Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Coming back in from lunch, I was blind-sided on the car radio by JS Bach – the Suite #1. It’s hard to drive, or really do much of anything, when I’m listening to Bach. It’s hard to describe; I like all sorts of music, and especially Baroque music (probably the patterning), but there’s something special about Bach. It’s like layers of pleasure – it sucks up as much of my brain as I can spare and demands more. It’s like a complicated, ever-changing topological puzzle that fits together perfectly that anybody can do, and each new twist gives you another wash of pure pleasure. I can appreciate most music – the multiple choral lines, the various effects of combinations, etc.; but somehow, I can hold all the lines in a Bach piece in my mind at once as I’m listening, and see them fit together so perfectly and so precisely. I can’t juggle, but I imagine that being able to juggle multiple different objects perfectly without thinking about it must give a feeling something like this. It’s an extraordinary feeling – I sometimes feel like I’m falling when it hits a particularly rich combination, and when it ends, there’s often a little disorientation before I can put myself back together again. Whenever I feel particularly over-stretched or overwhelmed, I find that JS calms me down and helps me focus on what needs to be done.
Posted by JohnR at 11:03 AM
Once in a while I read things that leave me feeling a bit sick and rather disturbed; stuff like Peter Straub or that ilk (matter of taste, of course – Puppet on a Chain left me with a sick feeling for years; I wonder how Alistair MacLean felt while writing it?). It’s kind of like after getting your wisdom teeth jack-hammered out – it’s hard to resist the periodic urge to shove your tongue into the gaping holes to taste that coppery taste and get that weird feeling. I usually read a diversity of weblogs, both left and right, to get as wide a range of opinions as possible. I find that it helps me to think about things if I can step outside my assumptions and prejudices and look at them from another angle. In recent years, though, many of the big name right-wing weblogs have become increasingly unhinged and uncomfortable – their underlying assumptions seem to have drifted further and further from any recognizable reality, and their fantasies are more and more unsettling and sickening. I find it really hard to force myself to read this stuff any more, as my life is already filled with things that bother me – I can’t say that adding frantic, paranoid, hateful rantings makes it any easier to deal with my daily struggles. It’s tough, then – I don’t trust news and opinion from only one perspective, but the other perspective is getting more and more like some bastard combination of Dali and Hieronymus Bosch. Makes me wonder – can you think yourself into insanity? Or is it something that’s already in you?
Posted by JohnR at 10:33 AM
Thursday, January 22, 2009
I was lucky enough to do my post-graduate Driver’s Education in central New Jersey, NYC, Rhode Island, and (especially) Boston. Accordingly, I’ve become fairly calm about dealing with the things that fate throws my way, particularly if I’ve got the Arrogant Worms or Heywood Banks playing on the CD. I think, of all those places, NYC is the most fun to drive in if you’re not in a great hurry. It’s a sort of audience-participation multi-artiste performance art extravaganza, where passion and enthusiasm count for more than simple skill. You do have to keep moving, though, no matter how slowly. I remember getting blocked at an intersection once, and decided to just go around the block rather than sitting in the middle being yelled at from all directions. It couldn’t have taken more than twenty minutes to get all the way around, but by the time I made it back to that intersection, the three cars who had been stuck ahead of me were stripped and up on blocks. Two of them didn’t have any doors, leaving the drivers looking pretty darned silly – they had to hold onto the frame as they gestured back at the friendly taxis, or they would have fallen right out. Anyway, I now use a modified Boston technique – when I want to move over, I just do (while avoiding eye contact of course), but I make the concession to my more polite, Southern roots by actually signalling first. It’s a real delicate timing problem – you need to signal early enough to give them time to stamp on the brakes, but not so early that they have time to speed up and cut you off. Coming home from work this evening, I mistimed it a bit, and I’m afraid I infuriated the fellow behind me when I kept him from cutting me off by shaving his front end a bit close. I could see he was a bit peeved by the way his Monster Kodiak Super-Explorer John Holmes model Macho Truck kept trying to push me out of the way without actually damaging his immaculate front end, but he finally managed to drive a car off the road to the right and get around me, only to find that the line of cars ahead of me wasn’t moving, and so he couldn’t cram into my lane on top of me to show his displeasure at my rude driving. He did manage to ease his pain a bit later by forcing his way in over some little Toyota whose driver apparently valued his life and his insurance rates more than his manhood (the fool), so it worked out fine for everybody.
Posted by JohnR at 3:33 PM
Friday, January 23, 2009
Many years ago there was a card game called ‘Snap’, where you would show your cards and if there was a match, the first person to call out “Snap!” would get the cards. Like War, the person who got all the cards won. I’m pretty sure that, like War, nobody has ever won except by the parent conceding. There’s a story (probably apocryphal) that during the second World War the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth encountered the ocean liner/troopship Queen Elizabeth in the Atlantic and the captain of one sent the message “Snap!” to the other, who promptly opened fire on, and sank him. And thus was the game “Battleship” invented. Anyway, this crossed my mind when I was working with a student in the lab and we happened to say the same thing at the same time. I, naturally, immediately said “Snap!”, and watching her expressions was the highlight of the day. She finally settled on the familiar half-amused, half-pitying expression I’m so familiar with from women and kids. I just about killed myself laughing. That’s when I finally realized that the evolution of language is probably about 90% due to teenagers and young adults.
Posted by JohnR at 6:33 AM
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
While it’s easy and satisfying to write opinion columns as if your opinion was the received word of God, there’s been altogether too much of that in the newspapers for most of the past couple decades. Everything from ‘Reaganomics’ to ‘bipartisanship’ has been pontificated about as if (a) everybody agreed on the definition thereof, and (b) everybody agreed that the writer’s opinion was proved correct beyond question or dispute. For somebody like William Kristol to get a New York Times opinion slot tells you how far from its former majesty the Times has fallen. I don’t particularly care about his politics (although those are typical of the ‘faith-based’ post-Reagan beliefs that have dragged the once-respectable label of ‘conservatism’ through the mud); it’s more the way that his opinions seem to be reflective less of real-world considerations than of what he really, really wants to be the case. Even “Ivory-tower” theoreticians like Feith and Wolfowitz had some vague understanding that there was a real world out there with predictable rules. The understanding of the neo-conservative school was limited to a bizarre mix of miniatures war-gaming and Conan novels, but it did have some sort of roots in some sort of reality. Kristol’s opinions (such as they are) seem to be generated directly from his sub-conscious. It’s as if he has no windows anywhere, but merely big-screen televisions in his walls, which are immovably tuned to the Sci-Fi channel and some sort of local-access news channel that regards Bill O’Reilly as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Reality, even that filtered and enfeebled version that reaches most of our pundits nowadays, seems to have no discernable effect on him. I’ve talked with long-term heroin addicts and schizophrenics who had a better grasp of reality than Kristol. And he jumped from the Times to the Post. That tells you all you need to know about the state of the print media today. In baseball terms, it’s as if Marv Throneberry (sorry, Marv – nothing personal – you were light years better as a player than Kristol is as a thinker, let alone a writer) was cut by the Mets and immediately signed by the Dodgers.
Posted by JohnR at 10:30 AM