Monday, February 28, 2011

Black History Month

I suppose I should have written about this at the beginning of the month rather than the end of it, but it’s better late than never…

I don’t like the title “Black History Month.” It makes it sound like all black people have a history and a culture that is completely independent of mainstream history. It’s as if “black history” is different than “history,” and that without a month dedicated to acknowledging it, it would go completely ignored. I hope I don’t have to explain how ridiculous that thought is.

But there isn’t really a White History Month or a Mexican History month. I think there are Black History and Black Studies classes offered at a university level, but the curricula there tend to focus more on culture than actual history. And the same with the month—it seems to me Black History Month is all about maintaining and sharing new and old traditions of black Americans, and I’m glad that opportunity for diversity and celebration is there. So why not call it Black Culture Month?

Perhaps I’m wrong though. The concern may be about focusing specifically on Black History—but that seems so broad and so… pointless. I’m not saying black Americans or black people in general have a pointless history though, on the contrary—the history and accomplishments of black Americans has been long-standing and seamlessly interwoven in all aspects of American history in general. So why do we need to separate that mutual existence? Why do we need to tear apart the multifaceted fibers of American history and focus only on one race’s progression?

I suppose there are benefits to it, but ultimately I think it just furthers a dying but still-burning notion that people of other races are to be treated as separate. Then again, I do believe Black History Month is more of a cultural celebration than a historical one… either way I think we need to rethink the title and reassess its characteristics and its importance.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Time Currency

I was thinking about how I spend my time the other day, and I decided to take the phrase literally. What if time functioned like currency? We were able to spend a finite amount of paper slips, each corresponding to a certain amount of time. We’d spend a third immediately on sleep; this would be the equivalent of rent or food or something. We’d spend a third on work, which is all the other various necessities of life. Then we’d be left with a certain value, and have to prioritize.

I feel like having a time currency would make our time more tangible and thus, more valuable. It would make us think much harder and more in depth about how we choose to spend our time. Oftentimes we chastise ourselves for how “time got away from us,” how we didn’t realize how much time we’d spent on arbitrary projects or procrastination. But if we had to spend tangible time-money, perhaps we would be able to more correctly identify where we’re spending too much.

Of course it could never happen like that outside of a role-playing game or something similar. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll make a game like that for a demonstration of the idea. But it’s something interesting to think about if nothing else.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Numbers

One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the continual mechinization of our society is the ubiquity of obsession with numbers. They’re everywhere, these finite and quantifiable descriptors and limiters. Everything from the speed limits on our highways to exam scores to salaries to our weights when we step on the scale… every qualitative analysis seems to be based on numbers.

You might argue that human relationships avoid, or at least strive to avoid, such an overnumeration—but many of us still rate the physical features of potential mates on a scale of 1 to 10 or count the number of times you call each other or some other arbitrary feature of a relationship that could be counted. Numbers yield the processes of cold, calculating logic: of machines, of computers, and of detached, impersonal evaluations. Any implementation of a number-based system immediately diminishes (if not destroying) all humanity in an evaluation or in a behavior.

It might not be so bad if we didn’t become so obsessed with these numbers’ functions. We constantly suffer the thought that everything in our lives would be better if we could just achieve better numbers… if we could be 10 pounds lighter… if we could make $1000 a year more… if we could get 2 more points on the ACT…

Granted, the quality of our lives is often dictated by the status of these evaluative numbers, so attempting to improve them is only natural. But do these numbers really have to exist? Does everything have to be so objective, so qualitative, so unemotional and dismissive of undefinable characteristics?

I just wish I could overcome the haunting nature of these numbers. Not think about my weight, or the money I make, or even my goddamn high score in Super Mario. But at the moment it seems inescapable.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pornography

I think pornography is the target of a lot of criticism. Common arguments against its distribution include inciting unnaturally forceful sexual urges, drawing away from current relationships (which could also lead to an obsession), and the objectification or degradation of women. I don’t look at pornography with any regularity, but I’ve watched my share of it in the past and I have to say I think these arguments have poor evidence.

I think pornography helps curb unnaturally forceful sexual urges, rather than encourage them. I’ve heard people make the claim that people who view pornographic films are more likely to engage in rape or other form of sexual abuse. I’m not going to make the claim that there’s no evidence for this since I don’t have the study handy, but I do believe there is a lack of research that can prove this connection. I remember seeing somewhere (again, this is invalid since I’m not producing a link) that the higher access a population has to pornography, the lower the rate of sex-related crimes. I think it serves as a safe release for urges that are already there, not a risk for creating new ones.

I could see where porn could take away from relationships, but this works on a much more individual basis. People with an addictive personality could easily lose themselves in the vast availability of videos and images, especially now with the ubiquity and anonymity of the internet. But I think porn could be a healthy outlet for built-up sexual tension or even as a mutual breeder of desire—as they say, it doesn’t matter where you get the appetite as long as you come home to eat.

The degradation of women? Sure, there are lots of shockingly abusive videos out there. But every woman featured in a pornographic film has fully consented to its contents and been reimbursed accordingly. Objectification? Men (and in many cases, women) have always and will always be lustful for the sex to which they’re attracted. Take away the videos and the images, and we’ll still be thinking about bare breasts and vaginas, and fantasizing about equally scandalous situations. But thinking about someone sexually doesn’t instantly and immediately remove all hopes of truly loving someone. It’s possible that lustful obsession can be manifested from physical desire, but again I think this functions on an individual basis.

For the most part I’d say the problems people say originate with pornography either have no correlation or would exist no matter what. So watch on guilt-free, fappers!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gift Giving

I think gift-giving is rather awkward, for multiple reasons. I think I’ve always felt like that, even as a kid. Most kids are excited to get gifts (and most adults, too), but I always felt and still feel a tinge of reluctance and timidity in those situations, regardless of whether I’m the giver or receiver.

I think part of it stems from anticipation. There’s the anticipation of the gift-giver, especially when they have something they think the receiver will really like. They imagine that the person will be incredibly excited and enthusiastic upon receiving the gift. However, and especially in the cases of overly optimistic and anticipatory people like me, I think it’s impossible for any reaction to live up to the expectations of the giver.

There’s also the anticipation of the receiver. In most cases, especially among adults, there shouldn’t really be any expectation on what to expect for a gift—but inevitably there is, in one form or another. It could be a very vague expectation, as simple as “this gift will be great!” but still the mind wanders, and it’s difficult to avoid a let-down, even if the gift truly is incredible.

Then there’s the show. Now here, I can only speak for myself with the suspicion that others feel the same way. I’m not a naturally emotionally responsive person. I tend to only smile when I’m trying to be polite, and in gift-giving situations things are no different. When opening the gift, I feel all eyes are on me. I already feel a tremendous amount of pressure in preserving polite and indulgent social interactions, but having that anticipatory attention makes things many times worse. Then, I’m forced to react simultaneously surprised and enthusiastic to preserve both the feelings of the giver and to ward off any inference of ingratitude on my end. And of course I’m left struggling, wondering how long I have to keep my smile on before it’s okay to relax to normalcy.

It’s a pain. If it were up to me, I’d do away with receiving gifts. I appreciate the sentiment, but I feel like expected gift-swapping is just a chore people go through. Oddly enough though, I do enjoy giving gifts to people. But I awkwardly request that they open it away from other people.

…yeah, I’m guessing I’m a total weirdo when it comes to this.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Alcohol

I don’t understand the fascination with alcohol. I don’t enjoy the taste of it, but I can understand if someone does. What really confuses me is how people enjoy the drunkenness. So many people, especially those my age, go out every weekend with the sole intention of losing their ability to make conscious decisions and behave in an acceptable manner. It’s like saying to yourself, “You know what? I feel like becoming an asshole for a few hours.”

This of course doesn’t even mention the vomiting, the hangovers, the sick feeling you get throughout the evening, or the gluttonous amount of calories contained in most alcoholic beverages. It serves no real function other than perhaps to cognitively distort. So why are so many people engaging with it so violently and so regularly? Is there really no other excuse people can have to get together?

Sometimes I think it’s for people who are incapable of making meaningful human interaction on their own. Either they’re too self-conscious to mingle without some sort of inhibition-releaser in their system, or they’re just too unsophisticated, inexperienced, or otherwise retarded to come up with any decent hobby or social gathering. These are the people you typically find repeating variations of “dude… I’m soooooo drunk… hrm… ugh… dude, I’m wasted…” This lack of articulation remains solid evidence for that retardation assertion I made.

People call it an escape from their troubles. But it’s a goddamn depressant. And most people’s troubles are rooted in lacking relationships or money issues. With alcohol oftentimes worsening current relationships and draining away money, these problems can only grow worse. And if these people spent some time working or researching or seeking other solutions, the problems might actually go away instead of simply being masked by the obliviousness of intoxication. Want an escape? Read a book, or have a meaningful conversation with somebody.

I’m just sick and tired of this country’s college population’s obsession with consuming alcohol. It solves nothing. It produces nothing positive. It’s an excuse for people to act foolishly and brag about it; it’s a substitute for dunces who lack the diversity or the intelligence to pursue something meaningful. It’s a barbaric waste of money, time, and human potential.

That’s all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sports

Sometimes I question the mass appeal of sporting events. As far as engaging in them, I can see the allure. Competitions are, quite simply, fun for a lot of people. Plus most physical activities are great ways to alleviate stress and attain a level of physical fitness. But as far as watching them, I feel left out.

It’s some token masculine characteristic to be involved in keeping up with one sport or another. I often feel like I’m missing some necessary quality in the societal construct of ‘manhood’ because I don’t keep up with any sports. But why is it that way? I suppose there could be a sense of community hearkening back to instinctual urges that relate to tribalism—knowing a certain team represents your city or state makes it seem like it’s you out on the playing field. Perhaps it’s the physical display that encourages most onlookers—but then again, these seem few and far between in the actual gameplay. Or maybe it’s the rule structures—my dad is notorious for justifying his fascination with sports as being rooted in an appreciation for the in-depth strategies that supposedly go along with them. So why not watch Chess or Go or even competitive Pokemon battling? It seems to me they share an even greater amount of strategy.

I can question the logic behind watching sports as much as I want; it wouldn’t change anything. Although I don’t really want to change anything to begin with. I’m fine with other people liking sports, I’m just perplexed at the rationale (or lack of one) behind that enjoyment. But the more I think about it, the more I realize how many hobbies I have in my life that can’t be explained by logic. Sometimes logic can’t explain your amusement.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sandwiches

Sandwiches are amazing. Two pieces of bread, an assortment of meats and cheeses, and some vegetables and condiments to pull it all together. The sandwich offers an infinite amount of culinary possibilities, and I’m glad to say for the most part it gets the appreciation it deserves.

Oftentimes the Earl of Sandwich gets credit for inventing the item—something about avoiding dirty hands while playing cards—but in the multitude of possible sandwich-categorized food items, it seems to me that every culture has come up with some variation of a sandwich, and no one person can be credited with its discovery.

Let’s examine what qualifies something as a “sandwich.” I’d call it an item with some form of meat and/or cheese accompanied by optional condiments and vegetables, and wrapped or contained between one or more pieces of surrounding bread or similar starchy solid. So we have the typical sandwich, and of course, our beloved American hamburger (which isn’t really American, but alas…). In Mexico there are tacos—which if you accept my above definition do qualify as a sandwich item. Meat, cheese, vegetables, and condiments contained by some form of bread. While oftentimes considered more sophisticated, Japanese sushi can also fit this definition as long as you consider rice a bread-like product. Then there are Greek gyros, Italian pizza, Chinese egg rolls (I’m stretching it there, I know), Middle Eastern Falafel… the list goes on.

There’s no real point to this. Just something somewhat interesting I pondered as I devoured my standard turkey and cheddar.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing Loss

I almost lost everything again. Let me explain. Back in November, my then-laptop crashed. Foolishly, I hadn’t backed anything up, and so everything I’d written was completely gone—nobody I talked to was able to restore the information I’d lost. Pictures, music, games—I didn’t care much for those things. The devastation came from the lost year of journaling, short fiction, poetry, school work, and other creative documents that were suddenly stripped away. For a time, I was inconsolable, and didn’t even try to think about the notion of replacing the hundreds of hours of work I’d poured into them.

But eventually, I got this new laptop and did my best to move on, backing up my writing at least once a week. I backed up my files last night, without delving into much. Then today, I tried to open one of my papers, and my computer gave me an error message. Panicking, I quickly moved through my other creative folders. Nothing was opening. I hadn’t fallen off the edge of worry yet, but I could feel absolute despair beginning to well inside me. I was concerned that the files had become corrupted, and in my blind copy last night, I had also corrupted my backup files.

Fortunately, a friend offered to let me use his computer to check my flash drive, and from his computer my files were fine. Thank Christ. If I would have lost everything again, I probably would have given up writing for a long, long time. There’s still a problem with the word processor on my laptop, but at least my work is safe.

Close. Fucking. Call.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Clothes

I’m unfortunately cursed with a nonexistent fashion sense. I dress from an exclusively practical standpoint, being unable and apathetic to address any sort of aesthetic quality to the outfit I put on for the day. If it’s hot, I dress light, if it’s cold, I dress in layers. I wear shorts to run and shoes that feel comfortable. No more, no less.

The amount of emphasis that is placed on a man’s (or woman’s) clothing is astonishing to me. An underqualified candidate can attain a job based on the quality of the suit he wears. Honest people can be followed around in stores under suspicion of shoplifting if they appear disheveled. Incredibly attractive people can look terrible in the wrong clothing, and incredibly ugly people can look amazing in the right clothing—or so I’m told. To be honest, I don’t pay much attention to people’s clothing, and it really puts me behind in the collective social analyses that occur on a constant basis.

If socks and sandals are comfortable, so be it. I don’t care how much your clothes cost or what color goes with what. If you’re protected from the elements and comfortable enough to perform whatever daily tasks are required of you, why should anything else matter? Overtly trying to dress yourself in accordance with the latest trends is an admittance to the defeat of your individuality, and a decision rooted exclusively in vanity.

I’m guilty of my own obsessions with vanity, in multiple facets of my life. And because of this, I pass no judgement on those who dress as sharply as they can. But I still think clothes are a poor reason to hold an immediate impression of somebody—even if that’s only because of my own inability to recognize it.

If I could take classes on fashion, I probably would, but as it is right now—I say we all just go naked.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Smokers

I don’t understand why people smoke. I’d be offering no new knowledge or unique arguments by rambling about all the toxins and dangers that cigarettes offer, so I’ll skip that part and get to my (somewhat) worthwhile point.

Someone came into my main place of work today complaining of a bacterial infection that was negatively affecting their lungs. This person coughed most of the day, and I genuinely felt sorry for them until I walked outside a few hours later and witnessed said person smoking a cigarette. I understand nicotine is addictive, and that even a person who wants to quit with every fiber of their being can find it near impossible to give up the habit. But it seems to me the generations that didn’t have access to tangible evidence of tobacco’s harm are long past, and anybody that’s picked up smoking in the last 40 years or so has had no legitimate reason for doing so. This has led to me to essentially abandon any sort of sympathy I would have felt for the inferior health of all smokers. Addiction is a serious and difficult issue that complicates matters, but for the most part I see people like that previously mentioned person, standing outside putting poison in their lungs and wondering why the hacking fits won’t stop.

Another issue I’ve been having is smoke breaks. I work at a restaurant part-time for extra money, and every shift I’m there, at least four or five people take multiple smoke breaks—on the clock. Being a non-smoker, I get no equivalent kind of break. While I suppose there are greater inequalities I could complain about in the workplace, I do feel that something should be done to balance it out. If I was addicted to sex, would I be allowed a handful of free ten minute masturbation breaks? Frankly, I think I could make a powerful argument. Perhaps I shall try to seek a middle ground with management. Since I have no truly hindering addictions to use as an excuse, I might make the case for something equally arbitrary. Perhaps a yo-yo break or a four leaf clover-hunting break.

We shall see.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WATSON

Last night was the final “Watson” match in Jeopardy! last night. For those of you that don’t know, Watson is an IBM-created supercomputer designed to compete in Jeopardy! against human competitors, in this case the two most celebrated contestants in the show’s history—Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson has no internet access, and makes carefully calculated decisions about whether or not to buzz in and what answer, out of the millions of possibilities, it should give. It also “learns” the patterns of answers that emerge in each category and makes wagers based on its and its competitors’ standings.

The marvelous thing about this machine is that it’s a counterpart to Deep Blue, the computer that beat Gary Kasparov in a chess match. But chess is a far more mathematically-oriented game while Jeopardy! is more linguistically based. Regardless of whether Watson won or lost, the very fact that it was able to compete successfully against the two powerhouse Jeopardy! champions is a testament to its frightening technological advancement. It has no consciousness, but it’s still able to generate abstract processes as opposed to strictly algorithmic ones.

I don’t think it’s the start of the robot revolution, but I do think it’s something to marvel at. And, impressed as I am with the achievement, I cannot help but wonder why so much technology and money and effort was put into a machine that plays an arbitrary game. If this technology was going to be developed, why was it generated solely for exhibition? It seems strange to me, though I can’t deny the enjoyment I felt in watching the 3-day event.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Unintentionally Stolen Ideas

I know I can’t be the only one that’s experienced unintentionally stolen ideas. It’s when you come up with an amazing, nigh-revolutionary idea and start basking in your own sense of self-satisfaction, maybe even bragging to your friends and family. You relish and possibly even broadcast this idea for some time… before realizing that this idea has already been implemented, in one form or another, by someone else who beat you to the punch. God. Damn it. You didn’t mean this. You didn’t intentionally plagiarize anything. Now you have to suffer the embarrassment, the burst bubbles of hope, and possibly the ridicule of your colleagues because of your unintentional intellectual theft.

There are two ways this could have happened. Case one is the “great minds think alike way,” in which you and the original proponent both independently and sincerely came up with the same idea. They simply put the idea into production before you had a chance to, possibly thousands of miles away, possibly decades ago. Case two is the subliminal inspiration. You see the idea, or maybe just a shade of the idea at some point in your life and consciously forget about it—but your subconscious holds onto it, and maybe even develops it. Days, months, years later… the idea spontaneously resurfaces, free from its association with the original discoverer. You think it’s yours, but in fact, it was spurred on by the image or demonstration you saw so long ago.

Neither is pleasant, and neither is worthy of blame. But it’s an embarrassing and frustrating experience for everybody who’s gone through it. My many times with this unpleasantness has taught me a paranoid sense of humility. If I have an idea I think is brilliant, I keep it to myself until I’m absolutely, positively sure that nobody else had put the idea into use.

What’s funny about it is no matter how far in advance somebody preceded you, when this happens, you can’t help but feel a sense of scorn for the original inventor. No matter how logically you look at it, you still can’t help the feeling that you were wronged, and it was your idea that was stolen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cover Songs

For the most part, I don’t care for cover songs. I feel like they’re a bastardization of a band’s original intention. Especially when the songs are half-heartedly gimmicked for some unrefined and oblivious show, like Across the Universe. Singers often just go through the motions of repeating notes and words, without even attempting to feel the genuine emotions that originated them. They leave out entire parts, fabricate others, and generally rob whatever subtleties made the song special in the first place.

A friend once told me she likes cover songs, because it allows her to see what another band saw in the original song. It’s a way for a band to emphasize everything they thought was special in it, and show that to other people. If a majority of bands worked this way, I could appreciate that sentiment. But the harsh reality is most cover songs are born out of neglect or apathy or a lack of creativity.

If you see something special in a song—an emotion, an image, a thought—why not truly make it your own and create your own song to expand upon it? Why simply distort someone else’s carefully crafted masterpiece in order to save yourself from the burden of artistic creation? My cynical answer is probably because most singers doing covers lack artistry (see my post on American Idol).

Some cover songs have true passion, merit, and respect—like Joe Crocker’s widely known and rightly appreciated cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends,” or Jeff Buckley’s serene and soulful rendition of “Hallelujah.” But for the most part, covers are poorly thought-through disrespectful attempts to capitalize on someone else’s work. And I generally try to avoid them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

I’m certainly not in the minority when I accuse Valentine’s Day of being a largely empty, fabricated holiday. It’s no secret that it was practically conjured out of nothing by greeting card companies in an effort to stir up some revenue.

So many people hate Valentine’s Day for its overemphasis on relationships—call it singles’ awareness day—and I can feel their pain. After all, for the last twenty years I’ve spent every single Valentine’s Day alone. The “generosities” and “affections” of happy couples only make it painfully obvious for people without a significant other.

But is being in a relationship on Valentine’s really all that special? You take turns saying “I love you” and “Happy Valentine’s Day,” kiss, go out to dinner, etc… because it’s Valentine’s Day and that’s what you do. Most people buy chocolates or flowers because that’s what’s anticipated from them. It’s an insincere and uninspired process—you feel an obligation to purchase trivial gifts culled from the simulacrum, tired symbols that every person has access to. If you want to make a gesture of love, why do you have to wait for a specific day of the year to do it? And why does it have to be an indistinguishable piece of the mass markets of bullshit? Write a poem (a real one, not one of those sappy or uninspired pieces of forced shit), make a scavenger hunt, plan a unique activity. Do something fucking creative! But even then, if you don’t get flowers (like I didn’t), you’re probably fucked—and not in the way you’d want to be on Valentine’s Day. You didn’t conform to the unsentimental and painfully ordinary traditions of a bullshit holiday, so you’ll probably receive endless scorn. Flowers are supposed to make someone feel special. How? They’re the most recycled and overused symbol of sentiment in existence.

In my first-ever Valentine’s Day relationship, I’m struggling to do something meaningful that departs from the monotonous and predictable paths of the population’s majority. Odds are, it’s going to bite me in the ass one way or another. But to all you gorgeous souls out there without someone to share Valentine’s Day with—take comfort; it’s a shitty, awkward and tiresome “holiday,” and even though you might be lonely, you’ve no obligations or expectations.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hipsterdom

Hipsters are running rampant in our society, particularly in the college crowd. I have mixed feelings about hipsters.

In general, I think counterculture movements tend to start out with good intentions and slowly decay as their fashions and ideals become fetishized and consumed by the masses (case in point: beatniks, hippies, punks, goths, emo kids, etc…). At some point, society accepts them as a kind of blended normalcy, and adornments and attitudes once unique to a particular social sect start becoming brandished by “posers,” trying to establish some sort of rebellious credibility. This spreads. The movement becomes cheapened, and eventually nobody respects the movement any longer. Be it tie-dye shirts, mohawks, or baggy clothing, the symbols of energetic movements based on individualism eventually become marketable lifeless tokens of imagery.

But hipsters are different, at least they seem to be. Or want to think that they are. It seems that modern hipsters put an emphasis on individualism far beyond compliance with even countercultural “norms.” This is evidenced by the continued assertion that admitting you’re a hipster immediately excludes you from being a hipster, and in order to maintain your hipsterdom, it’s almost necessary to denounce other hipsters as being hipsters. Confusing, yes. Somehow the mustaches and fedoras and corny glasses seem to make more appearances within the crowd, diminishing their struggle to avoid any distinguishing characteristics, but for the most part I think this movement has held up.

The one issue I find is that hipsters often tend to like things or wear things or say things simply because nobody else is engaging in them. They make their choices based on the opposite of what most people would expect from them. And while a kind of rebelliousness against conformity is admirable, I still cannot help but feel insincerity from it (in general, of course). You see, truly being an individual means disregarding society’s trends, not simply trying to work against them. Even though you’re resisting succumbing to the collective pool of normalcy by coming out against it, you’re still making your decision based on what others think. To truly be an individual, you can’t take what society wants into consideration at all—which is something, I think, beyond any of us.

As far as counterculture movements go, I feel like hipsterdom is keeping its pace. But the decisions they tend to make are still not independent, even though they’re rooted in rebelliousness, because they’re still in essence based on cultural beliefs.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The GEC

I think the GEC system needs to be reworked, at least the way it functions at our university. If you aren’t familiar, GEC stands for General Education Curriculum, and sets the minimum standard class requirements for graduating across any major.

I like the idea of the GEC. I really do. I feel it allows people to graduate from university with a diversified background of knowledge, ascending people to a higher level of all-around fortitude rather than a pigeonholed field of specialty the way trade schools can sometimes work. I also feel that it presents an amazing opportunity for incoming students to explore opportunities of possible interest that they might otherwise forgo. After all, most college students end up changing their major several times throughout their career—so why not help subdue that indecisiveness with a plethora of diverse classes, and help give students a more in-depth acquaintance with as many different areas as possible?

However, I feel like the system of requirements is far too rigid. You’re forced into specific classes, especially as you get further into your degree program. I feel like GEC requirements should be categorized more broadly. A “physical science” course should be required instead of a “two-level consecutive introductory chemical-based course that includes a lab.” Of course I’m biased, being a fourth year English major that’s forced into taking an upper-level Chemistry course that will provide me with essentially no useful information in my future career field, but my point is still valid. Virtually everybody I know is at some point required to take a course that provides almost no practical information for their given field. If the range of options were broadened, perhaps they could find a course more relevant to them or their chosen field.

As it stands right now, the system does help to diversify the majority of incoming students. But it definitely needs to be reworked in order to ensure its relevance. I’m one of many, many students that feels they are wasting their time and money by attending a class that has nothing to do with their future career.

But it’s my last quarter of study, so I suppose my endeavor will not last long.

Friday, February 11, 2011

100 Followers

So I’ve gotten a hundred followers! Hooray for me. I will qualify this as a landmark achievement, and replace my planned post for today with a short and non-contributory spiel about reaching a large and even number of followers.

I’ll continue to keep daily posts as long as I can muster the creative energy and mental motivation, and optimistically hope that my followers continue to support me—and maybe garner a few more along the way. Thank you all for following me, and commenting on my often pretentious, more often rambling, yet somehow esoteric posts. My appreciation exceeds your numbers.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Semicolons

Semicolons get a lot of abuse, both in their explicit use in academic and professional writings as well as in the scorn they get from linguists and occasionally educators. But personally, I feel as if the semicolon is one of the most useful punctuation marks available to us; it’s nowhere near as ubiquitous as the period, or the comma, or the question mark, but it serves a unique and necessary function that can really drive home your sentences if used effectively.

Now I will concede something; the semicolon is heavily misused in our society. As a writing consultant, I often see it used in lieu of a simple comma or as a way to abbreviate run-on sentences. But the semicolon is a sophisticated connector, and requires a specific scenario in order to be used properly. Let me use a metaphor to illustrate it. Think of every sentence as a different person. Periods, question marks, and exclamation points are used as indicators that a sentence has ended. They let you know that one person has come fully into existence, and the next one is about to begin being shown. Commas are used like clothes and accessories, to make sure each person is presentable and easy to look at coherently and in the right context.

Within this metaphor, we’ll look at semicolons as like periods in the sense that they’re used as symbols to distinguish between two different people—with an added requirement. Semicolons join two independent clauses (meaning each clause could function as a sentence, or a person in this case, by itself) that are related in some way. So using the semicolon is like indicating two people holding hands. In order to do this, the clauses have to be agreeable enough to warrant that kind of connection. Two people that wouldn’t get along together wouldn’t hold hands; likewise, a sentence about alligators and a sentence about rap music (under ordinary circumstances) wouldn’t be joined by a semicolon.

It’s a way to shake up the overuse of periods, and help your writing from appearing too choppy if your sentences are naturally short. They can help maintain a naturalistic and guiding flow to your connected sentences without erring on sides of run-ons or overly short thoughts. They also can help strengthen relationships between clauses that a reader may otherwise underemphasize, and if used effectively, quite possibly make your linguistic technique seem more developed.

So go forth and spread the majesty of the semicolon; when utilized correctly, it’s a far more advantageous tool than most people give it credit for.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Birds and Fish

A lot of people like the idea of being able to fly. They associate it with freedom. As such, birds get a lot of attention in our society as representing total freedom of movement. I was thinking about this.

I think the freedom we perceive is a result of the birds’ ability to move in three dimensions. We can jump and lift ourselves up, but realistically the trap of gravity only allows us to move forward, back, side to side—all variations of two dimensions. Birds are capable of all this, plus lift into the air. They aren’t hindered by two-dimensional obstacles like trees or buildings that otherwise get in our way. I can see this, and understand the appeal.

But birds aren’t the only creatures that are able to move freely in three dimensions. Fish are able to move upwards and downwards as well, through the water. So why aren’t fish as commonly equated with the idea of spatial freedom? Is it because of the restriction of the water—the realization that eventually the river or ocean must come to an end? Birds are similarly limited by the shield of the atmosphere. Plus, they can’t venture underwater and have to generate a greater amount of work in order to move into the air.

Birds are a completely justifiable symbol of free movement. But I think fish deserve a closer look, too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Word Diminishing

Words tend to diminish with overuse. This is obvious. The broader and more frequent its use in society, the quicker it falls out of its original meaning. This is one of the many reasons we need to diversify our linguistic capabilities.

On a small scale, take the word “like;” we use it colloquially as a sort of filler word, worsening in intensity as you move down through the younger generations. We do it so often now it’s hardly noticeable, and the word “like” essentially means nothing. There are many problems with this trend, largely untreatable, but the one I’m going to focus on in this post is the degradation of the word’s significance.

The one example that immediately comes to my mind is the word “epic.” Epic used to be a legitimately powerful word, held back to only describe the largest and most impressive events or situations. But through continued abuse in everyday speech and internet memes, the word “epic” is now only a shadow of what it once was. Use the word “epic,” and most people will only equate it with some kind of loose positivity.

As with the word “awesome,” and I’m very guilty of abusing this. People use the word “awesome” to designate anything that’s remotely pleasing. “Awesome” should be reserved for things that are truly capable of inciting awe. But it gets thrown around like “like,” to the point where its power is lost.

That’s why I think sometimes it would be nice to have word thresholds, in order to preserve the natural power of a word’s original meaning. People would be limited in the number of times they could use a certain word in a certain day. It might create some conflicts with Freedom of Speech, but damn it, our language would be far more significant.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is almost inarguably the biggest television event of the year. Every fan of professional football surely watched it, as well as the countless thousands that tune in just for the hype, or the halftime show, or the advertisements. It seems as though part of its widespread appeal is based upon its own widespread appeal. The fact that it’s so heavily anticipated makes people anticipate it even more.

I never saw the appeal of professional football. Perhaps I’ll address that in a future post. I didn’t pay attention to a single game this season, nor to I have even the slightest allegiance to either competing team. But sure enough, my television was tuned to it all last night. And I enjoyed it, too, if for no other reason than being part of it. It almost seems necessary.

It made me wonder what could have taken the place of the Super Bowl. If professional football had never developed, would some other sport have taken that niche of most-watched television event of the year? Would we be watching the World Series for its commercials alone? Would we develop a national fascination with curling?

In a parallel universe I think, eventually, something incredibly obscure could be built up to that level. Perhaps Japanese Bug Fighting would eventually engulf our attention as the final two competitors clashed for a title. Hell, I don’t even think it would have to be a competition. Just some annual and ever-evolving event that would build in popularity until that self-perpetuating cycle of public attention eventually warranted that sought-after position. Some parallel universe is collectively and unanimously pooled around some televised event that we cannot even comprehend. And they probably think football is completely retarded.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Couch Forts

I wonder if any other adults ever get the compulsive urge to build couch forts? I know I do. If you’re unfamiliar with couch forts, I genuinely lament your unprivileged childhood. They’re furniture/blanket/pillow-based structures often assembled in living rooms with the assistance of other children. With an active imagination, a couch fort can be anything from a fortress of solitude to a submarine to a lunar module. It’s a cozy refuge with a significance and a comfort far beyond its scrappy-looking exterior.

I’ve recently had the privilege of building a gigantic couch fort with my girlfriend. I felt childish, having the sudden impulse, but was encouraged by a similar accompanying mentality. With greater dedication and access to more resources, I’m proud to announce that our couch fort was truly epic—and I don’t use that word lightly. To a more “mature” outsider, the notion and the thrown-together shape would appear impractical and unsightly. But to us it was a cave to our childhood.

It’s a unique and temporary way of creatively applying your cushion-related resources, and letting your inner kid run wild without jeopardizing your property or reputation. It’s cozy. It’s warm. It makes you feel like a king, or an astronaut, or whatever you can imagine yourself to be. I recommend fort-building to any age, but especially to those of you that like to imagine you’re beyond your early youth. It will have some sort of impact on you as long as you go into it with the right mentality. I guarantee it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Skepticism

I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe in ghosts, aliens, bigfoot, ESP, angels, God—none of that. I think skepticism is one of the most important forces working to improve our society. But don’t get trapped in thinking that being a skeptic is defined by immediately giving up all beliefs that involve the unseeable or unknowable; skepticism simply implies a questioning nature, one that isn’t na├»ve or gullible.

When we question things around us, it allows us to think freely and critically about our surroundings. If something doesn’t work or imposes some sort of harm, we’ll be able to more aptly identify and correct. Science is constantly moving forward in technological and biological advances because researchers are constantly questioning the work that came before them. If we simply accepted everything that was presented to us, we would remain forever stagnant and ignorant as a society.

I think it’s detrimental to accept anything on the surface. This could be as small as a “free” offer—that you impugn by an assertion that nothing is truly free—or as large as analyzing governmental progress and working to make an effort to change things. As a citizen, I think it’s our responsibility to think about things as much as possible, even if they seem flawless or unquestionable.

Question everything. It’s the only way anything gets improved.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Nostalgia

Nostalgia is such a bittersweet sentiment. Approaching the third decade of my life, I realize I’m still very young to be talking about my youth in retrospect, but at the same time I’m experiencing a temporal distance in my memories that I’ve never felt before. My childhood seems so much further away than I ever thought it would, and even actions and events in high school are starting to seem like distant memories.

All it seems to take is a specific design, perhaps a character from an old television series or the logo on a milk carton to send me into an indescribable wave of retrospection. But it isn’t just an objective analysis of memories I still have; it’s almost as if for a second, my mind has traveled back to that exact period of time, and as I return to the present, the emotions of the past fade slowly like an ebbing tide. Sights, sounds, and feelings all can evoke fragments of temporary temporal relocation, but what really gets me the most, like for many of you I’m sure, are scents. A kind of food you ate in elementary school, your grandmother’s house, your ex-girlfriend’s staple perfume—these are the keys to spin you in a whirlwind of vivid lucidity.

So I’m thinking of undertaking a project, to help establish portals into my present psyche when I’m long into the future. I plan to obtain dozens of unique scents, each bottled—perhaps various kinds of unique perfumes or air fresheners—and set aside for a specific period. I’d label one for every three months or so of my life. And every time I’d come home for the day I would take that specific scent and smell it deeply while going over the day’s events in my head and reflecting on the current atmosphere of my lifestyle. Then five, ten, thirty years in the future when I’d want a passage to my 20s, I would simply be able to pluck the appropriately labeled bottle (Winter 2011 for example) and take a whiff to spiral me back to this place.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Silence

I don’t think enough people appreciate silence, in public or in private.

Conversationally, people in this society seem afraid to allow silences to fill conversational gaps. A famous scene in Pulp Fiction comments on this, suggesting that when you find someone with whom you can share a truly comfortable silence, you’ve found a worthwhile connection. I feel the same way. Not every second of a social interaction needs to be filled with dialogue. It kind of goes along with my earlier posts on narcissism and false sincerity; we feel obligated to use speech to make things as dense as possible. But I think silences are crucial—they not only allow for moments of true and thoughtful reflection, but they also contribute a sort of juxtaposition, making speech all that more meaningful.

In our private lives, most of us are obsessed with avoiding ambience. For some, this is a way to escape loneliness or perhaps to diminish a fear (especially if they live alone). But it seems like my friends, my coworkers, and my relatives seldom allow themselves to remain in silence upon entering their house for more than a few seconds. They enter the door, then immediately turn on a stereo or a television. Again, I understand the appeal, but I think it’s a habit that basically prevents us from appreciating otherwise pure moments, and diminishes any sort of period of reflection we may have had.

And especially in public, people are generally far more obnoxious than they need to be. At the risk of sounding biased on age, I feel like young adults are the worst at this, when in groups of three or more. Too many public groups feel the need to repugnantly project their voices and laughter as loud as possible. They hold no regard for the people around them and seem almost dedicated to making as much noise as they can. Perhaps it’s just my own selfishness and easily-distractedness that’s making me feel this way, but I think society could stand to lower the volume a notch or two.

Then again, “if the music’s too loud, you’re too old.” It’s likely just the crotchety old man in me shaking his fist at whipper-snappers that can concentrate more easily in loud environments. But I hold by my point that most of us could do with a little more silence in our everyday lives. It’s serene, and generates thoughts that may otherwise be unexplored.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mornings, pt 2

My post yesterday about the difficulty of getting up in the morning, naturally combined with the disorganized blur of preparation I experienced, have led me to analyze the overlooked complexities of the morning routine. At least mine.

My ordinary routine goes something like this; I wake up, lay in bed a few minutes, then get out, stretch, and dress for a work out. I exercise, cool down, and shower. Afterward, I apply any sort of necessary bathroom products (e.g. deodorant), and dress myself for the day at hand, carefully selecting which piece of attire would be most appropriate for the circumstances. I pack my lunch from a carefully balanced and portioned meal group, and double check my bag to make sure everything I need is present. I cook a full breakfast, take care of my pet dog, and then brush my teeth and do a final quick inspection in the mirror before heading out the door.

Boring. Yes. But predictable and calcuable. I try to achieve every possible minute of sleep I can, so I allot a specific amount of minutes for each activity and set my alarm accordingly, making sure I leave precisely on time. My “OH SHIT” alarm (mentioned in the previous post) is for cutting my workout and shower in half, and speeding through the rest of my daily activities.

And then there are the days when the “OH SHIT” alarm fails, few and far between, but dangerous and met with a whirlwind of desperation. On those days, my routine goes something like this (though my memory often fails me in such a panicked state): lay peacefully, then suddenly realize what time it is. Yank on whatever clothing is nearest the futon and take the stairs down two at a time. Throw some food in the dog bowl, scoop nearby items that look consumable into a lunchbox, grab something I can eat in the car, then snatch my bag and pray that most of my shit’s in there.

I should work the two meticulously planned and spontaneously flurried routines into one, natural, unrushed, unforced yet smoothly moving mechanism that not only carries every necessary morning function in one efficient package, but also grants me extra time to sleep.

Who am I kidding? Mornings are always going to suck.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mornings, pt 1

Waking up is an incredibly difficult thing to do in certain circumstances. This morning I was laying in bed, which was cozy and warm under a thick, thick blanket. But my room is freezing. The temperature difference is almost enough to cause physical pain upon emerging from the organic shell of comfort that is my futon. No amount of motivation could get me out, especially not with the shit I had to do.

I’ve done several things to help me wake up more. The old classic for me was multiple alarms. I’d set one for an “ideal” time, and one for a “OH SHIT—but I can still make it” time just in case things went awry with the first one. I still do this nightly (this morning even the OH SHIT alarm eluded my efforts). Or, I’d try to trick myself by setting one alarm for twenty or thirty minutes before the second one—as a way for my morning self to somehow be more content by feeling like he received the gift of “bonus” sleep. I’ve also tried placing alarms at various points in my room, even hiding them to force myself out of bed. But I simply let them go, turn them off and go back to bed, or MacGyver together some scrap of random objects around me to use as a reaching device. Then there’s the Psychological approach I used—I spent several sessions lying in my bed with eyes closed (in the middle of the day while fully awake), then setting my alarm and springing up immediately when it went off. It was an attempt to condition my body to automatically respond to the alarm by snapping out from under the covers. But alas, my behavioralist scheme was no match for my desire to lay in bed.

I wonder what it is that makes my body believe it needs so much more sleep. I make my 6-8 hours of sleep every night a priority, so I cannot help but feel angry with my body for being so ungrateful. I would blame myself for simply not having the discipline to get up, but I feel as if my early-morning consciousness is somehow distinct from my wakeful consciousness. I don’t respond to things or act in a way that resembles my normal self, and I literally don’t remember most things that happen in my day until a good ten to fifteen minutes in. This morning is an absolute blur—the only reason I know I had a banana for breakfast is the leftover peel in the seat of my car, and the only reason I found my car was the revealing sound obnoxiously spurred by my remote panic button.

But I did make it on time. Relatively speaking, of course. I was able to instinctively avoid all unnecessary facets of my morning routine in order to most efficiently prepare myself for the suddenly imminent day. It’s an interesting process, and though my memory of it is a blur, I do realize that this happens more than I’d like to admit, and I believe it requires some further analysis.

This post has gone on long enough, though. I shall follow this up tomorrow with “Mornings, pt 2”