Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

Whiskers on Kitten-Terrorists

A Christmas gift from Germany arrived early for my co-blogger on the soccer blog in the form of an Inter Milan loss to Werder Bremen today. He will probably remember this season for a long time, as his club, Tottenham Hotspur, have had an eventful European campaign and have emerged as the unlikely winners of their UEFA Champions' League group over Inter, the current European champions. For me, well, I always like to see Italians lose, but I have had had too many memorable Christmases for that to make this a standout year (also, Tottenham aren't my club). And that's not why I am writing this post. Rather, I want to write about some of my holiday favorites that really make the season, "the season."

"Favorite Things" Isn't Really a Christmas Song

We're programmed to respond to sound with memories, so nostalgia is only natural with holiday classics. However, some of them are just fun. These are a few of my favorites:
  • Linus & Lucy, Vince Guaraldi Trio - It's just delightful and, of course, reminds one of Snoopy and the Peanuts Christmas specials.
  • 'Zat You Santa Claus?, Louis Armstrong - Louis Armstrong is a holiday must, but this one is just so lively and fun that I can't help dancing (or bobbing) along.
  • Hanukkah Song Part II, Adam Sandler - "OJ Simpson, still not a Jew." Enough said.
  • Marshmallow World, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra - Christmas with the Rat Pack is an essential album for me, but I wasn't familiar with this one until Mary played it. Now, we dance to it compulsively every time it comes on. Also, both artists are completely smashed in the recording that I have and it's just entertaining to listen to them.
  • Cool Yule, Bette Midler - Louis Armstrong has a good version too, but the free-hearted fun of Bette Midler (a Jew) really comes through on this one.
  • How Do You Spell (C)hanukkah? The LeeVees - Not a classic, but this song is a blast and a good piece of Jewish self-depreciative humor. It sounds a lot like the Barenaked Ladies (also Jewish).
  • Carol of the Bells, Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Mormons really know how to make this one impressive. Truth be told, I have four versions of this on my list, including Celtic Women which is also good.
  • Nutcracker - Act II: Waltz of the Flowers, David Zinman & the New York City Ballet Orchestra - Okay, I love all of the Nutcracker and try to make a performance every holiday season, although this year, it is not to be. Nevertheless, I love this one and would make Mary dance with me to it, if, you know, I knew how to waltz.
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside, Everyone and Their Brother - Everyone has done a rendition of this song. My current favorite is the latest I have downloaded, by the Glee Cast, but you can get a version by Zooey Deschanel, if you're into indie rock goddesses.
  • Fairy Tale of New York, Amy MacDonald - Brendan tells me that this is a Pogues tune and the male part is certainly sung by the lead singer of the Pogues. It is a new addition to my list, but an instant favorite.
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Dean Martin - The classic is by Gene Autry, but Dino's rendition is great, with Dean Martin eventually growing familiar with the animal, calling him "Rudy, the Red-Beaked Reindeer."
This Is Becoming a Sentimental Post

There are also a variety of activities that really get me in the mood. These are fewer to be honest.
  • Skiing/snowboarding - This is one I associate with New Years. There have been a number of times that I have arrived either on or after Christmas, so that I really more associate the physical exhaustion of snowboarding with trying to stay up for New Years.
  • Decorating the Tree - Not mine. Having gone to Switzerland for so many years, I had gotten used to not having a tree. But decorating the tree with Kate's family is a trip. Mary lays out all the ornaments on the table, grouped by type, which is essential to her adorable brand of crazy. Her brother is antsy and wants to just hang the ornaments, but after putting 1 or two out, relaxes on the couches nearby. Kate's mother is generally a little drunk (so is everyone else) and not in the mood. Actually, that's a lie, she is in the mood, but is overwhelmed by the volume of decorating and is wonderfully cynical about the whole affair and rounds off the whole delightful experience.
  • The Nutcracker - As I noted, I'm not going to a performance this year. It's not the first time I have gone a season without tickets, but fortunately, I have a Barishnikov performance on DVD. The Nutcracker doll is a little creepy-looking, as is the ballerina playing Clara, but the ballet is excellent.
  • Other Christmas Specials - I always forget how short Christmas specials are without commercials. I have them on DVD as well and watch them at my leisure. Mary would watch Muppets Christmas Carol in August if I let her.
I Wish Christmas Lasted Forever, But Not This Post

This is a longer post than I intended and I haven't even added the pictures yet. But Mary is home from watching the Glee! Christmas episode with James, so I am going to spend the rest of the evening with her. I hope you have all your shopping done; holiday traffic and shopping crowds do not list among my favorite things.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

You're Gonna Get Caught in the Ion Cloud

Deck the Halls or I'll Deck You

Mary and I went shopping for a Christmas tree today and then decorated both the tree and the apartment. The decorating is not completed, but we got a fair bit done, especially considering we both awoke quite late. I had an excuse; the English Premier League games were delayed due to the snow in England, so there were no early games. This set Mary back who doesn't get up on the weekends until I bring her breakfast. Don't think this is laziness, if she shows up before I am finished, I start hollering about how she needs to get back in bed so that I can bring her her breakfast and that the contents were supposed to be surprise ("Eggs and bacon, bet you didn't see that coming!"). Anyway, we didn't even get out of the apartment until nearly 3 p.m. After almost railroading Kate into decorating and getting a tree, she was the one who had to drag me out of my lethargy this afternoon. Tempers became flared when it came to rearranging the furniture, but on the whole we had a successful day.

My Tree Will Play Merry Hob with Your Radar

I've never really put the lights on a tree before. Last year was the first year one of my trees had lights on it and Katie put most of them on. After she had done so, she discovered that everywhere a needle had poked her, her allergies flared up. Thus, her hands and arms were covered with red dots for about a day-and-a-half and she decided that I had better put the lights on the tree henceforth. So I did. I learned something about myself today. I've discovered that I talk to the lights. I tell them where to go and complain at them when they don't go where I want them or when they become impeded by the tree or their light-brethren. Kate and I then set about decorating the tree. After the multi-hour process decorating the tree as a kid and decorating MK's parents' tree, this went by extremely quickly because, frankly, we have not had time to acquire the ridiculous number of ornaments.

No tinsel - that would be a damn disaster with the kitten-terrorists. Frankly, we couldn't trust even Henry with the undecorated tree:
See? Is there nothing he won't try to eat? He's more like a pudgy meerkat, or docile raccoon (waschbaer!), than a cat.

Go Flock Yourself

Apparently, when the holiday season comes around, I turn into Martha Stewart. That's right, I got a good line on some stocks. Also, I make these little vase displays. I think they're pretty simple, but Mary Katherine likes them. Probably the same way my parents liked the papier-mache cards I made them when I was five and mostly retarded. It's something to keep me busy while she makes proper holiday displays. Tomorrow I have to run the garlands along the patio railing and put the lights up too. But for right now, I'm just going to enjoy these:

Hope you're enjoying your holidays so far.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiday Season

Mary Christmas

I love the holiday season with Mary. Something about her and the holiday season is simply magnificent. I have a thing for girls bundled up, I love their faces framed with hats or fur-lined hoods, with red noses, flushed cheeks, and chapped lips (Don't worry this isn't a fetish post). That's not new, but once autumn hits, I cannot wait to dance with Mary to Christmas music or to decorate the apartment with her or to prepare winter foods for her. I keep trying to start the season earlier and earlier. Seriously, she has had to drag me away from the boxes of holiday decorations and banned holiday-themed music until after Thanksgiving.

Christmas Come Early

Fortunately for me, my Christmas (or New Years, since I am not actually a Christian) has come early. Earlier this week, my mother called me around midnight to let me know that they had a kidney donor and, by the next evening, I was speaking with her (albeit briefly) about the successful transplant. Of course, there can still be complications or her body could reject the transplant, but her body is at least already using the kidney and its functions are ahead of schedule. I was starting to get worried, honestly. Father once told me that Boltons (on my mother's side of the family) are like cockroaches and they are simply difficult, when not impossible, to kill. Doc has lived up to that notion, which stuck in my mind, recovering faster and more fully than the doctors expected from her to from her various infirmities. But I thought cruel Nature had decided to go slow and steady with the renal failure, having had so little success with dramatic events. This is a huge weight off my mind. And her's, I hope. There is still a long way to go, but I am simply delighted that it has finally started.

A Spanish Kid Told Me That It Starts with a Silent "J."

So that's my Hanukkah (Chanukkah?) present, I guess. Being an atheist, I get to take the best of the holidays and compile them into one big festival - you may find me using holidays interchangably. My darling brother's fiancee... My brother's darling fiancee... I can't do that as well as she. "Shelly," it is then. She, at any rate, has been writing amazing holiday posts with gifts, tips, and techniques; well, that's another thing that I cannot do as well as she. But I did want to mention some of the foods I like to get in the holiday mood:

Mulled Cider - I mull cider all autumn and into the winter. This year, the orchard in rural Maryland to which Kate and I make pilgrimage in the Fall had an E. Coli scare with their cider. MKB and I are fine though, don't worry. New to my repertoire is the mulled wine.

Weiss Gluhwein - I should note that I have made mulled red wine in the past, with mixed results. However, Mary, Shelly, Benj, and I get gluhwein at the Gondel Bar in Muerren that is white, so I went and looked up recipes for white mulled wine. Now, when I looked up gluhwein, it came up with a number of recipes for reds (as it should). So I typed in "weiss gluhwein" into google and was shocked when the hits were mostly in German. Because I am an asshole sometimes. Regardless, I found a recipe for Berner-Oberland weiss gluhwein and it looks and tastes like the stuff we get in Muerren (Success!). So much so that I found myself wishing that Shelly were accompanying my brother to DC next week so she, Kate, Benj, and I could sit on my patio in our jackets and drink gluhwein together.

Beef Stew (and Pot Roast) - Also new to my winter. This is because Kate likes associates it with winter and, given the vegetables involved, she is right to do so. Regardless, I now think of a nice thick stew with Kate is perfect on cold days.

Red and Green M&M's - I am a marketing professional's dream, but sorry, I associate a bowl full of holiday-colored M&M's with Christmas.

Breakfast Casserole - Similar to a cheese strata, but with loose sausage. My mother used to make this for extended family breakfasts and Mary's family likes it as well, so they let me make it every Thanksgiving.

Unfinished Meta-Posts

I have started a number of projects on this blog that I have not finished. If I am in the mood, I will write other posts about senses and activities that really "make" the holidays for me. I don't want this to become a chore, so I don't want to worry to much about the multi-part posts that I don't finish. I should write more often out of loyalty to my readers, but since there are about three of you, you all don't even make quorum to lodge a complaint.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blogging Linked to Depression, Anorexia (probably)

How to Attract Friends and Influence People

I have been giving some thought about how to make my blog better. It seems to me there are three directions to go with a blog to obtain more readers.

The first is to have a gimmick - being famous for something, particularly writing, helps. However, if you can create something, art, food, humorous pictures with captions, that sort of thing. That will bring people in. Unfortunately, I realized as a teen while reading The Agony and the Ecstacy that I would never be famous for creating. I lack both the skill and uniqueness of perception to create beauty or the skill to render anything interesting.

The second is to have expertise - politics, fashion, food or art again, sports or even sports fandom. Basically, to attract people for your opinions. Well, I certainly think that my opinions are worth listening to, but we all think that our opinions are insightful. I write for a soccer blog, but for me that is a cheap out. I lack my co-author's passion and drive that has granted him the command of knowledge about the sport that he has. I rely on the fact that soccer is still a growing sport in this country and that I have access to Fox Soccer channel. I really have no experience to speak of - I have my education which may come into this blog a bit more (I have a half written post on genocide saved somewhere), but mostly I just wing it. Like the posts on teen books. It's an interesting idea, but my exploration of the idea is slapdash and doesn't hold up the rigors of an intellectual examination (I'll still finish it though).

The third is to be part of a group and write about things which people can identify. Mommy blogs, single guy blogs, travel blogs, etc. I am not part of a group. This is a somewhat depressing thought.

I've Got It! A Whiney White Guy Blog!

I belong to a soccer supporters group. You know how many of them even know I write this blog? Two and they're probably only members of the Screaming Eagles because I am. It's not like I talk to people. I wouldn't know what to say.
I am in a relationship with a girl who loves me. That's wonderful, but blogging about it would be nauseating for everyone else. It is a very private experience. Fatherhood? No intention of doing so.
I don't like my job, but let's face it - that's my own damn fault. I'm not some rebel screwed over by the establishment. I'm a kid who was presented with every opportunity to by excellent parents with an ideal older brother whose example I would have been quite well-served to follow. I just lacked the wisdom, discipline, and will-power to make good on what I was offered. I'm not under-appreciated at work - I don't know that I pass "adequate" on job performance; I am treated reasonably well and I can't expect to be treated better since I have made no effort to that effect.
I'm not even an angsty loner/shut-in. I have Mary, I have excellent, even amazing, friends who do incredible things that I love to see and hear about, they think well-crafted thoughts and express them well. They support me at the drop of a hat and are solicitous of me even when I don't need help. They are fascinating and each is idiosyncratic and quite a bit more than anyone should be able to ask for from friends.
I'm not angry at society, I don't feel aggrieved by the world, I've not struggled against the odds. I've just struggled with the fact that not everything has been handed to me. That's not a blog that anyone wants to read.

I suppose for now I'll continue cutting a different path without direction, resigned to the knowledge that my blog's readership will never exceed a close circle of family and friends. I really need to devise a plan to cut a path in life, but like everything else, I'll start tomorrow.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Impulses Related Genocide

I Should Really Listen to More Decemberists

I was sitting here, thinking about death. Because that's what I do on a lazy Saturday. So, I was thinking about death, specifically genocide, specifically the Holocaust, specifically the argument put forward that Germany was capable of carrying out the Holocaust because the Germans were all afflicted with the aptly-named "German sickness" and now that they are cured of it Germany need never worry about committing a genocide again. I don't hold to that idea; there have been too many genocides in history, modern history, to accept that the Germans entered into some sort of unique condition that made them susceptible to genocidal impulses.

Dan v. Chris

This debate actually stems back to my time in undergrad. Well, I actually do not know from whence the debate actually started, somewhere back in the mists of time. I was introduced to it, however, in an undergraduate course on modern German history. The focal points, at the time, were books by Daniel Goldhagen and Christopher Browning. If I said "Goldhagen v. Browning," my father would probably start pawing through his law books for that case he overlooked. There is no case; in fact, the books focus on a central point in the debate, never addressing the debate itself.
Basically, who were the mental and moral juggernauts who carried out the Holocaust? We know the Nazi leadership bravely ordered the slaughter of millions of unarmed civilians, but they were just too busy to actually go out and kill children themselves. You know, they had a country to run into the ground with a war against reality and also Europe. All those people didn't kill themselves, no matter how depressing Nazi rule and occupation may have been. We're not concerned with names - the Israelis seem to be pretty good about finding the names, but we're less interested in revenge or justice, but rather with history and perhaps prevention. It is the nature of these individuals that is of interest.
Goldhagen argues in Hitler's Willing Executioners that most of Germany and those involved were some sort of "Super anti-Semite." His argument is that Germany had a unique brand of anti-Semitism that was more medieval than much of the rest of Europe. That ridiculous accusations of blood libel and Jewish "witchcraft" persisted and were taken seriously well into Enlightenment and still appeared during the Weimar Republic suggests that the rationalism that had taken hold of Europe during the Renaissance had not been applied the average German's fear and hatred of Jews. This combined with the traditional European irrationality about Jewish conspiracies of money and bankers for a more thorough and base anti-Semitism. This anti-Semitism combined with German history and the various feelings upon which Hitler rose to power (I'll not chronicle them here, though some may be mentioned later) to create a "diseased" society that was more than prepared to commit genocide, but was actually disposed to do so.
Browning, in Ordinary Men, disagrees. His focus is actually on the genocide that took place outside of Germany, whether it be Greater or Lesser. While millions were killed in the gas chambers and camps in Poland and Germany, millions more were killed in a more traditional manner - they were rounded up and shot in massive numbers and buried in mass graves (graves which the victims were often forced to dig themselves) in various countries, particular the Baltic nations. These executions were carried out largely by "Special Police" battalions or by native irregular units. The first and most obvious point is that these "native irregulars" were not Germans and thus could not be affected by Goldhagen's "German disease" caused by German prejudices and history. However, it is upon his treatment of the men who made up the German "Special Police " battalions. They were not made up of Germans who were specially selected for their anti-Semitism or homocidal tendencies. Often they were men of roughly military age who had prohibited from service in the Wehrmacht due to physical disability or that they were slightly too old for combat. Records of these battalions reveal that, although some members were positively sadistic, many were constitutionally incapable of taking part in the slaughter. These members who would back out of killing operations were resigned to logistics. Some attempted to participate as part of their job but found their victims to be subjects of pity rather than hatred. Most importantly, many of them did their job, but did so out of fear of reprisal, a sense of duty, or simply to maintain employment. And many of them found they could only do they "job" while drunk. Morale suffered terribly and alcoholism among these troopers, even when not slaughtering innocent villagers, was rampant. It was for these reasons that the Germans turned to the local Lithuanians or what-have-you to commit their butchery.

You Are Not Immune

Such a distinction may seem minor. I'm certainly not going to pity those who were party to these mass-killings. The question is whether any society can become genocidal with the appropriate set of circumstances and leadership (or lack of leadership) or whether there are only rare and particular societies, societies that are "sick" to begin with, that will attempt to eliminate an entire of group of people. I believe the former and with that comes the belief that I am not "immune." Could the U.S. become genocidal (again) within my lifetime? I must concede that it is possible. This belief engenders a responsibility to avoid the circumstances and views which lead to genocide. While genocidal beliefs may make themselves apparent, I believe it is necessary to examine the circumstances under which modern genocide has taken place. In a series of (depressing) posts, I will examine the history and conditions that led to the Holocaust, "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans (particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina), the Armenian Genocide (or "deportations" if you're reading this in Turkey (you're not)), and the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus. I will follow with a post or posts about my conclusions (which at this point in my mind are "inconclusive." Go figure).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Downfall of Western Civilization Part II (II of III)

I Never Know Where I Am

Where we were? Something curmudgeony, I believe. Was I talking about my snowbound walks to school? No, that wasn't it. It could have been about modern Hollywood starlets being tramps. But I don't think it was. Perhaps that modern music lacks the depth and beauty of Frank Sinatra? No, I don't usually blog about that. Oh yes, the teen book and cross-over phenomena.
I am comparing using Harry Potter, the Twilight series, and other teen novels with Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and a number of David Eddings books. I have established that my selections are biased, my methodology flawed, and my analysis self-serving.
I don't think I said much about the methodology, only that I would be comparing them. I have a number of categories in which I will be comparing them. These categories are as arbitrary as anything else. The discussion is about whether teen and cross-over books are less effective in creating a literate and educated society and thus the criteria that I have chosen are part of what I consider to be intellectual development and a continuing education. I will compare the books in the maturity of content, vocabulary, the complexity of the plot structure, and the complexity of the narrative.

It's More than Sex and Death, But That's Good Too

Reading Twilight is an exercise in reading about teenagers not having sex and not dying. The maturity of the content in any of the Twilight books is not particularly significant. The laughable way that Stephanie Meyer handles teen marriage, sex, and pregnancy are reflective of the shallow, child-like approach to the content. Where she moves into a slightly more adult category is in the melodrama that surrounds adult romances. She creates a passion and attachment that is not found in children's books. Her stories draw their allure in no small part (in my opinion) from the experience of love that she imparts. Particularly to teenagers, with their under-developed and hormone-addled minds, Meyer's books are an accurate description of how love can seem to be. Her books center on love as an experience. However, the characters never really develop and they operate in an environment largely free of negative consequences. The same cannot be said for J.K. Rowling's creations.
The teen romance and melodrama in the Harry Potter series is not as in-depth as in the Twilight books nor are J.K. Rowling's forays into romance nearly as compelling. However, her characters evolve considerably, they are more deeply flawed and those flaws have consequences as the series progresses. Harry spends much of The Order of Phoenix moping about in his angst and self-pity. He might as well have started wearing flannel, dying his hair, and listening to Hawthorn Heights. But he grows out of it, like an actual human being. He is faced with serious loss, considerable terror, self-doubt and struggles his way through. The Harry Potter books may not have the titillation of Twilight, but they provide better insight into the world and into human experience in that world. The Harry Potter books also invoke spectres of terrorism and fascism, and forces the world Rowling created to cope with these developments.
The David Eddings books fall short of the reality presented in Harry Potter. Eddings' characters are certainly complex and fascinating, but rarely do they evolve, have hidden motives, or questionable dark sides. Though more complex than Meyer's characters and perhaps more complex than most of Rowling's as well, most of Eddings' characters do not adapt to adversity, but rather rely upon agile minds, existing skill sets, or newly invented prowess that hadn't existed until they were necessary. Many of Eddings' characters are older than either Edward and Bella or Ron and Hermione and they have more adult relationships; love is not felt as passionately as in Twilight, but is expressed with greater variety in tone and temperance. His romantic relationships are diverse and many are quite touching to the reader, but the passion that those characters feel for one another is not elucidated nearly as well as in Meyer's books. Eddings' exploration of non-romantic relationships surpasses all others in this category and is, perhaps, his greatest strength. Of course, the rest of the story is fairly straight-forward - dragons and swords and such. Occasionally, there are political maneuvers, but the content is little more than well-written fantasy.
On the surface, the maturity of content in Lord of the Rings is relatively low. There is death aplenty, to be sure. Romance largely takes a back seat when Aragorn isn't Viggo Mortensen, covered in mud and blood. Yes, Kate, I am aware that is the image you mentally super-impose on my body every time I take my shirt off. Epic struggles are not uncommon in fantasy literature. Saving the world from an evil sorcerer is par for the course. Moreover, character development is limited as well. Aragorn doesn't really grow into his kingliness; it is present from the start, even if his royal birth is a secret. The hobbits evolve as characters, from relative naivety to far more worldly characters, but few others grow as they do. Where Tolkien surpasses all his colleagues is in the allegorical nature of the story and the sheer diversity of his characters, both good and evil. Tolkien has denied that Lord of the Rings draws heavily from World War II, but most of us see it even if he doesn't. His commentary of socialists having seized the country during the war was a bit heavy-handed as well. Nevertheless, his story involves the corruption of good characters by worldly forces and he clearly intends to impart meanings about confronting evil and the character of heroism drawn from his experience of World War II. No other book compared here comes close in the thematic exposition that can be done on Tolkien's novels.

On the whole, Meyer's books are clearly the immature or the most "teen" of the literature here contrasted. They are a descriptive experience written for teenagers who are experiencing emotions that their brains aren't wired to handle yet. Their utopian ending may have attracted a broader audience, but I actually consider that to reflect negatively upon the maturity of the content. Harry Potter and David Eddings are fairly close, with Rowling probably edging it out. I should note that both of their writing matures - the first two or three Harry Potter novels are clearly children's books and do not possess much of the maturity found in the later books. Similarly, Eddings' first series, The Belgariad, is more teen-ish, as the main character is, in fact, a teen. A bit more of the mature relationship structure and nuanced characters can be found in his early books, but not nearly as in his later series. Eddings' characters slightly surpass Rowling's in complexity, but Rowling's world towers over Eddings' creations in terms of a grey-scale morality and the impact of negative consequences from actions taken by protagonists. Tolkien is, unsurprisingly, the most mature in content. I say unsurprising because Kate's friend, Amelia, now a lawyer in New York, wrote her undergraduate thesis on Tolkien. I simultaneously want to read her thesis and keep her far away from these sophomoric analyses. Anyone who writes a thesis on Stephanie Meyer could never make it through law school. Although, if he pulled it off, he'd probably make a very good lawyer. . . or used car salesman.

That's Not Irony, It's Poor Writing

Once again, my pedantic writing has limited how far I can get into my post. I'll probably have to expand this past the planned third post. I cannot continue into my vocabulary analysis because I have been far too wordy in this post. Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sex, Teens, Drugs, and Literature (Part I of III)

The Impetus

I have often heard the argument that teen books and cross-over children's books, I'm thinking of the Twilight series and the Harry Potter series as examples, might have their failings as literature, but they get people - particularly young people, reading. Don't worry, I'm not setting up a "straw-man" to knock down. I accept that argument, having worked in a bookstore for the releases of the last books in both series, there is no escaping that these books were phenomena and got a wide range of people reading books who were normally not inclined to do so.

Anecdotally, Mary's father read the Twilight series after seeing the first movie and liked them tremendously. Mary's mother is quite the voracious reader, but her father had historically preferred to be a movie buff. I'm not sure that he is going for the Guinness world record for most movies viewed, but he's probably well on his way. However, like I said, he read that Twilight series, then moved on to the Southern Vampire series, and from there started reading Nicholas Sparks books. Now, that is not my taste in literature (Mary claims he has grown into a teenage girl), but I would hasten to point out that not only did he read the Twilight series, but that was his "gateway drug" into other books as well. This from a man that Mary's mother claims she had not seen read a book since before Mary was born. Now they have evenings when they do not turn on the TV and just read together. Adorable.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this one.

A companion of mine, who still works in the children's department at the bookstore, has argued that teen books are not necessarily beneficial to young people who were already inclined (or as the case with parents around here, required) to read. I don't want to put words in his mouth and I am paraphrasing, but as I understood it, his argument was: in our youths, the teen book genre was quite small and the natural progression from young readers books was usually into the "genres" section - SciFi, Fantasy, Mysteries, etc. (Back in the day, "Westerns," which these days seems to consist entirely of Louis L'Amour novels) - and not into teen novels. Thus, in order to read more adult-oriented literature instead of stories about talking mice or a disfigured kid during the U.S. War of Independence, we had to read books that were also written for adults. As Mary has pointed out, there were teen books that were, then as many are now, an introduction to sleazy romance novels (less graphic books about teen girls falling in love, being betrayed by their friends and god knows what else, probably menstruating or something. Girls are gross). My antagonist's argument was that the books that he and I read as teenagers, case in point David Eddings, were far better written and, through their more complicated narrative and plot structures, encouraged greater development of complex thought processes and reading comprehension.

I disagreed, but I thought I would look into it. Long story, short: I think I was wrong. The long story is below (and above since there will be subsequent posts) if you want to read it, but I thought the above was interesting to consider, even if you couldn't care less about my "investigations" (it's an abuse of the word to claim that my rudimentary research is that).

Methods and Madness

I believe that I should start by clarifying that this argument primarily concerns young people who would already be reading. As I said above, that some of these books are cultural phenomena is fantastic and they do, doubtlessly in my opinion, seduce some people into reading who either culturally, socially, or dispositionally would not have otherwise. In extreme cases, as with Mary's father, it can create habitual readers out of those who had never been or fall off from the practice. My bias is such that I consider this to be an unqualified "good thing," even if I can cite little evidence to benefits.

So, my studies in this case were the aforementioned series by J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and David Eddings. I believe I will also include J.R.R. Tolkien's series The Lord of the Rings and it's prequel, The Hobbit.

These are an interesting and heavily-biased sample. Tolkien, in particular, stands out as an unfair standard by which to judge teen novels. However, it could also be considered unfair to judge Mr. Edding's books against Ms. Rowling's or Ms. Meyer's series; there have been no movies made of the Belgariad or Elenium nor have they convinced an entire generation of teen girls that stalking is romantic or middle-aged women that it is perfectly acceptable to lust after teenaged boys. Moreover, do I make the claim that the Twilight series is representative of all teen books and considering their wider appeal and impact in society, shouldn't other teen books be used? Why Harry Potter, since that series is housed under "Young Reader?" Tolkien and Eddings are both fantasy writers - why not include Frank Herbert's Dune, Lilian Braun mysteries, or a western series? The It Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, and other teen romance books are consistent sellers; should they not be used?

Jesus, this is a blog, people; why are you being so demanding?

1) I do not make the claim that Twilight is representative of the teen genre, merely it's most popular selection. As the most popular selection, I am considering it an archtype - the epitome of a teen novel. That is flawed reasoning, but it will suffice for now.

2) The Harry Potter series is also being considered for its popularity, but I would also argue that as the books progress and the main characters become older, the content changes dramatically toward more mature readers. I didn't go back through the books for empirical evidence, but I would point out that the first three Harry Potter movies are housed in "Children's," while the subsequent films are in "Action/Adventure" at the bookstore where I worked. Also, deeply-flawed reasoning, I am aware, but enough to progress in my discussion.

3) Alright. Stop listing titles. There are literally hundreds of books that I could consider. By-and-large, Tolkien and Eddings are superior to much of the competition in their genre, such as the Dungeons & Dragons or Dragonlance books. However, when my points become clear later, it is plainly evident that Terry Brooks or, even more so, Robert Jordan, would make much stronger examples. Eddings, however, I argue is a more accurate representation of the fantasy genre - easily readable, but not so simplistic or formulaic as the books based on RPGs. Tolkien is being used because of his staying power - his work too could be considered an archtype of his genre.

4) Because those books are about rich, semi-retarded, unreflective, unrepentant tramps and the teenaged boys who bang them. They are a plague on our society and have no place in polite discussion.
Just kidding, I'll talk about them briefly, but don't take much interest in them.

5) Why aren't you convinced? Oh, I see. Fine, so the list is heavily biased by what I have read and to what I have easy access. In the past year or so, I have either read or re-read the Twilight saga, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the David Eddings books. I don't read much in the way of SciFi or other genres and my teen reading is limited as well, including the smutty teen novels of which I have read one and one-half. Yeah, it's biased. Did you want to have this discussion or not? Fine, this "lecture/argument/paper" since you don't really get to participate. Stop reading or keeping going and hush up. You guys are jerks.

You're still here? Well too bad, this has gone on for too long already and even fewer people read epic blog posts than read my normal blog posts. More later.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No, rats aren't trapped this easily. . .

The Good
The good news is that resetting my wireless router took less time than it usually does. A wiser, or more organized, man would write down the correct settings for the router so that he didn't have to figure it out every time he moved. Clearly, I am not that man. But this time, I remembered a few things and only had to fiddle with a couple settings before I got it right. So, I have the internet drifting aimlessly through my new apartment, most likely on a sea of boxes.

The Bad
The bad news is that I still have the keys to the Bauer apartment and it is costing me several hundred dollars more to leave than I had expected. Because of the delightful kittens, we had to have the have the carpet professionally cleaned and the apartment de-flea and ticked. Not that it had fleas and ticks in the first place. I think landlords and the exterminators are in cahoots; it's quite a racket they have going there. Lord only knows what is next, I just get the impression that I am trapped. I also get the impression that I am going to have to fight tooth-and-nail for that security deposit.

The. . . Well, It's Not Ugly
MaisOui and I are moved into the new apartment. At least insofar as our stuff is here. Many thanks and various other expressions of gratitude to my co-blogger from the soccer site, his brother, and MKB's brother for their help in moving everything (Thanks to Brendar as well, for helping me move 1000+ lbs of books the day before the big move and an hour before he was going on what may have been a date). Particular thanks to "BStheTruth" for once again helping us over the course of several days. I think considering the amount of help he has given us, when he decides to move, we have to build his apartment from the ground up for him. Actually, that would be punishment for him; I am not a carpenter nor very Jesusy at all. Or maybe I am, since Jesus had to go out and find another line of work too. Point is, we got everything out of the old apartment and into the new one in less than 24 hours (old TV not withstanding), but without all their assistance, the new apartment remains in disarray. Actually, as Kate pointed out, we have yet to attempt our new routes home from work because every time we leave work, we have been going to the Bauer apartment every night to clean and the like.
I rather like this new apartment's layout. Pictures will follow, once the apartment is better constructed.

The 'Fraidy Cats
The kittens don't mind the boxes at all. They go spelunking through them all the time and seem delighted that they have plenty of obstacles on top of which to climb.
They did mind the move, however. They were quite grumpy when things started to disappear from the apartment, but only realized the full scope of their nightmare when my Lady put them into their carriers. I didn't ride in the car with them and only saw them as she carried them out. Henry was whining plaintively like the little sissy that he is; Emma was backed up as far as she could inside the case and glared at everyone and everything with baleful eyes. Once inside the apartment, Henry proceeded to hide in the closet for 6 hours, while Emma spent her first three behind the mattress propped against the wall. She came out and started exploring though; Henry did not. My darling girlfriend eventually dragged him out and placed him in his cat tower. . . where he remained for another 4 hours before eventually joining us once the bedroom was more put together. What a worthless ball of fuzz.
Mary Kate, in her infinite wisdom, decided to reward him with a drinking bowl water fountain. We haven't seen him drink from it, but he sticks his paws in it and leaves tracks all over the new floor just fine.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Packing (The MK & T Library Project)

So, Mary and I are moving again. I've noticed that I believe blogging > packing, but there has been some packing as well. We don't even get to see the actual apartment that we are moving into until Friday (we've seen a similar one, but ours is going to have new cabinets, appliances, lighting fixtures, and possibly lasers. I'm really hoping for the lasers), but Mary and I have already filled 50+ boxes that the good people at Barnes and Noble were kind enough to give us. I say the "good people" because a certain manager got a little snippy with me for being in the back of the store when I am no longer employed there. However, the Barnes and Noble boxes are an absolute necessity because of the huge volume (hereinafter referred to as "MK & T Library Project") of books that we had to box. Putting books in Safeway boxes or something is how Ragnarok begins.

The MK&T Library Project
So, Kate and my library was already organized; split first into fiction and non-fiction. The fiction section was mostly alphabetized by author, although there was a separate section at the beginning for surveys and a section at the end for mythology. The non-fiction was divided by category (and sub-category in the international relations section) and then alphabetized by author. Graphic novels have their own bookcase and organization scheme. That's the sort of organization that makes Mary's brain croon with joy and I'm not particularly adverse to it either.
Unfortunately, it was not sufficient for Mary's neuroses, so as we packed the books into the boxes (without significantly altering their order), Mary cataloged the ISB numbers and numbered the boxes so we know exactly which book is in which boxes. She then uploaded the ISBNs into GoogleBooks (looking up and adding any of the books whose ISB numbers didn't come up). So now our entire library is now enshrined on Kate's GoogleBooks page under "The MK&T Library Project" (Give or take; I have purchased three books since we finished packing books and they have not yet made it into the system).
I know what you're thinking, "surely that was sufficient for Mary's uniquely adorable brand of crazy." Sadly, no. Mary, disappointed with the lack organizational abilities, wrote GoogleBooks a nasty letter (she uses Google products for everything so she assumes any shortcomings are intentional personal affrontery) and signed up for GoodReads, which allows her to organize her library and to import entire spreadsheets, rather than the Notepad documents that she was keeping for GoogleBooks. If you sign up for GoodReads, you can see our library there as well, although I have no entered the books into my account, so once again, you'll have to rely upon Mary for a full list.

I should note that the list on the MK&T Library Project is imprecise - Mary and I have several older editions of books that did not appear in GoogleBooks, including but not limited to, Kate's first edition Willa Cather books. These titles were entered under alternate editions, matching as closely as possible to the publication date as possible. Surprisingly, this imprecision bothers me more than it does Mary. Of course, through this entire entry, I have neglected to mention that I started to make a spreadsheet as many as 5 years ago with the ISBNs of my books (although I never completed it) and technically I may have been the one to propose finally cataloging the entire library as we packed it and Mary just ran with it. . . But, no, Mary is the crazy one.

Me: Why can I only see the first ten books of the MK & T Library Project on googlebooks?*
Mary: Because GoogleBooks is weird and I don't like it.

*You can very gradually scroll through the books on Mary's main profile page at the bottom, but if you click the link, you can only see the last ten books or so that we entered.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Inescapable March toward Matrimonial Bliss

I'm am not engaged. No one get excited. Breathe, Mary, breathe. There have been so many weddings in the past few years and the next few years appear to offer no respite.

Two of Mary's friends are getting married this weekend. It is, naturally, a whole affair. Last night was the rehearsal dinner, followed by a bonfire. I don't object to the bonfire; I played a large role in building and maintaining the fire. Today is the actual wedding. Mary objects to the wedding. Not that she doesn't want her friends to be married. Rather, she is the Best Man and has to read a poem during the ceremony and give a speech at the reception. Public speaking, it appears, is where her objections lie. Tomorrow, there is a breakfast - depending upon the time and how much I drink tonight, I might have some reservations about that in the morning.

Point is, it's a three day affair. Now, I think weddings are somewhat strange. You take a ceremony that is a very personal bonding between yourself and the person from whom you care most in the world, and invite everyone and their uncle to a party that you are throwing in your honor. They get you gifts, but you or your family pays for it. That's a little self-indulgent and weird. Mary doesn't like the fact that they are multiple day affairs. I can sort of understand that as a natural evolution. Back in the day, after the bride and groom were married, they could finally engage in certain matrimonial delights that had, until that point, been prohibited and they were actually anxious to get a little privacy. Obviously, I am talking about playing with the stand-mixer and other wedding presents. But, as our society has progressed and couples have begun living together previous to marriage, thus they have already had a great deal of experience with matters that were previously consigned to married class alone. I mean, most people have used their stand-mixer many times by the time the get married and have used it to make meals for more than a single person - heck sometimes, people get married after using their stand-mixer for several people simultaneously. I digress. Now, the bride and groom feel a need to make the experience more worthwhile to visiting friends and relatives.

The weddings are, of course, theme-ed to a greater or lesser extent, if only colored by the habits of the bride and groom and their social circle. This wedding has a hippie vibe going on. There was the bonfire, which included a relative with a guitar and harmonica (and yes, one of those neck-brace things so that you can play the harmonica and guitar at the same time), and some nature walks and possibly some rock-climbing. This wedding is a union between a Greek and an Italian and that a Greco-Roman wedding didn't become a giant toga party, I feel, is somewhat of a missed opportunity. One of the other guests pointed out that the modern day Italians aren't really the descendants of the Romans, but why nit-pick to avoid a Bacchanalian Orgy?

My brother is doing the multi-day wedding affair in New Orleans in about a year. I don't mind the way he has his organized, with the wedding ceremony being a more private affair and the BBQ being the focal point of guest activities. Though I'm told that I'll be wearing a kilt now. . . someone needs to keep me better apprised of these details.

However, if you guys are all getting married to throw big parties, let me inform you that Kate and I throw several parties a year and have yet to shackle ourselves with a legal agreement (not to mention the religious one, if you're concerned about that sort of thing). Perhaps there is still that fear that the other party may one seize an opportunity to escape and a wedding, hopefully, cements the ties. However, I would recommend never losing that fear of losing the other person, it makes missing that football match seem more reasonable and surprising her with flowers on Friday night more appropriate.

So I guess my view on weddings is: Live in Fear.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Because I Don't Update My Other Blog (Distant Worlds)

I've been failing to update the soccer-blog that I co-write with a friend, so I figured, "What the hell, why not start another blog to not update?" Probably because my last attempt at a website got me in trouble with my high school, even though I had finished my matriculation. Although controversy is probably good for browser hits, that's not the sort of attention that I need. Nonetheless, I heretofore plunge into the psychotic world of blogging.

Although there is a temptation to write a backstory - my life until now - few people will ever read this and those that do will probably know me fairly well. There is also a temptation to write soccer tidbits because I waste so much of my life worrying about a bunch of young men kicking a ball around a field. But that is why I have the other blog. Thus, I am going to start midstream, tossing the reader into the chaotic maelstrom that is my over-exciting life. (That's sarcasm)

So for breakfast I had. . . just kidding. I don't think this will be a food-blog, despite my interest in cooking (FYI breakfast was a tomato-and-jalepeno-infused Western meatless omelette with mashed avacado on top - it was okay, not great).

Last night, Mary and I went to "Distant Worlds - music from Final Fantasy" at Wolf Trap. I enjoyed it - although I'm not certain that the live versions of orchestral songs that I have on iTunes really added anything. The vocalists were uninspired and I feel like the orchestra was paired down, which denied some of the pieces, particularly the second-encore "One-Winged Angel," their overwhelming effect. However, the music did conjure fond memories of the times I spent playing Final Fantasy games, mostly FFVII which I played while I had chicken pox in high school on the Playstation that my surreptitiously-kind brother had bought for me (out of gratitude, I did give him the chicken pox two weeks later, so I figure we're even). Although, when they played "Ronfarue," I did have to suppress the urge to fight a bunny with a knife.
Mary did not like the overt advertising that was taking place and was somewhere between entertained and horrified at the "cross-section of nerddom" that attended the event. I was hoping for more people in costume, but all we got was one Cloud, a White Mage and her date, a Red Mage. Oh, and someone dressed as Snow, whom I did not recognize, but Mary did and pointed him out. She's probably still embarrassed at recognizing him. Other than "Samba de Chocobo" (which she loves), she sat peacefully and said that she enjoyed it. I should feel lucky - she was far and away the slimmest and the only non-ridiculously dressed non-AZN girl there.