Thursday, August 31, 2006

There's only one way to have a happy marriage...

and as soon as I learn what that is, I'll get married again.
--Clint Eastwood (b. 1930)

So many things to write about, but I only want to pick one. So I'll go with divorce.

This week, a married couple I know announced that they were getting divorced. Both husband and wife are part of an extended group of acquaintances, so in the months leading up to this announcement, there had been much speculation and rumor. They're not particular friends of mine, but I know them well enough to be disappointed. But by "disappointed," I should clarify that I'm disappointed their lives aren't as free of trouble as I would wish all my married friends to be. I'm disappointed FOR them, but not disappointed BY them.

In this particular case, I don't know of any particular reason to get divorced (and they didn't elaborate), but I also don't know of any compelling reason for them to stay married. It was nice when the couple was married, and it's nice that they acknowledge that they're not right for each other. I can't and won't speculate on the causes.

Divorce usually has some pain associated with it, even if it's only the fleeting acknowledgement that now you have to check "divorced" on all your applications, or that you have to go and change your bank accounts again. And as far as stigma goes, as a society we're gradually moving away from the "untouchable" class. After all, Henry VIII of England had to start his own religion for a divorce and ordered the death of principled men (see A Man for All Seasons). Now it just involves divorce lawyers. Either way, someone ends up losing their head because of furious anger.

I'll confess, though, that being told about a divorce and noticing a suddenly-ringless left hand is sad. But it's not the sort of sad that would even accompany a divorce of a friend. I feel a particular kind of sadness, and the only way I can identify it is to describe a similar situation. I feel the same sadness whenever I drive through a small town and find the main street deserted. Shops that were open even twenty years ago are closed and empty. No people on the sidewalk, only signs for Zenith and Frigidare appliances, and the only reason I'm there at all is because the road happens to go through there from my origin to my destination. That sort of tidy desolation is the sadness I feel. There were no fires, no looting, no natural disaster. Everyone calmly and over time came to the conclusion that it was better to not keep these stores open.

It's the same sadness I feel when I walk through a shopping mall where I grew up, and find it now half empty, with many "for lease" storefronts. Those that remain cater to a trickle of people. The saddest part is looking at the people working behind the counters, who rely on this as their livelihood (maybe) and will have to close eventually. Not even Fergie can save them.

That's the sort of ... I don't even know if I can call it sadness.... but a sort of disappointment and dissatisfaction that I feel when two good people get divorced. It's nothing personal; just me disappointed with the way the world works sometimes.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

This Just In: World Failed to End. More Details at 11:00

Apparently, people were reading into the fact that Iran had originally said they were going to answer our nuclear suspension proposal by August 22. For some reason, people got the idea that they set this date on purpose, and on it, they were going to destroy Isreal with a nuclear device. I don't know quite why they'd want to vaporize several important Islamic sites as well as all the Palestinians and Christians, but some people want you to believe we're dealing with crazed madmen, so I suppose we shouldn't attempt to understand why they'd do anything; it's better just to stop them and open McDonald's in their conquered land.

Here's the most rational story I could find: From the Guardian (U.K.)

Here's the most irrational I could find, from a show which is apparently on CNN. I especially like where the commentator states that we're already in World War III, which is LIKE World War II, except that Germany = Iran, and "they've got a lot of religious nutjobs running the place!" [I won't bore you by actually defining what I think should be meant by the term"world war," but I'll say that it involves armed millitary action all around the world.]

WARNING- If you follow this link and find yourself agreeing, please don't come back to my site. You'll be happier. CNN via You Tube

I hope you realized this before you came to read my blog, but the world did not end. At least....[the author checks out the window]... no, definitely still here.

Auditions

Yesterday, we had school ensemble auditions. The number of trombonists we have is small: I believe it's six. There are three bands, which each require three trombones (or more, depending on the piece). It's safe to say we'll all be in demand.

As I entered the room, the committee is behind a barrier. Everything is silent, which is strange for a music school (not for an audition, though). People haven't gotten into the habit of practicing in every room and all the hallways yet, but give them time. The proctor leads me to the stand and tells me which three of seven excerpts they want to hear.

The general rule in auditions is silence. The committee is not visable for a reason, basically it helps to control bias. As a auditionee, I take this seriously. While I should probably be thinking about other things (like music), I always control the sound of my footsteps in a situation like that. I make them lighter and more rapid. I am conscious never to clear my throat or cough, because it's amazing how much of your individual vocal qualities both of those sounds carry. It's not just me. One of the trombonist removed his particularly squeeky shoes for his audition, prompting all the remaining cantidates to assume he had some strange performance practices until he explained himself.

The first requested piece is a famous part of Rossini's overture to La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie). It's articulated, linear but jumbled enough to be difficult, and moves by much faster when you're sweating in an audition than when you're practicing. Nothing is a stranger feeling than introducing a trombone sound to a silent room when you know that behind the curtain, three or more people are waiting for you to start so they can evaulate you. The first breath you take is the last moment when you have all potential types of performance available to you (good, bad, ugly).

The second excerpt is the famous soft section from Schumann's Symphony No. 3 ("Rhenish"). It's slow. R E A L L Y slow. Indicated tempo is quarter = 54, but in an audition, it's easy to mistakenly take it faster or slower(!). This excerpt really shines when played with a section, because you can watch the principal trombonist's body language as he holds an always-beautiful high E-flat for three quarter notes.

Right before I started this Schumann excerpt, someone violated the "now's not the time nor place" statue of silence that had been in effect. As I was taking my breath to begin, one of the committee members put down a pencil and said something in a perfectly audible "stage whisper." I'm not sure whether or not it was intentional that he be completely understood by EVERYONE in the room, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn't know that sound travels easily both directions in a silent room.

As I was inhaling, I heard a pencil placed on a table and "You know, I never really liked Schumann."

So I exhaled, rehaled, and did my thing. I wish I could tell you that I was fighting for the spirit of Schumann, trying to make his piece understood by everyone in the room, but I wasn't. Right then, I was thinking, "Oh no, I've started too slowly." Thus began an epic journey through "Rhenish." It's not too bad until near the end of the first part, when one must crescendo to forte and then park on a low E-flat for 6 beats. At my chosen tempo of about 44 beats per minute, that was a serious test of how much air could I squeeze out of my lungs, my stomach, fingertips, and red blood cells. Also, to top it off, I think their copy of the piece contained some erroneous dynamic markings. One more thing to think about.

The last piece was from Haydn's Die Schöpfung. (The Creation) It's from a section titled "Achieved is the Glorious Work." I've played this section at a few trombonist weddings, simply because it's a great tune for clearing people out of the sanctuary at the end. Something about this tune makes people say, "Gosh, I'm hungry! Let's get to the reception."

The audition packet contained only two pages of the standard all-three-parts version, so there wasn't a whole lot of music. I reached the end of the second page and tried to put a note of finality on it (since it ended in the middle of a phrase). The committee said "Thank you, that's enough." Gosh, I hope so, because you didn't give me anything else.

Which brings me to an excellent point: when you have auditions, make sure the parts of the music you want to hear are clearly, even ridiculously, defined. Your auditionee's [I originally typed the non-sequitor "auctioneers"] will thank you.

Monday, August 21, 2006

O1d Sk001z

It's back to skool...er...school time again. Today was the first day of classes at the university, so I made an appearance to verify audition times, look for class books, verify lesson time, etc. Going to class over the summer sort of put reduced expectation in the amount of human traffic I'd seen at campus. There were a ton of people. And what does a ton of people mean? Good people watching.

As I was wondering around, I saw many people who were trying hard to be beautiful. I walked next to one woman whose skin was so tan and leathery, she looked like a drum head, stretched tight across a floor tom.

I saw a girl who annoys me immensely. As always, she found something humorous in what I said to her (her: "How's it going?" me: "Well."), and laughed her laugh. This laugh is sort of stifled, as though she doesn't know whether or not she CAN laugh at something I said, but still wants to show me that she gets whatever joke she thinks I'm making. I like conversation; I really do. When I talk, I like to use words that (to me) explain as close as possible what I'm trying to convey. I also tend to talk in complete sentences, using several different parts of speech. This makes me sound funny, especially to young or unfamiliar ears. And by "funny," I mean stuffy and elitist, but in a laughable way.

I saw a five foot one girl with platinum blond hair parking a cream-colored Cadilac Escalade. I didn't realize they even came in "cream," because you usually see them in the three primary colors: black, even-darker black, or Darth Vader. She was wearing what I could term "Paris Hilton-chic." A pastel-colored top (in this case, some sort of electric aquamarine), white pants so tight you could see the cuffs biting into the flesh of her shins, some sort of bizarre foot apparel that looked like a cross between a platform shoe that a 70's pimp might wear and a piece of wicker furniture from Pier 1, and moviestar sunglasses from the 70's (white frames, round lenses).

The effect was instantaneous. I was instantly and proundly struck by the realization that she was a better class of person than me, that her (or her parents) money made her more desireable, and that if I spoke to her, she would be justified in turning up her nose at me. Sigh. The courtly love idea of the "unattainable woman" isn't dead. C'est existe!

It's also strange to be wandering around with lots of people. Now, in every big crowd, I think I see people I know. I usually don't know anyone, but as soon as I let my eyes wander, someone says "hi." I suppose it means I know a lot of people, when I can see someone, talk with them, and have several other people I know say hello as they walk by. And not just in the music building, where that sort of thing is likely to happen. Sometimes the number of people we know can suprise us, since we don't think about most of them after they've left our field of vision. I was constantly being suprised with thinking "oh yeah, Betty goes to this school. I remembered her, but forget where I'd remembered her from."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

HEADLINE: U.S. Government contemplates device detecting "Thought-Crimes"

Spirit of George Orwell said to be amused

STORY HERE

Basically, the Transportation and Safety Authority is beginning small-scale tests of a new device that uses certain biometric signals to determine whether or not you have "hostile intent." If you're particularly cynical, this basically amounts to taking a lie-detector exam before boarding the plane.

In theory, having a machine be able to "red flag" the bad guys is awesome. In practice, this machine measures blood pressure, sweat levels, and elevated pulse levels. If this sounds like a standard response to having three screaming kids, a ton of luggage, and a potentially-missed connection flight, YOU'RE WRONG! What it really means is that you're a terrorist. Or, more correctly, that you have hostile intent.

It is not known at this time if hostile thoughts about the airlines and security authorities will get you flagged.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Seven Sins: Lust (or Perversion or Fornication)

"Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings."
--Anaïs Nin

Nice quote, isn't it? It seems to have been written by someone of romantic sensibility, cautioning against the various ways that a love can die. Why in the world would Andy pick it for an entry about lust? It's not describing anything licentious; she's talking about love, which to many is separate and independently achieved from lust.

All of this may be true, but if you've never heard of Mrs. Nin, I encourage you to read about her. She was one of the Twentieth Centuries greatest hedonists. In addition to being one of first renowned female authors of erotica, she was also a bigamist (two separate lives with two unknowing husbands, who met after her funeral). She was also bisexual and managed to have intimate connections with many creative figures. In her personal diaries, she also describes having an incestuous relationship with her father. In short, she's just about the poster-lady for lust.

Nowadays, lust is most often associated with attraction. Many feel that a physical attraction to someone (without a balancing interest in anything beyond the surface) comprises lust. Often associated with dark and nasty urges, it's also the basis for love "at first sight." It seems to me that it's not just about attraction. There's a core of selfishness. If you lust after someone, you're probably not wondering how you can help them overcome their fear of heights, or advising them to patch up their differences with their family. You're interested in the flesh, and what the flesh can do for you. I don't often see lust linked with selfishness, but I think it's quite apt.

Another interesting aspect of lust is that it can be excessive "love" towards someone. By excessive, I mean that it causes otherwise important things to be tuned out, in favor of concetration. In this way, it can masquerade as love. People who focus too much on the object of their affections, at the expense of their own lives, have shifted the balance of their relationship into the "LUST" column. How many people do you know who aren't in a loving relationship, but rather in a lustful one (even if the lust has nothing to do with sex)?

I don't want to wander too far away from Lust, so I'll just mention that this "excessive love" concept will return when we talk about Pride. If Lust is all externally oriented, Pride is the internal version.

Another type of lust is related to power. You might think that rapists are all about the sex, but that's not entirely true. There is a sexual aspect, especially in the physical act performed, but rape is more about power. As an unfortunate description of this, many serial rapists who are chemically castrated continue to rape, even though they are no longer sexually capable. They do this because the domination and humiliation are the attractive agents, not the sex.

Under strict religious interpretation and understanding, Lust can also cover homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, and having sex for fun (or anything beyond baby-making).

Interestingly, some people consider lust to be the purest and most straightforward expression of love. This is explained by contending that love does not consider emotional state, social taboos, or other "baggage."

I prefer to consider love as one of the possible avenues that lust can create excess. Too much love, out of proportion within the relationship, is just as much a problem as too much physical attraction (in some cases, worse). People can be smothered by good intentions and concerns, and too much attention to another can often make one's own situation perilous.

I can guarantee that you'll be hearing me talk about a lot of moderation in entries like these. I firmly believe that's one of the most important regulatory procedures available. All our lives, we're told that time is short, but don't let haste lead to immoderation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Back in the Saddle

My family was visiting last weekend, and it felt like the last relaxing time before the start of another academic year. The last hurrah before I have to knuckle down and start working again. After they left, I sat down to write an entry, but couldn't think of anything. Then, as is often the case, the more I thought about it througout the day, the more ideas I had. So now I've got too many and I don't know where to start.

As is often the case after I have company leave, I tend to get introspective. Today my thoughts were leading to hypocracy. Anyone who knows me should know that I love hypocracy. In fact, if you've been following my blog, I would conservatively say that 30-40% of my entries talk about it, in some fasion. You must also understand that when I say I "love" it, I really hate it with a passion. The only thing I love about it is deflating people who engage in it.

But I've started to examine myself, and I'm trying to decide if I'm letting in flaws in my own character when I experience what can only be described as "glee" while rooting out instances of hypocracy. After all, the feared fate of the intellectual is to condemn so stringently, but in the end, be hoisted with one's own petard.

So, over the next few months (or less, if I get on a roll), I'm going to examine all of the deadly sins and cardinal virtues. I'll begin with Lust soon (perhaps tomorrow), considered by many to be the most numerous but least offensive of the "mortal" sins. Eventually, I'll end up at my own particular flaw of choice, Pride.

I won't be doing them all back to back, so those of you who aren't interested in ruminations on the nature of sin can just wait a day after I post any of them. I never seem to have much stomach to do too many "heavy" posts in a row. It bogs everyone down, and discourages reading.

I apologize for this post, which is little more than a "watch this space" advertisment, but I'm tired. I can type for a while with my eyes closed, but it doesn't give me a whole lot of hope about being capable of doing any heavy-duty compositions.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sun Tzu says: Know thy enemy

A discussion with a friend a couple of weeks ago prompted her to ask if I'd ever read He's Just Not That Into You. Actually, she asked if I believed the statements from that book. I hadn't read the book. Now I have.

First of all, it's written for women. I can tell because there are many shades of pink on the book jacket. I thought maybe there might be some acknowledgement that men might read it, but there isn't. The book did direct me to acknowledge myself as a girl who deserves good things, so after a few choruses of "I Feel Pretty," I was ready to continue reading.

The main author is a man who's advocating his basic philosophy: if a man isn't doing everything possible to get a woman's attention, then he's not really interested. In the context of this book, there seem to be two types of men. One is the type that gets exemplified in all the examples: the Bad Man. This seems to be everyone who doesn't call, doesn't date, doesn't respect, doesn't have sex as often as possible, does have sex often (but not with you), doesn't want to marry, doesn't believe in monogamy, eventually breaks up with you, etc.

Which leaves the other kind of man: the Not-Quite-As-Bad Man. I wanted to try using "Good," but I couldn't justify it, although "good" men are included in this group. This second group includes people like the author, a man who admits a philandering past, but is now happily married and willing to be brutally honest to women about what people like him think.

The book is entertaining. It's written in a quasi-textbook style, and since the author's day job is being a comedian, there are some choice lines. It also contains some good advice. Most important seems to be that if a guy is doing awful things to you (abuse, too much drinking, ignoring your feelings, weird excuses), then he's not someone that's worth trying to keep. Another is that it's better to be slightly pessimistic about relationships, rather than trying to be a sunshined optimist about everything, especially if things are going bad.

There's a lot of truth in this book. I feel that personally because I recognize much of what's said in my friends and my own personal experience from years before the 2004 publish date. That said, something about this book doesn't jive with me. And unfortunately, I can't put my thumb on it. Maybe it's the relegation of what I would call "good guys" to some mythical platform somewhere above the Elysian Fields. Maybe it's the horrible odds they give for finding a happy relationship.

I think it mostly has to do with the lack of patience that's being advocated. But I'll be honest, that's my personal hang-up; your mileage may vary. I think people aren't patient enough. Obviously, this doesn't go for truly awful relationships. For such cases, all possible speed is encouraged to extricate yourself. As in "We've found the edge of the Earth, and here there be dragons. Full astern."

I skimmed through a second time, reversing the genders. I pretended the book was written for man. Obviously, most of the common sense works just as well in the other direction, such as a breakup being an already-decided course of action, non-negotiable, and not a democratic decision. Other situations aren't quite as transferable. I know that some women abuse alcohol and their significant others, but it's not as common a problem as the reverse.

It seems to me that if you need a good self-esteem pick-me-up, this book might help to put you on the right track. It tries to get you to work towards concrete understanding in your relationships. But if you're already well-versed on the common sense of relationships, you probably won't find anything earth-shattering here.

In the end, if I try to disagree with any of the statements outlined against the behaviors of men, it starts to feel like arguing with Freud about sex. The harder I deny it, the more denial would be taken as a confirmation of guilt. If I attempt to say that not asking a woman out means that I'm not interested (see chapter 1), that is false (for me). But of course, I'm only one guy.

I've always had a tenuous perception of whether or not my behavior is the exception or the rule.

Monday, August 07, 2006

"A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember."

--Citizen Kane, 1941.

I watched Citizen Kane for the second and third time recently. It's a fascinating movie, and the DVD edition I got from the library does a good job of providing everything you might want to know about it. I particularly enjoyed the commentary track with Roger Ebert. It's obvious that he's extremely knowledgable about film in general and Kane in particular.

While I was watching it, it reminded me of many other films and styles I've seen before. Of course, most of them are following in the path of Kane, so I guess I'm a bit turned around. The overlapping dialogue, for example, feels right out of a Robert Altman film. The actors are almost universally amazing, and the special effects required to age seven or eight of the main characters across 50 years is amazing.

It was filmed in a particular style, where everything in the frame is in focus. From the closest actor to the farthest window, everything is sharp. What this does is make everything "noticable," so the director has to plan for how to focus the audience's attention in one place. Following characters eyelines, triangular composition, or calling attention with motion all happen frequently.

The subcurrent of "acquisition" is an interesting thread to follow through the picture. As time passes, Kane basically tries to acquire (and horde) everything he's ever come into contact with. He aquires without knowing the value, however. His home contains hundreds of still-crated statues and vases. He acquires, but he doesn't seem to know what to "do" with it. Maybe "having" doesn't ultimately have a purpose; the film doesn't tell you.

Citizen Kane always manages to show up on everyone's top ten list for great films. After a little effort towards understanding it, I begin to see why.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

We must use all tactics in the war on terror....

...unless they're gay. Then they're worse than terrorists.

STORY from AP

The chairman of the Republican National Committee just got finished lambasting the Democrats because they would "surrender important tools" to the terrorists. As outlined here, he further stated:

"America faces a critical question," Mehlman said. "Will we elect leaders who recognize we're at war and want to use every tool to win it, or politicians who would surrender important tools we need to win?"


Naturally, one of the important fronts is translating Arabic. I'm pretty sure those Islamic terrorists don't go translating their messages into Swahili just to thwart our spies. Whenever we raid houses, we always seem to come up with buckets of papers and other documents. I've seen several articles detailing how our intelligence services were caught with a short supply of Arabic-speaking agents in the period after September 11th.

In light of this, it's almost laughable that we would be discharging these important people just because they're gay. It's most definitely NOT laughable that, at least in the case of one man in the above story, people seem to have skimmed the chapter on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In this particular case, there was a whole lot of "Ask," including questions guaranteed to root out the gays, such as "do you have gay friends" or "are you involved in community theater?"

I understand the armed forces position. They're filled with mainly men. They strive for uniformity. That's why they don't like women. They want everyone to be as close to clones as you can be, because it makes a more cohesive fighting force. And if there's one thing that sets soldiers on edge, it's the idea that someone, somewhere, likes the butt sex.

The Armed Forces have a recent policy against open gays in the millitary, enacted in 1993 by President Clinton. That's not what I'm mainly mad about. I can't believe the witchhunt that's cracking down based on annoymous emails. And guess what? It's expensive. 11,000 soliders have been dismissed under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. The article states that 800 of the soliders so dismissed had critical skills, such as languages. The cost to discharge them and train replacements? $369 million!

I don't know about you, but $369 million seems like a lot of money to spend to rest easy that no one in the millitary is gay. Especially since the soliders discharged probably love mom and apple pie just as much as anyone. What message are we sending when the White House tells us that global terrorism is one of the greatest threats to our way of life, but being gay is, quite frankly, EVEN WORSE.

The community-theater-participating enemy of my enemy is... well... still my enemy.

Zeno's Interpersonal Relationship Paradox

Possibly you are familiar with Zeno's Dichotomy Paradox. One of the more famous paradoxes, it supposes that a woman is attempting to run a 50 yard dash. In order to make it all the way to the finish line, the runner would first need to make it to 25 yards. After that, the runner can run half way to the end (three-quarters of the way). After that, she can run halfway again (7/8ths of the way), then half of the remaining distance (15/16ths), etc. So, given an infinite amount of time, the end is never reachable. It is always theoretically possible to go halfway between your current position and the goal.

To make it even harder on the poor lady, before she could run to halfway through the course (25 yards), she would need to run to 12.5 yards. And before that, 6.25. And so on. Before she can run to a point, she must be able to reach a point halfway there. Because this continues in smaller and smaller increments to infinity, she cannot ever get to the finish line. She can't even complete the race because she can never make the first step.

Don't get concerned. This paradox is not a breakdown of reality as we know it. All of us can usually get where we're going; we don't get paralyzed trying to make a first step. But according to Zeno's theory, reaching the finish is impossible, because there is always further to go. Think about that; reaching a goal is impossible.

No one understands how the mind connects things, but I associate this with a time I was adding a new number to my phone speed dial. It was something I had put off doing for a long, long time. My first step was realizing I might want to call this number. Hooray! Halfway there! So, I got the number (three-fourths of the work done!). I stuck it into the number list on my phone (hmm, not much work, but still on the right track!). Then I tried to determine the best times to call (feels like stalling). Then I was frustrated because there were never good times to call (definitely stalling). Then I tried to call and hung up because of anxiety (alllllmost there). Then I used the voicemail system to leave a message without having to speak to anyone or actually call the number (is he cheating at a phone call?). Then I called at times when there was sure to be no one available (he is cheating!). Then I put the number on speed dial because I was using it so often.

Like in the Dichotomy Paradox, I kept marching towards a goal, but due to my reluctance, I always traveled half my previous distance. And the closer I got, the bigger a deal it became. The closer I got, the more I worried, the more I inflated it to be a big deal, and the less distance I covered.

Of course, when I actually covered the last bit of distance and reached the goal (thereby breaking the paradox), it was such a small distance that I ended up wondering why I had made all that fuss. Why was it such a big deal to get from point A to B, Zeno?

If only I could apply this knowledge to the next time...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

They don't teach verbal filtering in Evil Med School?

Courtesy the Kansas City Star.

IN BRIEF

Concord, N.H.
The state Board of Medicine has voted to dismiss its disciplinary case against a doctor.
The doctor, Terry Bennett, was accused of telling a patient she was so obese that she might only be attractive to black men and advising another to shoot herself after brain surgery. ... [This decision] lets stand a judge's decision that Bennett was within his rights to say things that might be offensive.


Wow. I know some doctors don't have a good bedside manner, but... wow. I support the judge's decision, though. He does have the right to say whatever he wants. And his patients have a right to picket his office and switch to another doctor.

Friday, August 04, 2006

"What is it you read, my lord?

Words, words, words."
-Hamlet, Act II, scene ii

Here's an interesting site. It contains (as of August 4, 2006) the 86,000 most commonly used words in the English language. This appears to include proper names and abbreviations. It's taken from a British concordance project. It's fun to play around with, even though I treat some of it with skepticism.

Does guiltless (#72092) really get used less often than winckelmann (#47532)?

Or debriefed (#78896) used less than tansy (#31266)?

How bizarre. (#6827)

How Big is Your Puritan Streak?

There was an interesting story in today's Washington Post. Attached at the bottom of this entry is the controversial cover. If you don't like thinking about the fact that babies breastfeed, avoid this entry altogether.

Ok, everyone else can continue reading.


STORY HERE

Basically, a magazine about babies has a picture of a baby breastfeeding on the cover. I don't consider it graphic nudity; if you've seen any of Brittney Spears' performances (like her recent interview with Matt Lauer), any Hollywood red-carpet arrivals in the past five years, or been to the local pool, you've seen more boob. Not to mention the possibility that you, dear reader, may actually BE a woman. At any rate, BabyTalk magazine received 5,000 letters of complaint, calling the photo offensive and disgusting.

This is a hilarious comment from the article:
"Gross, I am sick of seeing a baby attached to a boob," the mother of a four-month-old said.
I'll assume this woman isn't breastfeeding her baby. Or if she is, she does it without looking.

I realize that we've got a strange and warped set of decency values here in the U.S. today. Movies where someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger climbs up a hill made of the corpses of his enemies in order to finally kill the people who stole his mailbox are acceptible. But as soon as someone shows parts of the body that approximately 50% of humanity wakes up with, that's toeing the line. And what's with the breastfeeding? That's disgusting, I bet babies don't even DO that.

Oh. Wait. Babies do. As a matter of fact, that's probably a big part of what they do. It might even be their job. And you know what else? Those breasts women have? In spite of what "In Style" magazine may say, I'm pretty sure feeding kids is what they're for. Holding up pretty dresses and hooking rich old men are just side effects.

I kind of agree that this picture doesn't belong on the cover of just any magazine. I wouldn't want to see it on, say, Fortune, or Popular Mechanics. But BabyTalk? Yeah, that sounds like a good place for it.

I have nothing against women who don't want to breastfeed. There are medical reasons, convenience reasons, philosophical reasons, religious reasons, etc. But if you're not breastfeeding because you don't want your child to be exposed to "indecency" early, you've got a PROBLEM.

Step 1: Romantic Fool, Know Thyself!

Preparatory reading: Alexander Pope's "Know Thyself"

I hear a lot of commentary on relationships. Everybody seems to like talking about them, and I know everyone likes hearing about them (I blame soap operas). Most people are either in a relationship, between relationships, or have seen one on TV. I should hope that everyone knows by now that each relationship is unique. No one can advise you of what will be 100% successful all of the time. Good thing half the fun of relationships is learning.

In light of that, this entry is going to be about the number one "most important" step in a relationship. Possibly redundant to say this now, but what follows is my opinion.

As the subject line indicates, the most important of all relationship achievements is to know thyself. As the saying goes: progress begins at home. However, I want to draw a distinction between "knowing" and "predicting." You can be comfortable with yourself and still leave lots of room for spontaneity.

Too often, people get immersed in relationships and feel that they're losing themselves in the process. Luckily, there's a way to combat that. If you're truly comfortable with who you are and what you think, you're going to be in a more secure place. The nice part about this step is that by placing the focus on yourself, it allows you to uncover things that you may not know. What are your motivations? What are your hopes and aspirations? What are your weaknesses?

Not just relationships: if you're doing this first step right, you're well on your way to having a successful LIFE, period. If the thought of traveling makes you uneasy, that's good to know. If you just want to hang out and drink beers without worrying about life, it's good to be able to go into a relationship armed with knowledge of this preference.

This is important because everyone enters relationships looking for different things. If these goals for the relationship line up, the chances are drastically improved that the relationship will be successful. It also minimizes people being hurt through unrealistic expectations. After all, if you're thinking "marriage" and your partner is thinking "bowling buddy," you're going to have some conflict down the road.

In spite of this, don't feel the need to go into a social setting with only a particular dance on your card. Just because someone is just a friend today doesn't necessarily prevent them from being more later. Yet another reason why it's good to know how you feel about things, so that you're not caught off guard by "gee, this girl is fantastic! But I'm not prepared for serious things" or "he does what for a living? Retreat!"

Another spectacular benefit of introspection is that you're more likely to be honest from the get-go. Honesty is the fuel for a good relationship. If you run out, it's going to be slow going. And if you don't have enough to start with, you're in trouble. I've noticed that some people treat honesty as if it were some sort of "perk" reserved for deeper relationships. "I would tell him the truth, but what's the point?" Honesty isn't something you tack on after your twelve-month anniversary. It starts in your thoughts, before you ever meet anyone or say anything.

Understanding yourself also means you're less likely to compromise yourself or your beliefs. If you have a pretty good idea what you think, it's less likely that you'll be bullied into things. You are unique. That's good! Part of success is realizing who you are. And if you like the person you are, it makes it a lot more likely that you'll find someone who likes you for the same reasons.

If you don't like who you are, it's a mistake to go searching for someone to "complete" you. Too much dependence on outside approval can lead to all sorts of problems, and not just in the relationship. It's a slippery slope that often leads to a complete surrendering of personal self-worth; surrendering it to other people. If you're in a relationship that protects that "weak spot," that's one thing. I think the odds are greater, however, that someone will take advantage of your flaw.

Knowing yourself is about covering three important areas:

1. KNOW your flaws. (i.e. dangers, self-deprecations, weaknesses, discomforts, and areas of lesser proficiency)
2. KNOW your strengths. (Like 'likes', skills, accomplishments, and reasons for people to want to know you)
3. KNOW your goals. (What you want out of life, this relationship, a partner, a friend, yourself, your career, your happiness, this day, etc.)

Having an understanding of these points helps to plant you in good ground for a prospective relationship.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

So...

Back to Kansas City. Currently in the middle of an intermittent thunder storm. Beautiful cloud formations and lightning. What should I talk about, on this dark and stormy night? [cracks knuckles]

Should I talk about horror author Stephen King asking J. K. Rowling to avoid killing Harry Potter? Nah, that story speaks for itself.

Should I talk about my fondness for video games colliding headlong with my fondness for eschatology? Here's what I'm referring to: Left Behind Games. It's a game set after the "Christian Rapture," during a period of chaos. Apparently, you can use weapons to kill lots of people, if you want to. I'm anxious to see what the regulating bodies make of this game that combines the wanton destruction of that horrendous bastion of immorality (i.e. videogames), and mixes it with a philosophy that everyone who's not like you (i.e. non-Christian) ends up remaining on Earth with the forces of the Anti-Christ! Thought-provoking discussions, I'm sure.

Should I talk about a law in Las Vegas that makes it a crime to give food to homeless people if they're in parks? What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.... but I guess this bit of news escaped. Oh, and if you're wondering, the law describes the quality of being homeless as an indigent "“whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive assistance."” Which makes me, as a poor college student living on government academic assistance, homeless! (Nevermind the fact that I actually HAVE a home.) I'll be happy to sign autographs for Twinkies.

Don't you love a law that depends on the opinions of a reasonable, ordinary person? I wonder what the legal definition for that is. Do you have to apply? Is it like being a notary public? Because I'd really like to get an embossing seal that verifies anything I stamp as being evaluated by a "reasonable, ordinary person." Or maybe it's a metaphysical test! If you ask to be considered a normal person, that's obviously NOT normal, so they won't ask your opinion.

Sneaky...

And if you're convicted of giving food to someone, do they have to prove that you aren't a reasonable and ordinary person, in order to prove that you broke the law? Or do they just have to parade more witnesses that agree with them, to obtain some sort of ordinary opinion "arithmetic mean?"

P.S. The spell check suggested "scatology" instead of "eschatology." That made me laugh out loud. Also, "Twinges" instead of "Twinkies."

P.P.S. While trying to find a picture of a Twinkie, I discovered this:
"According to market research, people from high Twinkie consumption areas in the US are more likely to enjoy bacon, chewing tobacco, professional wrestling, aerosol cheese, and country music."