Thursday, November 11, 2010

11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

Today, 11 Nov, is Veteran's Day in the United States.  (Elsewhere in many other countries, it is Armistice Day or Remembrance Day.)  I implore you to immediately drop what you're doing and go thank a veteran in your life.  Hell, go out and find a random veteran to thank.  (Veterans in the DC area, you've been put on alert for my presence.)  Take him or her to Outback for a blooming onion.

The origin of the holiday not only in the United States but the world over is signing of the armistice to end the major hostilities of World War I.  For many other countries, such as the members of the former British Empire, France, Germany, and Belgium (can't forget those plucky Belgians), the day definitely has a large focus on the First World War.  For the United States, due to the somewhat limited engagement it had during the war, it doesn't ring too much with the national conscience.  Nevertheless, it was a major conflict that Americans gave their lives to.

Which brings me to the main driving point: Where is the memorial for the WWI veterans and casualties?  We've got one for WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  What about the doughboys who went over with General John "Blackjack" Pershing?  What about the US Marines who got trapped in Belleau Wood?  Don't they deserve some sort of memorial among the other veterans?  Such was the concern raised by the last veteran of WWI in the United States.

Technically, there is a memorial to the veterans of WWI on the mall, but it's a bit off the beaten path.
Okay, really off the beaten path.
The DC War Memorial was erected in honor of its 26,000 citizens who served in WWI.  On it are the names of each life the conflict took from DC.  Its seclusion is unfortunate and yet poignant in the same way, a way of signifying the unfortunate status befallen upon many WWI veterans who never really got the legacy they deserved in the national consciousness.  I had never heard of the monument and found it by accident as I was moseying my way around the National Mall between the various other more notable memorials.

There has been a push to rededicate the memorial to honor all veterans and casualties of WWI.  Now while a part of me wishes they would have the same treatment the WWII memorial has been afforded, on the other hand, it would be nice to have more people at least know about the memorial dedicated to the people who served in WWI, if only to make sure no one forgets them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Run Through the Jungle

Washington DC, being the nation's capital, will every so often attract hordes of people for some sort of event or another.  Sometimes I couldn't care less.  However, this weekend was the weekend of the Rally to Restore Sanity/March Keep Fear Alive, created and devised by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, respectfully.  I thought to myself, "Okay, that sounds neat.  I can totally roll with that.  Jon Stewart is a funny guy from New Jersey and Steven Colbert is a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, two things I can support.  What's there not to like?"  Oh lord, was I in for a surprise...

What I attended was something less than the experience my friends did to watch the Obama inauguration in the cold on a television.  I didn't get to even see the damned thing on a television.  Instead, I got to take pictures of clever signs.

The theme of the rally.
Now, granted, it wasn't that horrible of a time, as I was with friends as we milled around on the mall getting that exercise that cubicle jockeys are deprived.  Nevertheless, I'm sure we would've had a bit more fun sitting around watching it on the television with a few drinks.

The day started off innocently enough.  I woke up a bit rough from the night before, as a few friends had rolled into town and I decided to go out and hang out with them for a bit while they were in town.  So I was a bit weary as my friends gave me a friendly morning text and phone call.

After I straighted myself out and made sure I put on non-stained clothing, I trudged out my door and went to the metro station with my friends.  It was a bit packed, but I was fully expecting the crowd level at the station.  It was an event, and I've seen somewhat similar crowds around when there's some sort of other event in DC. I can deal.
I also found Waldo.  Hell yeah.
However, once we got on the metro, you could sense that things were going to be fairly tight, if you will.  It was pretty packed once we rolled through a couple of metro stops, such that people on the platform figured they'd just wait for the next train instead of getting a deep tissue massage on my abdomen from a stranger's elbow.
First person view of having a deep-tissue massage on the Metro.
So we finally get off at the metro in downtown DC and make our way slowly through the crowds and such to the rally area.
But I did see some helpful signs along the way.
We finally get there and start seeing the crowds pile up a bit.  Okay, perhaps more than a bit.
Picture definition of "crowds piling up a bit."
It got pretty crazy.  The crew of people and I tried valiantly to find some sort of spot in the horde worthwhile enough to camp out in and get a halfway decent view of the event.  We wandered our way up towards what we believed to be the front of the stage.  In reality, however, we had no real idea that was where we were headed.  I was perfectly happy to follow the crowd if it brought me to any combination of coffee, food, and napping cots.
I also would've have settled for a bowl of pho.
Despite our best efforts, we could not wade into a better vantage point.  Every point we tried getting a view of the actions, we were thwarted by a combination of distance and the sheer thickness of the crowds.  Nevertheless, we trekked on through the morass of humanity that flooded the mall.
"Morass of humanity."
We finally decided on a spot that was semi-close enough to the stage and a screen that it was almost tolerable.  (Key word there is "almost," if for some reason the italicized text doesn't show.)  However, we still were fairly far from the stage and thus could barely hear what was going on and could barely see the stage or the screen.

Now what really irked me while I was standing there was seeing the vast swatches of empty space in front of me prime for the taken.  Prime for the taking, that is, if there weren't metal fences in front of me giving me the internal organ deep tissue massage of a lifetime.  So while we were herded on the outside looking in, there was plenty of empty space ripe and ready for the taking...right in freaking front of us.
Empty space waiting to be utilized.
What the heck were they trying to do with that free space?  Now I heard the explanation that it was for just in case something happened that the appropriate authorities could get there in time.  Of course, I heard this explanation as I was trapped in between a crowd of at least eight or nine deep and a metal fence.  I'm sure the authorities would've had a fun time getting to me.  But of course, I was one of the commoners on the outside.  Why would they care?

It got fairly contentious.  One woman decided that the fence was not enough to hold her back and slipped through.  The people working the "concession stand" in front of us caught her and immediately called over the police.  Naturally, the crowd started booing and started voicing their displeasure.  One of the guys next to me started getting into it with the concession stand workers and it got fairly heated.  I do believe that the phrase "Stop snitching" was uttered.  I had to explain to one of the people with me what it meant.

We eventually decided the value of our time standing there and watching what we believe were Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the stage (it also could have been marionette puppets for all we know) wasn't worth it, so we decided to go around and look at signs.
I guess he gave up too.
Probably could've found the latter a bit easier that day.

The best view of the stage we got...from behind.
We eventually left and made a stop at one of my compatriot's relative's place for luggage.  After a brief respite to rest our tired legs and to wet our parched throats, we decided to hop on the Metro for what would be a fairly easy ride home to rest some more and prep for the Halloween festivities we would be attending that night.

Of course, it was anything but fairly easy.  Apparently it was a record-setting day for the Metro and Comedy Central declined to fork over $29,000 for extra service (while the Marine Corps Marathon organizers gladly paid that amount, mind you).  As such, we were stuck on the platform for an eternity, watching full trains of Metro cars roll by with little to no hope of squeezing ourselves and the luggage with us in there without creating a few broken ribs and earning the ire of a few people.  We also saw a few trains roll in that were not taking passengers as it was somehow their terminal stop.  The collective morale and willpower of the group was whittled down.  After a few of the full trains rolled by, there was a collective chant from our group of "USA! USA! USA!"  The Rally to Restore Sanity at this point became a rally to frustrate and irritate us.

One of the guys with us had the bright idea to go to a station down the line and board there.  After watching a few more full trains roll by, we take him up on his idea.  The plan works and we manage to get on a train four stops south of our original position.  At this point, I've been broken down.  I probably would've agreed to most anything if it got me home.  It got so bad that somewhere along the way, I exclaimed with glee "OH MY GOD IT'S GUMBY!" when I saw someone dressed as Gumby get on the Metro.  It was that sad.
I was ready to make him my lord savior at that point.
We manage to make it back home with enough time to grab some Chik-fil-a (god that was the best chicken sandwich I've ever had in my life), get some residual Halloween stuff, and get ready for the night's festivities.  I was just glad the whole ordeal was over and was ready to just forget the entire ordeal, including the four hours spent on the Metro.

And an hour and a half later, we were dressed in our Halloween costumes...back on the Metro.

While I could gripe on and on about the mishandling of the entire thing by the crack team at Comedy Central and the basic meaninglessness of the entire thing, all in all, it was a good time spent with some fun people and good friends.  I'm sure we all bonded as we herded from place to place while I made snide remarks and witty comments every few yards.

That or my friends are looking to push me on the Metro tracks on the way back from another major DC event.
They look like good sports, right?  Right guys?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Constitution Lesson

A little less than a couple weeks ago was Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.  As I was picking up lunch (a two out of three patriotic red Thai curry on white rice, as apparently "blue" is not a dish), they were giving away free pocket versions of the US Constitution.  "Hell yeah," I thought, "this should come in handy should I need to whip out some Constitutional knowledge."  Well, today's the day.

Everyone knows the warm and cuddly figure known as Ann Coulter.  You know, the tall, blonde super-Republican who highlights how not easy on the eyes Rush Limbaugh is in in any kind of lighting.

Cuddly if you're a praying mantis or a Nosferatu.
Recently, Ann Coulter got invited to Homocon (I am not kidding -- click on the link), a convention for homosexual conservatives.  Coulter got touted as "the right wing Judy Garland."  From what I've gathered on Judy Garland as a gay icon, that's pretty high praise.  I'm still waiting on being named a "Bruce Lee keynote speaker" designation.  Hell, I'd settle for the "Judge Ito Appreciation Award."  These guys are still searching for a "Hunter S. Thompson Literary Honor" designation.

Inviting her soon backfired, much like having Marion Barry at a seminar on corruption free government.  She soon decided that instead of saying "go gay GOP-ers!" or something like that she decided to let the crowd know how thankful she was for the totally spitting on it and grinding it under her stilettos made out of the charred bones of cute bunnies and shined with the tears of children.

"One of history's liberal diversity lovers" -- Ann Coulter (unsubstantiated)
Besides the other ridiculous points she made (like how kindergarten-level kids would learn about fisting), perhaps the most ridiculous point was that the 14th Amendment only applied to black people.  That's it.  Only  black people.  Not gays, women, other ethnic minorities, other minorities period...just black people.

Well, now that I have my handy-dandy pocket US Constitution and while it's still in its non-coffee-stained edition, I can go look it up.  One second...

[insert rifling through pocket filled with old receipts and gum wrappers]

...okay, here's the actual text for your own perusal (I'll provide a link if you don't believe me)

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. it refers to slaves, who were black, it doesn't exactly discriminate in terms of color, race, creed, ethnicity.  Hell, it doesn't even technically discriminate in terms of citizenship.  Note that it refers to "persons" and not "citizens."  So you didn't even have to be a citizen to receive the protections of the clause, a handy phrase in the amendment when being a naturalized citizen of the United States was pretty much damn near impossible.
You can touch my underpants, but you're not getting citizenship.
For the record, the Amendment has helped not only blacks but also Chinese-Americans (Yick Wo v. Hopkins, United States v. Wong Kim Ark), Hispanic-Americans (Hernandez v. Texas), women (United States v. Virginia -- women's admissions to VMI), illegitimate children (Levy v. Louisiana), people of different races who want to get married (Loving v. Virginia), and family people in general (Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs).  Family member rights!  Isn't the Republican Party all about "family values?  (List of some of the cases where the 14th Amendment has been citied...for better and worse.)

Now either the Supreme Court might've applied it incorrectly all these years (Plessy v. Ferguson, pretty much any WWII ruling involving Japanese people), but I'm pretty sure there's not hidden "blacks-only" clause within the 14th Amendment.  And really, that would pretty much defeats the purpose of the 14th Amendment.  It's like claiming the Alien and Sedition Acts enacted by John Adams were backed by the 1st Amendment or the dance your suspect did with "Mr. Billy Club" was totally 8th Amendment approved.

(Note: I know that women got left out, but they got the vote...eventually.  I'll give you that one.  But you got into VMI because of the 14th Amendment, right?)

Plus, I can imagine that it's pretty ludicrous that one would get up in front of a crowd of people and tell them that not only do they have no rights under one of the more important amendments of the US Constitution whey they not only specifically honored you with an invitation but also put you on their damned promo graphic.  Really, Ann Coulter?  Really?  Do you have any sense of modesty?  Or are you some sort of harpy who subsists on any sort of publicity?
Sketch of Ann Coulter.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Holy Crap It's Stuff

Many moons ago (okay, about five or six months ago), I was a graduate student pursuing a degree focusing on Public History.  Eschewing the technical intricacies of what exactly that means, one of the fields brought up time and time again was the issue of material culture and how to look at it as a historian.  In simpler terms, how to look at stuff and make history out of it.

Recently, one of my co-conspirators put up a blog post about how the discovery of some really old scotch transported by Shackelton's expedition in Antarctica really doesn't matter a whole lot.  To quote the poignant part of the article:
The Liquor itself has no historical importance, besides being liquor that isn't made anymore that was the drink of choice for a great explorer. He brought it with him to drink it. What's the point of leaving it? Would there be any difference If we just filled the bottles back up with wild turkey, and split the original liquor between the modern relatives of shackletons team, The modern explorers who uncovered it, and the scotch maker who will try to replicate it? It would be a serene moment for all of them, and the shackletons Scotch Whisky tale would have a great ending.
Mind you, the scotch that's been sitting there hasn't gotten any better (or worse, for that matter) sitting in the Antarctic ice, so it's not like you can taste the nutty texture or whatever scotch pricks like to wax poetic about when they're swirling the single malt in their flute glasses.  It tastes the same as it did back then.  What's so special about it is the association we have with the scotch.  Hell, it doesn't matter if it's scotch.  He could've carried with him a case of Natty Boh and if we found it now, we'd be oohing and aahing over it the same.

Delicious Natty Boh.

What matters really is the meaning we've associated with the item in question.  Sure it's a rare recipe, but in the end, all it is really is just really old scotch.  Nothing more, nothing less.   What adds value are the associations assigned to the scotch.  Attached to it is the name "Shackelton."  If we added the cachet of somewhat less famous people, it would just be really old scotch that wouldn't get the deference of a holy relic.

And this is why sometimes trying to incorporate material history is so difficult.  (See?  I eventually brought this back to academic matters.)  Things are inherently meaningless.  For example, someone might have an heirloom ring that might not be worth more than maybe $100 at best in the open market.  Yet to someone who knows the "inherent" "meaning" of the ring, it's worth can't be expressed with all the zeros in the world.  Or perhaps someone has a ratty old shirt they consider lucky.  Someone else might think the shirt would be better off used as a rag.  Things only have the significance given to them by regular human beings.  Any time a curator sticks something in a display at a museum, he or she is stating, "This is important and significant."  Before then, it was just some old junk sitting around in storage.

So take a look around you.  That crusty old plate that you've been eating your Chef Boyardee meals off of or the half finished bottle of Steel Reserve might one day be historically significant.  At least to someone.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Anthony Bourdain is My Hero

Being from New Jersey is much much different from being from somewhere else.  Outside of the well-entrenched stereotypes exhibited by the "reality" shows Jersey Shore (which I have written about before) and Real Housewives of New Jersey and the dramatic series The Sopranos, not much is known.  And while they have their accuracies, they don't tell the full story of the state.

He comes really super close.

Enter Anthony Bourdain, host of the show No Reservations on the Travel Channel.  Bourdain is himself a Jersey boy (from Leonia, home of a massive Japanese supermarket featured on the show) who achieved something that most everyone from Jersey has aspired to or at least entertained: making it big in New York.  (The exception are those people from the Philly area, but that's another story.)

What those folks near Philly can aspire to.

There exists an unmistakable edge that Bourdain has, however, that really distinguishes him from virtually every other chef or travel guide on a television.  He's not happy go lucky.  Innocence for him probably ceased once could start shaving.  He's rough and doesn't give a damn, and yet still receptive and open to various new and wacky things.  That edge is what makes him popular.  He's a breath of fresh air, tinged with a few drags of a cigarette.

Plus, he's just damned good-looking too.

Part of what I think that edge is the whole "being from Jersey" mentality.  There's always a chip on your shoulder.  You're somehow always viewed as second class, especially from those hoity-toity folks who reside on that island known as Manhattan.  Hell, even people from other states who probably matter as much as the vintage of cornmeal processed in their state have that attitude. (Know your place, Nebraska.)  And even when you make it big, such as being a successful chef, author, travel show host, and speaker like Bourdain, you've still got that edge that's a result of having always to compete.

Look!  He even likes the Ramones!

I can empathize.  I grew up in New Jersey, looking towards the city as the Promised Land.  I went to UMBC in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD, which sat in the shadows of UMCP, located near the power environs of Washington DC.  For most of my life, it hasn't been about where I am but instead looking to the place that casts shadows upon me.  You're continually looking up.

Not to say that's it's a horrible thing, mind you.  It seems to worked out well for Bourdain.  He's parlayed the crick in his neck and grimace in his eyes from looking up at the skyscrapers and big dreams in New York to something that's made him a multi-faceted superstar.  I will wager that someone like Anthony Bourdain would most certainly not have come from anywhere else but New Jersey.  While other patriarchal relationships exist all around the United States and the world, there's a uniqueness of the way it's conducted in New Jersey that makes it distinctive.  And it's that uniqueness that's earned Bourdain the admiration of thousands of fans and other people like me, who really wish they could parlay that sort of experience into a multimedia celebrity instead of really terse quotes that don't earn you invites to parties.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Advocacy on a Full Belly

Sometimes I really wonder about some of the activists out there.  Okay, maybe I wonder all the time.  Things that could contribute greatly to progress (in my opinion), such as nuclear power, are being halted because of activists.

One of the things that's irked me for a while is the whole uproar about so-called "Franken-food" or (more properly known as) genetically modified food.  From what the advocates say, it's something out of a real bad miniseries on the SciFi (sorry, SyFy) network.  You'll eat it and freaky stuff will start happening to you or something.  Although if the comic books are right about that, I wouldn't mind.

If Franken-food means this, gimme my lab-engineered corn now.

BBC columnist Jonathan Jones wrote an interesting piece about the great benefits that "Franken-food" could provide the world -- if only those damned activists would get off it's tail.  To me, it seems highly pretentious of us in the first world lording over the rest of the globe telling them that their people have to starve because it makes us feel icky on the inside to genetically modify crops which could save millions of lives each year and greatly improve the quality of life tenfold.

Sure, there's some argument to be said where once we start dicking around with plant genomes and stuff, eventually we're going to get to the point where we're engineering the optimal human for god knows what sort of immoral purpose we could concoct.  While that is a remote possibility, the fact remains that we're A) dealing with plants and B) speeding up processes that would naturally happen. We're not making hybrid pig-humans here.  We're finding plants that'll survive in hardier conditions and selecting them for reproduction, something that botanists and agriculturalists the world over have been doing through sheer trial and error for a while.  

Man-Bear-Pig: Not cool.

So until scientists have developed some sort of genetic abomination that's a cross between the Yeti and a sunflower, don't sit there with your full belly and tell me that Franken-food is wrong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Straight No Chaser

Let's face it: we all do a lot of pretending and self-deluding to make the world just that more palpable to ourselves.  We all live our little lies here and there because, quite frankly, to try to take on the full reality of the world probably would debilitate any hardy-minded person.  Lies and delusions help us navigate those rough patches that we'd either not see or could see but would have difficulty navigating.

It's when these lies build up that we get into deep trouble.  Lies that somehow manifest themselves into a singular contained entity that we fully believe in.  Lies that manifest themselves into something interactive that we have exchanges with and believe exist.

I've always felt an empathy with the main character of The Great Gatsby.  Jay Gatsby was more or less chasing the same thing that I was: a fantasy that may or may not have existed at some point in the past which definitely did not existed in the present.  Sure you can criticize him for the choices he made.  But you can't really blame him either.  As I've found out lately, it's only human nature to want to return to the things that make you happy in life and make getting up and breathing so much easier, even though the things that you have to do might not be for the best.

Like Jay Gatsby, I let myself become motivated and driven by something that had never truly existed.  Whole sections of my life were dedicated in remaking myself for a mere illusion that I created in my head.  I had beliefs that I would be a better version of me.  Somehow find a motivator to improve who I was and create a different persona for myself.  It was a concept that I put too much time, thought, and effort into.  Granted, not to the level of getting involved with bootlegging and got knows what with Gatsby, but you get the full idea. And all that work went for naught.

Well, perhaps not fully for naught.  I've learned that it's not worth it to change who you really are for anyone or anything.  No one really has the power to have agency over how your life is lead.  Letting anyone into your life in that fashion is an egregious mistake that should immediately be corrected.  By giving up control of your actions and especially thoughts in that fashion only leads to a disastrous end where at best you find yourself living a life that's not yours or at worst adrift in a sea of confusion grasping for anything that'll float and gasping for any hope left in the air.  Groveling and grasping like that isn't worth a damn.  You don't spring to mirages in the desert.  All you're going to find is hot, dry sand instead of water.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dear Future Me

There is a running joke between a friend of mine and I about the presence of a "Future Me" in Hartford, CT.  Apparently future me has moved up the chain of command in life and somehow found a job (at some culinary institute, if I'm not mistaken) in the lovely stretches of Connecticut.  How that happened after a stint in graduate school in public history and getting a job in DC, I'll be finding out over the next few years, but hopefully it's exciting and helpful for me.

Apparently in the future I have the superpower to make the world blurry.  Photograph courtesy of Ms. Valerie Werse.

Having discovered that I will indeed make it into the fairly distant future (10 or maybe 20) is a comforting concept.  Furthermore, the description of future me doesn't seem to bad.  He's employed, probably has a place to live, and looks fairly healthy.

I wonder if he'll write me a letter from a blog (maybe this one) as an actual adult to the punk-ass version of me that sits right now in front of the computer typing this away when there are actual other tasks ahead of me.  I wrote one to the 13 year old version of me, so I expect that within ten or so years when I magically turn my life around and hopefully have an internet connection (as opposed to being a hobo destined to ride the rails for life) I will sit down and be able to tell the past version of me some wise advice.

As I don't have a time machine and don't have those ten years of wear and tear on myself, I'll have to wait.  But that doesn't exclude me from writing to the future me.

"Dear Future Me,

What the hell are you doing here during these times?  If you're really from the future, shouldn't you be trying to enjoy that?  Or are you sent back from the future like the Terminator?  If that's the case, that would explain why you're moonlighting as an office drone at some culinary institute as a cover.  No one would expect you to be some agent from the future sent back in time whatever you're doing.

Is life better for you?  It must be, especially if you're a Terminator from the future.  Do you remember ten or how many years ago since the day I wrote this?  I hope you recall that in your mission to hopefully alter the past for the benefit of the future.  (At least that's what I would like to believe you're doing.)

If you have forgotten, refer to the above mentioned letter I wrote to the 13 year old version of myself for some guidance, and some of the other posts littering the blog.  They should give you guidance as to how I was leading my life at this point in my life and jog your memory.  Unless that got replaced with a new set of memories, in which case, this point is mute.  But assuming that you do have those memories tucked away somewhere, remember them in your mission to better the world and provide assistance to those who are like me out there.  I know you need to maintain your cover as some clerk at a culinary institute, but I'm sure you can work it into your busy schedule.

You might be wondering why I'm not asking you to help me out with your powers.  Well, that's up to you.  If I ask you to completely alter your past, things might get complex.  Although I'm sure by that point in the future there'll be policies on that and how that sort of thing works.  I'm sure you've worked it out.  Nonetheless, there are probably others out there more deserving.  I'll figure my way out on this.  Plus, I don't want to mess up my chances of being a Terminator from the future.

Anyway, enjoy your time in Hartford, CT (of all places, you could've picked a more fun place) and let me know what I can do to help.

Current Me."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Punk Rock Improves Lives

It was Christmas during my last year of high school, and since my parents had stopped playing "Guess What Our Son Wants for Christmas" by that point, they usually would take me to the bookstore to pick out something I wanted.  And so off we went to the local Barnes and Noble bookstore to get a gift for me.

As I'm perusing the store, I wander over to the section in Barnes and Noble where they have the audio-visual merchandise.  I'm perusing through the selections and I turn up London Calling by the Clash.  But not just any ol' copy of London Calling.  No, this was the 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition, complete with not only the original recording but also the "Vanilla Tapes" (demos recorded in the studio during rehearsals which were apocryphally lost) and a DVD which had a documentary of the making of the album, some promo videos, and also raw footage that had been taken in the studio of the Clash.  All of this for about $20.  I totally ask for this as a Christmas present, and my family and I go to the front counter to pay for it.

For the next few weeks into possibly a couple of months, I listened the hell out of that album.  I'd listen to the original studio cut, I'd listen to the raw demos on the "Vanilla Tapes" CD.  I probably watched the documentary a few times.  But listening to it was such an breath of fresh air for me.  Here's something I can latch onto and understand on an intellectual level and comprehend, something that I didn't think much of the music that the good 95% (and that's a conservative estimate) of the cretins that I shared air space with probably couldn't understand.

Now I didn't go completely off the rails and start pushing safety pins through my cheek or dying my hair green and spiking it because it was stupid to do so, I didn't (and still don't) like the idea of shoving sharp metal objects into my cheek, and quite frankly, it wasn't the point of the music.  The point was just to do what you wanted to do, others be damned.  I learned the lesson of being your own individual, something important for someone who always had difficulty forging through interactions with other people.

It's also given me some sort of determination to forge through life's problems.  The sheer raw energy of the music provides a relieving catharsis for whatever is balled up inside of you.  The irony of having something that sounds more or less like, as Craig Ferguson put it when introducing the Damned on his show, a fight being soothing is quite counter-intuitive.  And yet, listening to The Cramps on full blast with your headphones on sometimes is the best way to sort things out.

And we're talking real punk music here, by the way.  We're not talking about the sissy stuff cranked out by Taking Back Sunday or whatever passes off as "edgy" these days.  I mean, for Chrit's sake, saying that stuff is punk music is like saying Johnny Weir is a professional wrestler.  Listening to that stuff probably won't help much other than make you a terrible human being.

Totally not wrestling, but totally punk rock.

So go out and buy your child a punk rock CD of some sort.  They'll be a better person for it and will brag to their friends about having the coolest parents ever.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chopin et Moi (Chopin i Ja)

Most of the time, in the grand scheme of things, musicians are not wholly too important.  Music is nice, but sometimes other things take precedence.  There are exceptions, however.  One of them is Fryderyk Chopin (also known by the French version of his name, Frederic Chopin).

While there have been several important musicians, no one musician has possessed such importance to a large number of people in his own day and now.  He represented a people who existed in all practical terms yet were invisible when looking at a map.  The music he wrote spoke to the sense of being Polish when there was no Poland to speak of.

Poland, represent.

It is this importance that Poland wishes to emphasize this year, what Poland has declared to be "The Year of Chopin."  This coming week will mark the celebration of what would be his 200th birthday (debates about his birthday being either 22 Feb 1810 or 1 Mar 1810 provide an convenient excuse for a week long celebration).  Places the world over will be celebrating his birthday, ranging from France (where he spent much of his adult life in exile) and even space (where Endeavor commander George Zimka will represent his Polish heritage by blasting Chopin's music into space).

Having listened to and played his music, I can fully understand why his appeal has spread to people outside of Poland.  There is a distinct voice in his music, something that is hard to discern from other artists prior to his time.  There isn't the rigidity that one finds in a lot of the German and German-influenced music of the time.  Instead, a flow that allows for the voice of Chopin to breathe through the notes allows it to seem much more personal.

This personal touch within his music, however, makes it very difficult to try to catch the essence of Chopin's music.  Part of the trouble is that the use of rubato, a sort of "relaxing" of the tempo, is mishandled by a lot of students.  I personally went buck wild with it when I was younger as a form of rebellion against the oppressive forces of the metronome, a mistake many young pianists make.  My piano teacher and other more experienced musicians advocate for a little more restraint and finesse instead of simply doing what you want because you can.

It is these complexities and more that make Chopin's music so challenging and so intriguing at the same time.  His music is sometimes clouded by fallacies that obscure whatever true meaning he was trying to convey with each note and phrase.  Hopefully by understanding the man and his brief life we can be able to carry on his musical legacy with a degree of accuracy.

Chopin's music gave a voice to a nation for 200 years, a nation which lived under the thumb of others for much of those 200 years.  Few classical musicians have made such a massive impact with their music during their day and after.

Also he left a legacy of really nice vodka.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's a Freaking Secret

There are some things out there in this free society that is kept hidden and secret.  Trade secrets are some of those things.  It's like your friend's grandmother's secret recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce (damn it, I want that recipe) except that it makes money and is probably guarded with more than a index card filing box and an elderly woman with a wooden spoon and the ability to beat you senseless with it.

Protector of trade secrets.  Woman is lethal with a wooden spoon.

Now in addition to things like the secret formula to making Coca-cola to medicines to whatever addictive substance is in those delicious rice cakes at the local Korean market, you can add...race.  Yes, race.

Five Silicon Valley companies -- Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle, and Applied Materials (they're a chip manufacturer) -- won their battle to not disclose the racial makeup of their employees as a "trade secret."  (Hewlett Packard tried and lost.)  Um...what?

The colors are supposed to be secret.

Yes, apparently the racial composition of the employee body somehow augments their ability to do tech stuff. Really?  Have they discovered some sort of Colonel Sanders like recipe of the exact blend of African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Whites, Hispanics, and Indian Americans (for spice) that is the optimal ratio for developing things like the iPad and database application development tools?  Wouldn't bet on it.  I highly doubt that their trade secret is employing all white people for management or having Asian-American and Indian programmers--wait...

The very obvious assumption one can make here is that there is something going on here that probably won't look good.  My suspicion is that there are few if any minorities in positions of power, something which probably wouldn't shock me.  Irritate me, perhaps.  But shock me, no.

Usually, from what I can surmise about many large tech firms, is that while there are many brilliant programmers and tech grunts of varying ranks and abilities who are of Asian heritage/descent.  But their actual managers in charge of these non-commissioned folks are usually white.  This has been a common problem for Asian-Americans, as they're viewed as "shunning power" or some horse-manure laden argument like that.  And the presence of the traditionally marginalized racial groups, such as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, can be described as minimal on a good day.

Unless they've all developed their own "secret" race of people...
They left their amazing coding and personnel management skills out of the theatrical version.  It'll be on the DVD.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Awkward Mirror

Due to the large quantity of free time I've had over the last week, I've had an abnormally large amount of time available to sit around and not do much (Except for my readings, for all you professors reading this.  Don't you have papers to grade and scholarship to further?).  As such, I've had time to do a bit of reading for fun and also watch movies.  Last night, I watched the film Adam, one that I've been hankering to see for quite some time.

Adam is the story of Adam Raki (played by Hugh Dancy), a 29 year old man living with Asperger's syndrome.  He is employed as an electrical engineer at a toy company and is an amateur astronomer.  More or less, he's what I'd probably be with actual useful talents and contributions to the greater world of science.  Like many people with Asperger's syndrome, he leads a fairly methodical and organized life.  He eats the same thing every day, and his closet would be something out of a cartoon if it wasn't right there in front of you.

This being a romantic comedy, another party gets involved in this man's life.  In this case, it's Rose Buchwald, an elementary school teacher and more or less the complete opposite of Adam.  As a part of her job, it's her duty to be an empathic person, while Adam is wrapped up in his own mind and thoughts most of the time.

I'll spare reading off the details as I'm not a professional movie reviewer, so I'll just direct you to the NY Times review of the film.

What I can offer of the film is what I personally felt for myself, not as some sort of critic with any sort of person, but as the lay person who empathizes with the main character.

Some out there (namely this fellow) have pegged me as having the same syndrome as Adam in the movie.  There exist dissenters out there as well, some of whom have worked with people who actually have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.  Whatever the case may be, I found myself empathizing with the character on a very strong level.  While I don't fully possess the exact same characteristics as he does (again, he actually has useful electrical engineering skills), I do understand the frustration he must feels when he can't empathize with people at all and get anything right when he is stumbling through his romance of Rose.  When Adam is let go of his job (whoops, spoiler, but unimportant), you see things through his point of view, and he's simply seeing through a muted tunnel.  That visualization is perhaps one of the best ways to explain it.

Now whether or not I actually have Asperger's is up for debate.  I might just be very socially awkward and a "normal," "functioning" "member" of society.    Nonetheless, it's one thing to have to try to wade through an occasional awkward moment in your life; it's quite another when it's nearly paralyzing and all you get out of it are what could be construed as panic attacks.  I couldn't help but root for Adam as he is assisted in his endeavor to form a human bond with Rose, probably one of the most difficult things for someone in his position to do.

I also couldn't help but appreciate the effort given by Rose to help Adam.  Trying to deal with someone like that who is simply clueless and firmly entrenched in their methodology of life must be incredibly frustrating.  For Christ's sakes, I find myself a pain in the ass to deal with sometimes and I know what I'm like already.  Imagine someone who hasn't had to deal with someone who's got the same quirks as me.  Welcome to a world of hurt there.  And kudos to anyone out there willing to persevere through that.  The world could use more people like that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Don't Ask and Don't Care

The issue of homosexuals in the military is a controversial issue. 1992 saw the institution of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy under the Clinton administration as a compromise regarding his desire to let homosexuals in the military. Like many compromises, it left no one happy.

In President Obama's State of the Union address, he stated that he will "work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." On Tuesday, ADM Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified in front of the Senate Armed Services committee regarding the matter and how he had issues with a policy that compelled servicemen and servicewomen to "lie about who they are to defend their fellow citizens." SecDef Robert Gates has also stated his support for the repeal of the policy.

It's about damn freaking time.

In a time when the United States is being stretched fairly thin the world over, it seems folly to reject openly gay candidates when other compromises (such as allowing gang members to join the ranks) are being made. Furthermore, there is no evidence that being homosexual hampers one's ability to defend their nation.

Just ask this guy.

Furthermore, two nations with armed forces which don't seem to be pushovers - Britain and Israel - don't seem to have any problems with imploding on themselves because they have openly gay members in their military. (Hell, Britain lets 'em march in gay pride parades in uniform.) Barring homosexuals from joining the military simply due to what is more or less some sort of institutionalized prejudice is silly. If that were the case, there'd be no black members or female members in the military either, and so far, they don't seem to have destroyed the military.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Riddle Me This

It really does not take too much to get the People's Republic of China riled up. Things like Tienanmen Square, killing a local corrupt official turned tyrant, Tibet, internet freedom, freedom in general, the ethnic minorities (especially in the western areas), Avatar, Google, and internet porn are all things that get the PRC all upset.

Major threat to China. Wonder what they thought of the Smurfs.

But what if you really want to tick them off? Like Latrell Sprewell choking PJ Carlesimo ticked off? Mention Taiwan and watch the fireworks.

Which is what the US did recently when it announced a new arms sale to the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan. Such talk usually doesn't sit well with the folks in Beijing.

Now the thing that I'm curious about is, honestly, why do the Chinese really care? If China really was so freaking irritated by the presence of Taiwan these days, they'd be able to quash the damned place into the ground fairly easily. I mean, just go look at any figures of the population differences between the two nations. Go ahead, I'll wait. [elevator music] See? China could more or less grind the damned island into a bloody pulp.

Taiwan is the small island to the east. China is the big nation.

Plus, according to the AP article, China has a 1000 ballistic missiles trained on the island. 1000 freaking ballistic missiles. I'm not sure how capable Taiwan is of somehow deflecting that many missiles trained on it. China could theoretically cripple the island with a missile strike unseen by mankind and then somehow float their enormous army across the strait and take care of what was left with little logistical issue.

Of course, there are naysayers out there that would say something like "But what about China's public image? Surely they care about that!" But if you look at much of China's behavior and record regarding things like human rights, China hasn't shown any signs of truly giving a rat's ass about that. Furthermore, China has more or less bought itself recognition in much of the developing world, and in the actual developed world, China has enough economic weight that nothing would be done.

Also, at least in the near foreseeable future, the United States would simply be hard-pressed to deal with such a move. The US military has traditionally been geared to being a two-front force. In addition, except for the time last week when I was playing Civilization, I'm not wholly sure if there have been nations that have been able to juggle three different war fronts successfully. In addition, China is not the insurgency or guerrilla force that is prevalent in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the end, the arms deal to Taiwan shouldn't really make too much of a difference to China. Nor should the US be really that perturbed by China's protestations. If the Chinese really wanted to take Taiwan over, it probably could've done it several times over already.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The People's Historian

Personally, I've never thought much of social history. A lot of the time, in my opinion, it was more concerned about finding diamonds in dunghills than anything else. There are many other important questions that should be answered, such as "What does 'Old No. 7' really mean on the Jack Daniels label?" or "Why can't anyone make a halfway decent Tom Collins?"

Nevertheless, the fact that it has provided alternate viewpoints on the events of the past and helped flesh out our understanding is a valuable contribution made by social historians.

Howard Zinn was such a historian. In his watershed work, A People's History of the United States, the history of the United States is not explained through the "traditional" viewpoint of the wealthy and/or powerful but the everyday people. Reading the book in high school definitely shook up the way I perceived the history of the United States and made me realize that history is much more nuanced than often is imagined.

Thanks for the contribution. May we all hope to have as much influence as you.

Monday, January 18, 2010


As everyone now knows, including me, the earthquake in Haiti has had the dubious honor of actually making one of the roughest places on Earth even worse. Thankfully some people haven't let this terrible human tragedy ruin any of their lives, as they still find it within their grief stricken hearts to spend part of their vacation in Haiti.

Now while I don't have much of a basis to start saying that we should all donate, I still think that rolling up to the shores of a private beach "leased" from the government by the cruise company and having a barbecue and enjoying a colorful drink with an umbrella while outside the guarded gates a nation of millions experiences unfathomable suffering can easily be classified as a "dick move." While I understand that these people paid for their lovely vacations, I still have to question the fact that they set upon Haiti. I'm sure that like most Caribbean nations, it has wonderful scenery. But do these people have any sort of clue about what the hell is going on beyond their little beach paradise when they're sipping on that mai-tai?

I haven't been on a cruise myself and I probably will not go on one unless I'm fully comfortable with all the ports of call that they make. From what I've heard from various people who have gone on cruises and have been fairly aware and honest of the situation, a lot of the time the surrounding areas outside the specific resort are not exactly pleasing to the typical tourist's eye. That doesn't exactly sound like the most comfortable situation for me to be having at the time. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be enjoying my pina colada on the shores of Haiti knowing that tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people died and millions more are suffering probably mere miles away.

It must be said that the cruise is doing what it can to provide aid to those in need in Haiti, and for that they should be commended. Nonetheless, it still is troubling to me that something better and less callous on the part of the cruise company was not arranged for the vacation goers. I'm sure they weren't that set on seeing the lovely vistas of Haiti and probably couldn't have told much of any difference.

And people wonder why I don't go on vacations much.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Worst to Whatever's Next

There is a Mexican idiom (at least I think it's Mexican) "salir Guatemala y ir a Guate-peor" which roughly translates to "from bad to worse." (Apologies to all two of the Guatemalan readers of this blog.) Recently, we saw Haiti, one of the most destitute nations in the Western Hemisphere and the world manage to do just that but on a much more horrific scale.

The earthquake has really troubled me for reasons beyond the immense human suffering that's occurred there. I am troubled by the fact that it is only now that everyone is running around saying "HOLY SHIT WE MUST HELP HAITI!" If anyone has actually checked up on the damned place every so often, it becomes evidently clear that they needed this much attention long before this. And what did most of us do? We sat around and did nothing but look at the island and possibly wrinkle an eyebrow or two out of "concern."

Haiti has been wracked with terrible debt and violence for much of its history. The US occupied it from 1915 to 1934 due to economic unrest. In the post WWII era, coups and debt plagued the nation.

Then everyone's favorite Haitian dictator came to power: Dr. Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Like most dictators, he was corrupt and also managed to irritate enough of the elites through persecution that they left, worsening the situation in the nation. And just to make it more interesting, he also effectively used Voodoo as a tactic of control. How many dictators you know that did that?

Things didn't improve under his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier (creative nickname, no? and no, he wasn't a doctor) and eventually Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to power. Unfortunately, despite looking promising, he also wound up to be corrupt. He was ousted in 2004 in a rebellion that left much of the island wracked by chaos and also the chronic problem of human rights issues. The nation hasn't improved much in the six years since.

To sum it up, to call the nation a "hellhole" or anything equivalent would be sugarcoating the issue. It's been like this for years. And yet, it is only now that everyone is up in arms about the entire thing.

If you're not going to do anything for the Haiti earthquake, fine. I can't blame you for maintaining the status quo that existed through other horrific hardships the island endured. But damned if you're going to yell at me and carry yourself like some saint if you're donating or providing charity. The earthquake could do little for the island what chaos, coups, and a crippled economy did in the last century. To be brutally frank, the standard of living for many of the people hasn't changed, mostly because you could not go any lower on the poverty scale.

Now, you might be yelling at the computer screen about how I can say this, presuming that I somehow am innocent of the charges I bring. I am not innocent at all. The place has an economy which could barely be called an economy. The Wikipedia article can provide you with the basic statistics of just how bad it is and has tons of links to help you visualize the suck. And I know this. I have known this. I remember the 2004 chaos during the Aristide overthrow and the widespread looting and violence. And I, like 95% or so of everyone crowing about helping Haiti out now, didn't do a damned thing to help them then. Shame on me, and shame on all of us who sat around before this terrible earthquake for not doing a damned thing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Substance-Free Jersey Shore Viewing

Having gone home and not having the cable package which includes MTV (but thankfully includes TNT and way too many hours of Law and Order) means not being able to watch the Jersey Shore episode that was shown on New Year's Eve. Then again, I hadn't been able to watch the show due to my lovely roommate repossessing the television to his room allegedly due to a real nasty but unconfirmed case of the flu.

Being home, I usually am not afforded the luxury of swilling cup upon cup of coffee or enjoying a glass of scotch before starting the review, which means that tonight (provided I actually finish the episode) will be the first viewing of the show I've done 100% without outside influence. Let's see where this goes.

So the episode starts with the post-sucker punch aftermath which more or less boils down to a seaside bar brawl. It's different I guess from the typical bar brawl for some reason. Maybe because at the shore there are less people named "Chains" or "Spider" there and more dudes named "Chaz" wearing board shorts. That also implies the decreased chance that someone's going to get a piece of their skull knocked out with a bike lock.

In this moment of crisis, however, "The Situation" manages to keep the primary mission in focus: hooking up with random girls. During the heated post-punch dust cloud, he manages to still keep his game going...and earn a reputation as a creep. Now what tipped everyone else off to that? The fact that he's kind of an old dude (28 I know is not that old but tanning beds do age you) really doesn't earn you point here...especially when you're trying to pick up women after one of your "crew" got socked. I guess you could admire the dedication, but there is a time and a place. And it's called a phone number.

I skipped over the entire part where Sammi meets Ronnie's parents, mostly because it doesn't look promising in the importance department.

This is also the part where I decided that going to sleep was of an entirely more important and fruitful proposition.

[Insert time gap, I forgot how many days]

So after some time vegetating and not really having anything resembling an intellectual thought pass through my mind, I more or less have figured that I'm not going to be finishing the episode. Too much work. Plus, as of 8 Jan 2010, the episode got taken off line and won't be back up until 31 Jan 2010. So, you'll have to live with that.