Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Work Ethic

Between my summer learning program and college, I find myself with around a month free, during which no one is willing to give me a job and I don't really have anything to do with my time. Now, once upon a time, I could spend whole summers lazing about reading and playing on the computer and have no guilt about it at all. Even getting dressed was considered something of an accomplishment for the day. But now, alas, something has changed. I can still manage to waste an entire day, but something, I do not know what, has inserted an element of guilt and now I feel bad that I wasted an entire day. I have taken to reading classics and non-fiction just to justify myself, and constantly debate starting big projects. It's all very puzzling.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Favorite Books

I realized that a lot of this blog, and a lot of blogs out there are devoted to mocking various things, with varying degrees of cleverness. Which is all very well and fun, but I think that I ought to post something positive about literature, just to make sure that I really can and don't just indiscriminately rip everything about. It lends the mockery that I do indulge in a lot more validity. So I compiled an extremely non-exhaustive list of my favorite books and why I like them, hopefully giving a vague cross-section of different genres.
1) Killer Angels- became obsessed with the book in seventh grade, discovered it again several years later and was pleasantly surprised to see that my obsession had not been misplaced. Spent most of high-school nagging other girls to read it, without success. As with most books I like, the characterization is what wins me over- Shaara manages to actually create and flesh out historical figures, making them human and understandable. Also impressive, he is able to step into the mouths of several different people on opposing sides of a battle, making the Civil War human, tragic, and beautiful. (yes, darn it, I know I gush, I honestly don't know how to be positive without it)
2) Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy- Not all due to the characters here- the plot, the dialogue, and the premise are all so crazy that the book is simply fun to read. One problem- the life philosophy that rings throughout is fun to read, but as I did I thought how unbelievably depressing it would be to believe. Reading the intro about Adams, I discovered he did believe it, which made it a bit harder just to view it as another crazy side point. Still, it has crazy dialogue, fun writing that kind of randomly wanders into a point, and fun minor characters, all of which I am a pushover for. (Nothing gets me like fun, well-created minor characters, no matter what kind of writing) Btw- never ever see the movie. No one who isn't obsessed with the book would get it and anyone who is would loathe it for turning their Bible into some ridiculous love story (With Trillian!! What the heebeejeebees is that all about? Trillian!?!?!)
3) Little house on the Prairie Series- the writing style is so simple and so pure that it wins you over, really letting you into Laura's head. Although I have since learned that a lot of her facts are somewhat fudged, the air of the whole thing is of simple honesty that lets you imagine that life back then was uncomplicated, pure, and all that good stuff. A bit of a Utopia, I suppose, but very sweet.
4) Star of the Guardian Series (by Margaret Weiss)- Head and shoulders above absolutely anything else in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Obviously based on someone watching Star Wars and thinking how cool the whole thing would be with better characters and plot. Especially fun because it has nice, complex villians, heroes who are almost equally messed up, a protaganist (Dion) that you really just want to slap, and absolutely no happy sweet endings for its romances. Brilliant, with a twisted and complicated enough plot to carry it all off.
5) Ender's Game- I know, another science fiction, but again, one that is primarily a character study. I read it a long time ago, so I can't really provide details, but Ender was painted very very well. I like Card's style, at least for the first book in each series and before he caves to sentimentality, so this book is a good psychological one, with a phenomenal grasp of his parables. 6) Anything by Terry Pratchett- Although some of the more recent books are pretty disappointing, in general his books are just fun to read, with a solid cast and enogh deepness lurking in the back-ground to keep him honest. The best aspects, other than the great narrative voice, is the fact that he built an astonishing and fun set of people and then just released them to have them bounce off one another. Especially in the Watch, where every character's personal disfunctional-ness complement everyone else's. And I adore Vetinari, my vote for best evil ruler ever (if he's really evil, which is always an interesting point to debate).

Other books I'm too lazy to really comment about- Seperate Peace (recently read, so it might not survive re-reading much), Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird.

I'm probably forgetting tons and tons, but my own gushing voice is starting to irk me, which is probably why I normally stick to bitter mockery instead.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cannibalizing Poetry

As it seems that my hits are significantly better when I actually post, but I have nothing new to comment about the world just at present, I decided to fall back on the tried and true method of cannibalizing old poems written during the more prolific day, even ones of which I am not particularly fond, such as the following. Notes so that it will be more understandable- our day was until 5:20, if you're trying to do the math, and division was the school's code name for recess, for reasons that escape me. With apologies to both Edgar Allen Poe (I had just memorized the Raven, so the beat stuck), and to my high school, against which this really is not a personal attack (It was really just something to say, not an attack piece):

Once upon a school-day boring, while about me, girls were snoring
Over many a dull and odious text-book of ill-written bore
While we nodded, nearly sleeping, gradually sad thoughts came creeping,
Cynacism slowly seeping, seeping through my every pore.
Thoughts of malice and of boredom seeped into my every pore.
Slowly seeped and nothing more.

Ah! Distinctly I remember, it was halfway through November
And each seperate day would find us no way further than before.
Eagerly we wished division, timed its coming with precision,
And to our sums would make revisions as we passed a moment more.
Passed a slow and tedious moment and survived a little more.
Wished and sat and nothing more

And the sodden, slow, on-going voices that were softly flowing,
Brought behind them awful boredom never felt before.
So that now, amid the droning of these sounds, I took to moaning,
Silently, inside bemoaning all these classes I abhor,
All the lectures and the homework and the boredom I abhor
Silent moans and nothing more.

Presently, my thought grew lighter and my passing fancy brighter,
As I glanced around the classroom, saw the clock above the door.
And though school at times was trying, now I laughed, sad thoughts defying,
For the minute hand was flying, and the time was half past four.
For the day, however horrid, still had crept to half past four.
Only fifty minutes more.

And today, what I have learnt, is that however good things weren't,
Still the day will finally finish, as it always has before.
And no matter how I suffer, as my day gets slowly tougher,
'Twixt it a me, a silent buffer, is that clock above the door.
A silent monument to courage is that clock above the door.
This I learnt, and nothing more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A travesty of Statistics

Although rants about statistics are more rightly the province of my sister Rachel or possibly Mike, I could not help but have an apopletic fit over a radio broadcast I heard yesterday.
Dennis Prager, a well known radio host, decided that he would not discuss the news today. (Apparently, he does this sometimes) Instead, he wished to share with the audience a scientific observation that he had recently made- that well-behaved children may be worse off psychologically when they grow up because they never had a chance to vent all that naughtiness. This was not just an idle theory- it was evolved based on his "thinking about him and his children and people he knows". I do not presume to comment on the theory, although I suspect it was evolved based on there being a couple of people who turned out worse or better as adults, without regard to all the people who grew up perfectly predictably, as the latter don't stand out so much. But that is neither here nor there.
Mr. Prager, being a man of science, was not satisfied with his own narrow sample of evidence. No, he decided to strenuously test his theory by having his listeners who had experiences that fit with his idea call up and talk to him about it. And sure enough, a man called up and said that he had been a naughtier child than his wife and now he was more psychologically stable.
I could not stomach much more of the show and anyway I had places to go, but I am pretty sure he continued to discuss this issue for over an hour.
Even if he had picked a random sampling among the callers, and even had the callers called not only because their experiences supported him, and even had they not been totally oblivious to cases that would contradict them because those are too obvious to notice, and even were they capable of truly evaluating people's psychological stability accurately, and even had there been enough callers to be statistically significant, this would have been a stupid system that at best could have established a correlation between obedience as a child and later psychological problems, failing to notice any outside causations (I bet abused children are obedient and later psychologically scarred- so Mr Prager's little theory has at least one strand of truth.)
The more disgusting part of all of this was how Mr. Prager, no doubt an intelligent man, did not notice the stupidity of his own system (Unless he was just doing it to fill up air time), nor did a single one of his imbecil callers. It makes you wonder, it truly does. What is wrong with the mathematics education in this country?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Pop-up ads

Despite the theoretically excellent pop-up controls on this computer, every so often there will be a short burst of ads that I have to stop and close. Sometimes the computer gets so het up trying to run them that it has no memory to spare for what I'm actually doing and will sit for a minute or two straining desperately to open the pop-up that I immediately close when it appears, feeling a little guilty for wasting all of the computer's hard work.
But what really puzzles me is the efficacy of these silly pop-ups anyway. How many people rush to get their free two coupons to Appleby's or try to catch a fly that will lower their mortgage rates. I myself have opened a pop-up once, by accident, because apparently the close button on it was actually a clever lure, but I escaped it moments after the unfortunate link occurs.
And another thing- why don't they read my profile or something? As an 18 year old female, I don't need to be offered mortgages or wrinkle cream or baldness lotions or anything like that. Gosh. At least offer me cars or music or whatever teenagers of my age bracket are stereotyped to want, or better still actually check out my personal interests that I had to fill out in that annoying juno profile back when I got my identity.
Back when we had free juno internet, it made sense to be given pop-ups and the loss of time seemed only fair considering they were paying for our access. But now that we got real internet, a recent breakthrough at my home, one feels that the pop-ups are like mosquitos or something who have entered your home and I'm starting to hate any company that inflicts them upon me and deciding never to buy anything from them, not that I have any urge to use any of those companies anyway. It makes me wonder if these pop-up ads actually work as effectual advertising or if they are secretly created by the company's rivals to turn the public against them, unaware that the first company is doing the same against them, accomplishing nothing in their sinister plots except annoying the heck out of innocent internet users around the world.

Musings on Blogs

As a recently initiated member of the greater blog community, I had some sort of notion to study other blogs to see if there was some style I could emulate, thus being provided with what to write each day. I'm currently already part of a family blog, whose content is basically whatever is on the family's mind, usually politics, with "witty banter" comments at each other.
A private blog sort of arrangement, and not theoretically one that I should follow if this is my shout-out to the world.
And it is, isn't it? That's what these blog things are meant to be. Me standing on a platform pontificating and really expecting that the world out there cares. So there are tons and tons of political, sport, who knows what blogs, all spouting expertness at top speed. It's a fascinating trend. And people read these blogs. Often to supply fuel for their own blogs, making them sort of super-blogs, which I never understood (don't they have anything of their own to say?), but also sometimes just to become knowledgable, so that you can discuss every subject at some higher level of consciousness. Not that this helps you make any better decisions- it's never anything over which you have any control- but for some sort of satisfactory informed feeling. Again, I don't quite get this. Beyond a certain level of basic awareness, why is the world a better place if I know 75 different people's brilliant takes on the newest judge issues or the political schemings of Mr. X? I suppose I will never make it into intelligensia with this attitude. But anyway, this was not to be the format for my blog either.
Then there are the just plain weird ones detailing the events of the blogger's life. Who the heck cares about the events of my life? (I woke up. I blogged. I read a book. Then I ate...)
So somehow I have lashed together a mix of random thoughts, scathing criticism of literary works, and general weirdness, leaving me to wonder if perhaps there isn't a better niche out there. But honestly, I don't think that I have the mentality that drives this new movement of bloggers, and so this blog will remain random and atypical. (Funny how blogs, the symbol of non-conformity, have so quickly lapsed into patterns and types. Perhaps I am the true blogger, a maverick among mavericks. But probably not.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Musings on Air Travel

While waiting to disembark from my flight to Chicago from Boston, being somewhat impatient because the flight had been delayed from a couple of hours, I got a subtle but persistant feeling that there was something wrong with the unloading process. The way it usually works, when the passengers are released to get their overhead carry-ons, only a few people can get their luggage at a time. Everyone behind them must wait for them to finish and move on before they can get their baggage, while everyone behind them waits, etc. So that everyone has to spend twenty, thirty minutes waiting while every row in front of them one by one retrieves their luggage, resulting in a lot of useless down time. During this long and annoyed wait (I didn't even have any luggage overhead to get- I just had to wait for the people in front of me to slowly retrieve theirs), I came up with a better solution: Why don't they just have all the even numbered rows get their stuff and leave (or if that's too many people in the aisle at one, everyone divisible by three or four), so that they could all retrieve at once and then simultaneously move on and out, and then the odd rows do the same. There may be something mathematically wrong with my theory (it makes my head hurt to think about it too long and it's rather late), but I suspect that the real problem is that it doesn't give as much advantage to the passengers in the front seats, giving perhaps slightly less incentive to fly that way. But that's not all that much incentive, so maybe that's false too. If someone more mathematically inclined can point out the problem with the argument, it would be much appreciated.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

When Geeks Rally

Perhaps too filipant a post for just after Tisha B'Av, but it's too good to resist.

This week, an acquaintance was telling me about the crazy rally he held during his college days. These were not Vietnam rallies or anything like that, they had to do with a certain issue specific to the college (he swore never to publish anything about this, so I'm trying to keep it vague), so that the rally ended up being lead solely by the intellectuals and the goody-goodies.
The results were hilarious. The night before the big rally, they realized that they had no idea how to run a rally and ended up calling a more controversially minded friend for instructions, then spending the night making up slogans that they could shout (What do we want...When do we want it? NOW!), drawing up posters for people to wave, etc. The next day they decided they needed a musical instrument, so they rounded up a giant drum that none of them knew how to play and dragged a card table across town (he didn't have his driver's license at this point) for a speaker to stand on. While their speaker failed to inspire the crowd, someone wandered over and began to pound the drum. He had no idea what he was doing of course, but the noise attracted a lot of people who wandered over to see who was the idiot pounding the drum. At which point one of his friends revealed an unsuspected talent for rabble-rousing and whipped the 150-ish people crowd into a frenzy. Since they had promised to finish the rally in time for class (this was all during club hour, I kid you not), they brought the whole group to the Dean's Office to present their petition, filling the office and flowing onto the couches, but removing their shoes before the steps on any furniture. They then presented the petition the Dean's secretary, he not being present, put their shoes back on and went to class.
Being myself a geek, I often wondered how I would handle a situation like that. And now I know- Politely, studiously, and hilariously. But in the end, the geeks won.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Serious Post

Yes, this is actually the one serious thing I have to say about the world currently, so I suppose that my blog is the appropriate place to put it.

'Yehudi Lo Soneh Yehudi- A Jew doesn't Hate a Jew'

A couple of days ago, I tried to write a personal kinah for Tisha B'Av. I'm not really good enough at either Hebrew or poetry to have been able to carry it off, but this is what I wanted to say:

I'm scared. It's almost Tisha B'Av and I'm terrifed, because for perhaps the first time in my life, I can clearly see the hand of G-d in history, and I don't know what to do about it.
It's almost Tisha B'Av. Anyone with a Jewish education can tell you what the Sages say was the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple. 'Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred,' they'll say, and everyone can tell the story of Bar Kamtza insulted at the party.
And so every Tisha B'Av, we go to speeches on slander, and try to be kinder to our friends, and a whole lot of other very nice things, and feel ourselves bringing Redemption one smile at a time.
How can we be so blind? Read Josephus. Read any decent history of the destruction era and wee what they have to say about defining Sinat Chinam- about political factions fighting other factions, about civil wars, about Zealots refusing to let Moderates compromise away their holy land to a foreign oppressor, about Moderates willing to surrender everything in painful treaties for a chance of peace, about infighting and hating, about religious and irreligious, doves and hawks, rebels and loyalists...about hurting one another so much that we were easy prey to the destroyers. About how Sinat Chinam was more a literal cause than a theological one.
So I read about Sinat Chinam and I'm scared. Because Rav Kook tells us that we won't get the Third Temple until we acheive baseless love. Because the Rambam tells us that true repentance is when you are faced with the same test and able to succeed where before you failed.
And so I'm scared. Because for the first time in 2000 years, G-d has orchestrated history (the last fifty years leading up to this? 100 years? 2000?) to give us a country, and ancient dilemnas, and an opportunity to really repent a 2000 year old failure. And once again, despite 2000 Tisha B'Avs, I see us going for each other's throats again, fighting other Jews, hating other Jews, seeing other Jews as Them and not as Us.
And so I'm scared. I don't know who's wrong or if anyone is, and I don't know who should stop doing what or how or when. And I don't know when disagreement turns to war or how much or how little one must protest what they feel is wrong, and I don't have any answers or any wisdom, or anything much to share except for my fear. And my tears.
And also my hope. The hope I feel when I hear about Army officers joining settlers for Mincha, right-wing synagauges still saying the prayer for the state, passionate discussions with friends ending with jokes. Because this is also our opportunity to pass. Because G-d has finally given us a genuine second chance, and with that chance comes the hope for true repentance. Because we don't have to fail.
Yeshaya has a powerful parable, in which he writes the name of the Kingdom of Israel on one stick, and the name of the Kingdom of Judah on another and he brings the sticks together until they merge into a singel stick in his hands.
Our dream can never be to be two sticks, however close to one another, saying 'I am a stick, and you are a stick, and sometimes I can love the other stick.' Our goal- our hope, our chance- is to say 'I am a stick and you are the same stick and so I love you as part of myself' - love that is inherent and therefore can ignore any disagreements or sins- love that is baseless and senseless.
G-d has given us an opportunity for success greater than anything in 2000 years, and with it comes the danger of failing once again. Please see His hand or at least His message- bring the sticks together into one- make this Tisha B'Av the last one forever.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


I've come up with a fun new idea for a blog post, especially exciting because it involves minimal effort for maximum entertainment, which gives me free time to do things like sleep and come up with exciting, politically charged posts that people will actually look at.
Here goes: I'm going to begin a story like in the game of Authors. Anyone who wants can post a continuation, with the next comments continuing from where the last left off and so on. Please keep it crazy, clean, and succinct, and remember that I have the right to delete any post I don't like, although I plan to use the veto power sparingly.

Johnny was a most average little pencil- skinny, yellow, and just a bit chewed down by the eraser. But Johnny had a dream and that dream gave him the courage to bear the tedium of daily usage and being chewed on; he dreamed that one day he would be able to throw off the shackles of helpless school supply-ism and...