What was your sign (a few weeks ago)?

January 20th, 2011

It’s fun to see my facebook-iverse explode with multiple statii about the same topic.

One of the most sociologically interesting examples happened recently when rumors spread through facebook that we all had to play astrological musical chairs.

As a Gemini, I identify with this man. Also, similar physiques.

Yes, it seemed: we had all been following the WRONG arbitrary, un-scientific, bullshit personality assessment assigned according to star positions. People — people who I know don’t believe in this stuff — got really upset by this. And, I have to be honest, it upset me, too.

I did not realize how much I, or how much so many of my friends, had come to see our astrological signs as a stable pillar of our personalities. Is it that? Most of us, I don’t think, wouldn’t say it defines us. And, yet, try to take it away and we get possessive. I feel that, too.

Perhaps it’s nothing more complicated than attachment to something that’s been “ours” for our entire lives. Like family, like your last name, like your hometown, like your childhood home. You may have wanted to get out of, e.g., Iowa Falls, like Lebron James wanted out of Cleveland — but, for someone to say, “You’re not a true Iowan,” that ain’t cool. Ethanol pumps through these veins, buddy.

I think (in large part simply in order to make this post more interesting) that it might go deeper than that, though. As middle-class, American, non-religious, urban-flighty youth, most of my friends and I lack of a lot of stable definers of identity. Tribe has diluted due to the distance of first-generation immigration (not in my case on one side, however) and this big steaming melting pot in which we swim. Most of us have left the strictures of the church. We don’t speak the language of our ancestors (unless we are children of the damned British Imperialists). We’ve lost ties to place, having dug up those corn-based roots and set up shop in various, concrete jungles. Careerwise, mostly gone are the days when people, as my parents did, stay at one job for thirty years, retiring a company man.

You can predict my conclusion, given the above, about why star signs might feel more important than they should. Bullshit though we may believe them to be, they offer a bit of occult, tribal identity. What’s more, they fit these individualistic times quite well — dispensing with the constraints of tribal identification in favor of a personal brand. MY sign.

Perhaps, then, signs matter so much because they are our personal logos. It’s a branded world, after all. Apple has its bitten piece of fruit. Our schools have their mascots. We want one, too.

Imagine if someone tried to take away your personalized iPod. Or, worse, rewrote the “About Me” section on your facebook page. You might get as angry, or more so, as when a rumor tugged you from Gemini to Taurus.

But, anyway…apparently it was all a mistake. We’re all still the same.

George W. Bush: “I Dare You”

November 18th, 2010

The ACLU is doing just what George W. Bush wants.

That’s my suspicion, anyway, after reading of their calls for prosecution of the former POTUS based on his “Yeah, I fuckin’ tortured people!” comments in the new “book” that he “wrote.”

Someday, this image will be on the $100 bill.

Now, come on: this is just a classic “fuck you!” move. Bush is admitting — proudly, openly — that he approved torture. He knows very well that groups like the ACLU — and, more importantly, the wider liberal world — will call for his prosecution. He also knows very well that Obama’s AG, Eric Holder, is no way, no how going to do it. But, here’s the thing — W’s not even giving Holder (or, by extension, Obama) an “official denial” to hide behind. He’s not even giving us the bullshit that he ordered underlings to do what was necessary and someone else made the possibly-illegal decision. Holder can’t say, “The former president has denied involvement, and absent evidence the contrary, we see no reason to investigate.”

He has put Holder and Obama in the uncomfortable position of doing nothing after an official CONFESSED to wrongdoing. Holder and Obama know the tremendous political fallout that would accompany prosecuting their predecessor — and Bush knows they know this (anyway, Karl Rove probably told him). It’s ballsy, I’ll give him that — and he prides himself on being ballsy: But, Bush is making Obama look bad. Republicans, they’re good at this politics thing.

Ape Shit

June 21st, 2010

The New York Times, now one of my facebook friends (jealous, aren’t you?), told me today about this article they paid someone to write but which I can look at for free. And I actually did it. (See! Social media CAN save newspapers!)

Interesting subject — it’s about a study of chimp warfare. Now, I know what you’re thinking — mid ’80′s Saturday Morning Cartoon with some sort of cybernetic chimps driving jet planes. As undeniably awesome as that would be, this is pretty cool, too.

Hey there monkey, I produce Enterouge. Say hello to your damn, dirty ape mother for me.

Author Nicholas Wade writes about how bands of douchey (seriously — he describes them as behaving “like frat boys”) young male chimps periodically go on raids of surrounding chimp territory. It’s, as described, pretty clearly a form of warfare — pillaging, really. When the chimp bands have numerical advantages, they murder rival males, spare the females — and eat the children. (Didn’t see that one coming.)

The warring chimp tribes gain measurable advantages — they annex territory and gather additional fruit trees, which in turn make their females more fertile. Also, the conquering heroes return with some really romantic monkey-hide rugs to do it on.

Wade spends some time on the question of whether the individual chimps know about the advantages they get, as a group, from waging war. I thought it was hopelessly optimistic to even consider that a question. Why would they need to “know”? They’ve evolved to be aggressive, because it has conferred advantages — and so warfare comes naturally to them.

The scientists Wade interviewed answered the question as I had anticipated, with the impressive degrees to back it up:

“A simpler explanation is that the chimps are just innately aggressive toward their neighbors, and that natural selection has shaped them this way because of the survival advantage that will accrue to the winner. “

It’s a sobering thought. As the article goes on to speculate, the shared ancestor of humans and chimps could, very conceivably, have evolved inherent, aggressive tendencies. Human history, human current events, and any given Friday night at a college bar all bear this out in spades. I don’t think humans have gone to war over and over again because we have been convinced by logical arguments. Our violence comes from thinking with testosterone glands. It’s irresistible. It will probably never stop.

I’m not actually as pessimistic as all that may sound. I think humans can move past animal natures that no longer serve us. But not without acknowledging that they’re there — that war is not some mistake we keep bumbling into, but part of our nature — like addiction, like racism — that requires a struggle to overcome.

There’s No “I” in “Celtics”…wait…

June 14th, 2010

Around this time of year, usually, I get even less interesting than usual. It’s the NBA playoffs. I enjoy this sport. A little bit too much probably.

It’s a great Finals this year, though — whether you believe me or not. There are plenty of reasons — primarily, the revival of the age-old Celtics-Lakers rivalry — and, really, this year does count as a “revival” of the rivalry. When they met in 2008, it wasn’t a rivalry. Not for the players — maybe for older fans who remember the 80s and even the 50s. For the players, and fans who have just started on their beer bellies, it was a great series with a lot of flashback montages of guys in short-shorts during halftime shows. Now, having faced each other two years ago, these teams actually HAVE inherited the rivalry.

Less obviously, though — the Celtics are just an interesting team to watch. Why? Variety. Complexity. Lots of moving parts. There are teams built around one or two major pistons (so to speak), like the Cavs, who punch you with Lebron, or the Magic, who hit you with the big man, Dwight Howard, and throw it out for three pointers. The Celtics, by contrast, have a strange setup for the NBA: there’s no center. Um, I mean, they have a guy playing center…but there’s no central focus. They are a bunch of guys who do various things well and they mix those ingredients together — in different ways pretty much every game.

There are a lot of cliches in sports — and there are probably more about the importance of teamwork than any other concept — save “playing hard” and “continuing to play hard.” You don’t need me to lecture you about teamwork lessons from sports. God help me, I wouldn’t want to. I’m talking about something different — The Celtics are a mechanism, or a — PRETENTIOUS SPORTS METAPHOR ALERT — symphony. Ok, I like mechanism better. An internal combustion engine is more interesting than a hammer is all I’m saying I guess — and that applies to sports, too.

If you follow them. For the casual fan, maybe Lebron jumping really high is more exciting. Oh man…I think I’m a basketball snob.

Back

May 19th, 2010

Well, if I’ve learned one thing in this life (and that’s a stretch), it’s that writing is a habit. That’s just as true of blogging. The requirements of the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences knocked me off my blogging game for awhile and into my much more comfortable game of being lazy.

"Much like the tides, much like the seasons, much like the Robin in spring, I have returned."--Dr. Dre (loosely paraphrased)

But, much like every single rapper who has ever released a second album–I would like to inform you that I am back. Y’all thought Dre fell off? I mean, y’all thought Dhar fell off? Naw, I just tripped and broke my face on the ground and twisted an ankle. Hardcore.

Some updates:
* I finished my thesis. I never want to see it again.
* I can now read for fun–which, ironically, entails reading pretty much the same sort of stuff I was reading for my thesis, but with less note taking. Inasmuch, I am currently reading Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown. Classic Rushdie–which means, awesome. And it’s a revenge story. Fun.
* You are now reading words written by someone with a MASTER’S DEGREE! IN ENGLISH! This means my blog will now be 75% more coherent. When I’m sober.
* The NBA playoffs are in full dribble, which means I have transitioned into sports nerd. It happens every year about this time. Strangely, this does not succeed in making me any cooler.
* Go Celtics.

Thesis and Desist

March 17th, 2010

Hey! If anyone out there is wondering why I suck at not sucking at blogging recently, it’s because I’m up to my cerebellum in thesis work.

I know you were wondering.

Lent Me Your Ears

February 20th, 2010

If you’re like me, you want to know why so many people walked into ash-colored doors on Wednesday. I mean, look up from your iPhone once in a while, people.

Of course, agnostic that I am, I’m not that ignorant of the traditions of the Catholic, and broader Christian church. As an outsider, though, I’ve decided to give some unasked for and certain-to-be unheeded advice at this momentous time of year – Lent! Not confident about your annual 40 days of sobriety? Feeling predictable for giving up chocolate again? Realizing that swearing off reality TV is as pointless as it is impossible? Never fear, Christian soldiers, I’ve got a list of alternative Lenten sacrifices that will make you this season’s hottest ascetic. You’ll be invited to every dinner party, where you will be expected to stylishly eat only certain things. Read on for the wisdom:

Delicious dead things

1) Meat – I know this is a fairly common one, and already fits in with the religious tradition, but I want to throw my non-religious support behind it. A meatless existence comes with all sorts of benefits. You want a happy colon, don’t you? Of course you do. Who wants an angry colon? Well too much meat can damage your innards. Meals full of leafy, green things instead of savory, red things can fortify your health in all sorts of other ways, too. More importantly, however, for the health of our species and planet as a whole, eating less animal flesh is one of the best things you can do to ice the rising mercury. We’d all benefit in the long run if everyone ate less cow muscle, so Lent presents as good a time as any to back out of the McDonald’s empty handed. Cutting out meat just one day a week can make a difference. Plus, can you ever really be sure you’re eating what you think you’re eating?

Classic Easter Imagery

2) Reproduction – The world is completely stocked up on infants. Living in Park Slope, I witness this first hand, every day. We, as a species, do not lack for tiny, adorably disgusting versions of ourselves. I know the Bible says “be fruitful and multiply,” but I think we can, at this point, mark off that one as “Mission Accomplished.” As a species, humans have done pretty well for themselves–our club now claims over 6.8 billion members, and we’re running out of t-shirts. Plus, honestly, there’s no need to bring them into the bar.

Hype-pod

3) Steve Jobs – At what point will we realize we’ve purchased a sufficient quantity of Apple gadgets? Hopefully soon, because I think we actually reached that point at least a decade ago. For a company with such a hippie, liberal image, no one’s perfected planned obsolescence quite like the makers of the iPad. In fact, there’s a movement (so long as you define “movement” as a collection of people numerous enough to warrant a light, features profile) of gadget-fetishists awakening to what I assumed was a common-sense idea: your iPod from last year still works even when the new one debuts. Apparently, the economic downturn inspired such revelations, though it really shouldn’t have taken that.

It's fun to wear lots of leather at the...

4) The Prospect Park YMCA – Ok, this is a selfish one. The New Year’s resolutions folks have largely disappeared from my gym, though it’s still got that conspicuous, overfull-in-January feel. So, how about you remaining lingerers put that limping resolution out of its misery with Lent – the second resolution of the year (this time with Deity enforcement)? In return, I will remember to wipe down the machines after I use them, so they shine like new when you return in 2011.

5) Your Time – Here’s an unselfish, but sanctimonious one. (Sorry, those are your two choices in an advice column.) Why do people shouting about keeping the government out of Medicare get all the grassroots press? Partly because Fox News more or less created and sponsored the Tea Party. But also, people of a different mindset need to get involved again. Next week, an excellent opportunity to help reduce the number of people ruined and screwed over by health insurance presents itself.

That’ll do it. Enjoy, my religious friends, your self denial. Or, don’t enjoy it, if that’s the point. I don’t know. Right now there’s some chocolate sitting next to me that I have in no way sworn off of. Gotta go.

Climate Change Deniers, Come to Iowa!

February 16th, 2010

Noted catchphrase-entrepreneur Donald Trump yesterday added his name to the list of commentators gleefully lacking a third-grade science education.

The money quote is here: “With the coldest winter ever recorded, with snow setting record levels up and down the coast, the Nobel committee should take the Nobel Prize back from Al Gore.”

American Pastoral

Trump has concluded that since there is more snow, we clearly have the “coldest winter ever recorded.” Really? EVER? The toupee’d one must have poured through reams of data to come to that conclusion. Or not. Turns out February’s record snowfall occurred during, and was partly made possible by, the warmest winter in the satellite record.

But, really, you don’t need a satellite to tell you that lots of snow in February means a warmer than normal winter. Anyone who grew up in the Midwest and paid attention to the weather could tell you that the coldest winter months usually lack snow. (See my previous hissy fit about this for more.)

You know, if the so-called representatives of the “Real America” ever actually spent some time in the Heartland they claim to adore, maybe they wouldn’t say such stupid things about the weather. Come to Iowa sometime, Glenn Beck! Talk to a farmer about his crops. Ask him if a big February snow means it’s a cold winter. If he’s got half a head on his shoulders, he’ll laugh, then gently explain things to you in that respectful Iowa way. Unless he’s already been so infected by your know-nothingisms that he’s blind to the logic of his own head. I hope for his sake and mine that he’s not.

Scientific Progress Goes Boink

February 12th, 2010

This week, East Coasters were treated to a late Christmas and confirmation that global warming is no longer real.

Good tidings!

Us too, buddy.

The snow fell like inebriated celebrants in New Orleans this week, my friends, significantly upping the number of ironic, slightly inappropriate snow-men constructed by hipsters in my neighborhood (I can only imagine the douchery befalling Williamsburg as we speak)–and proving that Al Gore categorically needs to suck it. Luminaries of science from Beck to DeMint have lately declared that the unprecedented footage of white powder descending upon D.C. (insert your own Marion Barry joke here) shows global warming to be a crock.

I’m sure you can guess the, excuse the term, “logic” that led to such claims: 1) Snow is cold. 2) Global warming has the word “warm” in it. 3) I can’t fit those two ideas in my brain at the same time, therefore they must be mutually exclusive. 4) Whatever, if it pisses off the Democrats, I’m running with it.

Now, I’m not aware of any fringe climate scientists who have predicted an instantaneous elimination of all coldness the world over, but suffice to say they would represent the minority of scientific opinion. Global warming actually predicts aggregate increases in temperature over time–something that is already demonstrably happening, as we just closed out the warmest decade on record. It is not some giant smog creature who unplugs the air conditioning. It’s not a flipped switch. There will still be local fluctuations in temperature, what we amongst the vulgar call “weather,” while the overall trend points skyward.

Imagine you’re an underemployed twenty-something (this is hitting close to home). Occasionally, you will score a well-paying freelance gig or get a Christmas check from your uncle (not this year). Woohoo! Your bank account spikes! Does this mean you will retire securely (ever)? Of course not! You have a liberal arts degree! Trends are much more meaningful than spikes. That’s my point. (Also, hire me.)

So, even the occasional below-average temperatures don’t scare the global warming smog monster one bit. But if you’re reading this, and you haven’t already been offended by my liberal elite snark, then you already know these things.

The more salient point is that these snowstorms don’t even reveal colder temperatures in the short term. Snow happens when it’s cold, I get it. But does more cold equal more snow? Ever notice it snows a lot more in December than February, even though it’s colder in February? The “too cold to snow” idea is a myth, as some simple Internet research told me (I suggest Glenn Beck try such things). But it is true that colder temperatures reduce the amount of snow. That’s why you (usually) get white Christmases and arid, frigid, why-the-hell-don’t-I-move-to-Florida Valentine’s Days. Snow can’t fall unless the atmosphere gets pregnant with enough moisture–and colder air holds less moisture.

That brings me to the salientest point of all: Global warming predicts extreme weather (at least according to some models). As oceans heat up, more moisture gets into the atmosphere. Then you get more storms, including bigger snowstorms. Thus, “snowmaggedon” actually comports with predictions of the realest Armageddon we face.

Watch this clip for a better explanation of the above. It also shows Glenn Beck mugging to the camera, behaving as if it’s perfectly obvious that more snow=more cold=extremely convenient truth. There are few things more infuriating than misinformed people who lord their mistaken ideas over you like the spoils of war. One of those few things is Glenn Beck’s haircut. I have little hope left that we can actually save ourselves anymore given the readiness with which people swallow Beckian simplicities–but perhaps the burning planet will take revenge by singing off that ridiculous flop of blonde.

Happy: A Reading

February 4th, 2010

Thanks to the magicality of facebook, I was alerted by my closest genetic match that a guy from our high school was giving a reading in NYC. I made the short trek over to Book Court in Cobble Hill and was treated to a visceral, vivid description of a harrowing experience told with a light touch, humor, and affability. As a result, I’m happy to suggest checking out Happy: A Memoir, an account of a college baseball player’s struggles with strokes experienced at a young age.

Alex Lemon was a couple years ahead of me back in Iowa Falls and a couple years behind my sister. I didn’t know him well. I think our paths crossed incidentally when I was a terrible freshman athlete and he was an upperclassman who actually helped his teams win a few games. So, yeah–different crowds. Thus is the stratification of high school. It’s cool to see someone from my small town putting eminently readable words on a page, though–words that other sentient organisms are willing to shell out actual money to read, money that could just as easily buy chocolate peanut butter M&M’s or an i-Pad. Sales of the written word are always somewhat astonishing in this day and age, so kudos to my fellow Cadet.

The work was also good. Al published as a poet before turning to memoir (apparently–I had no idea) and it shows in his prose style. The segments he read were all scenes–very vivid scenes. I could feel the room spinning as he described the experience of one of his strokes. I got a little squeamish as he described the the scars from his surgery and the way his teeth shredded his cheek after a stroke sent him chin-first to the floor. And the fear on the day before his surgery was palpable. The best line, though: as Al was headed to the bathroom in his hospital gown on the day of his surgery, his dad asks, “Is that a tattoo on his back?” Stories like this one usually need a healthy dose of humor, and it seems like this book has that. It’s quite life affirming, and the scenes between Al and his mother, as well as his college roommate (and I’m assuming other figures in the book), can be quite light enough to offset the serious subject matter.

And in case you’re wondering, Al didn’t offer me a cut off of any NYC sales. That’s really more of an implied thing, usually.