Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Solstice, and Non-Specific Governing Force of the Universe, bless us everyone!

merry christmas vs. happy holidays vs. bread and jam for Francis

So here's another insignificant issue that I have no simple answer for... well except for the bread and jam part -- Francis is spot on, and bread and jam should be part of every meal... but on the other two - I've stood a bit on both sides of the fence, arguing with myself, like a true student of philosophy. As a somewhat-newly realized political moderate, I still cling to a fistful of conservative-type views of the world, trying not to ignore the decaying quality of propriety, and of our tradition and resolve in the world. At the same time, I try to choose my battles wisely.

I've been told by a few intelligent people that they think I look and sound and smell like a libertarian (I think the mix of selfish-scotch and careless-hippyism hanging on my recent history cued their noses) -- but I think rights are invented things, not inherent to the social life - and in that sense, not an intrinsic good. So that's sort of like being a Christian who thinks Jesus was just a 'neatish kinda guy.'

So moving forward with the Jesus thing -- this is a season of mostly religious holidays. That's the premise on which this bickering is based, and somewhat humorously, it's become a relatively faulty one. But I'll come back to that. The arguments basically unfold as such:

1. Christmas is a particular religious holiday
2. Not all of us are members of that religion, or celebrate Christmas

3. The public offering of celebration wishes should be inclusive, as not to marginalize or offend those to whom certain observances may not apply.

4. The idea that Christmas has transcended religious views, and as a normal part of our culture, should not be considered offensive - is not convincing or fair. Perhaps one had his/her children eaten by the Ferocious Christian of Waukesha, or he/she was forced by his/her schoolmates to eat cross-shaped Christmas cookies to the point of traumatic stomach discomfort. We all know that any degree of sensitivity to non-neutral expressions of thought or belief is possible, and we must plan our lives accordingly.

1. Stop being such a nancy and eat another cookie, or I'll sick the FC of W on you.
2. There is no #2

So those are the two positions, in a nutshell. But despite the merrychristmasers' claim that there is no #2, I think they're both completely full of shit.

As with most things of theological 'significance,' the celebration of Christmas was discussed, drawn up, bickered over, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public enquiry, lost again, signed in triplicate, and eventually agreed upon by old, snaggletoothed white men in very tall hats and gold robes. The short version of the story is that a few hundred years ago, they began a hostile takeover of Winter Solstice - mainly by setting the celebration of the birth of Christ (which probably took place sometime in Autumn) 4 days removed from said Solstice. Since then, more white people have continued their work, adopting one Solstice tradition after another, wrapping them in swaddling clothes, placing them a manger, and calling them Christianity. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, yule log, the giving of gifts, decorated trees, magical reindeer, etc. -- you guessed it -- all Solstice.

So, as one is what one eats, Christmas has become what the Christians stomped out so long ago: a pagan celebration of giving, generic good will, and the worship of tangible things -- egg nog, ipods, celestial bodies, whatever. But I do agree that our new traditions are just like believing in God -- trampelled Walmart employees, neverending delays at LaGuardia, arguments with relatives, supressing our natural needs, giving in to authority figures, and listening to great aunt Mervleputz talk drunkedly about all the people she knows who have died since last Christmas, and from what disease, and at what hostpital.

But even with all the shades of similarity, Christmas is not, and has never been, a religious holiday for most. We're really just celebrating the shortest daylight of the year with red and green flair four days late. So when the vehement bullies demand that 'Merry Christmas-es' fill our American air, it doesn't offend me, but I don't exactly agree.

So Happy Solstice, one and all. Enjoy your bread and jam, and any of you guys call me Francis... and I'll kill you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

quoter beware

a few days ago, i was traversing this internet thing for help using some music software, and i noticed that all the registered users on forums have little 'signatures,' or quotes below their respective posts. apparently, these sorts of things briefly and effectively explain your beliefs and who you are, even when they aren't your words. among the spattering of oscar wilde quips, painfully inaccurate lebowski references, and out-of-context nietzsche phrases was the following piece of brilliance:

"talking about music is like dancing about architecture."


i must admit, my brain's knee-jerk reaction was: 'that's a clever little ...'

but then i realized something -- it wasn't a clever little anything. in fact, at second glance, that sentence meant absolutely nothing to me. and it wasn't just an opinion. talking about music is NOTHING like dancing about architecture. and even if it were, why should that matter?

but to be fair, i'll try and offer what point the quoted (after a search or two, i found this quote has been attributed to steve martin, elvis costello, and numerous others who have denied ever saying it) may have been trying to get across.

the best i can come up with, is that the speaker was trying to criticize the act of spending one's time talking about an artistic endeavor, rather than simply making art. maybe i'm missing something, but that seems the most likely aim.

even with this projected interpretation, the quote fails to make a proper analogy. the statement is about as coherent as saying that 'reading about salmon is like painting about carrots,' or 'doing a walking tour of yankee stadium is like playing football in the ocean.'

this sort of analogy (or the attempted sort) is meant to make use of a comparison in which the second example mimics the first in form, but presents us with a shared quality of incoherence or logical absurdity. a good example would be: 'spending time and energy on this blog is like mailing letters to god.' the pointlessness of the second example is meant to highlight the not-so-obvious (in comparison) futility of the first action without saying it outright. in this case, it does so because futility is a shared quality here -- mailing letters to god is absurd because god does not exist (nobody's reading), and if he did, he would only bother reading letters from NFL players and attorneys. the first is absurd because there is no readership here (nobody's reading).

we all remember the tests in grade school -- 'mother is to father as sister is to _________.' if we had answered 'hedgehog,' the tests would have determined we were most likely to be ship-boat captains, and they would have called Social Services about some seriously messed up ideas about familial structure -- but apparently we'd also be quoted on nerd forums about vst inputs and latency control. such is the price for internet immortality, i suppose.

but the point i'm trying to make -- my most recent silent tree in the woods -- is that we love the tidy little morsels that quotes and sayings afford so much that we rarely care to inspect them further and address their actual worth or depth of meaning. our standards of logic and significance have somehow fallen to the level where NFL players and attorneys are worth listening to. "we just have to take it one game at a time, keep our focus on execution, and give 110%" and "if it doesn't fit, you must aquit."

when salvador dali said "i don't do drugs, i am drugs," he said nothing of value or meaning. he said the kind of thing that a hundred-thousand 18 year old stoners have thought up in the last seven months. "it's like we're not just listening to the music, but like we're really there, in the music, like we're in tune with it man." but because enough high people thought a dripping clock was worthy of praise, and this man painted a dripping clock, it's considered a great and famous quotation. and even i was fooled into liking that one until i was about18 and a half.

even truly great and intelligent people have certain phrases or words emphasized at the befuddling expense of other, more meaningful ones. the gettysburg address is a great speech. it's well written because lincoln was a well-read smartypants. but it's a 2 minute speech dedicating a piece of land after a battle - and i think most people i know, myself included - know more of the gettysburg address than of anything else lincoln ever said or wrote. his first inaugural address is a thing of beauty, much more historically informative than the g.a. -- and we've probably never heard a word of it.

and at the same time, more of us recognize hilariously cheesy movie lines, like "i'm the king of the world" or "they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom" than do passages from martin luther king's 'i have a dream' speech, or of fdr's first inaugural address (fear itself...). of course, this sort of phenomenon points to the reality that it isn't the content of the words we hear which determines their imprint on our memory, but the method and volume in which they are delivered. if the reverse were true, we'd realize that in fact, we actually need to be living to possess freedom. we could simply empty out that slot in our brains to store something about quantum entanglement, or equal rights, or advice on how to keep the dog from barking when we come home from work -- and then put down our rusty dagger and bent up shield, and head home to "either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing." and maybe even read a few things worth remembering.

Monday, December 1, 2008

dust on the bottle

to tell you the truth, i think you're crazy,
hanging all around on circumstance
forgetting to drain the shower,
drinking as quickly as possible

in the summertime,
ba do bee do ba boo,
when the will of wine
has it's grip around you

in the night time
you've got typing
you've got typing on your mind

writing off the written off
making yourself, rotating,
simply repeating what the thunder said

and in comes the explaination
scarf and pipe,
smoking what he likes
waiting for no one,
leaving no one waiting
belonging to nobody
(there is no reason beside ourselves,
it's a great fiction, rooming with rights,
right religion and allknowing)

i've got him captured. so do you,
in your own wanders through and through,
wading slow in morning's hue
catching toes of sprinkled dew
barely missing autumn flu,
the place you'd found, and swore you knew
given its own breath, and beyond all grasp of recognition

i know why it makes you sad
to miss the answers you designed,
tame and blessed, stained lightly
with the subtle tones of older wine

i'll come to bed soon, sliding in the coldish toes
wake up, and remember nothing we wrote
or drank or smoked
curled stretches move my head just enough
to catch the small white patch perched
beneath a looming blackbird
on the tree that shades my sleeping from sun.