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?