Friday, October 10, 2008


I have not, as I had planned and promised to, yet started writing regularly about the Netherlands. This has put me in the difficult position of finding a time to start. When I've come back from trips, I've felt stuck between the immensity of what I've seen and how little time I have to write as I get my life back together for the coming week. Also, some of my best travel stories involve people peeing themselves or getting thrown up on, and this, as tempting as it is, is not where my story here should start. On the other hand, when I come home from class, I can't think of any particular thing of interest to talk about. and don't have the time to think of something. Anyway, I have now found my starting point. It is not fascinating or significant, but, thankfully, it's a start.

My student housing used to be filled with kids fresh out of Dutch juvenile hall. This is according to the forty-something Surinamese guy in our building's laundry room I had to defuse the awkwardness with after finding him moving my stuff from the washer to the the dryer. I asked him if it's weird for him being one of the few holdovers from before they turned this place into student housing, if living here annoys him. He said there were just regular studio apartments here for decades. Eventually, the city got a hold of most of the rooms in the building and moved in the junior parolees, who lived among all the remaining residents. That is, until the kids knocked out the security guard in the front of the building and broke all the lobby windows. Then they left, and the international students came in. So, no, says the Surinamese guy, we don't annoy him. Let this be a lesson to those annoyed by nearby college students the world over. Do not force us to earn your tolerance by having other people break your windows.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Orange County Resort

It's only starting to sink in now, a little over a week after getting here, that I'm living in the Netherlands for four more months. Hard as it is to believe, I'm here until December. If you all ask for Christmas is me, your only potential present will be jetlagged, mostly unpacked, and shocked that life has suddenly gotten a third cheaper and Mexican food is available without the need for extreme suspicion. I'm not quite used to the idea that I'm not just on vacation. For now though, on a day-to-day basis, I feel comfortable here.

To be fair, this country wouldn't rate a triple black-diamond difficulty for adjustment. When I first heard that most people speak English here, I had thought that meant the majority of the Dutch would have the same relationship with English that I have with Spanish: they would have some half-assed handle on things and understand me occasionally by thinking back to various middle school English video projects. I expected that this, in turn, would require me to awkwardly mispronounce sentences from a pocket phrasebook and gesture at stuff in order to meet basic survival needs. In fact, almost all the Dutch I've run into speak English surprisingly well, and many are fluent. It's to the point where almost all of them understand me when I'm talking at a normal pace, which doesn't even go for all Americans. And since Dutch, like our good friend English, is a Germanic language, you can figure out what a lot of written Dutch probably means by sounding it out and removing a few unnecessary "Js" and "Ks".

Culturally, there's not a lot of shock to deal with. For one thing, there are only token amounts of obesity and homelessness here. The token part is comforting to me, as it keeps me from being suspicious that all of them have been rounded up and placed at the bottoms of this country's many canals. Most notably, everybody here bikes when they're going around town. In all those ways, it's like the city of Davis on crack. There are bikes lanes everywhere, absolutely everywhere. Bikes are locked up everywhere on the street, often in massive clusters, and in between the two towers of my current dorm building, there's a massive fenced bicycle garage that holds hundreds of them stored row after row. Biking here is so commonplace, that between the city center of Utrecht and the college campus where I'm staying, the only people walking are us Americans.

"Us Americans" means the fifty-five of us, all UC students doing an introductory session on Dutch language and culture. We're staying in Utrecht, which is south of Amsterdam, thirty minutes by train. After the session ends on Friday, we go on to one of four different host universities. Coming into the country with this many Californians has certainly eased the transition as well. A week and half ago, we began our Dutch adventure as one massive pack of blatantly obvious foreigners walking back and forth between town and the dorms, creating quite the sight (as well as a serious biking obstacle) for the Dutch.

In those first few days, that pack shifted and shuffled within itself, as everybody met everybody, exchanging the basic identifying information of "Where are you from? Where do you go? Where are you going?". Gradually, our inwardly-faced, wholeheartedly un-Dutch pack began to split, sometimes on lines of home schools or host schools, housing assignment, Greek affiliation or major, sociability or personality, amount of beer drunk or weed smoked, happenstance proximity, but usually a combination of them all. Like a cell dividing, we began traveling to class, bars, Amsterdam in smaller and smaller groups, more homogeneous and compatible, but most importantly, more functional.

This social phenomenon has served more purpose than just reminding me of summer camps, freshman year of high school, or my first-year dorm. The splitting off and group formation are allowing us to blend in. Some have noticed the check-out clerks at Albert Heijn, one of the local supermarkets, have stopped immediately speaking English to us now that they don't see a mass of fifteen confused looking students ambling around the store. A few clerks have started carrying on conversations in Dutch, leading us to nod and reply "Ja" when appropriate to continue passing as natives, or at least some indeterminate Western ethnicity (for us whities, at least). Now that we aren't an impenetrable mass of sheer numbers, it's easier for the Dutch to talk to us at bars. We have succeeded in becoming comfortable with ourselves, and now we can turn outward. The transition has begun.

Yesterday, on a trip to Rotterdam that I will tell you more about later, a group of us went to the Nederlands Fotomuseum (which, obviously, translates to 'Netherlands Crack Cocaine and Rocket Launchers Museum'. I told you, easy, right?) The featured exhibit, So Blue So Blue, was a collection of 60 photos taken all in various countries bordering the Mediterranean sea. The photographer Ad Van Denderen, whose name might as well be proof of Dutch citizenship, focused on social and political issues, many of them related to tourism. Included in the exhibit was this picture, taken in Kemer, Turkey:

The caption: "Orange County resort is a replica of Amsterdam. In front of the entrance stands the Dutch National War Monument. It attracts mainly Dutch and Russian tourists. At 8 o'clock every morning, a cock crows from the loudspeakers and the day's program begins."

This picture reminds me of the beginning of my time here. Having left California thousands of miles behind, I arrived in a new place to hang out with 54 other Californians, just like the Dutch vacation in Turkey in a replica of their own capital city with fellow Dutch. Yet while the photo fills me with serious doubts about parts of human nature, my beginning here gives me some faith in our workings. We all arrived here in our own Orange County resort, in a partial replica of our homeland, at least in that we are in a dorm surrounded by our own. But we are not staying. In a lot of ways, we've all begun venturing out from our packs, traveling in fewer and fewer numbers, and, with a little help from our friends, really entering the Netherlands. There are even a few here, those staying in Utrecht after Friday who don't have the burden of moving again, who have really crossed over. They have bikes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

He Always Loved That Rocket Ship

Today's headlines according to e-mail headers in my spam folder:

(I am not making any of these up)

Girl, 13, wins world chess championship
The Mummy 3 movie bankrupt, release delayed
Steve Jobs found with dirty money
Russia launches nuclear plant
X-rays cause cancer, new medical research
Norton Firm admits to releasing viruses
Plane crash in JFK, hundreds feared dead
Elton John dies in rocket ship

These headlines brought to you by United Unsolicited Penis Advertisements, who today offered to help me "Make love like a barbarian".

Monday, June 30, 2008

Word Off

I'm going to obsess less about continuity and structure in my blog, oh yeah; and grammar;;;* because otherwise all my attempts to ritualize/routine-ify my writing will predominantly consist of me having a conversation with myself and Microsoft Word. And ever since I figured out how to turn the paper clip, that conversation has become far less annoying but pretty isolated. It's not really fun for either me or Word, who doesn't talk much but occasionally makes colored squiggle lines under things. I've never really kept a journal to myself, perhaps because my life isn't really that interesting.

Maybe that's not the best way to put that. I find my life plenty interesting. I don't think I've been bored in years, other than waiting room type situations, but I've become much better about keeping a book with me lately and paying attention to my surroundings when I don't. I generally have something to keep me entertained. To me, sitting at the doctor's office and reading a good article in Time has helped keep the boredom at bay even in situations where the all-entertaining Internet isn't around. This is the plight of the second America that John Edwards talks so much about: people who don't have iPhones.

So, yeah, I make do while standing in line at the store by watching the person in front of me standing around zoning out and failing to swipe their credit card at the appropriate time (immediately after presenting appropriate club card, because you have nothing else to do while making small talk. Stop just standing there. I want to go home and eat my five-layer dip). It's fun for me, but not the kind of thing I want to come home and write about to myself. I'm sure all the banal details would be of great interest to me if I looked back on them in a couple decades, although after recently finding about two years of IM conversations I logged, I have some understanding of the incredible cringe response that befalls the thought of finding a massive part of an old self intact. But regardless of the benefit of the future, I don't get much out of cataloging the banal details of my life to myself.

I am not forced to give myself too many spoiler alerts when writing to myself. It's all out there. Or in here, or whatever. I feel the same way when I try to record my non-sexual dreams that don't involve anything worth telling a friend. Yes, if I don't write them down I will forget them almost immediately, and I'm sure recording a lot of dreams would have many benefits (My usual scraps of dream memory make me think there's at least a few locations that don't exist in the world that have occurred in a few different dreams. Also, I think I'm have recurring dreams where I sleep with Jessicas Alba and Simpson. Actually only the first thing is true, but I felt like I owed you something juicy for the non-compelling dream fact.) The only time I think I've even written in diary format, I was in second grade. This diary consisted of two half-ironic one-page entries with the salutation "Dear Legal Pad Jr." which contained violent references to my brother and concerned my parents.

But I digress (which is also appearing like it might become a less creative but more appropriate name for this blog at the moment.) Actually, while I'm digressing, here's an amazing quote from Scrubs, which works so well rerunning all the time now.

"My mom had a uterus. I lived in it."
-J.D., in response to Elliot's glowing uterus, in an imagined cut-away.

I would never have the motivation to provide myself a funny quote that I already knew while writing to myself. And Word wouldn't be amused, and would passively aggressively noted something as a fragment, and with equal condescendion would tell me to "consider revising". bring my discursive ranting to you, the Internet. Because, Internet, you know I have a deep-seeded need for attention from you, and I think we've both known my Facebook profile wasn't going to do the job in the long term. So, Internet, despite the fact that you now have dramatic prairie dogs and the Colbert Report in HD, everybody knows you're still an insatiable beast who will fit my loosely-organized ramblings along with your Chocolate Rain. You've gotten around and improved since I was an angry 8th grader, Internet, but you still have way too much time on your hands. Look at how much you still go running back to Myspace. If you have to fall back on that hideous, unkempt thing just because everyone else is doing it, then I'm not going to sit in Word most of the time and try to save my best for you. I may not get you the "random play" you appear to be after, but at least I don't play "Milkshake" randomly when you're at work and your speakers are for some reason at full volume.

And may this please, Internet, be the last time I write about the degree to which I write on you for awhile, because I'm sick of coming back to do that. I don't need to explain myself to you. You've watched the laughing baby 53 million times.


*The triple semi-colon is actually taught to all English majors** who complete the British literature series and associated prerequisites, and strictly restricted for use in professor-student e-mails about thesis statements. Proper use is only known to students through three example sentences, and improper use is punished by death by Norton anthology.

**I am only an English minor, but know all of Colin Jones's passwords*** and am not afraid to use them.

***His Gmail password is cl3veland:)5teamer, which I found to be disturbing but impressively hacker-secure if Colin Jone's didn't write down his passwords on the back of his and Brian's glamour photos.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just Brushed Feeling

I would like to confront my chewing gum. Allow me to explain.

I bought a pack of the new Maui Melon Mint sometime last week at some checkout stand or another. I try new Orbit flavors every once and awhile. In general, Orbit is decent enough, a level of quality no gum will likely ever aspire beyond for me, except for Big League Chew and select other enamel-ravaging, novelty-packaged goodness that advertised between Ninja Turtles episodes when I was seven. Even the days of six-feet of delicious grape gum are largely beyond me, though. My body has lost most of it's tolerance to sudden surges of sugar, and the concept of "too sweet" at some point came to inhabit my personal existence.

So I go with sugar-free these days, and Orbit gum is decent enough. Also, the constant variety of new flavors keeps a certain novelty in place, not to mention providing all kinds of good questions. For example, how many people spend their entire workday trying to think of new kinds of gum? Is there some brash new employee making up crazy, reckless flavors by their own rules, and an old veteran a hair away from retirement who thinks up gum by the book and chewed Wrigley's classic while he fighting alongside patriots in the trenches of Korea? Do these two have a contentious but rock-solid bond, solidified by the common challenge of breaking new ground in chewing enjoyment? Did the Korean War even have trenches, or did I just make that up?

I enjoy pondering these mysteries while trying new Orbit varieties and commenting on them internally as if I have been hired by Gum Aficionado. (Raspberry Mint, Midwestern sugarless, 2007. Inconsistent, Dimetapp-like beginning eases into pleasant and fruity impression, mild finish: 78/100). It's generally an experience worth the 89-cent per pack price, and unlike many other cheap, checkout lane impulse buys, Orbit gum does not immediately make me feel bad about America or the human condition. Orbit gum does not inexplicably promise me five hours of energy despite just basically containing an extreme overdose of vitamin B. Orbit gum also does not attempt to tell me how much cocaine Lindsey Lohan might be doing or that Angelina Jolie now has fifteen children. Orbit gum does not offer extensive summaries on what happened on General Hospital this week. Orbit gum knows I do not care.

Yet, despite this very comfortable arrangement, I couldn't help but feel slightly jilted when I picked the latest new pack, it's newness colorfully advertised in the top right corner:

Flavor escape? Hold on.

First of all, I have no idea who could possibly be achieving any appreciable degree of escape through a two-gram serving of processed, artificially flavored gum base, chemically altered as it is. I do not understand what possible level of life boredom could cause me to want to get away from it all with a just-brushed clean feeling. Perhaps I'm just not getting it, and once the world truly understands the ascendant qualities of melon-mint fusion, we won't need Scotch, Xanax or Flavor of Love to tune out anymore. Maybe we will instead get together on Thursday to play Chubby Bunny with Bubblicious and responsibly discourage our friends from operating heavy machinery after three or four pieces. Our RAs will warn to mix gums responsibly with the helpful rhyme: "Sugarfree before sugars, wake up feeling like boogers". And maybe we will sit down with one of our childhood friends and show them the pile of empty Extra packs we found while trying to find their cable remote, and tell them we think they have a gum problem, but that we'll be there to help.

Yes, I'm kidding. I don't think anyone is going to walk into a hotel room anytime soon to find Kid Rock dead from sorbital overdose. It is not the danger of flavor escape that truly disturbs me. I am disturbed because we already have countless sources of escape, retreat, and avoidance at our disposal. Yet we drink, or take pills, or gorge ourselves on food, and end up zoned out in front of the TV or Youtube. We achieve escape. Then, we wake up. It is a new day, and we are hung over, annoyed, exhausted, and craving a bacon-muffin-egg-ham-sausage-croissant breakfast sandwich, and we just want to escape again. And apparently we can tide ourselves through the day with Maui Melon Mint. We have escaped, yet we wake up still living the same lives we were the day before. I do not understand why we still believe escape is a real solution.

Of course, there are plenty of serious problems I'd rather not wake up to everyday. Despite the former major causes of human death being demolished into largely either curable or preventable conditions in the industrialized world, I wake up everyday in a country facing massive amounts of chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in large part due to basic, modifiable lifestyle choices. I wake up everyday in a city where I can expect to find traffic on the freeway, mostly caused by preventable crashes due to speeding, reckless driving, and a failure to pay attention. I wake up in a world where a significant proportion of people who die in those accidents will do so out of a failure to take two seconds to buckle the seat belt that came standard in their car. I go to work at my public tutoring center, and talk to kids who have a tough time believing they can accomplish anything because their parents don't involve themselves and their teachers demonstrate that education is about poorly explaining the worksheets copied from a textbook, taking tests, and assigning grades. I understand the desire to escape.

I also understand these problems are themselves caused because we are constantly retreating and avoiding our own lives. In trying to escape our problems, with or without the assistance of new gum taste sensations, we start paying less attention to everything around us. We zone out driving home from work, and don't notice that we're following too close to the car in front of us. We too tired to cook, and so we drop through a drive-thru on the way home, and order whatever we feel like because we're not thinking about it that much. And we have kids, because that's just how it worked out, but we're tired so we watch TV instead of talking to them or making sure they have a book to read. We get away for awhile, and then we wake up with the same problems, day after day, week after week.

Escape has been attempted. It does not work. And if it didn't work with American Idol, cocaine, or the delicious food offered at Wendy's, it will not work with ten to fifteen minutes of chewing gum enjoyment.

I do not want a flavor escape. I want flavor confrontation, flavor approach, flavor attack. As a culture, we should not aspire to develop gum to help us get away . We should aspire to have gum that gets the taste of bland, healthy, baconless food out of our mouths. We should aspire to confront the problems we want to run away from, and accept that which is inescapable. We should aspire to show up fully to our own lives.

I abuse the pronoun "we" intentionally, if inelegantly. Tuning out our own lives is not a "them" problem, it is an "us" problem. It is a problem that does not disappear with money, a college degree, or our ability to compare ourselves to others who we think act more stupidly or foolishly than ourselves. We cannot avoid the need to pay attention, we can only confront that need. We have no reason not to. I can see no reason why we should run away from the ability to have power over own our thoughts and lives.

So with three simple words, Orbit gum has somehow led to believe that even it, in its innocuous bright pink and green package, represents in some small one of the greatest threats facing human health and happiness: mindlessness. Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe these are just three arbitrary words, with no greater intended purpose than to stand out in the checkout aisle more than Peanut Butter Twix. I don't think so, though. Advertising isn't a game won by random messages. I cannot help but believe that out there, somewhere, is the record of a meeting where those three words won out among all other possibilities. Whatever the truth is, this package of Orbit has already led me to ponder far less pleasant questions than whether anyone has ever been fired for unpopular gum flavor ideas. Maybe these are questions that need to be asked. On the bright side though, Maui Melon actually lands among the best flavors so far. So I try and accept it for the cheap gum it is and ignore the suggested usage. It is not a perfect arrangement, but it is decent enough.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Well, It's 3:44 AM Somewhere"

Dinosaurs changed my life.

Long story short, I was figuring out my remaining required class. I’d overestimated the pace I need to graduate in four years. I had eight classes required still and four quarters left. People who don’t have intensive jobs, activities, or the masochism required to pursue an engineering degree are usually fine with four classes a quarter. So I decided to embrace this freedom and take a comfortable load of three classes. And I decided just to take whatever I wanted for my third class, for the hell of it.

As I cruised the registrar website, I recalled a class occasionally heard of in hushed but overjoyed tones around campus. A class that recalled all the fun, laid-back general education classes that are synonymous with freshman year, although less than the constant fear that someone would do something gross in the one toilet that for some reason is currently receiving basic respect. A class more epic than any other: Dinosaurs and Their Relatives. A class with a lab scheduled for two hours that actually takes 55 minutes and a five page front-to-back worksheet you fill out with a group and check your answers with the TA. The only reason my electrical engineering major roommate has not come back from a three-hour lab and killed me over this? He took Dinosaurs too. Lucky break for me.

So not only in this class like a college-level version of an educational summer program one might get sent off to for a week, but apparently everything my Zoobook and Jurassic Park (Now A Major Motion Picture!) say is totally outdated. So I’m going in to get the facts, and I’ll report back once we get past talking about horse fossils for some vague comparative reason that will hopefully be clearer to me once my lecture slides are filled with some rad-ass, take no prisoners dinosaurs who eat the guy who plays Newman from Seinfeld because that’s what dinosaurs do and, let's face it, he had it coming.

In the mean time, I’ll keep you posted on the stress levels of my roommates and friends who are actually doing work, demonstrate the degree to which I’m willing to be a terrible influence on all of them, and also keep a record of how my quarter goal to watch more Netflix movies pans out.

I’m keeping records. I leave you with my log from Sunday:

Number of Extenze commercials seen: 2
Cadbury Cream Eggs consumed: 2
Reading done: Animal Farm, 4 pages (Not assigned)
Percentage of current textbooks not yet opened: 100%
Deep insights about Comedy Central programming: 1
First beer opened – 3:44 AM

Monday, March 17, 2008

For Thu: Extraneous Scenery Description

Ahh, procrastination. The thing we all claim to hate but we seem to enjoy doing it so much, so much. It’s true though, procrastination often throws us into preposterous situations like starting a 14-page research paper two weeks after it’s due because your professor is starting to put the pieces together and is getting the sneaking suspicion you haven’t actually had mono all this time.

So obviously we need to control our procrastination to some degree. How do we do that? Some people advocate the “Just suck it up and get it done” approach. My response to that is, “Oh! Why thank you! I’ve never thought of that or tried that before because I am both debilitating lazy and stupid.”

These kind of “get it done” people are inclined to quote Abraham Lincoln, who said something about procrastination that I’m going to attempt and paraphrase:

“Don’t put work off until tomorrow, blah blah blah, you have plenty of time to get it done today, some people are convinced I wouldn’t have ended slavery if it weren’t for a specific combination of sociopolitical factors and that makes me feel unappreciated, blah blah, get some stuff done this afternoon so you don’t have to worry about it when you go enjoy a nice night at the theater, blah blah blah, oh no I’ve been shot”

Something like that. Anyway the part that these motivational geniuses seem to leave out is that Abraham Lincoln had the choice of getting stuff done or reading “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, which is basically 500 pages of the terrible lives of grimy British factory workers with nothing exciting about ghosts or Christmas. Abraham Lincoln did not have three new wall posts on his Facebook profile commenting on those awesome pictures of his Log Cabin Warming Double Kegger, he did not have a Netflix account which required him to finish the disc of Weeds he was watching so he could get Terminator 2 on Blu-Ray, and he didn’t have to deal with the overwhelming temptation to beat that fucking impossible Mario Strikers tournament.

Had we gone back in time and quickly given Abraham Lincoln an original Gameboy with Tetris, he probably would have spent the two months playing it and then, upon the Gameboy not working, used the rest of his live trying to reverse-engineer the double-A battery instead of preserving the union. This would probably have gone for any of those highly motivated historical figures of the past, so they can stop blabbering at us with their pithy quotes.

The key here is we’ve got a lot of amazing distractions in our modern world, and it’s unlikely we’re going to wake up one day and say they’re never again going to keep us from doing that stupid project on research methods we’re not ever going to use. For most of us, that’s just not going to happen.

The key is to build a big pyramid of procrastination. The thing you want to the do the least, like your massive research project, is at the top. Ideally it shouldn’t be due for a long time. Then you can put slightly less unappealing tasks below that, like catching up on notes for a class, or working on a homework assignment, or making sure Colin Jones doesn’t get on your ass for not writing something inane on your blog.

This way, as long as make sure you’re doing something productive everyday, you’ll reap the rewards through the pyramid of procrastination. As long as you do a little something each day, you’ll have the satisfaction of accomplishment and procrastination, and eventually you’ll have nothing good left to do but that damn paper.

This is a lot better than just promising yourself that this time you’ll be able to sit down and just get it done, and then spending two hours sending poorly photoshopped bumper sticker pictures to your friends on Facebook. You don't build a pyramid through poor, unfounded resolutions. You build it through measured, disciplined foundation-building. Or slave labor. But that would be wrong, and if you won't take my word for it, then keep that copy of Tetris the hell away from my time machine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Senior Years

Waking up in Sacramento at noon, things seemed a bit surreal. I had arrived in a state fatigued by driving through the night yet roused by the chemical remnants of a triple-serving Rock Star that had me debating whether I was developing a heart murmur. Or instead, maybe Type-III diabetes, a hipper, more extreme insulin resistance. But I tried to shake myself in consciousness as best I could, with only thirty-six hours in the place closest to my hometown, a place with no good nicknames. Plus a few that make me not want to speak to those who use them. Macramento? Seriously?

The weekend passed with surprising clarity, yet my condition left me still mostly unable to grasp the idea that the freshmen I knew as a senior in high school were now graduating, and performing in their last Jesuit Drama show. Perhaps this is something no amount of sleep can really allow you to comprehend. Rob, Adam and Ben all fit the part though, with even more confidence and skill to back up the talent they had four years ago. In this way seeing them again didn’t feel like years past, when the wise college kids returned home to impart brief wisdom and a couple pats on the back on younger brethren. This time, they showed us the massiveness of what they’d accomplished for themselves in the years they were more or less off our radar. They had all brimmed under the surface, distant but not forgotten, popping up in occasional reminders, nostalgic conversations, and hometown visits. And now, suddenly, they were graduating.

In a world where my everyday mind is gradually forgetting that I was ever not the legal drinking age, this makes me feel, well, old. The men I will always in some way know as freshmen are seniors, the year with which they will always associate me. Yet senior year of high school could not feel many more worlds away. I have accounted for the classes I still need to take, and found I have a little less than half what I had anticipated. Paperwork, bills, errands appear gradually, occasional drops forewarning a flood in future years. And as the graduating freshmen are being asked what colleges they’ve applied, I am being asked, what are you doing with your life?

Luckily, this doesn’t cause much anxiety. I don’t want it to. One lesson I can take from the time my adolescent self spent observing adult conversation: I do not want to be one of those people who talks about how old they are. From what I’ve seen, no amount of extended discussion or unfunny over-the-hill cards from Spencer’s will make the observation of oldness a non-issue. "Haha! Wang-Awake impotence curing novelty gum! For a problem frequently experienced by old people! The knowledge of my correct functioning of brain neurons, allowing the understanding this connection to geriatric stereotypes, makes me feel young again!" I remain skeptical.

So, the feeling remains not anxious, just weird. I am comforted that I have never been happier with an age more than this one, and I think only part is due to the magic of college. I will always fondly look back at being able to sit down a 3pm on a Thursday with a Hot Pocket and Miller Genuine Draft and watch an entire Blu-Ray disc of Weeds, yet I feel confident that I will do my best to make the most of every age. At least until that Type-III diabetes kicks in.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Qualified Refinement

So I really have no idea exactly what I’m going for here. As a fair warning, I am liable to go on serious tangents, mix up three ideas within one paragraph, or in other ways fail to make my point clear or interesting. It’s been awhile since I’ve tried to keep up with writing on my own terms on a regular basis, probably because when I first started out I didn’t have to try. I was a disenfranchised and bored eighth grader who could wildly exceed the expectations of his audience by insulting middle school authority and spelling most things correctly.

I don’t think I genuinely regret letting writing fall by the wayside as that motivation faded over the years. I just plain didn’t feel like doing it, and there were plenty of other things I didn’t feel like doing that were far determinant of my immediate future than trying to think of something good to put on my Livejournal. But now, though perhaps the unavoidable drive to write hasn’t reemerged, I care enough to force myself to see what’s possible.

My grandfather wrote a novel, probably around five years ago, loosely based on his experiences farming outside Sacramento as a young man. Having heard that I was looking at my mom’s copy, my grandpa got me my own for my 20th birthday. Inside the cover, he wrote, “I wish now that I had kept a diary or semi-diary and urge you to do so. There are some gaps in my life now and it would be wonderful to refine those times.”

His note has been resonating with me, especially after moving into my first real apartment, and finding the whole tone of college life shifting. Even if there will inevitably be countless pictures and artifacts from all these years, there are so many feelings and impressions that aren’t captured in all this evidence of my existence. If anything, I’m back writing again for myself. I don’t really know how you, the reader, fall into this. But I didn’t worry about you that much six or seven years ago when I started mashing the keys about wanting to get out of middle school. So I have a feeling the less I worry about you right now, the better. Fair warning.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stereotypically Published At 1:21 AM

I only get glances of it sometimes, but every once and awhile, when walking past a drunken group on the streets of the apartments, or seeing a collection of empty snack food bags and beer bottles scattered on the coffee table of my apartment, that I really see for a moment how ridiculous and stereotypical college life can seem. When I get up at noon on the weekend, and watch from the couch as my roommates emerge from their respective bedrooms at three in the afternoon, I encounter that weird, thin layer that tries to wrap the college experience into a package and misses so much.

When these stereotypes do jump out at me, as hilarious and unbelievable as they can be, they still seem thin, seem to be missing the point. When, while parking my car, I hear a keg stand being counted out from the balcony of the building across the street, and can’t help but laugh. But these ridiculous scenes blindside me, these scenes that represent how as high schoolers we saw our future lives, I don’t think it’s because our college lives are truly insane and I don’t usually notice. There is just so much surrounding these brief moments, so many different amazing people, so many responsibilities, accomplishments and experiences, that it takes a certain kind of absurd moment to pull all that aside and provide a glimpse at this false college caricature.

It’s not that I feel that college students aren’t given enough credit. I really don’t care what the rest of society has to say about me considering any class or obligation before 11am unpleasantly early. I was forced to go to school at ungodly hours all during adolescence, and the institutions which mandated this paid for it in me being a dick to them. The problem is solved and anyone can say what they want about my sleep patterns, so long as no one tries to wake up at 6:45 am to get ready and go to Winston Churchill middle school ever again.

What I worry about is not that others can’t see past these stereotypes now, but that as I grow older, in my memory these years will be absorbed into a handful of stories and a variety of mental images. I worry that remembering red beer pong cups and beer bottles, sitting on the top of a folding table, sitting on the top of a foosball table, for days on end until anyone decided to clean it up, will stand out among a fuzzy and indistinct recollection of feelings, thoughts, experiences. It may not be so much that I have anxiety about it, I just think it’s odd that picture could end up being a defining image decades down the road, a picture which said more about circumstances than actual experiences.

I have more to say about this, but I need to get up at eight tomorrow. And hopefully decades down the road I will understand that I’m not excited about this for reasons behind the college ID in my wallet that automatically makes a card-carrying lazyass.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Hills Are Burning

The Obama campaign has reached the point of assured victory, as long as Obama doesn't
suddenly openly support killing puppies and banning chocolate-chip cookies. Even if Hillary insists on finding a way to overturn a pledged delegate lead and risk the implosion of the Democratic Party, enough people in the remaining states will be turned off by her attempts that they will go towards Obama, making the lead insurmountable.

So please excuse me for taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in killing time between classes by watching the commentary on certain pro-Hillary websites turn vile, ignorant, and generally ridiculous. Some, probably most, Hillary supporters are starting to concede that things aren't going their way. Many of them express disappointment, but see the world hasn't ended. And wherever this kinder group is, it is not on these websites. These supporters cannot and will not concede, and seem to motivate themselves by upping their negativity and condescension of all non-supporters.

These comment threads lend a fascinating look into the psychology of rejected hopes and lost perspectives. The lesson here? Even though giving into your most negative mindset might be the easiest and most fun thing to do, it may cause you to act like a complete lunatic. And yes, there are Obama supporters and supporters of every candidate that have failed to learn this lesson. But right now it is the lunatic fringe on the Hillary side that grasps at negativity while staring into the jaws of defeat, making an exploration of this crazy fringe even more fun.

Our adventure today will explore the comments on posts from, an unofficial website, which I guess you could call grassroots:
h and I run the Irish 4 Hillayr myspace page, so there is one for England and one for Ireland. Satan doesnt have any support groups here that im aware of, only our girl:)

Now is not the time to give up guys–wins on March 4th will tilt this campaign back to us and give us momentum going into a key PA contest. Hillary has kept fighting for us, and she will NOT lose this contest. We are a comitted, strong willed, and stubborn bunch of people–not the type of people that Obambi wants to pick a fight with. Remember, Hillary's fans always stick by her–but Obambi is the one who's going up and down nationally for the last 3 months, depending on if he wins the last primary or not.
There are some common trends that this post makes use of, including making fun of Obama's name and a refusal to accept the bleak outlook for the Hillary campaign. While referring to Obama using his middle name "Hussein" is a popular tactic with the anti-Obama side and a lot of right-wing commentators, apparently there's some new cooler lingo with these people at the front of the movement. This includes Obambi, probably one of the more amusing attempts to paint Obama as a good-looking empty suit, but I was most surprised in the above post by the use of Satan. Yes, without any apparent attempt at irony, some Hillary supporters as referring to Obama as Lucifer, the Fallen Angel, source of the fall of man and all the world's evil, who engages in an eternal fight against our savior. Classy.

Maybe we should all stop after writing web comments and ask ourselves, "Hey, am I acting batshit insane?"

I should note that the blog which all these comments are coming from compares the Obama phenomena to the Music Man, the pet rock craze, and the Heaven's Gate cult all at once. This is their suggestion of where the Clinton campaign should take their argument. A general complaint on the site is that people like Obama because they're too ignorant, so instead of trying to educate them on what's good at Hillary, the campaign should just make comparisons to pop-culture that Obama supporters and undecided voters just haven't thought of yet.

This group has also bought on to the idea that media is biased to Obama, and they've bought on big time. Guess you can't have a fringe without an obsession with media bias.
MSNBC wants all the Obamabots watching their network for the next eight years because, god knows, it's quite clear most of them aren't capable of thought.
I guess blaming the mainstream media for Obama's success explains how he's done so well without acknowledging his actual strength. This is probably vital to the Hillary crowd, who has gone in way too deep to acknowledge that anyone could like Obama without being deceived or swindled. If they do so, apparently the cognitive dissonance would cause them to explode.

This trend of apparent deception continues to projections in the general election. Despite polling strongly showing Obama should fare much better against McCain, these fringe Clinton supporters seem to think the general election would be a catastrophe:
You don't know how HARD it was for me to live down Kerry getting swiftboated O_O and now, the most easily bashable, peace-calling, stuttering, porky-pig like, scandal ridden candidate is within steps of the democratic nomination
And, for all the talk that some Obama supporters are hurting the Democrats by threatening to not vote for Hillary, here's some proof that it goes both ways:
Obama is a cult and he likes it that way…I will NEVER vote for Obama because he is teaching our children the wrong values. That’s through threats, whinning and gang mentality is alright if you get your way
Huh. I have reservations about Hillary because she's not fighting monied interests enough and refuses to acknowledge she made a mistake voting for the war. But, right, Obama's rallies make use of "gang mentality", which is just as much of a substantive objection. So much for Paul Krugman of the New York Time's accusation that "most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody". He was writing a column against this kind of negativity and managed to fall, in a small way, into the same trap of tunnel vision. But I digress.

As much as the Obama campaign has been called a "religious movement", there's still some faith on the Hillary side:
i am now furious and disgusted with David Axelrod. I hope karma gets that SOB and his candidate too. If there really is a greater being, they will see how terrible and horrible these people are

And we would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Best Political Team of the Future


(Begin transmission)

Hey everybody, Paul Oliver here. Welcome to Tube Ball.

As we all know, the Internet is the savior of a lost and confused world in dark and perilous times. It represents the future, because it’s a tool that helps us educate the people of the world. For example, Americans were once in general mostly ignorant yet uncompromisingly arrogant in their opinions. As we all know, the Internet changed all of that, because the facts were available to everyone with a simple stroke of the keys!

As you know, everyone on the Internet is knowledgeable, open to new information, and considerate of others. I mean, why wouldn’t they be, they have access to most of the world’s information!

That’s why for our panel on politics today, I’ve invited Digg Remarks, Facebook Discussions, and Youtube Comments to contribute their perspectives on the political scene. It’s the best internet political team ever!

You see, by taking real comments word-for-word from these websites and putting them in a standard format of political discussion like we usually see on cable TV, we will have a commentary that will naturally be extremely fair-minded and knowledgeable! Aren’t you excited?!

Today we’re going to be talking about the much-contested Democratic primary. No doubt, as we’re on the internet, we will be having intelligent discussions about issues like the difficult logistics of enforcing healthcare mandates, whether preconditions should be used when meeting with our nation’s enemies, and the future of clean coal technologies.

With this input today, we can really work together to get a well-thought out vision of how the candidates can learn from the intellectual paradise that is the Internet. Let’s play Tube Ball!

Youtube Comments, it’s good to have you here, what do you think about Barack Obama’s momentum after winning ten states in a row?

Youtube Comments:

Sounds like you’re leaning towards Hillary on this one, do you think her experience card would play better against the GOP?

Youtube Comments:
The Hillary "experience" - a lazy, long suffering wronged wifey barking orders to her staff & military aides while the perv-in-chief is pleasured under the oval office desk - R.I.P. psycho bitch.

Alright, so you support nothing but the worst within all of us, I guess that's fair. So where is Obama’s momentum coming from?

Youtube Comments:
Google, closely allied with the farthest Right elements of our society (Voice of America) is promoting Obama on You Tube and denigrating Clinton.

Okay, that doesn’t really make sense. Let’s talk to someone else. Facebook, we haven’t really seen an indication that John McCain would be able to make negative attacks work any better than Hillary Clinton has. Do you see the general election playing out differently?

Facebook Discussions:
The pro-Obama sentiment on Hannity and Rush along with the rest of the Corporate media is more than suspicious. Right now it appears that the system is trying to create an Obama victory against McCain for it's own purposes. The manufacture of consent continues....

Okay, you absolutely didn’t answer my question and you’re kind of creeping me out. Digg Remarks, throw me a bone here.

Digg Remarks:
At first I thought Obama was just an empty suit. A half-assed semi-socialist like most Dems. But this makes him a dangerous guy! And he belongs to an anti-American anti-white church. And the pastor lauds Louis Farrakhan to the skies. Right now, I think O'Bama is the most dangerous man in the world.

Okay, aside from none of that being true, I think you just managed to offend a political philosophy and major religion in the same statement. Well, Digg Remarks, you don’t seem to like Obama. Who do you support?

Digg Remarks:
If everyone cared less about who's popular and more about who has real solutions for America and a real solid record Ron Paul would be doing much better.

What, well don’t you think some of us actually-

Digg Remarks:
And if Obama supporters continue to be-

…have looked up Ron Paul’s positions and aren’t happy…

Digg Remarks:
…worse than Ron Paul supporters…



Digg Remarks:
Can I finish?


Digg Remarks:
(Clears throat.) If Obama supporters continue to be worse than Ron Paul supporters on Digg and other internet forums, he will lose his advantage.

Are you out of your goddamn mind?! No one is going to change their support because of internet forums!


Okay, that was inappropriate, I apologize. Let’s go turn back to Youtube Comments. Youtube, really, explain how you see things playing out in the general election:

Youtube Comments:
the funny thing is that all of these retards have no clue. obama hasn't nary a fucking chance at getting elected in a general election. you will see euro-americans who are indys voting for anyone other than obama. white americans are still the majority. hahaha

Umm, wait what? First of all, how do you explain all these victories in the Midwest? Iowa is 95% white and he won there by eight points. And second, Euro-Americans? What does that even mean? Am I a Euro-American? Judges?

Yes, Paul, he means Caucasian.

Okay, he probably should have just said that.

(Loud sigh)

Alright, Facebook Discussions, you’re composed of college and high school students, you must have some good analysis for us. What do you think are the challenges that our 44th president is going to have to confront first?

Facebook Discussion:
America is falling into a recession and needs technology and innovation. Dubai and China already have more skyscrapers under construction. The US if falling behind on fiber optics, biotechnology and health care is 42 in the world with one of the worst obesity and life expectancy rates.

Wow, that actually shows some global perspective, that’s hopeful. Well Facebook Discussion, how do you think Obama supporters feel about these global issues?

Facebook Discussions:
Obama's supporters are overwhelmingly black on a racist jihad.

WHAT?! How the hell can you say that in the same comment? You were just showing you had actually looked at The World section of a newspaper in the last year! Or maybe you listened to NPR a car with that slightly nerdy guy in your dorm who takes everybody to Chipotle on Friday’s! I had hope for you!

(Moderator reaches for saber hidden behind unnecessarily large and elaborate newsdesk)

(Audible clanking)

Paul, now is not the time.

Okay, fine, you’re right. Let’s wrap this up. Youtube Comments, any final thoughts?

Youtube Comments:

(End transmission)