Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Quotations: I Swear, I'll Finish This Book Some Day

"And if the ‘now’ that I can be is indeed invented in the now, in the clock, in the what, is not the what truly constructive of this who in the possibility of now as now? Or rather does the clock only give the occasion for access to a who constituted elswhere as now, before all clocks, before any determined what, in the very gap of what?" --Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time vol. 1.

"If Derrida and Heidegger conceived a child, and then gave that child philosophy steroids and several years in prison to do nothing but think, you would have Bernard Stiegler." --comment by a fellow graduate student. Not me, but I kind of wish it was.

To be fair to Stiegler, the who/what/clock/now discussion is a lot clearer in context. But not that clear.

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

It's Worth Watching, If Only to Hear the All-Chicken Renditions of the Theme Songs

I've recently watched all three of the Robot Chicken Star Wars. For those unfamiliar with Robot Chicken, it's essentially a stop-motion sketch show by Seth Green and various others (mostly male--you have to go along way down the list of credits before the first non-Y chromosome shows up), with a heavy emphasis on pop culture references from the 80s and 90s. Each of their three Star Wars episodes loosely follows one of the movies from the original trilogies, with a lot of interspersed material from the Star Wars universe at large.

Now, I could go a bunch of different ways here, and really stretch out a post. I could follow up on the "boys club" gender issue. Or we could do a bio approach, and talk about how happy I am that Seth Green proves that people who are 5'4'' can be successful. Or I could go the pop culture root, and discuss what it means to be doing a show that does sketches in 2011 about what it would have been like for Darth Vader when he had to pee in that suit. Or I could just discuss how it's much, much funnier than the Family Guy version of the same. But honestly, the most interesting element for me is simply the narrative shift they created in the third Star Wars installment.
Northrop Frye identifies four types of stories: comedies, romances, tragedies, and irony. Comedies are any story in which a protagonist challenges an established authority and wins happiness and stability; romances are any story in which the protagonist completes a quest against an enemy and emerges victorious and enlightened (some room for overlap there); a tragedy is a narrative form in which the protagonist tries to accomplish a goal but falls short because of his or her flaws, and irony is when the protagonist is trapped and lacks agency and control of situation that's descended into chaos and confusion. It's all very structuralist and more than a little reductive, but it's still a useful system of categorization in a pinch (or a first year course).

My point in bringing this up (and this is the one-liner that constitutes the nut meat of the entire post): In the final installment, by shifting the narrative focus from Han, Leia, and Luke over to Boba Fett and the Emperor, the Robot Chicken guys turn what's essentially a romance into a narrative of irony.

Embedded video proving point:

I especially like the part where it's revealed that all the evil in the universe is Jar-jar's fault. The jerk.

Later Days.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Vampire Marathon, Part III

This is going to be a bit fragmented; I've got a lot of work to do on campus today, but the Sunday bus doesn't leave for another 45 minutes, so I've got time to do a bit of reading, but not enough to finish the book.

1:06 pm. p 355. "I mmm'd and ahh'd at the right places, but it wasn't easy to concentrate. Jessica, Mike, the dance, the school--they all seemed strangely irrelevant at that moment." Bella Swan: terrible friend. Although I have to admit, you would have to work pretty damn hard to make me care about a school dance either. (I had to look up Bella's last name on Wikipedia. The first line of text under her entry is "Bella Swan (later Bella Cullen)." Thanks for the spoiler alert, Wikipedia.)

1:11 pm. P359. "Charlie couldn't doubt Edward's sincerity, it rang in every word." I think it says a lot about my current state of development that no element in a work of fiction can make me wince more than a particularly egregious comma splice.

1:14 pm. P360. "I was glad that the rain was too heavy to see Charlie clearly on the porch. That mean that he couldn't see how Edward's hands lingered at my neck, brushed along my collarbones. I gave up trying to help him and focused on not hyperventilating." The collarbones have long been known as the sexiest of the shoulder bones. See Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, "My Mistress's collarbones are nothing like an ivory piano."

1:23 pm. P 369. "Alice held the ball in both hands at her waist, and then, like the strike of a cobra, her right hand flicked out and the ball smacked into Jasper's hand.
'Was that a strike?' I whispered to Emse.
'If they don't hit it, it's a strike,' she told me."

All right, I know that, as someone who finds everything associated with football utterly baffling, I probably shouldn't say this, but... really, Bella? Do you understand what a baseball game is? If this is her average sport knowledge, it's no longer a mystery why she has so much trouble in gym class.

1:26 pm. P371. "Alice slapped them dainty high fives." I would like very much to see that. I would like to see what makes a high five dainty.

1:31 pm. P384. A more hunter-oriented vampire has fixated on Bella, and her solution is to leave her father and go on the run. Ladies, don't go on the run with strange older men. Stay in school.

1:37 pm. P398. The only certain way to kill a vampire is to "tear him to shreds and then burn the pieces." First, note that Edward's default gender of a vampire is male. A product of an early 20th century upbringing? (And frankly, you'd think that would be more of an issue; someone who went through their formative years during World War 1 would have a rather different outlook than someone who went through the same formative years in the era of Lady Gaga and the Internet.) Second, I didn't mention this when it first came up, since it's one of the better known scenes of the movie, but Meyer's vampires twinkle in sunlight. That drastically changes the usual vampire dynamic--even if you evade one till morning, all you've done is make them appear more telegenic. And it makes them pretty indestructible. I guess that's okay when you're telling a type of story that focuses on the relationship over the violence, but it does make it a little harder to swallow that the vampires aren't running the joint. Even the True Blood group of vampires has more worldly power than these guys, and they're limited by not only no sunlight, but having to sleep during the day.

1:47 pm. P 410. "It's been almost a century that Edward's been alone. Now he's found you. You can't see the changes that we see, we who have been with him for so long. Do you think any of us want to look into his eyes for the next hundred years if he loses you?"
That would be a problem with vampires: sheer longevity of holding a grudge. And not just something big, like losing one's One True Love. Can you imagine the enmity that would arise over a century of Not Putting Down the Toilet Seat?

I will continue this work later. For now, fair readers, adieu.

4:31 pm. ....aaaand we're back. Let's end this.

4:33 pm. P 413. "like a carnivorous flower, we are physically attractive to our prey." There has got to be a better comparison than that. Although it does leave the door wide open for jokes about Edward's pistil.

4:37 pm. P423. "I could feel it was too early again when I woke, and I knew I was getting the schedule of my days and nights slowly reversed." Another peril of dating the nocturnally oriented.

4:43 pm. P437. "The minutes passed and Edward's arrival grew closer. It was amazing how every cell in my body seemed to know he was coming, to long for his coming. That made it hard." That's what she said. All right, that's literally what she said, but... you know, the joke is to take the phrase and... sigh... I'm getting tired...

4:45 pm. P438. Bella evades the vampires at the airport. I mention this, because her plan here is probably the cleverest thing she has done to date.

4:48 pm. P445. The villain does his grand "reveal of major plot." I have honestly never heard a more unnecessary villainous grand speech. The evil vampire is hardly Machiavelli, and his big revelation re: another member of Eddie's coven is somewhat underwhelming. It may perhaps work better if James has been introduced a little earlier in the narrative, or if the other vampires as characters had been explored a little earlier; it's hard to feel any impact of a revelation involving people you've been familiar with for only a chapter or two.

P4:59 pm. P 468. "My mother's voice was unsure; as far as I could remember, this was the first time since I was eight that she'd come close to trying to sound like a parental authority. I recognized the reasonable-but-firm tone of voice from talks I'd had with her about men." Does that imply that these talks about men happened when Bella was eight? Or that her mother made no attempt to sound like a parental authority when she was previously discussing men? Because really, neither is really an ideal situation.

5:03 pm. P473. " 'I'll be the first to admit that I have no experience with relationships,' I said. 'But it just seems logical... a man and woman have to be somewhat equal... as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and saving the other. They have to save each other equally. ... I can't always be Lois Lane. I want to be Superman, too.'"
The first half of this, at least, is the most sensible thing Bella has said in a while. Unfortunately, it's her argument to support the thesis "You should really turn me into a vampire."

5:07 pm. P 481. "Would I ever get used to his perfection?" Just in case you thought Bella had changed...

5:10 pm P 485. "Emmett enjoyed having me around--he thought my bizarre human reactions were hilarious... or maybe it was just the fact that I fell down a lot that he found so funny." I knew there was a reason I liked Emmett. Also: there is something so... inescapably "teenage girl" -ish about a book that ends with a prom.

5:16 pm P498. " 'Look,' I said, 'I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn't that enough?'"
Thank you and goodnight, ladies and gentlemen.

All right, a quick overview. To damn with faint praise, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I was expecting something excruciatingly badly written, and this, in comparison, was perfectly serviceable, if not outright exciting. I know I keep comparing it to Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, but I think it's pretty apt. In both cases, I found the mythology behind the world better than execution or the personality of the leads (though Harris pulls ahead in both--Sookie is infuriating, but Bella is virtually a blank slate--all the easier to project one's teenage self onto, I suppose). And in both cases, the vampire is used as a sort of escapist wish-fulfillment--a sense of danger without any real danger. And as someone who devoured fantasy series in his teenage days (and a fair bit now, for that matter), I can respect a piece of escapism when I see it. The story doesn't even need vampires, at the moment; you could have told much the same with Edward as the son of a gangster, or a misplaced prince. I found a lot of Bella's excess in pursuing Edward and being okay with his stalker behavior to be personally distasteful and creepy, but if I believe that teenage boys can play video games without becoming gun addicts, I think I need to give the audience of this book the benefit of the doubt as well.

So then: not a great book, by any means. And not the best possible use of a week off. But its cultural influence was/is undeniable, and with that respect in mind, I graciously leave Bella to pursue her fangs-filled future in peace.
Later Days.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vampire Marathon, Part II

And here we go again.

3:00 pm. p 152. I think I like Angela better than any other character in this book. That perhaps does not bode well for her future vitality.

3:03 pm. P161. "I braced myself, feet apart, trying to remember through my panic what little self-defense I knew. Heel of the hand thrust upward, hopefully breaking the nose or shoving it into the brain. Finger through the eye socket--try to hook around and pop the eye out. And the standard knee to the groin, of course." Wow. I guess not every lesson Bella's mother tried to impart was about looking at the sunny side of life.

3:05 pm. p 162. "It was amazing how instantly the choking fear vanished, amazing how suddenly the feeling of security washed over me--even before I was off the street--as soon as I heard his voice." "Put your faith in older, mysterious men" may not be the best message to convey to impressionable yound ladies.

3:10 pm. P173. "Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know." It's funny, because she was nearly raped and murdered. TOO SOON, Edward.

3:15 pm. P190. "Don't you see, Bella? It's one thing for me to make myself miserable, but a wholly other thing for you to be so involved. It's wrong. It's not safe. I'm dangerous, Bella--please, grasp that."
I haven't known Bella long, but it strikes me that telling her this is like telling a crack addict they shouldn't smoke this particular bit of crack because it might be too awesome for them.

3:21 pm. P195. And the money quotation: "About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was part of him--and I didn't know how potent that part might be--that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." "Unconditionally and irrevocably." Wait to make love sound like a venereal disease, Bella.

3:24 pm. P200. It's interesting that both Bella and Sookie Stackhouse have the built in protections from their opposite attraction's powers--the vampire can't read Bella's mind, and Sookie can't read vampires, though she is in turn protected from their glamour abilities. I guess there's a limit to exactly how much a power deficient is "sexy."

3:35 pm. P227. "It must be a hard thing, to be a father; living in fear that your daughter would meet a boy she liked, but also having to worry if she didn't. How ghastly it would be, I thought, shuddering, if Charlie had even the slightest inkling of exactly what I did like." I think Charlie is my next favorite character. Essentially, I seem to like the ones that don't say anything.

3:39 pm. P231. "I hurried to change afterward, ill at ease, knowing the faster I moved, the sooner I would be with Edward. The pressure made me more clumsy than usual, but eventually I made it out the door, feeling the same release when I saw him standing there, a wide smile automatically spreading across my face." Honestly, she's usually much scarier than he is.

3:42 pm. P242. "He grinned his crooked smile at me, stopping my breath and my heart. I couldn't imagine how an angel could be any more glorious. There was nothing about him that could be improved upon." She is so, so much scarier.

3:44 pm. P245. "Having the advantages I do, I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable. But you... you never do what I expect. You always take me by surprise." Edward said earlier that he preferred day to night because the night was so predictable. That's a downside to immortality that doesn't get covered in your classic Greek version--run-of-the-mill boredom. I guess that's why Zeus was always turning into swans.

3:48 pm. P248. "Our relationship couldn't continue to balance, as it did, on the point of a knife. We would fall off one edge or the other, depending entirely upon decision, or his instincts. My decision was made, made before I'd ever consciously chosen, and I was committed to seeing it through. Because there was nothing more terrifying to me, more excruciating, than the thought of turning away from him. It was an impossibility."
No. All joking aside for a moment, just... no. One of the most insidious lies you can tell to yourself is that you don't have a choice, especially when the one taking away your power is you. ...Sorry to get afterschool special, but the romantic tragic teenager has never been a trope I have a lot of patience for. (I chose a great book for that, huh?)

3:55 pm. P252. "I woke early, having slept soundly and dreamlessly thanks to my gratuitous drug use." Thus solving the intense dream problem forever. FOREVER.

4:02 pm. P273. "Bella, I couldn't live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don't know how it's tortured me." How to tell your relationship with a vampire will be difficult pointer #456: when his dialogue becomes indistinguishable from that of an abusive spouse.

4:06 pm p 279. " 'I'm a bit heavier than your average backpack,' I warned. 'Hah!' he snorted. I could almost hear his eyes rolling. I'd never seen him in such high spirits before." pointer #457: when your vocabulary while literally riding him takes a turn towards the equestrian.

4:08 pm p 284. "You're intoxicated by my very presence." Pointer #458: you both continually refer to his effect on you as a drug.
Later Days.

4:13 pm p293. Edward reveals that he comes by nearly every night while Bella is asleep and spies on her. Look at these pointers. They do not form a foundation for a healthy relationship.

4:23 pm P310. Edward responds to Bella's question re: a possible sexual tryst: "It's just that you are so soft, so fragile. I have to mind my actions every moment that we're together so that I don't hurt you. I could kill you quite easily, Bella, simply by accident." I haven't heard that line since I stopped reading those Klingon Harlequin romances.

4:30 pm p 328 "Finally, a rational response!" he murmured. "I was beginning to think you had no sense of self-preservation at all!" He's joking, but I remember a certain passage a few hundred pages back where Bella speculated that her father was now okay with leaving guns in the house loaded because he thought her "old enough to not hurt herself accidentally, and happy enough not to do it deliberately." Whose mind works like that? Who sees a gun and thinks, "gee, I guess my dad doesn't think I'm suicidal after all?" To answer my own question: generally speaking? The suicidal are the ones who think like that. Bella had issues long before Eddie showed up.

4:37 pm p342. Bella chalks Eddie's "murdering people and drinking their blood" phase to youthful rebellion. This is the same girl who hates speeding, and goes to great lengths to avoid lying. Those things are bad, but a little murder is okay.

...And on that note, I'll call it a day. Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Quotations: Suddenly, Bella's Looking Like Little Miss Sunshine

"Then dont. I cant help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I dont dream at all. You say you cant? Then dont do it. That's all. Because I am done with my own whorish heart and I have been for a long time. You talk about taking a stand but there is no stand to take. My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born so dont ask for sorrow now. There is none. Maybe you'll be good at this. I doubt it, but who knows. The one thing I can tell you is that you wont survive for yourself. I know because I would never have come this far. A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart."
--Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

Here's an old school "My Confessions" for you--I get this book mixed up with Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."

Later Days.

Vampire Marathon, Part I

Let's get this started.
6:53 pm: "When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it's not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end" (1). Is that how things work? The better something is, the better you feel when it's over?

6:58 pm: "When I landed in Port Angeles, it was raining. I didn't see it as an omen--just unavoidable. I'd already said my goodbyes to the sun" (5). Bella's not a glass half-full type, is she?

7:00 pm: "It was beautiful, of course; I couldn't deny that. Everything was green: the trees, their trunks covered with moss, their branches hanging with a canopy of it, the ground covered with ferns. Even the air filtered down greenly through the leaves.
It was too green--an alien planet." Seriously not half-full. 'This view is too scenic!' 'There's too many colors in that sunset!'

7:03 pm: "It was nice to be alone, not to have a smile and look pleased; a relief to stare dejectedly out the window at the sheeting rain and let just a few tears escape. I wasn't in the mood to go on a real crying jag. I would save that for bedtime, when I would have to think about the coming morning." Yeah, you don't want to spend all your crying jags up right away. I'll admit, having grown up in a school with just over 100 students, I really don't have a lot of sympathy for her dread of a place with "a frightening total of only three hundred and fifty-seven" students.

7:09 pm. "I can do this, I lied to myself, feebly. No one was going to bite me." (14) Foreshadowing!

7:11 pm. "My Trigonometry teacher, Mr. Varner, who I would have hated anyway just because of the subject he taught, was the only one who made me stand in front of the class and introduce myself." (17) Whom, Bella. Whom. If you want to broody and emo, I'm not going to stop you, but at least do it using the right pronouns. It's about standards.

7:14 pm. "I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine. Or painted by an old master as the face of an angel." (19) All right, I did like the pairing of those two metaphors, and the disparity between them. Way to po-mo it, Bella.

7:19 pm. A tumultuous beginning to the Edward/Bella relationship: "I sat frozen in my seat, staring blankly after him. He was so mean. It wasn't fair. I began gathering up my things slowly, trying to block the anger that filled me, for fear my eyes would tear up." Note that Edward has, at this point, no interaction with Bella whatsoever beyond shooting her a dirty look.

7:22 pm. "At home, only two years of P.E. were required. Here, P.E. was mandatory all four years. Forks was literally my personal hell on earth." I don't think that word means what you think it means.

7:25 pm. "I had decided to read Wuthering Heights--the novel we were currently studying in English--yet again for the fun of it." Recall that this is the book where one character thinks fondly of partitions of his coffin breaking so that his rotting corpse can be fully intermingled with the body of his beloved. This choice probably tells us a lot about Bella.

7:31 pm. "His hair was dripping, wet, disheveled--even so, he looked like he'd just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel. His dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips. But his eyes were careful." All right, I was joking before, but it's interesting how Bella's go-to metaphors for Edward's beauty all involves placing him in the context of some form of medium: a commercial, an ad, a movie, a sculpture.

7:41 pm. "That was the first night I dreamed of Edward Cullen." Dream sequence!

7:43 pm. "I watched him sometimes, unable to stop myself--from a distance, though, in the cafeteria or parking lot. I watched as his golden eyes grew perceptibly darker day by day. But in class I gave no more notice that he existed than he showed toward me. I was miserable. And the dreams continued." Ah, teenage love. So deep, and yet so hard to distinguish from stalking.

7:48 pm. "I wasn't interesting. And he was. Interesting... and brilliant... and mysterious... and perfect... and beautiful... and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand." (79) Man, in high school, I always lost the girl to the guy who was possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand. Not because I couldn't lift vans with one hand; I could. But once I had, the possibility that I might or might not was gone. Girls like a bit of mystery.

7:53 pm. "I was planning to go to Seattle in the next few weeks, and, to be honest, I'm not sure if your truck can make it. ...can your truck make it there on one tank of gas? ...The wasting of finite resources is everyone's business." (83) Edward Cullen, ladies and gentlemen. Vampire, van-lifter, and eco-critic. (Although he does get some points for at least attempting to inject some humor.)

8:07 pm. "The bouquets of brilliant anemones undulated ceaselessly in the invisible current, twisted shells scurried about the edges, obscuring the crabs within them, starfish struck motionless to the rocks and each other, while one small black eel with white racing stripes wove through the bright green weeds, waiting for the sea to return." That's a rather convoluted sentence, but it's nice to Bella neither unhappy nor brooding over Edward.
"...I was completely absorbed, except for one small part of my mind that wondered what Edward was doing now, and trying to imagine what he would be saying if he were here with me." Oh. Never mind.

8:15 pm. P 130. Hmmm. A third of the way through the book, and we're already in our second dream sequence.

8:19 pm. P135. Bella finds a vampire-oriented website: Vampires A-Z. Which some enterprising fan has turned into a real website. Which is a little obsessive, but, well, one of my favorite blogs is of a guy who reviews 1990-era comic books, so I won't be too quick to criticize someone on that score. But I looked at the posts, and found this:

OMG! thats awesome, this means that Stephenie Meyer didn't just make up the concept of vampires, she just borrowed the facts! that means that vampires really could exist, and so could edward cullen! Yay, thats awesomeeee I am reading the book now andit is exactly the same, well almost
iloveyouedward xx love, twilights biggest fan

Put aside the fact that the site was created in 2006, and the book published in 2005. The important thing here is that someone believed Stephanie Meyer made up vampires. Brahm Stoker wrote Dracula 113 years ago. Vampire myths date back centuries and exist across cultures. The last movie in the Blade trilogy came out in 2004. But this person believes Meyer invented vampires. The mind, it boggles.

8:34 pm. Bella tries reading some Jane Austen: "My favorites were Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I'd read the first most recently, so I started into Sense and Sensibility, only to remember after I began chapter three that the hero of the story happened to be named Edward. Angrily, I turned to Mansfield Park, but the hero of that piece was named Edmund, and that was just too close. Weren't there any other names available in the late eighteenth century?" I was going to make a snobby comment about Bella mixing up her centuries, but a bit of research suggests that some of Austen's books were at least started in the 18th century, though they were all published later. You win this round, Bella.

...All right, I'm going to call it quits for a night. I'm at page 150, which is actually a much quicker pace than I'd anticipated, but I want to drag this thing out to at least two days, so a break is in order. I have to admit, it's not as bad I thought it would be. It's eye-rollingly moody, and certainly not on the level of the literary works it keeps dropping, but it's not the litany of howlingly bad lines that I'd expected. If anything, it's disappointing in how utterly mundane it is. Why, at this point in a Sooky Stackhouse novel, she would have given at least a half dozen speeches about Bill's effect on her libido. Libido, of course, having just come up on her word-a-day calendar.
...Hmmm... maybe that's a potential candidate for the next marathon...

Later Days.

A Statement of Intent: Vampire Edition

First, an apology to anyone who is reading this and was there till the end of the English party last night. If you were there, you know why you're getting an apology.

To the matter at hand, we are quickly approaching another government-mandated holiday. And as you may remember, on a previous such occasion, I celebrated by doing a reading marathon. I have decided to do another such event this weekend, and rather than do the "pile of books" as last time, I have chosen a single tome: the first volume of Stephanie Myers' Twilight.

Oh yes.

So, starting at 7:00 pm tonight, tune in regularly for updates on what will, no doubt, be a new level of epic epicness. (Sadly, there will be no drinking this time around. Reason: see apology.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Never Do Any Research

...using Urban Dictionary, at least.

The story: Today's post was going to be a quick "my confessions" category entry: "Instead of swearing when something goes wrong, I started to say "tssk." But now I saw the word "titch."" And that would have been that. More nonsensical than actually humorous or confessional, but they can't all be winners.

Then I looked up "titch" in the Urban Dictionary. For those unfamiliar, Urban Dictionary is an online dictionary specializing in pop culture slang. Each entry is user-contributed and first definition you see for a word is the one that is most often given a "thumbs up." So, conceptually, it's like Wikipedia with a rating function. In practice, what you get is a dictionary in which every entry means porn, or some variation thereof. As a cultural artifact and a collection of cultural artifacts, Urban Dictionary is fascinating in the way it utilizes the anonymity of the internet and the profane and socially unacceptable margins of language to form a database. As a tool I use, it makes me feel unclean.

The first definition of "titch" is "a small quantity or a "tisk-tisk" noise, which is fine. The next was ""a measuement; equivalent to the height of a tit/nipple." Now, I'm not sure what a measuement is, but if you're going to attempt to create a profanity substitute, saying "tit inch" in public is probably a step in the wrong direction. The next definition is worse: "little annoying person. especially a girl. Tiny + Bitch = Titch." I
1) I am vertically challenged myself, and have no business deriding others for a lack of upward growth.
2) I have, to my knowledge, never called anyone a bitch. All joking aside, it's not a very nice thing to call a person (and yes, there's a whole debate about why it should be derogatory for a human to be compared to an animal, and a gender debate on top of that, but it's all very long and very involved, and it's easier to just agree that it's not a very nice thing to call a person.) So to go from occasionally muttering "damn" under my breath to uttering the portmanteau of "tiny bitch" is once again a step in the wrong direction.

I need, clearly, a new swearword substitute. Maybe I should try that curseword on "Red Dwarf." What was it again? Smeg?
*A quick UD search later.*
Nope, not going to be using that. I need, clearly, to never use Urban Dictionary again.

Later Days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How My Day's Going

I am listening to Underworld23's list of the top 100 RPG Town Themes while alternating between reading an article about a journalist who attempted to dress up as a wizard and offer quests to random London passerbys and reading Bernard Stiegler's Technics and Time, vol 1.

I am overjoyed to be in a world where I can think, "you know what? I bet RPG town themes would be a nice background noise for long readings" and be able to find a compilation of a hundred of the things on youtube in seconds.

I am thrilled to be in a world where someone has decided to dress up as a wizard and give people quests because, well, hell, why shouldn't life be more like a video game?

I am okay to be in a world where someone wrote Technics and Time. That is, I have no reason to specifically wish to be in a world where it wasn't written.

*EDIT* Okay, Stiegler's won me over, as does anyone who mocks Rousseau. In discussing the role of the prosthesis in Rousseau's account of the origin of Man:
"“These artifices and prostheses are, if not unnecessary, hardly so. Almost accidental and inessential, if not completely useless. Adverbs of this sort can never be totally eliminated, not even in fiction, which suggests that the fall might very well have always already begun" (118). Yes, Rousseau does indeed use a lot of qualifiers in his creation of the savage man. But the pay-off comes at end of the chapter: "Rousseau will not, therefore, have been mistaken; he will have been right, almost" (133). Well played, sir.

Later Days.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Quotations: Alternate

Oh, and since it's the Friday Quotations before Valentine's Day, here's a mushy love poem:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
And whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or the mind can hide)
And this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
--ee cummings

When it comes to my favorite cummings poem, I prefer "She being brand" for the humor factor, but "i carry your heart with me" is perhaps one of the greatest love poems I can think of.

Later Days.

Quotation Friday: I remember the time when I thought French philosophy was the hardest thing ever.

"If the technical product does not carry the principle of movement within itself but draws from another--often allowing for the judgement that such and such a product is the means of which another product is the end--nevertheless, insofar as it effects a passage from a concealed state to a nonconcealed state, one of disclosure, this bringing-forth that is particular to technics constitutes a mode of truth. This means that the final cause is not the efficient operator but being as growth and unfolding: phusis and being are synonyms, the unconcealing of phusis is the truth of being as growth and bringing-forth (poeisis). Tekhne qua poiesis is thus submitted to the final cause that phusis, working through the efficient cause, constitutes, without the efficient cause being in any way confused with the final cause."
--Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time vol. 1.

The scary thing is, I think I might understand this stuff.
Later Days.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Paintball Episode's Really Good, Too

This is a post on TV.

Over the last few days, I've been watching the DVD commentaries for the first season of the sitcom Community. (Wonderful show. You should be watching it. And if you already are, you should be watching more of it.) In particular, I'm watching the episode where Peirce (played by Chevy Chase) convinces Annie (Alison Brie) to let him write the school song. The commentators mention that the original storyline was much darker, with Peirce ridiculing and mocking Annie until she rejects him with an angry speech over how he's determinedly driven away everyone in his life that's ever shown him any kindness or pity. The network made them rewrite the scene, fearing it was too dark for early in the series. That anecdote was when Peirce's character finally clicked for me. In broad strokes, Peirce's backstory is that he's a successful businessman, now retired, who has returned to community college because he realizes (in a self-denial kind of way) that despite his success, he has nothing meaningful in his life. The character fluctuates back and forth between early onset senior dementia and pratfalls, and the generally unpleasant, unlikeable man that he's been for most of his life. (For an example of just how unlikeable he can be, see the recent D&D episode.)

And that brings me to the Simpsons. (Stay with me here; I'm going somewhere with this.) Continuity on the Simpsons TV show is actually very similar to comic book superhero continuity. That's because both are essentially unaging; time moves for us, but not for the characters. Bart is still as 10 years old now as he was 10 years ago, and Superman's never going to get gray hairs. One of the consequences of this timelessness, however, is that the characters are trapped in amber. There isn't so much change as the illusion of change. In the Simpsons, this is doubly so, by nature of it being not just a timeless cartoon, but a sitcom, where things are almost always dragged back to the status quo by episode's end. The series' major changes are almost always changed back: Krabappel and Skinner were dating, now they're not; Barney did join AA, but he fell off the wagon; Wally West did take over as the Flash, but now it's Barry West again; Spider-Man was never married to Mary Jane (Okay, I've drifted into comic book territory again. Sorry.).

My point is, such a set-up is not disposed towards character arcs and development. Change does happen, but so incrementally and minutely that it's generally not worth noticing. But there is, I argue, one character in the Simpsons who has had, through various flashbacks, a fairly nuanced existence: Grandpa Abraham Simpson.

In over two decades of Simpsons experience, Abe Simpson's past has been plumbed a lot. We know he was in WWII, and was the leader of a platoon. We know he came back from the war. We know he was a terrible father and husband; he cheated on his wife, drove her to leave him, and his son felt no remorse about putting him into a home. And over the course of the actual series, he's changed a great deal. In the early seasons, he was a grumpy old man that dispensed advice to his grandson and fought for some consideration by others. Slowly, the scales tilted and he became more of a rambling, crazy old coot. There's pragmatic reasons for this shift; "cranky old man" isn't as funny as "crazy rambling Grampa," and toning down the crankiness in favor of the craziness gets more mileage out of the character.

But the resulting arc is rather disturbing. Abraham Simpson was a man whose success peaked when he was in the battlefield, and never quite reached that level again. He was self-serving and callous to the people who loved him, until they left him. He struggled bitterly against the loss of dignity that comes with age, but ultimately succumbed to senility and became a twisted joke, a parody of his former self.

Not very funny, is it?

And yet, in its individual pieces, it is funny. It's only when you look at the long term that it appears as something else. The same general arc, I'd argue, seems to be happening to Peirce in Community. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's a sitcom archetype: the waning old man. We see it in Martin's character in Fraser (albeit in a toned down form; still, compare Martin from episode 1 to Martin 3 or 4 seasons later), and Frank in Everybody Loves Raymond. I think the best example would be Archie Bunker's character (he said, having never actually seen an episode of the show in question). It's a symbolic decline--the old, dominating patriarchy that ignored women and uttered racial epithets and repressed their feelings is replaced by a new, gentler breed of... well, younger patriarchy that dominates in a different way. (Homer Simpson: "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are!")

I'm not sure exactly what conclusions can be drawn from this. I do know that I felt almost relieved when I thought I'd "figured out" Pierce. Does this imply that a part of us wants to see these elderly male figures fail, that an atavistic part of ourselves (okay, myself) wants to see them punished? Does it demonstrate the insidious nature of genre television, in that is generally disquieting to see a break from trope form? Does such television act as a moral salve for society at large, justifying our own poor treatment of the elderly? Should I be concerned over who is being marginalized and disempowered for the sake of my entertainment?

Homer: Man... fall down. Funny.
Me: Mmmmmm...

Later Days.

Monday, February 7, 2011

At least we can always agree that Sam is, indeed, a "Stupid, fat hobbit."

I'm on campus today for a graduate students association meeting that's in an hour and a half. So rather than spend that time doing anything useful, I'm doing a blog post.

More specifically, I'm doing a blog post that continues a discussion my roommate and i had over the weekend. He was watching the extended edition of The Two Towers, the second Lord of the Rings movie. And I was watching it as well, since doing so beat getting angrier at the DS game 999 for my inability to find an ending wherein I am not hacked to death by a teenager. (And believe me, you don't know angry until you've yelled "Goddammit, we talked through your homicidal tendencies at Door 6!" at a fictional videogame character.) We discussed various elements of the narrative, including the plausibility of shield surfing and Sam's general surly attitude, but it was the character of Haldir that really proved to be the dividing ground. Haldir, for the Tolkien afficiandoes in the audience, is the elf who guides the Fellowship to Lorien. (It's technically Lórien, but I'll be mentioning it a few times, and the inclusion of accents in Bloggger is kind of iffy, so...) in book 1. In the movies, his role is expanded, as he also appears in the second film to lead a battalion of elves to their deaths at the battle of Helm's Deep. (Yes, spoiler, but it's been 9 years; I hardly think I'm to blame if you haven't seen it by this point.)

Our argument centered around the elf's characterization: my roommate claims he is a badass, whereas I argue that he is, by and large, merely an asshole. (Yes, it's a heavily ass-oriented argument. The house is nothing but mid-twenties males, and our rhetoric reflects that demographic base.) He points to Haldir's heroic death, his daring in battle, his casual racism towards Gimli.

My evidence: His casual racism towards Gimli: "The Dwarf breathes so loud we could have shot him in the dark."
His ability to state the obvious: "(to Frodo) You bring great evil with you."
And, most of all, the way the other elves treat him. To whit:
By the time he appears at Helm's Deep, we've already seen that the rest of the Elves are packing up shop. Whether the Fellowship ultimately succeeds or not, they are not sticking around. Whether it's a World of Man or all-Sauron, all the time, they know they don't want to be a part of their trainwreck. So they're packing up their civilization, they're busting out their favorite traveling lanterns...

...and they're getting the hell out of Dodge.

Now, imagine you're gearing your entire civilization up for an extended ocean voyage. I'd imagine you'd have to be pretty careful about the travel arrangements. Sure, you want to be well-stocked with everything you need to restart society, and you want enough food to get you from point A to point B, but you'd also be careful about exactly who is going with you on your boat. You want to be mindful of people's personalities, about who is best suited to accompany whom, and who can't be seated with Aunt Margaret because of that thing she said three centuries ago about Our Sally dating a hobbit. And don't think that the Elves are above this sort of petty bickering; if Haldir's previous comments are any indication, immortality just means you have that much more time to really nurse those grudges. And at the same time, while you're thinking about who you don't want to sit next to, you also want to consider the ultimate party line-up. You want to get a place with your society's best story tellers, the greatest conversationalists, the funnest drinking buddies. It's all about priorities, really.

And where does Haldir rate on this complex social ranking? While everyone else is getting ready to move and picking ship buddies, he's sent with a small squadron of other undesirables to honor a hundred year old treaty with a group of people the Elves will never be associating with again by participating in a suicide mission.

I imagine the decision to send Haldir was the Elfish equivalent of picking sides for a baseball team. Once you've cycled through the good players, the argument focuses on who gets the weird kid.

"All right, fine, I'll take the guy with halitosis, but then you've got to get the elf with that bad gas."
"All right. Maybe we can balance him out with an oat diet. So who's left... uh..."
"Well, there's... Haldir."
"Oh, well, you... you can have Haldir. That's... that's my gift. To you."
"Yeah, thanks. How... generous. But I couldn't... couldn't possibly deprive you. Of his company. Which would be a deprivation."
"Oh, but I insist. And... um... I'll--I'll also throw in this dwarf mail. And a bit of hobbit pipe weed."
"Dude, there is not enough hobbit pipe weed in all of Middle Earth to make me let that guy's ass on my ship." (Elves too have an anal fixation. Little known fact.)
"Honestly, if he's there, is really even a Second Eden at all?"
"Ugh. I know. He does that... thing, when he talks. Smacks his lips. It's like a fish is trying to bob for apples, or some damn thing. Tell you what--why don't we send him on the... "special mission"?"
"Yes... the 'special mission.' And if he comes back..."
"If he comes back, fish-lips can swim his way west."

Haldir: a guy that's such a big asshole that his own people would rather send him on a suicide mission than be alone with him on a boat.

Later Days.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Readers? What readers?

Ages ago, I stumbled onto a very, very long game article detailing someone's experiences playing a real-time strategy sci-fi game. It's perhaps the best encounter I've ever come across of someone transforming the act of playing a game into a compelling narrative--one that, by many accounts, is more compelling than the game itself. Sadly, I didn't think I'd ever be returning to the account at the time, so I failed to take note of either the game, the writer, or the site it was posted on. But through more serendipitous link lurking, I've rediscovered the lost diary. And so I never lose it again, I'm going to post the link and the follow-up report here on my blog:
The game is Galactic Civilization 2, the site is PC Gamer Blog, and the writer is Tom Francis. And secondary thanks to the archives at the PC gaming site Rock, Paper Shotgun for reminding me of the article's existence.

You can click on the links if you want, I guess. But honestly, they're here for my benefit, not yours.

Later Days.

Friday Quotations: Stein Time

"It is very easy to love alone." --Gertrude Stein

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Typography Fascist

Is that the appropriate equivalent of a grammar nazi? Well, we'll go with that, for lack of a better term.
Anyway, a friend of mine recently (i.e., within a month or so) posted a link to this article on his facebook feed:

For those too lazy to read two articles in one day, the essay's author essentially is arguing for the use of a single space after a period rather than a double space. The reaction to the article that I posted on Facebook was less than kind: "If I'm not going to listen to those elitist "manners" people when they tell me how to hold my fork and knife, or tie my shoes, or get out of a car, then a typographer with an ax to grind isn't going to get me to change my ways. Don't these people have better things to do? Like complain about lax spelling in text messages?"

I would like to apologize for that comment. It was flippant, dismissive, and rude. It's also ill-advised in terms of my research; a part of my study is on the design of text in video games, and thus it would behoove me not to upset any errant typographers who may be insulted by such comments. And finally, it's incredibly hypocritical of me to even imply that typographers are making a big deal over nothing, since my role as an English instructor has brought me to the point where I refuse to allow students to use "that" as a subject, use "quote" as a noun, and, if possible, avoid using the word "similarly" altogether.

So I apologize. I apologize to my friend, I apologize to anyone offended by comment, and I apologize to the article's writer.

I still think he's wrong, though.

Allow me to summarize his argument, and respond to each point in turn:
1) Typographers say it should be one space.
2) It's an unnecessary holdover (skeumorph!) from the typewriter.
3) Two spaces don't signal proper stops so much as eliminate the flow of the writing.
4)Using a single space isn't any more arbitrary than using a double space.

My response:
1) Elitism isn't an argument, it's an excuse. And a bad one at that. Just because the experts act in a certain way doesn't mean you should follow their lead--unless there's a good reason to do so. Personally, I'm in favor of viewing grammar and structure as concepts that are more fluid than they're generally held to be; I think, when there's no clear reason not to, such conventions such bend to common usage. I could, admittedly, be accused of hypocrisy here, since any student attempting a common usage argument in my classroom wouldn't get very far with me. To that charge, I offer two responses: first, I honestly think that most of the grammatical elements I insist on improve on clarity, and thus justify deviation from popular use. And second, writing should always take into account its context; certain rules of grammar should be more rigorously observed because of the purpose of the document. A scholarly essay is different in tone than a personal email, and grammar is one of the many indicators of that fact. If Manjoo is arguing for a single space in all cases, and I don't think there's grounds for such a universal rule.

2) This reason is better, but still not sufficient. If we're going to argue against the use of typewriter conventions, then we should start by fundamentally redesigning the keyboard and the basic presentation form of the computer document. Spacing figures relatively low on that list of priorities.

3)Yes, spaces create pauses; that's the point. The end of a sentence is a logical place to create a pause, and using just a period and capital letter to signal that pause isn't enough for me. To create a mental pause, a visible spatial pause is the most economical option. Personally, I don't find that the double space interrupts flow; that's what the paragraph break is for. Even in Manjoo's article, when I glance at it, it's the space between paragraphs that signal to me that he's starting a new idea, not a double space between sentences. (Not that he uses the double space, but please, work with me here.)

4)I don't even know if this argument needs dismissing--it dismisses itself pretty well. Arguing that the double-space argument might be arbitrary but so is the single-space doesn't really get us much beyond the "I know you are, but what am I?" sort of taunt.

I suppose what really bugs me about this article is that the author states right off right near the beginning that what really irritates him isn't just that others use the double space method, but that they insist that anyone who does otherwise is wrong--his exact stance on the single space. (Granted, he's not as extreme on this issue as some of the others he cites. "Type crimes?") Rather than insist this author should adopt the two-space method, I'm going to conclude with the same conclusion that someone posted to the comments of my friend's Facebook links:
"I don't care how many spaces you put into your own paper as long as you dont tell me how many to put in mine."

Tell it, sister. And since a Facebook post is an informal forum, I'm not even going to make a disparaging comment about the missing apostrophe.


Later Days.