Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Panda won't stop licking me.
I spent all of yesterday on a bus. I'm now home for Thanksgiving weekend. It's been idyllically pleasant. I have nothing but an Arabic worksheet hanging over my head, I've been reunited with books I haven't seen since May, and my sister - wonder of wonders - has been in a good mood. But now that I think of it, that might be caused by - well, I shouldn't say. I plan to show my parents the URL for this, so now that's one more set of things I'll have to censor.

Last Saturday night we had the Tiernan Project Turkey Party. (The Tiernan Turkey Party? Or just the Turkey Party? Hell, who cares about the official name of a party.) It was fun. It would have been more fun if there were more people there. In fact, the small size was almost a little depressing. But it was fun. There was dancing and stuff with friends rather than complete strangers, there were drinks chosen for flavor or at least variety rather than "which type of keg is the cheapest?", and we could have drinks without cramming a dozen people into one, maybe two people's dorm rooms. IMO, well worth the price of admission.

Every Turkey Party begins with a costume competition - which person or group can have the most entertaining costume with a turkey theme? This year there were two competitors. Well, one person and one group, so three competitors, but... anyways. Brian wore a beak and tail (or did he wear a tail? I don't remember) with all-black clothes, shiny rubber pants, and sunglasses - the Matrix Turkey! Or just the turkey from the Meatrix, I guessed. And the other act was Laura Z and Dave Iseaslfjis, who dressed as Ace and Gary, the Ambiguously Gay Turkeys. It was politically incorrect, and it was funny right up until the minute Dave sat on my lap.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I'm sitting in the bus station in Albany as I write this. (Obviously not literally. I don't have a laptop, and a laptop in the Albany bus station wouldn't have Internet access. In fact, I wrote "this" on a spiral-bound notebook in the Albany bus station on the date and time shown, and I'm copying it to the blog in the middle of the afternoon on the next day at my parent's computer.)

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. If I respond to wild, extreme accusations at all, it's to insist that they be supported. I always much prefer an argument, or at least an honest and straightforward lack of one, to name-calling. Why? Am I naive, or optimistic, or simply liberal in the non-political sense of that word?

But I don't think I can do that any more. Why have I wasted time (well, it's not like I was going to do anything better with it, but still) defending Bush and friends? He's not likeable, not admirable, and not respectable. He acts* like he has all the kingdoms of Earth and heaven at his disposal - which is appropriate in a twisted way, considering that he is the closest thing we've had to a dynastic ruler since the 1820's. But a grossly overgrown ego like that is all the more inoffensive because in reality all he has is this one country for another year and a half, and he only very debatably earned that. AND - at least as important - he's driving it into the ground.

Okay, so I shouldn't give up on tolerance just yet. How could the mentality Bush shows be understood or explained? (Besides "evil".) Help me here.

* As for how he's acting like an out-of-control egomaniac, I have two examples (out of many I'm sure I could find if I actually went looking for them). The first is the article I mentioned some days ago, about the requests he made to the British government. And the second is an article I saw in today's USA Today, which inspired me to write this entry in the first place. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a copy of the article online. But it was titled "Environmental limits on military training reduced." I'm not going to retype the entire article, but here's the basic idea: many (most? all?) military bases will be able to dodge or even ignore outright many environmental regulations on military bases - and apparently those regulations are needed, if "scores of those facilities are badly polluted, and more than 100 are on the government's Superfund list of the nations most contaminated properties." Some other details: the Endangered Species Act can no longer be used to designate land as a critical habitat if it is needed for military training. And the Navy can now test sonar systems that may "harass or harm" dolphins or whales.

My problem with this... even if you don't think protecting the environment or endangered species matters at all (and hey, I admit there's room for debate), then you have to admit this is stupid. Because some people do think the world we live in matters. Is Bush really so self-confident and self-deluded, or is he just being led around by the nose so badly, that he thinks he can afford this? If Bush were an intelligent person or if he cared about doing his job well or if he had even the slightest conception of serving the country as a whole instead of just the defense contractors** who helped put him into office, he might say, "Gee, the military is already stronger than it's ever been, maybe making extending a show of goodwill to my rivals is worth more than letting the military do anything they want, wherever they want." But no, I guess a show of... goodwill? foresight? compassion? is too much to hope for.

** Yes, and oil and other people. But it's the defense people we're talking about here.
Of my last five entries, three have been about practically nothing but class and one about politics. From this, one might get the idea that I have no social life and no extracurricular activities.

And one wouldn't be completely wrong. One would be wrong, but not completely. I work. I socialize casually with friends, almost all of whom live on my hall. Or are going to school in other states. I play computer games and read blogs and Usenet discussion group postings and watch downloaded episodes of TV shows I like. Monday nights I (usually) go to a gaming club, but I'm the new guy so I still barely know most people there. The Campus Times is a solitary activity for those who, like me, are not editors.

That's my routine, but it's not every single minute of my day. Which gets me to the point of this whole thing: to write about the Tiernan turkey party. I'm posting this so I can't forget to write about it later. In brief: it was fun. There's more to say about it and the Tiernan project in general (where's it going? how could I help it get there?), both positive and negative, but now's not the time - I very much need my sleep.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I was two hours and twenty minutes late for class today. I don't know if that's a world record or not, but I know it's my personal record.

I was up all night working on a story for class. Around 9 AM progress had slowed to a crawl, so I set my alarm for 11 and figured I'd start again with plenty of time when I woke up. But I woke up at 3:20 PM. Apparently I had been waked up by the alarm, slapped it, and fallen back asleep so quickly I wasn't awake long enough for it to imprint on my memory. I haven't done that in years, but then I don't often pull an all-nighter and then try to get by on just two hours of sleep either. (duh.) So I threw my clothes on and started writing. By 4:15 or so I had written a decent ending. I practically ran to class and got there to surprise the teacher, who didn't notice me until I spoke up.

The funny thing is, I thought I was only 20 minutes late. I didn't figure out that I had missed almost the whole class until everyone got up to leave. Class starts at 2, but for some reason I looked at the clock that said 3:20 and thought, "Oh shit, I only have forty minutes!" I didn't think "Oh shit, I'm almost an hour and a half late," it was, "I only have forty minutes." I think this was a case of my subconscious mind dealing with my conscious on a "need to know" basis. Of course, it could also have been because I was so stressed or was half-asleep or something.

If I had realized what time it actually was, I would have been far too embarrassed to go to class. But as it is, I even got a little laugh out of it. And I'm glad I did. If I hadn't rushed through the story and got off to class, I would have tried to hand it in at the teacher's office after class or I even would have had to leave it for her before I going home for vacation tomorrow. Neither of those are great options.

I don't know why finishing the story was so hard. Last semester I wrote a story of comparable length and I don't remember exactly how things went all those months ago, but I think I would have remember if it had gone like this. I don't think I put it off until an hour after it was due like I did this time. And more generally, I've been working on (for a given definition of "working on") this story for more than a week now. You can debate how much I should have worked and stuff - I think the fact that it was such a problem is all the evidence needed that I should have worked harder than I did, and earlier, but the point is I wasn't slacking off that much.

Now that I think of it, there was one significant difference between this story and pretty much everything else I've written - no, scratch that, between this story and every single story I've ever got past the first paragraph of. The difference is, this had no action. It was a very psychological or even philosophical story. I like it (or at least I do now, though I haven't reread it since handing it in, so maybe my opinion of the whole piece would be changed after a some time away), but it's all Idea and Character, only the Action necessary to develop those, and no Plot. It was experimental in more ways than one.

So there's a moral to this story. I should write plots rather than ideas. Well, maybe not that, since as I said I liked this story. But when I'm going to write an idea I should start it well in advance. Either that, or at least plan it out in exhaustive detail, rather than just knowing the idea and how to begin.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

A day when I have an important assignment due shouldn’t be so beautiful. Okay, that’s stupid. I could have been working on this long before now; it could – maybe – be argued that I have plenty of time now that the hardest part of writing anything is done, and so on. But still. I want to get out and enjoy the sun for what will probably be the last time until April. But the only work I have is writing a story which I’ve already started on a computer, and I resolutely avoided buying a book yesterday because I have work to do and today I might not even be able to (is the bookstore open today? No, it doesn’t matter, I have work!)

Well, don’t panic. Let’s see how much of a story I can write on notebook paper under a tree or something.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Yesterday I got great news: I got into Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction. It's great news because this is the second time I've tried to get into a class with this teacher. The first time he rejected me because my writing sample was science fiction and he doesn't like science fiction. He told me about another class I could take instead and assured me it would fulfill the same requirement for the major as the one I had tried to get into, but I double-checked and he was wrong. Friends of mine who have taken class with him have had nothing but praise, and I sure hope they're right - my experience with the man does not incline me towards optimism. And a second reason it's great news is the fact that it was the only class in doubt. Unless something really weird happens with another one, my classes are now finalized. And registration week isn't even over. This is the first time in my college career I've been able to say that.

My schedule for next semester is that Advanced Creative Writing class, on Thursday from 2-4:30; Readings in Classical Arabic Literature, time uncertain but probably MWF at 10; Game Theory, on T,TH at 12:30; and Logical Methods in Philosophy, on T,TH at 11.

The very observant reader might notice something: that's almost exactly the same as my current schedule. The writing class is on a different day and unlike right now there's no French class, but that's it.

I have quite a bit more to write, about my plans for this weekend and for Thanksgiving and other stuff in my life, but now's not the time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I'm writing this instead of writing a story for the paper. I'm sure you're all amazed.

It's pouring rain out. Makes me miss Nantes.

I found this article about Bush disturbing. There's a whole lot of debate about how good or bad he is, and a lot of it is subjective. Arguing about his stance on abortion is a matter of faith, and you really aren't going to change anyone's mind about that in a debate. Just for one example. And whether or not the Iraq thing really is complicated, it has successfully been made complicated, so it's hard to know exactly what's going on there. But this article is a red flag, a smoking gun. Bush wanted diplomatic immunity for all guards and agents in his entourage during a trip to the UK. It's like they are certain there will be trouble. If our biggest ally has such hostility to us that measures like this are necessary, then maybe, just maybe, we should ask ourselves what we've done wrong.

Oh, yeah, one more thing - WHY THE FUCK DOES THAT GUY THINK HIS PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE A LICENSE TO KILL PROTESTERS??? Tell me, if they shot someone in this country, should they be immune from prosecution? I sure as hell hope not.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I went to talk to Professor Kyburg before class yesterday, about a toned-down version of what I wrote the other day. He seemed pretty understanding. And in preparing for class I looked through the syllabus and found that my recent bad grades aren't that important. It's very dubious good news that I just have to do well on the final paper - %40 of class grade - but it's nice to know that I was overreacting the night before last. (I spent hours going from one library to another, checking out philosophy books from the fifties, when I could have been studying for a test in another class.) I don't know about Kyburg... I get to talking to him for a few minutes and I feel guilty about all the terrible things I've written and thought. But that doesn't mean I like the class any better. He's... he's a friendly guy in person, almost like I imagine a grandfather would be, I don't know, he's just an incompetent teacher.

And as for that test in Applied Data Analysis, it was tough, but I think I did all right. Sure, I didn't study enough and was fumbling and didn't quite have time to finish. But the silver lining is, so was everyone else. I mean, at least a quarter of the class was there until the last minute just like me. So I couldn't have done that badly.

Physical therapy for my knee problems is coming along all right. MY GOD but that trainee physical therapist who's been handling me for the past two weeks is hot. It's times like this that I WISH I HAD A BETTER MEMORY FOR NAMES!

Sorry. Physical therapy. Right. I'm making progress, slowly but surely. But unfortunately, my knee exercises are the only exercises I've had at all in... three weeks? A month? More? I quit Tae Kwon Do because I had better things to do Monday and Wednesday nights. I couldn't start fencing because of the knee problems. And since I've stopped smoking, my long nighttime walks have ended.

Hell, maybe that's why I've been so depressed and bored lately - no exercise. Everyone knows that exercise is fun and gets it, whatever "it" happens to be, out of your system, and here I am - the most strenuous thing I've done in weeks is walking to the store with a heavy backpack.

But what could I do? Go for long walks? Not in this weather. It's far too late in the semester to take up any sport except of course Tae Kwon Do, which I quit for a reason. Hmmm... I could practice my forms. But I don't plan on going back to the club here (ever? wow) and it would be pretty damn hard to teach myself the forms they do back home from scratch, from the diagrams. Hard, yes... But wouldn't it be cool if I could go back there for Thanksgiving and know them all?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I do not put anything in my mouth called "tall". Walking up to a stranger and grunting "tall, black" is only a smart thing to do in comparison to the alternatives - statements like "tall, with cream".

You might think "tall, with milk" would be acceptable to a guy like me. I suppose hypothetically it would be. But the woman behind the counter usually weighs more than I do and has a face that reminds me of my cute little pug back home, so until she's as tall as I am with some nice cleavage, I think I'll forgo the whole milk and go straight for the Columbian bean juice.

I will ask for a "grande" when I'm in Mexico. I will not go to Mexico until I speak Spanish. Unfortunately, my Spanish doesn't go much beyond "yo quiero Taco Bell." Therefore, I will not order a "grande" any time soon.

I order things by the sizes on a diner's menu: small, medium, and large. If there's only two, I skip "medium". If there's more than three, I add "baby" or "extra large" as it seems appropriate. I will often use "super size" instead of "extra large". It's alliterative, and McDo's is even more universal than the English language so there's rarely any confusion.

This is not a complicated system, people.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I could post a rant about how bad the lecture in Uncertain Inference was or how hard the homework was. I haven't been doing this because it would be pointless, it would basically be the same thing every day. But now that I think of it, lack of content never stops anyone else from writing something online, does it. I mean, the very concept of a weblog (not counting all the group blogs that are communities of their own, I'm just talking about the blogs that are the equivalent of diaries posted online like, well, this one) strikes me as a harmless-but-pointless idea. Sure, I find it fun or I wouldn't be doing it, but the idea of it... my friends know most of what I post here, I could put the links and articles in my AIM profile, and I very much doubt that strangers care how I like my classes. Of course, now that I'm writing about this I've looked through a few at random and found one or two I think are interesting. Maybe I'll follow everyone's example and make mine more interesting. Well, that would involve either lying or drastic lifestyle changes. On second thought, maybe I'll just post more. But I waste enough time as it is. Sigh...

ANYhoo... I don't write about Uncertain Inference and professor Kyburg unless I have something interesting to add. But this time I do. Okay, picture it: you're in a class. The homework is being handed back. The teacher spends some time at the beginning of the lecture reviewing the homework (something that never happens). He said he's doing this because no one got the homework problems right. He wouldn't normally have done this, because now we've fallen behind a little bit more on the syllabus. Now, what does a normal person, a thoughtful being, or a good-or-even-just-halfway-decent teacher say to this? "Sorry, I guess I should have explained it better." Or "Gee, you'd better understand this before we move on."

What did Professor Kyburg say? "Okay. I think you all could have done the work, so consider this [lecture] punishment for not having done it."

Punishment! He wrote the textbook with a typo on every page. He gave the lecture that rushed through the subject the first time, trying to catch up with his arbitrarily-defined schedule. What is he punishing us for???

If I didn't dislike this teacher so much that I'd have a hard time speaking up spontaneously around him (and, of course, if it was the kind of class where people spoke up easily, and if I was the kind of person, and I didn't fear him taking offense, and so on...) I would have responded with something like "I don't consider it a punishment, personally, because it would be nice to have this stuff explained a little better." As it is... grrr.

Monday, November 10, 2003

In my creative writing class, this guy wrote a story set in a strict Islamic society, which tangentially got me thinking about the roots of words. I looked up the root of the name "Mohammed", and found that the name translates literally to "he who (or that which) is highly praised/commendable."

I think that name is either divine will, or it's an honorific given to a person. You know, like the name Jesus Christ: "christ" is a Greek word that means the same thing as the Hebrew "messiah", or promised savior. After centuries of using it people think of Christ as part of his name, even though his human parents didn't call him that, and probably neither did anyone else while he was alive.

So what I'm wondering is, what was Mohammed's real name?

Saturday, November 08, 2003

When I was a kid doing that high-school-male-bonding stuff, learning the important stuff about sex outside of any textbook (mostly from Seinfeld, if you must know), there was this pseudo-factoid I heard somewhere that all women were at least a little bit lesbian. In the time between now and then, I had dismissed as fantasy, it like all the other stuff about sex that drew the attention of my desperate and immature and underdeveloped... brain. It was the dream of all my friends: if you can first manage to stay on the good side of not one but two girls at once, then it's theoretically, hypothetically, maybe possible to have a ménage à trois!

But according to this article, there's sort of a grain of truth to it. Cool.

In other news, it's been a while since I've posted anything here worth posting. Sure, I'm lazy, I procrastinate, yadda yadda yadda, but also, I'm not the sort of person (few are, I think) who would willingly post their deep soul-searching thoughts to a blog. And I haven't been dying of boredom by any means, but new and different stuff in my life has been limited lately. Work is same old same old, stuff in progress (like classes for next semester, frex) are in progress so there's nothing worth telling yet, and personal stuff is personal. I don't know, was this blog just not necessary?

As I said, I originally hoped to use it to encourage myself to write more short fiction. But hindsight is 20/20: a blog format is not good for short stories. If I really want to do that, I suppose I should get myself a domain on Geocities or one of the UR servers or something.