed. It just was.

Four score and seven years ago I had a dream, not of what my country could do for me, but that this day would go down in my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is a respectable Republican cloth coat.

Fianlity is neither a word, nor the opening of this tale.

"There are thre erors in this sentence."

He sang, softer and softer. Soon the tune was a barely audible whisper. She succumbed, and cursed him with her last breath.

"Succumbed? Subcame?" He worried himself incessantly with the probability of grammatical faux pas.

Disregarding her devilish temptations she had, in all due fairness, wanted to see him die for reasons humane, pure, and just.

Had he gone half a foot to the left his placement in the room would have been different.

Had circumstances been different the outcomes would not be the same.

Had the Chinese sailed around the Cape of Good Hope the course of history would be completely altered.

Historical hypotheticals are meaningless. Not in the traditional sense of not having any meaning, for they do. Rather in the colloquial sense that equates 'meaning' with 'worth', so as to not sound pretentious in our criticisms.

Historical hypotheticals are worthless.

Voyages need not have a beginning any more than they need have an ending.

We nicknamed him 'Astro'. He thought it was a favorable comparison to Astro Boy. It was, in fact, a comparison to Astroglide.

From the Antichrist's Revisionist Bible: In the beginning it was the End, and Satan did not say 'Let there be dark.' He said 'Let there be Man.'

I tried my best to cheer him up with 'Reservoir Dogs'.

She threatened her life with a railway share, she charmed her with smiles and soap.

In retaliation she read long passages from Carrol's "Hunting of the Snark".

I now begin my tractatus on Three Hundred and Fifty-Three Ways to Silence a Baby with a common misconception: that in silencing the child you must also preserve its life.

Nobody knew of her existence but the barber, whose mute conditioned ensured her obscurity.

Nine of them lived, the tenth was reborn.

All in all, a most erratic narrative.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moonlight in Vermont

Listening to Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart. I think it may be the best album ever made.

Those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about let me attempt to give some means of understanding my position while acknowledging the inability of the reader to listen to what I'm talking about.

(For some samples of tracks you could always go to Amazon or your iTunes store - but neither of these will offer relief. Good luck finding it.)

I think it sounds like free jazz mixed with delta blues.. Or you could picture what happens if you mix Robert Johnson, the Velvet Underground and Ornette Coleman together with Bob Dylan writing lyrics. And what's not cool about that?

(For the record I like all of the above mentioned artists. I like Dylan's lyrics, Coleman's jazz, Johnson's blues and the Velvet's rock noise. If you do not you may not like this particular offering. But then again it doesn't have to have your approval to be great, does it?)

Of course, he said with a self-satisfied academic guffaw, most people liken his work to Frank Zappa's. Yet Beefheart goes way beyond Zappa's work. Not that Zappa is exactly absent - he shows up as producer and you can hear him talking on some the tracks recording the album.

I should mention that the album was recorded in about 5 hours. That's not due to the seeming chaos of the album, which does sound raw. The band had practiced the songs for more than ten hours a day for months on end in "cultish" conditions.

Someone said that this album was the closest thing music had produced to parallel modern art.

That's why I love it. It is not easy listening. Look at Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Almost everyone loves this album. Millions will claim that it is the best album ever made. Yet what are its accomplishments, besides having 13 nice tracks? It showed that pop music could attain a status of art. It showed that the 'fab four' girl crushes could make something universal and enjoyed by everyone. That a pop album could win the grammy for best album.

(For those who follow such things it might also be noted that Bob Newhart once won album of the year. I like Newhart, but jeez. The grammies have a bit of a reputation for travesties.)

(For those of you keeping track this is the fourth parenthetical.)

Perhaps I shall metamorphose this blog into an area for fiction as well as music, movie, and book criticism. We shall see.