Sunday, September 09, 2007

Life After Graduate School?

Since I have received a recent inquiry whether I am still alive, I would like to answer the question. To clarify, I would like to answer the question. I believe the answer is "Yes," but how can one be sure? Presumably, if one is dead, one does not feel tired, so if one feels tired, then is one not alive? Since classes started, I'm spending about 70 hours a week either in class or prepping for it, so I'm afraid I won't have much time for blog postings (for those of you who have not yet guessed). I love this blog, and the word "Pseudo-profundities" has been very good to me, but I just don't anticipate being able to write much in the near future. Anyway. Faulkner is calling me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Roswellian Future?

As we've been getting ready to leave to the undisclosed location which houses our university employer, we've realized how many resources are available to us here that won't be available in our new home. Sure, our new home will have smoothies, but will they have the special garlic pizza recipe that's available here? Probably not. When I visited, a person didn't know what a Panera is, so I'm a little broken up about that, too. I'm sure there will be some carryover, but part of the difficulty in planning your last few meals/errands before moving is that you don't always know which places you can never see again.

One of the places we have already begun to miss is the local library, which has an incredible DVD collection. You can rent half a season of a show for just $1.00! Admittedly, you must watch that half a season in three days, but let's see the 75% full glass here, people! Admittedly, we have an account with Blockbuster Online, so they can send us television shows by mail; the problem is that the shows we get through Blockbuster Online are inevitably those shows that we both want to see, meaning that much quality programming gets neglected, such as Babylon 5. Anyway, upon one of my raiding expeditions at the local library, I found Roswell, a show I never got around to watching back when it was on the WB. Believing it would probably be "non-wife watching material," I took it out, only to discover that my wife was at least willing to give it a try (her X-Files affections won out).

There is a lot to like about the series. From the very first episode there was good conflict and a sense of an overarching plot (there's another alien out there too? he's killing people? And the sheriff wants to bring you in?). And even though these aliens were not of the Smallville butt-kicking variety, they still had some pretty cool powers.

However, there is something really not to like about the series: relationships. The dialogue is painful. For instance, when human Elizabeth (who loves alien Max) is talking with her boyfriend Kyle, she asks him if he "feels things" about her. He hesitantly affirms that he does indeed "feel things." I thought only George Lucas wrote dialogue like this! Where's Anakin Skywalker pleading, "Please don't let the kiss become a scar." (What did he mean, anyway? A hickey? By the way, at one point in the series Elizabeth does get a glowing alien hickey from Max, which eventually turns into a wound, so the kiss quite literally becomes a scar. I'm not making this up, people!)

I understand that some teenagers might talk this way. I understand one could argue that it is important in creating a show to represent teenagers realistically--I seem to remember hearing that in the scripts of My So-Called Life, writers would actually include the word "like" (e.g., "that's so, like, true") to give it that feeling of authenticity. But you know, I feel things about that kind of dialogue--things like rage and vitriol. So when Elizabeth writes in her journal about how there's something so perfect about driving in a car with the boy you like and the wind blowing through your hair, I am delighted that the car crashes, but disappointed that her journal was not also destroyed in the crash.

The characters in relationships do incredibly stupid things: for example, aliens are basically indestructible (Max has never been sick a day in his life); however, they learn that if they engage in Indian sweat ceremonies (don't ask), they might possibly die. The incident frightens Liz because it teaches her aliens are mortal (duh!). Max resolves from this incident--an incident that didn't even affect him, but another alien!--that they need to break up, because he can't risk accidentally dying on her. If you had to compare survival rates between people who are never sick but are vulnerable to sweat ceremonies and people who get sick, I think the former has better odds.

The problem is not simply that characters do incredibly stupid things, but they talk about them. They have to analyze "What is Max thinking?" and "Why doesn't Michael just let me in?" I find myself asking, "Why don't they just stop letting me in?" and "Do you really need to show me them getting back together and making out again?" The scene where Max was tortured by alien-hunters was almost a relief because it did not involve Liz looking "meaningfully" at him again.

So, even though the show did have good parts--parts I haven't really written about--we don't know if the teenager aspects of the show are too painful for us to make it to season 2. We may have to leave the local library behind, but we have not yet decided on whether we will leave behind Roswell. I guess we'll have to figure out if we feel things.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Warning: This Mailbox is Harmful to Your Health

There are very many dangers to the existence of humanity. Cereal, for example. The difficulty is that, as dangers proliferate and we are forced to write more warning labels, we might get a little lazy. Now, in the beginning, warning labels were very clear about what bad things might happen to you: for example, "Surgeon General's Warning: cigarettes contain carbon monoxide." Granted, children probably wouldn't know what that actually is, but it sure sounds bad. After all, children know how painful "hydrogen peroxide" is, so any word that rhymes with it is just inviting trouble.

Well, now that my wife and I are finished our dissertations and going to teach at university (yeah!), we went to look into housing. Something that we found slightly disturbing--both at our hotel and at some of the apartments we visited--is that there was a warning (I do not remember the exact words), "This contains substances that are harmful." Now, I'm perfectly happy that they informed me that I might possibly die if I stayed in the hotel or lived in their apartment. However, I would have liked to know more about how I would die--would it be in my sleep? Would my intestines simply liquify? And it also would have been nice to know what "this" is. In one particular case, we saw the notice posted in front of the group mailbox at the apartment complex. So, did this mean that I was safe so long as I never visited "this" mailbox? Or, since the mailboxes were near the swimming pool, perhaps it was referring to the pool area itself? Perhaps the oddest thing is that, when we asked the apartment complex person didn't even realize there was a notice posted. (Or, at least, she pretended not to know.) She remarked that the signs were so ubiquitous that one didn't even notice they were there anymore. And really, what would be the point of paying them if they aren't even telling you how you're endangering your life? What's the point of printing a notice that is hopelessly vague and useless? I wish the notice said something that I could actually understand, like, "Warning: laboratory experiments have determined that this notice harms the environment by wasting paper."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Academic Calendar Unfairly Privileges Saturnalia Worshippers

In "Understanding Christian privilege: Managing the tensions of spiritual plurality," published in About Campus, Tricia Seifert argues that Christian students benefit from "Christian privilege," defined as "the conscious and subconscious advantages often afforded the Christian faith in America's colleges and universities." Now, I have not actually read the article, since I cannot find it available for free on the web--fight the power, man!--but I've read the description of her argument in Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle describes one of her arguments: "The design of the academic calendar is perhaps the most obvious example of this phenomenon, according to Ms. Seifert. It is no coincidence, she writes, that campuses shut down just in time for the Christmas holiday, leaving non-Christian students forced to 'negotiate conflicts between their studies and their spiritual observances.' In some years, for instance, the Muslim holiday of Ramadan coincides with many campuses' week of midterm exams."

To the best of my knowledge, however, Seifert does not single out perhaps the most obvious beneficiary of these academic calendar policies: Saturnalia worshippers. Are you telling me that it is "coincidence" that campuses shut down in December, just in time for students to engage in pagan saturnalia orgies? I think not. Why is there so much rampant sex on college campuses? Is it not because we treat the non-Saturnalia worshipper as a second class citizen? As wikipedia remarks, "During Saturnalia ... there was drinking, gambling, and singing, and even public nudity." Spring break, anyone? Our entire academic system is implicitly structured to encourage students to worship the Roman pantheon!

So, how do we encourage non-Saturnalia worshippers to exercise their beliefs in non-Saturn? The problem is that the Saturnalia season is so much a part of our culture that we cannot escape it. So, let's take a lesson from the early Christians: when the pagans around them were all like, "Ho, praise to Saturn!" and "Rock on, December 25th, birthday of the unconquered sun," Christians said, "Okay, I'm going to celebrate your little 'December 25th holiday,' but instead of calling it 'Dies Natalis Solis Invicti,' I'm simply going to call it 'The birthday of Jesus, who, by the way, kicked your god's butt.'" To put it another way, perhaps one can find a way to accomodate the religious system to work around the calendar which the culture is already observing--maybe make December 25th "National Jesus appeared to Mohammed in a vision and said 'My Disciples got it Wrong' Day," or for the less religious hedonist, perhaps "The first time Epicurus got laid day."

Monday, May 14, 2007

We Demand Non-Demon Follower Representation

What do you do if you really hate a television show or its message? There might seem to be a simple answer to your dilemma: don't watch the show. The problem is, when you're at home alone, even if you walk around the house making loud proclamations such as "I'm not gonna watch that show!" or "It's 8:00, who's in front of the tv? Not me! Unless it's to hurl tomatoes!" your protest doesn't have much impact, especially if the show is popular among other consumers. So how can we penalize the show without physically killing its writers or producers? We boycott the advertisers, and the show loses money and is cancelled.

It is in this spirit that I call attention to last week’s episode of Supernatural. The television story is about two brothers, Sam and Dean, who hunt demons and try to save people. “Sounds like the sort of show I could watch without throwing tomatoes,” you say? Think again. In this most recent episode, Sam, who is gifted with psychic powers, is abducted and placed in a deserted town with four other psychics. We discover that apparently a demon has taken them to the town with the intention that they will kill each other, and the winner will be rewarded with super powers and get to serve demons. Sam laudably determines that it would be better to flee the town and not kill his fellow psychics. After various deaths, there are finally just two psychics left: Sam, and a U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Sam entreats the soldier (whose super powers include benchpressing 800 pounds) that they should work together. Sam puts down his knife. The U.S. soldier puts down his less pointy weapon. And then … the soldier sneak attacks him! After a brawlfest, Sam defeats the soldier, has the chance to kill him … and doesn’t. Sam turns his back, and the U.S. soldier cowardly stabs him in the back and then goes running off to become a demon minion.

It should go without saying that this is an uncharitable way of representing the U.S. military. To the best of my knowledge, U.S. military training does not encourage its soldiers to serve demons or kill unarmed American civilians when their backs are turned. The producers of the show are not simply criticizing U.S. foreign policy but demonizing our troops … quite literally. The producers are not simply anti-military, but un-American.

What kind of fiendish advertisers could support such a show, you ask? Perhaps Hamas? I was rather astonished to see the Sam-stabbing incident was followed by an advertisement for the U.S. army itself. Forget the NEA! Our tax dollars are going to support artistic works that demonize the military, such as those artists supported by the U.S. army!

We need to send advertisers such as the U.S. Army a clear message: we have a zero tolerance policy for undermining troop morale. If U.S. troops were supernaturally transported to a ghost town, they probably would not obey demons, and we have to be willing to boycott advertisers who suggest otherwise. The clearest way to show we support our troops is by not joining the army.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


When last I chronicled my adventures, I was dutifully searching on a daily basis simply to confirm the fact that they had no wiis available, except by wii ebay scalpers. Well, I have finally purchased a wii, and sadly, I did capitulate and buy a wii via ebay. How did I rationalize my capitulation into supporting villains? After all, did I not compose "The Wii Poem":

My money: spendable
availability: undependable
Production slowness: indefensible
Ebay sellers: reprehensible

Am I not turning my back on principle, you ask? Is this not like the Iran-Contra affair and selling arms for hostages? Admittedly, even though there were neither weapons nor hostages involved per se, I see why you might see similarities with my own situation. In my attempt to set free a wii—to liberate it from the wicked ebayers who took it prisoner—am I not giving the ebayers more financial weapons, enabling them to take even more wiis hostage? In the end, I decided to give money to these evildoers not because their evil seems less evilly evil in my eyes, but because my eyes have been opened to the fact that “the establishment” is just as wicked.

Let me explain. A few weeks ago, K-Mart’s circular revealed that they would be selling wiis! Resolved to own a wii, I got up in the wii hours of the morning so that I could be the first in line. Sadly, the weather was what one would expect on an April morning in the Midwest: freezing cold. As I stood in front of the store an hour before opening, it dawned upon me that, since no one else was actually waiting there, no one could steal my place in line. With a shiver of triumph, I left the store to sit in my car, eyes diligently scanning the parking lot. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, a newcomer drove up, so I jumped out of the car and ran to the front of the store to mark my territory. In a non-urinary way. Even so, I had a partial fear that when employees came to open the store, the newcomer would claim he got here before me, and then I’d have to beat him up. In fact, a few other people came around and got dangerously close to the door, so I struck a heroic pose to make it clear that I was there first. It turned out that they were just going in to work, so it didn’t have to come to blows.

Well, five minutes before opening time, the manager came out to let me and the newcomer (who knew what was good for him and didn’t pretend that he was there first) that they had not actually received any wiis. However, she offered us a ray of hope. There was another K-Mart, just 40 minutes away, and she had just called there: apparently, the manager was able to confirm the fact that she had not gotten around to opening the shipments for that day, which is virtually a guarantee (in the mind of the wii-hungry) that wiis must be in the shipment!

Sadly, I did not actually know the way to get to this K-Mart. However, the newcomer offered to let me follow him. I was a little suspicious, but when I realized that, if he tried to take me the wrong way, he would just be thwarting his own wii-purchasing desires, I agreed to follow. And to tell the truth, there was a kind of solidarity: no longer were we two strangers competing against each other for the prize of the wii. Now, we were two comrades competing against the villainous K-Mart corporation, who had tricked us into going to the wrong K-Mart building in an effort to sabotage our hopes and dreams.

After driving 40 minutes to the other K-Mart (and frantically hoping that other people—smarter people who knew which K-Mart was actually selling wiis--had not bought them all), we discovered that this K-Mart hadn’t received them, either. The K-Mart employee who delivered the bad news even remarked that it was somewhat shameful, given that K-Mart had done the same bait and switch tactic ad campaign with the X-Box last year. It seems counterintuitive, but corporations can apparently mail circulars claiming to have a “limited quantity” of a product that they will not actually have when the doors first open.

Sleep-deprived, time-deprived, gas-deprived, disappointed, and lacking any concrete villains at which to shake my fist, I determined to blame all corporations that sold the wii. At least when ebayers advertise that a wii is available, you can actually buy it. If I had happened to go to one of the rare K-Marts that actually had a wii as advertised, would I want my hard-earned money to help them produce more circulars to sucker more people? When you stop and think about it, wouldn’t that be worse than the Iran-Contra affair? And if it was clear that K-Mart had done this, how could I ever know that Walmart, Target, and Circuit City were not similarly depraved? Having convinced myself that K-Mart was irredeemably evil, I was gradually persuaded that ebayers were the lesser of two evils. After all, K-Mart was habitually wicked. They had used the same bait and switch tricks with the X-Box, and they would surely do the same thing again. Many ebayers, on the other hand, are only going to be wicked for as long as there is a wii shortage. Perhaps some of them are trapped in poverty, and that $125 profit they made off of me will give them enough to buy textbooks for college—perhaps even textbooks for an ethics class, in which they learn how wicked they are, and then they repent and send me my money back. My money would actually help them be redeemed! Buying an ebayers’ wii was actually a ministry: now now I have my wii, and now they know how bad they are.

Friday, April 13, 2007

What Happens to a Wii Deferred?

I was going to title this entry "A Wii Bit of Trouble," but then I discovered the title's already been taken.

For the past several months now, I have been laboring under a weight which sags like a heavy load, i.e., my dissertation. But through the struggle, through the clenched fists, a dream has kept me going: after I turn in my dissertation, I told myself, I will buy a wii. You may remember that I blogged about the wii back in November. At that time, it was very difficult to obtain a Wii. In my naivete, I believed that by the time I turned my dissertation into my committee--which was yesterday, over four and a half months since I had first played the wii--I could just walk into a store, and a wii would be there! Nope.

Sadly, I am but a Wii novice, and unskilled in the art of obtaining a wii. "Aren't all people wii novices?" you might well ask. The answer is "No." A "Wii novice" is "someone who wants to buy just one wii to share with his family." A wii professional, by contrast, is"someone who wants to buy as many wiis as possible so he/she can sell them on ebay for $150 more than he/she paid for them."

What has been fascinating to me as I have lurked in the wii discussion board on amazon is the number of ebay sellers who don't feel for beating out people waiting in line for their first wii. On the discussion board, members share various tips on what store will next be selling a wii, but on how to amass as many of them as possible: for example, it is my understanding that, even though you can only buy one wii at a time from when they sell them, as soon as you have purchased one, you can go right back and purchase another until they are sold out (which happens in 8-30 minutes). One writes, "2 computers, 2 $15000 limit credit cards, 2 accounts, here i wait." As another remarks, "Also here to sell. Seems like there are more EBAYERS than actual customers." On one thread, an ebayer remarked how, after beating out several people who wanted a wii, he told them where there was going to be another sale that day, and how good it made him feel that he saw several of them at the next store.

In reading these thread, it feels like I am entering another world. People understand themselves not to be greedy jerks but providing a helpful service--they sit patiently at their computers so that others don't have to. Given how thoroughly absorbed I am in my own perspective--that I also am sitting patiently at my computer but not getting any because "there are more EBAYERS than actual customers"--they seem like jerks.

In person, of course, many of them aren't "jerks." Some of them might be in it for the thrill of the chase--buying as many wiis in a short space of time becomes a kind of competitive 100 meter dash (a "wii sport," if you will). One dealer's bragging that he "made $1892.00 (profit) last week off 10 units" is perhaps not substantially different from bragging about one's corporate portfolio, or perhaps the size of one's thingie. And let's face it, once you've had to go to all the trouble of buying a wii for yourself--of having rss feeds sent to you from and any time there's a wii sale--do you really want to let all of your learning go to waste?

In reality, I pity these people. The price of progress is that, one day, "everyone will have a wii," and the services of the wii master tradesman will no longer be required. I am reminded of the words in a Flogging Molly song,

My name it is Sean Dempsey as Dublin as could be./ Born hard and late in Pimlico in a house that owned a Wii./ My trade I was a cooper, lost out to redundancy/ Like my house that fell to progress my trade's a memory."

(Okay, the real line was, "in a house that ceased to be.")