Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I had a dream this afternoon.

After a significant lost beginning, I believe I am . . . I can't make this make sense yet. I'll give you the three jumbled parts.

I am standing in front of a house, trying very carefully to use a pulley and rope system to send a lantern and something I believe is a 6-disk CD player up to Eileen's window. It is dark, the house is to my right, and the lantern is red. Morgan is or was there at some point. I eventually succeed and enter the house myself.

I am in a car, my car, actually, with JT and Laura and someone else, and Laura is driving. I am in the back seat on the driver's side. We are in a residential neighborhood, it is dark, and it is snowing lightly. We are doing some vaguely mischievous thing, and sort making a moderate mess. I suddenly get worried about whether or not Laura has a driver's license, in case we should be caught. We are eventually stopped somehow, by a man at the end of a cul-de-sac. He wasn't too strict, but insisted we would have to clean up the mess we had made, which we promptly began doing. However, once we began cleaning (which consisted merely of sweeping snow) the entire scene shifted. Apparently Eileen and Morgan had very highly recommended some novel to me earlier, and I was now reading it, and it was the two main characters who were now in the lamplit street, sweeping snow. The main characters are two boys in their early teens.

It turns out that the kind man did not just ask us to clean up; he had also alerted another man, some sort of leader or guardsman or something was the impression I (I was identifying mostly with one of the boys) got. My companion finished his work first and was taken to this man's house. When I arrive, I am greeted by a rich old gentleman in a red robe and with a beard and such, and his wife, a kind but harsh-featured woman. Their house is similarly richly furnished. They begin speaking to me, something about the American Civil War. Apparently this gentleman is some sort of revisionist historian or an old Southern Gentleman or something. He offers some radical new perspective on the war, anyway.

We then go to check on my companion, who is now wearing an all white dress suit. He is in the corner of some sort of room, that kind of room rich people have that seem to have no evident purpose, near a fireplace, scratching religious symbols into the stone wall. He looks deranged, and upon seeing us enter, begins shouting, something about if they are revising the history of the Civil War, they should also be revising their impression of Christianity itself. He looks vile, he is spitting his words, and then begins convulsing. He collapses against the mantel and vomits into the fireplace.

The old gentleman becomes furious upon hearing my companion speak that way, and I become afraid for him and myself. He calls these robot servants he has to take my companion and I and, I presume, do bad things to us. I pick up my unconscious companion and flee with him. No one pursues. I hide in the stall of a bathroom around the corner and wait. A robot arrives presently, dressed similarly to the gentleman, in red robes and with a very aggressive, yet emotionless demeanor. The robot seems to be blind. It opens the door to the bathroom, and begins with the far stall. To check if we are inside, it raises a knife and swiftly cuts the lock, though in the first, then the second, the doors are not closed. When he comes to the third, where I am, I quickly jump over to the second, he checks, and decides we are not in the bathroom.
A collection of the most interesting links I have found from idlethink.

A place to find the cheapest source for any given book.
BooksPrice - Book Price Comparison - Compare Book & Textbook Prices

iPod Download. Poetry: Forgetfulness - Billy Collins Animated Poem

A list compiled by some anthropologists of things found universally in every human society.
Human Universals

A Jared Diamond essay regarding the hypothesis that the adoption of agriculture was the greatest mistake in the history of mankind.
mistake_jared_diamond.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Big pile of Donald Barthelme stories. They are absolutely wonderful; I can't pick favorites. : Donald Barthelme's barthelmismo

Anselm's proofs of God adapted to Santa Claus.

Earth From Above comes to NYC - The Big Picture -

Scenes from Antarctica - The Big Picture -

George Bernard Shaw short story.
The Black Girl in Search of God - Wikilivres

Seagull Dream

I am a boy but also a seagull. It is morning, and I am flying by the coast. I see an old woman with long hair on the shoreline. She is pulling out her hair strand by strand and throwing it into the wind, which carries it out into the ocean. I watch her--she's doing it very slowly, watching each strand fly and then sink into the waves before she plucks another one. I fly farther out to sea. It quickly becomes dusk and I am famished. I look at the water trying to find a fish to eat, and I see something silvery being pulled in the waves. I swoop down, and it is the woman's hair being rolled messily into a net by the waves. Three fish are caught in it, and I eat.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Poetry Binge

_Souls And Rain-Drops
Light rain-drops fall and wrinkle the sea,
Then vanish, and die utterly.
One would not know that rain-drops fell
If the round sea-wrinkles did not tell.

So souls come down and wrinkle life
And vanish in the flesh-sea strife.
One might not know that souls had place
Were't not for the wrinkles in life's face.
-- Sidney Lanier--

_The Music Crept By Us
I would like to remind
the management
that the drinks are watered
and the hat-check girl
has syphilis
and the band is composed
of former SS monsters
However since it is
New Year's Eve
and I have lip cancer
I will place my
paper hat on my
concussion and dance.
-- Leonard Cohen--

_The Dalliance of the Eagles
Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling
Till o'er the river pois'd, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.
-- Walt Whitman--

_The Divine Image
Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine,
And Secrecy the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a Furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart is hungry Gorge.
-- William Blake--

I have been drinking words today from a website I found a while ago. In the morning I know I will regret it. Words of beauty, sadness, love and death floating in my dreams will awaken my memories of memory's past. When finally I wake these thoughts will leave me in awe of my own poetic impotence.

The website:


This is a sort of long and irrelevant post so I will save space and post it as a comment.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Book of Merlyn

"Even the Greek definition anthropos, He Who Looks Up, is inaccurate. Man seldom looks up above his own height after adolescence."
Page 53

"He knew suddenly that nobody, living upon the remotest, most barren crag in the ocean, could complain of a dull landscape so long as he would lift his eyes. In the sky there was a new landscape every minute, in every pool of the sea rocks, a new world. He wanted time off, to live."
Page 99

"There is nothing so wonderful as to be out on a spring night in the country; but really in the latest part of night, and, best of all, if you can be alone. Then, when you can hear the wild world scamper, and the cows chewing just before you tumble over them, and the leaves living secretly, and the nibblings and grass pluckings and the blood's tide in your own veins; when you can see the loom of the trees and hills in deeper darkness and the stars twirling in their oiled grooves for yourself; when there is one light in one cottage far away, marking a sickness or an early riser upon a mysterious errand; when the horse hoofs with squeaking cart behind plod to an unknown market, dragging their bundled man, in sacks, asleep; when the dogs' chains rattle at the farms, and the vixen yelps once, and the owls have fallen silent: then is a grand time to be alive and vastly conscious, when all else human is unconscious, homebound, bed-sprawled, at the mercy of the midnight mind.
The wind had dropped to rest. The powdery stars expanded and contracted in the serene, making a sight which would have jingled, if it had been a sound. The great tor which they were climbing rose against the sky, a mire of majesty, like a horizon which aspired."
Page 149

"That was it, to mean well! He caught a glimpse of that extraordinary faculty in man, that strange, altruistic, rare and obstinate decency which will make writers or scientists maintain their truths at the risk of death. Eppur si muove, Galileo was to say; it moves all the same. They were to be in a position to burn him if he would go on with it, with his preposterous nonsense about the earth moving round the sun, but he was to continue with the sublime assertion because there was something which he valued more than himself. The Truth. To recognise and to acknowledge What Is."
Page 154

I got T.H. White's The Book of Merlyn in my Christmas box, along with Sophie's World and six present-books. It was White's intended ending for the Once and Future King series, and his intent should not be ignored in this case. The book includes many aspects that were later edited back into the first four books to soften its absence, but it is important to read in its own right despite this. White does most everything he did in the first four books, but better: more beautifully, with a deeper sense of melancholy and resignation, a more thorough look at his problem in general (war and the future of man), and a more centered and charming portrait of the various animal characters (The Committee).

Sophie's World

"Only philosophers embark on this perilous expedition to the outmost reaches of language and existence. Some of them fall off, but others cling on desperately and yell at the people nestling deep in the snug softness, stuffing themselves with delicious food and drink.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' they yell, 'we are floating in space!' But none of the people down there care."
Page 20

"She had known from the start that her philosophy teacher was eccentric. But when he started to use teaching methods that defied all the laws of nature, Sophie thought he was going too far."
Page 78

"If the human brain were simple enough for us to understand, we would still be so stupid that we couldn't understand it. . . . We cannot expect to understand what we are. . . . Even less can we expect to comprehend the universe."
Page 329

I made a few comments on Sophie's World in my previous post, but I need to elaborate a bit as per custom. As I've already said, the book is a primer in the history of philosophy. It is also a story, and a decent one at that - if not terribly inspired. The book is essentially two books, which intersect for really only one crucial point (Berkely, if you must know). Aside from the main story, the body of the book is made up of a series of letters and conversations (nothing more than lectures with a few questions), each giving a quick outline of the philosophers Gaardner has chosen. Even if I was already familiar with a decent portion of the things he explained here (I knew nothing of Spinoza, Kierkegaard, and had forgotten Freud; Hegel could always use clarifying, and this is done well here), this is still the best explanation of what this book could and should be for young people, who are the ones who ought to be reading it. More than that, however, it is another of those really beautiful expressions of the value of the philosophic outlook that only philosophy teachers seem to be able to provide (Cf. Mr. Dean).

Edit: I was going to comment on the fact that he mentioned several times (emphasized?) the idea that technology is very possibly going to destroy us and life on earth, and that it has possibly put modern man in a harmful place psychologically as well. Not necessarily a common idea for such a best-selling, mainstream book?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Times File

So, the NYtimes website is no longer allowing users to keep "times files", which is a folder on the website where we can save articles we like. Because of this, I have to transfer all the articles I saved to some other place. Anyway, here.

This is from today. (I will read anything that has to do with Faulkner...)

Because Lincoln and Jefferson are my favorite Founding Fathers. (Yes, I consider Lincoln to be a Founding Father. Think about it. He created the Union the second time around.)

I think I already shared this. I love it.

More Roger Cohen on Cuba.

Okay, yes, I'm the kid watching the financial collapse with wide eyes and popcorn.

Everything I ever want to be = this guy.

This is my second saved David Brooks econ piece, which kind of makes me feel like a douche...

Because education is the MOST important thing.

I think I got really sentimental around the election and saved a lot of Obama articles. More to come.



"How to Read Like a President"

More emotional Roger Cohen.

I really like Roger Cohen.

Secretly, I think I just saved this because he quotes Yeats.

And Alan Greenspan breaks my heart...

Unschooling. Sign me up.

Cool! Linguistics!

Cool! Physics!

My personal Muppet fetish.

I'm kind of ambivalent about censorship.

Because the Democrats do need to be mocked by the Times every once in a while, too.

This is startling.

David Brooks writes something that liberals won't hate.


More cool physics.

Art and science.

Even more cool physics.

And my least favorite thing that Roger Cohen has ever written.



It's Christmas Morning, and I would like to go to sleep soon

It is 7 AM on Christmas Day, I cannot sleep (I have now become entirely nocturnal, something that has turned out exceedingly well for me, somehow), and so I have been reading idleThink and listening to music and gathering more ideas. I have become taken with the idea that I am in an intellectual infancy, that this year is some sort of stepping-off point for the rest of my life, and that what has come before was nothing more than a gradual dawn, a series of experiences that have served to familiarize me with the world and a smattering of knowledge, and furnish me with tools, e.g. the abilities to enjoy life, to think critically, to read books, and interact with people.

I feel as though all the books I have been reading lately are primers, introductory texts a teacher would give to pique her students' interests. I imagine my own education, of which I have now vowed to take charge, with the universe itself as my teacher. I imagine the universe, acting through my friends, through synchronicity, and through books, to teach me of itself. And reading the books I have read lately, I feel like these are exactly the books I would assign to my students if I were to be charged with their educations, and then I realize how perfect it is that I have been given them now, as though they were the "summer reading" before my lifelong education.

Books like How to Read a Book - essentially the first thing you ought to read, ever. Will make you want to read and teach you to do it well. Cosmos, the perfect introduction to any study of science and astronomy in particular. The Diversity of Life - a thorough introduction not only to evolution and its processes, but to an appreciation of the natural world in general. Sophie's World - something we ought to give every teenager on the cusp of their intellectual lives. It serves to introduce the philosophical endeavor, its beauty and fundamental wonder at just being, and of course a rough outline of the history of Western Thought and its major ideas.

Happy Winter Solstice!

A Christmas Tree Ornament

And a Christmas Gift

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Transparent Dream

Last night, after my internet was cut off around 3 or so, I tried to go to sleep. I couldn't go to sleep. I tried a lot, and ended up going over to my little table out of curiosity to see what time it was. However, instead of grabbing my cell phone, I knocked over a half-full cup of water, dousing all of Alex's books and a few sundry things. Of course, none of them were sun-dry after I doused them with water ;). Anyway, I turned on the light and frantically dried off the covers of all the books (nothing noticeable happened to any of them, rest assured), read my notes on Industrial Society and Its Future to lull myself to sleep, and then dreamt this dream, probably sometime closer to the morning.

I am in a city of sorts with my mother and grandmother and assorted other family, in a store, shopping. My mom sends me to Toys'R'Us to buy some quantity of a substance I can only describe in waking life. It's like wood fiber, like mulch, that you can eat? I later deduced it is the stuff they make frosted mini-wheats out of. I get sidetracked on the way there, however, and stumble into a kitchen. There are several adults there, making little shots of alcohol and passing them down a little trap door into the basement, where there are numerous drunk teenagers I once knew in Cass City (Danielle Delamarter is the hostess of the party, I hear Kristie there as well). Trey is standing in the kitchen, and I talk to him for a while.

I continue on my way, crossing the huge parking lot towards the Toys'R'Us. On the way, however, I come across a wandering pair of Samn and Lauren. I walk with them, and Lauren eventually disappears into my dream-mist. Instead of going to the Toys'R'Us as we had intended to, we end up delving into some dark back-alleys, and finding a little Toys'R'Us instead. They are giving a show when we walk in, playing a Residents song to a mime. Samn immediately gets a job there doing these shows, and performs a number of them in the time we are there (which is a while). I go looking for my mulch, and don't find it - this store has a much smaller stock than the other one. However, I change my jeans.

We leave eventually, and Samn also disappears into the mists. It is dark out, and I am heading back to find my family. I come across a very slight, short teenage girl - about my age, but considerably shorter. She talks to me for a while, and we walk past an open high school gym, in which there is a drumline performing (the Carrolton drumline, incidentally). At this point, I realize I've left my wallet and cellphone in the jeans I changed out of in the store, so I go back.

One thing about that Toys'R'Us where we worked was that they all spoke in these vaguely demonic voices, which is mostly why we left. However, we never suspected anything more sinister. When I get back, I ask the manager woman for my jeans, and she leads me to them. I take my things, but she holds me back for a second, and begins casting a curse on me! After she has finished, I take the paper the curse is written on, crunch it up into a ball, and start throwing these chunks of bones they have laying around at all of the employees.

I return to the street, where the small girl is waiting for me. It is Quite Dark and Quite Late by this time, and I have become not a little freaked out by having a curse put on me and throwing chunks of bone at people. The girl begins warning me about the dangers of this part of the city at this time of night, dangers which she seems to be completely safe from. I have lost what the danger is, but it chases me, and I run from it, and I find a house, a yard, more specifically, and a man's hand reaches over the high wooden fence and pulls me in.

On the other side of the fence we are in Spain. The man is taking charge of me, he is firm but cares for me and wants me to do well. However, I have done something drastically wrong, and have gotten myself in some trouble. I do wish I could remember details of this. In any case, he is sending me to Sweden, where I will be looked after by a group made up exclusively of women.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Waterloo, Ontario

December 19th. 9 AM.

December 19th. 9 AM. Notice the streetlights.

December 18th. Noon.

Some prevailing Canadian sentiment from my politics classroom.

And the Mounties. Iconic.

(First two and last photo credits to Arju, who will post on the blog someday.)

Drawings Drawings Drawings

I have created some drawings and posted them up on my new Deviant Art account.

I hope you guys enjoy. I wish to know what one would think.

I could just post them here, but screw shit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Asemic Writing

The word “asemic” means “having no semantic content”. Illegible writing or pretend writing could be described as asemic.

Handwriting does not just contain semantic information. It also contains aesthetic information (when seen as a shape or image) and emotional information (such as a graphologist would analyze.) Because it eliminates the semantic information, asemic writing brings the emotional and aesthetic content to the foreground. By contrast, e-mail is writing almost devoid of aesthetic and emotional content, apart from what the words contain. Asemic works play with our minds, enticing us to attempt to “read” them. Some asemic works make the viewer hover between “reading” (as a text) and “looking” (as a picture).

Just another reason why I hate Telephone/Email.

Good Life

This is Adam's old post brought up on screen, hopefully someone will contribute.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Slight Essay on Self-Knowledge

I remember before coming here, that certain people (not that I remember who they are in particular) teased me about going off to gain "self-knowledge" or something. I remember that Charlie Rockwell, my predecessor of sorts, in that he did an exchange year in Mexico through Rotary before going to college at Alma and becoming an incredible percussionist, told me that it was during his time here that he realized what it was he needed to do with the rest of his life.

For the past several years (well, pretty predictably since I read Dropping Out Summer 2006, actually) my primary life plan/goal has been to 1) never work and 2) travel extensively. This plan has led to some consternation from my parents, much gawking in social situations when the matter comes up, and a considerable number of sleepless nights dreading the future. Of course, things don't seem nearly so bad in the daytime, but nonetheless, at night, my brain is for some reason much more prone to irrational fears, and I often fear things I know wouldn't actually bother me too much - hunger, physical discomfort, loneliness, and possibly being arrested. My other future plan, inspired by the of Montreal line "I'd like to marry all of my close friends, And live in a big house together by an angry sea." from the song Don't Ask Me To Explain, on the album Cherry Peal, is to start a collective house and live in it and garden and read and play music with as many of my closest friends as I can convince to move in with me.

These plans have always been quite vague, and not necessarily very ambitious. Having been blessed to be surrounded by a group of friends who deserve to be called nothing less than geniuses, I have sometimes felt the lack of my own creative efforts - Lemon Test writes incredible music, Alex - well, you know all about Alex - and on and on. But my highest claim to creative productivity and accomplishment is being a decent percussionist, who reproduces other peoples' music. And, perhaps because I'm not even particularly good at it, that'sn't been enough for me. So my justification has always been my happiness - I am what you might call an aesthete - "someone who cultivates an unusually high sensitivity to beauty, as in art or nature." My skill is in finding the beauty already there, not in making more, and in living a happy, fulfilled life.

I am not sure if I can clearly articulate what changed, and why this is no longer satisfying for me. Perhaps it's that my ideal lifestyles are merely frameworks - one can be an itinerant traveler and at the same time write poetry, novels, document ant species, study cultural differences, fight for indigenous rights, practice medicine, etc etc etc ad infinitum. And the same is true of someone living in a collective house. Neither of them are ends in themselves. They are more life styles than life goals. As for "cultivating an unusually high sensitivity to beauty, as in art or nature," first of all, I'm already pretty pleased with my abilities in this area, and secondly, it's not a mutually exclusive goal - again, it's a part of a lifestyle, or more specifically, a worldview. And everyone has a worldview, so that's not a goal either.

And thus, I've come into a crisis. The problem is the same as it's always been (mortality), but the aspect has shifted. Before, the crisis was living a happy life. Now, it's a useful life, a life that accomplishes something. And Alex doesn't seem to be around to give me the answer in the form of a life-changing zine anymore. I'm not sure that's fair, Alex. ;(

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Terribly Composed Sad Dream

I walked down metal halls to the doctor’s office. The doctor looked me over and told me to go to work. As I exited the office another soul passed judgment next door, and another the door down. This continued as far as I cared to look, I would assume that there were millions of us. Leaving this place of judgment I went to another, school. I was a teacher; I taught children about how humans invented the airplane, walked on the moon and had infinite potential. The teaching was secondary, though; the children could not yet walk, let alone listen to a tale of humanities glory. No, my primary job was to watch them and ensure that none of them did anything that the school could be held responsible for.

That was my job, but strangely that was not me. I cared for the children and taught them music and art. I sang them old melodies when they were sad and I showered them with the love that their parents never would. But today was different, I was being reviewed. It was that time of year when the standardized tests were to be completed and to underscore the importance of these tests an official was sent to watch over us. He showed the children his papers, all signed and stamped, telling them that there was to be no talking during the test. Next, he passed out the blocks that the children would touch to show their answers, A B C and D. He eyed me threateningly, as if to say “Stay out of this you have had your year now the children are mine.”

The children all failed the test. Most of them just gummed C the whole time. So I was forced to watch as they were euthanized; each of their beautiful faces contorted in pain. My work day was over, so I went to the teacher’s lounge to see how the other teachers faired. Out of the twelve of us only one had their entire class pass; the others had varying degrees of success, with my class doing the worst. This meant that I would not wake up in the morning if I went home; the school at least gave teachers the option of dying in their sleep.

Arriving at my apartment I took all of my belongings and put them in the recycling chute, otherwise the school would have just disposed of them with my body in the morning. I looked out the window one last time before going to bed, but all I could see was a statue of a person standing on his peer’s dead bodies.

Debate, in a New Form

I don't know if the debate is going to be permanently abandoned or anything, and I hope and imagine it won't be, but it's time to move it back up here.

I've been talking to Sylvie lately a lot about American Power in the world, and that sort of thing. She's been convinced that the US Military is a good thing that protects people and, when it is used correctly, is a tool that helps relieve situations of injustice and can prevent genocides like Yugoslavia, Rwanda, etc. I have always been of the opinion that, if I had the ability to remove any one thing in the world to make it a better place, the US Military would be one of the best choices.

Does this strike anyone as a good thing to talk about? I mean, it's not the same as the questions we've been talking to up to now, in that we all need to go out and do mountains of historical reading to back up our arguments and stuff. If not, we'll start back where we left off before.

We've established a number of things that I don't need to repeat here, because they're down there a ways, but more since then, we've . . . established little. The debate got kind of all over the place for a while, actually. We have figured out a main point of contention, which is equality. As we've already recorded, we all agree on the fundamental equality of every human being, their value, and the fact that no one can gain any better access to absolute truth than any other. However, we are divided on what rights equality confers.

We remain to talk of Freedom, and I do think Idealism and Pragmatism should definitely be discussed, when we feel ready to move on to methods and our responsibilities or potential to give to the world.

Also, I want to make you all aware of this:

The first "chapter" contains ALL of Howard Zinn's a People's History of The United States, and further down there's some Chomsky excerpts and such too. A lot of good reading, I imagine.

Something caught my eye in the Chomsky reading, though.

"And he once told me that the first thing that struck him about American schools was the fact that if he got a "C" in a course, nobody cared, but if he went to school three minutes late he was sent to the principal's office -and that generalized. He realized that what it meant is, what's valued here is the ability to work on an assembly line, even if it's an intellectual assembly line. The important thing is to be able to obey orders, and to do what you're told, and to be where you're supposed to be. The values are, you're going to be a factory worker somewhere -maybe they call it a university -but you're going to be following somebody else's orders, and just doing your work in some prescribed way. And what matters is discipline, not figuring things out for yourself, or understanding things that interest you -those are kind of marginal: just make sure you meet the requirements of a factory.
Well, that's pretty much what the schools are like, I think: they reward discipline and obedience, and they punish independence of mind. If you happen to be a little innovative, or maybe you forgot to come to school one day because you were reading a book or something, that's a tragedy, that's a crime -because you're not supposed to think, you're supposed to obey, and just proceed through the material in whatever way they require."

Now, the last bit: people skipping school to read books. Now, I would absolutely do this. I would do this, not because I have been indoctrinated in school to enjoy reading, but because I learned to from my father. And Alex, and Shane, and Sylvie, all would too, am I right? I mean, certainly there are some other things one might do, but it wouldn't be at all odd for any of you to do that. But somehow, common sense screams out that this is not the case for the majority of people our age. There are studies and such, and anecdotal evidence, etc. But does that mean people like us are some sort of "intellectual elite?" If so, why? We receive the same schooling as everyone else, and no one will stand for it if I say it's in our genes. I think our parents are to blame, as well as our friends. Anyway, I guess this is just some more arguing for unschooling and all that. No real point here.

Somebody please make my Good Life post live.

Svenom. It is a show about Great Wines and Great Crimes.

We have completed and uploaded the first three episodes of our mystery show, Svenom, to YouTube. It has been a long time coming, ass. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I hate you guys.

Just search YouTube for "svenom" and you'll should get all three.

Let me know what one thinks!

As well my comedy album may or may not be up at the moment. We tried uploading it once but it didn't work so we'll try again I think or someone will. That is called and will be found when searching for "Alex Hiatt Live From Tunnel".

Here is the cover art I have done for my album:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Books I've Read Lately

I'm sorry. I've been neglectful of my "duty" to report on every single book I read.

First, Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book.

I haven't read enough since I finished to really say how much it has helped me so far, but it is worth reading in its own right. Adler gives a wonderful case for reading in general, and specifically for reading difficult books. He makes a lot of wonderful analogies about books and teachers, and makes it seem doable to educate oneself merely by reading and making an effort to fully understand authors who know more than we do. Also very highly recommended for everyone, regardless of who you are and what you like.

Next, Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

Cosmos was a TV series on PBS, the most watched show they ever aired, apparently, and they decided to make a book version of the same thing. It isn't really a book that TEACHES you anything in specific; you'll learn little factoids and stories about the history of science, and about astronomy, and evolution, but the real reason you ought to read it is that it confers a sense of awe for the Universe, and for science. That is, it piques your interest in science, and gets you to go do something like read The Diversity of Life, by E.O. Wilson.

My analysis according to what Mortimer Adler thinks I need to know in order to say I understood the book:
The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his plan for saving it (which is why this is a practical book; the rest is entirely theoretical):
1. Survey the World's Biodiversity - Learn about species, familiarize the public with them to motivate public support for preservation, and find benefits that will . . .
2. Create Biological Wealth - Make biodiversity economically valuable, if through tourism, long-term harvesting of rain forest plots, pharmaceuticals, or new and improved agricultural products.
3. Promote Sustainable Development - The rural poor in the Third World are destroying the world's biodiversity to put off for a short time their hunger and poverty. We must teach them ways to use biodiversity in a long-term way, and ease their poverty by removing the competition of heavily subsidized farms in the developed world and lifting debt, which can also be done so as to:
4. Save What Remains - No scientific process like cloning, freezing, seed banks, arboretums, zoos, or botanical gardens can ever hope to truly restore an ecosystem to its original state - the climate and conditions are very difficult to reproduce, and populations will have been reduced so low that their genetic diversity will be mostly lost anyway. There is no feasible alternative to saving natural ecosystems. One of the best ways to do this in the Third World (near the equator and therefore home to a large part of the world's biodiversity) is through debt-for-nature programs, in which foundations like The Nature Conservancy or WWF, etc, buy debt in exchange for the creation of more reserves.
5. Restore the Wildlands - Finally, we need to retake the land lost to logging, and allow the forests to grow back. This is accomplished in essentially the same way as 4. Wilson is very hopeful about this and says the next century will be "the age of restoration."

So, I agree with Wilson. I agree that his ends are of utmost importance, and that his ends would reach them. But, though I am perhaps an idealist, I am skeptical those ideas will come about. I feel like there are reasons to be skeptical, but I don't understand them yet, and want to read more before I try to explain them.

Mortimer Adler says that when you read a practical book, and you agree that its ends are good and that its means will achieve them, you ought to go do what the book says. So, I suppose I do feel a lot more inclined to spend my life cataloging and researching organisms right now. But I am not sure I am in a position to realize the changes he suggests. Is that an excuse?

Incidentally, I want to start an arboretum, or maybe something less ambitious to start with. I want to grow those rare plants he talks about, like amaranth and winged bean and the delicious fruits, durian and mangosteen and such. Anyone interested?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rita Dove

I was reading my parents' UVA alumni magazine, and I came across an interview with Rita Dove, who is a poet (former poet laureate actually), and I wanted to share one thing she said because it was so amazing.

"To me, poetry is the bones and the music of the language. It's the real heart of literature. Once you've dealt with every syllable and every breath of a word and the history of that word and how that will be referenced or how it will echo in a specific syntactical context- well, that to me is getting down to the absolute core of language. I think I've always been drawn to that kind of intensity."

How Easily We Forget

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Franz Kafka at five years old.


We should catalog our books. It would be a huge job, but when we finish we would know what each of the others owns.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Roger Cohen

Last week I finished a book by my favorite journalist, Roger Cohen. It is called "Hearts Grown Brutal" and it is about the Bosnian War. It was one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read in my life, and I recommend it to all of you.

Here are some of the good things that Roger Cohen said/quoted from a Bosnian Muslim man that he interviewed:

“I suppose you would have to say that I am an old internationalist. Between 1945 and 1960, never mind romanticism, never mind idealism, people believed—maybe they believed wrong, but they believed. I believed in the dictatorship of the proletariat. I still believe in it. I would not kill a million people for that, but perhaps a hundred! I would take it as an honor to be persecuted for such ideas. Some of my friends at school were against Tito. I think now they knew more than I did. But they also missed something. Something quite special.” –Sead Mehmedovic

“The problem in the end with any utopia is that you have to organize it. And once you start organizing, the organization becomes at the heart of the affair, rather than the utopia itself. And within any organization, of course, you find ambition, corruption, pettiness and rigidity: precisely what the dream had set out to abolish. The only possibility is for individuals, each one of them, to act in concert with the ideals set out by the utopia, but to imagine that would ever happen is utterly far-fetched. I see in myself that I have lacked courage; in 1968 for example, I did nothing when Paris rose and Prague fell. I have a terrible fear that, like my father, I am a conformist” –Sead Mehmedovic

“It has become axiomatic to say that communism was a freezer that congealed old historical tensions. In many ways, however, it was more of a cauldron. That which is frozen is immobilized but not essentially altered. But communism was not neutral about the past. It mixed the past around; it stirred history up; it heated violence to memory, the kind of violence that is not quickly forgotten. The reason was evident. Communist systems had their gods. Those gods were demanding. They required certain versions of history to explain, justify and bolster their deification.”

“The Serbs, in truth, were at war with their own history. The battle was condemned to be lost because history cannot be defeated”

And this one was just so strangely (and I think well) worded that I had to include it:
Vrbanja Bridge plaque: “A drop of my blood flows and Bosnia does not run dry”

This is an editorial he had in the Times on Monday, as well. It's one of my favorite things he's written.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Internet Hunting

Only Collect « a historian’s craft

Sylvie shared this first thing with me, and from it I have found all the rest of this. The girl who wrote the first one seems to be far the most important thing of all of them, though.

{B} The Boy Bedlam Review

Haven't looked into this one, but it seems promising, if just for the little quote roll in the bottom right.

Electrode: On Dancing, and Not Dancing

Lends some scientific backing to one of Derrick Jensen's arguments, one of the few that seemed kind of weak to me at the time. As a member (to a small extent) of the class of elite musicians, I happen to like the things this situation offers - things like symphonies, virtuosos, recordings, etc, would not be possible in Jensen's proposed society. However, he makes the same argument this much more "credible" and unbiased, scientific article does, which is that music and dancing are meant to be participatory, not spectator events. Not unlike life. Did anyone read Julian's history of the Television below?

Electrode: Time to Revamp the Reading Lists

I had a conversation with Tigre today about how poor his education was. To illustrate, I told him to imagine how he would teach the classes they had, and how many people in the class he thought would willingly take a class like "Programming" (no one, he claimed). That is, we choose concentrations, so they choose classes like physics, calculus, and theory of communication. But his ideas for teaching a literature class were almost exactly as this article outlines. I love synchronicity in the Universe, even if it is justa mental illusion.

techgnosis : JOURNAL

Butterflies! More synchronicity! There's been so much lately. We just saw the most beautiful butterfly thing in the world or something, a hilltop Monarch sanctuary. And today in school anthropology somehow randomly got on the topic of bugs, and I happened to have just started and brought The Diversity of Life today, which has pictures of all sorts of bugs (even butterflies)!

In which he pretends to be Horace Walpole « Heaven Tree

Also a promising thing I haven't delved into.

idleThinK [v3]: a faint blue idea of order

I always somehow end up finding beautiful favorite things lists and other really beautiful things at the end of far too long on the computer, which makes my eyes hurt and puts me in a bad state to appreciate them. Perhaps I ought to save them for later. Therefore, saving this for later. But oh my! These things are ever so beautiful! I think I would like to meet this girl, or be her. It's the same girl from the first link, which started all this, by the way.

Monday, December 8, 2008

This is why I love Julian Koster.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Suggestion Box

I really want to start a post on suggestions, any medium. I don't want this targeted at me. I know that all of you have read, watched, listened to, went to and experienced many things. We need these to be recorded on this blog because they are just as much philosophy as anything else.

If this is going to happen, big or small, the only thing I ask is to keep it organized. Maybe Name/Creator, Medium, Why it is Suggested, and if needed a short summery. I want it to be readable and accessible.

There are no qualifications, suggest anything you want as long as you find it valuable/interesting. It doesn't matter if everyone suggests the same thing either. This should be what each of us suggests not what all of us suggest.

If there are Discussions over suggestions, they should probably be in separate comments from suggestions. For an easier read.

PS I just wanted to come up with a few guidelines before this catches on, if anyone wants to propose any other guidelines or disagrees with the ones posted, add/change away.

Friction on Film

As some of you may know, the creative collective I belong to, .flist, is creating a show called Svenom, "a mystery about great wines and great crimes". But for those of you who don't know we are. We have two episodes completed and are assembling the third right now. We have just put up the trailer for it on YouTube, so check up.

I guess I can't embed it here, maybe? So, it is the link here:

I hope you all look forward to looking forward to the premiere of the show, which should accomplish itself in the coming week, I hope.

By the way, I am not dead, as the President of Murders would have you believe. I will get back soon to continue the debate and other shat, I swear. Am tired and been working.

Thankfully mine,


Monday, December 1, 2008

Education and "The Good Life"

We are currently debating one of the most important aspects of practical or "normative" philosophy, political philosophy. Here, I would like to begin a discussion of the other big problem in this field: The Good Life.

The problem is thus, though I probably don't need to spell it out. We are all going to die, and we don't know when, nor do we have any certain knowledge regarding what (if anything) we experience after that mysterious and inevitable point. In the meantime, how ought we live our lives? This seems to me to be a much more urgent and useful (though no less important) question than the other. We can make drastic changes to our own lives through an exertion of willpower and intelligence, but changing the political state of the world or even one's home town is a much more daunting task, and one which will yield at best partial results.

There are so many aspects to this question, I hardly know where to begin! I'm just making this up off the top of my head, so these aren't clearly established long-time philosopher questions or anything, any more than the fact that philosophers have talked about these general things for a long time. I wonder if I am getting caught up in a passion to make a complete, elegant post, instead of dealing with the practicality of the matter, which is that the debate will take place over many posts and will never cover all this material in its first incarnation.

Note that I am specifically trying to avoid questions of style - I realize a lot of these questions might be interpreted as such, but I would like you to answer them as though they weren't, if you feel that way. This means I will not talk about things like the difference between a life of quiet contemplation and withdrawal from pleasures of the flesh and a wild life of drinking, dancing, and drugs (for two stereotypical examples).

Know Thyself
You hear this all the time. Hermann Hesse's Demian is based solely on the concept - "I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?" But does it really mean anything? Is there truly a "true self?" And how does one go about knowing it? Can other people, through direct relationship, by example, or communication through any mode or art, help us realize this goal?

Solitude vs. Companionship

Epicurus said "of all the things which wisdom has contrived which contribute to a blessed life, none is more important, more fruitful, than friendship." Is friendship a necessity for a happy life? What value, if any, is to be found in solitude, meditation, and introspection away from all others? Is it true that there is beauty and insight to be found in everyone, and if so, do they exist to the same degree in everyone? We cannot befriend everyone, but should we do our best to? Or is it better to maintain a few really close friends? And what of amorous, or sexual love? Is it necessary? Is it possible to interact with another person on a truly individual level - unfettered by social conventions and preconceptions? What can we do to remove the barriers placed between us by these fetters, and how does one gain a skill for finding the beauty in people, or for sharing the beauty in ourselves?

How much control do we have over who we are? Are we a mere combination of every person we've known, and every book we've read, or something like that? I have always been completely content with who I am, at least as long as I can remember. I have felt that I reflect in a striving way the ideals I hold personally. However, recently I've been getting vague intimations of a sort of "super-person," an ideal toward which I feel it would be worthwhile to work. That is, someone who is worthwhile to talk to - who does know how to share the beauty in themselves, and the beauty they find in the world. Someone who spreads cheer, essentially.

Further, I want to know how to really live Romantically. I have known people who knew how to do this, though it would be pointless to list them here. If you knew them, too, you know who they are. Living Romantically is sort of living intently, with skill. Someone who is always thinking of the most poetic, beautiful, cozy things to do in any given situation, and acting on them. Perhaps this is a natural skill, the way mothers learn to make hot chocolate on snowy days and snuggle under blankets, but there is a lot more to it than that, I think.

Finally, I want to be a person who lives in full expression of anarchist principles: direct action; recognition of individuals as such and not by race, country, or creed; interaction with others (especially girls) as two worlds of experience coming together, not as a potential mate or as someone who can do something for me; not identifying myself with my country nor its government; being an essentially responsible and helpful person; etc. The biggest and arguably most difficult of these is the commandment to live each day as though it were your last. I certainly can't imagine I'd sit in here on a computer all day if that were the case.

So then, can we consciously bring ourselves towards principles we hold but find difficult to act on?

Is it even possible to maintain a single, clear set of principles throughout a variety of situations? Is it desirable to do so, or is there no fault to be found in changing principles over time? How do we avoid the pitfall of accepting a ready-made belief system, certainly much easier than finding our own way? How can we deal with those inevitable contradictions and paradoxes we come across when trying to act on our principles?

Is it more important to live one's own life to the fullest, grandest extent possible, or to sacrifice this life to realize one's principles? That is, do we have a responsibility to do everything possible to impose our principles on the world, to create one's desired utopia, or alternatively, to work to incrementally make the world at large as similar to that utopia as possible? Is there even a difference between the fullest, grandest life possible, and a life devoted to realizing one's own ideals?

Science, Travel, and Art: Exploring the Beauty of the Universe
I am almost certain that if you are on this site, you have an idea of the gift we are given merely by being born into such a complex, vast, and beautiful Universe. This is not to say the world we live in is perfect, or that there is no place for actions meant to improve it, of course, but I believe you all already understand what I mean. I personally intend to take full advantage of this gift, and endeavor to gain the fullest and widest conception of the Universe in the short time I have in it. One of the principle means for doing this is science. The scientific endeavor and its history illustrate, in a way normal experience cannot, the beautiful and elegant way in which the Universe is put together. I feel the Universe itself is a divine being, not in any spiritual or mystical sense, but merely in that DIVINITY is the only concept that reaches towards the true level of what the Universe is.

The other manner of experiencing the world (though unfortunately we cannot say "Universe" here) is travel. I feel this is absolutely indispensable, and I intend to do as much of it as possible in my lifetime. Traveling is the only way to know anything worth knowing about another culture - a wikipedia article, or even meeting a foreigner, does nothing comparable with true immersion. And any scientific or historical interest will benefit greatly from an intimate knowledge of the places and phenomena these disciplines describe.

The problem of travel, of course, is means. How can one sustain oneself without ever stopping to work? There is always busking, of course, and begging, but although perhaps there can never be an answer to this question that will satisfy the worrying heart (nor the worrying mother), an effort should be made, and it is worth seeing its impossibility for oneself before giving up. After all, people have done it before. The other question that accompanies this regards duty. Are we leaving behind important obligations by setting off to travel with no end in sight? Of course, I doubt any of you will claim we are needed in a wage job somewhere, but efforts in political reform or the founding of Utopian communities (depending on your predilection) can hardly be carried out simultaneous with such a lifestyle. The next question, however, is if this means we can accomplish no good while traveling, or if this good can never equal the good one could accomplish at home.

And of course, we must not leave out art! Art, music, literature; all of these things and more are to me equally indispensable, for reasons I imagine you all already know as well (a cop-out because I'm running out of ways to say the same thing). I personally would like to get to know music and literature in particular from all sides - their theory, history, and what it is like to be on the creative side of them. I believe creativity is a human necessity, and exercising it must be a part of any truly good life.

I cannot imagine leaving education out of any truly good life, and for me it is central to the entire idea. In fact, it is hard to even imagine a condition in which you are not learning, whether practicing a skill, learning "traditionally" from books or teachers, learning from experience in the world, or simply learning about yourself. However, I believe that this is not enough; that an effort can be made, an organized (or merely organic) plan of study will come into being (on its own, that is; I'm not suggesting you plan your entire life's learning out right now, though I suppose you could try), and one can be active about it.

The "plan of study" we follow over our lifetime, including everything we learn about and all of our organized and thought-out positions on important practical and theoretical issues, can be collectively known as the Life of the Mind, or the Inner Journey. Mr. Dean always told us: "When your external journey parallels your internal journey, you will find harmony and joy." This is perhaps the same idea Hermann Hesse was trying to express.

Carl Sagan suggests in Cosmos that "There is, I think, a kind of recapitulation that occurs in our intellectual developments as well. We unconsciously retrace the thoughts of our remote ancestors." That is, that we each pass through a series of intellectual periods and discoveries that echo similar discoveries made in human intellectual history. This is certainly not an exactly literal thing - we do not each go through the history of science so far in our minds - if we did, everyone would end up with a fairly complete knowledge of modern science quite naturally. But perhaps it indicates something else, which may be a good idea in and of itself. That is, a historical teaching of the subjects that interest us: A Great Books education or its equivalent, and a scientific education that teaches how the great scientific advances were made, in a chronological, cumulative, experimental way.

Some people believe that learning science takes the mystery and wonder out of the Universe. Of course, this is a personal matter, and I can't say that what isn't true for me isn't true for other people either. However, I believe this is essentially an untrue statement, and that its sentiment has a specific cause; namely, institutionalized, poorly taught science curricula. In the average science class today, we are essentially given scientific facts to learn by rote; as much an unquestioned, unexplained dogma as you can get in church.

And really, with the amount of scientific knowledge there is alone (in addition to all the history, literature, etc they intend to teach every day), how can we really choose what things are we ought to cram into the limited time we have in school? Are the things we choose really equally necessary or valuable or relevant to every student? I think we can only answer no.

So how can we solve this problem? I currently believe that unschooling is the best approach. Unschooling could be described as anarchist homeschooling, if that gives you some idea of what it is. Essentially, a child is given complete freedom to direct her own education. There is no core curriculum, no required reading, no schedule, and children have no obligation to ever do anything, if they don't want to. The entire idea relies on the inherent curiosity of the child, I suppose, but is that really in question?

Wikipedia article, describing the role of the parent: "Common parental activities include sharing interesting books, articles, and activities with their children, helping them find knowledgeable people to explore an interest with (anyone from physics professors to automotive mechanics), and helping them set goals and figure out what they need to do to meet their goals." The parent is there to share the beautiful and interesting things they've found (just as any good friend would do), facilitate the child's interests, and counsel them on successful studying.

Unschoolers never waste their time in school and they never learn to rely on others to provide the knowledge they crave. Another end of unschooling is that it has no end. Someone who has been educated in this way has educated themselves, and will continue to do so, and continue to do so effectively. It is difficult, perhaps, but so is sitting in a classroom through the most vibrant, passionate, and wondrous time of our lives. And by the end of it, the student ends up not with a mere piece of paper and miscellaneous facts (if any of these even stick in our minds long enough to get to graduation) memorized in poorly taught classes, but with that piece of paper (for unschooled children can get diplomas, and they frequently attend college) as well as the ability to teach themselves and think for themselves, as well as any insights they have grasped through the process of learning these abilities.

There are also a few schools that teach on a fairly similar basis - they are democratically run, with students and staff having equal votes, and staff is there to facilitate learning and help students who ask for it.

As Sylvie pointed out, these questions could take a lifetime to answer. Of course, they really don't have answers, so really what we want to accomplish here is more like a "syntopical reading" of each other. To gain an understanding of each other's positions, criticize them rationally, and by doing so gain a more complete, well-founded view of our own, or perhaps change them, if necessary. All that said, don't feel the need to answer it all at a go; the idea is to discuss, not merely summarize our ideas.

I'm putting this up now, and I'm leaving tomorrow afternoon. I'll be back on Monday, and I imagine things will be well underway by then.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I stumbled upon a little plan for an expedition to the north. I was already planning on going with Chantal. Maybe a little discussion would help, since my family and I are quite knowledgeable of it. I go up multiple times a year, maybe I could help you guys out with info?

Oh, Bellotina

For a year I have kept for myself the photograph of angelic Bellotina. Magnificent Bellotina, she has lived alone in her yellow house, tucked neatly between giant pines a short way down the lane, longer than I have been alive. I watch as she organizes her hats, stuffs them with bulbs, and repeats. Insane Bellotina, I love you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Browning, Montana.

This is Browning, Montana. Home to the Blackfeet Nation and lots of mountains.
This is where I think about going when I am dissatisfied.


So the constant relocation of the debate post...

I have just asked Shane and Alex to explain what they mean by "false hierarchy of scarcity" and "hierarchy of ability".


Another book thing from Adam.

I read Hermann Hesse's Demian for the third time today, starting in the morning and finishing before school got out. I would quote from it, but I would have no idea where to start - I would end up quoting the whole book! It is my favorite book, and has stood up to the rigors of this position better than the some other books I have put in it (*cough* VALIS. Wasn't quite as good the second time through). I spent the whole day immersed in it, as on wednesdays we don't have any class which demands my attention all day long, and the morning was delightfully full of images and smells and feelings from my past. Since I cannot talk about Demian but to urge you all to spend the day it takes to read it as soon as you can, I made this post instead to talk about a bunch of little things I feel in my life lately.

To start with, I got the odd feeling in class the other day that I felt like a German schoolboy. You know, with the uniform, and carrying my little cheese sandwich and my apple that my mom packs for me in the morning, hanging on the gate outside waiting for a ride after school, and feeling the breeze and contemplating sociability and why I don't feel interested in it. But more than this silly romantic feeling, I also have been granted a weird perspective on being in school in general. I don't feel "too old for it" or anything like that, but I have had moments where every single thing they are all doing seems incredibly childish and irrelevant, but yet beautifully, preciously so. Almost quaint, that is. I presume the fact that I've removed myself from the more frustrating and difficult aspects of the process makes it easier to romanticize. That is, I never work, on anything. Except philosophy, which is damned hard in a foreign language. If you thought Hegel was hard in English. . .

The second thing, which is a little bit more of a bother, is this odd feeling that I can't concentrate, that I'm somehow moving too fast. This is something Clara pointed out to me last year, that she takes ages to read every book she reads, soaks in it, lets it completely color a time of her life. I, on the other hand. . . I guess you all already know that I read quickly. I take quotes, I tackle issues, I draw connections, but I always get the feeling I forgetting things, that I'm skipping over important ideas and not giving them their due time. I don't feel like I have any pressing philosophical dilemma to solve; I think all the time, in confused, unfocused patterns, and can't clear my mind even when I try to meditate. I should have a pressing philosophical dilemma to solve, because those dilemmas exist, and I want to confront them. But whenever I try to bring one to mind, it feels like everything is just a muddle, I can't get anything that is clear and distinct to solve, like I could before.

Perhaps this is the result of coming out of a periodity of great clarity and deep thought, such as I had at the beginning of my time here. At that time, I had no books; I read Huck Finn, savored it as a comfort while I was ill, and read a few romantic short stories. I tackled philosophy in Spanish, understood it, and did well on the exam, better than most of my native-speaking classmates. Though I suppose I will find clear and difficult philosophical dilemmas once I get back into the groove of actually studying philosophy. The teacher, our "Director," who is the principal and owner of the school, has assigned us all to buy "Sophie's World." I suppose I'll be reading that when it gets here (in English), if anyone wants to read along or something. I'm thinking perhaps Shane would be interested in this?

Teachers! One thought that Demian did give me in particular today regards teachers and the way we learn; at least the most important things. I think that, with a very few exceptions (and it is unfortunate that it is so) like Mr. Dean, our most important teachers are not those in the official positions. They are not our elders, though this aspect bears even more exceptions. They are instead our close friends, typically those of our own age, who deal with the same relevant problems. This may have something to do with the way you can't really learn lessons from adults just by having them tell you, you have to experience things and try and fail for yourself first. This is not always the case either, of course, but it seems to me like a legitimate point. Enlightmenment and wisdom are not transferable. They must be earned by each of us individually.

Update! Today, I spent all day carefully re-reading The Politics of Experience. I got a lot more out of it, and I took a ton of notes, too. Goddamn, you all have to read this book. More importantly, I got my package of books today, which is really damned exciting and I can't wait to dive in. I believe I'm going to start with "How to Read a Book" so I don't miss out on anything important in the other books by not knowing how to read them beforehand. Alex, you know you sent me all your notes on said book along with it? Are you still planning to keep along with me? What do you want to read first?

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Once and Future King

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the worlds wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn - pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theocriticism and geography and history and economics - why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough."
The Sword in the Stone, Chapter 21, page 183

This is a very important quote, I believe. I didn't take down any others, though there were many chuckle-worthy bits and good statements about the nature of law and humanity and such. The last ten pages or so sum up all the debates about law and human nature and the causes of wars you could ever have, but it's ten pages long so I won't quote it. There was one quote that I meant to write down but now can't find, that said that all those ethical and philosophical issues that seem "as urgent as though someone were holding a gun to your head" when you are young are things you learn to sort of ignore and get on with living as you get older. Is this true, anyone who no longer considers themselves "young?"

This is the last non-Star Wars book I had left unread (though of course I had already read it years ago too) and somehow it seemed to bring together a few threads that appeared in the books preceding it. This I guess may have been more a feeling than a real thing, though. First of all, it was simply alike in flavor to Phantastes, though that connection is rather tenuous. Second, this idea from Matthew Stover's Shatterpoint was found throughout the book. In fact, the Star Wars connection was one of the stronger ones I noticed, though I feel confident that none of you care about that.

That idea is this:
"Being a Jedi is a discipline imposed on nature, just as civilization is, at its root, a discipline imposed upon the natural impulses of sentient beings.
Because peace is an unnatural state.
Peace is a product of civilization. The myth of the peaceful savage is precisely that: a myth. Without civilization, all existence is only the jungle. Go to your peaceful savage and burn his crops, or slaughter his herds, or kick him off his hunting grounds. You'll find that he will not remain peaceful for long. Isn't that exactly what happened here on Haruun Kal?
Jedi do not fight for peace. That's only a slogan, and is as misleading as slogans always are. Jedi fight for civilization, because only civilization creates peace. We fight for justice because justice is the fundamental bedrock of civilization: an unjust civilization is built upon sand. It does not long survive a storm."
Matthew Stover, Star Wars: Shatterpoint, Chapter 12, page 256

Sorry for quoting a Star Wars novel, by the way. The third connection was that Lancelot, finding himself in a situation in which nothing he can do will solve the awful predicament he and his friends are in, goes insane. He spends a time in the wild, naked, and then eventually reconciles something inside himself and becomes reintroduced into the society which will eventually destroy his happy life, through the same paths he had seen it would. This pattern, excluding perhaps its inevitable tragic ending, is the exact pattern R.D. Laing described in The Politics of Experience.

The last item referred to the fact that the book is a tragedy, and so it is. T.H. White mentioned somewhere about reading L'Morte de Arthur of Malory, and realizing "(a) The thing was a perfect tragedy, with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognisable reactions which could be forecast." This is what made Lancelot go insane, and it made for a very emotional second half of the book. It is perhaps the first time I have read tragedy and appreciated it; I read Romeo and Juliet, Euripides' Medea and all of Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy, Goethe's Faust, as well as TOAFK itself years ago, and none of those compared in the least to the way the 'big moments' of this book made me feel this time. To be clear, I am not saying that the book is better than those others, but that I was more able to appreciate it. During the last two books, I felt a tightness in my chest, and frequently found myself wishing to "warn" the characters, or secretly hoping things would turn out alright.

One aspect that made it very emotional and touching was that the characters were established very well and were all very sympathetic and likable, particularly Lancelot and Arthur. The first book is a charming description of Merlyn's education of Arthur, the second is silly and mostly there to set up the last two, which contain all the tragic endings. I am not sure whether I most enjoyed the carefree naturalism and youthful wanderings of the first book, or the passion and tragedy of the last two. The second has a lot of silly bits about King Pellinore and the Questing Beast, but it also has the heart-wrenching scene in which Gawaine's brothers murder a unicorn.

Overall, the book is completely wonderful and I can't wait until I read it again. He is a fantastic writer who takes great care to give his scenery short but very characteristic and beautiful descriptions, and he seems to be an expert on a lot of random topics that we never deal with but which were very important to the lives of his characters, like falconry and heraldry. It definitely lends authenticity and immersion to the book. It is also "a thinker," and treats a lot of important and troublesome topics in an accessible and provocative way. Highly recommended for wintertime reading by the fireside, in a cozy situation with something that smells of cinnamon or spices, ideally with a mug of hot chocolate topped with melted marshmallows.

Thanks for recommending I re-read this, Eileen!

Dog love

What if people were more like these dogs?

A Dream Frictioned

While a brutal winter’s day raged outside my window, I sat contemplating my schedule for my day. I suddenly realized that that it was my love’s birthday. I am not one to forget such things, but I had been so distracted lately, since my grandma had died and all. The last few weeks seemed more like a flood of emotions than a flood of moments and looking back I realize that I must have been a mess. And, it must have taken days for my love to repair me, during which time there was no one to support her. And now, here I am sitting on a bus, having completely forgotten her sacrifice on her most important day.
Looking out the bus window I saw that it wasn’t too late, the bus had carried me to old Bay City. Stepping off the bus its engine purred, so softly, asking me to forget her and travel the long road in its warm heated interior. I ignored the buses gentle plea and forded the cold and icy road. Once the tall brick buildings had blocked the biting wind I quickly glanced around for a destination, resolving upon a flower shop two blocks down. As I walked this barren stretch, I thought about how well I knew my love. We had stayed up for entire nights talking about her life, my life, philosophy, religion, and the meaning of life. I had listened when she cried and held her from the dark abyss; whenever she road those dangerous thought-trains down into the emptiness called depression. I had made her soup when she was sick and had warmed her when she was cold.
Looking in the shop window I saw that they carried her favorite flower even in the dead of winter. The one thing I knew about my love was that she would love these flowers. Delicately I selected the most beautiful flowers in the sad little shop and handed them to the shop boy behind the counter. He rang them up and said me in his smoke induced baritone, “So I see you’re tryin’ to get lucky are ya’ well truthfully, no girl wants these nasty things. Go out and buy ‘er a piece of jewelry or somethin’ fancy then she’ll know ya’ love ‘er.” Winking he handed the flowers back to me and I thought to myself, “I am such a better boyfriend than this guy.”
After leaving the dusty little flower shop, I cut through a few frozen intersections and arrive at the blocky apartment buildings that my love was staying at. Walking to her friend’s apartment I thought about how much she will love her perfect, although slightly frozen, flowers. I think about how we will be able to talk and how she will tell me her troubles and how I will comfort her like she did me. She had no idea I was coming, since I was supposed to be at a friend’s house for the weekend.
Navigating the maze of mothball hallways I arrive at her friend's apartment. I am excited enough now, that I have to mull about for a few seconds before I can even knock on their peeling white door. I hold my breath and knock; some muscular guy I don’t know answers the door and I ask him if she is here. He looks at my flowers and smiles saying, “Yah she’s here, come on in.” Upon walking in, I immediately smell sex and I hear passionate noises coming from the bedroom down the hall. Looking around I realize that the place is trashed, with red cups everywhere. Turning to the doorman I ask him who he is and what happened. To which he responds, “I am yer friend’s new guy. Your girl and her held a party last night.” Not wanting to talk to this man anymore I turn to go investigate the bedroom.
The open door reveals my love with a clone of the doorman passionately fucking. I stand in shock for a minute, until he notices me and stops to yell, “Fuck off, perv!” She looks up at me and I hold out her flowers. She looks at him and wobbly stands up, not even bothering to cover herself, and walks over to me. She looks at me with resolve in her eyes and says, “I need a strong man not some weak and emotional guy like you.” Motioning at my flowers she continues, “I mean come on, you brought flowers.” I can see that she is right, and begin to cry. I turn from her to hide my shame and walk back to the doorman. He looks up from his football game and says, “ya should ‘ave brought jewelry ya’ dumb fuck.”
I dropped the flowers and left the apartment, to brave the cold wind.

In the vein of friction

I meant to post this a few days ago, but I get sidetracked.
I think I may need to take basically every other word out of this, but I'm not sure it would work then, either. Actually, I think there just may be way too many adjectives in the second half. Opinions?
I would also like to encourage discussion about the (in?)utility of adjectives vs. nouns.
At any rate, it's a work in progress.

All winter long, Baba-Liga cowers; sinks down below eyeball trajectories, projections of sun, of warmth, shrinks and huddles deep in her jawbone and peers out the rinds of her eyes at disjointed shadows of snow or grey or fluorescent lights and dully watches as her legs slide forward like paint drying on a wall. The worms of her fingers freeze and slow and creak and bite when they’re supposed to wriggle but only curl, and maybe if she could see them squirm, her ribs would remember the beat and her legs would more than slide ghostlike and slippered or shuffle and bump in the drafts, maybe they would push again and their pulse would raise her core out of her jawbone. But that is context, old woman, and you have none in your barren bone.

Baba-Liga doesn’t think it’s strange, then, only slightly electric, when her hands smash the flickering bulb above her kitchen sink. She lifts barely from her jawbone perch, drawn by the blood erupting in beestings across her cream-cheese skin, which sparks her thoughts strangely to goldfinches and the little hairs on her upper arms. So it’s her puzzlement mostly that drags the sliver of lightbulb cleanly across her wristbone, but it is she who, shaking, lets slip the shard that shatters like raindrops on the flecked linoleum, and it’s she who thinks she feels slightly like a newborn, though she really can’t be sure. Her hands grasp at the goldfinches fighting to escape her ribcage, and her upper arms prickle like blades of grass. She has pushed off her jawbone now; a child again, pressing off a poolside, spinning in the brief burst of speed before the backlash, the choking water in her mouth and lungs that she’s feeling now. She stares straight out her eyeballs, casting herself in hopes she might anchor, but her fingers slip and her knees fold. In tomorrow’s paper, she’s listed as a suicide.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Short Frictions

Here are two short stories I have written in the past two days. I want to dig through my notebooks and find the rest of the ones I like, but that'll take a little while and it's late and I'm tired. But, I figured for now I will transcribe these two. The first:

The Sick Man

The officer walked as a robot along the line of sleepy men. Once, he was cold and efficient, but the monotony of the ritual of inspecting the prisoners, which was performed each day and now was many years old, had bored him to tears, and he approached the task each morning with such an apathy that it spread the unbearable tedium of it all around the room, so that even the fresh prison guards became restless. He still moved quickly, and the sweep of his glances was still effective, but they were no longer adventures in justice, as they had once been, but merely mechanical habits. The officer had lost his penal spirit.

This morning one of the prisoners was absent. The officer, surprised at the uncommon break in the routine, stood for a moment, sharing an awkward silence with the prisoners. He rarely spoke at the morning inspections, and his voice cracked as he tried to sound authoritative: "Where is prisoner number One Six Nine - mister, um, Tender?" He straightened his back, waiting for an answer. A prisoner a few meters away spoke up, " sir, I think he was taken to the infirmary last night. He complained that he had difficulty breathing." The officer turned to a guard further down the row. "Is this true?" he asked.

"Now I remember sir," began the guard, "yes, he had a history of illness. I'm... I'm afraid he passed away in the night, sir."

The officer thought for a moment, and looked around at the prisoners. He inspected them, this time for real. He almost felt rejuvenated. After a few quiet moments of deliberation passed, the officer pointed to a young, fire-haired prisoner. "You there," he ordered, "stand where he would be standing, please." The prisoner walked over and filled the empty spot in line. Feeling for the first time in years truly alive, the officer continued, "You are now the Sick Man." The young prisoner began to cough.

Of High Office

A pale, lumpy man say in his high chair, behind his desk, in his office, on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in the city. His office, and everything in it, boasted of a great stature. He especially looked important, and he wielded an aura of great sway. He appeared to be an essential, non-interchangeable component of whatever organization was beneath him. He was very well aware of his station, and he was extremely careful about it. He knew that the ladder he climbed was easily tipped, and he still had a long way to go.

As he sat, spinning slowly in his chair, he imagined himself presiding over a small town, and soon concluded the town was much too small for him. He was by this time very bored with his position, but at the moment there was nothing he could do to hurry the process of promotion. As powerful as he was, he could only wait. He sighed and turned toward the window.

He was indeed atop a very tall building. Within his view he observed mountains, valleys, forests, lakes, and the rivers that ran through them all, and the numerous other towns and settlements that peppered the landscape. His examination of the world outside only intensified his political restlessness, as he controlled so far just a tiny fraction of what he saw.

The young, unambitious voice of his secretary over the intercom broke the pretentious silence of the office. "Sir, the director called. He would like to know if you would like to be in charge of one more person." The pale man gave a small smile to himself, rocked in satisfaction for a moment in his chair, and answered his secretary. "Mmmm," he grumbled, "yes, I would like that very much.

Hope Enjoyed.

Though these could stand for much improvement, I think they are some of my best work to date.