"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best of Facebook Status Updates: Volume 2

Submissions for as yet Uncreated Pulitzer Prize for Status Updates
  • According to Blogger.com's Stats, my blog has been viewed eight times in China. I am stunned by the realization that my fiery Western rhetoric has begun to reach the Middle Kingdom. Sure hope they like the post about how to snuggle.
  • So, apparently Friday is now Sassy Day at the office.
  • For maximum flavor, allow Cheez-Its to breathe for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
  • Taking a break from bipartisan anger to enjoy the great outdoors.
  • I used to think I was an ordinary uncle. But now I have sat shotgun as my niece practices driving with my car, and I know I am a brave uncle.
  • The hardest part about tinkering is stopping.
  • No wait. The hardest thing about tinkering...um...The most difficult facet of tin...Damn it!
  • This was the gist of two different elected officials I heard today: We are willing to cooperate with the other side provided they do what we want.
  • There is a Ladies-themed festival occurring in Chelsea today. All men are*hiccup*encouraged to attend both wine tastings*hiccup*and then seek shelter in either a garage or hardware store.*hiccup*A Severe Shopping Warning is in effect until 6 PM.
  • Been thinking a lot about where my life is headed. Y'know, trying to figure out where I should be going. Then today I saw Kate Beckinsale on a billboard on eastbound I-94 just past Zeeb Rd. So I'm thinkin' I'm gonna start going to Ann Arbor more.
  • Whenever I read amateur blogs online, I am reminded that many Americans suck at writing.
  • You know a fly is not long for this world when your attempt to shoo it away results in tripping it.
  • I saw a beautiful woman picking her nose. I didn't know that sort of thing happened.
For my previous collection of pathetic, but successful, attempts to get attention, please read Best of Facebook Status Updates.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Some Taxes are Worth Paying

My Soap Box

This week has reminded me how much I value public broadcasting. For those who've already seen my harping via Facebook status updates, I hope you will indulge this post as well. Be assured that many folks in high places would be content if you dismissed what I am about to say. They know that eliminating public broadcast funding won't come close to balancing the federal budget. But they are milking the fashionable hatred of taxes for all it's worth. They are also fond of fabricating mandates by saying, "The American people have spoken" (even when 50% or more of us have not).

I speak as an American who does not have cable, satellite, or high-speed Internet at home. I speak as an American who saw his phone bill double just so I could afford a reasonably intelligent cell phone. But most importantly, I speak as an American for whom radio remains my primary contact with the world...at least when I'm in my apartment.

I am not helpless. I am not destitute. But I am on a tight budget. And if it's a choice between getting basic cable, or instead making semi-annual donations to public radio and using my remaining discretionary funds to buy books, then for me it is no choice at all. I go with public broadcasting.

My Plug for Excellent Journalism

Here are links to two publicly broadcast stories that I appreciated last week. But please, only read on if you "Support the Troops" and prize self-reliance.

An incredibly touching piece aired on The Story last week. It came from independent radio producer Jake Warga. Not long ago, he embedded with troops in Iraq. Mr. Warga combined interviews with music samples from the soldiers' iPods. The story is called Soldiers Soundtracks To War--Iraq. To hear the full tracks you will need to register for the site, but it is free. And it's a chance to spend quality time with our armed forces.

As two of my past posts ever so slightly hint at, I am a fan of Charity Nebbe. She used to be a host on Michigan Radio. Tragically, last year she was abducted by Iowans. Well, I may have the facts wrong about her move, but I'm an amateur blogger. If you want the best coverage, here's what you need to do. Find a top-notch media outlet whose business model ensures that it is not beholden to any one person, corporation, or ideology. I recommend your local NPR station.

Anyhow, Ms. Nebbe now hosts a morning program called Talk of Iowa. Each broadcast focuses on a single topic and includes in-depth interviews with experts. Look for the 2/10/11 show about volunteering. You don't have to be from Iowa to benefit from observing the thriving volunteer program at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

My Parting Shot

I often hear friends and family complain that they pay for hundreds of channels but frequently have trouble finding something good. Pardon me for bragging, but I only have two stations and I don't have that problem. I simply do not.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Let's Reclassify 'How I Killed Pluto'

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It ComingHow I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a must-read...unless you want to get to the bottom of the Pluto controversy. Still, don’t skip this book...except if you are anxious to learn why Pluto is not a planet. In short, read this book, but not for the titular reason it begs to be read. Pluto is only a supporting character in Dr. Mike Brown’s story.

Read this book because it is a great memoir. Dr. Brown’s tale of hunting for new planets is full of drama and intrigue. If you have ever been fascinated by the high-stakes, ultra-competitive lives of star athletes, performers or politicians, be assured that the life of a research scientist is every bit as intense and engrossing. Or at least it can be, and it certainly has been for Dr. Brown. His research was an active ingredient in what became a planetary controversy.

Paradigm-shifting research notwithstanding, this is mostly a book about one man. It is an introspective account of Dr. Brown’s zealous quest to be a discoverer, not just a scientist. And at its most meaningful, it is a story about how Brown’s desire to be a good husband and father magically supplanted his other ambitions. Furthermore, it behooves all of us who are non-scientists to learn not just about the science, but also about the lives of upper-echelon researchers. Like it or not, academics such as Dr. Brown play an integral role in shaping everything from government policy to human history.

All that said, if what you are after is the story of Pluto’s “death”, then you might want to pass on a book that is mostly about Dr. Brown’s life. If you want an engaging account of the Pluto controversy, I recommend Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s The Pluto Files. But once you are done reading that one, come back to this far more personal story. We all can learn from the ups and downs of a good scientist.

View all my reviews

Sunday, February 6, 2011

My Ode to Emerson's Transparent Eyeball

Fair warning, this post includes some profanity.

A Preface from Childe Harold

I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me...

--Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III, lines 680-681
The above excerpt comes from a person who felt trapped by the pretentious urbanity of society. Byron wasn't the first or last writer to revel in this sentiment--a sentiment that is both an urge to transcend one environment and a desire to become immersed in a second, usually Nature.

Another writer who mused along these lines was Ralph Waldo Emerson. I haven't read any more Emerson than was required of me in college (and that is my fault). My familiarity with Emerson is primarily limited to his famous line, "I become a transparent eye-ball..." If you aren't familiar with the reference, don't google it right away. Just ask yourself what it might mean to be a transparent eyeball.

The Personal Context

Recently I spent an hour sitting in the coffee shop of Borders Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor. (Quick aside: online bookstores don't have coffee shops. Just sayin'.) While nursing a white chocolate mocha, I found myself feeling at turns proud or ashamed of the choice to hang in such a crowded and pretentious setting. This sense of discontent, mingled with caffeine, brought on the urge to write. So I started transcribing my inner voice into a pocket notebook. It ended up being a stream of consciousness exercise. If you need a quick primer on stream of consciousness writing, Oprah provides a good one here.

By way of honesty, I didn't write extemporaneously the whole time. Sometimes I paused and mapped out the next line in my head. But it was the most spontaneous writing I've done in awhile. So I'm going to share it here. Just remember the background. This is Childe Jake sitting in a crowded coffee shop in Ann Arbor. Also, since I employed stream of consciousness, this piece may seem cryptic in places and occasioned by odd transitions. (My vanity dictates that I let you know I know that.)

A Perverse Ode to the Transparent Eyeball

This world has chewed me up.
This world has saturated me.
The world is a coffee shop where people pose as busy and engaged,
And then sometimes kill other people based on what they order.
I want back the world that had thriving video stores,
But not really.
I don’t want that world back—just that part of that world.
I think people who make fun of Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” are assholes.

I’m an asshole.
The girl sitting next to me is reading a romance novel entitled,
When Beauty Tamed the Beast.
Do I have to respect her?
I know I’m supposed to respect women, but really?
Her too?
It’s not like she’s reading Tolstoy.
Tolstoy would have respected her.

Someone I respect once called Tolstoy a flake.
If I could be a transparent eyeball I would never buy porn again.
Women who wear fur are walking romance novels.
Beauty Wears the Beast.
I’d read that novel.
This world is worn by Time.
The Romantics knew that Time was the fourth and great limiting dimension.
This world is bound by Time.
Light is the speed limit.
I keep trying to come full-circle.
A light comes on.
And it’s time to go.
To be immersed in a wireless age is to be a transparent eyeball.
He wanted to be the Immersed One
Just didn’t realize what a bummer it would be.

A Further Adventure

Click Here to Read Episode 2 of my Transparent Eyeball Quest.