Friday, March 30, 2012

The Burning of Darien

In the great Civil War movie, Glory, a young, white colonel named Robert Gould Shaw [Matthew Broderick] is given command of an entirely black regiment of soldiers, made up of freemen and runaway slaves. (This movie based on real history, but, please, history buffs: I know there are gaps and suppositions in the film. I'm talking more theme and message, here.)

He wins their dedication through his own dedication to them, culminating with his refusal to take pay if the government does not pay the black soldiers the fair rate. They become a formidable regiment: excellent soldiers. Finally, they are given a job to do: foraging for supplies in a town called Darien, in the Union occupied South. They march down with another regiment -- a "contraband" regiment of black soldiers who are not well-trained and who are under command of a mad man, who is Shaw's superior, Col. George Montgomery.

When they reach the town, Montgomery begins, after having shot one of his own men for stealing from a white person's house, to drone about how he needs to wipe the town clean, like the hand of God sweeping through. He commands Shaw to have his men (who are standing neatly at attention, faces open and innocent while the "contraband" soldiers pillage and smash windows) to "fire the town."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fairy's Tale (A Parable)

There was a mist, teeming with the sparkled flakes that were the Essence of Faerie, and it shone around them all and rippled away gently as they moved, those Creatures of Grace, whose voices rang multi-layered, like chords in a madrigal; whose eyes both reflected and were composed of the glimmer that spun everywhere. Mother and Father hovered by the roof-door and smiled down.

"Be good, small ones."

Zeema and Zoarenth smiled the smiles that contained all of the the pure and innocent evil of their kind, their faces aswirl with pink and white meldings.

"And, Chenthah: no scary stories," they said to the young Fairy who would watch the younger ones for the night.

"I promise," Chenthah said, the sign hidden behind her back, her face's colors shifting between blue and pink.

When the roof-door was closed and the glow of the glowbug lamps took up the toil that the moonlight had done when it had been opened, the children fell into Chenthah's lap and cuddled close. Their skin soon matched the leaves that roofed the house: deep green.

"Tell us the story, Chenthah," they said. "Tell us the stories of the Stoneworld!"

Chenthah, knowing full well that she would tell it, demurred -- her green eyes narrow and her skin going to the color of a luminescent Caribbean night-wave. "I promised..."

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stupid Smart People

It's easy to be happy if you are stupid. It's harder to be happy if you are smart. It's stupid to think that you need to be sad because you are smart.

Smartness can lead you to all sorts of things, but they don't have to be the prescribed ones. (The ones, I mean, that are written into conceptual law by the movies and the rock stars.)

Lately, it has been pretty much been treated as a given, by the intellectual set, that once you get smart you need to lose faith, lose hope and lose your sincerity. A policeman gets his badge and gun and uniform on that hard-sought day; a smart person gets smartness, recieves cynicism and loses faith, because he feels he must. A smart person leaves behind his smile, but puts on the robes of sullen superiority. He sees into the world and, so, sees its dark truth; therefore, he must be sad. To be happy is to be foolish; to be happy is to be a fool who grins in the face of tragedy, the smart person thinks. Anyone who is happy, the smart person asserts, is a fool, because the Earth is wrapped up in the twine of misery as the cork core of a baseball is wrapped up in twine of a more mundane ilk.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Kindness Desperation

Recently, some friends posted this video:

It's an undeniably cool thing to watch. Cute as heck, for sure, especially because the big, tough secret service guys are handling ducklings. But some comments people made reminded me of how desperate we are for acts of kindness these days. A lot of people made reference to compassion and the beauty of simple acts. This is all true.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dyeing to Live

I have graying hair, if you must know.  It started going gray when I was in my twenties.
Also, my mommy cuts my hair, still -- if you must know that. I think I get a get out of jail card with this, though: she is a licensed hairdresser and it is free.
Ponce thought he had it.
Anyway, once, when I was about thirty, she said, “Why don’t you let me dye your hair?” I said no. Then she asked me again. I said no. Then, I caved in. It was then that I began to live the life of the ever-looming lie.
I’m not what you would call a “metro-sexual.”  There’s not a lot of thought, in the course of my day, that goes into appearance. Sure, I try to wear clothes that match. I shower once a month whether I need it or not. (My dad’s joke.) I even shave pretty regularly. I refuse to cave in to the idea of dudes getting manicures and pedicures, much to my wife’s chagrin. (What’s wrong with my toes, anyway? [Don’t listen to her if she comments. She’s a horrible judge of toes. She wouldn't know a beautiful toe if it brought her tea.]) In short, I’m no slob, but I’m not exactly The Situation.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Raul's Ascent

A lot of people, including myself, complain about some of the effects of our rapidly-evolving technologies. In a lot of ways, technology is becoming something of an enemy of individuality; the over-emphasis on networking, team-mentality and social technology is, to some extent, causing people to fall deeper and deeper into constant interdependence on others.

But, in the hands of the right individuals, technology can be one of the most powerful tools for individual achievement. Twenty -- even ten years ago -- I would never have been able to have produce my CD on my own, as I did. The technology that is now available allowed me to do, for a few thousand dollars, what would have been financially impossible for me to have done just a short while ago.

Everything depends on people having individually-thinking minds -- on their seeing what possibilities, for individual expression, that technology allows. I guess what I am saying is that all is not lost. Teamwork is cool, and all, but I can't help but have a soft-spot for the achievement of one person with an idea.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Life Against Life

To close out a week of musings on war, I’d like to strip things down a step farther.
To me, killing is wrong.  Killing is always wrong, no matter what. This conclusion is constituted of both what I think and what I feel, but especially of what I feel -- which, to me, is the true magnetic component of the moral compass.
Hold on -- before you start throwing hypothetical scenarios involving threatened grandmothers at me, stick with my line of thought, for a bit...
Killing is wrong, but I would kill under certain circumstances.
If I needed to kill in order to defend my family, I would -- without hesitation.
The difference between me and a lot of other people is that I wouldn’t try to argue, afterward, that this killing was morally okay simply because I had just done it with good reason. In those circumstances, I would kill, but I wouldn’t then try to argue that killing was okay. I would call it a moral transgression that I was willing to commit in order to preserve the existence people whose lives were more important to me than the life of the person I had killed -- I chose commit a wrong because I felt compelled to protect those I love, not because I believed that it is okay to kill “under certain circumstances.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Evolution of War

Once there was a man named Thak Ooogaloo. (His cave-friends called him Bill. We’ll call him Thak.) One day, some men from a cave over the hill came and tried to steal Thak's stone knife, a joint of his meat and three of his children. Thak picked up a big stick and grunted to his friends. “For Bill!” his friends hollered, and they ran out of the cave and beat the brains out of the invaders.
Once, many years after Thak’s great victory, there was a man named Agamemnon. (His friends called him Agamamnon. Once, a guy tried to call him "Aggie." Once.) He was rich. He had gotten rich by killing rich guys and taking their stuff. In order to get rich, other warriors banded around Agamemnon. When Agamemnon won battles, he shared the loot with his warriors.  When they got rich enough, those warriors got warriors of their own and killed other rich warlords, and so on. The mix-up with Helen didn’t enter into it. It was all about the loot, in the end.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Obligation Lie

Every once in awhile, patriotism enrages me. This is not because I don't believe in supporting and loving one's country, but it is because I think people are fooled into accepting a bureaucratically convenient definition of patriotism.

I was watching a few music videos this morning, and a song came on -- Keith Urban, who I have mentioned before, I have really come to respect as a musician. In fact, I really like this song a lot. But it still enrages me. I'll tell you why after you watch it:

Sometimes, I feel like I'm being ripped, two ways. Here is a earnest performance of a song about sacrifice for the ones one loves. It paraphrases biblical wisdom: "No greater gift has man than to lay down his life for love." I buy that -- I always have.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cerebellar Web Post 35-6457A

15 March 6457
Cerebellar Web Post 35-6457A

Attn: Dr. Pweet
Archaeosociology Department Chair,
Bradbury University
Vallis Marinelles, Mars

Dear Dr. Pweet:

As requested, here is my report of this month's archaeosocial findings from the field study teams on Origin Planet (formerly known as Earth) on the sparsely-populated continent of North America, substation 17, in what was formerly the state of Ohio.

We have managed, through chrono-magnetic reconstruction, to recover some electronic discourse from a discussion medium "social media." These discussions took place on what used to be called a "computer" -- an extremely early form of our cerebellar interfaces. This week we have drawn some startling conclusions about the ancient practices of social and political thinking from the early twenty-first century. Based on the conversations we have re-imaged and analyzed, we have concluded that people were required -- perhaps under threat of imprisonment -- to join one of two sides: either "liberal" or "conservative" viewpoints. Each side seems to have used the other's name as a kind of profanity.

We deduced that they were required to join these factions based on the disproportionately small number of people who seem to have "crossed the line" regarding their philosophies. (A farily common exception to this rule seems to be a rather significant number of people who seem to have held the oxymoronical belief that the killing of fetuses was bad and that the killing of those convicted of crimes was good, or vice-versa. [For reference, you'll forgive me if I remind you that in this epoch of history, people actually did find reasons to take the lives of their fellow humans; some of these reasons even made killing not only lawful but laudable].)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Taxing Day and Night

Tax night. I have a top-drawer post in the works that was meant for today, but I was subjected to a day of such hideous complexion that I think I will postpone it.

I kid you not when I say my day contained in incident of literal insanity (no, not me), a viscious attack on my character as an educator and a three-hour test proctoring session that is the first in a series of five of these sessions, culminating in one on this coming Saturday. And at the end of this glorious day, tax night -- a trip to the accountant's. Huzzah!

But the office is a feast for the eyes. It is an set in a old, tumbledown house on a muddy, deeply-pocked lot that faces a highway split by a dirty grey wall. From the front door, there is a dazzling neon view of a dilapidated motel complex frequented by ladies of the evening and their randy clientele. (I know this, because I used to play in a club next to said complex and the aforementioned pleasure professionals would frequently attempt to peddle their wares to the band. The club was such a classy establishment that, once, when the lead singer of the band and I went outside to stop a man from kicking his prostrate girlfriend repeatedly in the face in the parking lot, the man defended himself, as we grabbed him, slurring: "Dudes -- it's okay. She's my girlfriend." Really.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Maybe Not

Would you stand before a lawn-mower and ask it to calculate the diameter of its own wheels? No. You would not. You would not do this simply because the poor, non-sentient landscaping machine would not understand. It cannot understand such a request; therefore, you would stop speaking to it without further cogitative expenditures if you had, for some reason, ever begun.

Would you ask a loaf of bread to pass the salt? No. Why? Same reason. (That, and its rather blatant lack of arms.)

Do we all see the fruitlessnes in explaining to our shoes that we are experiencing a spiritual crisis? Do we comprehend what a waste of breath it is to assure our car that we will fill it up with gasonline, soon?

Yes. We do. This is because we know the nature of these objects and, if not, after one embarrassingly useless conversation with a knitted scarf, most of us learn our lesson.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Have we done more good things than bad things?

Have we come through times of being worse, or haven't we?

Have we built more or destroyed more?

Have we become better or just smarter?

Have we reached truths or simply grasped the convenient? -- hoarded the obvious?

Have we made beauty that shines or beauty that sits alone like a candle before the blind?

Are we growing toward the sun like trees or spreading in dark places like a cancer?

How can I lean toward the betters of these, when the worst I can imagine gets topped every day; not by select maniacs but by common men with jobs and with shoes -- with sandwiches packed for lunch?