Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cross Country

Let's just quit our jobs and stop going to school and hitchhike across the country like David Sedaris did in the '60s (or was it the '70s?) but less gay and dangerous and labor-intensive and more fun and adventurous. We'll live off the American land, not suckling the teats of society like those no-good boozehound bums on the street that ask you for your last quarter when you need to scrounge that loose change together just to buy a cup of coffee and make some sense of your life. No: we'll do good, honest work, pulling apples off trees in the Pacific Northwest, picking cotton in the South, raking leaves off the lawns of middle America, hell, even doing some of those Dirty Jobs like on that one TV show.

But that's one thing: we won't have TV except in the Bohemian cafes and sports bars and sometimes Greyhound buses, none of which we'll be able to afford. So we'll cut our hands up on rosy thorn bushes for the local flowershop in Shreveport, Louisiana and keep barreling along on our search -- not for the American Dream like Hunter S. Thompson did (or said he did), nor for any Jack Kerouac- or Forrest Gump-style soulsearching. We won't know what we're looking for, but we'll continue looking; we'll know what we want, but I'm not sure that we'll know when we find it.

We're in good standing, so it will take a while before anyone notices that we're gone, and by that time we'll have ripped apart our entire identities, burning our social security cards for warmth in New England, sprinkling tiny pieces of our driver licenses across each state that we visit. Instead of taking samples of the soil like the forlorn soldiers who choose not to forget, we'll leave our own personal trademarks at each wayward stop, chipping our name into a mountainside, running our fingers along the surface of the freshly poured cement in front of an elementary school, spraying the tunnels with our messages of hope. As students and responsible, culturally aware young men and women, we've worked for so long to reduce our carbon footprints, but we'll have to let our feet grow a little for this expedition: we won't just disappear Into the Wild, we'll rub elbows with the highway truckers, take rides from soccer moms, grab cups of joe with everyman Joe Schmoe (6:30 a.m. at that little diner just off Exit 10 -- you know the one).

We'll get to know our America -- not the America of our fathers or our celebrities or our politicians or our historical literary figures. We'll find out what makes everything pulse, day in, day out, and when we finally figure it out, only then can we bring it all to an end.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fall course.

I just grabbed a contemporary lit course for fall. I'm excited about it because it has the following required book list:

Flying Home and Other Stories: Ralph Ellison
As I Lay Dying: William Faulkner
Portrait of a Lady: Henry James
Jesus' Son: Denis Johnson
Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut
House of Mirth: Edith Wharton

...Not so much about the first and the last books, but since I've read one (Slaughterhouse) and have started another (Portrait) and another (Jesus' Son) looks pretty cool and I've wanted to read Faulkner with guided instruction, I think it'll be pretty cool.

Here's to hoping that the professor is not a wackjob.

Charlie Bartlett?

I'm glad this movie was good. From the trailer, I thought it could go either way. But it turned out to maintain its quirky humor throughout the movie, which was impressive.

It's a fresh take on the high school movie -- it has all the components other films do (including the too-smart-for-school youngster and the obligatory high school play penned by the local dweebus), but somehow it spins it in a new direction.

Charlie Bartlett is thusly awarded the PMCL bump.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gone, and hopefully relegated to a footnote in history...

I just read this commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education (which, by the way, is a great publication -- I'm even thinking of subscribing after I leave this job where I have free access) called Gone, and Being Forgotten (you probably won't be able to view it without an online subscription, but I'll paste relevant parts). [Edit - I was feeling generous, so I hosted this article on my webspace. - J.D.]

It starts out:

"How is it that Freud is not taught in psychology departments, Marx is not taught in economics, and Hegel is hardly taught in philosophy?"

And immediately I thought, "Because they're not important anymore?"

I know a fair bit about Marx, less about Hegel and far too much about Freud than I would care. As I read along this commentary, I wondered if the author was a psychologist, an economist, a philosopher, or some sort of humanities guy. Well, he turned out to be an historian.

"If educated individuals were asked to name leading historical thinkers in psychology, philosophy, and economics, surely Freud, Hegel, and Marx would figure high on the list. Yet they have vanished from their home disciplines. How can this be?"

Well, it is because learning about the failed lessons of history only helps to an extent. I was frustrated that I had to take a course about "The History of Psychology" for my B.S., but I did recognize the importance of the class. Even though I knew most of it already, I assumed that many others would not be familiar with Freud and B.F. Skinner and all.

But to write an entire commentary about how these thinkers are being pushed into the background? Do you want to know why? Because everyone and their mom went apeshit over these guys, even though their work and theories turned out to be mostly honky.

"Yet, much like psychology, philosophy has proved unwelcoming for thinkers paddling against the mainstream."

Here, the author, Russell Jacoby, seems to suggest that people who support these great thinkers -- Hegel, Freud, Marx -- in their "correct" arenas (philosophy, psychology, economics, respectively) are "paddling against the mainstream" and are thus forced out of the fields into different areas. One philosopher, John McCumber, who loves Hegel "decamped from philosophy to German" so that he could continue to love him.

Give me a break. I realize that it's a tragedy when someone who devotes their entire career to an historic figure must shift gears. But if your selection of choice is taken out of the canon, what better reason to fight for his place in history? Will you just go with the tide and switch to German studies because you find philosophy "too restrictive". Bone up.

It's dumb to keep emphasizing the work of ancient groundbreakers whose work has been overshadowed by new discoveries. Sure, these guys did some great things and deserve recognition. But no, I don't think every person who wants to be educated in psychology should know the complete ins and outs of Freudian psychology. Dreams, sex, a few complexes and move on.

Besides -- isn't it enough that historians and people studying the humanities in general will keep the flames of these three alive? Let the sciences progress and leave the dinosaurs in the history books.

Columbian coffee... from Columbia!

I had no idea what to do at work this morning. I got in at 8:00 a.m., opened up shop, wrote a couple of emails, and then started browsing Homestar just for the hell of it -- because I haven't been there in ages. I subsequently went on a Facebook posting rampage, listing the games I was playing and the Toons I was watching.

My boss came in at about 9:30 (I was alone in the office till then), and I decided to stop playing games. I had to sit around for a minute to think about what I was going to do, and then I thought "Oh yeah, make coffee."

Literally, just as I was about to get up out of my chair to make some coffee, Vicky, my Columbian boss (from Columbia), said "Hey Justin -- do you make coffee at home?" Yes. Yes, I do.

She came by and gave me a bag of authentic Columbian brew.

It's called Cafe Quindio and has a slogan of "De nuestra tierra lo mejor," which roughly translates to "the best on earth" (the best of our earth?). Roughly, because I don't know any Spanish, but I know what those words mean from Latin.

She said it was so strong that I would probably have to mix it in with other grounds. I doubt it.

She also said that it's officially expired, but that coffee stays good forever.

Let's hope she's right about that one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pseudo Bucket List.

I hate the term "Bucket List," and although I never saw the movie, I think I would hate that too.

I'm usually all talk about the projects I want to do. I've wanted to write an opera, a concept album, a rock opera (which, I guess all three could be the same thing), study abroad, be a radio DJ, live in a big city for a year or two, learn a second language, write a novel in a month, write an album's worth of songs in a month, write a book of poetry. After I saw Run Fatboy Run, I even wanted to complete a marathon.

Despite all these general, whimsical yearnings, there are a few things that keep coming back to me and keep calling out to me.

1) I think I could write a cohesive album's worth of material. Technically, I have much more than that (I haven't been keeping count but I'd guess 70 songs or so), but I think the goal for this would be to be working towards an end product. Not even necessarily a concept album, just begin with the intent to finish a good 40 or minutes or so of music. I feel the need for it all to be my compositions (and words), but if I could work with some musicians to record it all that would be splendid.

2) Record #1. I think this would be much more difficult than #1 itself. If I had the opportunity, though, I think 1 & 2 could go down simultaneously.

3) Conversational and reading understanding of another language. I'm not settled on one yet, but I feel that this is within my reach. Someone once told me that I was too old and shouldn't consider learning another language. He usually had good advice, but I labeled that comment under "hooey".

4) Book. I don't feel a novel calling out to me, but I think I could combine some creative essays with some poetry and a short story or two (maybe even some news articles) to make some sort of super-book that spans genres.

5) Comic strip. Sometimes I get an idea that I think would make a decent stand-up joke. Other times I think of something funny I could write in an email or essay. I think a comic strip would lie somewhere in the middle -- a not-too-serious playground where I could process all of my extraneous humor into a few panels.

These are the major ones. Sure, I'd like to learn how to play piano, but it's not really calling out to me. I've already built a makeshift website, which was previously one of my major goals (and now I'm working on getting a newer template!). But these aren't like new year's resolutions are anything -- they will be done, just when they want to be.

Then I can blog about it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Frazzled, Rocked.

This morning was gross. I came in to an office that was 80 degrees and on the rise. That might not sound that bad, but inside a building, with no open air, 80 is stifling. Especially since I've been used to cooler.

It took maybe 2.5 hours for two different service people and three different phone calls to get around to making it cooler in here.

Meanwhile I'm asked about two different projects, doing copies for a retired professor who doesn't know how to do them, and managing several odds and ends (work emails) all while dealing with this heat. I guess it wasn't all that bad, but it was gross.

Here's hoping for a cool, breezy afternoon.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fogetting Sarah Marshall.

Good movie. Funny movie. Good twists. Great writing. Very funny. Surprisingly mature. Fantastic editing. Decent music. Pleasantly goofy. Bad trailer. Good movie.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Currently on the bookdar.

My reading of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady has been currently interrupted. I stopped about a week ago and plowed through Fear and Loathing.

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Lolita because it was on a table of "Summer Reading" suggestions at Barnes & Noble and because I was curious.

I am infinitely amused that this edition has "John Ray" listed as the author of the forward on Amazon.

I'm going to pick up a copy of it from the library and keep reading, because I made it through about 27 pages yesterday and it was fantastic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bam! New Blog look!

I finally got around to widgeting with all the gadgets on these new Blogger templates. They're really great. A real time waster. I can foresee hours of tinkering with this. At work, mainly.

Man, back in the OH-FOUR when I started up this bitch, there wasn't shit to fuck with. I was all writing in ONES and ZEROS tryin' to get some pictures to appear where I wanted them. Don't even talk about widgets. Nobody knew what a widget was back then. Now there's more shit to mess with in Blogger than you can wave a stick at.

(You see, with a new Blog look, there is necessarily a lot of cursing. Them's the rules.)

( . . . But maybe it's because there's a lot of crap going on now and I'm getting some nervous energy/stress out.)

(Either way, either way.)

(And here is an explicit thanks to Matt C. for starting a blog and for making me realize how bad mine looked. I actually spent the whole morning at work reading his posts -- catching up. Thanks a lot, dude.)

P.S. - Updating my template has undoubtedly altered the look of my older posts forever. Because, well, there are so many of them that I refuse to even think about going back to fix every single picture. So if you're browsing the archives, be prepared to see pictures cut off and things looking generally ugly. Which, well, they looked ugly anyway. If you're really curious, drop me a line and I can explain how things used to be in Blogger before Google took over and made it a lot easier and better looking for everyone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Updates to follow...

I was sitting around wondering why I let my blog continue to look so ugly. Specifically, I was reading Matt's blog and noticed how sleek it looked.

So I updated my template and now I will be able to access a few more features. I'll try to update the HTML now to suit my tastes (especially so that it looks the same across regular AND widescreen monitors, and so it looks decent across browsers too), but that might take a while. At least I've taken the first step in the right direction.

Heck, I might even try changing to one of those new-fangled looking templates, too. Who knows?


Above is the most productive thing I did at work today. And it's definitely way too goth/emo for my tastes. So yeah, it was that sort of day.

Constitutional Amendments.

On a whim, I decided to look up this day in history. Every friday in my high school American History class my teacher would read the day in history from the newspaper.

I got down to the one about "The Senate voted 50-48 against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage" in 2004 and it immediately struck me that making a blanket constitutional amendment about marriage was pretty odd. I mean, the constitutional amendments, from what I understand, were added (the first ten as the bill of rights) so that the federal government would not have so much implicit power. As a measure to enhance individual state power, the much-bandied-about-but-hardly-ever-portrayed-clearly "founding fathers" intended to strike a key balance with such an amendment as number X:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Legal rights, tax procedures, voting rights, election procedures -- sure, put those in a legal document about the behavior of the nation. But it starts to get shaky for me around the prohibition amendment. I know there a lot of ins and outs to starting a country, but outlawing an obvious economic staple? Back then, the farmers were still profiting from the production of alcohol (in addition to shopkeepers and others) and the government just takes that away? Did they know about the Whiskey Rebellion? (Which, by the way, I think it's funny that the national government fought to stamp out a rebellion that was in response to a national tax -- isn't that part of the reason that the American Revolution took place? Stamp tax and all that -- "No taxation without representation" . . . ?)

But, anyway, it's my belief that introducing an amendment about marriage, civil or religious unions, or anything like that is even more ridiculous than an amendment banning a commodity. Many of the amendments are for giving rights: Yes, women CAN vote. Yes, black people CAN vote. Yes, 18-year-olds CAN vote. Others ban questionable government practices: No, your stuff CANNOT be searched unless... No, you CANNOT assign excessive bail... No, soldiers CANNOT board your house during peace.

But what other amendments ban the action of the citizens, besides the failed prohibition one?

My point is, taken in comparison to the other amendments, some crap about marriage is way out in left field. Especially if it's banning a certain type of marriage. Even though it might be phrased positively (e.g., YES, a man and a woman CAN get married), the idea of ruling out something like this in our national codex is laughable.

Now, surely there are worse situations. Some cultures in some countries kill citizens just because they married someone from the same TOWN (even if they're not even remotely related), but still, this is kind of ridiculous.

So sure -- send it to the state level. Twenty-six state constitutions (according to Wikipedia) already have regulations against same-sex marriages. Oh yeah, and get ready for number twenty-seven.

Loving 'Fear and Loathing' in Tallahassee.

I was at Borders last Friday, reading a section of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady. It's an interesting novel so far, but it takes its time with things -- descriptions of characters go on for pages, and much of the action happens in people's heads. I finished a chapter and took a break to walk around.

I spotted a display of books and saw if there was anything I was interested in. After a moment, I spotted Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It had the movie cover (Johnny Depp's distorted face snaking up vertically) and all I could think of was how thoroughly uninterested I was in the movie.

I grabbed it anyway and headed back to flip through a couple of pages. 50 pages later, I decided that it must be my next read, and, reserving a copy from the library, I promptly blazed through the book in three days. It's not that hard to do -- very easy to understand. Very action-packed.

It was possibly the farthest extreme from Henry James, and it made me want to see the movie again. One of the things I gathered from the reading was that I treat my body and my car very well, and there is much I could do to push the boundaries of both. The Big Lebowski also showed this to me, but I am not too interested in doing anything from either of those two things (except maybe going bowling).

Fear and Loathing is pretty absurd, and as I made my way through the text I found it extremely difficult to determine how much weight I would give to the classification of "nonfiction / journalism" that was printed on the back cover. Thompson makes strong, serious points in the midst of some very humorous scenes, and the whole thing comes off as powerful as Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five. The war here is the war on drugs, and Thompson delivers the battle reports from the drug culture side of things through a frenetic, paranoid state.

It's a quick, light read. Now back to Mr. James.

* * *

Update: I knew it! I know nothing of Thompson or this book, but I had a feeling that it was more or less true, but it had to be fictionalized at points, of course. Don't find me naive.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Water foul.

I saw two ducks doing it today at Lake Ella. It happened like this:

The smaller one was in a shallow area of water, and the bigger one stepped up on the other's back, like they were a pair of burglars in a bad comedy flick hopping over a security wall at night. The one standing up looked around a while, and then it started kicking / stomping the one underneath. It was pushing the bottom duck's head in the water and holding it down. Then it lowered down and kept pecking at the lower duck's head, dunking it in the water for long periods.

The bottom one remained still, and halfway through, after I hadn't seen it move the whole time, I thought that the bottom duck might have been dead. The top duck could have been picking pieces out of it, trying to eat it, like hungry lobsters are known to do.

Near the end, another duck came swimming quickly toward the pair. Some small turtles also gathered 'round. I thought that they were trying to rescue the lower duck.

(Homer thinks back to the way he learned about sex as a child...

Homer: "Zookeeper! Zookeeper! Those two monkeys are killing each other!"
Zookeeper: (whispering) They're doing it.


It was all over within three minutes or so, then both ducks waded to shore and spread their wings, elegantly flicking the water off their fowl bodies.