Category Archives: Op-Ed

I have lots of “ops” but I really don’t know anyone named Ed…

Propper Attribution

It has been a while since I have created anything to put here, and I find myself sitting at my computer typing this out with two confessions I would like to make. The first is this: My last post was on April 4 or something like that, which means it has been over a month since I posted, and that makes me sad. To the twenty-something people who have looked at my blog (12 of whom are probably definitely Russian hackers trying to hack my website) I am sorry. But also, life happens. So deal with it.

The second confession is that I am a monumental fan of a writer named Neal Stephenson. Massive fan. Probably more than is actually normal. Maybe more than is actually healthy. That part is alright though, I’m okay with that. It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to. The reason that is important (the Neal Stephenson bit, not the crying part) is because it gives you, reader, a glimpse into why I was googling things relating to Neal Stephenson. Specifically, I was googling things in relation to his latest novel, Seveneves. It’s like Interstellar meets The Martian, but also it’s entirely unlike both of them, all the while written by a real writer. It’s brilliant. I was googling to find pictures that other Neal Stephenson fans more artistically gifted than Y.T. in the visual arts had drawn depicting things from the book. I can’t tell you exactly what I had in the search bar; it was some combination of “Neal” “Stephenson” “Art” “Seveneves” “CLANG!” and maybe some other words. The point is, I found this. (Click it. If you don’t click it the rest of this won’t make any sense. Go on, I’ll wait.)

Those of you with eyes can see what it says, and those of you with eyes connected to your brain are processing that and forming emotional reactions in your brain. Most of you are probably like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Neal Stephenson feels a particular way about government.’ That, ordinarily, would be fine. People can think what they think. People should think what they think. People should express what they think. However, because I am a massive Neal Stephenson fan, I know that Neal Stephenson didn’t actually say that. Technically, yes, he did. They appear in Seveneves. They are spoken by a character who is recounting something spoken by another character. Which brings me to my point.

How do you attribute stuff people say when they’re writing fiction? A lot of those picture quotes you see are things written or said by the people who wrote or said them, but when writing fiction, the characters in the novel don’t always agree with the personal views of the author. It’s not that difficult to simply attribute the quote to the appropriate character, and then attribute the whole thing to the author of the novel.

I’m going to use Ayn Rand to make an extremely idealized example of this. Ayn Rand wrote things in her objectivist bibl…I mean novels, things that contradict completely what her belief system was about. For instance, take this actual Ayn Rand quote about love: “If you loved your brother, you would give him a job he didn’t deserve precisely because he didn’t deserve it – that would be true love and kindness and brother hood.” Or this about the virtue of jobs: “If a man deserves a job, there is no virtue in giving it to him. Virtue is in the giving of the undeserved.” Take these quotes about science: “The entire history of science is a progression of exploited fallacies, not achievements.” “The more we learn, the more we learn that we know nothing.” “Do not look for ‘common sense’. To demand ‘sense’ is the hallmark of nonsense. Nature does not make sense. Nothing makes sense.” All of these appear in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and are things that are spoken by characters in the novel (usually to the protagonists). To simply attribute any of these quotes to Ayn Rand would turn her over in her grave.

The writers of stories, stories with ideas, need contrast. A good story (or at least one type of good story) looks at a particular problem or impasse from many different angles, and they portrays a possible outcome. The quotes above make Rand’s novels such spectacularly good examples of her ideals; by including the very things she set out to defeat, she achieves her goal through contrast. Yet her words are there, just waiting for some ignoramus to misplace them in a way that makes Ayn Rand seem entirely not what she was. This can be found in many places. Carl Sagan had characters that championed religion in Contact. C.S. Lewis’ White Witch. Good story tellers must do this. They must, like actors, play parts to give a fair representation of how society and humanity would exist in their fictional reality. They must write characters on all sides, any one of whom could be in opposition of the writer’s actual beliefs, or could be just slightly misaligned, or somewhere in the middle.

Ironically the writers of television shows and movies don’t have this problem. Everybody knows it’s the characters talking. There are loads of motivational posters with silly quotes from television shows, attributed to the character who said them. Nobody remembers the names of the writing staff of Parks and Rec, but everyone can say their favorite Ron Swanson line off the top of their head. Maybe it’s that people need their creative thinking done for them. When it’s an actual person acting out the part, it’s easier to distinguish between the real world writers and the fictional characters. When the burden lies with the reader to imagine it, for some, the line isn’t so clear. Some of you reading this are probably great readers, and would never commit such a felony as putting a literary characters quote on the internet without attributing them, and that’s great. To those of you who would do such a thing, don’t.

The characters in novels don’t necessarily represent the people who created them. Nor should they. If authors only wrote characters they agreed with, literature would be an utterly useless thing. There would be no great works of fiction, only fantastically boring tales of one individual driveling on about whatever it is they believe. And as you all are probably well aware by now, that’s what things like this blog are for.

Eye Stabbing Mother Fucker

Or, Oedipus

Oedipus. The guy probably most notable for precipitating this moment. Why would Oedipus have a different answer to this question? Is it better to know, or not to know? It’s better to know? Well. He fucked his mom. Yeah. Actually, he married his mom. Then fucked her. At least he gets points for commitment.

The story goes that an oracle told Oedipus’ father, who was the king of Thebes, which is in Greece, that his own son would slay him. Back in the day, oracles were pretty hot shit, and if one told you something, you tended to listen. Naturally, Laius (Oedipus’ dad) was hence forth terrified of having a son, because it would kill him. His wife, (later, Oedipus’ wife) Jocasta, had a son. Probably because they hadn’t invented condoms yet. Actually the invention of condoms kinda makes oracles obsolete, because if one tells you your son will kill you, you just use condoms, don’t have a son, and the oracle is out of business. Anyway, Jocasta has a son. Laius freaks. They do the only logical thing: leave the kid out to die. But, a shepherd fucks up their plan. Shepherds actually turn out to be pretty crafty bastards. They’re the unlikely heroes of the Bible…this Oedipus thing…other things…

So the shepherd saves the kid, who is adopted and raised by the King of Corinth and his wife. Oedipus then goes on to kill his dad walking down the street one day, and then marries his mom. And, he usually gets a bad wrap for all of that. I grant you, at first glance it appears disconcerting. But it’s not like he actually knew what he was doing. I have the same problem with Star Wars. (Hear me out…) Luke always gets shit for kissing his sister, Carrie Fisher, in the second/fifth episode. I have many problems with this, although I don’t condone incest. My first problem is, Carrie Fisher kissed Luke. Look at the tape. Go on, do it. She kissed him. He just kissed her back. Which, I’m sure, seemed like a polite thing to do. If Carrie Fisher circa Episode V kissed me, I’d kiss her back. If Carrie Fisher circa Episode VII kissed me, I’d kiss her back. Shit, if Chewie kissed me I’d kiss him back, just out of curiosity. I’m not saying I’d make a regular thing out of it. My second problem is that Luke didn’t know it was his sister. It was just Carrie Fisher, a beautiful ice princess, or something. And, yes Carrie and Hans Solo were meant to be together from the beginning, and that ended in heartbreak, but it’s not like Luke thought, ‘Damn my sister is hot.’ But, objectively, Princess Leia is attractive. You can’t blame Luke for thinking that.

Oedipus gets a bad rap for everything he did, and he shouldn’t. I mean, except for killing a guy walking down the street. That’s not cool. Freud’s Oedipus Complex describes a son’s love towards his mother, and jealousy of his father. Oedipus never felt any of those things. He was just pissed at a guy who started an argument with him, and attracted towards the Queen, whose hand he won by solving a riddle nobody else could solve. And it’s not like he didn’t call back the next day. Oedipus and his mom were married, and had four children.

Oedipus is actually just a regular son of a king, or two kings, because he was adopted. Throughout his ordeal he’s just trying to do the right thing. The oracle tells him he’s going to murder his father and sleep with his mother, so he flees from his father and mother. Except the parents he fled from aren’t his parents. By attempting not to fullfil the oracle, he fullfils the oracle. Which, I suppose, is predictable.

Now, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. In some versions of the story, Oedipus stabs his own eyes and blinds himself. He didn’t even think about it. He finds out who his father really was, and that he has made babies with his mom (who, after finding out herself, commits suicide), goes to her body, and stabs his eyes with the pins that held her dress together. Just seemed like the right thing to do. Since he took the pins out, her dress probably fell open. But I would imagine his stabbing motion was so quick he didn’t see his mother’s naked body. And, after all, he’d already slept with her many times, so it doesn’t really matter. He then lives out the rest of his days in exile with Ismene and Antigone, his daughters/half sisters. (If you’ve stumbled upon this page and you’re reading this for a high school English class, Antigone is pronounced just like the words “anti” and “gone” put together. Otherwise, you know how it goes.)

So, the point is, give Oedipus a break. He’s just a guy with free will trying to buck the trend and not fullfil an oracle. What’s so wrong about that?

A Response to The Interview

So the other day I watched The Interview. That movie that everyone is aware of due to some recent events that have occurred on the world political stage. You could use this case as an example of the phrase,’any press is good press,’ because I most certainly would not have watched it if it were not for all of the press it has received. We have been hearing about it for months now, and the movie itself was only released two weeks ago. And, in those two weeks, according to IGN, the movie has been rented or viewed 4.3 million times earning Sony Pictures $31 million. It received a %51 on Rotten Tomatoes, a 7.2/10 on IMDB, and a %52 from Metacritic. Enough due diligence. Let’s get down to why I felt compelled enough to spend my own time writing about it.

I usually don’t give a crap about movies such as this. I used to, back when I was a frivolous youth with all the time in the world, or so I thought. But now, no. I just have more respect for my time than to waste it on idiotic films. I watched this one out of a sense of patriotism, if I’m honest. And I feel as though many intelligent people might get caught in the same trap that I did. I felt as though, since what was being challenged through the threats that Sony received from North Korean (?) hackers was my fellow American’s — and as such, my own — freedom of speech, that watching this film was a very American thing to do. My grandfather gave me a pocket copy of the United States Constitution, and I’ll quote Amendment I from it now, in case anyone isn’t familiar with it.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Oh, to think of the days when people wrote this way. I thought that this was being challenged. I thought that to watch this film was to throw my support behind this elegant, yet instinctive piece of writing. To put it frankly, I could not have been more wrong.

This film is not a celebration of free speech, as it has been made out to be. It is not good. It is not something that should be celebrated, at all, what-so-ever. The Interview is a pile of shit so large, that if it were loaded onto the Titanic before her maiden voyage, the magnificent ship would have foundered right in the harbor. It is hideously atrocious. It is abhorrent. It is everything that the freedom of the press is not supposed to be.

And this is the reason why I have to write about it. The Interview is one of the things that has truly made me embarrassed to be an American. To live in this land of the free, alongside the brave. To live in a place that is protected by a formidable fighting force, full of men and women who live and die for the quoted text above. I can exercise that right, the right to freely speak my ideas, because people have died for it. Because people have fought for it. To live in this place, to have these freedoms, and have the people I share them with decide to do this? To make this film? I must talk about this film, because I, too, have to fight for the freedom of speech in my own way.

What this film is, is not representative of any of the freedoms that are outlined in the constitution. It is a hideously misplaced attempt to make fun of a outrageous situation on the Earth, riddled with penis, ass, homosexual, and racial jokes. It is overflowing with lewd comments that some lesser people find amusing, and topped off with violence and vulgarity, all in order to attract people into the theaters to see it. (They made the film under the assumption that it would be seen in theaters; if they didn’t this post doesn’t begin to cover the monstrosity of the situation.) It is an embarrassment to those of us who practice freedom of speech that this is the product those freedoms.

Now, legally, is there any question that this film should have been released? Absolutely not. It should have. I must say that. If you and I and everyone else with intelligent ideas is going to rightfully express themselves freely, then idiots and imbeciles like Seth Rogen and James Franco must also have the right to poison the stage for discussion of ideas with toxic waste, like The Interview. That is not in question. I will always fight for an idiot’s right to freely be stupid so I may enjoy the right to freely be intelligent. But, at this point, I need to stand up for the responsibilities that are not written into any governing document, and that MUST not be written into any governing document.

The power of free speech is something that is immense. A few words can go vast distances against strong opposition. If they are the right words. And they can build iron blockades in the way of progress if they are the wrong ones. The Interview is something that needs to be protected by the first amendment, but should be ridiculed, execrated, and then shunned by the people who exercise those same freedoms. That’s why I am writing about this film. Because I must defend honor and responsibility of ‘free speech’ that was so arrogantly smeared by these two miserable excuses for actors, and those instrumental in creating this film.

I have to stand up for the people who do not use their power, the power to freely express their ideas, to say terrible things. The people who actually think, and use their words to express their ideas, their informed ideas. The energies and efforts of all the people who worked on The Interview, could have been put into a thought provoking, informative film to educate people about how bad it really is in North Korea (or any other offense on humanity in the world, take your pick). It could have documented all the atrocities that are ongoing halfway across the world. It did not have to use the fact that people are starving at the hands of the government, or that there is a dictator who is most likely highly incompetent, to make jokes. What they did is just not in good taste. It absolutely CAN be done. It absolutely SHOULD NOT be done.

The thing that prompted me to go on and on like this, was this web article. Right at the top of the text, is the huge green quote that sparked it for me. The quote, which I will not repeat here because having it on one place on the internet is bad enough, (linking to it here makes me question my own morality a little), essentially accuses North Koreans of not having any taste in humor. It is a quote from the Director of National Intelligence. The article is published on Bloomberg Politics. Mr. Clapper, the so-called national intelligence director, is dead wrong. Anyone who watched The Interview and had a sense of humor would not find it funny. They would find it offensive. Because that’s what it is. To celebrate this as an exercise in the freedom of speech is to be juvenile, and idiotic. To simply have the freedom of speech is good. But, to use as a force for good, is to be great. If we want to be the leader of the free world that we continually we say we are, we need to recognize this, and act upon it.

Now for a requisite concession on the subject of the offensive. Offensive can be effective, if there is a point. If it’s intelligent, if it’s insightful, it can go a long way for good.

The Interview was not that kind of offensive. It is not just offensive to North Koreans, it is offensive to Americans too. It’s offensive to people. To acknowledge this oppression and dictatorship with this piece of shit film, is just not okay. Don’t watch it, even just to see how bad it is. Stop caring about it, because there are better things to do with your life, and your freedom. Thanks for reading. Thanks for thinking.

Blogger’s Note: Ultimately, I am proud to live in this country and be one of its citizens. However, I am not proud of all of it, and I think that should be acknowledged at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. Furthermore, I don’t condone terrorist threats in response to this. There are ways to show displeasure other than killing people, or by invoking fear in them. The fact that this is how these people responded to such a vulgar piece of expression just adds to the sadness of the situation. What I am saying here, is that North Koreans should have been offended by this, but Americans should have been offended, too. It’s release should be protected by the constitution, and it should be an example of the worst kind of expressions of free speech that citizens of this country have ever produced.

Normal Aircraft Movement

It’s just past the thanksgiving holiday here, which means a few things. One of those, is that eveyrone in my little universe (solar system, if we want to use a cosmic term that’s scaled somewhat appropriately. Actually, Florida is a cosmic term, because we’re all made up of star stuff in the first place, but back to the point) is fretting over things like final exams, final papers, final exams that look like papers, projects, design reviews, presentations that must be exactly 13 minutes long, and the like. It also means that some of us who thought we could both go home, and keep up with all of our work (ha!) just returned from a few days eating turkey and conversing with distant relatives. For me, returning from the homeland means getting on an airplane. In this case, an Airbus A320 operated by JetBlue Airways.

This is significant to my story for two reasons. One is that airbuses are terrifying beasts flown mostly by computers, and the other is, JetBlue provides their customers with complimentary (Which really means, you pay for it with the price of a ticket and we’ll call it free to make you feel better) cable on their flights. This is convenient for things like Sunday flights while your favorite team is playing, those can’t-miss NCIS reruns, and giving your small child some cartoons to look at so they don’t scream the whole flight. Ok, so it’s only conveinent for two of those things. I’ll let you guess how my flight was.

During the course of the flight, probably just after take off or just before touch down, you might notice that the service stops for a few moments. This is a heart wrenching moment when the mother next to you has briefed you on how her child flies with the words,”don’t worry she’s really a good flyer once the cartoons come on,” in any particular order. After a few seconds of wondering how long the child will in fact be making noise, you’ll notice the screen that comes up in place of the fancy moving pictures that were just a few inches from your face. It is a nice screen. It tries to explain to you that there is nothing to worry about, that, although some might find the disruption of a television stream to be warrent for anxiety and panic, you, sitting in the airplane chair, should not do those things. It does a good job.

The way it does this is by listing all the reasons why the signal could have stopped. (‘All?’, you ask. ‘Really? All?!’ Yeah, we’ll get to that.) It has some nice things, most of which I’ve completely forgotten. But one stuck with me. “Normal Airaft Movement.” It’s the first thing on the list The signal could have been disrupted from normal aircraft movement.

This struck me. I’ll admit, my first thought was,’that’s a silly thing to say.’ The signal could also be disrupted from unusual aircraft movement. It’s funny, the things we don’t think about. But, back to the normal aircraft movement. It’s funny the things we do think about. The logic that get’s us from “my airplane tv stopped working” to “the plane must be about to crash” eludes me.

The device that is responsible for the television working at all is pretty small. If you are boarding a flight in the near future, look our of the terminal window before boardning your plane. Take note of the small, unassuming hump on the top of the fuselage. (Like this one.) This, this little hump, is what gives you in flight wifi, cartoons, football, you name it. Let’s put this in perspective.

You’re flying on an airplane. Which means, that at any given time, you are sitting in a chair that is bolted to the interior of a fueslage that is strapped to some wings with engines that are marvel of engineering, moving at anywhere from 150 miles an hour to 550 miles an hour, at anywhere from 1 – 45,000 feet above the only place in the universe you’ve ever lived. The air outside is probably 70 or 80 degrees (fahrenheit) below 0. It contains so few air molecules, that you would be concious for only a matter of seconds were it not for the pressurized tube you’re in. The little hump on the back of the plane talks to a satellite, which is moving at some 17,000 miles per hour, making your 550 look stationary. The satellite then talks to a place on the ground. After exchanging brief plesantries, the satellite and the ground station decide to beam the television signal from the ground, to the satellite, to the little hump. The little hump is then relieved, because it frets about whether the satellite will return its calls due to their off-again-on-again relationship.

This state of being has become such a commonplace, that we need to be reassured that the television will come back on momentarily, because of ‘normal aircraft movement’. The fact that television exists inside of ‘normal aircraft movement’ at all is something that shoud keep your mind occupied for the couple hours you’ll be in the air. (If you’re flying internationally, there’s plenty of other things about airplanes to keep your mind occupied for the other hours.) We’ve forgotten that normal aircraft movement is such a feat of engineering that it’s incredulous that it exists at all.

Now, I get it. Airplanes fly all over the Earth every day. You might fly on them often. The televisions might be a nice way to pass the time, if you like football or NCIS reruns. I’m not saying they’re bad. I’m not saying that you should or should not watch them. What I am saying, is that when the signal that’s travelling from the little hump moving 550 miles an hour to the satellite – in space – moving at 17,000 miles an hour, to the ground station, and back, stops for a moment or two, look at the screen that says ‘normal aircraft movement’ and appreciate that. Or, if flying is the kind of thing that terrifies you, think about a field full of puppies. Thanks for reading.

Control Theory

So last semester I took a class called “Spacecraft Control.” In this course, I was supposed to be learning the details of control theory as it relates to spacecraft flying through…wait for it…space. It had to do with all sorts of interesting things such as aerodynamic braking, outgassing (spacecraft flatulence), spin, wobble, differential equations, and all sorts of fun things. I should note here that this class is the sequel to a class called “Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics,” which makes the acronym, SAD. This is appropriate, because while I’m sure the professor was actually talking about spacecraft control things, my classmates and I had no clue what he was talking about, and managed to pass the class by bullshitting our way through the final presentation. Sad, huh?

This is only relevent because of what I want to talk about here today. I was recently asked in another class to think about all the different ways that I am being controlled in my life. Whoa. None, right? I am a free spirit, independent of outside influence, fighting the good fight atop the mound of mindless sheep out there that make up most of America. Well, actually…no. It’s naive and frankly, quite stupid to believe that.

The truth is, we are constantly being controlled. Every day. When you drive your car, you are controlled by traffic laws, stop signs, traffic lights, the slow car in front of you, the speed limit, traffic cops. You don’t have to listen to any of those things, I know. But when you break the laws there are penalties, and if you don’t pay, there are repercussions. More control. When you get to your destination you are being controlled to. At school, you have to go to class, you have to behave a certain way, you have to dress a certain way. At work, you’re controlled by your boss. If you don’t conform to this controlling power, you get fired. Before you go to school or get a job, you’re controlled by your parents. They are the be all end all of your life. They control what you eat, when you sleep, what you where. Not all control is bad. Babies would be pretty much screwed without it. But as we get older we start to realize that our bosses have control over us, our professors have control over us, and so on. So we take control of the things we can to compensate for it.

We do this in all sorts of ways. The picture you have at your desk. The watch you wear. The crazy socks, the colorful clothes. What you eat. The cross pendant or David’s star that’s hanging around your neck, or the little Buddha that you keep with you. The car you drive. All these things are freedoms you get to take into your own control. But how free does this really make you? Not all that much.

You see, even these freedoms are controlling you. You need to eat healthy foods to be, well, healthy. Or you can be unhealthy, but then you won’t live as long, and you are controlled by a primal need to matter to people, rapidly. You may wear a fun watch, but it will still control you because the very nature of time is controlling. Be here at this time, time is always passing, your time might come at any second, tick tock tick tock. You have a freedom of religion, but religions control you too. There’s rules to follow and places to be on Sunday and things to wear and the like. And in religions that are focused inward, like Buddhism and Confucianism, there’s self control. This might be one of the better types; if you’re going to be controlled, you might as well control the controlling.

But there’s still hope for you, you might think. What if you’re an individual who controls other people? What if you have power? What if you have a lot of power? Well, good for you. But, you are controlled by the people over whom you reside. Unless you’re a dictator. But even then, you are no doubt controlled in part by a small group of aids who you trust, some who you actually should, and some who are actually out to get you. What if, by chance, you are a dictator who is above the control of your aids? What if, by chance, you are in control of all the people of the world, and noone is in control of you.

Wow. This is an interesting (and completely hypothetical) scenario. I won’t keep you in suspense. You are still being controlled. You are on a planet in a solar system in a galaxy in a cluster (who knew?) in the universe. Your planet has a magnetic feild, and a gravitational field. You can’t jump as high as you want. You can’t drive a hypothetical car with unlimited power as fast as you want because your speed will be aerodynamically limited. Even if you have power over all the earth, you can still be locked in a room, because you can’t walk through walls. You’re controlled by your DNA. You’re limited because you’re a human. The vastness of space is such that you could never master it all because you physically couldn’t handle it. You could have power over all the earth and still get hit by a bus and be smushed like a bug. You are controlled by the neurons in your brain. There are things out there that you can not wrap your head around because of the way your brain works. Things you can not imagine because of the world you live on. If you had control over all the people of the earth, you would be in control of a fraction of a pixel in a picture of a fraction of a solar system in a galaxy in a cluster in the universe. There’s probably more things you don’t know are controlling you than you could ever imagine. Which is simultanousely awe inspiring, incredible, utterly terrifying, and most importantly, terribly true.

So, after thinking through this, the answer is, you’re always going to be controlled. Whether it’s by social norms, other people, the laws of physics, or the shear fact of your insignificance in the universe, you’ll always be controlled by something. And I will too. We can’t escape it. We can just be aware of it, take control of the things we can, and let the rest be as it may. Thanks for reading. See you soon.

Taboo, Part II

So a while ago I wrote a little post on taboo, which I cleverly titled…Taboo. In it, I wrote some words about some stuff, with the main idea being there are certain things that we have all come to accept as ‘taboo’, and sometimes it’s good to just go ahead and break the different taboos that are surrounding you. Well, today in my (ahem) cross cultural communication class (woo alliteration!), I learned some more stuff about taboo. And then, because I had wandered into something to wonder, I proceeded to head to my favorite internet search engine, Google, and start typing. And I found out some pretty cool stuff.

As it turns out, taboo is actually a pretty old word. I didn’t know how old it was, or where it came from, until today. But I wrote a whole blog post about it. Anyway. Taboo actually comes from the beautiful state of Hawaii. To be more accurate, it comes from the Polynesian explorers who first discovered the Hawaiian island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean some 1,500 years ago. Since Hawaii is a volcanic island chain supposedly millions of years old, these folks were the first humans to arrive there, one of the only conquests of exploration that I am aware of that did not end in European diseases wiping out a majority of the indigenous population.

But speaking of Europeans and their diseases, it is a European who we have to thank for all of our knowledge about the ancient Hawaiians, and their culture. I’m sure there’s some irony in that. Yes, Capt. James Cook of Great Britain “discovered” the island chain in 1778, and was then killed by some angry Hawaiians when he captured one of their chiefs to try and reclaim a boat of his that had fallen into indegenous hands. In any event, his landing in Hawaii gave the west some exposure to the Hawaiian culture, simultanously demolishing it by giving the Hawaiians exposure to smallpox. But, before they were totally demolished, we did learn some stuff about them.

The ancient Hawaiians actually had a pretty cool social structure. It was comprised into several classes, the most revered being the Ali’i. The next class down was called the Kahuna, and consisted of people such as preists, so next time you say ‘the big kahuna’ be sure it’s to a priest. The people of Hawaii were goverened by a concept known as Kapu, which to put it in terms your average American might understand, was stuff that the god’s said was holy.

For ancient Hawaiians, Kapu was a religion, and simultanously a way of life. It focused heavily on the opposing pairs, such as good and evil, day and night, sky and earth, and male and female. It’s origins can be traced to the Hawaiian’s Kumipilo, or creation story. During the day, sacred things, such as the gods, and man, were created. One side of every pair was considered to be sacred, or forbidden, and the other side was unsacred, or commonplace. The idea was that there were certaint things that would be kept sacred, for the gods, and other things that didn’t really upset the gods so much. The higher up the caste structure you were, the stricter Kapu was. The punishment for breaking Kapu was also severe, sometimes death in the form of human sacrifice. For instance, if a member of the servent class was found to be breaking Kapu, particularly in offense to a member of the Ali’i he could be sacrificed to one of the personal gods of that Ali’i member. Cool.

Kapu also had a large part in dictating which foods could be eaten, and at what times. For instance, the first crops of a harvest would be Kapu, but the rest of the harvest would be OK to eat. Certain foods, such as pork and bananas were Kapu, but others (dog and sweet potato) were OK to eat. In addition, it was forbidden for men and women to eat in each others presence. Kapu also dictated things relating to marriages between the ancient Hawaiian people. The idea of Kapu was, essentially, where the ancient Hawaiians got their customs from.

Kapu ended in 1819, during the reign of King Kamehameha I (what a fun name), when he violated Kapu by dining in the presence of females. At this point, when Kamehameha wasn’t smited into oblivion by one of the Hawaiian gods, the Hawaiians realized that Kapu was kind of a silly thing, and most of them just sort of abandoned it. At the time this was quite the social upheaval in paradise. In fact, Kamehameha was the first Hawaiian ruler not to recieve a sacrificial escort to the eternal beyond upon his death. This is actually quite startling, when you sit down and think about it. Because this can be viewed from out side of the Hawaiian’s cave, we can actually see it for what it was. The Hawaiians realized that their way of life, their religion, was bogus, so they just abandoned it. Which makes you wonder, what’s outside of our cave?

In light of the above paragraph, I will say this. I’m not using this to disprove anything, and I’m not saying that this means that any religion is bogus (except for Kapu, there’s really no arguing that one). I am saying, it’s enough to make you wonder.

We come back from our visit to ancient Hawaii, to find our word, taboo. To my limited knowledge it is no longer a religion or a way of life for any (normal-ish) person. But it does retain its meaning, sacred or forbidden. While we use it today much less rigidly than its inventors, and without punishment of human sacrifice, the basic idea is similar. And, quite fittingly, the original post which sparked this one is still true, when you trace it back to its roots. The things that we think are taboo, might not actually be taboo. I guess it all depends on whether or not you want to throw them out there, and have dinner with your mom. Thanks for reading.

Some things I’ve learned

Well, here we are. We’ve made it to the end of another college semester, you and I. It’s quite an accomplishment, when you think about it. It’s one of those things that you get to the end of, and you’re like, psht, why did I just do that? Oh yeah. Because society mandates that I have a degree to accomplish anything in life and I don’t have the balls to join one of those off-the-grid farming communes. But I digress. Since I spend most of my time slaving away at school, I figured I should probably learn some things. And I actually have learned something this semester. Amazing, I know. But I’m not talking about shear flows and design processes and control systems. I mean that knowledge is in my brain somewhere, but what I’m talking about is stuff they don’t teach you in school. They should, but they don’t. Anyway, since I’m racking up student loans out the wazoo, I figured I’d let you know what I am getting out of it.

The first thing that I’ve learned, is that people can, in general, be counted upon to suck. People suck. They suck pretty bad. People are selfish, and mean, and lazy, and they don’t do their jobs, and they ruin all your group projects. I apologize for the lewdness of the desriptor, but it’s the one that keeps coming to mind. There are as always, exceptions to this rule. Obviously not everyone sucks. Some people are awesome. Some people make it worth staying on Earth, and not building a rocket and setting up shop on Arkentoofle Minor or Gagrakacka. (Don’t forget your towel.) I like these people. These people I choose to interact with. But at the same time, there are some truly terrible awful people out there, and they will be in the sky like a dark cloud no matter what you do, because you are neither the weather man, or God. These people being there always like the bubonic plague or any given AE-318: Aerospace Structures lecture, brings me to the next thing that I learned this semester.

It’s not fair. It here can be anything you choose, and please, choose anything, because it will fit. It’s not fair. Whatever it is. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, not fair. Because you see, you can be an awesome person and do the right things and be succesful and hard working and then some Aerospace Structures lecture comes along and chooses healthcare reform to be his signature legislation and ruins everyone’s lives. (There’s other things, too.) And do you know what? There’s actually nothing you can do about it. Unless you’re a congressperson. In that case, what the actual fuck? Again, I digress. But it’s not fair. It can’t be fair. There’s too many of them out there to get rid of them all without being convicted of mass genocide. The stormy cloud people, I mean. No the truth is, that some people will work really hard all their lives, and then other people will benefit from it.

The truth is, it’s actually not fair from the beginning. Some people are dealt a better hand. Some people happen to be in the right place in the right time. Some people just have better luck. Some people are stronger. Some people are smarter. Some people are naturally talented at some things, and some people are naturally talented at other things. These things need to be accepted…because they are all true. I will say however, I believe everyone has their something. It’s just that not everyone is natrually good at what they WANT to be naturally good at. What else can I say, it’s just not fair. I’ll also say that you’ve no doubt heard this from various adults throughout your life, but there’s a moment that you’ll get to when it really hits you. At that moment, you’ll want more than any other moment to be in Arkentoofle Minor, probably with a pan galactic gargle blaster, but you can’t do that, because it’s a totally made up thing. You’ll just have to stay here and deal with it. And yes, I do realize if you haven’t had that moment, this is just another source telling you it’s not fair and not really sinking in, but at least when you get to that moment you’ll realize it’s just a depressing truth sooner and spend less time dealing in false hope. Now, that one out of the way we can move on to somthing almost not as depressing.

The third thing that I learned this semester, is that it is the little things that will make the biggest difference. For example, in senior design, we had to basically design SpaceShipOne, but without just outright copying SpaceShipeOne. So we did. And on the second day of class we decided to add large air-brakes to our design to slow it down when it was descending back to Earth. Then we proceeded to not talk about it for three months, spending many many hours doing other spaceshippy things. Wouldn’t you know, the professor almost started pleasuring himself to those air-brakes. To the point in fact, that he overlooked many other things that were not so good in our reports. I know this, because I did a lot of work on the reports, and I know what’s in them. This example not only proves that it’s the little things that make the differences, but also that it’s not fair. All you have to do is come up with some blasted mother loving air-brakes, and you don’t really have to do any real hard work or anything. (That’s not to say that you won’t or shouldn’t, but you don’t HAVE to.)

The fourth thing that I’ve learned this semester, is that you really need to just grow a pair, and man up, and take control of your life and get it on the track you want it on. Yes, you. You reading this. Go on, do it. Yes, you’re scared to, yes, it’s kinda terrifying, but go and do it. (If you’ve already had this realization and done it, bravo!) But no one else is going to do it for you, it’s up to you. You’re mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go and do whatever it is your heart tells you you should be doing. If you have no clue what that means, try and listen to your heart. It probably has some intersting things to say. If you’re really stubborn and bull headed and have a bunch of excuses as to why you should not do that and keep banging your head against a wall doing what it is you’re currently doing, I feel ya. Hit me up and we’ll go through this together.

And finally, the thing that I think hit me this semester, actually, while I was writing this, is that you will never ever escape your past. You will one day learn to live with it. You might even forget about it, temporarily. But you will never escape it. It will always be a part of you. This being said, those of you young ones reading this, think very hard and very carefully before you do anything. Think especially hard and carefully if what you’re about to do involves someone you love, or care about. Think even more especially hard and carefully if it’s someone you THINK you love or care about. And for goodness sakes, learn the difference between love and lust quick, and then don’t be scared to love. I’m not just talking about the romantic kind either. If you screw up here, it will never escape you. So please don’t screw it up. For yourself, and for those you actually love, or will actually love. Your actions have consequences and often you can’t even imagine what they might be.

So there. That’s it. That’s what I’m taking away from life this semester put out here, on the internet. Take from it what you will, take from it with many grains of salt, or don’t take from it at all. I’ve written here honestly, and from my heart. And, if you’ve gotten this far down the page, don’t worry about the second paragraph, you’re probably one of the good ones. Thanks for reading.

The Mother’s Handbook

The Christmas holiday season is often a time where old friends and family gets together to exchange stories and gifts and just to be in each others company. It is nice to spend time with people that you might get to see ordinarily, or people that you miss during the year. This past holiday season, I was catching up with an old friend who is studying music education somewhere in Maryland. She had just completed a semester student teaching at a grade school, also somewhere in Maryland, and we ended up discussing this stark realization that we both seemed to be coming to as we got older.

You see, when I was a little kid, I always thought there was a big giant book, something that had all the answers to all the mystical questions that ‘grown-ups’ read before they became ‘grown-ups’, probably somewhere in their senior year of college. It was this overwhelming cornacopia of knowledge about all the things that adults know. Things like how to cook eggs. Or how to change a tire on a car. Or how to go to the bank. Or how to get a job. Or, better yet, how to be a mom or a dad. All the things that it would be nice if there was a class about in high school or college, but for some reason we neglect to actually teach anyone.

My friend, after finishing her bout with student teaching, which she won for those of you keeping score at home, realized that in fact, there is no such book. Nope. You have to figure these things out on your own. The realization came to her after she had figured out that people were trusting her to teach other children things. Which is actually kind of terrifying. It’s incredibly terrifying. It’s so increidbly terrifying for two reasons, the first being that she (and I, is suppose) is old enough to be teaching little children things. The second reason is that somewhere someone deemed her fit to teach other children things. I mean, I think about what it takes to be a teacher and work with kids, and I know that there’s a lot of stuff that I wondered when I was a kid that I still wonder now, like, how to get a job. Mostly how to get a job.

My mom jokingly references a mythical text called The Mother’s Handbook when this subject comes up. It’s a wonderful book filled with all sorts of things that we learn when we grow up, all those things that are supposed to be learned somewhere in your senior year of college, before you enter the real world. How to balance a checkbook? There. How to cook anything other than ramen noodles in a coffee pot like in Parks and Rec? There. What to do when you’re kids ask you really hard questions? There. What to do when you have a kid? There. It’s all there. Anything you ever experienced and thought, yeah, all adults are taught that. It’s probably in The Mother’s Handbook. There’s only one teeney little problem.

There is no Mother’s Handbook. It doesn’t actually exist. It couldn’t actually exist. It’d use so much paper that the hug the tree’s people would never allow it. It would probably literally run the earth out of trees. This revalation may be a bit alarming to those of you reading through this expecting a link to Amazon at the end, where the glorious book of things adults should know is waiting to be bought. Nope. There is no such link. There is no such book. As it turns out, I’ve realized, the truth is that adults just make a lot of stuff up. And when you’re a kid you don’t know any better and you think it’s magic and there’s some book they all read and that’s how adults know all the things they do.

I used to be terrified of a lot of things.  Mostly because I thought I didn’t know how to do them. I wanted to read the book everyone else had read and catch up and then I’d know all the things too. Then I could grow up and be an adult. The truth is that the reason adults know a lot of the things that they do, is because they got all those things wrong at some point or another.  The other truth, is that I’m still terrified of a lot of things.  The thing that no one tells you, probably because no one thinks of it, is that learning things that you don’t know isn’t all daisys and rainbows. It’s embarassing and humiliating and humbling. It’s opening yourself up and saying, “I don’t know this.” It’s feeling like an idiot and taking a wild guess at something and getting it completely wrong. Then taking another guess based on what you learned from the first one. It’s being ok with having no clue what’s going on, and making something up instead.

So no, there is no Mother’s Handbook, or some other encyclopedia of knowledge that if the holy grail all of us so called “tenty-somethings” have been looking for. We just have to get out there and make stuff up. I think, if we do, we’ll find we’re actually a little smarter than we thought we were. Thanks for reading.

Soliloquy

I think that track and field is one of the most interesting sports, when looked at from the perspective of a philosopher. This is mostly because philosophers spend much of their time asking “why?”, and I did a lot of the same when I was participating in track and field. I can’t really imagine why you wouldn’t. I mean who would repeatedly subject themselves to the torture of intense physical activity five days a week for two to three hours a day. And not just intense physical activity, but running, which is extremely abusive to things like your knees, arteries, and other items that generally come in useful later in life. Plus it’s just darned hard. There’s no way humans were supposed to be runners.

The only positive is runners high. However, this only kicks into affect after you’re already run five or six miles, and seeing as most novices start out with one or two, it does not benefit the runners who need it most. And don’t even get me started about hills. Oh my goodness. I’ve lived in Florida for three years now and I can tell you Florida is a state built for runners. Except the life threatening levels of humidity. In any event, Florida has absolutely no hills. The whole state is like, four feet above sea level. It just doesn’t change. It’s amazing. Everything is flat. Great for running. If you live in a state other than Florida, like, Colorado, there’s hills which are the arch nemesis to the runner. When man said, “Oh I think I’ll go for a run today”, God replied by conforming the Earth to include hills. More proof that man was not meant to be a runner. And if you’re of the church of science, there’s those physics laws that say a body in motion will stay in motion and a body at rest will stay at rest. Now when you and I popped out of the womb into the world, we sure weren’t moving. Regardless, it’s something that we’ve convinced ourselves is a good thing so we do it, and that leads to some interesting parallels, when the philosophy thing happens.

See another reason that running may peak the interest of your average, everyday, run of the mill philosopher, is that a runners life is a lot like…life. That was a horrible way to say that. What I mean is, running has a lot of parallels to events in life, and the different things that we experience. There are highs and lows, good runs and extremely horrible ones. There are good times and bad times, and good times and shin splints. There are the things that we can control, and the things we can’t. Like how much reflective spandex you wear, and how close the snowplow comes to slicing you in half. Running actually parallels a lot of things that we all experience in everyday life. To those who say after reading this that you could really make this argument about anything, I say, yeah, well shush and let me make it about running. So there.

There is a particular occurence in running though that I’d like to call attention to on this particular evening, or whatever time it is wherever you are. Being in track and field in high school, I would occaisionally run in races against other people. As anyone who has ever been in high school or track and field knows, everyone always seems to run faster in the races. This being the case, many race runs often leave the runner feeling terrible, even on a day with the wind in their favor. When the wind is against them, it can be just horrible. The mental capacity to simply put one foot in front of the other becomes somthing that requires excessive willpower and mental toughness. It is these tough races where something happens that is very interesting. See, whether the runner knows it or not, they will rely on the laws of physics (seriously, physics is everywhere) to help them in finishing the race.

The last 100 meters of any race always seem to be covered with air that is pysically thicker than the rest. There always seems to be more resistance there than any other part. When the runner gets to this part, on these bad days, especially if they are neck and neck with another runner, then will throw their upper body over their feet, in a maneuver that changes their center of gravity so much so that they would literally fall flat on their face if they didn’t take another step. The reaction to this CG change is hardwired in the brain deeper than the things that make them want to stop running, so they keep going. They keep going just far enough, until they have thrown themselves across the finish line in a heroic dive, and get far enough out of the way so as to not get trampled by other runners. And then, they collapse in a pile of heaving, sweaty, pimply, adolescent flesh just lying there on the rubber (or cinder, if you’re old school) gorging their lungs on the sweet, sweet oxygen that the red blood cells in their veins are so desperately screaming for.

This, this is the part that’s so interesting. Because the thought process at this particular moment, is,”Oh my goodness I’m so immensly happy that that experience is over and I really never want to do it again.” This is followed by, “I don’t care how I did, or what my time was, I just want to lie here in my little pile and maybe I’ll try and move in a few hours.” This event of incredible effort and work ethic has just reduced this bit of matter that matters into a hopeless, discouraged, and relieved pile on a high school track. It just so happens that being in a pile on a high school track is an amazing place to have some time with your thoughts. In which, inevitably, the runner will ask the question in the second sentence of this post. Why? Why are the forcing themselves through this torture five days a week, two to three hours a day just to be subjected to this on raceday? Why are they even running in the first place? Why does it matter? Why should they keep going?

I’ve been told recently that some of my writing is lacking in the part where I actually get to the point. And I suppose that that’s true. Many times I do miss the point, arrive at the wrong one, or never get to one at all. Getting to the point is something that I think…well…should be done. I mean, it’s a very good question, what’s the point? One that’s often hard to answer. One that we’re often scared to ask. One that I am scared to ask. It’s easy to be fluffy. It’s easy to make stuff up to fill the space around the infintesimal part of the world where there’s actually a point. Just take a read through some of my posts. The thing is that here, at this point in time and space, I think that there actually IS a point.

It’s ok to be the pile of flesh on the high school track. It’s ok to be down and hopeless and deflated. It’s ok to ask why, to wonder what the point is. It’s even ok to not know the answer sometimes. The critical moment for that runner, is the moment when he (or she, but in this case it’s a he) get’s up. All of the things in the beginning of this paragraph are ok, if the runner gets up and there is resolve and new hope and track practice tomorrow. It’s ok if there is resolve and new hope and a choir practice information session tomorrow. It’s not ok if there’s no new resolve. It’s even worse if the runner doesn’t get up. We all fall down. We all have those races. We all end up in a heap at some point in our lives. But people who love us and care about us help us back up, and give us water, and a towel, and an energy bar. And we help the people we love get back up, and we give them an energy bar in return. And the circle of pointless points goes on and on, round and round. Oh, and Matt, I looked it up, it’s called a soliloquy. Thanks for reading everyone, goodnight.

The Paradise Maneuver

There are certain things who’s names are so awesome that you just sit there and hope beyond hope that the thing itself lives up to the incredible awesomeness of it’s awesome name. A quick google search (google is awesome) of “things with awesome names” and a visit to an XKCD comic returned some awesome items to add to this list, such as tittle, crepuscular rays, the Brannock Device, semantic satiation (which is ironically what I’m doing right now with the word ‘awesome’), Kessler Syndrome, nuclear football, and the Armstrong Line. The last one actually didn’t come from either of the places mentioned earlier, but it is named after an awesome dude*, so it’s an awesome name. These things all range in the awesomeness of their name versus the awesomeness of the thing it actually is. For example, the Brannock Device is nothing more than that evil looking foot measuring device that shoe salesmen size you up with. The Armstrong Line is the line above which a human, or any animal really, can not survive without the aid of a pressure suit. The details of that type of passing I will omit, though it’s actually kinda cool if you google it. I have a bit of a soft spot for these things with awesome names. Awesome names can be a name for something totally bogus, like the dots on i’s and j’s and yet it an get a cool groovy name, and no one bats an eye. A cool awesome name can make something that’s not sexy sexy, or something fantastically boring seem exciting. I like things with awesome names, so I was decidedly way to excited when I thought of this one.

I was driving to a dive site with my buddy the other day and we were discussing things about diving, like how to keep people from venturing too far into a cave from which the grim reaper sign (another example of something with an awesome name) had been removed for unknown reasons, and this name just sort of hit me in the face like a wet towel. There is a story about this name that has to do with a certain dive location located in north central Florida. It’s actually an incredibly cool dive site, but it’s also dark and scary and if you let your mind get away from you, a place where monsters go to wait for you to happy-go-luckily skip into their lair singing ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ or ‘Ring Around the Rosy’. And then suddenly WHAM, you don’t know what hit you. Whenever the dive club goes to this particular location, it is a common occurrence for some of the more experienced divers to meander over to the dark side (mwahaha) and make sure that none of the less experienced divers unknowingly stumbles to close to the monsters that live there. It’s something that, while the experienced divers would probably rather go explore on their own, helps give the less experienced divers a more enjoyable dive, even if they don’t know it.

This past weekend we were not driving to the site referenced to in the previous paragraph but another one completely. However they share a common theme of having places people can get into and find themselves in over their head. Pun only half intended. As I said earlier, the sign that is supposed to stop people who are not certified to cave dive out of the cave was missing, and my buddies and I actually found the cinder block it was attached to at the very bottom of the cavern, so there would have been no external reference for the people who had never been there to know where to stop. We were discussing this phenomenon, and rapidly agreed that the best solution was to post someone at the location where the sign was, as sort of a sentinel of the deep dark scary place. And I immediately thought of the other dive site, which is named Paradise Spring. My brain then instantaneously decided that this maneuver needed a name, and ‘the paradise maneuver’ stuck pretty well. In fact I’ve been thinking about it since Saturday.

This thing, for which I have come up with a name, it’s…it’s an appealing character in my opinion. To be the one, the paradise maneuverer, it’s something that you don’t have to scuba into underwater holes in the ground to be. It’s being protective, without being overbearing. Being there when needed and silently keeping watch in the background when not needed. When you watch over your children playing outside, or mentor someone, or receive mentoring from someone, it’s all part of this idea. In these scenarios the deep dark monsters of paradise springs are things like twigs, monkey bars, the little meticulous details of filling out grad school applications, or wording in your cover letter or memo that will mean the difference between having a job and not. It’s not always life and death, sometimes it’s livelihood and being unemployed. Other times it’s being a happy little kid or having a scrape on your knee, which, in little kid terms, is basically practically death.

The paradise maneuver is all around us, and probably has been ever since we were born. It is a very idealistic idea, I am realizing as I sit here actually describing it in words. Of course this is because it actually IS very idealistic. Sort of like Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, it’s everything that you would want to be. Knowing just the right amount of information to be there when needed, and being a mysterious background presence when you’re not. Exactly the character we all want to be in these situations. In fact, also like Kipling’s piece, it’s idealistic almost to a point of being unattainable. It’s so noble and strong that it’s not something that we can really achieve. I mean yes we’ll watch our kids on the monkey bars and mentor people and be mentored and block open water divers from going in to caves, but the idea is more than that when it is all played out, all said and done. At the end of the day this idea is about the person who is watching our for us always, seeing everything that we are missing and throwing out nets for us to fall into so we don’t go careening down into the great depths of…whatever is down there.

At the end of the day, the ultimate paradise maneuver, is the One who put us all here in the first place. It’s God. Always there, all seeing all knowing, there exactly in the moment when you need Him. Although, I admit, this realization did not come until I read what I wrote to describe this thing, I do not think it is any less true. In the ultimate paradise maneuver, He is there watching over us before we get to the ultimate paradise, which is definitely not a spring filled with water and definitely possibly the Loch Ness monster. On second thought I have absolutely no clue, it could actually be that. But I really don’t think so. I guess the point of all this is, the next time you are watching over someone and pulling a little paradise maneuver of your own, or being watched over by someone, or whenever it hit’s you that you’re always being watched over by God, you can smile and remember this goofy little blog somewhere on the internet that gave it an awesome name, and smile for a moment, and go about your day.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

*Little fun fact: The Armstrong Line is named after Harry George Armstrong who is the father of space medicine, and the first person to notice the affects of that altitude. Don’t feel bad, I used to think it was Neil also.