31 December 2008

Post 175

What is the difference between a safety net and a comfort blanket?

100 words. Go.

One must never mistake a comfort blanket for a safety net, nor vice versa; a net will never keep you warm, and a blanket will never break your fall. It is always nice to have a comfort blanket, but safety nets are, on the whole, a good deal more useful. A blanket, I suppose, merely gives the illusion of safety or strengthens what confidence we have. A net, on the other hand, is what you really want to have around should you ever have to walk that line alone. It’s okay to take the blanket with you when you get


50 words. Go.

Safety blankets are for a placebo sort of effect; safety nets can really save your life. Everyone should work to not need either, but you should probably always keep a safety net handy even long after you don’t feel you need it anymore. No one doesn’t need a safety net.


25 words. Go.

Comfort blankets make you feel better about yourself, but safety nets actually protect us from real dangers. While everyone must eventually outgrow their blanket, no


5 words. Go.

You never outgrow safety nets.

29 December 2008

Post 174

So, I've been cuddling with my parents' dictionaries again. I love these things, man. 1984 World Book Dictionary--if you can get your hands on 'em, they are so much fun! Every time I go to look up a word in them, I get distracted by some other word, and then I get lost in all the awesome words I'm learning.

For example, this evening I was looking up prolix because I was a little unsure of the way Hong was using it in his translation of Kierkegaard's Works of Love. After reading its definition ("using too many words; too long; tedious") and being satisfied, I permitted my eyes to wander around the page, whereupon I noticed prolegomenon ("preliminary material in a book, teatise, or the like; preface; introduction"), prolegomenous ("of or having to do with prolegomena"), and prolegomenary ("=prolegomenous"). Just above them, I found prolapsus, which is the same as prolapse, which means to slip out of place but is only used when speaking of bodily organs. Cotinuing to the other half of the open spread, I found prolongate (which is merely a prolonged form of prolong) and prolusion (which is yet another word for an introduction and has it's own adjectival partner prolusory). I also learned that Prom (like in high school) is short for promenade, that pro memoria is Latin for "for a memorial or remembrance," and that Promoter of the Faith is the same as devil's advocate.

Now, all of these things may be the sort of stuff you can find in a normal dictionary; it was when I took my que from Promotor of the Faith and headed over to D that I remembered just why I love this particular two-volume dictionary so much.

I have to wonder what sort of standard the editors of this great work used to establish what a word really is. Now, I'm all for including any utterance that communicates something in common usage in a dictionary, but that's more feasable now that we have online dictionaries; back in 1984, space constraints were certainly a big deal, so how do you decide what makes the cut?

And how common was the word demothball back in '84? Especially meaning "to return (military or naval equipment) to use by removing the preservative coating in which it has been stored"?

But that's not the best one. My new favorite word--the one of all of these that is, I hope, most likely to become commonplace in my vocabulary--is deux-chevaux. Literally, it's French for "two horses," but my dear, dear 1984 World Book Dictionary defines it as, "an automobile with a badly worn-out engine with only as much power as one would suppose a two-horsepower engine to have."

Lookout, world: I'ma gonna be insulting your cars in French now! Deus vult!

(Deus Misereatur....)

Deus vorbiscum.

23 December 2008

Post 173

I picked up Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman from the Provo library before heading home for the holidays. I was intrigued by the book's subtitle ("A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary"), and when I saw that William Safire called it the "linguistic detective story of the decade," I figured I couldn't go wrong. But it's that darn voice thing again, you know? This is a fascinating account of modern British history, but I just don't like the way Winchester writes.

Some examples:

In talking about the sacrifices of some Connecticut soldiers in the Civil War, Winchester writes, "The world, President Lincoln was to say six months later when he consecrated the land as a memorial to the fallen, could never forget what they had done there." Wow. Way to break up a simple and very direct quote with an unnecessarily lengthy reporting clause. (Page 51, btw)

A couple pages late (53), Winchester gives this lengthy editorial paragraph:

"Given what we now know about the setting and the circumstance of his first encounter with war, it does seem at least reasonable and credible to suppose that his madness--latent, hovering in the background--was triggered at that time. Something specific seems to have happened in Orange County, Virginia, early in May 1864, during the two days of the astonishingly bloody encounter that has since come to be called the Battle of Wilderness. It was a fight to test the sanest of men: Some of the occurrences of those two days were utterly beyond human imagination."

I dunno. This just sounds like a chintzy, "Cower in fear, O reader, for the horrors our hero is about to face far surpass what he has hitherto known." Yeah, yeah. How 'bout we just move on with the story, huh? Don't tell me that you're about to tell me something really great--just tell me!

Also, this guy really loves dashes. I mean, I like dashes a lot, but look at this from page 55:

"The fighting therefore was conducted not with artillery--which couldn't see--nor with cavalry--which couldn't ride. It had to be conducted by infantrymen with muskets--their guns charged with the dreadful flesh-tearing minie ball, a newfangled kind of bullet that was expanded by a powder charge in its base and inflicted huge, unsightly wounds--or hand-to-hand, with bayonets and sabers. And with the heat and smoke of battle came yet another terror--fire."

I dunno. I'll probably finish the book because it's short and I'm on vacation and I wanna know how this story unfolds, but I really don't like the way this guy writes.

This has been a problem for me lately with the non-fiction I've been looking at. During Thanksgiving, I picked up Theric's copy of Hooligan by Douglas Thayer, and I was so annoyed by the way he dropped his verbs that I had to put it down (unfortunately, I didn't take note of any examples of that, so I can't really tell you what I mean, but I remember thinking, "Dude, who do you think you are, Michel Thaler?"). A week or two before that, I picked up Prozac Diary by Lauren Slater because I had heard such good things about her engaging and distinctive voice, but here I ran into the opposite problem because, even though I did find her writing fairly engrossing, the subject matter was a bit disturbing to me, so I walked away from it too.

*sigh* What's a poor boy to do?

17 December 2008

Post 172

I finished my finals yesterday--and already I'm going through academic withdrawls. I suppose the next couple weeks will find me striving to become inured to ennui. Oh well. At least I have my vocabulary to keep me warm....

13 December 2008

Post 171

And now for a poem I wrote on my mission. Enjoy!


Christmas comes, and Johnny's sure
To remember what it's for,
So writes his prayer out on a list,
And, just to make sure he's not missed,
He leaves an off'ring for his god
(A greedy being, so it's not odd):
A plate of cookies and some milk,
Then goes to bed wrapped in a quilt.
He stays awake (he cannot sleep)
And so a silent vigil keeps
To see if he can hear a sound
When his god comes roaming 'round.
Then Santa Claus, his Christmas god,
On Johnny's snowy rooftop trods,
Goes down the chimney, to the table,
Eats all the cookies he is able
Then picks up Johnny's little list
And holds it tightly in his fist.

Now if you don't obey the laws
Set up by fat ole Santa Claus
You'll end up like Johnny, who
Got just old coal and nothing new.
I don't believe in Santa Claus;
If you must know why then it's because
He's a false god, and that is bad--
Don't worship him: it makes me sad!
If you love Santa and his bells
More than Jesus, you'll go to hell!


I'm not quite that bitter any more, but the sentiment always makes me smile. And whenever I hear that "Grown-up Christmas List" song, I think, "Wow, you really do pray to Santa, don't ya?"

Anyway, I realize I haven't posted very regularly lately, so I thought I'd put something up to say, "Merry Christmas!" and "I'm still kickin'!"

05 December 2008

Post 170

I have been enjoying pretty much the coolest sickness ever these past couple days. I've never known a sickness to be so--convenient. But this one ROCKS! Check it out:

This coming Monday (December 8th) I have two research projects, a four-page assignment, and an oral report due. I, of course, figured I could slap them all together this week, but such was a poor decision, and I was pretty stressed out when I went to bed Wednesday night.

And then a glorious thing happened: I woke up early Thursday morning, choking and hacking and nearly asphyxiating because my throat was sore sore and congested. I had no voice. Recognizing that I couldn't possibly work in such a condition (Tuesdays and Thursdays I work eight-hour days), I texted a work friend of mine saying something like, "I'm sick so I can't come to work and I don't have a voice so I can't call in. Please tell them I'm not coming," and then turned off my alarm clock and went back to bed.

I slept till sometime between 11 and noon and then got up. I felt physically weak, but my brain was clicking just fine, so I spent about 12 hours working on final projects, so now I'm all caught up.

Thank you, sickness.

I woke up this morning and realized very quickly that I had forgotten to turn my alarm clock on and had therefore overslept. I looked at my clock and learned that I had slept through my first two classes--one of which I had a test in. Luckily, that teacher teaches another section of that same class a couple hours later, so I hurried off to campus, found her class, and went to talk to her.

Kinda. Ya see, I still didn't have a voice, and power walking through the chilly air had only made it worse. As I tried to explain what had happened, she said, "Kyle, you sound sick. Take the test on Monday when you're feeling better."

So this sickness helped me get my projects done and pushed a test back!

Thank you, little sickness. Thank you so much.

30 November 2008

Post 169

A month or so ago, my New Testament professor made some passing reference to something Robert Frost wrote about God speaking to Job about the trials he had to endure. I didn't think much about it until a week or so ago. Turns out, this is a really hard thing to find. Near as I can tell, it isn't on the internet anywhere. Luckily, I live walking distance from one of the largest collegiate libraries in the nation, and I was able to find a dusty old copy there.

Anyway. Here it is: God explaining stuff to Job. Enjoy!

I've had you on my mind a thousand years
To thank you someday for the way you helped me
Establish once for all the principle
There's no connection man can reason out
Between his just deserts and what he gets.
Virtue may fail and wickedness succeed.
'Twas a great demonstration we put on.
I should have spoken sooner had I found
The word I wanted. You would have supposed
One who in the beginning was the Word
Would be in a position to command it.
I have to wait for words like anyone.
Too long I've owed you this apology
For the apparently unmeaning sorrow
You were afflicted with in those old days.
But it was the essence of the trial
You shouldn't understand it at the time.
It had to seem unmeaning to have meaning
And it came out all right. I have no doubt
You realize by now the part you played
To stultify the Deuteronomist
And change the tenor of religious thought.
My thanks are to you for releasing me
From moral bondage to the human race.

Frost, Robert. A Masque of Reason. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1945. 4.

23 November 2008

Post 168

Well, I'm rearranging things here in my little corner of blogdom again. Most of the changes are things you probably won't notice or care about (I made my labels more consistent and concise; I changed my "About Me"), but here is one thing you may care about: I've made a second blog.

This blog is The Eccentric Sage. I called it that because I didn't want this to be the sort of blog that is dedicated to the life and drama of its author; I wanted the posts to be things that would appeal to a much broader audience than people who know me personally. I like to think I've done an okay job at that. However, occasionally I do things that are so crazy that they deserve to be shouted into cyberspace, so I have created a place for them to go. The posts on my second blog will probably tend to be longish, but my hope is that they'll be worth reading. I don't really care if they aren't, though: I mostly just wanted a repository for my insanity. There isn't much there yet, but I will be adding to it a lot, I'm sure.


17 November 2008

Post 167

And now this amazing prophecy from the February 1959 issue of Time magazine:

Owlish Cellist Pablo Casals, 81, ventured a hopeful thought on a species of U.S.-bred cacophony scarcely ever ventured on his mellow instrument: " Rock' n' roll is a disease that shall pass away as quickly as it was created. It is a sad thing for your country. It is nothing, nothing. "

15 November 2008

Post 166

If the sentence I presented to you in Post 164 was the single greatest sentence in the history of the English language, then the sentence I here present to you may well be the worst:

It might have been being used to try to help avoid having to slide stuff across the floor.


07 November 2008

Post 165

So, a little while ago, there were these posts that people I know were putting on their blogs that listed their quirks. Cunfuzzled was first, and I thought, "Dude, Schmetterling, you totally got this," but when I started a new post, I came to the realization that I have no quirks.

(I can sense your eyebrows raising, dear readers, even as I type this.)

But I've been thinking about it some more, and I've decided that, yes, I do have a few quirks, and now I've managed to come up with a few that are worth mentioning, so here they are.

Quirk #1: I can't kill creeping things.

This quirk irks me occasionally because, frankly, it's pretty inconvenient. The worst thing is that I brought it on myself: when I was in high school, I decided that there was no reason for brazenly killing things on the sole basis of their number of legs, and so I stopped stepping on bugs. Somehow, that simple decision exploded into a condition that is now bigger than I am. For example, the last place I lived had this crazy flying ant infestation--no drone ants anywhere to be found, but flying ants all over the place! But I couldn't kill them. Nevertheless, their incessant buzzing got on my nerves, so I resorted to trapping them in a harmonica box and taking them outside. Very inefficient and fairly difficult, but I just couldn't bring myself to kill them.

A couple of days ago, a ginormous spider came out of nowhere while I was using my computer and scared the crap out of me (figuratively speaking). The thing was huge and I was chagrined to see it coming out from behind my monitor because that is right beside my bed, and I don't want fuzzy creepy crawlies sleeping with me. But I couldn't kill it. Spiders are faster and smarter than ants, so catching it was tricky, but I couldn't kill it and I didn't want it living in my room, so I persisted until I had successfully released it into the wild.

The strange thing is, I'm pretty sure I could kill a cow or a deer or even a cute little bunny if I needed the food--certainly wouldn't do it for sport, but for food, I really think I could. But I can't kill bugs. This, I think, makes me completely backward in modern American society.

Quirk#2: My eating habits lack luster.

I have eaten French toast virtually every morning that I've made myself breakfast (easily above 90% of the time) for more than three years now. I never get sick of it. I thought I would a long time ago, but I never have. In fact, sometime, as I'm drifting off to sleep, I think, "Oh boy! I get to have French toast in the morning!" and that thought actually makes me so excited that I have trouble falling asleep.

I am not the sort of man who requires much culinary variety in general, come to think of it. It is not unusual for me to eat the same thing for lunch and dinner in a given day, and that's generally the meal I've been making for dinner every day for weeks on end. Right now, this is chicken and rice. A couple of months ago, it was pasta with chicken and sauce. I'm considering a return to pasta. But chicken is always the same--always.

French toast every morning, chicken for lunch and dinner. Is it any wonder I got salmonella? Just a matter of time, really.

While we're talking about my strange eating habits, were any of you my readers when I talked about my drinking problem? We'll call that Quirk#3.

And now you know that I'm not so normal as I seem. Whoda thunk, huh?

05 November 2008

Post 164

Yesterday, while I was cleaning dorm bathrooms, my mind wandering as it is typically wont to do in such times, I composed the single greatest sentence in the history of the English language. It's true! I'm not being prideful, just honest. And so I'd like to share this sentence with you, but what's a sentence without context, right? Right. Ergo the following fictional story:

So there were these two roommates, and one of them had a dolly--ya know, the kind you use to haul boxes and stuff. And he always kept it in the same place. Well, one day, he got home from classes, and he noticed that his dolly was missing. But he was a pretty chill sort of kid, so he didn't freak out or anything. Later that night, he noticed that his dolly had returned, so he said to his roommate, "Hey, do you know where my dolly's been?"

"I dunno," his roommate said. "It might have been being used to help move stuff."


03 November 2008

Post 163

This comes from an essay written by H. L. Mencken in 1936. It's called "The New Deal Mentality," and it really is very timely (also, I really love the language used; why don't people write like this anymore? Nevermind--it's because people wouldn't give the effort to read it). The moral of the story is beware the quick fix! (And if you can't take time to read the whole thing, at least take a gander at the second to last paragraph--though it'll make a good deal more sense in context, so I'd like you to read the whole excerpt--especially since I'm taking the time to type it by hand!) This was originally published in The American Mercury (whatever the crap that was); I am copying it from a book called the Anxious Years, edited by Louis Filler:

At every time of stress and storm in history one notes the appearance of wizards with sure cures for all the sorrows of humanity. They flourished, you may be certain, in Sumer and Akkad, in the Egypt of all the long dynasties, and in the lands of the Hittites and Scythians. They swarmed in Greece, and in Rome some of them actually became Emperors. For always the great majority of human beings sweat and fume under the social system prevailing in the world they live in--always they are convinced that they are carrying an undue share of its burdens, and getting too little of its milk and honey. And always it is easy to convince them that by some facile device, invented by its vendor and offered freely out of the bigness of his heart, all these injustices may be forced to cease and desist, and a Golden Age brought in that will give every man whatever he wants, and charge him nothing for it.

There is thus no actual newness in the so-called New Deal. Its fundamental pretension goes back to the dark abysm of time, and even its most lunatic details are not novel to students of world-saving. If it differs from the other current panaceas--for instance, Communism, Fascism, and Nazi-ism--it is only in its greater looseness and catholicity, its more reckless hospitality to miscellaneous nonsense. It is a grand and gaudy synthesis of all the political, economic, social, socio-political, and politico-economic quackeries recorded in the books, from the days of Wat Tyler to those of Bryan, the La Follettes, Lloyd George, Borah, Norris, and Debs. Indeed, it goes far beyond Wat to the Republic of Plato, and on the way down the ages it sucks in the discordant perunas of Augustine, Martin Luther, J. J. Rousseau, Robert Owen, Claude Henri Saint-Simon, Karl Marx, Sockless Jerry Simpson, Thorstein Veblen, and Henry George. This mess, boiling violently in a red-hot pot, is now ladled out to the confiding in horse-doctor's doses, to the music of a jazz band. Let them swallow enough of it, so they are assured, and all their sorrows will vanish. Let them trust the wizards manning the spoons, and they will presently enter upon fields of asphodel, where every yen that is native to the human breast will be realized automatically, and all the immemorial pains of doing-without will be no more, and what goes up need never come down again, and two and two will make five, five and a half, six, ten, a hundred, a million, [sic]

It is hardly necessary to rehearse the constituent imbecilities of this grandiose evangel--its proposal to ease the privations of the poor by destroying food and raising the cost of living, its proposal to dispose of the burden of debt by laying on more and more debt, its proposal to restore the impaired common capital by outlawing and demolishing what is left, and so on and so on. The details are of no more significance that they were when an oldtime doctor sat down to write a shotgun prescription. It is, in fact, only by accident that this or that crazy device gets out in front. Each wizard roots with undeviating devotion for his own, and a large part of the money wasted so far has gone into helping Wallace to prevail against Hopkins, and Hopkins to upset and flabbergast Ickes. Whenever one of the brethren gets a new hunch, there is a sharpening of activity, and the taxpayer goes on the block for another squeeze. And whenever one of them comes to grief, which is almost every day, the others rush into the gap with something worse.

That under all this furious medication there lies a sub-stratum of veritable pathology may be accepted without argument. Even the dumbest yokel does not succumb to even the most eloquent hawker of snake-oil on days when his liver and lights are ideally quiescent. It takes a flicker of pain along the midrifff [sic] to bring him up to the booth, and something more than a flicker to make him buy. In the present case there are qualms and tremors all over the communal carcass, for the whole world was lately mauled by a long, wasteful, and fruitless war, and the end of that war saw many millions of people reduced to poverty, terror, and despair. Immeasurable values had been destroyed, and the standard of living had declined everywhere. There was, of course, only one way to restore what had been lost, and that was for all hands to return to work, and earn it over again by patient industry. But in the post-war years any such scheme seemed too slow and painful, especially to romantic Americans, so resort was had to what appeared to be quicker contrivances. One of them, as everybody knows, was the anticipation of income by credit buying, and another was the accumulation of bogus values by gambling. These contrivances appeared to work for a while, and we were assured by high academic authority that a New Economy had come in; but suddenly they ceased to work, and there ensued a great bust, with the losses of the war multiplied two or three times, and every participant in the joy-ride rubbing his pocket, his occiput, and his shins. Nor did the spectators fare much better. Indeed, some of them were hurt even worse than the joy-riders.

What to do? The old prescription was still indicated--patience, industry, frugality. A few austere souls began to preach it, albeit somewhat timorously, and some even ventured to take it, but for the majority it was far too unpalatable to be endured. They craved a master elixir taht would cure them instantly and without burning their gullets, a single magical dose whose essences would run up and down their legs like electricity, and purge them of all their malaises at one lick, and waft them whole and happy to the topmost towers of Utopia. In brief, what they craved was quackery, and that is precisely what they got. Fro all points of the compass "the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers" came galloping--some from near and some from far, some from college classrooms and some from chicken-farms, some from the voluptuous dens of Rotary and Kiwanis and some from the chill crypts of the Y.M.C.A., some in glittering military uniforms and some in the flapping chemises of prophets and martyrs--but all busting with enlightened self-interest, all eager to grab favorable spots and loose their spiels.

For a while it was very confusing, but gradually something resembling order began to emerge from chaos. Upon the troubled face of the waters there appeared the shine of a serene and benignant Smile, the calming influence of a Master Mind. Why should inspired men fight like cats and dogs? Why should the Uplift be pulled to pieces on the very day of Armageddon, with an unparalleled chance for Service in front of it? Why not gang the suckers, and take them en masse? Why not, in Hopkins' immortal words to his stooge Williams, "give everyone a job"? To see the way was to consummate the dizzy deed. There and then the New Deal was born.

01 November 2008

Post 162

Last night, I went to a little Halloween party, and we watched Disturbia.

Lame, lame, lame, laaaaaaaaame.

It's nice to see a movie like this every now and then, though, because I'm not torn over whether or not I liked it, and I can point to specific details as to why it was bad.

The movie starts out with a father and son fishing, having a nice time, and then, on the ride home, they get in a car wreck, and Dad dies. This is to establish angst in our teen protagonist because, as we all know, teenagers have to have some kind of terrible trauma in order to have angst: generally, teens are a mature, sensible, and, above all, level-headed group on the whole.

But you should have seen this wreck. It was pretty spectacular. They were driving a car down a highway, and they ran into the back of a similar sized car that was stopped on the highway. Did you know that when one car plows into the back of another, the moving car gets airborne, flips upside down and sails a few hundred feet before hitting the ground and then skidding and spinning to a stop? (When I got rearended, the car behind me just disappeared into my trunk--I totally got gypped!) And then some guy cruising along in a little pickup somehow didn't see this inverted car in the middle of the road and runs into it at full speed. More spinning and sliding. Dad is now dead.

Six months later, kid is in Spanish class, and he obviously hasn't done any work. He has no idea what's going on. He's sleeping in class. He isn't doing his homework. Teacher says, "What would your father think?" and kid punches him in the face, earning himself a summer vacation of house arrest. He's given a little ankle tracker thing and isn't allowed to leave the property. To compound the injustice, his mom discontinues his X-Box Live subscription and iTunes membership. So what's a boy to do but spy on his neighbors?

A pretty girl (I guess; am I the only one who finds nothing attractive about seductively dressed teens?) moves in next door. He doesn't even see her face: he sees her from behind as she's carrying a box. Of course it's love. A few days later, she notices he and a friend spying on her as she's swimming, so she comes over and they all become friends.

This--doesn't make any sense....

Later, she comes over all angry and asks why he spies on her, and he tells her, when he's watching her, he sees how she's different from other people: she reads books instead of magazines; she looks out her windows at the world, contemplating how to make it better; she looks in the mirror, not cockily, but pensively, wondering, "Who am I really?"

(Funny, every time he looked out the window at her, the camera gave us a close up of her butt.)

"That's either the creepiest or the sweetest thing anybody's ever said to me," she says, and then they dive into perhaps the longest make-out session in teen movie history (though I don't doubt there have been longer, I have thankfully avoided them).

Of course, in the meantime, the guy and the girl and the goofy-friend character (every movie needs one of those) are spying on the man they think is a murderer. They have nothing to go off of except for the kind of car he drives. But they are sure he's a murderer, so main character dude sets up a stake-out in his house and sends girl and goofy to follow this guy around and break into his house and stuff. One time, goofy gets locked in the house, so main character guy crosses the property line, which brings his parole officer running. The police, at main character's insistence, poke around serial killer's house, but they don't find anything suspicious, and then they leave.

And then serial killer--who is so methodical that he has built a surgery room behind a secret door in his hallway--suddenly goes crazy and starts attacking main character's mom and goofy friend and main character himself. Goofy gets homerunned in the face with an aluminum bat--full wind-up swing from a grown man--but, don't worry, he's okay: no permenant damage, just a little bruise on his temple.

Ya know, I hear that, if you're gonna get hit with a bat, the temple's a good place to go because it's so--strong--and not fragile.

Long story short, there's a chase that ends with main character stabbing serial killer with gardening sheers and pushing him into a sess pool full of the remains of murdered women.

This, of course, doesn't affect him too badly: the next day, he's back to making out with his girl friend and hanging out with goofy friend, and the police decide to take off his tracker because, hey, he killed a murderer, let's forgive his punching a teacher in the face, ya know?

Crappy, crappy movie.

And it was full of cheap shots, too. Knife-weilding murderer approaches a woman while the music swells tensely--haha, he just cut a price tag off of her dress; bet you didn't see that coming! I'm pretty sure it's never been done before. Pretty sure it wasn't horribly obvious. Or when the camera man walks with a staggering step toward the main character, appearing to be a POV shot from the antagonist but--nope--it really is just the camera man. And when goofy gets locked in the crazy man's house, he has a video camera. The cops show up and don't find goofy. Then main character starts getting video feed of goofy--and he's dead! But wait, that looks like my closet; better go investigate--haha, goofy, funny joke, man.

Anyway, if your a budding movie critic like me who occasionally enjoys watching a move that is easily lambasted, this is a good one for you. I haven't told you everything that's wrong with it because, if you do want a movie whose problems are numberless and ubiquitous, this is the movie for you, and I'd hate to ruin all the little flaws. But if you're looking for an enjoyable, worthwhile movie with character development and reasonable plot progression, this is not a good choice. Perhaps you could pick up Rear Window instead.

But you know what you really ought to do? Call off watching this movies to spend your time drafting a novel. Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone!

25 October 2008

Post 161

Strange how these movie reviews always come in groups....

Last night I watched Lady in the Water. I am not a fan of M. Night Shyamalan--Signs doesn't really do it for me; The Village was interesting but nothing I'd watch again; The Sixth Sense I remember virtually nothing about except that it scared me silly for a ridiculously long time--so knowing that this work was his, that he would be playing a crucial role, and that it was supposed to be some sort of demented bedtime story--I went into it with a lot of reservation.

But I really enjoyed this movie--really enjoyed it. I loved how it believed in itself so unfailingly and yet managed not to take itself overly serious--it was very refreshing some how. The whole thing was so different, so fun that rejecting it would be something akin to kicking a puppy, ya know? It was just so datgum lovable!

Don't think I've ever felt this way about a movie before. Kinda nice, actually.

While I'm reviewing movies, I finally got around to seeing The Sting last weekend. It was pretty good. I like that flavor of movie--the heisty double-cross--it's a good time most any way you slice it. And Paul Newman and Robert Redford are a powerhouse of a team, man. I didn't really like Butch Cassedy and the Sundance Kid too much, but I enjoyed them in it; The Sting was all I could have hoped for from them and more. Robert Redford is, like, our parents' generation's Brad Pitt; Paul Newman is just Paul Newman--there will never be a person who is all that is man the way he is. No one else could have pulled off Cool Hand Luke--no one. Not that I really like that movie, either, but it is the quitessential Paul Newman, and when Paul gives that smile--whether it be in The Sting or as Butch--you know he's gonna come out on top, and it just gives you hope for manhood, ya know?

Maybe I'm crazy, but that's probably why you're here reading my blog, now, isn't it?

23 October 2008

Post 160

How long's it been since I did a movie review? Too long, my friends--too long, I say!

So here we go:

I just watch K-PAX. Funny story, there, but I've unfortunately forgotten most of the details. But on more than one occasion (though perhaps not more than two), I've had someone who didn't like the movie recommend it to me. They'd say something like, "I saw K-PAX," and I'd say, "Was it good?" and they'd say something like, "Meh. I dunno. You'd probably like it."

I think I've mentioned this in a previous post, come to think of it.


Yup. Post 138.

Anyway, I finally saw it tonight. And I--I'm not sure whether I liked it or not. I can see why people who know me and my taste in movies would think I'd like it--it really is the sort of movie I would like--but, despite its overall goodness, it had a few major problems that I'm just not sure I can overlook.

But first, the good: Kevin Spacey is awesome. I think the only other movie I've ever seen him in was Superman Returns, which I didn't like really at all except for his portrayal of Lux Luthor, which was, again, awesome. At first, I was thinking, "What's the big deal? Anyone can keep a straight face," but then the hypnosis and murder scenes came and, man, that guy's good! I mean really good!

Also good: the unresolved finish. That is the thing everyone always recommended to me. Because I knew that the movie wasn't going to answer its central question (viz. Is Prot human?), I was watching for the end. I was so afraid that he'd just disappear and they'd say, "Hum. It's a mystery!" I was pleasantly surprised by what actually occured. Well done.

Last good thing: the movie's concept and the way it's presented. I really did like it. In fact, I liked it so much that I kinda wish someone would repackage it and do it right.

"Now, hold up there, little butterfly," you say to me, "if you liked the concept and its presentation, what didn't you--how would--what's to repackage?"

"Ah," I respond, "the devil's in the details, dontchya know."

Ya see, K-PAX is apparantly a place that is so advanced that they have transcended the need for families. I have a problem with that. Also, K-PAXians evidently don't look like humans, which some how bothers me (something about a combination between Ephesians 4:6 and Genesis 1:27--but that is, of course, my own personal opinion and no sort of doctrine worth discussing; I only brought it up to explain why I feel the way I do). Furthermore, K-PAXians believe that the universe explodes and collapses repeatedly ad infinitum, but we humans abandoned that notion several years ago when we realized that the universe seems to be accelerating in its expansion rather than slowing down--and I'm pretty sure we figured that out before this movie came out, so this seems like a pretty serious faux pas for a semi-scifi flick. Lastly, the movie moved too slowly, I think. Now, I like moves that move at a deliberate pace--the 3-hour saunter that is Meet Joe Black is much more riveting to me than the 3-hours of nonsense that is any of the LOTR movies--but this movie didn't have enough weight to move so laboriously (although I think it thought it did).

So those are the holes, and they're enough to make me not love the movie, which is sad, as I said, because I think the concept has so much potential, all of which would have been realized if Prot had just not said a few of the things he said.

The end.

19 October 2008

Post 159

As one who is sometime not very careful in the way he chooses his words, I really appreciated this bit from John Taylor. This is coming to you from the Journal of Discourses, Volume 26, Discourse 10.

(And I'm not just including this because it's kinda funny the way he says it--I really do believe this.)

You have drank from the river the streams whereof make glad the city of our God. The light of eternal truth has beamed upon your minds, and your hearts have been glad in the hopes of eternal life which have been presented to you when under the influence of the Spirit of God. You have rejoiced in the hope that blooms with immortality and eternal lives. Filled with this Spirit you feel that you are an eternal being having the principles of the everlasting Gospel within you; that you have received the everlasting Priesthood, that you are associated with principles that will exalt and ennoble man in time and throughout the eternities to come. There is something pleasing about it.

And when these miserable “dogs” howl and the coyotes yelp and exhibit their folly and nonsense—I was going to say, who the devil cares? Some people would think it is impious to say a thing like that. Yes, and the same people think it very honorable to lie in order to oppose the truth. No matter what men think of these things. I am not very precise in choosing my words in reference to such matters.

17 October 2008

Post 158

[Disclaimer: If you just stumbled onto this blog, please don't judge me based on this or the past three postings because I'm trying--by request--to say something disagreeable.]

Euthanize the elderly, enslave racial minorities, subjugate women, burn the Constitution, guillotine the politicians, and eat all the babies!!!!!!

Poat 157

Hooray for the expansion of Poatdom!

Poat 156

Hey, you Poats, can I join the Poat club, too?

Poat 155

Hello, Poat 154! I'm Poat 155. Let's be friends!

15 October 2008

Poat 154

Hey everybody--it's been a while, and I have BIG NEWS!

So, I was down and out for a couple of weeks because I had (get this:) salmonella poisoning! Isn't that great? I always thought salmonella was an imaginary disease invented by mothers to keep their kids from eating cookie dough, but I guess it's real after all: I got it!

And, as if that isn't great enough, I ALMOST DIED!

I don't know much about vital signs, but when I had my roommates take me to the ER because my limbs were going numb, they were really worried about my vitals. Today I got a printout of my medical record; turns out my blood pressure when I was admitted to the ER was 72/42 and my pulse was 126.

That's baaaaaaaaad.

Isn't it great! This is so exciting: I almost died but, here I am, still alive! Go me!

27 September 2008

Post 153

Prepositions are not bad things to end a sentence with. Those who are against ending sentences with prepositions must be put down. Their objections to terminal prepositions are the most baseless (not to mention heartless) things I can think of. There is no reason they should be put up with. We need to tell them to shut up! We need to force them to sit down!

I just thought I’d give you something to think about. I really had to think this through. It’s a tough subject to speak on. For listening to me, I give you my thanks many times over.

19 September 2008

Post 152

I was completely unaware of the Prescriptivist vs Descriptivist debate at the beginning of 2008: I (like this web browser's spell check) hadn't even heard the terms before. But then, sometime in the fuzzy period between winter and spring (I forget when exactly), one of my roommates gave me a copy of David Foster Wallace "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage" to read, and I found myself diving headfirst into this glorious new can of worms.

(I regret that I do not, at this very moment, have my copy of that essay handy; perhaps on some future day, I will give you some lovely excerpts.)

That essay changed me: when I started it, I had no idea what Prescriptivism was; by the time I gave it back to my roommate, I considered Prescriptivism foundational, a quintessential part of my being, and I was horrified to realize that the dictionaries that take up such a large portion of my bookshelf were mostly compiled by hell-bound Descriptivists who were leading the language to ruin. I was a bonafide Snoot (Wallace's word, not mine).

(At this point, I really wish I could tell you that I'm exaggerating, but for once in my life, I feel I'm extreme enough without exaggeration. I suppose that completely honest would encourage me to say that, rather than changing me, "Tense Present" really just opened my eyes to an issue that I already had a solid opinion about even though I had no idea that an actual debate was raising, but having empowered me with such awareness, it also ignited my indignation against the evil Descriptivist.)

Not very long at all after this intellectual epiphany, I began taking my first course in Linguistics. Were I to pull out the notebook I used in that class and show you the first page, you would see where I wrote on the first day of class BEWARE: LINGUISTICS IS STRAIGHT UP DESCRIPTIVISM and circled it several times.

But then the unthinkable happened: I fell passionately in love with linguistic descriptivism, and I realized that, from a strictly historical standpoint, language did just fine for a few thousand years before the advent of Prescriptivism a few hundred years ago. Nevertheless, I remained ideologically aligned with the Prescriptivist camp because I felt we had to have an academic standard, a right and wrong for every question, and I clung tenaciously to these notions while immersing myself in my linguistics class--sorta like trying to swim with a 25-pound weight (I've done that before; it's excellent exercise but hard to do for very long).

Then summer came, and I enrolled in a Philosophy of Language class, and that's why I am the way I am now. Despite the fact that my professor was a self-proclaimed Prescriptivist, the course made me realize that utterances can only have meaning so long as a community agrees on some kind of association between sounds and intentions, and I came to the conclusion that, though I really like clear-cut right and wrong, language is a very liquid thing, which is why (I think) it's so effective (and also why it's so hard to nail down).

This semester is my first in the English Language program here at BYU. I left summer term a repentant Prescriptivist, now solidly rooted in the Descriptivist camp. Looking at my schedule that included classes such as "Modern American Usage" and "The Grammar of English," I was afraid that I'd be alone in my major: a newly converted Descriptivist in the midst of a hundred Snoots. I felt a little leary as I looked ahead to a couple of years of headbutting with closeminded Prescriptivist.

I have been pleasantly surprised: not only is the ELANG department's allignment decidedly Descriptivist, they also unilaterally hate Chompsky--and I'm all for that! Whereas I feared I was going to war in this new major, I now find myself feeling quite at home.

I have finally found my intellectual niche.

12 September 2008

Post 151

I’m about to say something that is, I think, the sort of thing that could cause people to hate me forever. It’s been milling about in my head for the past week or so, and I’ve been trying to devise some way to present it little by little and build up to my slap-in-the-face conclusion, but I’ve decided that that really just isn’t my style. So I’m gonna bank on the assumption that most people who read this blog are accustomed to my bluntness and then hope that that assumption doesn’t cause problems. Please understand that your first impression of what I say will most definitely be incorrect, so read the whole thing before you settle into your opinion.

There was one question I got on my mission that I was never really able to answer very clearly even though it never seemed particularly complicated to me. I’d heard the question from time to time before my mission, and I’ve heard it a few times since; I don’t imagine it is a new question, and I don’t think it’s ever going to stop plaguing humanity, but I have an answer that I am quite satisfied with.

The question: Why do bad things happen to good people?

My answer: They don’t.

Now, see? There you go getting all uppity. Why are you so easily offended? I’m telling you, you’ve jumped to a conclusion that is just plain wrong. I didn’t say that good people have easy lives, I said that bad things don’t happen to good people. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this post, you’ll believe me.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. I moved from one apartment complex to another, but my contracts didn’t overlap, so I had about a week and a half of homelessness. During that time, I went home to my parents’ house for a few days, where I learned that the skin cancer my dad has is worse than he’d been telling me. Shortly after I returned to Provo, a girl in a Passat rear-ended me, totaling my car twice over and screwing up my neck a bit. Less than a week after that, I in all my social suavity sort of blew to smithereens (again) a friendship I had been thoroughly enjoying. All this in the midst of the first week of my first real semester in my new major and while adjusting to a new place.

Now, this may shock some of you, but I actually consider myself well within the category of ‘good person.’ I feel I must be because, to my recollection, nothing bad has ever happened to me—ever. Oh, sure, I know what it’s like to have physical pain so intense it makes me scream or just shake, and I have experienced emotional pains such that I’ve been debilitated by sobbing for hours at a time; I have helplessly witnessed the mortal suffering of those I love, and I have seen those I care about make mistakes. I have tasted hate, been adamantly wished to hell, spit on, pushed around; I know what it is to be frozen with fear. I’ve made mistakes and writhed with guilt and regret. I’ve been rejected. I have felt shunned at times. But I really can’t think of a time when something really bad happened to me.

I list all these unpleasant things I’ve endured from time to time not because to try to convince you that my life has been hard: quite to the contrary, I think that all of those things are fairly typical and that you each could make a similar list. I mean, maybe you’ve never had physical pain so bad it made you shake, but perhaps you’ve been beaten by someone or struggled with a serious addiction or—or whatever other sorts of things people suffer in life. All I’m getting at here is that suffering doesn’t make somebody special: we’re all in this mortality thing together, and we each get our share.

You see, I’m just not convinced that bad things can happen to good people. Paul said that all things work together for the good of those who love God; Brigham Young said that he didn’t feel he had ever had to sacrifice anything for the Gospel because what he ended up with was always better that what he lost. And I say that nothing bad has ever happened to me.

I heard a story once that allegedly came out of ancient China; I think it will be helpful in this discussion (I’m setting it off not because it’s a quote but so people who’ve heard it can skip it if they like):

A man and his son caught a wild horse, brought it home, and corralled it. Their neighbors all came over to see it.

"What a beautiful animal!" the neighbors said. "You are so lucky to have caught it."

"Maybe," the man said.

A day or two later, the horse broke out of the corral and ran away. The neighbors came over to give their sympathies.

"Those damages will take a long while to fix," the neighbors said. "What an unfortunate loss."

"Maybe," the man said.

The next morning, the man and his son discovered that the horse had returned, and with it had come the rest of the herd, all grazing in the pasture. The man and his son barricaded the hole in the fence to keep the animals inside. The neighbors came over to give their congratulations.

"What good fortune!" they said.

"Maybe," the man said.

A day or two later, the man’s son tried to ride one of the horses, fell off, and broke his arm. The neighbors came over to give their condolences.

"He won’t be able to work the rest of the season," they said. "What bad luck."

"Maybe," the man said.

The next morning, a representative from the Emperor came and announced that all able-bodied young men were being drafted into the army, so all the boys of the village went off to war—except for the man’s son because he had a broken arm. Soon thereafter, a horrible battle killed all of those boys. The neighbors came again to the man.

"Our sons!" they lamented. "You are so lucky that yours could not go to war."

"Maybe," the man said.

The point of the story, I think, is that it is impossible to know immediately whether anything that happens to you is good or bad. I have often been amazed at God’s ability to take really horrible circumstances and consecrate them for my good. Also, if you really pay attention to what Moroni actually says in Ether 12:27, I think you’ll find his choice of verbiage (viz. "give") quite interesting. It’s hard to think of trials (and particularly our own weaknesses) as gifts or of humility as much of a reward, but God knows what He’s doing, I’m pretty sure.

Now, I’m not so wise as to be able to see the good in everything; for example, I’m not really sure why it was necessary (or even that it was necessary) for me to have only one kidney. Furthermore, I’m really not sure what good came out of spending the first 12 years of my life wondering why I was in so much pain while it quietly withered away (not that I knew it was withering away: that took the doctors an awfully long time to deduce). Also, I don’t really know what good comes of my occasional social casualties (sure, I learn from them, but isn’t there a better way?). Still, I believe wholeheartedly that bad things don’t happen to good people, and every unpleasant thing I ever encounter will one day be counted a blessing.

So that classic question—why do bad things happen to good people—is really a poor question, if you ask me, because the only acceptable answer is, "They don’t; can you please rephrase the question?" My question is this: Do bad things happen to bad people? I honestly don’t know: I’m not a bad person. I suppose bad people eventually wind up in hell, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing because, as we learn in Mormon 9:4, they’ll be happier there than they would be in heaven anyway. (Perhaps that’s taken a wee bit out of context, but I think the sentiment is fair enough.)

Do bad thing happen at all?

Certainly evil is real, and people make bad choices sometimes, but this notion of bad things just happening—I really don’t buy into it much.

Any thoughts?

29 August 2008

Post 150!

It's been, I realize, a goodly while since I've been able to post. Because of this (furthermore, because this is my 150th post), I figured I'd go for the knock-their-socks-off approach, and I therefore offer the following disclaimer:


Everybody sitting down? Good. Here we go.




(Good heavens! This is more painful than I expected! Confessions generally are, though....)

I read a book--a fictional book--a fantasy novel! And I read it--all the way through! Wretched, wretched, escapist literature--and I enjoyed it! Oh woe is me! What have I done? I was such a nice fellow; how could this happen?


Well, I believe the worst is behind us now. I will now proceed to tell you about this book and my experience with it:

I must admit, I found myself honestly suffering through this story at times. You must understand, I am not the sort of man who feels a moral obligation to finish things I start (especially books--especially fantasy novels), but I felt I had to make it through this one. It was a pride issue, really: you see, there are a handful of fictional books (perhaps as many as three or four) that I'd kinda like to read, but they've all either been recommended to me by Confuzzled or Thmazing, and I can't have either one of them feeling the right to gloat over having persuaded me to indulge myself with lies, so I figured I go with a book that neither one of them have recommended to me (to my recollection), a book that (with any luck) neither of them have read.

Ha! Take that, my literary tormentors!

The book is Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, and (this is the part where my pride really takes a beating:) I think I'd actually recommend it fairly unilaterally. But you must remember, this recommendation comes from a guy who doesn't like fiction.

I just finished reading Alcatraz today. As I was reading it on the couch in my living room, one of my roommates walked in and asked what I was reading.

"Stupid, wretched, escapist fiction, I'm afraid," I said: "Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians."

"Do you like it?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "the plot is fairly uninteresting, and I don't really like any of the characters...."

He laughed. "But the font is nice?"

"Oh yes," I said, laughing also. "The font is very nice."

But I lied. I don't like the font. I mean, it was mostly a pretty standard font with unobtrusive serif, but the author chose to put hand-written notes in a sloppy, san-serif font that was supposed to look like handwriting, and I think that's dumb.

So that's pretty much my recommendation: I didn't really like the characters much, though they were occasionally entertaining, and I didn't really enjoy the plot, though it was occasionally interesting, and I didn't even like the fonts all that much. But I did enjoy the book as a whole.

Now you may find yourself wondering what's left to enjoy in a novel once you take away its plot, characters, and font(s); if that is the case, you and I are not very much alike because I say that, once you take away a story's plot and characters, you have only the most essential part left: the voice.

My friend Schlange is in the off-and-on conceptual stages of writing his first novel. I, being a red-pen nut, thoroughly enjoy attacking his comma usage when he sends me partial drafts. The last time he thus employed my services was about a month ago. Here is an excerpt from the email I sent him (I think it will help you to understand my recommendation for Alcatraz):

I am officially an English Language major. Basically, I'm getting my BA in grammar and punctuation. These things are kind of a big deal to me. I tell you this, not because I think you don't know, but because it will be necessary for you to bear in mind as you read the following that I am a BIG fan of good grammar etc.

One of the reasons that I love to read what you write so much is that you have a very distinct voice when you're telling a story, and it's a good one. Remember that one night when I printed off a couple of your blog posts and proceeded to tell you why the one about pastries was better than the one about speaking good? It's because of that happy, I'm-telling-a-story-I'm-excited-about voice that you get when you're writing in your element. I have a friend from back home who occasionally sends me stories that he's working on, and I always dread reading his stuff because, even though his stories are generally very good, his voice is so flat that I have the darndest time musceling through. But you have a great voice; your voice makes your writing worth reading. So this little grammar lesson I'm about to give you, you can take it or leave it, but just don't let it screw up your voice!

With that said, all I really have left to say regarding Alcatraz is, though the plot is fairly conventional and the characters are occasionally a bit too quirky to be truly lovable, the story telling is A-grade fantastic! The novel is in 1st person, and at the beginning of almost every chapter, Alcatraz stops telling the story and goes off on random tangents. I, being the sort of person who would rather read a well-written essay than any book-length fiction, enjoyed these so thoroughly that, rather than seeming to get in the way of the story, I felt the story detracted from the tangents! I mentioned above that I occasionally found myself suffering through the story at times, but that was only because I wished Al would stop telling me his stupid story and go back to the good stuff.

Strange, no?

But even when he was telling the story, his descriptions were always really entertaining. Also, if you ever do read this book, be sure to pay attention to the way he spells pterodactyl--I thought it was an especially subtle and clever running joke.

So that's pretty much my review, but I'm not done yet. This'll make for a kinda lengthy blog post, so if you're tired, you can stop reading now, but I'd like to include some little excerpts from the book just so you can get a feel for the voice that I'm so enamored of. (Just a sidenote, I found myself laughing out loud at times despite my telling myself over and over, "Hey, kid, it really isn't that funny!" So if you don't find these funny, that's probably because they aren't.) The first of these excerpts is directed at anyone who has ever recommended a book to me; the rest are just fun little excerpts that caught my attention.

FROM PAGE 49-50:

{Open Quote}

I'd like to take this opportunity to commend you for reading this book. [...] [M]y experience has been that people generally don't recommend this kind of book at all. It is far too interesting. Perhaps you have had other kinds of books recommended to you. Perhaps, even, you have been given books by friends, parents, or teachers, then told that these books are the type you "have to read." Those books are invariably described as "important"--which, in my experience, pretty much means that they're boring. (Words like meaningful and thoughtful are other good clues.)

If there is a boy in these kinds of books, he will not go on an adventure to fight against Librarians, paper monsters, and one-eyed Dark Oculators. In fact, the lad will not go on an adventure or fight against anything at all. Instead, his dog will die. Or, in some cases, his mother will die. If it's a really meaningful book, both his dog and his mother will die. (Apparently, most writers have something against dogs and mothers.)

Neither my mother nor my dog dies in this book. I'm rather tired of those types of stories. In my opinion, such fantastical, unrealistic books--books in which boys live on mountains, families work on farms, or anyone has anything to do with the Great Depression--have a tendency to rot the brain. To combat such silliness, I've written the volume you now hold--a solid, true account. Hopefully, it will help anchor you in reality.

So, when people try to give you some book with a shiny round award on the cover, be kind and gracious, but tell them that you don't read "fantasy," because you prefer stories that are real. Then come back here and continue your research on the cult of evil Librarians who secretly rule the world."

{Close Quote}


{Open Quote}

Remember, despite the fact that this book is being sold as a "fantasy" novel, you must take all of this things it says extremely seriously, as they are quite important, are in no way silly, and always make sense.


{Close Quote}

FROM PAGE 143-4:

{Open Quote}

You may think those above paragraphs are some kind of foreshadowing. You're right. Of course, those thoughts weren't foreshadowing when they occurred to me. I couldn't know that they'd be important.

I tend to have a lot of ridiculous thoughts. I'm having some right now. Most of these certainly aren't important. And so, I usually only mention the ones that matter. For instance, I could have told you that many of the lanterns in the library looked like types of fruits and vegetables. But that has no real relevance to the plot, so I left it out. Likewise, I could have included the scene where I notices the roots of Bastille's hair and wondered why she dyed it silver, rather than letting it grow its natural red. But since that part isn't relevant to the -

Oh. Wait. Actually, that is relevant. Never mind.

{Close Quote}


{Open Quote}

People can do great things. However, there are something they just can't do. I, for instance, have not been able to transform myself into a Popsicle, despite years of effort. I could, however, make myself insane, if I wished. (Though if I achieved the second, I might be able to make myself think I'd achieved the first....)

Anyway, if there's a lesson to be learned, it's this: Great success often depends upon being able to distinguish between the impossible and the improbable. Or, in easier terms, distinguishing between Popsicles and insanity.

Any questions?

{Close Quote}

FROM PAGE 250-1:

{Open Quote}

Now, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I didn't take the opportunity to point out anything at the beginning of this chapter. Never fear; my editorial comments were simply delayed for a few moments.

You see, that last chapter ended with a terribly unfair hook. By now, it is probably very late at night, and you have stayed up to read this book when you should have got to sleep. If this is the case, then I commend you for falling into my trap. It is a writer's greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books. It foes back to authors being terrible people who delight in the suffering of others. Plus, we get a kickback from the caffeine industry.

Regardless, because of how exciting things were, I didn't feel comfortable interjecting my normal comments at the beginning of this chapter. So, I shall put them here instead. Prepare yourself.

Blah, blah, sacrifice, alters, daggers, sharks. Blah, blah, something pretentious. Blah, blah, rutabaga. Blah, blah, something that makes no sense whatsoever.

Now back to the story.

{Close quote}

There are also a goodly number of allusions in this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Most were very brief, so I'm not sure I caught them all, but I did catch one to To Kill a Mockingbird, on to "The Raven," one to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one to Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, and one to something like but not necessarily The Count of Monte Cristo.

So there you have it. As a parting shot, I've got to tell you that the thing that really sold me on this book was (of all things!) the teaser on the inside flap:




11 August 2008

Post 149

It's been a while since I've posted anything--long enough that Confuzzled's been complaining, at least--so here we have something totally unprecedented, something, in fact, that flies completely in the face of some of my most precious credos: a post wherein I'm nice to Confuzzled. Kinda. Actually, this is something that I've been meaning to do for quite a while, but it happens to be in response to something she said a couple months ago, so it might appear that I'm being nice to her, I dunno. If I am, in fact, being nice to her, we'll just call it an anomaly--me stirring the waters just to make sure we don't get stuck in a rut (er--canal, I guess, if we want to avoid mixing metaphors)--or something like that.

Rest assured, Confuzzled: I will, no doubt, be returning to the lambasting that we are all so much more accustomed to here shortly.

Anyway, anybody remember my review of Kung-Fu Panda? That post is an interesting one because I basically claimed that I laughed so hard while watching that movie that my brains fell out and I had no more desire to be a gloomy, pensive individual. In the comments section, my dear, naysaying brother questioned whether such a change could be made all at once, and I honestly didn't know.

Well, it's now been just over two months since I made that declaration, and, though I still find myself being isolationistic in my pensive habits on a regular basis, I think that I've generally become a more happy-go-lucky sort of individual. So take that, causality--er--whatever--!

I've actually wandered far away from where I intended to be, so let me back up: the reason I bring up that post is because Confuzzled commented and said, "Also, you should start writing jokes. Because I don't know any. And you could help me!" Though I responded to the rest of her comment, I purposely avoided that part of it because I wanted to do then what I was about to do now.

Ya see, just a week or two before the historic Kung-Fu Panda Post, I had auditioned for a stand-up comedy club here at BYU, and I had just found out a few days before writing that post that they had decided that I was not funny enough to be in their club. Meh. Whatever. I wasn't terribly interested in being in the club: I mostly just auditioned for the sake of giving stand-up a try. I would've liked being in the club now, but I have different interests developing now that would probably conflict anyway, so 'sall good.

ANYway, what I wanted to do in response to Confuzzled comment that I haven't been able to do just now is to post my audition here. It took me longer than I expected to get that video file from the club, and it's taken me a few weeks to get around to using a campus computer that had the wherewithal to take the video from DVD to computer to blog, but I finally did it today, so here it is. This is me trying (and evidently failing) to be funny. I dunno, you be the judges of funny, I guess:

So there you have it. I generally consider myself a situationally humorous kind of guy: I ain't no performing monkey here to make you giggle on demand, no sir! But, if nothing else, I hope you can find humor in the attempt.

I have another, more melodramatic video I'd like to post sometime, but this has taken me a lot longer than I expected it to, so that will have to wait for another time, I guess.

31 July 2008

Post 148

One year ago today, I started this blog.

I wish I had something to say on such an occasion, but I don't, so forget it.

30 July 2008

Post 147

(For those of you with short attention spans, you can skip down to the bolded heading below because that’s where things get interesting: what precedes that is mere exposition because I think what I’m about to say warrants some kind of context.)

I am currently enrolled in a Philosophy of Language class. It’s fascinating stuff, really, and my professor is ridiculously enthused about it all, so I generally enjoy the course. But this past Friday, we had a debate that left me feeling furious! It put me in such a bad mood that I had trouble sleeping throughout the weekend and ditched class on Monday (it’s a MWF-type class, by the way), and it was with great reluctance that I dragged myself to class today because I was still so angry about the whole thing.

What was this debate, you ask? It was whether meaning is in what someone literally says or in their intent. My professor said we had to choose a side and that we weren’t allowed to be middling on the issue—we had to pick a side and argue for it. The class split perfectly in half, so it was 3 on 3 (and people told me horror stories about the huge class sizes at BYU! Ha!). I wasn’t convinced that all the way on one side or the other was very wise, so I considered the extremes: on one side, we have absolutely no wiggle room because every utterance is taken absolutely literally; on the other—wow, I shudder to think. It seemed to me that, if meaning is entirely in the intention, then structured language is totally unnecessary because people ought to just automatically know what I mean by this gesture or this facial expression and, if they misunderstand, that’s their problem. This latter prospect frightened me to death, so I argued in favor of absolute literalism and analyticity.

The class ended before the argument was really able to reach any sort of denouement, but I was happy to escape because the other side was driving me crazy with all these fluffy-bunny arguments that couldn’t be argued against because they were so insubstantial, and then we’d say something smart that they’d turn on its head because, I dunno, because nonsense always comes out on top.

So I was furious, as I said. Fury isn’t really something I’m naturally inclined toward, but I was positively livid about the whole ordeal because it seemed to me that linguistic anarchy had won against formal structure via stubborn belligerence, and I couldn’t take it.

But today I manned up to facing the class again, and I’m very glad I did because today I came to my own theory of meaning. It was mostly during the walk home from class that I refined it, but today’s discussions got my juices flowing in happy rivers again, and I’m sure that precipitated the brilliance that I am about to share with you.

The Schmetterlingian Theory of Meaning

Sentences mean;
People intend.

I have decided that my notion of language is words organized into sentence structures that are governed by set rules. Gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice &c. are not parts of language (except, I suppose, in, say, ASL, which is strictly gestures, or, like, Chinese, in which tone is a part of pronunciation). But if I say, “That’s terrific,” the sentence “That’s terrific” has a literal meaning, and that meaning is not negotiable.

However, I, the speaker, may intend to convey that the antecedent of “that” is not, in fact, terrific—the exact negation of the meaning’s truth value—and perhaps I successfully convey this intention to my audience via a deliberate combination of vocal qualities, hand gestures, and facial expression. These are certainly elements of communication and augment the conveyance of my original intention, but they have no linguistic value and do not change the actual meaning of the sentence, though they may (and, I hope, will) help you to understand my intent in uttering them.

“Oh,” you might think, “so, while he said, ‘That’s terrific,’ he meant, ‘That’s not terrific.’”

NO!!! You aren’t paying attention! I did not mean anything: sentences mean; people intend! So, while I said, “That’s terrific,” I intended to convey my opinion that “that” is not, in fact, terrific.

I was tossing this idea around with my philosophy-major roommate, and I realized that I don’t really know what function words perform. Certainly, words can mean, but I think that meaning in words is more of an exception than a rule. The only evidence I can offer for this is that, if you translate a sentence from one language to another, you have to take the sentence as a whole: if you translate the individual words one at a time, you’re never going to get a very good translation. My roommate suggested that I can simply define words in terms of sentences, viz. “Words are the building blocks that we put together to create sentences.” This, to me, is, for now, at least, a satisfactory explanation, but I hope to come up with something better soon because that definition really makes me wonder how dictionaries can exist.

15 July 2008

Post 146

When was the last time I opened up a can of worms?

Correct answer: too long ago.

So today's topic is art. I know few topics that is so innately volatile: I mean, just trying to nail down a solid definition of art can cause offense to some people. One of the problems we run into immediately is the difference between Art Perceived and Art Intended. I submit that Art Perceived is a null phrase. Art, to me, has a lot to do with creative process. If I discard a creation of mine as worthless, and some other guy finds it and thinks it's fantastic and beautiful and (dare I say it?) artistic, I don't think that makes it art. I'm not sure we have (in English, at least) a good name for that, but I think calling it "art" would be erroneous.

I got in a pretty exciting debate with a girl about this a few weeks back. She's a music major and a big fan of such things as John Cage's 4'33", which is hard for me to have a solid opinion on. I ran this girl in circles until, in a huff, she told me that anything a person wants to accept as art is art, which struck me more as a surrender than a definition--but whatever.

My problem with something like 4'33" is that I think an artist ought to manipulate in some way what it is the audience experiences. Perhaps John Cage intended his audience to simply appreciate the ambient sounds of their current environment; whether that be the buzzing of lights or the breeze through the bushes, certainly the audience could find something to listen to. This seems to me less of an artistic accomplishment and more of an exercise in meditative stillness--which I'm all for but cannot consider any sort of music. The argument is, of course, that silence plays a significant role in most any piece of music, so why not have it the dominant (or, in this case, sole) factor? I say because music is the organization (or, if we wanna be really liberal, the manipulation) of sounds to some end. A musician telling his audience to appreciate whatever ambient noises may be present is essentially the same as a photographer to tell his fans to look out their bedroom window--certainly not a bad idea but not really any semblance of art.

I am not opposed to the concept that anything can be art, though. Perhaps if I constructed or encouraged the instruction of a room in which absolute silence existed and then had people come in to experience the audible void, then we would be approaching art, I think, but more architectural than musical, though perhaps some amalgamation of the two.

Well, I feel I've rambled enough. Here is the definition of art I have created--the most satisfactory one I can think of--for you to support or refute; I thought it up myself so feel free to support it heartily or oppose it brutally--the latter being so much more the fun:

Art is the careful and honest expression of a sentiment.

14 July 2008

Post 145

A couple of quotations for yehs:

First, 2 Nephi 26:24 - "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation."

Last, Brother Joseph: "God will not command any thing, but what is peculiarly adapted in itself, to ameliorate the condition of every man under whatever circumstances it may find him, it matters not what kingdom or country he may be in."

So when God tells you to do something that you don't wanna do, just suck it up and remember it's just like your mother always told you: IT'S GOOD FOR YOU!!!

Big bowl of saurkraut every single morning, if that's what it takes....

07 July 2008

Post 144

Lessons learned in life come in various ways. Sometimes, we learn from the mistakes of others; sometimes, we learn from our own mistakes; sometimes, we are wise enough to understand principles that allow us to avoid certain mistakes. I like to think that I often fall into this third category, but I realize now that I may just be that guy who cruises through life so oblivious to what's going on around him that he just assumes he hasn't made any mistakes.

Guilt is not something I'm generally apt to feel; I just don't really get worked up over stuff, and I sometimes have trouble understanding why people are so edgy. Someone offends me, I get over it; if it's really bad, I may have to sleep it off, but I usually can do that. I offend somebody else, if I'm aware that I've done it, I usually just don't really care.

Well no more; no more, I say! I'm going to start taking responsibility for my actions. I learned last night, by way of extreme social faux pas, that human relationships are fairly delicate things, that even the strongest of ties (not that I've had many like that, so I guess this is merely supposition) can be broken by a single thoughtless act. And for the first time in my life, perhaps, I feel badly about something I've done to someone else. And now that the guilt has started, I find myself seeking to purge myself of all previous offenses, walking around, apologizing to every person I've ever known, regardless of whether I can think of a good reason for doing so. It feels good, though most folks think I'm crazy, and I think it's long over due. I suppose that if I were to become that guy who does nothing but apologize all the time, I'd become tedious and nobody would really like me any more, so I don't intend to take it to that extreme. But I am calling off my total disregard toward other people and their opinions, and I'm going to strive to live my life a little less recklessly.

Perhaps this may seem to some the sort of change that cannot be made all at once, but, given the way I feel, that's exactly what I intend it to be.

04 July 2008

Post 143

Why I Hate Kripke
by a rather angry butterfly

Saul Kripke, moron that he is—and, yes, that is ad hominid, but it also happens to be my thesis, so suck it!—sought (and, as I will show, failed) to disprove the following theory of naming (which I happen to agree with except for with one minute detail, which I will point out and will not, I don’t think, really interfere with what I’m trying to say):

(1) To every name or designating expression “X,” there corresponds a cluster of properties, namely the family of those properties φ such that A believes “φX.”

(2) One of the properties, or some conjointly, are believed by A to pick out some individual uniquely.

(3) If most, or a weighted most, of the φ’s are satisfied by one unique object y, then y is the referent of “X.”

(4) If the vote yields no unique object, “X” does not refer.

(5) The statement, “If X exists, then X has most of the φ’s” is known a priori by the speaker.

(6) The statement, “If X exists, then X has most of the φ’s” expresses a necessary truth (in the idiolect of the speaker).

(C) For any successful theory, the account must not be circular. The properties which are used in the vote must not themselves involve the notion of reference in such a way that it is ultimately impossible to eliminate.

The only part of this rigmarole (for lack of better title, “gobbledygook” being the only other thing that comes to mind) that I disagree with is the “is known a priori” in (5). I do not think it matters whether the speaker knows empirically or a priori that “if X exists, then X has most of the φ’s”—I don’t think it really matters whether he (the speaker) knows it at all, only that he either assumes or asserts that X has most (or all) of the φ’s. I do not, however, think that this dissention will inhibit my dashing Kipke’s sophistry to ickle bits, so let’s get to it!

Kipke begins on very solid ground—ground so solid, in fact, that I can’t refute it. But he’s a moron, and that will become plenty apparent plenty soon.

He begins by quoting and refuting Searle, who said, in essence, that, when we refer to Aristotle (for one example), we refer to “the logical sum, inclusive disjunction, or properties commonly attributed to him….” Kripke refutes this, saying, “It just is not, in any intuitive sense of necessity, a necessary truth that Aristotle had the properties commonly attributed to him.” Earlier in this same lecture, Kripke used Richard Nixon as an example, saying that “Richard Nixon” does not mean “The President in 1970” because Richard Nixon would have been Richard Nixon even if Humphrey had been elected. This is true and, as I said, I cannot refute it, but little thought is required to realize that Kripke is really missing the point here, and that is what I will show you now.

Let’s go back to Aristotle. I don’t know much about him, but I know that he was a pupil of Plato and a teacher of Alexander the Great (this I know solely because Aristotle is used as in example in most of the philosophical essays &c. that I’ve read of late). I also know that he was called (or is at least now called by we English speakers) Aristotle. I will assume (though I can’t claim to know it for sure) that he was given the name “Aristotle” before he became well-known (this I will assume because, even if it isn’t actually true, it won’t hurt this example at all because I could do this same thing with any given historical figure; Aristotle himself is not vital to what I am saying). Kripke is saying that saying “Aristotle” is not the same as uttering “the pupil of Plato who taught Alexander the Great” because he would have been Aristotle even if he had never been Plato’s pupil or Alexander’s teacher. This, to me, seems just a little silly on Kipke’s part because, though that is absolutely true, the reason we still talk about Aristotle so long after his death is because of the great things he did (which includes, I suppose, learning from Plato and teaching Alexander). So, while “Aristotle” does not etymologically denote “the pupil of Plato who taught Alexander the Great,” when I say “Aristotle,” I mean “the pupil of Plato who taught Alexander the Great.”

Kripke, you’re a moron. How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

Evidence #2 that Kripke is barking up the wrong tree: he attacks (2) claiming that it defies (C)’s demand that “the account must not be circular.” He begins by saying, “Usually the properties in question are supposed to be some famous deeds of the person in question.” Really, Kripke? Is that really so? What if I want to talk about Cyrano de Bergerac because of his nose? Or Joseph Merrick (the Elephant Man)on account of his deformity? Certainly these are individuals known for doing things, but their physical appearances play major roles in that fame as well. Or what if I want to talk about Uluru (Ayers Rock)? It has no deeds to its name, though it does have a name and properties, too. The same is true of Rushmore and Everest and the Nile. Nevertheless, I do not see this assertion (that the properties mentioned in (2) are generally deeds) being any sort of breaking point, so I’ll play along.

“Consider Richard Feynman,” Kripke says, “to whom many of us are able to refer. He is a leading contemporary theoretical physicist. Everyone here (I’m sure!) can state the contents of one of Feynman’s theories so as to differentiate him from Gell-Mann. However, the man in the street, not possessing these abilities, may still use the name ‘Feynman.’ When asked he will say: well he’s a physicist or something. He may not think that this picks out anyone uniquely. I still think he uses the name ‘Feynman’ as a name for Feynman.”

Stupid Kripke; he forgot to finish his sentence. Clever of him, I suppose, for the denouement of it is what ruins his argument: “I still think he uses the name ‘Feynman’ as a name for Feynman because he learned it in reference to Feynman, as is evidenced in his at least knowing that Feynman is a physicist.” See, the reason Feynman was known at the time was because he was such a crazy physicist; surely people would have heard of him even without understanding at all what he has done. Perhaps the same is true today of Stephen Hawking: you could probably find someone who would say, “Oh, that name sounds familiar; who is he?” Such an one would not be asserting that “Stephen Hawking” refers to no one but that it rather refers to someone who is, to him or her, unknown. Similarly, someone who would say of Stephen Hawking, “I’ve never heard of him,” would not be asserting that there are no Stephen Hawkings existing anywhere in the universe, merely that he or she has not heard of him. This is something Kripke can’t seem to wrap his head around.

Moving on, Kripke goes on to use Cicero and Catiline as example, and this is the part where he claims (2) is circular:

Let’s say, for example, that we know that Cicero was the man who first denounced Catiline. Well, that’s good. That really picks someone out uniquely. However, there is a problem, because this description contains another name, namely ‘Catiline.” We must be sure that we satisfy the conditions in such a way as to avoid violating the noncircularity condition here. In particular, we must not say that Catiline was the man denounced by Cicero. If we do this, we will really not be picking out anything uniquely, we will simply be picking out a pair of objects A and B, such that A denounced B. We do not think that this was the only pair where such denunciations ever occurred; so we had better add some other conditions in order to satisfy the uniqueness condition.

Honest to goodness, that’s where the man stops! No joke; I’ll give you his very next sentence—indeed, the entirety of his next paragraph—when next I call him stupid. So this is the entirety of his Cicero-Catiline example. Pretty pathetic, no? Can you imagine the following conversation?

Man 1: Let me tell you about Cicero.

Man 2: Who’s that?

Man 1: Why, he’s the man who denounced Catiline!

Man 2: Who’s Catiline?

Man 1: Oh, merely a man Cicero denounced.

Man 2: Wait, so who’s Cicero again?

Kripke is absolutely right that this conversation isn’t going to go anywhere; Man 1 does not appear to know who either Cicero or Catiline were. But this is an absurd example wherein Kripke seems to assume that we’re all as dumb as he is. If Man 1 were to tell Man 2 the story of how Cicero denounced Catiline, he would probably explain to Man 2 that Cicero was one of Rome’s greatest orators and that Catiline was a 1st-century Roman politician who attempted to overthrow the aristocratic Senate of the Roman Republic—no circularity there! And is not this an example of the reason that we use names, so our audience can know what we’re talking about and thus understand what we’re saying about it?

Stupid Kripke; he goes on to say:

If we say Einstein was the man who discovered the theory of relativity, that certainly picks out someone uniquely. One can be sure, as I said, that everyone here can make a compact and independent statement of this theory and so pick out Einstein uniquely; but many people actually don’t know enough about this stuff, so when asked what the theory of relativity is, they will say: “Einstein’s theory,” and thus be led into the most straightforward sort of vicious circle.

GAH! NO! Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid! Now you’re running in circles, Kripke, and you’ve given us essentially the same example twice—the names have changed, but the intent remains the same. Must you assume that all English speakers—or speakers of any language, for that matter—are as dumb as you?1 Just because someone only knows of Einstein that he gave us the theory of relativity2 doesn’t mean that “Einstein” and “the theory of relativity” have no meaning—to that person or in general!

One last nail in Kripke’s logical coffin and then I’m going to finish reading his essay (he goes on for another six pages or so, so I suppose he may actually redeem himself, in which case I will gladly write a retraction of all this):

I often used to hear that Einstein’s most famous achievement was the invention of the atomic bomb. So when we refer to Einstein, we refer to the inventor of the atomic bomb. But this is not so. Columbus was the first man to realize that the earth was round. He was also the first European to land in the western hemisphere. Probably none of these things are true, and therefore, when people use the term “Columbus” they really refer to some Greek if they use the roundness of the earth, or to some Norseman, perhaps, if they use the “discovery of America.” But they don’t.

No, Kripke, we don’t. When I say “Columbus,” I mean Mr. Nina-Pinta-Santa-Maria, and you would understand me to mean that if I said “Christopher Columbus.” Even you, Kripke, in all of your idiocy, would never ask me whether I meant some Norseman who was never known as Columbus when I said, “Columbus”—wouldn’t even wonder about it, I’d bet. So what is it you’re driving at here?

My defense of Das Gobbledygook above goes something like this:

(1) This is a definition; even Kripke had naught against this.

(2) When I use a name, I use it to refer to a thing and all of its properties known to me. Generally, those properties are too numerous to list, which is why names are so handy. Rather than saying, “That hunk of rock that rotates around the earth, reflecting light upon earth and affecting earth’s tides, and is best known for being noticeable at night but is also occasionally visible during the day and which has been walked upon by a few (8?) men but hasn’t been visited in a while—you know, that big, be-cratered, heavenly body that only ever shows one side to use, goes through phases because of earth’s shadow, is occasionally eclipsed by that same shadow, and sometimes eclipses the sun—the thing allegedly responsible for werewolves, flown across by witches, and worshipped by nocturnal pagans…” I’d much rather say, “The moon.”3 And when I say the moon, the foregoing abbreviated description is exactly what I mean.

And now, I return to reading Kripke. He has 7 pages to redeem himself; I wish him the best of luck and, having vented my disapproval of what he’s already said, I meet him with open arms and an unbiased mind.


1 There’s a pun in there somewhere, calling speakers “dumb,” but I don’t care enough to refine it just now.

2 Can I just mention here that I think it’s really kinda ridiculous when people refer to theories being discovered? I discovered the theory of relativity by reading about it in a book; Einstein created the theory to describe and explain certain phenomena. Just one more reason I don’t like Kripke: he’s one of those.

3 Especially since I’d have to substitute similarly burdensome descriptions in the places of “earth” and “sun” and “shadow” and “tide” and….