Friday, 28 November 2008


The semicolon is a much-maligned creature. It is hated. It is misused. There have been people who call it pretentious. More often, there have been people who use other punctuations where the semicolon ought to be used. I think the semicolon must feel in these circumstances like Betty when she realizes Archie has taken Veronica out when they had agreed that it was Betty's turn. This all likely derives from the poor education we receive. I do not recall ever being taught how to use a semicolon, or not in such a way that the teaching stuck. Instead, I taught myself out of a grammar book when I got to university. This is also how I learned how to correct comma splices and what the difference between 'affect' and 'effect' is. Our education system is a monstrosity, focusing on literature without equipping us with the mechanical expertise required. If this seems like your education, then I beseech you to take it into your own hands!

I will suggest reading A Canadian Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker. I use the third edition. This is the official rule book for the English Department at Queen's University, and I think that that's enough authority to do for the country. Of course, if you're not Canadian, these rules may not fix accurately on to your dialect, but since Canada is about as middle-of-the-road as you can get, straddling the old guard of England English and the neutered, plastic American English, this guide should do for just about anyone in the English-speaking world, at least as a compromise.

But to the semicolon...

I have said that the semicolon is disliked because it is misunderstood. This is partly true. However, there are those who understand the functions of a semicolon perfectly well and still dislike them. Consider the following:

I am not a fan of the semicolon. I think of it as the hermaphrodite of punctuation. It’s both a period and a comma, with the neither the personality nor the passion of either. It even looks like a hermaphrodite, with both organs, as it were. And when it is used, it generally has a tentativeness to it that seems to me to indicate it doesn’t know which part of itself to emphasize. So often a period, or a comma, would be better to use than a semicolon. I think one of its only consistently legitimate uses is in a series of lists in which commas and conjunctions are seriously involved. There, they can save the reader from confusion. Otherwise, I leave it in storage.

This can be found on pages 93 and 94 of Goodman's book The Soul of Creative Writing. Evidentally this is not praise. However, he does say elsewhere in the book, "I have my favourite punctuations and my not so favourites. But it’s more a matter, I think, of trying to understand how these marks are employed and determining how they can be used in creative ways" (90). So I think we can chalk this up to personal opinion, though I will look at his language a little more closely.

Vonnegut has also expressed dislike for semicolons. He has reportedly said, "But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college." From what little I know of Vonnegut, I'd suggest that his opinions are about as scattered as buckshot; in my opinion, that's a good thing, because it suggests that he's non-partisan and actually thinks. However, it also means I'll disagree with about half of what he says, and this is one of those cases. Among other things, he seems uncharacteristically opposed to ambiguity here.

What strikes me most about these comments on the semi-colon is their connection between the semicolon and hybridity. Specifically, both reference hermaphrodites. Here is what I think on the matter:

You have a problem with semi-colons? Semi-colons rock. They're both commas and colons. They're like mermaids or gryphons or Obama: they defy categorical bounds! They're like the border between Ontario and Quebec, stitching together two seperate but inseperable parts. They're just generally excellent, and the only reason people don't like them is that people are afraid of ambiguity. People are afraid of hermaphrodites, cyborgs, conjoined twins, and semi-colons, all for the same reason.

I've hyperlinked to previous posts that give some theoretical framework for harmaphrodites and conjoined twins.

The reason that people are afraid of them is, as is surely implied, their perceived ambiguity. Of course, the semicolon isn't ambiguous at all, in that it has a clear and precise role. However, there are thinkers who have noticed a sort of hybridity, and so I'd like to look at that. Semicolons, by design, hold together two equal parts. They hold together parts that are generally considered independent, but that the writer believes need to be conjoined because of some relationship. A semicolon is thus like a wedding vow, or wedding rings, or, if you care to be particularly naughty, like a wedding consummation. They fuse two into one. It is in fact very like the wish of the nymph Salmacis, that Hermaphroditus be joined with her forever (this is a reference to Ovid's Metamorphosis, by the way). I've discussed this in the hermaphrodites section. The semicolon is also like the band of tissue that held together Cheng and Eng, the brothers after whom the moniker "Siamese twins" is derived. It is the midriff of the amphisbaena. Its ambiguity lies thus in the created relationships, in the equality of independents, and not in its function. After all, it has a very specific function.

According the Hacker, the semicolon's most basic goal is "to separate major sentence elements of equal grammatical rank" (250). Subfunctions include the following: "Use a semicolon between closely related independent clauses not joined with a coordinating conjunction" (251), "Use a semicolon between independent clauses linked with a transitional expression" (251), and "Use a semicolon between items in a series containing internal punctuation" (252). Respectively, she gives these examples: "Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice. --H. L. Mencken" (251), "Most singers gain fame through hard work and dedication; Evita, however, found other means" (252), and "Classic science fiction sagas are Star Trek, with Mr. Spock and his large pointed ears; Battlestar Galactica, with its Cylon Raiders; and Star Wars, with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader" (252). In her explanations, Hacker provides all you need to know about how to use a semicolon.

There are common misuses as well, where the semicolon dates Archie when it's actually the comma's turn, though it's usually the other way around. Hacker says that these include using it to connect a subordinate clause with the rest of the sentence, to connect an appositive to the word to which it refers, and with the seven conjunctions used to connect independent clauses (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet). A semicolon also ought not be used to introduce a list, which is technically a colon's job. However, creative prose writers have found exceptions, where a semicolon improves either clarity or effect on the reader. These should be embraced and used with caution. This is because the semicolon has a longer pause then a comma and emphasizes the equal weight of the parts. A comma makes one part subjugated to the other. Function is paramount.

Evidentally, semicolons have particular, unambiguous uses, unless you want to be creative. What instills the most fear, then, is miseducation, pretention, and the strange relationships semicolons produce. The first should scare us very much, but we can try and overcome that. The other two oughtn't scare us at all. If a semicolon makes you sound pretention, then it is very likely the case that you are pretentious in the first place, because otherwise you wouldn't be using the semicolon in a showy sort of way. And strange relationships are perfectly acceptable--in fact, laudable--in writing. We must examine strange relationships somewhere, and better in art than in your own life. Thus, there is nothing to fear in the lofty semicolon. She is beautiful; she is pratical; she is exotic; she is supple. I implore you, place her where she can do her best work.

I'll leave you with this quotation, which will give you an inkling as to how you can use a semicolon to best affect your reader:

I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn't get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.
__ Lewis Thomas

Thursday, 27 November 2008

One Last Day

I have one last day.

And then I have no more classes.

I handed in my last essay last night.

My next assignment, a take-home exam, is due on the 11th. The 11th. And then I have an exam on the 15th. Yeah, that's right. Over a month away. And then I'm homeward bound.


One more 8:30. Granted, that's tomorrow, and I NEED to go to bed, but, hey, only one more.

And it's not like I don't have stuff to do. HOH-NO. I have stuff to do. Stuff I finally have the time to do. And I'll edit other people's papers. I'll be plugged in. I'll be active. I'll clean. I still have my extra-curricullar. school-stuff.

But think of the low stress. Think of the sleep! Ah, it will be sweet.

That is all, I suppose.

To bed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Wanted: Dead and Alive

This is an assignment I just had returned from an American Literature class. I did well on it--better than I expected. I thought I'd share it here. Unfortunately, you may have needed to be in the class to fully participate in it... unless you've by chance read Emily Dickenson, Whitman's Song of Myself, Spofford's "Amber Gods" and "The Circumstance," Frederick Douglas' slave narrative, Edgar Alan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and "The Man Who Was Used Up," Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, Edwar Taylor's Meditations, Hawthorne's "The Black Veil" and "Artist of the Beautiful," Emerson's "Experience," and other seminal or not-so-seminal American Literature.

Wanted: Dead and Alive

I was born upon the sea in a land under sweltering suns:
my tongue and every atom of my blood formed from this soil
this air, the grey sky, obscured by no deathly blot.
ghostlike we glide through nature
on every visage a black veil—
wild wartunes endow the living with tears you squander on the dead.
"O graft me in this Tree of Life within,"
again gurgles the mouth of my dying general,
knocked on the head.
with her voice ceased her existence yet she could not sing.
(I had as well be killed running as die standing
—the dead thing in my bosom rising and falling—
I in perfect health begin, hoping to cease not till death.)
forsaken songs rose from that frightful aerie
weeping wailing tunes that sob from age to age,
"gone, gone, sold and gone."
from the symbol beneath which I lived,
and die with overflowing grace doth killing,
cure the sinner, and kills sin right:
we do not play on graves
because these murtherous wretches went on,
burning and destroying all before them the golden dore of glory.
is the grave too sacred for us?
I do not desire to live to forget this,
in one sense it is the elixer of immortality
(posion with the falling dews)—
it cannot be that I shall live and die
a slave as scarcely loving my life, my health.
to be alive is power—omnipotence enough:
we could not but shout to the dead for help!
no man can understand the science of the grave,
look through the eyes of the dead,
feed on the spectres in books;
nature's practices extend to necromancy and the trades,
the notion of putting spirit into machinery.
the lords of life, the lords of life:
beautiful, beautiful, is it alive?
and in the wide arc of some eternal descent she was falling.
there really is no end to the march of invention.

Poet-scholar's statement:

In looking through the course material of the semester, I caught a common theme: the middling areas of life and death. Whether narratives come from the other side of the shade—or as good as do, in the case of the strangely returned Pym—or follow individuals who oddly survive their own death, such as Lackabreath and Wakefield, there is a sense that not only does poetry acheive immortality, it preserves the very act of immortalizing itself. Alternately, the texts may dwell on death—defying it like Rowlandson, lusting for it like Taylor, or philosophizing it like Emerson—and thereby underscore their own vitality by their current survival. Most question that fundamental boundary, or the obviousness of it, using such figures as ghost ships, speaking corpses, living machines, and assembled men. Each text's complexity only tangles in comparison with the others, and any discussion of the matter must exceed strictly academic discourse.

As such, I have constructed a poem about the intersection of these two realms, using lines torn from the texts. I have been liberal with punctuation, and some of the lines might not be entirely recognizable, pieced as they are from different sources. Nonetheless, I hope to have caught some of the sense life and death play in the varied works and, in the process, defamiliarized many of the original meanings.

Yeah, as with other academic work I've posted here, there's a lot of name-dropping. Sorry about that, if you're not of a background which presents to you all of those writers.

Monday, 24 November 2008



I found a fascinating blog written by a woman with disassociative identity disorder (I specifically did not use "suffering from"). I suggest you take a look at it: I'll blog more about this later, once my life has gotten back on track (ie. when I hand this last paper in).

Friday, 21 November 2008

My Campus Has Exploded

That investors are apparently not investing in my university at the rate they used to could easily be attributed (I think) to the economic downturn and everyone playing safe and stupid with their money. However, the campus bubble seems intent on blaming it on a number of factors, most of which seem reason enough to withdraw funds. Overall, you see, it seems as though my campus is going insane.

Want to know what happened lately?

[NEGATIVITY ALERT: the following contains little happiness. Do not procede if of a sensitive constitution.]

There. Now everyone will read this.

If you're from the area (or anywhere in the country, apparently), you'll have heard of the Homecoming street party fiasco back in my first year. In September of '05, there was an unprecedentedly large illegal street party on Aberdeen Street, which involved abuse against paramedics (I'm serious), abuse against a police animal (someone punched a horse), trespassing, numerous incidents of public and underaged drunkenness, arrests for selling liquour without a license, lacerations from thrown and shattered beer bottles, and most spectacularly, a flipped and flaming car upon which people danced. Until about 10:30, so I hear, people stayed on the sidewalk, but with cries of "F-ck the police!" students swarmed onto the street itself, which has become the default mode of the Aberdeen Street Party in the years since.

This warranted national news, apparently; people got uncomfortable calls from their parents back in BC who saw their child's drunken disorder in a special edition of whatever their closest major paper happened to be. It was on the cover of the Toronto Star and warranted a full report in the Edmonton Star as well.

Since then, donations have been a little slower coming in.

And since then, campus newspapers CANNOT stop talking about Aberdeen. It's almost as though there isn't anything else to talk about, except the flagrant misuse of student fees and tuition, which is hardly new.

Then, last year, some students in Engineering jackets (read: some Engineers) forced a female, Middle-eastern professor off of the sidewalk and made slurs of some sort towards her. The campus rags wouldn't actually tell anyone anything about the professor, of course, which was acceptable in this case--but it will be less so later on.

There was a students-against-racism rally that year. Someone pointed out that it was a few montsh too late, and then the rest of us pointed out that rallies usually take months or so to plan anyway, and that's when you know you're going to have a rally. When some incident happens, there won't be a rally the next day. Maybe it could have been a little sooner, but this particular student was being an idiot about it, and it seems he set the tone for the rest of the school ever since.

All of this was bad enough, but this year...

1) Some AMS employee left the T4s of ever student who worked for any AMS-affiliated business that year in the hallway, unguarded and unlocked, in a couple boxes label TAX RECEIPTS, for the entire summer. Someone code-named "The Cold Canuck" took one of these boxes and delivered it anonymously to the 'official' student newspaper, the Journal, so that they could deal with it. At this point, the Journal decided that the best course of action was to 1) not ask the AMS about it, 2) not publish anything about it, and 3) ask their lawyers to get back to them in a few weeks about any ramifications it might have if they did anything about this. After a few weeks, The Canuck, apparently seeing three Journal editions go by without a single response, left a sampling from yet another box for The Golden Words, the campus comedy paper, to deal with. The GW did an admirable job. They went to the AMS, made sure they dealt with the issue, and then printed a full expose on it, legal ramifications be damned. Once this happened, the Journal decided that maybe it ought to run a piece, and so it did, and then alternated between slamming the AMS and glossing over the issue. Talia Radcliffe, the AMS prez, decided not alert former employees about the problem, though, and so a friend of mine, who worked in an AMS business last year, found out through the newspaper that all of her personal information--name, SIN, date of birth, credit card numbers, everything required to perform identity theft--could have been compromised. Radcliffe has still not seen fit to apologize for this gross misconduct. The Journal refuses to call her out on it. No one's quite sure whether the Journal controls the AMS (whichever candidate the paper endorses always wins) or the AMS controls the Journal (they can cut the paper's funding whenever they want), but it seems like there's some serious puppetry going on. Diatribe, an anarchic-libertarian student-submitted magazine, has frothed about how badly both papers handled the situation, which I read as whining about not getting to be the one to do the expose. GW has gone back to comedy. Nothing happens about this issue ever again.

2) The Queen's University Muslims Students Association prayer-space gets broken into several times. A QUMSA banner is burnt. Student-aged individuals (presumably students) publically heckle a female Muslim student walking down the street with religion-derived insults. What's being called Islamaphobia seems to be writhing in the campus' bowels. Muslim students are obviously not happy. I am not happy.

3) Strange banners which may have been homophobic are found in the student ghetto during the Aberdeen street party. People don't know how to respond, largely because the slogans on the banners don't make any sense. No one knows what the creators of the banners were trying to say, other than that homosexuality has something to do with it. It fizzles after a bit, because it's so weird.

4) Jacob Mantle, the ASUS president, makes a remark on someone's photo on Facebook. Within hours, the paper finds out. The remark is, "Nice Taliban picture." The Journal says that he comments on students wearing headscarves. Because the Journal refuses to mention people's ethnicities, everyone assumes that these were Muslim students. They were not. They were white. He knew them, and knew they were not Muslim. However, most of the campus, thanks to the Journal's negligent journalistic practices, thinks that he said that to Muslim students. It hits the Globe and Mail. There's an explosion. People from left, right, and centre are asking him to step down. He refuses to apologize. The AMS announces that they would like him to step down, but cannot constitutionally impeach him. People yell and scream and want him impeached anyway. Then people figure out that the Journal misrepresented the event, and, despite it being an ignorant comment, swing to support him en masse. The Journal cannot report on anything else. It's crazy, and blown well out of proportion. People start hollering about racism at Queen's, despite the fact that the comment was not racist but Islamaphobic. Then things get even stupider.

5) On Hallowe'en, there was graffiti on campus. One incident said, "Expect Resistance." Another said, "Kill the cracker in yur head." White paint was dumped on the Queen's sign. People are obviously put off by this, and Mantle gains more public support. Yes, there's a culture of whiteness at Queen's (well, white-ness and Asian-ness--there are more Asian groups than any other category of club on campus). But the other two I don't understand. Does "cracker" help anti-racism? I don't think so. And what's this resistence? Should I wear a vest? What? This is why we have twenty-odd campus papers: if the bleeding-heart Journal won't publish your opinion (and they'll publish pretty near anything), then surely the hell-bent-subversive Diatribe will. I mean, somebody, somewhere, will publish what you want to say, and, if they won't, you can actually start your own newspaper whenever you want around here. Expressing yourself is easy. Being intelligent is apparently a lot harder. So let's avoid graffiti, shall we?

6) There's some sort of public forum about whether Mantle will step down. Word has it there might be a referendum, where members of the Queen's electorate can impeach him or something. I'm not sure what it was; I do know it was unconstitutional and would have had no binding power. The meeting exceeded fire capacity and was filled with angry people from both sides of the issue. Someone pulled the fire alarm, and everyone had to leave. The meeting was not resumed later. Mantle did not step down.

7) Radcliffe publically criticizes Mantle for not apologizing. A letter to the editor in the Journal rightfully points out that Radcliffe has yet to apologize for a much more heinious offence than Mantle.

8) Swastikas and the phrase "Dirty Jew" are soaped onto a Jewish student's car. That she was targeted implies that the culprit knows her. People really start freaking out. The Journal doesn't get around to mentioning that the student in question is Jewish on the front page, which is where the story featured, but part-way through the continuation of the story inside. I think this is relevant information, personally. The targeted student says she no longer feels safe here. Queen's Hillel says that they've never seen this before on campus; this was formerly one of the most Jewish-friendly campuses they know of. Everyone is shocked and appalled. And rightly so. This is disgusting behaviour, and I would break the perpetrator's knee-caps if I knew who he was.

9) The Journal editor, likely feeling under attack, writes a column about the paper's struggles with journalistic integrity and how it's easy to come and talk to her about the problems in a rational manner. She is right about most of it. The problem is not (entirely) with her editorship. It's with the structure of the paper, its reporters, and its over-developed sense of self worth.

10) The new principal, Tom Williams, cancels the Aberdeen Street Party, following conversations with donating alumni and, get this, a student plebiscite which supported the cancelling. Students are outraged. "How dare Mr. Williams," they say, "cancel Homecoming just because it's worsening town-gown relations, alumni have stopped donating, our degrees are worth less, and the majority of the voting student body wants it cancelled? That plebiscite shouldn't be binding, they say. You know the partying demographic doesn't vote (even though that that issue would be on the ballot was published in the Journal weeks in advance and there were Facebook groups exhorting you to go and vote against cancellation). It's not fair!" Stupid people. If you haven't figured it out, I support the cancellation whole-heartedly.

11) People from within the university and without are calling for Queen's to be more proactive in fighting racism. That the incidents have been entirely religion or sexual-orientation based seems to be lost on these individuals. Let me repeat: racism is not the problem; religious and sexual intolerance is. DO NOT CONFUSE THESE!

11) The university introduces a new task force of facilitators whose job is to listen in on conversations taking place in public spaces and interject if they hear gender slurs, homophobic language, racially-tinted insults, or the discussion of "social issues." Yeah, that's right. "Social issues." Now, these conversation cops (as they've been dubbed by the Globe and Mail) have no authoratative power besides publically confronting and "sensitively leading the conversation," but I don't think we should be surprised that the G&M has name-dropped Kafka and that students are voraciously arguing about this. Now it's not student stupidity that's dropped the reputation of our school, but the actual adminstration. Great job, guys. Just great. Now, I understand what they wanted out of this program and that they meant well. However, I'm also sure it's an immense screw-up. It'll be terribly ineffective, it will make people angry and confrontational, and it will at best drive racism 'underground' instead of dealing with it openly. Also, I love the blanc carte with "social issues." What does this cover? Can I talk about, say, creationism or abortion without getting molested by the thought police?

Apparently not...

12) In the most recent Diatribe, which was way better than usual, a submission pointed out that a particular Canadian university student union that is campaigning for lowered student fees and other student "rights" has as one of its issues the banning of pro-life groups from campus. That's right. If you're group is anti-abortion, this student union thinks that you shouldn't be eligible for your cut of the student fee dollars--or university recognition, for that matter. Pro-choice groups are still OK, though, and this union is in fact in the works of distributing pro-choice kits and helping with abortion advertising on campuses. Why is this the case? Well, apparently pro-life clubs espouse violence. Somehow. Despite being, you know, pro-life. Oh, and they're woman-haters. Despite being usually more than 50% women themselves. The submitter, pro-choice herself, thought this was stupid and inexcusable in a university, which was supposed to be about discussing ideas. Disallowing one of the members in the discussion to talk is not exactly the way to espouse conversation. And, yet, no one seems to be opposing this platform of the union. People just see "lower student fees" and jump on board.

Remember when I complained about Internet commenters? Apparently receiving an education only ensures that your idiocy is more articulate, more complex, and more in line with the rabidly liberal dogma of Canadian academia.

And let me be clear: I do not endorse Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, sexism, or any other form of repression. Neither am I a fan of unrestricted free speech. I think the stupidest and most hateful people involved are the ones making the slurs and comments. However, I think the reaction to it has also been moronic, lamentable, and not even well-meant, for the most part. I am frustrated with most of those involved, but I have no idea how to make a change myself. My fear is that, even if I did articulate this, no one would be able to hear in the media frenzy that's taking place right now.

Also, I've just stripped another layer of anonymity by revealing which school I attend. Oh, well.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008



As you may have noticed from the lack of such posts, I am growing disinterested in disproving Dawkins' silliness. I will tackle a few other posts as time goes on--there's one about salvation theory, there's one about the role of the veil, there's one speculating about his Darwinian biases--but I feel like I have covered sufficient ground. I am bored of him and don't want to give him much more attention, which will only flatter him. Also, it has been brought to my attention in small group that such arguments only "lower myself to their level," as I believe the phrase went, and that's their turf, where presumably they will win anyway. Now, I think I've done a pretty solid job, but there's maybe some truth to what he said. If I allow myself to get distracted into tight little arguments over minutae, I'll lose sight of the big picture and the important stuff goes undone (not unsaid...things that are said are usually unimportant anyway).

I do think there is merit in defeating Dawkins' position, because it holds cultural currency and really oughtn't. This militant atheism doesn't look very good, and I would like it's soldiers to recognize that and desert. However, it would also be fair to suggest that many of them wouldn't get through my arguments, and wouldn't really listen even if they did. I hope that is not the case--I've been assured that it's not the case--but I am scared that it is.

So, you'll see a few more of these yet, but they'll be few and produced slowly. I don't feel argumentative. I am growing sick of argument. Very, very sick. The world is being rotted by it.

And yes, I know this follows a new Dawkins-related post, but I'll be honest with you. I through the final two lines on tonight, but the rest of it I had written over a month ago and then let grow stale in my drafts. I thought I'd get it out tonight so that I could get the process of the Dawkins' Dispute over.

I should go to bed.

God bless.
To Directory.

Disputing Dawkins IV

So far I have dealt with Dawkins' attempts to demonstrate that religion is unlikely. I will no longer deal with this at length because Dawkins has nothing more to add on the topic. Dawkins tries to demonstrate that religion could have evolutionary origins. If you want to read a better account of such speculation than Dawkins, you can read Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer. This doesn't really worry me at all, though, and I'm not going to deal with it. Instead, I will move on to Dawkins' discussion of morality. Namely, Dawkins argues for

Religion's Disconnection from Morality

The general direction of Dawkins' arguement is that religion does not generate morality, and therefore appeals to morality are not sufficient to argue in favour of religion. He also claims that major religious traditions are somewhat immoral, and he uses Christianity as an example.

Of course, Dawkins presupposes here that there is no God. Unlike in previous posts, I will not accept Dawkins' premises for the sake of arguement. I will try as much as possible to refrain from religious explanations, but there are particular points where I will demonstrate that Dawkins' logic falls apart if these premises are not adhered to.

To begin, I will look at the following statement: "the only reason that you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment" (p 226). I'm going to clarify that Dawkins isn't saying that approval-seeking is the only reason people are good; he's more implying that this is the religious sense of ethics. One of his criticisms is that morality of this sense isn't really moral at all, but strictly self-interested. First, I'm going to emphasize that, even if this were true of Western religions, it's not true of all religions--Confucianism, for instance, or traditional Native beliefs do not even suggest that there is a personal reward for goodness, or anyone's approval to seek. Second, the Western religions do not universally support this either. Certainly, there is a sort of popular, media-based belief that Christians are moral in order to please God and receive his blessing by means of a ticket into heaven and perhaps worldly goods. First off, this is not a particularly Protestant view, nor is it even an entirely Catholic view. Islam perhaps espouses this philosophy more, but it is far more nuanced than that. So, what is the Christian view?

The grass-roots theology that I have heard is that we are good as a way of giving thanks to God. We are grateful for our life, for God's love, and for our undeserved salvation. Therefore, as a way of paying back, even though we know it does not come close to matching that which we received, we act in ways we believe please God. Do you see the difference? Dawkins suggest we are cashing in morality tokens for rewards; Christians believe we already have all the rewards and are behaving morally as a response.

Obviously this requires that the practitioners believe in God in order for this to be at all sensible. But note that, if you yourself do not believe in God, this doesn't mean that the Christians are only moral for self-interested purposes. So long as they believe that God has already rewarded them, morality of a non-self-interested nature can follow; the actual existence of God is not necessary for this to be true.

As an aside, the Zoroastrians are good because good behaviour saves the universe from destruction; the Confucians are good because proper relations ensure social harmony; those adopting Native beliefs are good because proper conduct prevents illness in the community and disorder in nature. Again, we see non-selfish motives for morality.

Now, Dawkins does concede that there are more sophisticated moral arguements than the caricatures he provides. Good for him. The question then is, why doesn't he refute them? Because he does not have the time? If this is the case, why did he spend so much time attacking the caricatures? Is it because he does not have the knowledge? Then why doesn't he gain the knowledge? Or it it because he does not know how to refute them? My supposition is that it is for some combination of the three: he hasn't sufficient time, knowledge, or ability. Regardless, he can hardly have considered the case closed (as he seems to do) if he doesn't deal with the objections that he acknowledges exist.

Dawkins also structures an arguement as follows: if you will not follow all of the religious text but will instead only choose those parts you agree with and those parts you don't, then can you really say morality comes from that text? In other words, what are the criteria by which you choose which passages to follow, and why not simply adopt those criteria as your moral standard? Dawkins suggests removing "the middle man," as it were.

This is where Dawkins' atheism comes in. This only makes sense if you already agree that there is no God--or, in this case, Holy Spirit. Christian theology, you see, has an answer for this. St. Paul, in fact, provides it. This is that the Holy Spirit moves us through our conscience, prompting us to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. This even applies to deciding whether or not it is right to follow particular instances of the Jewish law. Biblical scholars suggest that Paul did not want to make authoritative judgements on certain issues (ie. whether to eat meat from pagan sacrifices) but to tell people to follow the Spirit; he only made these judgements because early Christian communities wanted a firm hand. Obviously many Christians will dispute this claim, but I think the point remains: the criterion used is nonetheless a religious one, so even if you dropped "the middle man," what you have is the Holy Spirit's hand.

Unlike my previous arguement, this one may seem to require religious belief in order to be valid. This is not quite true: it requires that the reader at least concede that a Holy Spirit might exist. This is different from believing in that doctrine. Dawkins, of course, is unwilling to concede this. I hope that by now any readers I have will be more inclined to concede it by dint of my other arguements. Even more importantly, it seems to me that Dawkins is trying to use this idea--that by picking and choosing parts of the Bible, we implicitly indicate that we have a morality not derived from God--to convince people yet again that religious claims are internally contradictory. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit provides an explanation for this problem by positing an entity, 'powered' by God, that helps us make the correct selections. Dawkins' attack on Christian doctrine through implicit concession of a non-religious morality is thus blocked by the Holy Spirit. I understand that other religions have similar features that will provide the same internal explanation. I know that Islam posits an inherent, God-given, human capacity for goodness, among other things.

Dawkins does provide some explanations of how morality could have evolved as an innate capacity in humans. Again, if you want a better account of it than Dawkins provides, you can turn to Boyer. However, I want to emphasize quite clearly that if you're a Christian (or other religious person) who accepts evolutionary biology, you'd generally consider that evolution is guided by the Divine. Therefore, there is nothing inconsistent in saying that we evolved to be moral and that God made us moral. If you're not a religious person who accepts evolutionary biology, then I don't suppose Dawkins' explanations mean anything to you at all. The up-shot is that an evolutionary account of morality does not effectively de-couple morality from religion unless you are already of an atheistic (and closed-mindedly so) mindframe.

Dawkins goes one further in his separation of religion and morality: he actually claims that Jesus' moral wisdom is exclusive to the in-group. Dawkins says, "'Love thy neighbour' didn't mean what we now think it means. It meant only 'Love another Jew'" (253). This is patently ridiculous...but my explanation belongs in a post of my own. Dawkins Delusion has a strong refutation of it, so I may not need to deal with it. I likely will, however, when I have the time.

So, a summary:
1) Dawkins claims that religious 'versions' of morality are not moral, but inherently selfish, because they are a based on a reward-punishment system; while some religions may have such a system, Christianity 'proper' and most other traditions I know of do not; Dawkins' criticism is invalid.
2) Dawkins claims that religions which have sacred texts practitioners 'pick and choose' through must have a criterion for said picking and choosing, and this will do for a moral standard without the sacred text; at least one tradition in which practitioners sometimes pick and choose explains this phenomenon through a particular mechanism called 'the Holy Spirit'; removing the sacred text makes the morality no less religious; Dawkins suggestion is invalid.

Any questions?

To Directory.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

College Humour Understands


Remember when I complained about commenters?

College Humour gets it:



Basically, I just want to direct you to something in this post. I think my brother did a most awesome job drawing Cthulhu's head, and I thought I'd send you his way to check it out. The link is "his way," in case you didn't pick up on that.

Also, I started reading Lovecraft, and does that man love modifiers! Geez, if I tried to pull that off in my CWRI classes, I'd get told, that's for sure. Take a look at this: "Over the valley's rim a wan, waning cresent moon peered through the noisome vapours that seemed to emanate from unheard-of catacombs, and by its feeble, wavering beams I could distinguish a repellent array of antique slabs, urns, cenotaphs, and masuoleum facades; all crumbling, moss-grown, and moisture-stained, and partly concealed by the gross luxuiance of the unhealthy vegetation." Gross luxuriance indeed! Don't get me wrong, he has some excellent prose, but he also has lines like this, that are almost incredible, but instead coated with a layer of unnecessary atmospheric modifiers. Phah!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Profile Picture & More


1) I have a profile picture now. It's a hawk, as you can tell. However, I would like another one, so if anyone who's artistically inclined and reading this can come up with something, I'd like to see it. (Obviously it has to be something somewhat appropriate to me, so it'd help, I suppose, if you knew me, but anyone who's followed my blog must have some sort of sense of things that interest me and my intellectual rhythms, so perhaps this is more open than real-world friends...)

2) I am struggling with my creative faculties. I have a rather scattered range of interests, and I'm trying to come up with some project which i) I could conceivably finish and ii) contains at least a fair amount of the buckshot of my obsessions. This is difficult, because I am committed to producing something of value. The idea of just producing work which turns my own crank does not seem worth it to me. I want whatever I write to instill upon the reader something grander than themselves, some hint or edge of a cause to follow; some sliver of the morality that underlies our universe; some faint flavour of beauty and of truth. It needn't be much, but... escapism is wonderful, and it has it's place, but I challenge myself and all others to find meaning in everything, and I'd be remiss if what I wrote did not fulfill that mandate. I need to know that what I wrote could make a difference, however slight.
What makes matters worse is that I also have high standards of my writing quality, and--here's the real kicker--the almost unmasterable desire to have epic battles, awesome villians, idealistic heroes, and warrior women. Given everything said above, I think I'm screwed.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


I saw Quantum of Solace.

Except I'm brutal at telling the story from the beginning to the end (which is a total lie--I'm a decent storyteller, if I do say so myself, though I needn't, because lots of folks say I am, and in fact insist that I tell the story they told me, even though I wasn't there for it, because, apparently, I'm good at that sort of thing), but I've got to give it a shot nonetheless.

And I'll try to stop sounding like a moron (reference previous parentheses).

Almost a month ago a friend of mine--Jon, actually, you may have seen him post around here--suggested I have a half-birthday party, considering that I never get to have my birthday with my friends. Unbeknownst to him, I hardly get a birthday at all, and haven't for donkey's years. At first I felt like it was a stupid and selfish idea--even though I'd thought of it myself a few years back, once I'd heard of half-birthday parties--because it seemed tantamount to asking for attention. I dislike this (I know, I know, I have a blog, what could be more asking for attention? Well, streaking, for one, and talking loudly on a cellphone in a fancy restaurant, and wearing fur, and dressing like a gangsta, or a punk, or a quean, or...).

Anyway, the night he suggested it I found out my dog had died (see my archives). I was pretty bummed. So I didn't really savour the idea of a party, if you follow. When asked what I wanted to do, I said, "I cannot think of anything that I would like to do." So people went and planned stuff on my actual half-birthday with my permission, because I was sad and didn't want to think about doing fun things.

And then I found out that Quantum of Solace came out this weekend.

So there was some unnecessary stress and distress as I tried to organize an expedition to the local theatre to watch the aforementioned flick, since everyone had gone and assumed that nothing was happening (rough paraphrase--some folks hadn't heard of the whole half-birthday scheme yet, and so hadn't even gotten to the point of assuming that nothing was happening). Anyway, eventually we settled on Sunday night, after Navs.

I pre-ordered the tickets yesterday, as I posted. And then I prepared a pork shoulder with taters and carrots in the crock pot while my housemate had a martial arts movie fest with his Tae Kwon Do club.

Today went fairly well. Church in the morning (turned on the crock pot before I left), procrastination in the later morning and around noon. Lunch. Eventually, I got on to that essay I've supposed to have finished a rough draft for for a while now. I pushed through most of it in a few hours, and will easily be able to finish it off tomorrow. Then, got my stuff together, and my housemate helped me carry the crockpot and necessary ingredients to Geneva House, where Navs meets, so that I can prepare for the dinner (which I was charged with cooking).

Before I left, my housemate spilled the beans that there would be a cake when I returned home. I am sure he thought I knew.

So here's what I made for Navigator's Sunday night Dinner:

A pork shoulder in the crock pot for 8 hours on high, accompanied by sliced potatoes, sliced carrots, basil, thyme, and rosemary, in enough water to thoroughly cook the tubers.

What I am calling Garden Pasta, which consists of fusilini and elbow noodles in tomato sauce, accompanied by diced peppers, largely-chopped snap peas, and green beans, along with basil and orageno.

A store-bought veggie platter.

Joanna, who was assigned to help me cook, made excellent 'Joanna Brownies.'

I was worried about the pork, but I needn't have been. The meat fell right off the bone, and parted so well I hardly had to try. Everyone was impressed, and complimented me on breaking the stereotype. That's right. I'm a man, and I can COOK!

We then watched a very good nooma video, and had a discussion. It concerned Jesus' choosing the unwanted to be his disciples, and what that says about us.

And then I had to bolt homeward. As expected, a bunch of friends waited for me. There was cake, which was vanilla (they remembered!) with frosting, and Oreos on top, pulled in half, with sprinkles on the cream, each half with a different letter, so that arranged on the cake it said, "Twenty 1 1/2." Clever girls. There is still more cake waiting for me downstairs, of which I will partake when I am done with this post.

Instead of regular candles, they used sparklers, which I couldn't blow out. So I get 5 girlfriends this year. Except I cheated, and blew a second time, just before the last sparkler went out--trying to arrange to have just one.
(Awwwwww, say the female readership, and I blush, which I do all too easily.)

And then we exodized to the Empire (cinema), and I dramatically passed out the pre-ordered tickets, and we went and waited in the second line for Quantum. My cronies saved the spot while I ordered junk food and a Diet Coke I am at this point thinking was a bad idea (if you can't tell from my style, I am so so so so wired). They went into the movie theatre, and wound up having to save the whole row for all of us--we fit exactly. There were 12 in all.

And then I loved the movie. Not everyone did--some hated it, apparently. But I thought it was tops. [AMBIGUOUS SPOILERS ALERT] The Goldfinger nod? Sad, indeed, but nonetheless... And the sequences. My golly, what a show. [AMBIGUOUS SPOILERS ALERT ENDS] And I'll stop using silly antiquated lingo now. If I can.

And now I'm back home, hoping tomorrow's class will be cancelled, though no sign that it will be yet. Not a false hope, entirely, as the prof indicated it might be. The reason I hope so is so that I can sleep in and maybe get my essay done earlier, at the same time. Because I am wired right now, and sleep is likely a while off.

Anyway, sleep's distance notwithstanding, I will at least go through the motions of preparing for bed. Cake, shower, maybe light reading, bed.

Fare thee well, my readership. Good night.

(And despite whatever troubles saw me to this point, I am on the moon right now...)

Idiots on Comment Threads

I don't know why I do it. I really don't.

Sometimes, I read comment threads.

And then I get angry.

I really need to stop. Every time I read an article--be it on a news site, a blog, a Facebook group--I always see the end of the article, and then continue to scroll down into the blustering fen known as the comments section.

In some places the comments are pretty safe. You see '2 comments' or '4 comments' and you can be sure it's at least not apopolexy-inducing. But even though I see '64 comments,' and even though I KNOW this means that there are monkeys with keyboards drooling on the comments form, I have to keep reading. I so really want to know what people think. Unfortunately, I already know what people think, and all the comments section does is indicate how poorly and maliciously people express what (little) they think. Occasionally someone witty comes along and punches another commenter in the ego, but that's rare and maybe not so great after all.

Some things I've seen include comments spouting out ideological catch-phrases in ALL-CAPS, AS THOUGH THAT'S SOMEHOW WAY MORE CONVINCING THAN REGULAR TYPE (AND EASIER TO READ, TO BOOT). I've also seen two people--one from Norway, one from the Netherlands--comment on how happy they are with their free, tax-supported health care, only to be followed with an American saying that, having visited both Norway and Holland, she thinks all the left-wingers can go across the Atlantic while the real Americans live and die in freedom instead of turning into a bunch of immasculated neuters like the Europeans. Way to go, lady. Insult a) about half of your own country, b) the people who posted just above you, c) your Canadian neighbours, also health-care socialists, and d) every other socialist in the whole world, and not even make a legitimate point while you're at it. Why are people so mindlessly confrontational when they get this veneer of anonymity that is the Internet persona?

It seems as though about 10 points of your average person's IQ just disappears as soon as they get near a keyboard. Feel out of touch with your id? Then just log on, and your more animal nature will communicate with you by posting on comment boards on your behalf. Sure, the rest of the world gets to be insulted and enraged by your infantile opinions, but, hey, that let's them reconnect with their primitive self as well!

Obviously I get way too worked up about this, but I don't see how we can have much hope for the world while we still have the Internet (says he, the compulsive blogger).

OK, off to do work now.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Books Are A Bad Idea

On why entering an Indigo when there's a sale going on is a bad idea...

The number 1 reason is, I have an essay to write.
The number 2 reason is, I have a budget to keep.

I don't think there are any more reasons. Certainly, I don't need any more for it to be a very bad idea.

So I only bought three books.

1) Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The movie is coming out and I obviously want to read the book (graphic novel) first. It promises to be smart and gritty and genre-exploring, and it's about superheroes. What more could I want? A lot, I suppose, but those will be more than sufficient.

2) The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft
The truth is, it's about time I got around to this one. Lovecraft is one of the old masters of horror, and his creations have grown well beyond him. Heard of Cthulhu? Maybe. The Necronomicon? Likely. Those both began with Lovecraft, and I know that the big C at least will be revealed in the book of shorts I just purchased. If these live up to expectation, I shall stand at the borders of madness.

3) A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
The next of the Wicked series, this one promises to examine war, animal rights, and the natures of prophecy, fate, and reputation. I have high hopes.

All of which threaten to engulf my essays entirely. Alas, alas!

Also, I just dropped $109.98 on advance tickets to see Quantum of Solace. I'll get most of it back, of course, from those who are going to see it with me tomorrow night. I'm excited!

New York Times


Here's some news. I'll write on it later, but check it out:

Friday, 14 November 2008


Have you ever heard of Mandeville?

He's a semi- or entirely fictitious mediaeval English knight who did not go on a voyage across the world, though a mediaeval author wrote an evidentally fictional but professedly autobiographical narrative in which he does. It fits in the travel narrative conventions of its time, complete with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, savage races and lavish sultanates, distant empires, fabulous beasts, mysterious islands, dangerous wastes, and, eventually, Paradise itself. If you've read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you would recognize some of the locations Mandeville visits. Any narrative about people who've sailed to marvelous lands reach back to narratives like Mandeville's and Marco Polo's (a rough contemporary).

Anyway, here is a sampling of the incredible things 'witnessed' by Mandeville on his travels:

"And he [the king of the isle Calonak] hath also into a 14,000 elephants or more that he maketh for to be brought up amongst his villians by all his towns. For in case that he had any war against any other king about him, then [he] maketh certain men of arms for to go up into the castles of tree made for the war, that craftily be set upon the elephants' backs, for to fight against their enemies. and so do other kings there-about. For the manner of war is not there as it is here or in other countries, ne the ordinance of war neither. And men clepe the elephants Warkes."

"After that isle [of Tracoda] men go by the sea ocean, by many isles, unto an isle that is clept Nacumera, that is a great isle and good and fair. And it is in compass about, more than a thousand mile. And all the men and women of that isle have hounds' heads, and they be clept Cynocephales. And they be full reasonable and of good understanding, save that they worship an ox for their God. And also every one of them beareth an ox of gold or of silver in his forehead, in token that they love well their God. And they go all naked save a little clout, that they cover with their knees and members. They be great folk and well-fighting. And they have a great targe that covereth all the body, and a spear in their hand to fight with. And if they take any man in battle, anon they eat him."

"In that country and others thereabout [that is, the island of Silha, which is filled with dangerous beasts called "cockodrills"] there be wild geese that have two heads. And there be lions, all white and as great as oxen, and many other diverse beasts and fowls also that be not seen amongst us."

"In one of these isles be folk of great stature, as giants. And they be hideous for to look upon. and they have but one eye, and that is in the middle of the front. And they eat nothing but raw flesh and raw fish.
"And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyen be in their shoulders."
"And in another isle there be little folk, as dwarfs. And they be two so much as the pigmies. and they have no mouthl but instead of their mouth they have a little round hole, and when they shall eat or drink, they take through a pipe or a pen or such a thing, and suck it in, for they have no tongue; and therefore they speak not, but they make a manner of hissing as an adder doth, and they make signs one to another as monks do, by the which every of them understandeth other.
"And in another isle be folk that have great ears and long, that hang down to their knees.
"And in another isle be folk that have horses' feet. And they be strong and mighty, and swift runners; for they take wild beasts with running, and eat them.
"And in another isle be folk that so upon their hands and their feet as beasts. And they be all skinned and feathered, and they will leap as lightly into trees, and from tree to tree, as it were squirrels or apes.
"And in another isle be folk that be both man and woman, and they have kind of that one and of that other. And they have one pap on the one side, and on that other none. And they have members of generation of man and woman, and they use both when they list, once that one, and another time that other. And they get children, when they use the member of man; and they bear children, when they use the member of woman.
"And in another isle be folk that go always upon their knees full marvellously. And at every pace that they go, it seemeth that they would fall. And they have in every foot eight toes.
"Many other diverse folk of diverse natures be there in other isles about, of the which it were too long to tell, and therefore I pass over shortly."

"In that country be white hens without feathers, but they bear white wool as sheep do here."

"In that country be many hippotaynes that dwell sometime in the water and sometime on the land. And they be half man and half horse, as I have said before. And they eat men when they may take them."

I think these are all marvellous. Note how he describes some of them; most are without judgement, and some are actually complimented. This is highly surprising, I think, from a mediaeval Christian author.

I tried to find the woodcuts that accompany my version of the text but, alas, could not.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Poems about Insects

Emily Dickinson is a poet I have some difficulty with. She seems caught up in her own world of emotion and pain; the narrative voice intrudes in places where it oughtn't; the text is too overtly feminist for my tastes, not transcending gender as Virginia Woolf expects; these poems don't have the tight intricacy or cleverness of my favourites. However, she does right about insects, which gives her at least 100 extra points on my scale. Here are two:

Poem 96

Pigmy seraphs - gone astray -
Velvet people from Vevay -
Belles from some lost summer day -
Bees exclusive Coterie -

Paris could not lay the fold
Belted down with emerald -
Venice could not show a cheek
Of a tint so lustrous meek -
Never such an ambuscade
As of briar and leaf displayed
For my little damask maid -

I had rather wear her grace
Than an Earl's distinguised face -
I had rather dwell like her
Than be "Duke Exeter" -
Royalty enough for me
To subdue the Bumblebee.

Poem 1523

How soft a Caterpillar steps -
I find one on my Hand
From such a Velvet world it came -
Such plushes at command
It's soundless travels just arrest
My slow - terrestrial eye -
Intent opon it's own career -
What use has it for me -

How fitting to call bumblebees pygmy seraphs gone astray! It's one of those images that you feel you've always been looking for. And look at the caterpillar poem. Do you see how she uses dashes? In line 6 the dash, like the caterpillar, arersts your eye, slows it down, to match her eye in the narrative. How clever. And then the dash at the end (a common Dickinsonian technique) leaves the poem unfinished, with the caterpillar still on its 'plush' little march, like all caterpillars you see, crawling ever onward.

Photos of Campus

These are sadly blurry; my hands are not too steady. I was using a daylight setting, but they still didn't come out 100% perfect. Oh, well.

This is my campus. I won't tell you which, but you may be able to figure out anyway.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Early Saturday Morning


I ought to be in bed, but quickly...

1) Obama won, but you'd have to have been incommunicado and then logged onto this blog first thing after return from the wilderness in order to have that just now. Solid speech Tues. night. I want to go over that when I have time.
2) Watched Sin City again this night, as well as a first for Doomsday. The latter was decent--it came recommended, which is why I watched it in the first place. I'm watching Henry V tomorrow, for class.
3) I've been asked to articulate where I want to go in academia, and doing so has helped me crystalize my goals. I'll let you know sometime.
4) I have so much work due shortly it's crazy. In a couple week I'll post again with frequency (maybe) but, 'til then, not so much. Sorry.
5) Made picadillo for a potluck last night. I'll have to throw my recipe up here sometime. It's solid, in my opinion.
6) I edited an essay today for a friend, and drew her a picture (as usual). I'm fairly proud of that picture (considering I'm not trained with a pencil), so I've posted it below (in two stages, plus reference).
7) I haven't been keeping up with those blogs I'd said I'd follow. Oh, well.

And that is all for now. Good night.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

On the Night of the 4th

Right, so it's nearly ten o'clock on November the 4th, 2008. This means that south of the border the Yanks are electing a new president. I've discussed this a bit yesterday under the guise of literary criticism.

To all non-Canadian readers I have (most of them?), I can tell you we're following this election pretty closely up here. A fair few of my friends have changed their Facebook stati to support Obama; downstairs the TV was on CNN, as I had been watching some of the election coverage. The papers are full of it, and so are the conversations. We're abuzz, because whenever that great elephant to the south rolls over, he steals all our covers.

Yet I know nothing about the election. I hear Obama actually gave some more concrete campaign promises in the last few months, but I haven't really found out what (other than 'change' and 'hope,' which is starting to drive me nuts). McCain doesn't seem as problematic as Bush, but I'm not sure what he stands for, either. And the TV hasn't ever told me anything informative. I'm serious. It hasn't. It's given me loads of spin and rhetoric and poll numbers and predictions, but not anything about what anyone stands for. Thanks, guys. Thanks a bundle. Obviously the US doesn't care whether Canadians know anything about their politics, so they won't spend money to keep us educated. All I know is that I stopped watching the election coverage because it doesn't matter--it's all speculative and doesn't seem terribly accurate.

So we'll find out tomorrow, I'm sure, and, either way, day will follow night; age, youth; disappointment, expectation; births, uncontrolled hormones. In other words, the world will keep it's axis.


I'm going to start exploring/following this blog. I know so few converts; this seems to be an excellent way of learning about religion. Incidentally, I found this blog at this site, in the Blogger's Choice Awards, under the 'Religious Blogs' category. I was surprised at the number of atheist blogs on that list. Most atheists claim that they are not religious (utter BS, in my opinion, but let's go with that for the moment anyway), so why do atheist blogs get to be under religious blogs? It seems like an admission that they are religious. I see it as an either-you-are-or-you-aren't situation. Do you follow? Let's put it this way: I have no problem with atheist blogs being categorized under Religious Blogs, so long as the atheists responsible for the blogs stop denying that atheism/scienticism is a religion.


This isn't good. I have to much work to do to be blogging. Gah!


[Update] One last thing before bed/work...

I think I will also spend some time (whatever scrap of time I have) looking at this blog. It's an atheist blog, one of the ones mentioned above. I figured, what the hey, if I want to understand what's going on, I'd better read one of these, too. So far I think the author's pretty closed-minded and bigoted, and I've been looking for the most non-atheist friendly posts I can. However, maybe decency is hidden between the cracks in here, and, if it exists, I will root it out! Or maybe I should just try to pick a different atheist blog, one that's a little less extremist.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Mainstream v. Bakhtin

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be working or bedding. I don't care.

I read this on a random blog I'll likely not link to, to prevent embarassment. She was complaining that goth/punk was becoming cool, which meant that her style was being encroached upon and it was harder to be original. People who were previously calling her a poseur (what a poser word, by the way, with the French spelling and the heavy North American pronounciation of POE-zer; I always write it 'poser,' as I say it, unless I'm quoting someone) are now wearing black nail polish and calling her a poseur. A blog-friend commented, saying the following:

"ha haha! i'm glad i'm not in school any longer.. we don't have hot topic here in norway, but still goth/emo is appearing everywhere, and even really regular mainstream shops are selling stuff with skulls and studded belts etc. you're right about it getting harder and harder to appear original. it's not just the goth style, but all sorts of alternative styles that is being incorporated into the mainstream. it's mainstream to be original haha arrghh.."

Yeah, no kidding. Have you read Bakhtin? Actually, I can likely assume that you haven't. What Bakhtin said, well before either of these girls first gasped in the outside air, let alone painted their nails black, is that heterglossic languages (including symbols, styles, wardrobes, etc.; today we'd just say sub-culture, or "alternative style," a la the blogger above) will eventually either become part of the mass of unitary languages or die out, as new heteroglossic languages are born. Remember the hippies? What happened to them? They became mainstream and therefore stopped being 'real' hippies. What about the 'swingers' of the 20s? They look naive to us now, and that's because they became the norm themselves. Bohemians? Let's go way back... secularists? rationalists? Protestants? Christians? Pharisaic Judaism? Same thing. First, an alternative culture. Then, part of the mainstream. It ALWAYS happens--death or assimilation. Thus we hear goth's dying groans, punk's middle-aged posturing; thus we can anticipate indie's imminent demise (because what is indie but repackaged hippism?--and let me assure you, indie is pretty packaged by now). Anti-consumerism is sold under the brand of Roger Moore, of Fight Club (what irony there, Brad Pitt selling anti-consumerism), of Chomsky (and this is the real irony, as Chomsky fits into his own scheme of the limits of discourse!). When we see this clearly before us, we see then that the only way to be 'original,' to have our 'own' style, is to not care at all about what style we are in the first place, or even having a unified style, or even thinking about styles at all. Only by transcending the very notion of style can we have one of our own. As many have said before me, including C. S. Lewis, originality comes only as a by-product to the pursuit of truth. We can achieve it only by not caring if we do.

I hope that you can all join in me in my pursuit for such liberation.

The Misunderstanding of English Criticism I

OK, bulky title, I know. I've added the 'I' because I oughtn't write this whole thing tonight; I should either do work or go to bed. However, I want to get at least a prelude out before I forget...

I read this in the comments on one of the latest Freakonomics blog posts:

"Complaining about word parsing is equivalent to blaming your ignorance on others. If you said what you meant, it wouldn’t be possible to parse your words.
These politicians simply need to learn how to speak and this won’t be an issue.
— Posted by Ryan"

Sorry? Someone doesn't seem to understand the fundamental characteristics of language. Let me enumerate the relevant ones.

1) Words/language cannot ever perfectly map onto the potential of human ideas.
2) Everyone attaches a slightly different signified to any given signifier.
3) Because of 1 and 2, it is impossible to say exactly what you mean so that everyone can understand it, though there are ways that you can get very close.
4) Parsing is more than just straight-up comprehension. We hide nuance between words (a fancy way of saying that word choice reveals more than just denotation and connotation--why did he use this word when that one might seem to do?), and part of parsing is pulling that out.
5) Learning to speak well is not the same as learning to speak so that all meaning rests on the surface, because, in light of #4, some meaning will always lurk deeper if you look for it.

The point is, if you use those techniques to say what you mean as closely as possible, there are always still ways of pulling more meaning out through careful analysis. And this process need not be ridiculous, tortured, obscure, or Freudian (which are probably all pretty equivalent). It certainly can be, but it needn't be. If you want examples, look at feminist, Marxist, or eco-critical theory. In these schools, the meaning often floats pretty close to the surface, but is generally ignored. If you look for it, it's obvious and pretty concrete--though you can get terribly esoteric, too, if you are silly enough to try.

I have seen similar ideas in assorted places, such as the introduction to Ender's Game and, sadly, in some of Stephen King, especially Danse Macabre (though he redeems himself in places by dissing the truly ridiculous criticism and owning up to/committing less ridiculous criticism himself).

Maybe more will come of this, but that's all literary theory, which is likely not the best topic of blogosphere conversation. But, hey, you can read it or not, so I suppose I might as well post it if I ever feel like it.

And I'll just point out that this whole conversation on the blog was in response to one of McCain's aide's public statement, where he likely misspoke. The person Ryan accuses of complaining about parsing was appalled by the amount of discussion that revolved around the meaning of his mistake, and also his choice of the word "lame" to describe something as not very funny. I think a lot can be said about that particular word choice, and not enough has been yet. Other than that, yes, there was too much 'parsing' of the phrase. My complaint is not about whether this parsing is necessary, but what role parsing plays at all. I think Ryan got it wrong.

And while I'm speaking of McCain and the election furor, let me just point out that history might be made tomorrow night. I suppose history is made every second of every day, but this is something that'll hit the books--and of nations other than the great and terrible US, at that.* It could be the case that in the next few days, a man who is not entirely Caucasian will be elected into office. He is not, of course, entirely black, as he is often billed. It seems to be the case--have I said this before?--that if you are mixed, (white) people will generally slide you as a default into whatever part of your lineage is not white. So your mother is white and your father is black. You're black (like Obama). Your father's Irish but your mother's Cree? You're native. No, not Metis. Native. It's just easier to classify you that way. I'm not sure it is why we think that way--and, I'll be honest, it's my habitual cognitive mode--but it seems to be the case and it's not quite fair. Something else to work over. The point is, at least genealogically speaking, Obama is as white as he is black. Maybe that's not culturally the case, though I'd have to say it'd hard to believe a college-educated senator who claims to be seperate from white culture. Anyway, tomorrow we will see whether there will be a paragraph about the first not-entirely-white American President attached to the date of 2008.

And then we'll have four years to find out what, exactly, this man means by 'audacity,' 'hope,' and 'change.' Because, really, I have no idea.

*That's a pun AND an allusion, folks, if you haven't picked it up. Parse that!

Sunday, 2 November 2008


I read this quotation on God Online (see my sidebar).

"Progress is Providence without God. That is, it is a theory that everything has always perpetually gone right by accident."
--G. K. Chesterton

I generally dislike the doctrine of progress (for very, very good reason, I think, but I'll need to explain this in full later). Which means I love this quotation...

You should go and read the rest of the article.

African Lion Safari

This past Thanksgiving Weekend my mother, brother and I went to the African Lion safari. Here are some highlights...

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Movies--Hallowe'en and otherwise

Four movies currently haunt my awareness (well, we'll say five). I'll discuss the most distant three before leaping into my reviews of the more prominent two. [Update: will now also discuss the third.]

1) Quantum of Solace. I am SO excited. I love what they've done with the Bond franchise in Casino Royale, and by the looks of the ads, Quantum of Solace will fulfill what little was lacking in the one previous. Also, I have to add that, as little as I want to say it, the blond Bond works, but that's because the superb Daniel Craig rocks it.

2) V for Vendetta. I'm not actually sure that I'll spend this Wednesday watching this movie, though I'd like to and it would be appropriate, as it's going to be (Remember, Remember) the Fifth of November (the date of the Gunpowder Plot)--also known as Guy Fawkes Day. I want to spend at least one Nov. 5th burning a straw-guy, but this one won't likely be it, due to stringent leasing rules.

3) Arachnophobia. This is the third of three horror movies Jon (see next post or "the inevitable" on my sidebar) and I rented for Hallowe'en. We never did get around to this one. [Update 2 Nov 08] I saw this movie last night. It was better than I expected. For some reason I thought this was about giant spiders that terrorize a city, like in Eight-Legged Freaks, and not about many moderately large, highly venomous, and unusually organized spiders. Only a few parts of the movie freaked me out, but I recognize that most people will have a visceral reaction to the subject matter that will heighten the suspense. As far as plot goes, it's a perfectly serviceable story that fulfills all expectations almost formulaically without being so predictable that it's boring. Rather, all of the elements that you know must happen fall into place in interesting ways--an effect I've discussed before. The acting is decent, the spiders much more realistic than I'd have guessed (probably because they often used real spiders), and the climactic scene/boss fight unique enough to sustain interest.
Other than that, I have two comments to make. The first is that the beginning of the movie reminded me a lot of Jurassic Park, especially the original. I was forced to wonder if Speilberg had Arachnophobia in mind when he filmed JP. The second is that, as usual, John Goodman was wonderful. He plays the lower-middle class sloppy middle-aged man so well, yet brings something fresh to each role so that he manages not to be typecasted. In this case, his ridiculous exterminator added the comic relief that lets you know the movie isn't taking itself too seriously--an absolute requirement in this genre. While not an academy award nominee by any stretch, it's an enjoyable horror/comedy and worth renting from your local movie store.
4) Ginger Snaps. I'd heard about this one at work over the summer. It's a Canadian werewolf flick. Two of my housemates (Teddy, Paul) and a friend and fellow-blogger named Jon watched this one last night. They were all a bit skeptical, but the opening scene proved to be quite good, and the movie maintained a quirky charm throughout. I had a hard time with the characters originally. They were pessimistic, they had a suicide pact, they were morbid, and they weren't nearly attractive enough to overcome these shortcomings by good looks alone. However, by the end of the movie I found myself quite attached--sympathetically--to the younger sister, the protagonist, whose honesty, courage, and nobility held up in the face of her sister's deterioration and her own morbidity. The secondary characters were also interesting enough--often in a detestable way--to maintain interest, and this includes the spacey and incapable parents. [SPOILER ALERT AFTER THIS POINT] Finally, however, while it is not particularly scary, it functions well as a horror movie, cranking up the gore enough to shame Hollywood, pain-rituals (the piercing scene in particular was squeamish), a decent set of wolf-teeth, and a very well orchestrated climactic sequence. The 'good' sister and her blooming love interest negotiate the girls' house as they try to create the antidote, while Ginger leaves a trail of dishevelled-ness. Eventually the guy gets hauled off by Ginger, and Bridgette follows the trail of blood in a well-paced and well-set sequence designed specifically to freak you out and prepare you for the final showdown between the sisters in the unfinished basement they've shared as a bedroom throughout the movie. It is in the parts where Bridgette seeks to deal with her feelings for her transforming sister, and where the girls are set against each other and their own oaths of friendship that heighten the film, and I was forced by the end to accept the overshadowed protagonist as a real character in her own right. [SPOILERS END HERE] My readership not being exclusively Canadian, I doubt many of you will have seen this movie. I suggest that you do. However, if you must choose only one horror movie to watch for the rest of your life, you can skip this one and instead see...

5) The Haunting. I mean the one from the 60s, not the one marred by Catherine Zeto Jones. I read the book, as you may already know, and was worried that the movie would not translate. [Updated Nov 2/08] Fortunately, it did work for the most part. Jon still had the sense of utter creepiness that pervades the book, and the reveal just as much about the house and it's residents as in the book--and if you read the book, you'll know how relevant this is.
On the other hand, there were some unfortunate differences between the book and the film. [SPOILER ALERT AFTER THIS POINT] First, quite a few of the unnerving or outright supernatural occurences in the book were omitted in the film, such as anything concerning the walk to the river, quite a lot of the events that occured in the parlour near the end, and the automatic writing of the doctor's wife--who, incidentally, was an entirely different character in the film and had an entirely different plot function. Second, the romantic relationships are different. I figure I know why this is. In the novel, Eleanor's primary love interest is the not the doctor (as in the film), but Theodora. Sure, they both dallied with Luke a fair amount, but at first that seemed largely calculated to hurt one another more than any real interest in him. I had been told beforehand that their was latent lesbianism in the novel. What I did not expect was how almost-explicit it was. This triangle worked very well with the plot, as the friction with Theodora charged their scared-in-the-bedroom scenes differently, and Nel's jealousy of Luke and Theo drives her further toward the comparative comfort of the house. It's a very fascinating complex of relationships, and it helps break down the reader's trust of Nel's narration. Generally, it works very well. However, a movie in the 60s obviously could not have even vaguely lesbian characters, and so they changed it all up. My housemate Paul (see above) says he thought he picked up on that early in the film, but it went away for him. This interests me, in the line of The Celluloid Closet, but anyway... I haven't seen the newer The Haunting, so I don't know how the chose to portray it there. If another adaptation was filmed right now, they would probably take it in the other direction entirely, making the relationship much more obvious and probably more sexual (as opposed to emotional/romantic, which is closer to how it was depicted in the novel). I think it's more artistically pleasing if it's kept as subtle as it is in the novel, but obviously it would sell better if it were explicit. Anyway, the whole thing is theoretically fascinating, and also pretty hot.[SPOILERS END HERE] Overall, it was a fascinating movie and I highly recommend it. You might find it a bit slow, but we can all use a little pacing, I think.
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