Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spoonbill & Sugartown Bookstore

1. I like Spoonbill, I do -- I like being in it, I like browsing the store, and I enjoy buying books there. I will continue to patronize them in the future. The only problem, as I see it, is that they have like fifty books total in their store. I probably have more books in my apartment than they have in their store. This makes it impossible to browse for more than five or ten minutes. There's simply no comparison between Spoonbill and larger stores like McNally Jackson, Housing Works, or BookCourt -- all of which, unlike for instance the Strand, maintain an intimate bookstore atmosphere while managing to offer a much greater depth and variety of books. I find the paucity of books at Spoonbill to be a limiting factor in my enjoyment of the store.

2. To the charge that Spoonbill has a paucity of books, Marina counters, "But all their books are good." This is true. The books on sale at Spoonbill tend to form a sort of exquisite trove. Every one has been selected with care, and although my "browsing" is negatively impacted by the paucity of books, it is also positively affected by the high frequency of congenial books hit upon. Indeed, there's an economic rationale for the "exquisite" quality of Spoonbill's stock: the work of long discernment and careful selection done by the bookstore constitutes one of the forms in which it adds value to the books on sale. Their browsing obviates mine. Spoonbill itself seems to recognize this. Its website boasts, "the most significant factor here is the element of serendipity: you never know what you might find." Clearly, they take a great deal of care in deciding what will appear in their store. To this end, therefore, one could classify Spoonbill as a sort of book-boutique which sells both books difficult to obtain elsewhere and more "high-quality" (as interpreted by the reading demographic Spoonbill serves) books than easily found elsewhere. This is clearly a desirable function to perform.

3. On the other hand, by assembling the perfect trove of books ahead of time -- so rare, authentic, balanced, well-researched, well-seasoned, etc. -- I think Spoonbill risks falling into one of the pathologies of Williamsburg and "hipster" culture as a whole, which is, while claiming to uphold values like authenticity, uniqueness, and the forgotten charms of cultural praeterita, all in contradistinction to "pre-fab" mass pop style, to nevertheless fall prey to a form of market submission as it congeals around "alternative" venues, stores, goods, or even looks. By obviating and expediting the work of browsing, Spoonbill destroys its spontaneity and life. If every book Spoonbill offers is "collectible," then so much the worse for book collections, which have always existed as mirrors of the specific idiosyncrasies and interests of the collector, the nooks and grottoes of their personalities, the values Lichtenberg purported to behold in one's mistress, "weaknesses and dreams" -- and not the neighborhood bookstore he or she happened to frequent. The lifelong career of book-pursuer evolves two products, each the dialectical obverse of the other, the collecting self and the collection itself. If the second is handed over as a fait accompli, then the development of the first is aborted in ovo. Indeed, considered in this way, what is the very "serendipity" of Spoonbill's book-collection but mass market irrationalism sub specie alternitatis?

4. In this light, my original complaint of the paucity of books seems vindicated. In order to preserve the spontaneity and life pursuant to book-browsing -- and by extension the well-developed collector and well-rounded collection -- a bookstore must offer enough space in which to lose oneself and find oneself again/anew. The exquisiteness of the trove on display is immaterial if this basic condition is not met, and indeed, so I maintain, the paucity of books at Spoonbill will always be a limiting factor of my enjoyment.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review of Ratatouille

1. The movie Ratatouille is an allegory for the Hispanic underclass at work in the back of every kitchen. "Not everybody can become a great chef, but a great chef can come from everywhere." This conclusion delivered at the movie's end reveals Ratatouille to be, despite its hexagonal setting, just another movie built around the American dream -- albeit one which promises in addition to social mobility the marriage of that mobility with one's original class/group affiliation (Remy becomes a great chef, and he does it all without losing touch with the rat clan).

The function of the classic American dream narrative was to mystify the unjust disposition of classes through sprinkling the magic dust of upward class mobility over the class-system. With a kind of perverse Rawlsian logic, the system as a whole was rendered just since anyone could become top dog, if only he or she tried hard enough, swept enough chimneys, or shined enough shoes. (No wonder the mass take-over of the kitchen by rats at one point in the film inspires such total revulsion in everyone who sees it: it portends a revolutionary reversal beyond all decency.) The particular justifies the whole, here as everywhere, and ultimately Remy's front-kitchen prominence, culinary self-development, and successful trajectory only expiate the concomitant extermination of his back-alley brethren.

If they ever do a remake of Ratatouille, I think they should set it in Wilhelmine/Weimar Germany and call it Rathenau after the German-Jewish industrialist Walter Rathenau who pulled the strings of Germany's war economy until he was assassinated by anti-Semites in 1922.

2. Whenever Disney wants to tell us that a character is pretty and/or good, they give that person these big, wet doe-eyes with lots of nictitation, in this case: Colette. Why is that? Is it a kind of physiognomic legibility that just works? Are big eyes supposed to be a sign of conscientiousness or empathy maybe? What's the deal here? (And how about the opposite -- squinty eyes? Are they bad because they're always trying to appraise and size things up -- to "eyeball" them in the parlance of petty drug dealers? Is this why David Paterson looks so sinister? And why is that man trying to take away my soda?)

3. Colette's comment about the dish ratatouille, "But that's peasant food!" is the most French moment in the film. I love it.

4. Someone should do a study of movies about rats. There sure have been a lot of them.

5. Ratatouille: 5/5 stars.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is inconsistent behavior funny?

To whit: while perusing the BBC, I found a story about citizens of Ireland traveling to North Ireland due to highly favorable exchange rates between the Euro and the Pound, and there was the predictable, obligatory invocation by an Irish government type person of the patriotic duty to buy from their own borders for tax reasons. Meanwhile, one would rather hope that wherever one has invested money is taking full advantage of the opportunity for arbitrage. Is this funny?

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Sam's mother, for his birthday some weeks ago, sent us a lovely package of French cheese along with mustard, gherkins, and tapenade. The gherkins, which we opened tonight, have a most wondrous device; a small piece of plastic at the bottom of the jar, with a handle reaching to the top, that one can lift to get those pesky pickles at the bottom. Every packaged good ever should do this.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Postcolonial Justice

From The Nation's review of the new Naipaul biography:
"The 1971 Booker Prize, and the success of Guerillas, brough Naipaul an avalanche of invitations, awards and teaching offers, and in 1978 he spent a year as a visiting professor at Wesleyan. French says his courses were "brilliantly inventive," but his patience with students who missed deadlines was short: "You are like officials in the Congo," he informed them. "You are corrupt."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the endless expanses of Wikipedia

I was exploring Wikipedia, as I do when I am not focused (bad Hal!), clicking on things inspired by the centennial of everyone's favorite structural anthropologist (is that the right term? I'm not sure. The similarity between apologist and anthropologist is striking), and noticed that the curiously named little template, "Sub-fields of and approaches to Human geography," has, inexplicably, a picture of what appears to be a homeless Indian man in front of a Pepsi logo, or ad, or maybe distribution center. How weird.

Happy Birthday, Claude

Claude Levi-Strauss turns 100:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New thing: "kidpiphany"

kidpiphany: n., a sudden realization which is obvious or uninteresting to other people, i.e., the kind of epiphany a kid would have.

Examples of kidpiphanies:

"So wait, plums and prunes....those are the same thing?"

"Let me get this straight, you're telling me we can dig a hole to China if we just kept digging?"

"The Chronicles of Narnia is actually Christian."

And so on...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It's a Hungarian word for the wistful happiness brought on by drinking and listening to Gypsy music for hours on end.

"One rowdy tableful, riotously calling for wilder music and for stronger wine, was close to collapse. 'They will be in tears soon,' Miklos said with a smile, and he was right. But they were not tears of sorrow; it was a sort of ecstasy that damped those wrinkled eye-sockets. I learnt about mulatsag for the first time -- the high spirits, that is, the rapture and the melancholy and sometimes the breakage that the stringed instruments of Gypsies, abetted by constant fluid intake, can bring about.. I loved this despised music too, and when we got up to go after a couple hours, felt touched by the same maudlin delectation. A lot of wine had passed our lips."
-Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sometimes it's not good to have a wide vocabulary

This is true of spell-checkers; if your dictionary were the OED, you'd allow a lot of typos in.

This is true of video game players; if you're aware of the word ken, it makes Street Fighter a confusing game.

This is true of myself as a Princeton alum; I refuse to be objectified as a double sulfate.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Carving Pumpkins

Pumpkin carving is the most fantastic idea ever. First of all, the word pumpkin is absurd. It's fun to say. It looks silly. And they are orange, and make such cool noises when tapped. They yield useful pulp, which makes a most delicious pie. They are full of delicious seeds, and are arguably the best seeded food (not as snackable as the sunflower, but meatier). And, of course, you get to play with knives, and make silly faces. If you have no skill whatsoever... who cares? It's still a giant glowing orange fruit! And if you do have... I don't know, small motor skills, any artistic sense at all, and so on, you can actually make really cool things.

Everything about Halloween is great. Carving pumpkins are the best; only outdone in the annals of yearly traditions by Christmas morning and Easter brunch, edging out Thanksgiving dinner, Fourth of July BBQs, New Years Day (which is too all-over-the-place; do you listen to the Vienna Philharmonic, watch football, or just eat nachos and hopefully watch a nice snowfall?), and the first day of skiing. I distinctly remember a childhood Friday Halloween, sitting at home, watching a Ray Harryhausen-esque dinosaur movie, carving pumpkins, cooking pumpkin seeds, and being perfectly contented. One can ever wear sweaters without a jacket for the entire day!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Character Development

The first sense, while arguably the more interesting one- although in great danger of being didactic and dull- is perhaps the more esoteric. One often hears laments over a work of temporal art's lack of character development, or some other, equivalent statement (nearly always involving my arch-nemesis, cardboard). I must admit that I too think the second meaning nearer to "correct," as Hal points out, it is quite close to the meaning of development in photography. After all, it could be argued that the former type of character development does not even exist, or, more weakly, that to name such changes a 'development' is an overambitious bit of teleology.

The term, interestingly, also finds currency in music, where this distinction is much more complicated. It would at first blush seem akin to the first meaning; just as there are classic literary devices to advance a character, there are classic musical devices. But one could also view musical development as being more aligned to the second meaning, where the various changes in instrumentation, tempo, key, time signature, and so on are all used to more fully express whatever it was that the theme expressed. The distinction here is nearly impossible to draw, and certainly seems to strike at more basic distinctions: does a piece of music mean anything other than precisely what it is? If so, the second meaning is precluded; there is nothing more to be heard than what is in fact heard. Conversely, if one does ascribe to music having some abstract significance, the second meaning is inextricably caught up in the first one, how can the development of a theme fail to further explore it's significance?

In either case, musical or literary, it would seem the two meanings are in technique nigh indistinguishable. A novel might have wooden characters and fall prey to pedantry, but if so it is not for a lack of development, but simply the ineffectiveness of the development- done properly, the same tale would have both meanings. Certainly any novel with development in the second sense will admit of debate over whether it had development in the first sense (or else the high school essay would cease to be!) And in music, one might argue over whether or not a composition has any development (obviously, Bolero comes to mind, but so too most 'minimalist' works), but this is really an argument of effectiveness- once one has admitted that a piece of work is indeed developed, picking only one sense of the word becomes impossible. Or, more precisely, it becomes a philosophical question, largely outside the grounds of the work itself.

Character Development

The phrase, it seems to me, has two distinct meanings which are independent of one another. One or both types of character development could be present in any given novel.

1. On the one hand, a character develops over the course of a novel in the sense of undergoing change -- i.e., becoming a wiser, better, or maybe even a more moral person. Or perhaps they could end up a vicious shell of their previous self. The important thing, however, is change: a character develops in the sense of becoming different than they were.

2. On the other hand, a character develops over the course of a novel in the sense of becoming more detailed or nuanced. They're still the "same" character -- there's no moral progress or regress -- but through the action of the novel we have to come to better know them as they are. This is the sense in which film develops in developing solution.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rabbit Reconsidered

This weekend I read Rabbit, Run by John Updike (I found it on the street in Park Slope along with The Words). Published in 1960, Rabbit, Run is the first entry in Updike's four-part (+ novella-coda) Rabbit-Cycle which describes the ups and downs of former basketball star Harrison "Rabbit" Angstrom's life.

Anyway, it was really good -- contestable, perhaps, in its social conclusions, and questionable, perhaps, in its stylistic decisions -- but nonetheless "good" for all that, and maybe even because of that -- i.e., "good" to the precise degree it is urgently contestable or provocatively questionable.

So I guess I feel like an idiot for dismissing Updike all these years. True, Terrorist (which I reviewed for the Nass) did suck, and it sucked hard, but even Terrorist, now that I think about it, had some moments of life.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sartre Restarted

In HS, Sartre was very in ("Hell is other people," we said knowingly), but in college he was very out ("Sartre just misinterpreted Heidegger," we said dismissively). Like my classmates, I conformed to both upswing and downswing in the career of Sartre's reputation.

Recently, however, I found a copy of his autobiography, The Words, lying on the street in Park Slope (along with Rabbit, Run by John Updike -- this has actually happened to me multiple times in Park Slope). Technically, it's not a complete autobiography: Sartre only recounts his first ten years. But his first ten years was a formative period which, in one way he spend the next twenty repudiating and overcoming, and in another way ends up consummating the very ideals hatched during these halcyon days.

Anyway, I finished it a few days ago, and it was shockingly, overwhelmingly good. Perhaps that's the best way figures such as Sartre should be approached -- through their marginal and parergal works, like The Words or Sartre's brilliant essay on anti-Semitism -- rather than through those big opera about which one already has set opinions.

Satre's father died while he was in utero. Thus, his childhood was a fatherless one, a condition which Sartre in time came to regard as a great boon. Here's (part of) what he has to say about it:
There is no good father, that's the rule. Don't lay the blame on men, but on the bond of paternity, which is rotten. To beget children, nothing better; to have them, what iniquity! Had my father lived, he would have lain on me at full length and would have crushed me. As luck had it, he died young ...I left behind me a young man who did not have time to be my father and who could now be my son. Was it a good thing or a bad? I don't know. But I readily subscribe to the verdict of an eminent psychoanalyst: I have no Superego.
Like I said, it's an unexpectedly awesome memoir. Also, it's really funny in parts. I definitely recommend this book.

Tonight I Learned an Important Lesson

Never, ever, under any circumstances, read about serial killers while listening to Boards of Canada. You'll inevitably end up reading about Eliphas Levi or something equally absurd. I did stumble onto Madeleine L'Engle, which is ok. But still, now I've a case of insomnia. Damn.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Dude Abides

I like Heidegger, I really do, but sometimes even I have to shake my head at the man's writing-style. It all makes sense, I guess, when you get the idea of what he's after, but still, sometimes you just have to stop and laugh. This quote is from Conversation on a Country Path About Thinking, a ponderous dialogue conducted in Heidegger-speak between three characters identified only as "Scientist," "Scholar," and the (somewhat insufferable) "Teacher:"

Teacher: The region gathers, just as if nothing were happening, each to each and each to all into an abiding, while resting in itself. Regioning is a gathering and re-sheltering for an expanded resting in an abiding.
All ridicule aside, it's actually a very interesting and profound document, and I'm glad to have read it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Thank You, Joe Simmons

At some point in my survey taking crazy (I believe this was junior year), I got signed up to an email list run by one Joseph Simmons, which I believe about half of Princeton is also on, where you take short, seemingly inchoate surveys with the promise of winning $50. First, has anyone actually won? By the usual rule at Princeton, that between you and everyone you know and everyone that everyone you know knows (practice your recursive descent parsing skill!) you encompass the entire class, it should be easy to determine if anyone ever wins. Second, the one I took today (I suppose I should, um, stop taking them, but whatever. It's the digital equivalent to people handing PETA pamphlets out on street corners. Except you don't have to see or smell them, so it's actually much better. Dirty plebeians) is exceptionally strange. The first question was, if you unexpectedly find $20, would be willing to gamble it in a fair game (50/50 change of -$20 or +$20)? The second was, if a husband and wife can't decide whose last name their child should have, is a coin toss an acceptable way to make the decision? The third was your gender (at this point, the survey mostly makes sense. How much do you like 50/50 games? Is there a gender preference for 50/50 games over money, vs. 50/50 games about life decisions?). The final question was if you are a vegetarian. So, now I have questions:

  1. What?
  2. No, seriously, what? Why did you ask that? What is the goal?
  3. Why aren't I a psychology/sociology graduate student?

Also, I found this album on my computer of Benjamin Britten songs with lyrics by Auden (not sure if this was an explicit collaboration, or just Britten setting already written poems), which is very enjoyable. I don't understand why people dislike traditional Western vocal music. I mean, I can understand disliking the music, but I know a surprising number of people who wouldn't object to the music without a singer, but hate when they hear a voice come in. I don't get it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Learning to Whistle

Until late last year, I couldn't whistle. At some point I decided this was unacceptable, and I tried for awhile and then I could whistle. So I could whistle for awhile. For the past few months I've been without any music instruments, so the only ways to make noise are singing (ugh), humming (worse), or whistling. I have become fairly proficient at whistling, much to the chagrin, I suppose, of anyone within earshot. Whistling is an excellent complement to walking.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Perfect Morning

Proust + Pancakes:

Monday, September 29, 2008


Walking is the most enjoyable of all human endeavors. One is able to enjoy the feeling of being in possession of their body (a curious feeling to lack, and yet one that I often find absent, due to comfy chairs and computers and whatnot), a slight rush of blood and strain, but without losing the faculty of imagination and observation. How much more enjoyable to walk through a landscape or cityscape than to look at it! As a child growing up in Chicago Seurat's masterpiece is something I take for granted- what else would you put up on an elementary school art room wall?, and so my discovery today of a perfectly ideal park, in size, in distance, in shape, in topology, and in plant and animal life (rose garden! forests! ducks!) in which to enjoy a Sunday afternoon is tinged with a curious element of nostalgia.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

On the difference between generations

In a trivia contest two nights ago, my mom called me, asking if I knew the names of the winds in Greek mythology. I misidentified Aeolus (bebother the internal inconsistencies of a system that, as such, never existed, bebother them!) as one, and correctly named Zephyrus. This is beside the point. The interesting observation is that my mom, the following day, no one having correctly identified the winds, sent me an email saying that the contest was still open, and asked me if I had remembered any more. Which is to suggest that she is either ignorant of being able to use the internet to find information, or else is demonstrating notable integrity- either of which would contrast trivia contests for a person of my mother's generation to one of my own. I of course sent her to the pertinent Wikipedia page.

On another note entirely, I have developed a deep contempt for cardboard. Is there no other medium of packaging that we might be rid the scourge of dusty, smelly, icky cardboard filling my apartment? What about lots and lots of bubble wrap and tape? Is this not a better world, full of loud popping noises and jumping, and devoid of dust and paper-cuts and the horrid texture of sticky cardboard?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Imagine how the baby feels...

Today on the train there was a loudly crying baby. It was annoying, as such occurrences always are, but I also had an epiphany. How could the mild discomfort of any bystander ever match the momentary torment of a baby who is crying? We should be more tolerant of crying babies in public, I think. You're upset? Well, imagine how the baby feels.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Messy or Smart?

Lately I've taken to wearing the same clothes two or even three days in a row. There's no one with whom I socially interact on consecutive days so I feel like there's no one to call me on it. Plus, it means I rarely have to do laundry. Of course, on some days it's necessary to wear clean clothes in order to be especially presentable. I call those days "clean clothes days."

Another Observation:

  • On my left: A recently assembled and used Eureka vacuum cleaner. Yellow and black. "The Boss SmartVac"
  • On my right: Those weird white, evocative of the extraterrestrial desktop speakers, a soup mug with Princeton University written on it, and a pile of paper detritus.
  • In front of me: My computer, from which I am removing nearly all of my programs and data in order to dogfood it.
  • Behind me: Our dinner table, with Sam's Macbook, my bamboo placemats, a salt and pepper shaker, napkins, and a box.
  • In the air: Boards of Canada - "1969"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Car Travel Oddities

South Dakotans do not know how to use scare quotes. Extreme examples of misuse included '"Tourist Information"' and '"Photograph Taken in 1902".' My quoting scare quotes is highly irregular, and most likely will confuse you; sorry! Also, if there is misuse, is their mismention?

I do not have the moral fortitude to turn down heavily subsidized ethanol-laced gasoline.

Moose are shockingly scary creatures, when they catch you by surprise. As are cows.

Bow hunting is a more visually disconcerting pastime than hunting with a shotgun.

I have a new-found respect for the camper, while at the same time having a more fully realized contempt for car-camping, and a concomitant desire to see more roadside hostels in the USA.

The longest any two unmarried people can spend at leisure happily is 9 days.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Proust Update

So Marcel just ejaculated by accident in the presence of Albertine. But it's OK -- apparently, she's cool with it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nihil Humanum

From now on, I think I'm just going to cannibalize various emails I've sent, and present them as non sequitur blog posts. To that end, here's something I wrote in response to being presented with a link to an article attempting to work out the juristic puzzles raised by the prospect of an extraterrestrial encounter. The article was ridiculous, heavy on Agamben and Schmitt, that kind of thing.

What would we do in the event of extraterrestrial contact? Not so much jurisprudentially, but culturally, politically, and even militarily?

I consider myself relatively broad-minded, but to be honest, I can't help but regard the prospect of extraterrestrial contact with some trepidation as a kind of "existential threat." It seems to me that everything human would diminish overnight and be drained of its significance. Every cathedral would sink ten feet into the ground. What are Proust and Plato next to the unimaginable crystal-palaces of Alpha Centauri and the endless slug-swamps of Betelgeuse-Prime?

Terence's epigram, that he regards nothing that is human devoid of interest, would be turned on its head -- nothing human would be interesting precisely because it's only human. The moment of our initiation into the wider cosmos would mark the extinction of our own.

Also, here's another question: what if aliens arrived, and they were Mormon? How insane would that be? Would we all convert?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two Thoughts II

  1. There is no feeling comparable to the one that washes over me when I walk by myself in the autumn and remember the past.
  2. According to Kant, the concept of freedom can never be explained, but rather it can only be defended.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jesus Christ

Today, I woke up to find a dead mouse on the floor. It was lying in a congealed pool of its own blood. The trap must have malfunctioned. It sprang without immobilizing the mouse, dealing it a fatal glancing blow instead. Then, like Thor in Ragnarok, the mouse took eight steps before dropping down dead.

His flopping tail, his feeble limbs jerking in that slowly hardening pool of blood -- they wrote the incarnadine chronicle of his own demise.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Movie Idea

Title: "Rent Control"

Plot: An elderly landlord in a once-ethnic (Polish), now-hip neighborhood needs money to pay his rising health bills. However, his building brings in little income because his tenants, who are also his friends, pay almost nothing due to rent-control.

He decides to poison them off one-by-one in order to re-rent their apartments to fashionable yet soulless youngsters, who will pay significantly elevated rates merely because the neighborhood is a hive of vacuous mimicry and extended childhood. By the end of the movie, the landlord has succeeded in his plan.

However, in a twist ending, he himself is poisoned by his hipster grandson, hitherto viewed as nothing more than a punch line by the audience. The film ends with the nephew talking on the sidewalk with some people; the discussion turns to some movie -- perhaps they see a poster -- the nephew says in passing, "Yeah, It's an allegory for something."

FIN. Wolf Parade to soundtrack.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


One day I was working in the Brooklyn Public Library, and I noticed a book on the shelf, translated from the Dutch, called Rats by Martin Hart. Seeing as I have recently had some experience of my own with the mouse menace I decided to take a look. I quickly found myself repelled, and a little weirded out, by the author's pro-rat bias.

Here, the author takes umbrage at the "strange belief" in rats stripping animals (or people) "to the bone:"
"Those who do not defend themselves may lose their noses, a few fingers and toes, but will never be eaten down to the bone by rats. Moreover when rats do consume corpses (of conspecifics or other animals) they eat the bones as well. All that is left behind of other rats is the tip of the tail."
After complaining for many pages about the poor treatment rats receive in literature, the author singles out The Wind in the Willows, of all things, as constituting a notable exception to the trend:
"There can be no objection to his portrait of the brown rat -- the calm, hardworking animal Grahame describes would be welcome as a pet by anyone. The black rat, too, is magnificently described."
Here's the author on the subject of rats as pets:
"Children, too, are usually very fond of rats. Not weighed down with all sorts of prejudices, they generally need no more than ten minutes before the pick up a rat and stroke it, as I have seen my nephews and nieces do time and again. Children like to push rats along in a doll's pram, covered with a little blanket. There is, however, one fairly strong objection to keeping rats as family pets: they are highly susceptible to pulmonary infections which can be communicated to children."
It's just a weird book, man:
"There are many people who keep rats as snake food. On a Sunday afternoon the whole family gathers round the cage of their pet boa or python and watches while a live rat is thrown to, and devoured by, the hungry snake. No one to whom I have ever told this has shown any sign of indignation. But when I tell them that hamsters are used for the same purpose they usually protest. I am glad to say that I have heard of cases where the rat bit large chunks out of the skin of the snake."
And it only gets weirder...:
"I know cases of elderly people who used to feed wild rats by hand in their gardens every day. This may sometimes be the only daily encounter such lonely old people still have. I shall probably end my days in the same way."
It's an ostensibly scientific book which describes the anatomy and habits of rats, and yet every couple pages the author chooses to share some creepy rats-related reminiscence from his childhood:
"On many an afternoon and evening in the early summer I used to lie in the long grass round refuse tips and the banks of stagnant pools watching the incessant toing and froing of brown rats. Provided I did not move, they paid hardly any attention to me. Sometimes they would even sniff at me."
Why are you so weird, Rat Man?

Monday, August 11, 2008

In my on-going quests to waste time at night

I have added a favicon to our blog! Woo!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Facebook Ad Rating

So I found out today at TechCrunch about Facebook ad ratings, little up/down thumbs below FB ads. FB ads are awful, all of the ones that I notice are "21 and still single?" or "Meet hot girls!" So I gave one a bad rating, and it turns out that when you do this, Facebook serves you a new ad! So I got an ad for Palladium rings. Um... thumbs down. Then I got an ad for dating, again. One of the options (it asks you why you thumbed-down when you do so) is "Repetitive." Yessir. But THEN I got an ad for urban adventure racing in Chicago. Now, I'm moving away in 7 days, but still, AWESOME.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

So I discovered Blogger in Draft

And now leaving a comment is less painful! Hooray! Now, if anyone were reading this thing...

A series of thoughts from tonight

So I was reading an entertaining and, it proved, thought-provoking blog entry by my friend Andy which, as it inspired in me a feeling of general malaise and hopelessness, led me to start writing a post here about how futile all decisions and knowledge were. This, somehow, got me to use the word "logorrhea." It occurred to me that there is probably an entertaining Wikipedia entry on that word; in fact, it's an astonishingly long entry! It led me to that happy old chestnut, the Sokal Affair, which reminded me of the most unpleasant conversation I suffered through at Princeton (I elide describing that conversation because it would be extraordinarily insulting towards someone I doubt ever reads this blog, and therefore cowardly). It also caused me to read some of Google's book preview of Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. This seems to be a worthwhile book to read. The end result is that I am satisfied that human knowledge and progress exists, although only at a cultural/societal level, whereas for an individual all progress is ephemeral, except for interpersonal relationships, which are so easily neglected, but so enjoyably and rewardingly kept up. A happy ending on which to go to sleep!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Deleting old emails is strangely emotional

It makes me wish I wrote letters on paper so that deletion was a more tangible act.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another quote I found

I wish I were finding these quotes online so I could properly use the cite attribute of a blockquote tag.

Reputation is also not generalizable or portable. There are people who will cheat on their spouse but not at cards, and vice versa, and both, and neither. Reputation in one situation is not directly portable to another

This is from The Best Software Writing I, which came out in 2005, and so is a little dated (I love that I'm going to be working in a field where 2005 is "a little dated"), but not too badly, and is strongly recommended to anyone who enjoys good writing and the use of computers. If you've never cared to, or maybe had to, write a line of code in your life, 40% of the book would be understandable, and if you've done any programming at all (hell, setting up a blog is a sufficient start), that goes up to maybe 80-90%.

The interesting 40% mostly involves software's business & social side- smart people like Cory Doctorow or Clay Shirky (the source of the quote above), who ought to be read by pretty much anyone who likes the internet. Alternatively, skip the book, since it's mostly a compendium of blog posts (there are a few conference talks included), and just go read their blogs.

Friday, July 25, 2008

My Favorite Line in Moby Dick, thus far

So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Friday, July 18, 2008


  • Why are there so many colleges in New York City, and why do they all advertise on the subway so much? Do they do any research that shows this is effective?
  • Is it appropriate to play Marco Polo in a motel called the Marco Polo Motel? If not, why?
  • Does anyone ever click on Facebook ads?
  • Why do websites make you pick a username? Why not just use your email? (OpenID will probably never work)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Proposal: "Dog Day"

I think we should have a holiday devoted to dogs, a day marked by celebrations of man's best friend. It should also be a holiday enforced by law.

--On Dog Day, everyone must take their dog for four walks during the course of the day

--On Dog Day, it would be illegal for any restaurant, charcuterie, or other place of business to bar dogs from inspecting the premises.

--On Dog Day, all the streets will be closed, and everyone will be required to carry a tennis ball or frisbee around with them.

--On Dog Day, adopting a dog from the Pound gets you a significant tax credit.

--Finally, at the conclusion of Dog Day, as a final token of esteem for our canine friends, a mailman will be sacrificed in their honor.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Totally Inefficient Use of Wikipedia

There are, to the best of my knowledge, and my knowledge is disturbingly expansive (if ephemeral), no outstanding female European royals that are near my age. This makes the prospect of my living in a castle far more improbable than childhood Hal ever imagined.

A Blog Redesign!

At the urging of my esteemed cohort and future host, Hal, I was given to undertake a redesign of our blog. The changes are fairly minor, as far as their size, but I think they are of great value in increasing the legibility and attractiveness of our blog.

  1. Our blog's primary font is now Trebuchet, a change from Georgia. It's a taller font. I prefer it.
  2. The former backgrounds, a repeating pattern for the page background, and a faux-paper texture for the text's background, have been replaced by a single light-gray color. I avoided white, which I find too stark on a computer monitor, but retained a high contrast against the text.
  3. The separation between the blog's title and the blog posts has been modified in a minor, mostly irrelevant way, replacing an image with a dotted line.
  4. Links and other colored items are now all various shades of gray, and the Blogger nav-bar has been changed to a gray styling as well. To avoid making this blog unreadably monotonous, Hal and I will endeavour to include pictures in future posts.
  5. I have widened the blog's text by 100 pixels. This makes it significantly wider than the sidebar, which heretofore was over-emphasized, but is not so wide as to cause difficulty for the reader. A quick sampling showed the average post was now about 15 words, or around 85 characters, which I think acceptable.

Comments are greatly appreciated! It's extremely likely that there are HTML elements I have failed to correct. In the next few days I'll be trying to exercise them thoroughly, but if I miss anything, please alert me (or Hal).


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Shrubbery of Doom

A long time ago I was supposed to review Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, the author of the excellent short-story collection Jesus Son. I got distracted by life and never finished that review. The book was terrible, but somehow it won the National Book Award.

Anyway, here's the first paragraph, the only one I completed in its entirety (I had a lot of suggestive jottings), from that review.
'Of the three people I know who set out to read this novel, I am the sole survivor to reach the end. It lends a certain glamor to what was otherwise a joyless undertaking. Reminiscent of the Vietnam War which gives Tree of Smoke its setting, to have read this book in its entirety is to emerge a veteran of a senseless waste of life. Other phrases which describe both Vietnam and Tree of Smoke include “interminable quagmire” and “catastrophic South-Asian adventure.”'

This is not a blog

Increasingly, this blog is being read by acquaintances unaware of its original social context and Nassau Weekly origin. Since our "About" tab on the Left is pretty unhelpful, perhaps an explanation is in order.

The authors of this blog are Harold "Hal" G. Parker III and Harold "Hal" T. Pratt IV. We both went to Princeton, worked for the same newspaper, and belonged to the same eating-club. In addition, we superficially resemble one another. Both of us blog under the username "HP."

Once upon a time we wrote an article for the Nass called "Hal vs. Hal," which consisted of a series of letters exchanged between the Hal's on the subject of television. Then, we wrote three more articles of the same Hal-vs-Hal type. Finally, one summer we decided to turn the idea into a blog -- hence, the ":The Blog" part of the title. We like to think of this blog as a Hegelian experiment in self-objectifying narcissism.

Also, one last thing you should know is that Hal Pratt is not the author of the post, Three Memories by Hal Pratt. I wrote that one as a joke just as he wrote a fake one about me as well, Three Memories by Hal Parker. Hal Parker is not the author of that post.

Or is he?

(To be clear, the answer is no.)


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Kant Get Enough...

...of Manfred Kueh's Kant: A Biography.

Here are three humorous excerpts.

1. "It was not just the cold that made Scheffner shiver. Nor was it simply the fear of his own death, which might have been awakened in him by the hollow sounds of the frozen clods of earth falling on the almost-empty coffin. The tremor that would reverberate in his head for days and weeks had deeper causes. Kant, the man, was gone forever. The world was cold, and there was no hope -- not for Kant, and perhaps not for any of us." (2)

2. "In fact, one of the only joys remaining to him was observing a bird, a titmouse, that came every spring and sang in his garden. When this bird came late one year, he said: 'It must still be cold in the Apennines,' wishing the bird good weather for its homecoming. In 1803 the bird did not come back. Kant was sad and complained, 'My little birdie is not coming.'" (418)

3. "On February 11, he uttered his last words. Thanking Wasianski for giving him a mixture of wine and water, he said: "Es ist gut," or "it is good." Much has been made of these words -- but "Es ist gut" need not have been the affirmation that this is the best of all possible worlds, it can also mean "it's enough," and it probably meant just that in the context. He had drunk enough -- but he had also had enough of life." (422)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why I oughtn't be allowed out on low sleep

I was reading Charles Petzold's blog again, and it was talking about Desk Set, which is my favorite movie of my mom's favorite movies (creepy yet?), and I realized that the reason I think Spencer Tracy is cool is because in that movie he plays a computer salesman. Also, it's definitely the best appearance of a computer in a movie ever, including 2001, which is great, but Hal would never really do that, and WarGames, because, seriously, WOPR would have just realized that the human that told it to play Tic-Tac-Toe was a Communist and needed to be killed. SO unrealistic.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Joy of Stylometry

From Wikipedia:

The primary stylometric method is the writer invariant: a property of a text which is invariant of its author. An example of a writer invariant is frequency of function words used by the writer.

In one such method, the text is analyzed to find the 50 most common words. The text is then broken into 5,000 word chunks and each of the chunks is analyzed to find the frequency of those 50 words in that chunk. This generates a unique 50-number identifier for each chunk. These numbers place each chunk of text into a point in a 50-dimensional space. This 50-dimensional space is flattened into a plane using principal components analysis (PCA). This results in a display of points that correspond to an author's style. If two literary works are placed on the same plane, the resulting pattern may show if both works were by the same author or different authors.

Early efforts were not always successful: in 1901, one researcher attempted to use John Fletcher's preference for "'em," the contractional form of "them," as a marker to distinguish between Fletcher and Philip Massinger in their collaborations—but he mistakenly employed an edition of Massinger's works in which the editor had expanded all instances of "'em" to "them."

In the early 1960s, Rev. A. Q. Morton produced a computer analysis of the fourteen Epistles of the New Testament attributed to St. Paul, which showed that six different authors had written that body of work. A check of his method, applied to the works of James Joyce, gave the result that Ulysses was written by five separate individuals, none of whom had any part in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


A quote, from some random blog.

"Here's some advice for successfully reading a book: You need to stay focused, so try to avoid distractions. Avoid multitasking. Avoid task switching. Turn off the TV. Shift positions occasionally so you don't get cramps or backaches. Don't get too comfortable or you might fall asleep. (Interestingly, many of these same rules apply to having sex, except that you can read a book with a cat in your lap.)"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I think I'm becoming a behaviorist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Nothing less than truly scintillating...satisfying, even electrifying"

So reads an exceedingly vapid blurb on the cover of The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster, a collection of three previous novels, City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986). Although these novels were originally published separately, they constitute a thematic unity and belong together -- whether or not they constitute a diegetic unity in addition seems to me a question for the reader.

(Diegetic is a word which refers to things within the universe of a story, as opposed to narrative commentary from without. Do the three books occur in the same physical universe with shared characters, etc.? It's questionable)

I reread this work recently on the recommendation of Marina. Simply put, I was blown away. Literally. Just kidding: only figuratively. I had read it years before, but I guess it hadn't made too great an impression. Not since Lolita has any book changed so greatly in my estimation upon rereading.

It's an incredibly stimulating book, the kind that launches a thousand conversations. There's so much theoretical ground one could cover in talking about it that I feel hopelessly burdened in trying to compass it within the space of a blog-entry. Instead, I think I'm just going to copy out a long quote from the end of the first book, City of Glass, about a private investigator originally hired to investigate an eccentric who imprisoned his child in darkness as an experiment in natural language:
This period of growing darkness coincided with the dwindling of pages in the red notebook. Little by little, Quinn was coming to the end. At a certain point, he realized that the more he wrote, the sooner the time would come when he could no longer write anything. He began to weigh his words with great care, struggling to express himself as economically and clearly as possible. He regretted having wasted so many pages at the beginning of the red notebook, and in fact felt sorry that he had bothered to write about the Stillman case at all. For the case was far behind him now, and he no longer bothered to think about it. It had been a bridge to another place in his life, and now that he had crossed it, its meaning had been lost. Quinn no longer had any interest in himself. He wrote about the stars, the earth, his hopes for mankind. He felt that his words had been severed from him, that now they were a part of the world at large, as real and specific as a stone, or a lake, or a flower. They no longer had anything to do with him. He remembered the moment of his birth and how he had been pulled gently from his mother's womb. He remembered the infinite kindnesses of the world and all the people he had ever loved. Nothing mattered now but the beauty of all this. He wanted to go on writing about it, and it pained him to know that this would not be possible. Nevertheless, he tried to face the end of the red notebook with courage. He wondered if he had it in him to write without a pen, if he could learn to speak instead, filling the darkness with his voice, speaking the words into the air, into the walls, into the city, even if the light never came back again.

The last sentence of the red notebook reads: 'What will happen when there are no more pages in the red notebook?"

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Mysterious Passage

While doing research for my senior thesis, I came across this passage from Leo Strauss's 1964 book, The City and Man:

“Plato’s work consists of many dialogues because it imitates the manyness, the variety, the heterogeneity of being. The many dialogues form a kosmos which mysteriously imitates the mysterious kosmos. The Platonic kosmos imitates or reproduces its model in order to awaken us to the mystery of the model and to assist us in articulating that mystery.” (61-62)

This is perhaps the most strikingly platitudinous thing anyone has ever said about Plato.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thimply Wonderful

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan.

Here is an interesting fact about life in Thimphu:

Thimphu is the only national capital in Asia that does not have traffic lights. When local authorities installed a set of lights, people complained that they were too impersonal. The authorities gave in, and took them down. Instead of traffic lights, the city takes pride in its traffic police that directs the oncoming traffic with their dance-like movement of their arms and hands.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Against Trivia

How quickly the recitation of trivia turns to the subject of historical death-counts. Death-counts are the ne plus ultra of trivia. How many people died there.

Trivia is itself the end product of the atomization of history into a collection of unrelated "facts" whose only meaning is to be stated as quickly as possible in the greatest numbers possible. Trivia is a war against history.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Scandal of the Vulva

Even though the vagina is only part of the female genital apparatus, often people use the word "vagina" as slang for the whole. I believe I have an explanation for this synecdoche.

The vagina is the exact spatial and functional complement of the penis. Penis and vagina exist "for" one another. To characterize the entire apparatus in terms of the vagina, therefore, is to define it as in need of the penis, as intelligible only in the context of the penis. Correspondingly, women exist in order to be "satisfied" or "made whole" by men.

The scandal of the vulva is that it suggests the possibility of a world without penises. It's certainly not incompatible with the penis, but neither is it purely dependent on it. Rather, the vulva institutes a regime of womanly pleasure liberated from the capabilities of males, a regime with which any rapprochement is always of an improvised and factitious nature which eludes science.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From the Diary of Samuel Pepys, II

23 February 1668

This evening, my wife did with great pleasure show me her stock of jewells, encreased by the ring she had made lately as my Valentine's gift this year, a turky-stone set with diamonds; and with this and what she had, she reckons that she hath above 15olb worth of jewells of one kind of other. And I am glad of it, for it is fit the wretch should have something to content herself with.

From the Diary of Samuel Pepys, I

23 March Lords Day, 1662

This morning was brought my boyes fine liver, which is very handsome, and I do think to keep to black and gold lace upon gray, being the colour of my armes, for ever. To church in the morning. And so home with Sir W. Batten and there eat some boiled great oysters; and so home, and while I was at dinner with my wife, I was sick and was forced to vomitt up my oysters again, and then I was well.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

R.I.P. W.F.B.

"The central question that emerges…is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes—the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race."

-William F. Buckley, 1957, National Review

Yeah, he was a great man alright.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Reflections on my cold

The ancient physician and medical writer Hippocrates wrote that diseases had a "course," a course which sometimes had to be allowed to run itself out. Certain medical interventions had to be staged at the "right time" in order to be effective. (The word in Greek for "right time" is kairos, a very interesting word. The idea of a "right time" is a very different idea from linear time (chronos) when you think about it. The word shows up famously in the New Testament in the phrase en kairo -- usually translated, "in the fullness of time.")

In any case, I wholeheartedly reject the logic of Hippocrates. I refuse to let this cold run its course through my body. I refuse to derogate my body to the status of a pipe where passing microbes may sound the stops they please. The frailty of the body is annealed only through the industry of the mind and the accumulation of scientific knowledge. Sickness should not be endured, but combated through the thousand strategems and counter-measures at our disposal. I just bought a box of orange juice, for instance.

No matter how gruesome the facade of disease, no matter how hopelessly complex the human body and its disorders may seem, behind them always we find the same mechanism, the same familiar predictable principles of mechanism -- be they biological, mechanical, or psychological. As such, the task is the easiest in the world -- master the mechanism, defeat the disease. The contest between man and nature cannot even be called a contest because our victory is assured. It is only a matter of time.

If today finds us unable to set the body right, the new sun will rise on the victory of mankind.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A List of Radically Inappropriate Gifts

These are all radically inappropriate. I think the first one is my favorite.

1. A dozen puppies.

2. A box of morning after pills.

3. Worm-farm starter-kit.

4. Howler-monkey mix-tape.

5. Apples from Chernobyl.

6. A slap on the back.

7. Swastika sneakers.

8. Half a cheeseburger.

9. A garbage bag full of leaves.

10. A sockful of pig iron

11. Do-it-yourself milk pasteurizer.

12. Crude heroin.

13. This isn't an item on the list, but it's an amusing anecdote anyway. When my brother Rob and I were little kids, we had no resources with which to purchase real gifts during holidays, so instead we would parcel out random kid-possessions as gifts. For Christmas I gave Rob a creased paperback, and he gave me a golf ball.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Joseph Conrad, from Heart of Darkness:
It is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence- that which makes its truth, its meaning- it's subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible, we live, as we dream- alone.

Thomas Wolfe, from Look Homeward, Angel:
... a stone, a leaf, a door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And all the forgotten faces.
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Three Portraits of the Underworld

From an early sketch for the Arcades Project, quoted in the NYRB (Walter Benjamin):
"One knew of places in ancient Greece where the way led down into the underworld. Our waking existence likewise is a land which, at certain hidden points, leads down into the underworld -- a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise. All day long, suspecting nothing, we pass them by, but no sooner has sleep come than we are eagerly groping our way back to lose ourselves in the dark corridors. By day, the labyrinth of urban dwellings resembles consciousness: the arcades ...issue unremarked onto the streets. At night, however, under the tenebrous mass of the houses, their denser darkness protrudes like a threat, and the nocturnal pedestrian hurries past --unless, that is, we have emboldened him to turn into the narrow lane."
From "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
From Virgil's Aeneid, Book VI:

Talibus orabat dictis, arasque tenebat,
cum sic orsa loqui vates: `Sate sanguine divom,
Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averno;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est. Pauci, quos aequus amavit
Iuppiter, aut ardens evexit ad aethera virtus,
dis geniti potuere. Tenent media omnia silvae,
Cocytusque sinu labens circumvenit atro.
Quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est,
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe, quae peragenda prius. Latet arbore opaca
aureus et foliis et lento vimine ramus,
Iunoni infernae dictus sacer; hunc tegit omnis
lucus, et obscuris claudunt convallibus umbrae.
Sed non ante datur telluris operta subire,
auricomos quam quis decerpserit arbore fetus.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Here are three quotations on the subject of solitude from Montaigne, Goethe, and Pascal.

From Montaigne's Essais:
"The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself."
From Dichtung und Wahrheit, Book 15:
"The common destiny of man, which we all have to bear. . . . We may grow up under the protection of parents and relatives, we may find support from brothers and sisters and friends, we may be entertained by acquaintances and made happy by beloved persons. But still, the finale [das Final] is always that man is thrown back upon himself, and it seems as if even the Deity had taken such a position toward man so as not always to be able to respond to his reverence, trust, and love -- at least not precisely in the moment of urgency."
From Pascal's Pensees:
"I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know now what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which srround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape."

Friday, January 25, 2008


Here are some "notes" towards the creation of a manifesto for a publication, Errata, with which I am affiliated. I began them a long time ago, but only recent rediscovered them while cleaning my room.

auto-da-fe to our own narcissism

crippling [crossed-out] fidelity

oral stage --> genital sexuality
Clearly I was going important places in these notes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Finals always cause me to make terrible puns

Sadly, they all only make sense to computer science types, because I don't have time to take fun courses. I do distinctly recall in yon days making terrible puns during the aural part of my music final... but alas, nevermore.

As an example: when I elided part of a proof in my class on Languages & Type Systems, I wrote "I'm tired of this, so I'm going to stop typing," which is funny, because I may have been referring to typing at my keyboard, or the activity of typing a program.

Or, just this moment, which inspired me to make this post, I made a positively inane joke, which relies on the fact that a tree is a graph that has like 50 or so (I exagerrate, but there are seriously a lot) definitions, or, anyways, necessary and sufficient properties, one of which is that it is a connected graph where all nodes are connected by a unique path.

"the path is unique because we live in Treeville [the professors gave the town this name in the problem. I'm not completely crazy. Right?], where every path is unique, the well-known Montessori school of urban development"

My favorite thing about this torturous pun is that it contains within itself yet another pun, urban development vs. child development, as well as the fact that I am given to suspect on no solid basis whatsoever that most Montessori schools are in urban areas (or maybe suburban? Anyways, not rural), which is even worse than the original pun. Eventually I will manage a meta-metapun, to encode within a pun a pun about encoding puns in puns. With any luck, it will be while discussing either language, puns, or encodings. I will then be filled with a beatific calm at the orderly, self-referential, complete structure of the universe. Then either a car horn will honk, a window slam, or a little kid will do something very unstructured and capricious, like burn a house down because she hasn't yet learned that fire burns things, and I will be glad that that grotesque sham of reality is just the overambitious dream of a generally overwhelmed little brain. I'll be more glad for a fire extinguisher, but the metaphysical shock is welcome.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Whenever people talk about the death penalty, I feel sad

Take this, for example, from the BBC:

"Hanging causes a fracture between the second and third cervical vertebrae, fracturing the joint, tugging the spinal cord, damaging the brain stem and causing the heart to stop. Still common in many parts of the world, it's nevertheless an exact science - if the rope is too short, the prisoner may not die instantly; too long and he may be decapitated. The latter seems to have been the case last year in the botched hanging of Saddam Hussein's half-brother "

What are they talking about? You're KILLING someone. How is DECAPITATION a "botched hanging"? Also, what is "seems" about this? HE WAS DECAPITATED. This is not, um, something one need speculate about.

Also, inevitably, the wonderful world of internet comments leads to a barrage of alternately "The death penalty is wrong, and I will argue this with a grotesquely smug tranquility, peon," and "These inhuman criminals need to be tortured! You're all effeminate anti-globalization communist hippie gay fags," statements. I like how this underscores that the internet is probably going to be the underpinning of our future surveillance society, because, otherwise, you can't buy things safely on Amazon, and the RIAA/MPAA can't sue you for using P2P, and you might be a terrorist, anyways. I hate that word SO MUCH!

*rant elided

(I have decided to start using this as short hand for my getting irrationally upset about a triviality).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Those Were The Days

It's not nostalgia, it's a Cream reference (yes they were).

Our best HvH ever!

The Joy of Education


Dearest IV,

My idea of education is that everyone should be able to hit a target, solve a differential equation, and read Latin. If you’re not learning how to do these things, you’re basically wasting your time at college. The Greek word paideia…the advent of humanism…blah blah blah…the liberal arts…at last the development of the modern university. Let the game begin. You have to choose three things that comprise your idea of education. They shouldn’t be too specific, too general, too useless, too useful, or too boring (like “principles of accounting”). The only real requirement is that they be interesting. This game is endless fun and an art unto itself. You can have as many ideas of education as you want. My idea of education is that everyone should know how to build a sundial, talk about the significance of Hamlet, and outwit a wild dog.
So, how about it? What is your idea of education?



Fearful-of-family-canidae III,

Solve a Diff Eq? Those guys you just look up. Speaking of which…
My idea of an education is that one knows which reference books one ought to own, one never mistakes the case of their pronouns, and one has at least 500 good quotations at hand (digits of pi only count if you know more than 10). This game is endless fun. After all, if we say ask what an education consists in, are we not questioning the validity of the university as a whole? Might we judge the administration’s efficacy with annular Princeton Survivor on that weird little island in Lake Carnegie, augmented with a wild pack of family dogs?
Yes, but the dogs are proving hard to find. In the meantime, we can pack in as many references
as possible, sort of a self-consciously erudite VH1 special. This is, after all, how most people our age experience life, to greater or lesser degrees of self-consciousness (and, inversely, self-importance). Or maybe I just get called Mr. Boston way too damn often. Stupid show.
Te toca a ti.



HP: Everyone should know how to fly a plane, make a speech, and hold a wineglass.
HP: Everyone should know how to string a fishing lure, what heroic couplet is, and how to blow smoke rings.
HP: Everyone should know how to throw a dart, how an engine works, and the true meaning of grief.
HP: Everyone should know how to discipline a child, roll a joint, and deliver a compliment.
HP: Everyone should be able to read a topographical map, mix a martini, and know how to break into a door with a credit card.
HP: Everyone should know how to throw a punch, appreciate Symbolist painting, and navigate by the stars alone.
HP: Everyone should know how to smoke a pork shoulder, pray, and play the piano.
HP: Everyone should know how to write a love-letter, hitch a ride on a sea-turtle, and the strange history of cheese.
HP: Everyone should be able to waltz, shotgun a beer, and put on lipstick.
HP: Everyone should be able to train a monkey, speak the truth, and drive a car at 150 MPH.
HP: Everyone should know how to make a good paper airplane, use chopsticks, and use a camera’s flash correctly.
HP: Everyone should be able to pull a tooth, fold a flag, and insult every manner of European in his own tongue.
HP: Everyone should be able to iron a dress shirt, argue vehemently for or against the serial comma, and gut a fish.
HP: Everyone should be able to wear heels with aplomb, administer CPR, and have a good knowledge of the Pre-Socratics.
HP: Everyone should know how to palm a coin, fold a napkin, and write a webpage in XHTML/CSS.
HP: Everyone should know how to charm a cobra, deliver a baby, and have a discreet affair.
HP: Everyone should be able to make a pizza, triangulate, and tie your shoes with one hand.
HP: Everyone should know the science of rhetoric, how to see through a blindfold, and the fundamentals of tannery.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between emperor and monarch butterflies, epees and foils, and nu’s and v’s.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between a secret and a mystery, an acid and a base, and a rabbit and a jackrabbit.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between sleet and freezing rain, chasms and abysses, and African wild dogs and jackals.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between liquor and liqueur, a shilling and a farthing, and a Yankee and a goddamn Yankee.
HP: Everyone should know how to drive a stick-shift, the meaning of the word flux, and the lives of at least 5 English monarchs.
HP: Everyone should know how to weave a fine quilt, throw a party, and give a eulogy.
HP: Everyone should be able to type at least at 30 words per minute, know what ibid. means, and know how to use the safety on a gun.
HP: Everyone should know how to communicate in semaphore, the perfidy of Portuguese sailors, and be familiar with the mass cultivation of tobacco.
HP: Everyone should know how to calculated an expected value, the primary agricultural product of their home state, and the number of national championships their alma mater
has won in football and basketball.
HP: Everyone should know how to treat the homeless with respect, savor the sunset, and stage a coup d’etat.
HP: Everyone should know how to braid hair, how to bowl a strike, and at least three stupid gimmicky methods of opening a beer bottle.
HP: Everyone should know how to make spaghetti, juggle medicine balls, and drive a car ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to open Starburst in their mouth, read in a mirror, and use sign language ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to amuse strangers, impress girls, and urinate off a moving bicycle ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to tie a shoe one-handed, dance en pointe, and drink a flaming shot ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to sketch a model, escape from a hospital, and the cool parts of the Bible.
HP: Everyone should know how to read palms, pick pockets, and cross-dress convincingly.

Dearest IV,

Clearly my education is a failure since I can only do two things from the entire list. Also, I think the fact that eight of the things we came up with are drug-related speaks plenty about the state of collegiate education. And despite the inclusion of a few “feminine” things like braiding hair and weaving quilts, I also wonder if this list isn’t maybe a little sexist. Or maybe I’m sexist for seeing this list as sexist using outdated characterizations of the masculine and the feminine? Ultimately, I’m left with questions. For instance, what the fuck is flux? And is there actually a difference between a rabbit and jackrabbit? Why are you obsessed with being able to
tie your shoes one-handed? I still wish I knew how to outwit a wild dog more than anything.



Fretful III,

I readily admit to the list being sexist, but that’s only primarily because I am. Why is that? I suppose it’s because, in main, my education has been the long accumulation of tricks, habits, orthodoxies & iconoclasms, and an ever-increasing sense of failure. When, after all, what you’re actually supposed to be learning is how to ask questions well, how to deal with other humans as
such, and how to doubt effectively without completely losing trust and faith – well, that last point a lot of people get pissy about, but however much it ires the stubborn, we spend the vast majority of our time reasoning via appeal to authority, whether or no it’s The Authority. So, maybe education is just learning to fail catastrophically and gracefully, with well-rolled joints and well-tied shoes.



Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two Quotes Apropos of Dean's Date

"But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."
-Matthew 24:13

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."
-H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thank God that debacle of a year is over

And this year, we get to vote for our government representatives. Huzzah!

So, tonight, after watching that travesty of a Rose Bowl, my parents' friends' daughter brought a PS2 and this singing game which was a lot of fun. I discovered that, despite all having lived through the '80s, almost none of them knew the Talking Heads song Burning Down The House. But everyone knows Cheap Trick, apparently. Interesting. Also, I couldn't convince anyone to sing along to Creep. Finally, the 2nd Killers album is still atrocious.

I also discovered (technically today) that there is no better thing than being woken up by your acid dropping friends at 5 am who show up with White Castle. It's like Santa Claus, only with funny stories and really strange tics.

Also, my little brother is in Rome with the school band at the moment. Being the littlest brother is entirely unfair, I must say.

Finally, I love how the new year makes all the prognosticators come out of the woodwork and write stupid articles about the number of things that will be important next year. Unless there are percentages and confidence intervals, you're as trustworthy as that kid who apparently spammed everyone's Princeton email account with a YouTube video. Who does that?