Archive for the 'Bitching and Moaning' Category

Priceless moments

Maybe people are like the tai chi diagram, one half light and one half dark, but the problem is that the dark side seems to be all there from the beginning, whereas the light side has to be gradually constructed over time. This is why babies tend to be more polarizing than Reagonomics, although few people would openly admit to disliking them. I think when confronted with this mucousy little being screaming its bloody head off in front of you, with the implicit demand that you read its mind and give it whatever it is that it wants, you can really only either be attracted through the nurturing instinct…or repelled. In my first grade music class I remember watching a film that informed us that the babies in some African village or other don’t cry, but I don’t believe it, not unless they were doping them up like the gypsy beggars in the metro do, and it seems to me that, directed as it was at six-year-olds, the message was probably mostly either wistfulness or accusation, although at this remove I can’t really recall which.

And I don’t really know how you go from repulsion to nurturing attraction, though I have a feeling it generally has something to do with a certain rather precise and immediate process known as “becoming a parent.” Although in fact from what I can tell it’s much easier to idolatrize babies and parenthood when you’re not in the throes of this condition of being a 24 on-call nurse yourself. For example, yesterday I got full six hours of joy sitting next to two parents with a baby and toddler on a plane (well, next to the mom and behind the dad). The mother spent half the trip just quietly hissing curses at the father. I, in the full path of the screaming and constantly getting pawed by the baby, kind of like the reverse of a Catholic priest and altar boy, was thinking occasional homicidal thoughts but still got satisfying mental applause for keeping an eye on the baby and catching it when the mother fell asleep and almost let it fall on the floor. Then there was the flight attendant, one of those over-dramatizers who made a big show of pulling me aside like a doctor consulting the family about someone’s terminal illness to ask me gravely if I would give up my window seat to the mom, who, because there weren’t enough oxygen masks for them to all sit together, had become “separated from her family” by a whole one row of seats, as if this were exile to Siberia or something. And since he only had to listen to them once every half an hour he was constantly beaming at them like he was witnessing the Beatific Vision. Voilà the mythologization of parenthood in two airplane seats worth of distance.

Evolutionary psychologists inform us that our liking for small, fuzzy animals is just a proxy for an evolutionarily beneficial fondness for babies. But generally I find small, fuzzy animals to be cuter than babies, probably because animals don’t usually demand demand demand like babies do (and if they do, what do you know, they stop being cute pretty quickly). So they offer a chance for the free exercise of generosity in a way that babies don’t, and as Rousseau noted, altruism quickly becomes onerous when it stops being freely given and becomes a mere obligation, though whether this had anything to do with his abandoning his own children to the orphanage and popularizing laissez-faire parenting is unclear. Because babies are like bananas: although bananas are not bad in their own right, when you combine their flavor with anything else, like when you get a bit of water on cloth shoes, it soaks right through and the whole thing just tastes like bananas. So you might like babies, but, like slime-covered little emperors, they will quickly seize and dominate any other situation or activity where they are present and turn it into a veneration of themselves. It’s the Napoleonic Principle: the smaller they are, the more they tyrannize.

Negligibly alive

The other night when I was sitting in my room someone started painting me and my room with a laser pointer, and for a moment I was mildly concerned that I was about to be assassinated, especially since the beam was coming from one of the dorms of those envious bastards across the street at Lesley University. Then of course I realized that I’m not important enough to get taken out, and even if I was I probably wouldn’t be important enough for it to qualify as an assassination, but would just be a simple murder. Which was sort of a bummer, even considering I had just survived an entirely delusory brush with death. I wonder just how important you have to become to qualify as an assassinee. One assumes that there’s some sort of political or religious motive, but I’m pretty sure if someone killed the president intentionally it would qualify no matter what the reason, because he’s a major political figure, but after all holding such a position or the existence of a political reason to be killed are in the end just expressions of the fact that you’re a big deal. It’s like a secret title, perhaps even a silver lining to getting whacked. Now if only we could so crown more heads of state.

Flying blind

For a graduate student in the humanities, someone who by definition is lacking a certain amount of direction in life, street signs are important. As engorged with college students as it is, you would think Boston would have plenty of them, but these East Coasters are philosophers and take the long view of things, so the signs generally only tell you what city you’re going towards, rather than what street you’re on and which intersections might be in your near future. Which gives rise to thoughts like: “oh, so you mean this east-bound street in Cambridge is headed towards Boston? Really? Are you sure about that?” I think even China does a better job labeling its streets, even though every other street in the country looks like it was built in the last 18 months to replace a chicken shed or a field for shooting homosexuals. I don’t know why they don’t just start making signs saying “Rome” with an arrow pointing forward; then they’d be good for every road in the city.

The three-hour worker’s state

For those that believe that Harvard uses the wrong shade of red to conceal its true nature, the graduate dining hall is probably the best evidence. Rationing and the bread line, or rather the rice bowl line, are still in force there (but only at lunchtime). Of course I understand these are hard economic times, and a $30 billion endowment can get spread pretty thin. What I don’t understand is why these limitations are only in effect at lunchtime, and then at dinner you can eat as much as you want, as if the the conditions of scarcity separating ideal socialism from Actually Existing Socialism disappeared sometime mid-afternoon every day, allowing dialectical materialism to speed through its whole evolutionary course and deliver a true paradise of plenty by 5:15 in the evening. Of course the process reverses itself every night, suggesting that every revolution, as the word’s etymology suggests, is circular.

Just as some people like to compare people’s appearances to that of various animals, comparing Harvard to various totalitarian systems seems to be a surprisingly popular activity here. A friend of mine disagrees with my preference for communism and claims the big ceremonies like inaugurations and commencements, when there are huge red vertical banners on standards all over the Yard, really more resemble the Nuremberg rallies. This view hasn’t caught on as much, in part perhaps because there doesn’t seem to be a good adjective that means “Nazi-like” as distinct from some actual ideological or material link with the Nazis. There are neo-Nazis, sure, but it’s hard to imagine giving this name to groups in Africa or Asia or South America. So as a result fascism, which is not quite the same thing, gets all the credit whenever a bunch of maniacs in peculiarly colored shirts start beating up minorities or whatever. I’m not really sure what would be a good word. “Nazist”? “Nazi-ey”? As for Harvard’s own propensity for shirts in a peculiar shade of red, it seems to be fading a bit, which I see as a good thing, since to me the Harvard Crimson sounds like some shitty Arena Football League team or a particularly grotesque sex act.

Some housekeeping

I just realized I haven’t posted here in something like 5 months. I’ll have an actual, substantive post on translations up in a day or so, but, in the meantime, here are a couple of quick site-related notes:

  1. As I’m sure you’ve already noticed, I got rid of the old linklist and, instead, am having my links automatically posted as a regular entry each night using this trick. If I ever have any free time, I’ll try to play with the CSS a bit to visually distinguish these from other posts, but it may take a while.

  2. I started a tumblelog on Tumblr after seeing what Gina Trapani did with You can check it out here. Currently it’s basically just a collection of my links and my most recent Flickr photos, but I really like the tumblelog concept and the Tumblr toolset, so I hope to (a) keep it going and (b) make it into something worthwhile. To be honest, the smaller format fits better with my current lifestyle (read: time constraints) than the more expansive format of the blog. As always, let me know if you have any suggestions.

Dear anonymous person who lives in my building

Next time you do your laundry, how about cleaning the lint filter in the dryer after removing your clothes? It’s not that I have any problem with lint per se, but lint isn’t all that the lint filter catches. For example, a quick glance at the lint you left behind for me to clean from the filter before loading my own clothes makes it clear, based on the pubic hair content, that you were washing your sheets and/or underwear this morning.

Now, I’m not paranoid enough to think there’s a significant associated health risk and I certainly don’t want to discourage you from washing your sheets and underwear, but being forced to handle a total stranger’s pubes is, in the famous words of a good friend of mine, fucking repugnant.

Thank you.

If ever a post needed to go in the “Bitching and Moaning” category, this is that post

If this site still had any regular readers in April, I’m sure that our not having posted in over a month has chased the last of them away. That having been said, if there are any of you still out there and reading this, I suppose some sort of explanation is owed.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, I’m in a Ph.D. mathematics program, so I don’t exactly have a lot of spare time to begin with. Add to that the fact that I’m a fundamentally lazy person and it’s a miracle that I ever wrote as much as I did the last few years (well, to be honest, the only reason I did was because blogging was a more guilt-free form of procrastination than laying on my bed or watching television). As if graduate school weren’t difficult enough, I had the added stress this semester of having to study for my qualifying exams, which happened in late April (and which I passed, incidentally). So I think that more or less explains why I haven’t been blogging much recently…except for the fact that I passed my orals nearly a month ago and haven’t written a blog post since then. My only explanation for that is that I needed nearly a week to celebrate passing, at least two weeks to reassemble my life from the neglect and abuse of months of studying and a week of celebrating, and the last week to drive most of the way across the country and go to my brother’s graduation (not quite in that order).

Which last little tidbit speaks to why Curt hasn’t been blogging either. Between writing/defending his senior thesis, taking various proficiency exams, finals, graduation and the requisite celebration that accompanies completing all of these tasks successfully, he’s been quite busy of late as well. Oh, and add in dealing with academic and governmental bureaucracies on two different continents in his spare time.

Anyway, the point is that we’ve both been just about as busy as we’ve ever been recently. We’ve both got some more unstructured time at present, so the blogging may get more frequent again, but I’ve got this niggling little issue of a dissertation to write and Curt’s starting a job in a couple of months that may or may not be particularly time-consuming but which will certainly make blogging more difficult (I’ll let him share the details if he feels like it).

I guess what I’d like to say is that I hope (and I think Curt does as well) to post here more frequently in the future, but that I don’t want to make any promises, given that there are higher priorities in my life that demand rather a lot of time and mental energy.

And yes, I know the archives link below the banner is broken. There seem to be extremely complicated .htaccess issues associated with this, along with some weird behavior of WordPress 2.0.2, which I had to upgrade to in order finally to do something about the thousands of spam comments we get here anymore. I’ll work on it someday.

Back up!

My computer has been making ominous noises tonight, which makes me think it might not be a bad idea to back everything up. To date I’ve been backing up my most important documents to CD, but there’s rather a lot of other stuff I’d like not to lose that comprises enough gigs that CDs are impractical. So I’m thinking external hard drive; any suggestions of good ones?