Wednesday, December 26, 2007

RIP Harry the Pig

Well, sad news. Perhaps tasty news in a sense, but mostly sad. Sad not in the sense that I am crying or losing sleeping, but maybe more just a little disappointed. I found out on Christmas Eve (that's December 24th for all you ultra-secularists out there and Jews)that Harry the Pig, pet pig for my Aunt Chris out in Kansas City, passed away.

I assume it was a peaceful death. She has dogs but they were not responsible. No autopsy has been performed though, so the possibility of being poisoned will never be solved. Of course who would want to poison such an adorable creature?

He was a pot-bellied Vietnamese pig who legend has it, came from the foothills of the Mekong, or a whorehouse in Saigon, who wanting a better life, traveled on a rickety boat first to Malaysia, then Australia, then back to Vietnam, and then finally, to Kansas, where my cousin Trey found him and soon he became an almost accepted member of the Hornbeck clan. That's no optical illusion (or allusion) you are seeing. He really was that front heavy, looking like a tube of toothpaste that had been squeezed too much on one end. He lived off dog food and dog treats, and was known for his biting prowess (ask my sister Anne.) He was the highlight of our vacations out west, often pausing beneath the trampoline my cousins owned while we jumped up and down and landed on his hairy back.

Now I've been home, and bored, and so have decided to re-imagine Harry. I have dubbed him a pig of mystery, capable of assuming many different identities and disguises. A post-Modern pig, as it were. Yesterday I began trying to turn him into Napoleon from Animal Farm. I gave him a moustache, monocle, goatee, and bowler hat, but that left the rest of his sausage shaped body unadorned. For some reason I made him into a Nazi pig. I guess I figured that it would be natural for a pig to be an anti-Semite.

I felt sorry for Harry, and decided instead that he should be imagined as a tough sort of creature. He was always able to keep up with the dogs and never let any of us kids tell him what to do. He was always in control, sitting (or sleeping) mighty in the little house that the Hornbecks let him use. So, I decided to make him a punk pig.

I admit I started out trying to make him like Mr. T. I guess I ended up turning him into a white trash punk. This is not to downplay the more delicate and beautiful elements of Harry the pig, who was known to be quite stylish and dainty at times. This was a picture I recreated from memory of one occasion I saw him getting ready for the big pig ball, where he would meet his own prince charming.

Still, I had to revel in Harry's ancestry, his roots, his political leanings. It was wrong to forget where he came from, where his bloodlines began. I actually wrote about him to the government of the People's Republic of Vietnam, and they dug through their files and we both learned that Henry was used as a VC base during the war with America. This could have potentially caused Harry to end up in jail, or worse, bacon, ham, and sausage. But luckily for him this picture was never shown to anyone, including my aunt and uncle, in the states:

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Well it has been a while since this blog has been updated, and I shall remedy this situation. Expect more groundbreaking essays and critical work, humour examinations of daily life, and possibly a poem or two. The big project this winter break will be to finish my novel Three Days in September, teach myself Italian again, evaluate poems for the undergrad journal West 10th Street, and continue submitting things for literary magazines. Check out a poem a wrote for Cerulean Rain's first upcoming issue.

Monday, October 29, 2007

E-Mails I've Received

This is probably the least motivational E-mail ad for a product I have ever received.

To start off with, it was sent by a guy named Gard Irwin. That sounds like a name from a Homestarrunner cartoon, one of the sketchy people with a pimply face and big glasses that are created to be random authors and such. That should have been enough, but the subject line gave away the whole reason I was being graced with Gard's communication.

"Get rid of your lilliputian penis."

Thank God I had read Gulliver's Travels this summer. Otherwise, I would never had known just how small my penis is. The prefix "lilli-" might have given it away (although it is the suffix for my last name). Coincidentally, Swift's work was not above ribald antics. He has a character in the story named Master Bates.

Of course I have gotten emails like this, as people with and without penises all over the world have too. We know that a subject line that mentions the organ at all tries to sell a medication or an herb. Rarely do they sell a castration service. Opening the e-mail up confirmed my suspicions.

With a big penis you can beat up all the other men
Now your penis will be too big to big covered by your hat.

The first line made me laugh. I never knew that this was the point of a large penis, to beat other men up with it. Not to impress the women (or the men), not to pleasure, but to abuse. I could be the king of the hill. Others might come to me with guns and Ninja stars, but I would just have to drop my pants and spin in a circle. Victory would then be mine.

What really scared me out was that the last line talks about having a hat. I am one of the few people who wears one regularly. How did they know? How did they know that my hat his a humble one, not a cap (which I think would be too small as things stand right now ;) ) but not a top hat, which could hide a very large member.

Of course I did not click on the link. Not even in the library where they couldn't trace me back to my laptop. Overall, it is an honest ad, but totally fails to do anything but amuse me.

Meanwhile, Lionel Blake (upstanding and British, perhaps a poet laureate?) sent me a message,"breaking news."

We start:

No smokescreens here
What you see is what you'll get.

Good. finally. I was excited, yet worried that I was getting another e-mail begging to get its electronic hands on my genitals.

SHOTPAK Inc (SHTP) has a unique product that's causing ripples across the globe.

Notice that SHTP looks a lot like SHIT, though of course I have bad vision, even at five inches away from the screen.

The company's shares are going through the roof, up 42 % today alone.

Hmmm, perhaps cheap Viagra? That would make things rise quickly.

see the recent headlines
- ShotPak Signs Major Import Agreement For South Korea
- ShotPak Signs Letter of Intent with India Importer
- ShotPak Signs Letter of Intent with India Importer to Be Available in 120 Hotel Mini Bars Throughout Country
- ShotPak Ships Throughout Texas

It is an interesting choice of markets, South Korea, India, and Texas. But it will be in mini bars, which is a growing market, because I know how popular they are. You just go into your room and knock a few whiskeys and bags of nuts back.

And so on and so on.
This is a real company with real products NO SMOKESCREEN
Look into it and get in on the action.

But they won;t tell me what they are. I am supposed to get in on the action. Do they want to mess with my penis?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

History of Poland

Today I had my midterm for the history of Poland. It was alright. I finished with time to spare. Basically I wrote in a Blue Book, identifying several terms and trying to explain how they were significant. I had studied all of them and found it was most difficult how to repeat information without sounding like I was just spitting out the same answer, since the terms all related to the big dates of Polish history at that point: 1386, 1414, 1569, 1648 etc.

It is an interesting class, closer to the kind of history I took in High School than what I have learned in College. One might decry the fact that it was all names and dates, no grand post-modern theories deconstructing the whole notion of "Polish-ness." But I am learning about the history of a country and its peoples, and I find it interesting. it is a good lesson of how not to build your government. I feel bad that it was the Poles who seemed to have a state and constitution that was a laughingstock of Europe. Its most ridiculous provision was that it let nobles legally revolt and fight the king with their own armies. How the country survived for so long without being conquered is the real miracle of the country's history.

Since I knew only the basics of the country's history, this is the approach that works best. I am learning things I can share with other people. One of the kids in my class is in the same fiction workshop as me and we tried to out-do each other in telling our instructor, Darin Strauss,of all the poor decisions Poland made from 966 to 1795.

Imagine trying to teach the history of the US to kids on the model I have experienced in college. They would learn nothing. Even if it was all myth, they would still know something and then could deconstruct it to see what was underneath. Before Racism can be taken apart or the notion of freedom, the concrete history of slavery and the adoption of the constitution has to occur. Grand theorizing is fine (I do it all the time) but without any grounding in time and space, its just wasted energy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Great Success!

Great success for me on the publishing front! I have been accepted by two publications. The first is Canopic Jar. I have two poems appearing in an issue in a week or so. The second just came to me in the mail. I was a little optimistic holding the letter because it was light and I saw no poems stuffed into it, which is a signal for rejection. It is the opposite of applying for most things. Getting into college, for example, means that you are receiving a big fat envelope in the mail. Not so with publishing. The less, the better. The thin envelope I received was for Lachryma, Modern Songs of Lament. My long poem “Starry Night” was accepted, and I received a check for $3. Enough for two Samosas, it is probably the same amount of money someone like T.S. Eliot or Pound could expect for publishing when they were my age. Back then it would buy a whole meal.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Why No Revolution?

It is time someone posted something on here that should be required to read, or at least something that approaches it. It is time that we start to use such forums as these to change the world and not simply tell anecdotes involving the adorable antics of our pets or gripe about being older. Things are too serious today for us to shirk our world historical duties.

We are living under an unsustainable regime. We are living on borrowed time and we can barely pay the interest. We are citizens of a country gone mad with wealth and power. We are living in a culture that has become a parody of itself. We are in an era of widespread pessimism and cynicism. We are surrounded by an abundance we have no way of appreciating. We have a way of life that is insecure and unable to procreate itself, it produces a society that collapses ever twenty to throaty years, with one generation torn against another. We are members of a government that no one can take seriously. We engage in public rituals that mean nothing for us, but we go along for the sake of appearance, even though we know no one is is watching. We have grown distant and cold to one another. We have given up our dogmas in exchange for new ones that preach total conformity to the consumerist way of life. We live and fight to live, even though we have no idea what to do with this life. We consider ourselves superior to the past, yet gradually sink back into it. We are unable to grow up. We are free but have become self-repressed. We feel no desire to defend the system and we all secretly hope that some deus ex machina will come and dismantle it.

Well, nobody is going to save us from ourselves, but us.

We're too strong to expect to be liberated. Who would do such a thing for us? Canada and Mexico could not do it, Russia and China are too far away, and they would not liberate us anyways, only treat us as a colony. We cannot expect an enlightened despotism to take root either. Our richest politicians, the ones poor into the patrician circles of New England and the South, feel no obligation to us, the common plebeians. Our system is an oligarchy on their behalf, yet their inability to pronounce the five letter C-word lets them think some grand meritocracy is at hand behind the workings of the system. Such a delusional group looks out for themselves because they think they are on an equal footing with us, even though they are in a world few of us could ever enter, no matter how hard we try.

The only solution is the most patriotic thing imaginable, a revolution. The founding fathers would be amazed that we have gone so long without one. They knew that they were necessary to keep our liberties fresh and the Constitution of our society up to date. Instead we have turned what was for them an imperfect document, into our Bible, infallible. Libertarians, for all their radical rhetoric, are more concerned with upholding the faith of the founding fathers as they see expressed in that flawed (yet still noble for its time) document, than with advancing the understanding of true freedom beyond the 18th century and its notions. True radicals ask only if something is right and makes sense. They do not ask if it is constitutional.

We need a complete overhaul of the system. Any system that could allow the abuses of this presidency to go unchecked for so many years, needs to be reevaluated. All the old institutions that were supposed to check the president's madness have been compromised. They have begun to engage in conspiracy with one another to keep things running smoothly, and to block any real change. Democrats and Republicans, we see they are the same. We all know things are rotten. We can smell the decay, almost taste it when we watch the news, yet still there is no revolution. Why?
There are plenty of blueprints out there for change. Countless manifestos that can be tried or combined. we have the whole history of the past to learn from, ancient Rome, Athens, the USSR, colonial America, Sparta, Florence, Venice, Absolutist France, Anarchist Barcelona, we can see different rules at work and we can compare these. If anything, we have Livy and Machiavelli to help us, along with Locke, Mill, and Marx, men operating on theory more than experience, but still giving us truths of human nature to consider.

We have avenues for change. We have third parties that we can get involved in. We have labor unions, benevolent associations, churches, synagogues, reading groups, Internet forums, coffee houses, libraries, marketplaces, places to get together and try to make change. Why no revolution? Why not even a storm on the horizon? it is getting constantly humid, yet still, it is not raining, nothing changes and nothing is being washed away. Why?

We have become trapped. We have erected blinders, sometimes literal fences that prevent us from seeing things clearly. But our hearts have betrayed us. We can feel them sharply and our attempts at peaceful living are disturbed by events in the outside world. Some of us, like Ausonius in the face of the barbarian invasions, shut ourselves away, or like St. Augustine, engage in otherworldly contemplation. Those who are left in the streets, trying to find others to march with and banners to hold, as well as hands, are disappointed and we cannot but help feel powerless, freedom in our society has become an instrument of repression.

I am not talking about abstract freedom, the freedom that the founding fathers adhered too and valued, a freedom each person cultivates within themselves. I am talking about the freedom that has replaced that, consumer freedom. Real political choices, political parties, diversity of political opinion and religious ideas and philosophical contemplations has been replaced by the worship of coarse liberalism, the celebration of different kinds of toothpaste and thousands of channels to choose from on television (owned by the same group of people, showing the same kinds of programs despite claims to the contrary).

This consumer freedom works to make us hate choice, it presents us with responsibility for things which require no real decision making. These products are all the same, stripped of false coloring and fancy packages, there are no remarkable differences. yet still we must have these debates within ourselves when we go shopping, what to buy? Which container? Which label? Overwhelmed by this freedom, we hide in the labels. We run for these easier designations and give up thinking for ourselves.

If this attitude could contain itself to just our consuming sphere of life, it would not be a problem, but our attitudes do not contain themselves easily. They shape our world views and lead to other actions that we might never have considered to stem from them. Our fleeing into the safety of labels leads us to gradually abandon free though all together. We take up restricted isms and ideologies or worse, we simply go with the flow of things, we join the bandwagon. Though the devout Communist or Fascist might be simple minded, they at least take a position against the bandwagon and have some freedom of thought, even though amongst themselves they have their own churches and chains.

Because we have fled from thinking for ourselves, we let others think for us. We become deluded into believing this collective thought is democratic and comes from the masses. Our patriotism, our understanding of political reality, the holidays we celebrate and how we do so, are viewed as something we are a part of and that we are merely reacting to others. We fail to see that the elites, the oligarchs, really run the show and give us these values and these ideals to mull over. The Christmas Tree, the roses for Valentine's Day, the doctrines of the Democratic and Republican parties, all of these are produced, planned, and executed by the few on behalf of the many, tricking us with elaborate ruses to make it seem like these are simply manifestations of the popular will.

Another thing that holds us back from revolution is the leveling down of our society. This is a phenomenon that has occurred while at the same time society is becoming more stratified economically and politically. That is not to say that this attitude and its effects are very real things, but they are a show put on for us, a distraction that is used to hide the real differences in our society.

What is this leveling down I speak of? In a sense it is conformity, but it is more complicated than that. it is trying to make every opinion equal, to view everybody's contribution as the same, to celebrate every little thing and every choice as invovling something greater than all of us. it is the attitude that turns all choice into teh same thing, so that voting a tyrant out of office becomes the same as getting a new pair of shoes. it attacks intellectualism as a form of elitism because it is intellectualism that can stand up to the real forms of elitism, the concentration of wealth and therefore power, in the hands of a few. All articles, songs, movies, and books are to be dumbed down. No one is to be seen as haivng any hidden greatness within them. Everyone is presupposed to be the same, want the same things, be satisfied in the same banal manner.

This leveling raises no one up, but lowers them to the lowest common denominator. Democracy infects the culture as it leaves the sphere of political economy. The thumping sounds of punk and hip hop are mistaken for real revolution while jobs are sent overseas and people's votes are gradually rendered meaningless, the elites already having decided what the political agenda for the country is going to be. That everyone comes together to listen to the same songs and laugh at the same jokes is mistaken for democracy in action despite the advertising that makes avoiding such phenomena impossible.

This leveling fails to inspire people to better things and that is what is most dangerous and repressive about it. It creates a world where people can be lazy and they become lazy in droves. It does not challenge, it rejects the concept outright and because it does so it weaves a cocoon of false security around people.

Unprovoked, people fall back on cultural artifacts that are easy to absorb, that require no advanced taste or comprehension. Junk culture you could call it. It is soothing, it is comfortable, like a pair of pajamas. It makes you fall asleep and issues no call to action, only inaction. If someone is inspired by it, usually it involves buying the handbag the character in the book has or to grind on the dance floor and try to physically abandon one’s own self for the frenzy of the mob.

A culture that embraces heroics, troubling questions, unhappy endings, not-so-catchy tunes, that challenges people with real dilemmas, makes them see the world in new ways and is enlightening. It lets people become aware of their own powers of thought and perception. From this they can begin to question, they gain confidence in their own abilities and gradually educate themselves. They seek out others and because they are challenged they seek out others who can help them overcome trying to understand the more difficult books and pieces of music. Together, these groups can then turn their attention to unraveling the socio-economic knots that hold them back, and thus real change can come about.

Is this an elitist view of culture? Of course, but it is also a meritocratic view as well, one that wants to lay open possibilities for people, not shut them off. It is a view of culture that is in actual practice far more freeing than what currently passes for music, art, and literature. This is not to say our culture should be difficult to understand, but it should not deal with what is given, to operate slowly on a machine made of clichés, familiar notes, expected colors, and worse of all, labels and brands.

But besides this is our material culture than accompanies it. This is the culture of consumerism. It is the way we consume now that prevents us from coming together under the banner of revolution and bringing about change. Compare our time with the 1960s and 1970s, when people came together over many marvelous projects. Not everything they stood for I agree with, but it is admirable that they had such energy and hope. They undertook it upon themselves to bring about change, in some cases, they succeeded. Why were they so eager to go into the streets and we are content to let the world grow ever more terrible?

Because they did not have the consumer culture we do to soothe them. They were able to open their eyes and keep their ears open because they did not have ipods to block everything out. They did not have to worry themselves with all kinds of summer choices. They were not busy wondering what their ring tones should be or what color their cellphones had to be. They did not take pictures of everything hoping in vain for something to be preserved for posterity, they went out and they made history.

A rejection of the “false” new is what we must first undergo in order to set the groundwork for collective change. The false new is the new of consumer goods which float past us and sing their siren songs asking to be snatched from the corporate vines through make them sprout from the ground. We must embrace the true new, the new of institutions responding to popular demands, the new of social change, the only change that matters. What new products might be dangling in front of us we must ignore. They are part of the whole culture of leveling down, not the culture of rising up, which we wish to cultivate, those of us who still carry the embers of some hope inside of us.

In addition, revolution must become a good word again. It must inspire us and makes feel arm just to hear it rubbed between the lips of another, as flaming as any cigarette. We in America have a unique opportunity to reclaim this word and shape it because we were the first ones to make it practical, to turn it from an abstraction, or a mere reference to astronomical bodies, and bring it down to the earth. We are in love with change, we must learn to once again love radical change, change that shifts the ground beneath us and creates a whole new way of seeing the world.

We are in a sense blessed by the fact that none of us lives with the memory of a domestic revolution. Revolution has become a tainted word because of other countries’ failures, but not our own. We have no reason to doubt ourselves capable of creating a better order, a more humane and rational society. We should not be depressed like those in Europe, Asia, or Latin America, if they have failed it is their own doing, we should critically examine such failures, but they should not hang like millstones around our necks, but rather serve to help make our path forward straighter without the distractions of collapsed utopias.

Revolution must become celebrated again as the last real adventure for us to take.
The present system has mapped everything around us, has come to understand geography, astronomy, and the most relevant parts of physics and psychology. But still it has no idea of the future and what potential human effort and endeavor can hold. We must turn to revolution if we are going to feel truly free and in any way the crafters and shapers of our own futures. If nothing else, hopefully it can be fun for all involved, exciting and enlightening, with every experience important and nothing regretted because lessons will always be learned. We have such short lives and there is no scoreboard ready to reward us for being meek, or laid back and letting things go on. There is no consolation prize. Even for those who believe in an afterlife, such a thing can only be won through a struggle. There is no reward for those who take a hands-off approach to life and society. What would be the point of getting in if it was the case?

I am not here to advocate one kind of revolution, but to call for a lifting of the repression around this concept. This is in fact a revolutionary approach, I feel. You, loyal reader who has reached the bottom of this article, could have dismissed this essay as a simple tirade, an angsty denouncement of everything coming from one who has not grown old enough to sample the delights of the status quo. Such an ad hominem attack might have merit if I was arguing for the overthrow of the system to be replaced with a definite alternative, providing you with knee-jerk revolutionary propaganda.

However, what I am in fact calling for, is for us to begin to debate radical change and what we can accomplish, how and why. We must throw open the doors to discourse first, realize what our possibilities are, and then work to achieve them in practical terms. We must start being as radical as reality itself.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

American Cheese Represents Everything Wrong With Our Country

Back in the day, I used to really love American Cheese. I was soft and yellow and I love how malleable it was. I used to try and see how many times I could fold the slices, creating tiny squares that I could put on my pre-pubescent tongue and feel them melt. Part of the reason was that my father used to eat them too, a dozen or so Kraft singles at a time. We would watch the evening news on the bed together, pulling apart pieces of cheese or eating the slices all at once.

Now, I've graduated to eating better kinds of cheese, French, Italian, Spanish, English, all the great cheeses of Europe. It's not an act of anti-American feeling, I enjoy cheddar cheese from Vermont and Cream Cheese as well. But I will not touch American cheese, will only eat it out of desperation, or in a dare. When I think back to how much I used to eat of it, I get sick. My Father has stopped his regimen of Kraft singles too, mostly for health reasons.

When I look at it, I cannot but help to look at the name of the product. Most cheeses are given regional names, but here is one that has a national moniker. That attaches all sorts of images and ideologies to a simple slice of cheese. One might be able to transcend the regional implications of a cheese, but national ones are harder. Eating American cheese is the patriotic thing to do, it is a unifying bond that holds all of our grilled cheese sandwiches together.

But naming a cheese after a country also makes you see the downside of it. All the negative facts can become symbolized. France avoids this problem with 400 different kinds of cheese. No one can hold one up and say, "this Brie shows us how we are failing as a nation." Because then somebody can hold up a Roquefort and challenge the assertion. But when you have "American" cheese, you cannot but think of America. I know that how they sell slices.

You see in American cheese a miracle of modern science of mass production. There is no miraculous feeling in eating it, but it comes to you regular and without any frills, just like our elections. Constant and always present, yet never exciting. It has great uniformity of taste, which leaves it without any sense of distinction. It is bland and every piece is like the other, just like the suburbs of this country. Save for the flora and fauna, you could pretty much go to any suburb and not know where you are (unless you see a Waffle House).

It does nothing to offend. It has no bitterness, no sharpness, it contains no smoky flavor, or crumbling texture. There is nothing to object to, except the lack of things to find fault with. It is an angelic cheese, once that is alien to everything about the world. It contains no impurities of field or cave, from wooden vat or leather case. It was conceived in a laboratory, born in a factory, living on a shelf after being taken there by a truck. The air was never allowed to touch it. It is isolated, it is alone. It likes to think of itself as pure and that is why it is disliked, but in reality, it is because it is a boring cheese to know.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Only Thing I Can Do Right is Write

Oh well, I hope at least someone other than me thinks so

Today I was supposed to have a meeting with someone for Teach for America. We would sit around a table, drink coffee, and talk for an hour. Actually I was hoping that it would be less, because I had to take part in an economics experiment later on today. I was looking forward to making a few bucks for a minimal amount of work. However I was running behind as soon as I woke up. I haven't been able to sleep well, or do anything well for that matter, and I called the guy I was supposed to meet and said I would be fifteen minutes late. he said that was fine and hung up.

It was time to get dressed. I threw on the shorts and shirt I have been wearing for the past four days and left my room and took the elevator down. I had forgotten one crucial detail. Earlier in the week, I had received an e-mail telling me about the meeting and what to look for when trying to pick out one young guy sitting by himself from a whole room filled with them. It turns out the distinctive marker was a blue mug that appropriately said "Teach for America" on it.

Well, I didn't know that at the time I was out of the building and making my way to cross Houston Street. So I went into the coffee shop and looked around, expecting someone with a giant sign above them announcing who they were and what organization they were representing. I had no id what he would look like. I suppose I thought young and urbane, not in a suit and tie, maybe glasses, but probably not. If he had been a teacher himself, he probably would have exchanged rims for contacts, to appear younger and less overly erudite.

I saw plenty of people who could have been the man I was looking for, the man who was looking for me. There were some sitting with lap tops and I wondered if these were likely candidates. I had expected to share an empty table and exchange forms, brochures, numbers, and my resume. So what would he need a computer for? Maybe if I bored him he would starting surfing the Internet, checking out personals on Craigslist.

Pacing around, looking at my watch, and rocking back and forth on my toes didn't seem to catch Antone's attention. A few people looked at me, but not int he inquisitive way I hoped, trying to figure out if I was the one they were waiting for, the promised child, the future teacher for America. I'm sure the staff working behind the counter were pleased, seeing this young man with a beard looking around, clutching a bag close to himself, not ordering anything.

Finally, I gave up. I left, wanting to catch my experiment in time and to be able to catch a bite to eat before then. I had a pumpernickel bagel and in change I got back dimes and nickels, the man was out of quarters. it was a bad omen. Or a bad closing. Well, one thing that I didn't expect and know how to deal with.

I went inside the building for the experiments and waited until they were ready to let me into the lab. Now these were economic experiments, I would play a lame computer game and I would be paid base don my decision making skills. The people running the experiments would collect the data and weave grand theories out of it. I would get a few bucks and science and society would be advanced by the cause. I suffered no setback in getting into the experiment, my name was on the list and there was a computer available for me. I was relieved. Something good was going to happen.

However the experiment was more structured than I thought it would be. There was little left up to me. I had to choose the right combination of balls, marked with either an X, a Y, or a Z. Then I was eligible for a lottery were I could win $105 dollars. If I chose wisely, or more accurately, I was lucky. I could choose to change the balls I had, in any combination, or to keep them the same and then risk not getting the payout. If I did not choose the right balls in the electronic urn (harking back to Ancient Athens' juries) then all I would get was a show up fee, minus the cost of switching balls.

I decided on a compromise, changing one ball and keeping the other two the same. I thought that this was like a Monty Hall problem or something like it, but I didn't know what was the best solution in this case. I wanted to keep as much of the show-up fee as possible, so I lost a dollar by changing one ball. Anyways, the computer turned its gears and decided that despite my efforts, I was not worthy of the grand prize. I knew I was not alone, most of the people in the room with me probably didn't get it either, but that solidarity would not pay for a nice meal and a bottle of Scotch.

So today was a day of failure in regards to events within my control and for events regarding luck. At least I was able to buy my groceries without any problems. If only the one guy who did win the huge prize wasn't in line next to me at the Bursar's office, waiting for the petty cash officer to count off his plethora of twenty dollar bills.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Should I Vote in 2008?

Seriously, I wonder what the point is.

Let me preface this by saying that I never would have thought I would ever think like this. Such a question used to hit me as the most unpatriotic thing a person could consider. Flag burning and draft dodging have their place as far as I was concerned, but the ballot was sacred. To not put a marked card into a slot, or press a button to deliver an opinion, this was the highest sacrilege, as bad as burning the original constitution or moving to Canada.

Basically, I used to care who won the elections, specifically the presidential ones. Every four years it was exciting to see who would get their party's nomination, who said what, the promises that were made, the characters revealed, the stump speeches delivered, it was all so interesting to me. I was a Democrat and believed that my party could change things and that it was always right, and everyone else simply had to be educated to understand why they were wrong. This is after all, the opinion of anyone who identifies with any party. It is the belief of anyone who holds Liberal Democracy dear to their heart, that reason and discussion will lead to change, and change for the better. Education and discourse are all you need.

But as I saw how the Democrats lost their spine during the Clinton years and under the Bush presidency, I wanted to supposed another party. Certainly it was not going to be the Republicans, whose hypocritical religious stances I could never support. I believed in radical change. I believed the system was rotten, so in 2004 I voted for Nader. I knew he had a long shot in winning, but I wanted to at least vote my conscience. So many liberals I knew did otherwise and even though they compromised during that election, they still lost.

I thought the solution was supporting a third party. But the system seems to be so stacked up against the formation of any new political entity that could seriously challenge the Demopublican machine. it is so hard for new parties to get ballot access, media exposure, funding, and to be allowed to debate on national television. Willpower isn't enough. One of the major parties has to self implode. That was how the Republicans got started, in the collapse of the Whigs in the 1850s. Maybe it could happen in the Republican Party, as I explained in my essay, 'End of a Marriage" and it could always occur for the Democrats, who have a much broader tent, so to speak.

Still, that leaves me dependent on two parties and what they think the major issues should be. If it is not on their agenda, it does not exist. Between the parties I see no difference on Iraq, as much as the Democrats claim to want to get out, no difference on political reform, and fundamentally no improvement for the working classes of this country addressed by them. Getting rid of the stupid electoral college and granting real rights to people in DC and those who have served their time in jail never enter their radar screen. It's all about gay marriage and looking tough on terrorism and soft on immigration.

I know I'm not alone. Most Americans generally don't vote, especially in the primaries and in congressional elections. These are the worst, it is nearly impossible to unseat an incumbent, unless they literally unseat themselves with a wide stance like senator Craig of Idaho, or put their foot in their mouth like George Allen (I suppose Va. senators are cursed with running lackluster campaigns, unless they were married to Elizabeth Taylor). But the Presidential race looks depressing despite it being full of promise.

Why? Two things. First there is no one from the two major parties who is either running again for the presidency, or was vice-president (baring Al Gore entering the race). this means that everyone is able to run on their own records and will face competition within their ranks. Second we have had such a bad eight years under this administration (there really is not any precedent for how incompetent Bush is, he should be impeached for Iraq or Katrina alone, but this again proves my theory about the weak spines of the democrats) that for the first time in years, Americans are angry enough to have real change happen.

But the candidates that have forward are depressing. The Republicans can't either be trusted (Mitt Romney with his false conservative credentials) or have sold out (McCain, there is a reason his campaign does not have the momentum of 2000, when I was depressed he failed to carry Va.) or do not offer any significant challenge to the status quo established by the Bush administration. Stay the course seems to still be the party line.

The democrats have failed to produce anyone with a real vision for this country. Worse, it seems Hillary Clinton is in the lead. This is disastrous for the Democrats. We need change. We need someone from outside the Beltway to tighten it and make it fit this country's needs better. She is more of the same. We cannot go back to the 1990s, and we shouldn't. There are a lot of problems we face today because we let them simmer during the Clinton years. I hate so-called liberals who praise her pragmatism. Pragmatism in the absence of real idealism is hollow electioneering. When power becomes its own ends, rather than a means to an end, nothing ever changes. The other candidates for the most part are the same, with the except of Kucinich and Gravel, the latter is too old, sorry to say, and the former does not give off the kind of charisma necessary to make major change happen. We need a radical version of Reagan, no more Dukakises. Sadly none have come forward.

Obama has potential and if he wins the nomination, I might vote for him. He's a freshman senator, he doesn't have the most experience, but Cheney & co. had plenty of it and look how fine they have been for us. But an Obama - Hillary ticket I just couldn't stomach. unfortunately this appears to be the most likely outcome, since the media likes to do everything they can to make this seem inevitable. Maybe if it is a really close election I'll go out and vote, and even then, only if it is a sunny day. No use feeling limited in your options while standing in the rain.

A Shot at Upshot

Okay, so school is starting and that means lots of people who aren't students descending on campus. I go to school in a city so it is easy to get in and get things to students. We are a group of people, largely foolish, with a lot of either cash or plastic on hand so promoters of all types want to get us hooked on their products. Even living in the dorms I have menus and postcards for promised wild parties slid under my door. it irritates me because they are getting paid to litter.

Anyway, many times people hand out small promotional samples of their products. It is never for anything useful, such as wine, cheese, or gasoline. Usually it is for a drink of some kind because everyone who goes to NYU is on a strictly liquid diet, except for Ramen, which is of course cooked in a quid with flavoring. I enjoy a hearty meal (just ask anyone who runs a buffet in a thirty minute radius of Washington Square Park) but most of my peers live off of coffee, juice, and energy drinks. Consequently, this is what I usually see samples given out of.

Turning the corner, I saw people with stacks of little bottles. My first thought was that I had hit pay day, they resembled the small bottles you get on airplanes or in hotels, small containers of scotch and whiskey, vodka and gin. The liquid diet I enjoy involves these and clamato or orange juice. However I saw they were not handing out liquor, of course, but samples of an energy drink. A promoter saw me standing, trying to gaze at the labels looking for a proof. She handed me two samples of an energy drink.

It is called Upshot, One bottle was magenta colored and is considered to be "fruit" flavored. The other was brown, a light brown, and is "mocha" flavored. One sees the problem here and I should have seen the fruit flavor as a magenta flag. An orange, a grape, a melon, a kiwi, and a tomato are all 'fruit" something that tries to resemble all of them is doomed to distateful failure. No doubt about it. Unfortunately I had faith in modern science and chemistry and took the two bottles, drinking them on a street corner in front of a garbage can, so I could dispose of them if I found them horrible.

Since I was sure teh mocha tasted better than the fruit, I started with the fruit flavored concotion. Opening it up, i saw that it was bubbly and sticky, like a bottle filled with soap for blowing bubbles. I had a drink. it was disgusting. It tasted like window cleaner. Something trying to hide its being sanitary with a color adn a smell. I finished the bottle and grasped for air, hoping the stale scent of cigarettes and piss would give my mouth something better to grasp.

Failing that, i tried the mocha instead. it tasted like mocha, but with a shot of bleach in it. I thought I was drink something collected off the floor of a Starbucks. Examining the labels on the bottles I saw that they claim to have "More Power. Less Liquid" I think this is precisely the problem. They need less power and more liquid. They need to be diluted. I can say though, they do provide one with energy, as I am able to write this whole article rather lucidly despite it being mid day and time for my usual dozing off.

I guess it is a trade off. there is no good tasting energy drink, except for coffee itself, the original energy drink, the one fortunes, empires, and the rise of the industrial society are dependent on. today's energy drinks have nothing on coffee. Coffee brings people together for intellectual stimulation. Energy drinks keep one awake at bars or at work. They make one bluntly awake, providing no sharpness of vision.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Online Addictions

Maybe people claim that they are addicted to being online, some are serious addicts who need to pull the plug on the computer or turn it off, but many simply spend a lot of time on the Internet, looking at things and reading about all the world has to offer. I consider myself part of the later group. After all, I do have a blog.

But i do more than just work with Lo Specchio e La Spugna, I am on Facebook and Wikipedia too, and recently I've just gotten into Craigslist. It is amazing how much people are willing to give, especially in the personals section. Of course many of the postings are not serious there, but I have been looking at the writing gigs, going to magazines that need submissions and sending in some of my work. It is a fantastic device for bringing people together, the essence of the Internet. If you need something, there is a good chance you will be able to find it on there.

Because I am a writer, I also spend time looking at literary sites. One of them is Cosmoetica, which I like because its author is very open and honest with his criticism and I learn a lot from his dissection of poetry modern and old. I don't always agree with him, but I don't agree with myself half the time. He helps me understand what I believe. Also, I go on a lot of sites with information for writers, listings of literary magazines and calls for submissions to anthologies. The New Pages guide has a good list with information for every magazine they feature. The Writer's Directory is another good one.

The problem with all of this information and then reading about submissions and what my friends are up to, is that it gets in the way of working. I don't end up with anything as tangible as a finished poem or short story. It does not affect my friendships and going out, but I do admit to missing a meal or a shower because I was engrossed in something online. I'm sure you all can relate, I know this is not a rare issue.

What I am wondering is why we do it? We usually have something else we could be doing, something that once finished will usually give us more pleasure than the slight buzz of finding out about the atomic weight of Gold or what group our best friend in high school just joined on Facebook. This only applies IF there is an alternative. If you have nothing better to do, truly nothign better, then going online and reading and browsing makes more sense. It would be like going out for a stroll at night because everyone is out of town.

I think the reason we spend so much time online to the detriment of activities we know we will appreciate, is that we are in a sense addicted to the feeling of control the internet gives us. We can keep tabs on people we know, learn about countries and celebrities, see the weather wherever we want, and submit our work to communities for evaluation. It is especially tempting when we live in a world where so much of it is beyond comprhension. So much is beyond our control and we are reminded of it more than every before, thanks in no small part to the very internet we look fo rinformation on.

One might say it is a cruel paradox, the thing that we spend all our time on drives us to it. Online news stories and headlines remind us of a world that is at our fingertips, but refuses to let us pet it or do tricks for us. Perhaps it is best to cut out the internet of one's life, or maybe instead to embrace fully that one has such little econtrol, but reading about it, thinking about it, and wasting time trying to dance aroud it, will not do. We need to do something that truly does give us a feeling of control. We must create.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The NYU Home Homepage

Well they updated the NYU Home Homepage (I have to figure out a better way of saying it) which I don't understand. They are always messing with the colors and where things are on the screen. It is frustrating having to learn it all over again and I don;t understand why we should pay money for people to design things constantly and to worry about how to change the color. It should just be a variation on the school colors and that should be it. You seen enough purple and white here, so they should not be offensive. However what I dislike the most is on the sign-in page. Now I appreciate eccentricity, that's why I go here. I was a big supporter of the dinosaur on the page, which was a mistake that become popular, and rightly so.

Yet the new homepage features pictures of the study abroad sites. I know we are big on study abroad (rumored to be because it opens up space in housing) but I don;t think these images should be on there. i think that the point of NYU home having pictures is to create a sense of community. The library, Silver Center, and Washington Square Park are all used by the students. Only a portion go to any one study abroad site, some go to more, but very few have been to all of them. They are good pictures and make me wish I had studied outside the US, but I think they work against what the design of what the NYU Homepage should be.

Go to and refresh the screen to see them and compare to the shots of the campus around Washington Square Park

Friday, August 31, 2007

Hooray for Me

Well, good news. I got an internship with the Folio Literary Agency. I start in two weeks. Should be a good learning experience. This is probably the best bit of news I've recieved all month. I don't want to go into details, but it's been rough at times, thankfully the City, the Bottle, and the Word have gotten me through it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Today I went to the Avery Fischer Center, located on the second floor of the Bobst library at NYU. All you NYU students should check it out if you haven't and if you have you should give it a second look. It has a look of films that are not only well worth watching, but should be watched. Its all free and though you can;t take the items from the center, they have places to view them that are probably going to be better than seeing them at home, since their are fewer distractions.

I watched a production of Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha, which is based on the life of Gandhi, more specifically on the evolution of his thought. The work is divided into three acts, each one covering the influence of Tolstoy and Tagore on his approach to activism and the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King Jr.

I admit I only saw it because they did not have a copy of Glass' first famous work, Einstein on the Beach. In the long run, I was happy for the occurrence. Satyagraha is more accessible music wise and reflects the work he was doing at the time of Koyaanisqatsi, which is, in my opinion, his best overall composition (as opposed to piece). The staging is impressive and combines the right level of simplicity in the character of Gandhi, lavishness in those around him, and being abstract while still retaining some link to the Indian roots of the title character.

It is probably one of the few western operas composed in Sanskrit, the ancient liturgical language of India. The language is perfectly suited for opera and I believe it should have more works composed for it. It sounds a lot like Italian when sung, which makes some sense, given the common root of both languages. The use of Sanskrit makes the use of subtitles cumbersome as these appear out of since to when one hears the words sung.

If one one was not familiar with Gandhi's life, I do not know how they would look at this piece. Certainly a basic appreciation of the music and libretto would be possible, but one would have to know a good deal about his story, which might be provided in the playbill to those watching. then again I think the ending of Gandhi walking up a stage with his wounds, looking like a Hindu version of St. Stephen, would be enough for anyone with a shared sense of humanity who is able to mourn the loss of great men of spirit.

This opera has confirmed for me a theory I have been developing about art. What makes great art "great" is not adherence to form or emotion, per se, but creating a form of emotion, separate from fear or disgust, pleasure or pain, simple admiration or rage. Great creates an aesthetic feeling, a sense of inner beauty. How to quantify it is difficult, but it can be seen in how well a work inspires others. Aesthetic feeling can be best described as a mixture of jealousy for the artist, pride in his accomplishment being accessible to you, hope for the future, and a simple pleasure when even seeing something that in the real world would be hideous and possibly inspire terror.

The great works of art leave much to be said, the poor ones talk about much, leaving nothing to inspire one to speak out.

While watching the production, I wrote six poems, An idea for a play, another for a short story, and one for a novel set in an alternative universe where Hitler and Gandhi have switched roles, some notes on an ethical philophy and on hedonism, and several epigraphs to introduce these works and others. A poorly put together piece of culture (I refrain from consider such things art) can inspire one, but only because they think they can do better. A well put together cultural artifact, such as an action movie, might inspire imitation. A great work inspires things that often have nothign to do with it. it simply stimulates one desires and one sets out to them and may or may not accomplish them. The point is that great art makes you want to try instead of giving up.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Ruins of Byron at the W Court Hotel

This past weekend I stayed at the W Court Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Don't ask me why. It is not important for this article. How and why are not important here. The journey will not be covered, only the details of the destination. What I saw anyone could see, if they looked around and were not too busy.

Whatever, Whenever...that is the motto of the hotel chain. there are several W's, each one has a special designation. This one was known as the "Court." I never saw a courtyard, or any judges walking around, I suppose it makes more sense than the one up the street, the W "Tuscany."

Whatever, Whenever...all exemplified by the surrounds, the textures, the sounds. What kind of hotel was I staying in? What was I supposed to do while there? How would a vacation in such a place be seen as good or bad? What was the ideal stay supposed to be like? It was all up to me. The rooms trapped me in complete freedom.

It was all very romantic. The hotel did not provide me with a copy of Lyrical Ballads or paintings of man in his natural state. To those of an emotional temperament, it was not Walden, it was not the Lake District. No. it was not for them, but then again romanticism has passed them by. They are locked up these days, they are denounced, medicated, called all sorts of names, and for the most part ignored. The romantic belongs to a different sort now. More ambitious, more dirty, more violent, more austere, more bottled up for special moments. Less literate. Still emotional driven, abounding in passion, even if they need whole corporate apparatuses and magazine articles written in perfectly good commons sense to get them to accept the fact.

The W Court gives them the cages they need. Those who consider themselves the bastard children of Byron can come here and unwind. Byron's legitimate children, the one who inhabit English departments and read his poetry, who know less of an image, and less of a man, they are off in Greece, staying God knows where. But the Hotel I was staying at, this was the place for those with passions that reach out for sheets and curtains.

This was no Marriott, no Best Western. This was no place for the Beats or the Star Children. My room would not hold them, they would leave quickly and take the mini bar with them. Wordsworth and Shelly might just sleep there and do no else, going out, looking for a tree to write about. This was a high class establishment. This was a place for youngsters with nascent beards and longish hair to sit declare "We'll no more go a roving."

Nothing was set up as a small paean to reason, no feeling was triumphant. Everything was joined together to create an experience of fancy and passion. A CD case in the room declared that I could, "Listen to me or whisk me away for $13." Yes, the CD is embodied with the pathetic fallacy. It calls out to you. It has feelings and it lives. It is part of a world that feels and moves with the observer. You can whisk it away like you would a damsel to a castle for a night of lovemaking upon cold ruins.

The sign to hang on the doorknob, to announce my intentions for breakfast, asked me questions...why not a pastry or toast (I feel like a biscuit actually) what about a drink or fruit (okay, I suppose) who wants eggs or pancakes (I'm the only one here, and yes, I would like those) What side? (Left or right?) Who wants a quick start (How about ahead start? I could have lunch for breakfast) What about a NY Minute (Why not an hour?) Want to be healthy (At these prices I couldn't afford to eat much anyways)?

Elsewhere things remained silent, preferring to ooze romantic tendencies all over the place instead of trying to strike up a conversation with me. There were pillows covered in shells, pure whimsy. Trying to rest on them was like sleeping on glass. Another pillow was covered in some sort of fur or hair. A stuffed beard upon the chaise lounge.

There was reading, but done in the form of pictures, elaborate and well lit hieroglyphics. Magazines with one syllable titles, encapsulated style, finesse, beauty surrounded by the sublime, gentlemen and ladies doing what they damn well pleased looking off into cocaine and starvation induced stares at the reader or over to the next page where another model or a watch posed. There was a book on Spectacles, no judgements made within the pages, all gatherings, all colors, for whatever superstition, what a wonderful thing, social art with people as flecks of paint.

Another volume sat upon the desk. Within its pages was a listing with pictures, of all the hotels in the W family. But the cover was what caught my eye and my heart. It had a purple background with white images poured over the top. From a distance it looked like a psychedelic design, the kind of random fanfare that is the only allowed representation of passion and emotion with abstract gears of design. Paisleys and Pollack stains are what you usually find if someone is trying to be warm and avoiding any realistic depiction of the world outside and inside of them.

But the cover, which lit up in the darkness as if trying to dispel death with intense feeling and joy, was filled with the outlines of shapes that resembled real objects. There was plenty of swirl but realistic forms could be picked out. There was a genie's oil lamp spewing out all wishes and desires, trying to make them real. A girl cast a shadow and an outline by an champagne bottle opening up in the corner and sending foam all over the cover. I managed to notice, with my ribald eyes, that it resembled a circumcised phallus and the drops coming out looked like the discharges know to emerge from within when rubbed like the genie's lamp.

Away from it all, emerging from and surfing the contents swooshing all around was a couple, a man and a woman. He was following behind her, his muse leading him onto greater glory, If I turned the cover he would leap out and land in San Diego, Boston, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco, in the lap of luxury, his beloved transformed into a hotel room capable of holding and soothing him.

The elevators, the transport tubes for the young romantic who were piling out into the hallways and falling out of rooms, were mobile clubs, going up and down to a throbbing beat pulsating out of the ceiling and mixing with the melting lime and rose colored lights. I admit I danced, in front of other people. But it was for myself and no one else. I didn't earn any money.

Down in the lobby were red lights and mirrors, mirrors were everywhere int eh hotel in fact, reflecting off one another and creating clear abysses for Byronic heroes in backward caps and bejewelled necks to lose themselves in, maybe giving them a vision of suffering that would cause them to take up a rifle.

But then again, surrounded by so much luxury, amde to feel and be put at rest, everything given to them, everything coming in easy, perhaps not, I can imagine it:

Whatever, comes the end of the world, the country, the city, my life, all in full view. What does everything else matter? All is despair and agony, without ecstasy, without creativity, and what better way to create than to procreate! Here is the best time of my life, the worst time, the times for screaming, for staying away in dark luxury...let me spend 22 dollars on a muffin and some orange juice...someone is starving, someone has no house...ah but all is despair unto the end of human existence...what matters charity...what matters sympathy...though we must fight the conservatives, please pass the whiskey from the mini and let us pour a drink, or empty it out down the sink...what folly!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Midnight's Children

Well Professor Goswami, I finally did it, just in time for your class on nationalism. You assigned me Salman Rushdie's classic Midnight's Children to read for my World Cultures India class when I was a freshman, during my first semester. I admit that I read everything else that was assigned, but this book I could not finish. I only got to page 156 and then stopped. It was too hard to follow, the language was too wild to comprehend. I knew the background of what was going on, from what I had picked up over the previous years about India, but still the story of the main character and his family were lost on me.

I like to read. All sorts of things. Midnight's Children was the only book I have started and not finished, besides James Fenimore Cooper's Deerslayer. I bought that one in a thrift store and desperately wanted to be able to like it since it was a founding document in the development of American literature, but was unable to do so. However since I never paid that much for it, and Mark Twain disliked it, I never felt so bad about finding the book a waste of good paper and shelf space.

However, Midnight's Children was a book that has always weighed on my conscience for not finishing. Unlike the Deerslayer, it is internationally acclaimed, considered one of the great works of postcolonial literature. Time magazine named it one of the best 100 novels to be published since the magazine came out. It won the Booker Prize for literature, and then another one for being the best book of the first twenty five years of the prize's existence. Of course such accolades do make a book worth reading. But they do make it worth looking into.

I know I was not alone in completing the book, as most of the people in my class probably never started it. My Teaching Assistant was a big fan of the novel and kept telling us that it was hard to get into but that it got better as it went along. It took for two and a half years until I got around to finishing it, but thanks to the copious amounts of free time on my family's recent vacation to Niagara Falls, I was able to do so.

At first I ran into the same troubles that had prevented me from finishing the novel. The narration shifts abruptly from realism to fantasy, from past to present, in addition, the narrator often will switch from talking about himself in the 1st and then the 3rd person. I think this time I was better prepared for the work, having read so much experimental literature and works falling under the term of "magical realism." So I had the patience to achieve the understanding of what was going on. Still there were difficulties until I got to the birth of Saleem Sinai and the country of India, which happen simultaneously.

This is where the novel really begins, as it is centered on his life, the path that India takes as a country, and the lives of the other "Midnight Children," all born at the same time as him and able to telepathically communicate with him. Before this event, we get the background of the family, but I feel much of it is unnecessary detail, the kind of stories that writers like to throw in to reinforce the world that they have created. However I felt such tales could have been reserved for later, since they didn't correspond well with the history of what was going on in India at the time, which is the main support for the rest of the story and which makes it interesting.

Once the history of India and Saleem get going, then things are much more interesting to read. The effect of the partition on his family, war with Pakistan, political infighting, divisions within the radical left as experienced by the country's magicians, the liberation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh)as seen by Saleem, and the rise of Indira Gandhi and the Emergency she declared in the late 1970s are what drew me to the story. Saleem's digressions and descriptions needed the history of the subcontinent to focus themselves.

I think here is one of the themes of the novel, perhaps accidentally expressed, that one's life may not have much of a story associated with it unless it is wrapped up with greater historical struggle. Of course this message is subverted by a contrary one that states that individuals can through inadvertent willpower shape the course of countries and give them their stories as reflections of their own problems with themselves or those around them.

Overall it was an enjoyable read. It can be compared favorably with Marquez's Hundred Years of Solitude (the greatest book ever written if you are a Latin American Studies major). Both use language in a superb way, navigating between the divisions of poetry and prose to stich together new forms of meaning and expression of the human condition. I think Marquez's book does a better job of developing the plot and characters, but Rushdie ties the hsitory of his country in much better, turning the subject of history itself into a magical experience, which as a history major, I can appreciate.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

So on Friday I went and participated in the grand cultural event of the summer, seeing the Simpsons Movie. I suppose one could make the case that Harry Potter has attracted more attention and the coming out of the series' seventh and final book was more of an event, but I don't think it held the attention of as many adults, since the Simpsons fan base is much broader, having been on the air since 1989. Nor has it been as long a time coming, since this movie has been planned and talked about since the middle of the 1990s.

Anyways, I went and saw a matinee showing of it at the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. There was a line to buy tickets when I arrived (I had gotten mine before hand) yet inside in the actual theatre there was plenty of seating. I wished
there were more people, it would have made it more of an experience. Still it was not empty and when something funny happened, there was enough laughter to fill the chamber so I never found myself the lone chuckler.

I don't know what I can say about the film. I did not leave disappointed, but the sense of fulfillment I got after leaving the movie was more of a sense of closure than the feeling of having watched a great work of art, or something that had me rolling on the sticky floor the whole time. Rather it was the pleasure of seeing a part of my childhood and teenage years coming to a close, going as far as it could and doing the most with a larger block of time and a screen. Simply seeing Home hurt himself or Bart skateboard on such a giant surface was an experience in and of itself.

There were plenty of jokes, and lines that will probably creep their way into my conversations, but only with those who are devoted fans. I don't know how much they will creep into he popular culture. The animation was different, it was highly computerized, and the plot was a little over the top, but I suppose it would have to be in order to justify an hour and forty five minutes. I thing in retrospect I wished had been present were more of the secondary characters. The movie was like an early episode, basically focused on the family and everyone else having more or less the same standing. Also, the fate of Homer's pet pig, which was left open and never addressed, was something that the film should have handled better. (I suppose he survives to create an opening for a sequel?)

I was raised on the show. My father was an enthusiastic supporter of it, I remember having friends I would give synopsises of every episode to, because their parents forbade them to watch it. I was there from the start, the early stories that were Bart-centric, to the summer wondering who shot Mr. Burns, seeing countless shows, presidents, and events parodied and satirized, and trying to watch the recent seasons in honest contemplation without the bias of having seen the show's glory days.

It was the most important source of humor for me and as I suspect, most of my generation. It gave us our appreciation for satire, wit, and irony, before we even knew what these were. When we were told about them, it was the Simpsons we turned to for examples. Even for moral and philosophical lessons, it was better than anything else. My father still shows the Simpsons in his Sunday School class.

Never was there a show that was such a bonding element for a group of young people. We mastered its lines and we recited them like psalms to the great gods of humor past, to show to each other we could be funny in an emergency, we had something to say if anything else failed us. The Simpsons became like a Gideon's bible, with a list of references that could be used for any situation, good or bad. "Worst (blank) ever!" is just one example of a malleable phrase that has found its way into a variety of unexpected places.

So when I saw the film, I felt like I was watching a fitting end, a the last hit by an aging baseball player, not the explosive end, nor the triumphant return, but an adequate attempt to show that it still could make me laugh and captivate me with the microcosm of the United States that is Springfield.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What My Kids Know About Politics

I gave my campers some surveys to fill out for another teacher who is gathering data on what gifted children in middle school/junior high know about the political system of this country and the current race for the president.

The following are real answers

Several of the surveys identified the president and vice president correctly. They also knew their parties. One person put down "Republicans :)" One person identified the vice president as "Dickweed." Some of the more creative response were Chuck Norris of the Fist of Fury Party and Martin Sheen of the "China" party.

Most of them considered the Electoral College to be the University of Virginia (UVA)

Election Day was either 7/7/07 (meaning we apparently have elected our president in secret) Christmas, March 1st, 12th of February, "the day of elections" or sometime in November.

What is the function of a political Party?

To scare people
To party politics
To rule, the world
To hurt people
To vote on popping collars
To Nominate candidates

One kid got his information about politics from his 70 year old cousin,another from Hobo Joe who lives under a bridge, and another from a magical troll

When asked if they identified with a party, a few said they were Communist, some were Kommunist, and one was a Kommunizt (a very radical branch of the party, the rules of spelling are a bourgeois oppression to them)

Is it important for citizens to vote in an election?

No, are vote don't count anyway
Vote for American Idol
Because bananas grow on trees

Where do campaign contributions come from?

Not me
Wall Mart
Money tree or troll
Hobos in DC
Print Machines

Who would you vote for in the upcomming election?

Obama all the way

In what way to political parties use the media?

To threaten people
Gangster music videos and Youtube

Have you ever voted in a mock election?

When isn't it a mock election

List any candidates you know for the upcomming presidential election

Me, Chuck Norris, Captain America, A Quail, Obama, Paris Hilton, Dick Cheney, Ben Nardolilli, Mc Hammer, Billy Bob Thorton

According to one survey: "Chuck Noris is running for his 5th election! He bent the rules of the Constitution!"

Apparently history as we know since 1987, if false. In reality was Chuck Norris was president and we defeated the Soviets with roundhouse kicks.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part IV

I want to talk a little bit about who I think in the religion debate has the burden of proof.

I think if the debate between atheism and theism is strictly about the existence of a being called "God" or multiple beings, then it is up to the Theist to prove that such a being exists, since we are not born with any innate idea of one, and God does not automatically reveal itself to us in the way that the American landmass does. In that case, people in Africa or Eurasia could postulate about there being a landmass across the ocean and then go and find it, even if they have no direct information about it or experience of it.

However a group of atheists could not simply postulate the existence of a higher being and then find one. Travel to the top of Mount Olympus, and you will find no Gods, and look at satellite pictures of the space above the clouds, where we find no heaven. It is a much deeper question, requiring a different sort of evidence to be presented.

So what would be evidence of God's existence? If the burden of proof lies in the court of those trying to say there is exists an all powerful being who created the universe, then what would they have to produce in order to be accepted as right? I think this question is one that has not been settled in this argument between atheists and theists. Both sides need to agree to a set of criteria to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of God. This evidence would largely have to be of the miracle variety, since it would mean the suspension of all known laws of science that could easily explain away something possible giving the way that physics are known to work.

I think Bertrand Russell once said that if a voice came to him and predicted everything he was going to do exactly as it unfolded for the next twenty four hours, then he would believe in a supreme deity. Unfortunately that sort of evidence is very subject to one's individual bias, and though it make an individual atheist a theist, it would not be enough to convince the large numbers necessary to settle the debate for good, or at least the time being.

The web site Why Won't God Heal Amputees posits one sort of evidence, that if God exists and is all powerful, then he should be able to spontaneously regenerate the missing limbs of amputees. Why does this beat out curing cancer as a better proof of God's existence? because there are cases of cancer going into remission for unknown reasons, but there are no recorded cases of a lost leg or chopped off arm growing back in its entirety. Even more miraculous would be to regrow such a limb with every scar and tattoo in its proper place.

So could this work as definitive evidence? For the God that Christian Theists want, I think it is. After all, they posit a God who listens to prayers and is all loving, who rewards faith in this life and the next. If someone, say a child, who lost a limb by stepping on a land mine, something clearly not their fault, then their prayer should be heard, since I don't know anyone more religiously devout and afraid of God than children once they are told it exists, or more deserving since they are generally free of any major sin.

But it doesn't happen. It never has. though plenty of people have prayed I'm sure for their arms and legs back, and people have prayed for them, we have no cases of people regenerating their limbs. Could it happen? Yes (since it is not contradictory). And that is why it works as potential evidence for the existence of an omnibenevolent God. It has convinced me not to believe in such a being, since I have no seen its presence working separate from any explainable laws of psychology or physics.

For those who simply believe in God who is all powerful, it does not work. If such a miracle did happen, then of course one who believes in a God could always use it to support their proposition. But if such a miracle fails to happen, then they still are able to claim a defense, since they never made a claim about God answering prayers. All powerful and all loving are two separate properties, after all.

What then, is the evidence to prove God's brute existence? What is put forward are often philosophical explanations for the existence of God, which in turn make major assumptions about the nature of the universe. One important one comes up in the cosmological argument for the existence of God, the assumption the universe was created as opposed to being randomly generated, or that there was a start to it at all, versus thinking that the universe has always existed.

When one strips down the argument, this is what it boils down to, propositions about the origin of the universe. When the nature of the creator is put aside and the debate turns to there having been an act of creation, things become a little more complicated. In this area, in this debate, the burden of proof I think disappears, because all propositions about the nature of the universes start out equal. There is no talk of some being, but rather debate about philosophical properties. It becomes more about trying to convince someone that there is such a thing as cause and effect, or time, rather than the presence of absence of an invisible pink unicorn in the room.

One thing that those who believe in God have to show, not related to their burden of proof about the existence of God, is what difference God's existence makes in the world. Morality doe snot need God, and neither does science or philosophy. If the theists could show that their faith makes a difference in the world (and not form inspiring acts of charity)then I am willing to buy their propositions about the Universe, but as it is , feel that the existence or non-existence of god makes little difference except that if God exists then by definition, I could never have any free will, which might be pleasing to some.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part III

Here is a question, is it possible for there to be an atheistic religion?

I think first off there needs to be a definition of religion established here. Many people will say they are spiritual, but do not consider themselves religious, and if we look at their behavior and beliefs, what does this amount to?

Basically a religion is a set of established, communal behaviors and worldview that flow from the beliefs of the practitioners. In theory, one could be a Christian and read the Bible all by themselves, and I don;t think this makes them religious. They can believe in the "Good News" but if they do not attend a church or celebrate holidays with other people, or partake in events like communion or collective prayer, they are not religiously Christian. Certainly there are many people who are probably religiously Christian, but not spiritually so. This is what many Evangelicals believe is the case for most Christians.

So then, is it possible to have an atheistic religion, that is a series of communally held rituals that arise from set of likewise communally held beliefs? I think it is, but I do not think such an institutionalized Atheism will have too many followers, nor will it be able to prevent itself from constantly dividing. (I base this assumption off any meeting of an Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers club, where the only unity present is often in a shared dislike of religion and theism).

Marxism offers a good example. I think one could argue that it functioned as an Atheistic religion (technically Marx himself was an igtheist. It had a holy writ, it had mass rituals, sacred words and language, and a priesthood in the form of Communist Party officials. Now personally, I think Marxism, though it has many flaws, still makes more sense than most of the theistic religions, but there is no escaping the fact that it had as much pomp and pageantry (and dogma) as the Catholic Church.

But looking at Marxism one sees what happens with an attempt to create an atheistic religion. Number one, it caused its followers to become like sheep and commit horrific crimes they otherwise never would have considered doing. Number two, since it celebrates reason and science, Marxists constantly fought amongst themselves and split up into smaller and smaller groups, worse than the Christians ever were.

So it is possible to create an institution that effectively functions like a religion, but has no God. It can replace that God with some other great concept like Revolution or the march of science, or establishing contact with aliens, but it will have the practical problems of both theism in its dogmatism, and atheism, in its tendency towards individual strife.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Another Poem Published!

Success! This morning I checked my e-mails before going out to take the kids out for breakfast, and lo and behold I recieved a message from Perigee Magazine, an online publication. Back in May I sent out a bunch of poems and some prose pieces to several online publications. Some have been rejected and so I was expecting this one to be the same. But it wasn't. Instead I am pleased to announce that in their upcoming issue (#17 out on July 15th), I am going to have a poem appear. It is called Flyer Guy and was written by me in response to the people who are constantly passing out flyers to me in New York City.


Now I'm working at the good ole' Summer Enrichment Program at the University of Virginia. I have seven eighth grade boys that are personally under my supervision, but I get to deal with all kinds of kids between the 5th and 8th grade. They are all gifted in one way or another and they sometimes manage to surprise me with what they can do. Sunday was field day for the camp and before we got them sweaty and wet (along with some of the counselors)they had a pep rally where the suites were paired up. My suite is the 320s (we live in the dorms at UVA), and we were with a corresponding suite in the girl's quarters. Most counselors created team names around alliteration and unusual animals and let the kids do a cheer or song based on a pop tune or the old standby "We Will Rock You" by Queen.

However because I like to be different, engaged, and a rebel, I had my kids and the kids from the other suite come together under the theme of Paraguay. They created a banner celebrating the country's rich history and traditions, opening with a skit of one of my campers wearing a German general's hat and wondering where he could go since his country had just lost WWII. Another camper came out and told the beleaguered German that Paraguay was waiting to offer him a home and he was overjoyed. Then the banner was unfurled and a cheer was led by another one of my boys, John, who wrote the thing himself (though no one believed it):

Alright Paraguayans, raise a din,
'Cause this land-locked beauty is here to win!

We'll stomp you, kick you, shoot you in the knees,
Your puny lands with sea access, we'll seize.

From the canopies of Asuncion,
When we bomb you with artichokes,
You will be gone!

Look out Uruguayans, you're going down,
Upon your patheticness we do frown!

Your demise we'll weave upon a loom,
Upon you we'll spread the tablecloth of doom

Go Paraguay!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part II

Alright. First I would like to begin by discussing my own personal beliefs. I do not consider myself a theist. I lean towards weak atheism in practical terms. I believe in a Being with a capital "B" but mostly for philosophical reasons. In my mind Being is everything. It is everything we may not be able to experience as well. All things dwell within it, including human beings. That said, Being is not God. Some have remarked that such an idea, of an all encompassing Being is secretly a belief in a deity. I do not think that it is. I do not hold that Being is all loving, that Being answers our prayers, or that it interacts with us on a daily basis.

I do not hold that there is any sort of afterlife and that this existence is the only one we have. If there is any possible life after death, I would go with reincarnation, but even then, since memories do not survive one's demise, and neither does ones body or personality, reincarnation cannot bring about any sort of meaningful afterlife. If you "wake up" in someone else's body, so be it. But you can't remember where you were before. So what good is it?

I was raised a Catholic and left the church in my mid-teens because I disliked the corruption in the organization and the hypocrisy of most American Catholics. After that for a while I was a generic Humanist Christian, but eventually I came to disbelieve in the Bible and saw Buddhism and existentialism as giving better insight into the human condition. I suppose I left the faith because I found a better alternative.

That said, I would like to offer up a defense of the Theist's position in sympathetic terms. All to often I see these sorts of debates revolving around what I would like to call "psychological arguments." These are arguments that are thinly veiled ad hominem attacks (that also commit the fallacy of argument from consequences). They center around accusing supporters of the other side for believing what they want in order to make them happy. Atheists often accuse theists of having faith in God because it makes them happier and they fear death. I think there are two problems with this line of reasoning.

First is that there are many unhappy Christians. One might argue that they would be even unhappier if they lacked faith in God and the afterlife, but I feel that in certain cases faith in God did not equal much happiness. After all, when you become a theist, particularly a member of an organized religion, you become worried about avoiding eternal hellfire. You may suffer more and actually be more unhappy because you are constantly delaying gratification. You may be happier as well.

Second is that there are also unhappy Atheists. Most Atheists are satisfied with their lives, but many are not. In some cases I'm sure feeling estranged from others and the universe and its purposes and despair over death and no afterlife and cause grief to certain atheists. This group I am sure is a minority, one which in the theist's mind often represents the whole of the non-theistic community. Yet they do exist, these individuals who suffer and whose lives are filled with anguish, possibly because they lack a belief in something greater than themselves, though one cannot be sure. What is certain is that happiness is not guaranteed by adopting either position, nor becoming an agnostic.

Belief in God can be very satisfying and this is why the majority of the world's theists are religious. This is why they refrain from doing things, giving money to certain groups, fighting against others, building holy shrines, making pilgrimages, and the like. God knows everything, has chosen everything, and all one has to do is trust in God's guiding spirit. God gives reason and shape to the universe and consequently people's lives and around God one can build a system of morals and ethics.

The communal aspect of religion is what I think is most appealing. It creates a sense of community for people, it gives them support when they need it, and an organized religion provides children with moral education. For individuals, belief in God acts to dispel their anxieties and fears about the world and the afterlife. Any critique of religion or belief in God must take this into account, the practical side of theism and why people believe. It is not because they have been overtaken by a virus, a genetic or nutritional defect, or are simply not as "bright." People look at their options and since we live in a country that is not a theocracy, they know disbelief is an option. Theists are not becoming atheists in droves, and in fact many atheists become committed theists. Something more powerful or more intimate than abstract reasoning must be driving this, since we know that logic tends to favor the atheist and agnostic in the debate.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part I

For the past several months I have been reading posts by one Jack Rivall, who I became friends with for some reason on facebook. I suspect he saw my religious listing as a Pastafarian and then contacted me because I would be interested in analysis of God and religion from a skeptical point of view. I am, but it is daunting how much stuff this guy writes and posts. I am not a fan of churches or religious groups in general and dislike Evangelical Christianity immensely, but this guy seems obsessed with it, operating as a one man watch dog group.
Fine for him, but the notes that get posted and link attached become repetitive and take up most of my home page whenever I log into facebook. When I scroll down, its usually post after post, telling me about some facet of Atheism and overcoming a common criticism.
I guess I've been spurned on to do some of my own thinking on the matter and to analyze the way the debate is going and where the atheist side is failing to make its case stronger. I am not displeased with the debate in general. I believe that it is necessary. I am not one of those who thinks we simply shouldn't discuss religion. To ignore the fundamental beliefs people have about the universe, beliefs that shape their values and their actions, is irresponsible to say the least. Of course there is a time and place for such debates. An atheist shouldn't yell at someone in an elevator who says "God Bless You" when he sneezes. There is a likelihood that person could be an atheist as well, since such things are said out of concern and habit, not out of conviction mist of the time.

Idea for a Band Name

I saw a good name for a band, it was part of a quote by Thomas Jefferson that I have had the pleasure to read many, many times since it has been attached to the stall door in the dorms I have stayed at during the summer at UVA.

The name of the would be band is "Moral Monotony"

I think it has a good ring to it. It sounds like Moral Majority, and maybe slightly pokes fun at it. The aliteration will probably lead people to that association.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Letter in Time

Well, I thought that I’d try and get another post in before the end of the month. I have kept up my summer tradition of appearing in at least one magazine. Last year it was New York Magazine for a luxurious spread (google my name and it will come up), this summer it is Time Magazine, which my parents subscribe to and I read when I’m home, because they keep the old issues stacked up on their coffee table.

The letter I sent in was in regards to a story run about Mitt Romney. I basically attacked the notion that a candidate’s faith is not an issue. I believe that it is. Either because A) it informs the decisions they make, or B) if it doesn’t, then they have to explain why they feel privileged to sacrifice their conscience. In the case of Mitt Romney he will be earning money from taxpayers that will go in part to the LDS Church. (Now it seems he is not accepting any salary and will donate it to charity, though I wonder if it will be one that is secular and behind all Americans.)

My Original letter was thus:

Mitt Romney in the White House? I don't think this country can take another teetotaller for president!

Your article regarding Romney's Mormon faith, claiming that it is bigotry to question his religion I think misses the point that if he is elected, at least ten percent of his income, which comes from the tax payers of this country, will be going to support the Mormon Church, and so we as Americans have the right, I think, to ask him what he believes and what he supports. Remember, this was a church that until the 1970s believed Black people could not go to heaven, is prejudiced against women's rights, and believes in a history of the New World that is directly at odds with genetics and archaeology, not mention that their holy book, despite all those problems, originally contained hundreds of grammatical errors and plagarizations from the King James version of the Bible. When several of the candidates for the GOP nomination can stand up and honestly say they don't "believe" in evolution, we cannot sit back and simply refrain from a critical analysis of what other people believe out of some sort of courtesy. Politicians' faith is a very public thing, it informs policy decisions before the facts are heard on either side of an issue.

The Letter that Time edited for their magazine:

Mitt Romney in the White House [May 21]? If he were elected, at least 10% of his income--which would come from us taxpayers--would go to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Remember, this is a church that until the late '70s believed blacks couldn't go to the highest tier of heaven, limits women's role and believes in a history of the New World that is at odds with scientific facts. We can't refrain from a critical analysis of what people believe out of some sort of courtesy. Politicians' faith is a very public thing.
Benjamin E. Nardolilli ARLINGTON, VA.

You can see the criticism of their holy writ was removed and the joke I put in at the top, but I think the essence of the piece remains, the most important thing is the role of blacks and the history of the Americas in Later-Day theology.

The letter has been making its rounds throughout the world I suppose. Recently a girl I knew in Middle school talked to me a Facebook, telling me she had read my letter.