27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

On the day that we celebrate the beginnings of the systematic elimination of the indigenous peoples of North America for the sake of the white man, I offer these quasi-relevant tidbits:

1) Wayne & Co. over at Hooks So Big recently posted a new Slayer track. It's one of the best things I've heard from them in a while. This track is so hot you can just put all your food next to your speakers and it'll be cooked in about 2:31.

2) My parents are on their way to my place now to start cooking. Is it hilarious that I'm almost 28 and yet too poor to get a bunch of food to truly "host"? I don't know the answer to this.

3) The other day my new special lady friend sent me a link to this article from The Onion and then asked me, "what do you love about thanksgiving if you can't eat turkey? i mean, do you get some tofurkey? or are you really into cranberry sauce and green beans?"

Well, here's my answer to that:

I like thanksgiving because there's gluttony involved and that's one of my favorite cardinal sins. Lust is a pretty good one, too, but you probably figured that out already. And sloth, i like that one sometimes.

Favorite thanksgiving foods (in no particular order):

1) Tofurkey. Some veggies HATE this stuff. I am not one of them, though I do make better gravy.
2) Pie. apple, pumpkin, blueberry. Others are acceptable, but those three are tops.
3) Mashed potatoes. god, i love mashed potatoes
4) My gramma's (miss you, Gram!) mushrooms & onions. This is basically onions and mushrooms cooked in butter and salt for a long time. I never liked it as a kid, but goddamn now i love it
5) I'm probably missing something else like stuffing or squash. (ed.-Wow, now I'm starving. This is gonna be awesome.)

Oddly enough i hate cranberry sauce. Yes, I hail from the world's second-largest producer of these little, bitter fruits (Wisconsin, I have a feeling your whole family's going down), however, cranberry juice (lightly diluted with water, trust me) gives me a pants tent. It's weird, i know.

Oh, and regarding that onion article...that's why i don't spend much (any) time in my hometown anymore. Some folks are all, "lemme know when you'll be home for thanksgiving or christmas!" and I always say, "yeah, i'll be home for a few days." And then I'm at home for 2 days, eat a ton of food, drink all my dad's beer and then come back to the city well-rested. Much better that way.

Happy Thanksgiving and to all the Massachusett, Pequot, Narragansett and whoever else my Euro forebears killed off, my sincerest apologies. You were right all along...

News From Mumbai

Just catching up on the news of the attacks in Mumbai, and given the serious nature of such events, I know it's inappropriate to make immature jokes, but c'mon NYTimes...really?

Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi.

I was not aware that White Castle was an international chain.

(I apologize sincerely that this is my first post in over a week. Regardless, enjoy your Thanksgivings, fellow Americans. I think under the circumstances a lot of us are going to be more reflective this year than in previous years.)

16 November 2008

John D. Barrow—New Theories of Everything

Back in early June, I had made note of some thoughts I had (yeah, it happens) about the search for a "Theory of Everything". I try to keep abreast of current work in cosmology and high-energy physics, particularly if new work appears that's crafted for the education of the layman, "because that's who I am, and that's who I care about." Anyhow, I made the notes regarding the nature of what a theory of everything actually is. Fundamentally, it's a religious pursuit undertaken by ostensibly secular physicists and mathematicians. Why do I call it a religious pursuit? Mainly because in order to reduce the workings of the universe to a comprehensible, elegant mathematical function one must know far more than I think we're capable of understanding (i.e.; initial conditions for the grand event that birthed our universe).

Now there are reasons why I don't think we can know these, and that's where Cambridge mathematician/cosmologist John D. Barrow comes in. New Theories of Everything is an update of a book he wrote in 1991 and provides incredibly clear explanations for a vast array of mathematical and cosmological concepts. (As in frightening, geniusesque clarity.) It's exactly the high-end pop-science book I've needed to read for a while, because while Barrow's grasp of physical phenomena is tight, his deep knowledge allows him to be critical of certain directions many of his peers are taking.

The main premise of the book revolves around the idea that there is no reason to think that the physical properties of our universe can be distilled into one mathematical function. While our universe may have a mathematical skeleton, there are many aspects of its existence that are chaotic and non-linear and other aspects (think closer to home à la the arts) that don't seem to have mathematical explanations at all. Without knowledge of the exact states of initial conditions of these chaotic phenomena we have no way of predicting how future states will turn out (thus negating the ability to confirm the accuracy of an equation or experiment). Symmetry breaking also gives theorists headaches for similar reasons, but I just mangled that last explanation so I'll leave this one for the expert (read the book) to flesh out.

Lastly, I must mention—and I'm cutting this review off because I'm obviously not a physicist and I've also been enjoying some scotch—this book left me a bit baffled. Not by the content per se, as it was expertly explained and I highly recommend reading it, but by the author himself. You see John D. Barrow is a religious man, of a specific christian denomination. Now it may be obnoxious of me to go down this path, but after reading such an obviously brilliant explanation of some of the most conceptually difficult material for humans to comprehend, I cannot help but wonder how its author holds such traditional christian beliefs (i.e.; that jesus our savior, the viability of the trinity, etc.) and is able to reconcile them with all he knows of our universe—not to mention the possibility of an infinite multiverse of which our universe is only one small bubble. I find this realization more troubling and difficult to comprehend than the ideas of infinity or nothingness. But maybe I'm the weird guy.

Anyway, regardless of my ever-dyspeptic responses to the continuing presence of nonsensical religious beliefs in today's world, read this book if you have any interest whatsoever in quantum phenomena, chaotic systems, universal origins, multiverse theory, string theory and any aspects of mathematics. The latter almost always forms a stumbling block for laypersons and Barrow's ability to explain various mathematical concepts made me want to strangle all the terrible math teachers I had growing up who never explained a single fucking thing.


12 November 2008

Wednesday Rando Time

Before I head to the store to buy Drano and peanuts, I'm putting the 'pod on shuffle to see what happens. Let's hope something embarrassing pops up!

Triac, "Pearl Lake"—This is a fairly short yet pummeling bit from the Baltimore outfit's album Dead House Dreaming that came out a couple years back. I've yet to see them since Blake left to join Pig Destroyer and the lovely Noel Danger (of Dactyl notoriety) took over on vocals. They stayed at my old house once when they were up here on tour. It was fun.

Milemarker, "Lost the Thoughts But Kept the Skin" — Milemarker always brings me back to that time in college when I snapped out of that phase you go through when everyone shows up freshman year and you experiment with all their music and get totally lost on some terrible tangent. Then somebody introduces you to High On Fire and you realize you've been listening to a lot of shit for too long and need to get back to your roots. It was around this time that somebody played Milemarker for me. Bad story and run-on sentence? You betcha.

Blind Melon, "Drive"— I'm so so so so glad this came up. The other day I put on their album Soup at work (though this song is on the debut s/t) and people were digging it, like, "Who is this? This is really good." And then I would say, "GOTCHA! It's BLIND FUCKING MELON." Minds were blown. Laugh all you want. Actually, don't laugh. Bling Melon is the best band ever that everyone wrote off as a joke after the "No Rain" video and some subsequent Shannon Hoon antics. Well, the full story is rather poignant and Shannon Hoon is one of those irreplaceable figures. The band has actually reunited and is touring (They may be playing NYC this weekend I think). Anyway, nearly all the Blind Melon fans I know happen to also be serious metalheads. So read into that what you will. I love this band.

His Hero Is Gone, "Paranoia Secured" & Dropdead, "Herd"— The fact that the universe just followed Blind Melon with His Hero... and Dropdead makes me hard in the pants. Last night I was trying to explain chaos theory, cosmology and high-energy physics to one of my roommates when I realized that all the bourbon I had been dumping in my tea had finally made me drunk. To me that's a perfectly analogous situation to this, but some people insist that I'm "different".

Born Against is up next, but I gotta head to the store before I get too lazy. Speaking of which, I know I'm failing massively in the lack of subsequent "Best Beards In Sports" posts, but maybe I'll get around to it later today. Heaven forbid I finish my personal statement for my graduate school applications, so that just might happen. Also, I've had a tab in my browser open to the Unabomber Manifesto for, what, two months now? At some point I'll finish reading that paeon to social anxiety, but for the time being priorities is as priorities does.

Oh, and if anyone is looking to procrastinate I highly recommend running searches on Google Trends. You can find out fun things like Philadelphians run the most searches for "blow job" and folks in Richardson, TX love "chubby porn". Here's a fun one I just ran; Australia, I always knew you were a strange, backwards land and Philly? Well, you never cease to amaze.

09 November 2008

The White Tiger—Aravind Adiga

This year's Man Booker Prize-winner is Indian-born debutant novelist Aravind Adiga. The simplest summary of The White Tiger will tell you that it's the story of entrepreneur (and murderer!) Balram Halwai; a tale that reveals the conflicts underlying contemporary Indian society as it strives towards 21st Century technological and economic superiority. But of course that's the nutshell version.

Adiga has produced a panorama of modern India in the foreground of which narrator and protagonist Halwai "rises" from a lower caste to become a successful businessman. I qualify the term "rises" because it is a conflicted and controversial notion in a multifaceted nation still mostly understood in the West according to aged stereotypes. This isn't the crunchy India of spiritual enlightenment and millenia-old cultural tradition. Those attributes are present, of course, but any discussion of India today is incomplete without recognition of South Asian political realities and the tension between social classes; the entrenched and rigid markers of status that have been slowly breaking down over the past half-century. Adiga brilliantly displays the conflict—particularly salient among the lower classes—between adhering to family and tradition (the social world found here in "The Darkness") and attempting to create a life as a successful individual in a technologically advanced democratic society.

The India that the narrator inhabits is disgustingly corrupt, bigoted and backward-looking; characteristics highlighted ever more by the growing influence of American-style malls, pristine Bollywood shlock and the remnants of English colonialism. For Indians like Balram Halwai who attempt to supercede their anonymous (his parents actually don't bother to name him, simply calling him "boy") upbringings in "middle" India, there is almost no trickle-down of wealth from the upper strata of society. Halwai really only achieves success because he is an adept observer and learns how to undermine his bosses and understand the proper etiquette of corruption.

What makes the tale of the White Tiger ever more salient to a Western reader is not so much how Adiga portrays the many facets of Indian society for the uninitiated, but how he is able, as a child of both East and West (he spent some youthful years in Australia and attended university in England and the US), to critique modern democratic technological society as a whole. Adiga has not focused his criticism solely upon his native, growing India; the more abstract targets are supposedly "democratic" societies that tout their cultural breadth, scientific prowess and economic advancement as proof of their superiority. The past eight years of the American experience have demonstrated the fallacy of such beliefs. Adiga has situated his novel in a "new" India, but the themes he presents are as salient in modern America (and probably the UK, France, etc. as well) with our extensive poverty, crumbling infrastructure and corrupt—however hidden—politics.

After the electoral events of this past week, this novel only becomes more curiously topical. While detailed explanation of what I mean would be far too long for me to present here, the short of it revolves around the idea that the future is "browner", "darker" than most would have believed before November 4, 2008. Obama's Presidency-elect is a marker of future directions that Mr. Halwai hints at in his letters to the Chinese Premier that frame the novel's narrative. The era of
White/Christian/Western (read as conservative, traditional Aryan Hindu in the novel) hegemony is coming to a close, though its effects will continue to be felt for some time and the actual changes that will occur in the world are impossible to predict. Halwai's "liberation" in the novel is one manner of portraying how these changes may occur, but as the author has stated, it is still fiction. Social upheavals have their newsworthy markers, though the tangible effects are more often arise through slow, painful, ambiguously moralized rendings. I'm not positive if this is what Mr. Adiga intended with this brilliant work, but it's the sea in which Balram Halwai's eventual prosperity left me floating.

addendum: In light of what I wrote above, this article in today's NYTimes Week In Review presents an interesting snapshot of Mumbai. While The White Tiger takes place in Delhi, Bangalore and several small villages, the details here give a good bit of context for Adiga's story.

07 November 2008

I Know This Isn't A Diary, But...

...Since Tuesday's election results I've felt rather strange. The first reason for this is something I can pinpoint, mainly my lament at not having been out celebrating in the streets with people after Obama's victory was announced. Nothing against my roommates, but forever in the future when anybody asks me where I was the night of November 4, 2008 I'll have to say, "watching the election on tv in my apartment." Not out at some election party or at a bar celebrating with the world, but at home in front of the tv. Kind of a sucky answer.

To be fair however, I tried to connect with friends, but given my at-that-point intoxicated state, biking half-way across Brooklyn wasn't the best idea. Why was I already kinda wasted? Well, after getting up early to vote, I think I drank six or seven cups of coffee in the span of two hours. My manager at work brought in coffee and chocolate for everyone and I just went to town. That pretty much gave me anxious jitters the rest of the day until I got home, made dinner and started sipping bourbon to calm my nerves. Despite all evidence pointing to an Obama victory, I (alongside the majority of the US African-American population) still was expecting electoral shenanigans. Then, when the results from Massachusetts Prop.2 started coming in...well, you know where that leads.

Knowing that we were all in the midst of a world-historical event, I thought it appropriate to keep a running diary of what was going on. Unfortunately as soon as the race was called I took a gigantic swig of Evan Williams and had to sit down. Anyway the results of my diary experiment are as follows (and I'm not editing any of this):

Obama just won the election, car alarms are sirening, folks on the block are yelling out windows, we can hear distant yells and firecrackers.
on tv the pundits are speaking all sorts of nonsense while Obama supporters celebrate.
this is the first election that I've voted in on the winning side. and it's Obama. everyone is going crazy.
Brothers are drinking in the street! this is so fucking great. this is so little, but means so much it's the perfect step into a midnight we'll wake up in the morning smiling.
he's about to speak. more cheers outside. it's been an hour since the race was called. i've drank bourbon for America. I smoked for the voters of MA who overwhelmingly decriminalized weed.
Hello, Chicago. flag. tv fuzz skip. so many people voted! it's the Answer. How terrible is it that I just want him to wink and say "Where all the white women at?" I'd pee myself. McCain's speech was dignified and gracious and too long. Joe Biden gaffe in 3...2...1....The unyielding zookeeper. Michelle! New puppy! Oprah! Grandma!
Oh he's just a "campaign organizer" [pretty sure I meant "community" there—ed.] Really? That makes sense, because he's pretty much organized your ass's trek back to Alaska! HA!
Spellman College girls are loving it. Planet in Peril. I'm sitting with Perin [one of my roommates]. She's like my new sister it kicks ass in the gayest way possible. Steep climb! We're gonna ride this Donkey to the top!
Flag! False start on #08 Obama. More soccer, less NFL. I have calloused fingers and dirty hands. mmm bourbon. a new spirit indeed. Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old! she can vote as a black woman. obamerica. yes we can. Oprah again. This is our time. This is our time down here. These are peoples' wishes, this is my with and it didn't come true, so I'm taking it back. I'm takin' 'em all back. Yeah we took it back! Eat shit Bush. Lick my ass and suck on my balls. I can't comprehend what is happening right now [oh, you don't say?]. Hug, man love OBAMIDEN O'BIDEN Jesse Jackson is crying!
We got Florida Back and Ohio and more

So there you have it, a succession of moments of brilliance spurred on by the images and words coming at me from the picture box. If anyone has a transcript of that live feed they might be able to make out whatever I was referencing in there because clearly those three pages of writing start to lose coherence rather swiftly.

Oh, and the whole point of this post was why I have been feeling "off" since then. Well, other than the historical celebration that I missed out on, we have this whole "reality" thing going on. I still wake up struggling to make ends meet just like millions of others across the country. People are still racist and bigoted and homophobic (even California, shame on you!). There is a lot of actual work that has to be done to fulfill even the most meagre promises of Obama's campaign. After all he is human, not some saint or messiah or redeemer. Let's chalk all my negativity up to an extended campaign/election/celebration hangover because, strangely enough I feel more positive about existence than I have in quite a while.

04 November 2008

Hooray For Massachusetts

While we wait for the numbers to keep on a-comin', I'd like to pass on the wonderful news that my home state of Massachusetts has voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use. This is awesome as I fully support smoking weed and engaging in consensual acts of sodomy (California, get yr 'NO's on Prop. 8 and yous can be twins!).
So yeah, we might be assholes (zing!) but we sure are chill about it. I'll toke to that.

Also, GObama!!!!!!!!!

Election Day!

Hopefully any Americans reading this today have gone and voted (or will vote before their locals polls close). Previously I voted absentee in Massachusetts, making today my first time voting in an actual booth. A bit groggy from just waking up, I went over to the basement of PS 18 down the block, wandered around confusedly between lines and then the Voter Aides led me to the right line. I didn't know what to expect of line length, but that whole process took me 10 minutes and that includes the walk. The voting machine was weird, too. When I was a kid and "went voting" with my parents I remember going to Leominster City Hall, waiting in line for my ma or pa to get their name crossed off a giant table-sized list before wading through the labia of democracy: the boothflaps.
This New York machine was weird. It looked like an old cigarette vending machine with a giant lever on the bottom. You're supposed to put the lever in position, turn little knobs for the candidate(s) of your choosing, then pull the lever back to cast the vote(s). Such a contraption is quite different than the old Massachusetts machines from my youth. Those things were little boxes with punch cards that had to be lined up properly before casting a vote by punching the lever in the correct position. Then you bring the ballot to another desk and put it in a box. Today? No actual ballot and no box, either. Hm.
Overall, an easy process of which every eligible person should be partaking. My main gripe with American voting (besides the massive fraud of the past two Presidential elections) is that Election Day is not a national holiday. Give every person the day off (or at the very least a half-day) so that they can go cast their vote at their leisure. That people have to get up early or leave work early or skip their lunch break to go vote is stupid. Then again if everyone could vote at their leisure poor, working people would be able to vote. And you know what happens when poor people vote? Baby Jesus cries and the terrorists win again.

On that note (sorry, it's too early for me yet) get out and vote for Obama because if you vote for the old angry guy and the clearly unqualified woman you're an asshole.