Tuesday, April 25

Blogger vs. LiveJournal (a fight for the aeon!)

Recently, some friends of mine, users of LiveJournal, have petitioned me to open an account with their blogging/ journaling site of choice and begin posting there. Personally, I have no compelling technical reason to leave Blogger or join LiveJournal. Though Blogger does undergo a fair amount of maintenance and lost one of my posts, an earlier version of 'Posting to 'Spice of Life'' actually, it continues to serve my needs without irritating me too much. I guess I could do a lot more with design and everything, if I wanted to, but I do not and I do not believe I would suddenly become inspired if I were to move to Live Journal. In favor of moving to LiveJournal is the ability to view the limited access sites of my friends who do not want to make their thougths and feelings too public.

There's other stuff going on too with my decision, mostly the connotations associated with each. As I see it, blogging is much more mature and respectable. Blogs and their writers get book contracts and paying jobs. When a person writes to a blog, it is well thought out and fascinating to all. My perception of LiveJournal, on the other hand, is that it is a chance for people to throw their emotions out to the masses. People do not think when they make LiveJournal posts, they simply record their emotions. People who use LiveJournal are high schoolers looking for sympathy. I think this webcomic is pretty much the source of all these uncharitable thoughts on LiveJournal.

Before anyone jumps all over me for attacking their favorite form of communication, I would like to point out that I often treat my blog like a LiveJournal and my friends use LiveJournal like I want 'Spice of Life' to turn out. It really comes down to the user.

Perhaps I'll open a LiveJournal and simply post reviews of movies and music and literature there. I'll have to think about it some more.

Posting to 'Spice of Life'

I am starting to get worried about posting to 'Spice of Life.' This feeling arose around the time I posted, 'Art and Life.' In that post, I called the opportunity to freely express my feelings 'cathartic,' but, like I opened this post, I am starting to experience a little angst about all of this. I started this blog for a number of reasons; to actually get me writing regularly, to offer an opportunity to organize and develop the thoughts that run through my mind on a daily basis. Catharsis was certainly amongst the reasons, though I do not believe I was familiar with the term last May, but now I am reconsidering that.

To a large extent, I find catharsis healthy. I find the expression of one's deep feelings and complexes a good thing, to the extent that it allows one to get on with their life and stop obsessing over them. My problem is that I do not believe that 'Spice of Life' is the healthiest place for this to take place. That's not to deny there are benefits, there are simply supremely better methods. Communication is stilted when one comments upon the blog. The passion one felt at the time of posting may have gone when a pertinent comment comes up, and nothing comes from it.

Coming back to the source of my problem, the 'Art and Life' post symbolizes it more than anything else. In it, I expressed my distaste for my former professor's choice to save a picture of a cat over a living cat. At most, I should have used that post to organize my thoughts before bringing them before my former professor. Instead, I just let the matter die . Short of her being a reader here, which I find bleeding unlikely, nothing will come of it. As Erich Fromm, one of my new favorite people, discusses in The Art of Being, we must distinguish between those things in our lives that are lively, inspire action within ourselves, and those that are dead and do nothing to make us better people. I enjoy writing here, but I must become more careful with what I do here and be aware of the ends I seek to attain. So, please, if something I post on gets your blood up, do not stop at a comment, bring it up to me in person. Let us make something of it.

Sunday, April 23

Posting on my Blog

Concerns relating to my posts on this blog have arisen, particularly after my 'Art and Life' post. In it, I called the opportunity to express my disagreement in regard to the professor's decision to take the picture over the cat cathartic. The problem is that I have never brought these beliefs before the professor. There are some decent reason for this, I not being sure of her office hours and finding little free time, but, short of her being a reader of this blog, which I do not find bleeding likely, no dialogue or discussion, the two greatest results, will never take place. This distresses me a great deal. Could 'Spice of Life' become a dead end?

Originally, I intended, among others, for my blog to be an opportunity to organize my thoughts. To take the time to put down and organize whatever was going through my mind, so I could better discuss them with others. The 'Art and Life' post, though, causes consternation in that it was the end. It was static and uncreative and led no further than 'Spice of Life.' I cannot allow that to happen, my blog must be a means.

Thus, I recommit myself to opening discussion and invite others to do the same. First up, my professor.

Saturday, April 22

Why I Don't Drink

It was bound to come up sooner or later. I am attending university now, and I am very aware that more than a few of my classmates in high school drank regularly. Alcohol has long permeated the cultures which I live in. Still, it is something I do not partake in, though I have wondered what I would be like were I drunk. I always assumed that I would end up depressed in some corner. Tonight, I feel like putting those reasons down.

Pre-eminently, I do not enjoy the taste. My grandfather brews his own beer, and I am fairly certain that he was offering me drinks of his latest batch before I was in kindergarten. I guess beer has one of those acquired tastes, and, as a child, I never had any desire to acquire it. As I have grown older, I have tried his beer on multiple occasions, I have tasted schnaps and had some wine and champagne, and none of their tastes appeal to me.

I do believe that this is something I could overcome were it not for the second reason. I am deathly afraid of giving up my self-control, something I have heard that alcohol mitigates. This particular fear goes back to elementary school. I did stupid, cruel, unnecessary things then. I freely admit that I do not so much like the person I was, so I changed. I cultivated a will that would hold these impulses that I was ashamed of in check. That is something I am simply unwilling to throw away.

Concerning self-control and will power, it is a theory of mine (take as much heed of it as you want to seeing as intoxication is something that has never happened to me) that people drink to give up responsibility. They want an excuse to do certain things, and alcohol provides that excuse, a way to deal with otherwise inconvenient inhibitions. Personally, I believe that inhibitions are normally in place for a good reason, and, if not, then it is far healthier in the long run to deal with them in sobriety than to get drunk.

There you have it then. The preaching of some jerk college student.

A Crude Life Philosophy

I was planning on opening this post with a little theorizing on the necessity of a life philosophy, then I realized that there was enough in that idea to merit a post devoted to it alone. So, I start instead with a disclaimer of sorts. What follows is just a little idea of mine. If it deserves modification, please provide. If it requires anhilation, inform me so. To live by an incorrect philosophy is something terrible, and, if someone believes this to be wrong, tell me so. Now, to follow all that, like my title says, this is a very crude philosophy. I know it needs to be refined. This is the beginning.

I don't know when it was that I started to believe this, maybe two years ago, but it's a philosophy that, though not in my mind at all moments, is one I come back to again and again. I figured it was time to actually lay it out and develop it.

Life is a game. There are rules, which we know through biology, economics and such, that exist and that you cannot refute. They simply are. Animals obey them. They seek to maximize their own utility and insure the survival of their genetic material, the closest they can get to immortality. Life, pursued in this manner, is far from ideal. It is lonely and selfish. Humans, though, are far more than mere animals. They have imagination and can envision a better world. Even more than that, humans have the ability to make this better world a reality. They can choose to deny their own pleasure and security in the interests of others. Humans can make this a life of compassion.

One of many critical questions at this point (but it is the only one I believe I have an answer for at this point) is 'Why do we need to break these rules? What is so wrong about them?' My answer, humans are complementary creatures. They need one another merely to survive. Besides the fact that humanity does not reproduce asexually, they are not great enough to survive on their own, much less create. Take a newborn baby and toss it into the woods. See how long it survives. That is hyperbolic, but, still, take a young, healthy human specimen and outfit them with all the greatest survival training and equipment, which already requires the direct involvement of other humans. Toss them out into the woods and see how long they live. I don't doubt that they will survive, but what of their lives, when every moment is spent simply trying to live longer. What type of life is that, one spent completely upon oneself and that leaves no legacy? That is why we must live for each other.

Life is simply one long struggle in order to break the rules that govern the lives of animals.

Are there problems with this philosophy? Goodness, yes! There is no good reason for this whole philosophy to have arisen, and I imagine that it is very possible to argue that this entire philosophy is an extension of the will to survive and increase personal utility. Even if the foundations of this thing turn out to be solid, the specifics of the philosophy itself need help. The rules that govern animal life are hinted at only in the vaguest terms, and there is no explanation for when we will know we have reached the end. I harbor no doubts that I have not touched on all of this philosophy's weaknesses.

Still, it is a start.

Wednesday, April 19


So, I've been taking classes in kendo, Japanese fencing (if you wish to learn more, I suggest checking out the Wikipedia entry on it here or Kendo America's description here) for three months now. I think it's about time I put down my thoughts on my experience on it. I must confess that this post was further inspired by seeing the newest groups of kendo students arrive and struggle with the simple footwork and also by a conversation I had with a friend over lunch on just how practical this particular martial art is.

Personally, I'm a fan. It's the first martial art I've ever practiced, so the high levels of formality and all have been more than I expected. Kendo is not simply about hitting your opponent but doing it the right way and showing the other person the proper respect. Like I said, it's been three months now, and we've only just begun partner practice, as in, partner practice consists of one person holding out their sword to receive hits or kata where every movement is planned out in advance so there is little resemblance to actual combat though the principles are integral to competition our sensei says.

When you're taking a martial art, it seems like the inevitable question becomes, "Do you think you could beat me up?" or "How do you think you'd do against a mugger?" Well, first I suggest visiting Truck Driver Divorce because my friend Zach gives a respectable take on that question in one of his earlier posts. My answer is a bit different. Before I go any further, you must understand that we don't use real swords in kendo. There's the wooden bokken and the bamboo shinai, and both are blunted. Anyway, assuming that I was carrying these around in the street or grabbed one before picking a fight with someone, (I'd take the bokken. It's shorter but heavier with a higher potential for injury to my opponent.) I would win on the grounds that I was carrying around a one meter stick. Weapons do tend to give one an advantage in combat. So for the sake of an argument, we have to say that my assailant is well versed enough in the martial arts to defend themselves against me. My training has been and will continue to be strictly oriented towards competitive, regulated kendo. I sincerely doubt that the sensei will ever so, "Okay here's what you do if someone pulls a knife on you," so I will lack any training that would directly aid me in a random fight. Some the basic concepts like the en garde positions and attack points remain valid in all fights though, so I don't believe my training would be completely useless. It still will probably never come up though.

Oh yeah. Taking kendo actually gives me a reason to go to the fitness center. Otherwise I would have nothing to train for and my workouts would undoubtedly lose their appeal to me.

Unfortunately, due to time restraints and financial concerns, I probably won't be able to continue in kendo this fall. I sincerely hope things work out, but I doubt they will. Oh well, I'll just have to drown my depression with intensive Tai Chi, which I'll actually be receiving credit for.

Saturday, April 15

Art and life

Last Monday, my Literature professor from last semester related a dialogue that occurred between two characters on the tv series Northern Exposure. Apparently, the characters were discussing art and one asked the other, "If a building were on fire and you only had time enough to save a cat or a picture of a cat, which would you choose?" The character responded the picture because it is only through art that we are able to know what a cat truly is.

This is so cathartic to write because I hold this woman in high regard and have wanted to say she's wrong about something for quite a while, so here I go. I think taking the picture is the worst possible choice here. I'm talking those publishers who passed on Harry Potter wrong. Think of how wrong Grand Moff Tarkin was to disregard the destructive capabilities of a group of Rebels in X-Wings, and you'll get an idea of how wrong this idea is. Can I put this in stronger terms?

Okay, a disclaimer is required here. Rather irritating as they break up the rhythm of my writing, assuming there was such a thing before. I don't know if she subscribes to this belief, but the circumstances in which she related this story do suggest to me that she would take the picture herself.

If you take the picture, you're assuming that the artist was right, that they captured the essence of the cat perfectly. First of all, I don't think this is possible, and what of the rest of the world? You're placing the perspective of the artist above all others. To take the picture is to deny everyone else the possibility of knowing the cat's essence for themselves, to demean the validity of their perception.

Hm. Seems like a lot of build up for not much thought. Oh well, I still think I got this one right.

Friday, April 14

The Big Time

I know I've hit the big time now. Two weeks ago, the school newspaper ran an editorial of mine that harped on an article from the week ago in which the virtues of Fair Trade, a surprisingly popular issue on campus, the subject of some opinion at least once every other issue of our weekly paper, were extolled and we were all urged to drink it.

Before going further, to sum up my position on Fair Trade, I'm not against it. I simply believe that consuming is a bad method to demonstrate charity. One ought to do something more meaningful than buy coffee.

Anyway, the next week, I was referenced twice by name in other editorials. One guy wrote an article that directly went after mine and a second editorial, written by a frequent, supremely sarcastic contributor refernced me by suggesting that the person whose article he was attacking could 'end genocide in Africa' as I had suggested in my piece. It doesn't end there though. My name showed up in the editorial pages again this week as someone attacked the sarcastic guy and chided him for me.

It's not much, I know, getting your name mentioned in a few editorials, but it's something. Kind of an interesting feeling to realize that other people could be so incensced by your opinion that they would take the time to write a reply. Can't quite describe the feeling, but it's there.

Oh yeah, I received my first piece of fanmail after my boo on Fair Trade piece ran. Just a message through Facebook, the greatest of social networking tools in college, but still cool.


We're out of Lent, neck deep in Easter Triduum now. Does this matter to you? I don't know, but it does to me as a practicing Roman Catholic. Today being Good Friday, the second fast day I know of in the Church calendar, the first being Ash Wednesday, the topic of fasting is on my mind, if you couldn't tell from the title of this post. Here we go then, my thoughts on one of the central aspects of Lent.

There are three practices, I as a Catholic, are expected to uphold during Lent: prayer (my relation with God), almsgiving (my relation with my fellow humans) and fasting (my relation with myself). I must say that I'm a great fan of fasting, denying yourself of certain things, in this case copious amounts of food, in order to center your attention on what is truly important and appreciate what you do have. It occurred to me this Lent though that Catholic fasting is pretty weak. We do it twice a year, abstain from meat (not counting fish amongst this group) and limit ourselves to small meals and no snacks. On Fridays, it's simple abstinence from meat. That's really not a big deal. If the cafeteria isn't serving anything good, I can easily match those criteria. That and the whole Friday only thing. This is likely me taking things too literally, but what's stopping me from staying up till early Saturday morning and gorging then? Nothing, except an understanding of what fasting is about. Besides, midnight is such an arbitrary disctinction.

Lately then, I've been thinking that Muslims do fasting right with Ramadan though it's a bit extreme. No food or drink at all while the sun is up. When it's down, you can eat. It's a meaningful denial and the limits on what it starts and ends aren't so arbitrary. I think I'm going to switch over to this method next Lent for the holy days and Fridays, but I'll drink water. Not doing so crosses the line from self-denial to straight-up unhealthy for me. I'm fairly certain that Jews follow this same style of fasting at some point, but I'm not willing to check.

I guess this disclaimer comes a little late, but it's very possible I'm wrong on how one is meant to properly fast. All of this is to the best of my knowledge, which is not as great as I would hope. So, yeah, mistakes and misinterpretations are very feasible.

Memories and grief

I'm feeling the urge to post again. Have a number of post ideas running through my mind, but there's something I need to take care of first. Last Friday, my friend Ann Komadina died. She was a good person, kinder and more generous to me than I deserved. We did more than a few projects together, and I found it very easy to speak with her. For those who frequently visit my blog, she often posted comments. In fact, I'm fairly certain it was her early comments me with the impetus necessary to making posting more regularly. I'm glad to have known and am saddened that others no longer have the opportunity to.

Here I am now, a week later. It gets better, but I still don't think I'm over her death. I don't know if I feel better about writing these things, but, at the very least, I think they could help someone else. Feeling as though you're the only one who feels your grief in the way you do and that noone can understand your feelings is a terrbile way to go. Hopefully, if someone experiences a death the same way I did and feels the same way about it, they will read this and not feel so alone.

I've never read a book on the stages of grief, but I've picked up a little about them. Denial, negotiation, I've heard of them. Didn't really experience them though. When I heard Ann had died, I sat down and stared. I never questioned them. There was no denial. I realized that I couldn't do anything to help her now either, so neither was there any negotiation. For a while, I really hated myself, for not being better to her, but that passes as I try to act and make sure no person ever dies that I regret how I treated, though that makes my failures sting all the more.

No, the strongest and longest lasting emotion that has arisen from is anger. Not some general feeling. No, this anger is directed at those really bleeding good people that I posted about earlier. Seeing them go about comforting people, myself among them, and being decent makes me all the more uncomfortable and angry. "Why can't I be at their level?" I ask myself. "Why can't I be as good as them?" I wanted them to stop and still do to the extent that they're so kind. But I can't express myself to them. I don't want to add to their problems, and they've been overwhelmingly good to those who need it, never showing me less than pure kindness. So I choke on my anger, and it turns to self loathing as I realize how terrible it is to feel this way.

It bothers me that I can't cry when others are around. That first night I went off by myself and cried, but, whenever someone came to comfort me, I stopped. It wasn't a some machoism or a conscious decision, I just couldn't do it. I was still sad, still wanted to cry but nothing would come. Add on to that the fact that I surrounded myself with my friends for most of the weekend, and it disturbed me to see tears stream down their faces when none graced mine. Like I said, it bothers me, like I'm not sad enough that Ann's dead or something.

Sunday, April 2


Came across an article on Slate yesterday that attacks the notion of objectivity. It's entitled The Twilight of Objectivity and brings more of an economic dimension to the debate of what can easily be considered one of the most distinct of journalistic values. I had seen most of the arguments before, but this was the first time I came across them in a while. Thus, I got to thinking that led to this.

Well, I don't particularly care about the economics or practicality of being impartial and fair, but I do care about doing what is right. And I think that pursuing objectivity, as impossible as it may be, remains the right thing to do and a worthy goal. There are valid arenas in which one may present their opinion. Editorial pages. A personal blog or podcast. News articles and broadcasts are not amongst them. These are the places in which the public should be able to go to find the raw material and facts with which to form their opinions. I suppose one could make the argument that one is morally obligated to fight for their opinions, if they believe them to be right and proper, and try to spread them as much as possible. However, it is my belief that this philosophy belies an unbearable amount of arrogance when one applies it to the reporting of news rather than in a more appropriate venue. When one relates an event and tells others how to interpret it, they are placing themselves in a superior position, assuming that should their audience be given the facts straight-up they themselves could not come to a conclusion. Beyond this, what if you're wrong? Your belief is simply wrong. To take an example from the past, you thought that Woodrow Wilson would keep us out of the war and should be elected because of it and your reporting reflected this. Then he gets elected and drags the United States into the first World War. Way to screw up.

On the practical considerations, I believe reporting which seeks to eliminate all bias from its news reporting is integral to a stable society. If the whole notion of objectivity is to be chucked, I would not be surprised if people began to grow more distant and sheltered as they secured themselves by reading only the works of those who agree with them. There would be no common touchstones among people of differing political persuasions. Unbiased reporting provides this. When people use the same sources, they can understand one another a little better and improve their communication.