Sunday, July 31, 2011

More fun with word association

Procrastinate - from the Latin pro meaning for and cras, meaning tomorrow. To make something for tomorrow. Love it.
The Spanish word manana is related to the word cras as well, sort of. Manana actually means early, and is a shortening of cras manana, meaning tomorrow early. Manana, when used with an article actually means morning in Spanish, according to Babel Fish.
The name Babel Fish is a reference to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe; in his books, the Babel Fish is a critter that you shove into your ear, and it translates stuff from other languages directly into your brain. It's such a perfect symbiotic relationship, according to Adams, that it proves the existence of of God... except that it doesn't, as this interchange explains. I copied this from Wikipedia:

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing".
"But," says man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It proves you exist and so therefore you don't. QED."
"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh, that was easy," says man.
The Babel Fish rather conveniently solves a problem common in sci-fi. How do all of these people from different star systems, galaxies, or dimensions all understand each other. Many series have adopted the rather generic "universal translator." Star Trek doesn't dwell a great deal on how the thing works, it just works. We know it's a computer program, and we know that in Next Generation and later, the translator is located in the communicator. Original series, it's never dealt with. It's magic.
In one of my top five Next Generation episodes (the others being Locutus, Data's daugher, the one where Picard gets psychicly linked to the dead planet, and possibly the one where they all get drunk), the crew meet a race that they can't understand, even with translators. Turns out that they speak in this crazy series of cultural allusions. If they're lonely, they say "Darmoc on the water," in reference to a story from myth in which a man called Darmoc is all alone on the ocean. It's a really sweet episode and you should watch it... it's called Darmoc. It reminds me of the language my Jean and I speak. We say "Remember the time with the thing and the thing?" and of course, the other does and nobody around us has any idea what they hell we're talking about. Sometimes the whole talking thing isn't really necessary. There's just glancing, eyebrow raising, and then laughter. In which case, we're probably talking about you behind your back in front of your face. Well not so much now, but in high school, oh yeah.
"Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra"
aka
Brigid and Andy covered in paint
apropos of nothing.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

And now, because I don't have anything to say:

I did not make this. I do not know who did, but I like them.
Click on the image to see it at the correct size.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Truthiness

Before I begin, you should hear from the purple-mounted champion of truthiness, who speaks about the media's response to the crisis in Norway far more star-spangledly than I could.
Just because Norway's confessed murderer is a blond, blue-eyed, Norwegian-born, anti-Muslim crusader doesn't mean he's not a swarthy, ululating madman. ~ Stephen Colbert
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Norwegian Muslish Gunman's Islam-Esque Atrocity
www.colbertnation.com

In this clip, Colbert calls out the media for rushing blame Al Qaeda for the slaughter in Norway; specifically the members of the media who reported the terrorism links as if it were fact. And one pundit who blamed the attack on "the Middle East." The whole of it, it would seem.
You know what it reminded me of? The liberal media's rush to blame political conservatives and Sarah Palin for the Tuscon shooting of 19 people including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Didn't expect me to go there, now did you? The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, wasn't a particularly conservative fellow; while he did hate many politicians, he seemed to hate them at random, regardless of their political leanings. He was not known to be a Fox News junkie nor a Palin fan; he seems to be just your friendly neighborhood psychopath.
In defense of both the Al Qaeda blamers and the Palin haters, this is as much the consequence of the 24-hour media medium as it is the individuals. TV audiences don't tune in to hear "We don't know who did it," they tune in to hear their favorite pundits editorialize and blame whomever their favorite pundits happen to hate at the moment. The fact that the 24-hour news media exists, and that there's a great deal of competition in the field, means that journalists who are a part of it are going to have to make stuff up to fill air time. I'm not saying that's right, I'm not saying that the kind of "journalists" who would participate in this circus aren't a bunch of nattering douchemongers, I'm just saying. (Douchemonger, which I picked up somewhere on these here Internets, is a pretty silly word. Douche is French for shower and monger means tradesman, so a douchemonger would be a purveyor of showers, which isn't really a bad thing to be. But I digress as usual).
Anyway, all this got me thinking about blame. Blame descends, according to my friends over at the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from Old French blasmer, which is etymologically related to blasphemy, which is kind of appropriate in light of what I'm going to say.
I was thinking that maybe blame is a more dangerous phenomenon than even hate (which is distantly descended from the old Greek kedos, for sorrow, a far more harmless thing).
Jews during the middle ages were less impacted by the black death than others. This was largely because the Jews tended to observe biblical law when it came to cleanliness, and it was the filth and squalor in which the goyim were living at the time (goy comes from the Hebrew word nation, oddly enough) that made their towns so hospitable to plague. But the non-Jews, not knowing about things like hygiene and such, thought that the Jews were spared because the Jews had caused the plague. Jews had been hated in Europe since time out of mind, but when people started blaming them for their misery, they began slaughtering them en masse
Same thing happened during the Holocaust (a term which once meant burnt offering). Jews were hated, reviled in Germany, but it wasn't until people began to blame them, with Hitler's influence, for the economic crisis in Germany at the time that they all really got on board with the whole ethnic cleansing thing.
Jared Lee Loughner seemed to blame, based on a Myspace post, the illiterate, the war, and some school bully for his behavior. And seriously, who still uses Myspace? That should have been our first sign.
Anders Behring Breivik, alleged perpetrator of  the Norway massacre, apparently blamed Islam for his actions. Jim David Adkisson opened fire in a Unitarian Universalist church in 2008 because he blamed gay people for the fact that he couldn't find a job, and the UUs were harboring gays. Seung-Hui Cho, who perpetrated the massacre at Virginia Tech apparently did so because he blamed rich kids for his problems.
Noticing a pattern? Killers don't seem to kill just because they hate, they seem to kill because they blame. This worries me given how much blaming goes on in American news and politics. Pat Robertson blames the gays for everything from terror attacks to natural disaster; liberals blame the NRA whenever someone opens fire in a school; the Democrats and Republicans are now stridently blaming each other for a financial crisis that hasn't even happened yet. How are we supposed to avoid crisis if we're too busy blaming each other to do it?
I blame the gays.





Saturday, July 23, 2011

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about"

Jeremy and I just watched the movie Wilde, the biopic of Oscar Wilde. Stephen Fry's portrayal was so lovely that I didn't even notice what Jeremy noticed immediately. The movie did a great job of reducing a remarkable and dynamic writer, one of the greatest ever, and reduced him to just a gay guy.
The movie didn't focus on his early life at all, and barely on his writing. Nothing about his legacy, and nothing about the degree to which he revolutionized literature and theatre. Just, as Jeremy put it, "Wilde meets a boy, Wilde has sex with boy, Wilde makes a clever quip, Wilde meets a new boy."
I guess it's like that expression: You can build a thousand bridges, but if you suck one cock, they don't call you a bridge builder but a cocksucker.
I mean, obviously, the guy did hard labor for years for buggery, and in the end, that ruined him. You couldn't ignore that. But that was just the tail end of his life, you know?
Some critics and people who Discuss Literature say that many of Wilde's work parodied heterosexuals; how very narrow-minded and untenable a claim. Wilde's work parodied everyone - that's what Wilde did. But he had a great fondness for his wife and family. I think he really wanted to want a traditional life. He wanted to want his wife and a family; from what I've learned of him and what I've read of him, I think he might even have chosen to be that man if he could have. 
Biopics of authors so frequently miss the mark. Although they usually do so by inventing or exaggerating events in the lives of the authors that are the basis for their most famous work - as if these great authors weren't capable of, you know, inventing a story.
Except for the movie Finding Neverland. It contrived a love affair for which there is little evidence, and made the woman and her family the main inspiration for the story. It ignored the fact that the man had dwarfism - was, in a sense, a little boy who never grew up. And I think it's fair to say that his brother, who died as a child, influenced Peter Pan far more than anything. Especially since Barrie's mother often said that her only comfort in the brother's death was that he never was corrupted by having to grow up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Light, Many Windows

I've noticed that I'm perpetually returning to themes in this blog, religion being one of them. It's an odd thing for me to go on talking about God and such. I'm pretty secular as far as things go, but one thing about being a Unitarian is that every time you go to church you're learning something new about one faith or another, and it leads to lots of brain drippings. And since my brain drips into this here blog, this here blog is going to talk about religion once again. More precisely, about the names of religions and what they mean.

  • Quakers: The official name for this denomination is Religious Society of Friends. Quaker is sort of a nickname, possibly once pejorative, a scriptural reference to "trembling at the word of the lord." The Online Etymology Dictionary says this origin is probably apocryphal, rather, quaker was just a general term given to sects prone to shaking with religious fervor. I kind of lean toward the trembling at the word of the lord explanation myself.
    Quakers, by my best definition, are folks who believe that God reveals him or herself to all - people don't necessarily need intermediaries to experience God or Christ; they can experience the divine by listening. Traditionally, Quakers believe in peace, simplicity, and social action. A Quaker professor from my college (one of them) told a class that Quakers are like Buddhists who sit in chairs, although that doesn't seem to be true for all congregations.
    Quakers do not have a religious symbol, which seems sort of refreshing to me, somehow. Do holy symbols exist to keep us apart from each other, to make us choose sides? Is the chalice I wear (or more accurately, keep in my jewelry box and mean to wear) my way of telling people that I'm different or even better than them? It seems to me that Quakers believe it is far better to live one's faith than to wear it around one's neck.
  • Lutherans: It just struck me as ironic that Luther thought that the Catholics put way too much time into idolizing the saints when they should be idolizing God, yet the Lutherans named their religion after him.
  • Atheists: I feel like I've got to clear up some misconceptions here. Atheism comes from ancient Greek: a meaning without and theos, meaning God. Originally a pejorative term for someone who does not believe in the Greek pantheon (meaning, by extension, that we're all atheists by the ancient Greeks' definition). So an atheist is a person who does not believe in a sentient or anthropomorphic deity. That does not, however, mean that atheists believe in nothing or hold nothing sacred. Unless they also happen to be nihilists which from the Latin nihil literally means nothing-ist. Many atheists are skeptical and believe that science trumps religion, but that belief is not essential to atheism. Nor is rejection of all things supernatural: I've known atheists who believed in ghosts and astrology, though not many. 
  • Agnostics: From the Greek a for without and gnosis, for knowing. Agnostics do not know whether God exists and/or don't believe it's possible to know. Agnostics are not, as some have said, wishy-washy: they tend to be people who don't believe there's enough evidence to form a conclusion either way. Agnostics, I've found, don't tend to fall easily into a category. Some agnostics are apathetic to whether God exists, some who think that God exists but just aren't sure, some for whom the jury is simply still out, and some who think it's just not possible to ever know, and so think it's a waste of time to wonder. Some of the most spiritual people, people most interested in learning about faith that I know are agnostics.
  • Buddhists: I've said this before, but it's one of my pet peeves: Buddhists do not worship Buddha (well, the vast majority do not).  In fact, Buddha is a term for anyone who has achieved enlightenment (from the Sanskrit for awakened one). When Buddhists talk about THE Buddha, they are referring to Siddhartha Gautama, a guy from India who lived a couple hundred years before Christ and whose teachings form the basis for modern-day Buddhism. There is no deity central to Buddhism, so many Buddhists are also atheists or agnostics. Buddhists aren't particularly easily lumped together, and Buddhisms teachings can't really be summarized in a couple of sentences. My understanding however, is that Buddhists believe that attachment to worldly things and comforts brings about suffering, and that when we can end desires for things, we achieve nirvana, the state of being free from suffering. And helping free others from suffering, I think. Interesting note: the big fat-bellied bald grinning statue dude is NOT a statue of the Buddha (i.e., Siddhartha Gautama). He is a Chinese historical figure - a monk by the name of Budai who lived around the tenth century CE.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mischief Managed

The night before The Deathly Hallows came out, I went up to Hudson with my friend Craig. The downtown area of Hudson, Ohio, transformed into the world of Harry Potter. The bars became The Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron. The toy shops became Zonkos and Weasley's Wizard Wheezes; complete with a window sign reading "Why are you worried about You-Know-Who? You SHOULD be worrying about U-NO-POO." 
The costumes were thrilling. An entire flock of girls in perfect Beauxbatons uniforms (wait, does the name of that school translate to beautiful sticks? Or is my French off?) Home made costumes, store bought costumes, an alarming number of small children in improvised Death Eater costumes (what's more scary than a death eater? A tiny death eater.) A woman in an impeccable Belatrix Lestrange costume who was still, at midnight prancing around town singing "I killed Sirius Black," with the same commitment as when the night began
So why Harry? The folks at the event weren't just the fanatical fringe, like at a convention, they were regular old muggles, many to most of them grown-ups, reveling in an imaginary world meant for children.
I wrote in this post about how the one thing that all geek stories seem to have in common is that they're variations on the story of the Ugly Duckling. Strange and shunned and unloved Harry learns at the age of eleven that he's not a freak, he's a hero. He's something magic, something he never knew existed. Is there a person on earth who hasn't dreamed of waking up one day to find out they've been something special all along? Who doesn't dream of waking up in another life, one in which they're not... well... muggles?
And you know what the crazy thing is? JK Rowling did wake up one day, after years of scrimping and pinching and just scraping by, to find she was so much more than a single welfare mom. She was a hero, and she didn't just live in a world beyond reality, she'd created it. And while she didn't really mean to, not at first anyway, she gave us, we true believers, an incredible gift.
When I cracked my first Harry Potter book, I was about a month into the job in which I lived on the road. I was the farthest I'd ever been from home, living alone for the first time in my life, and I was terrified. Flat out, tightrope without a net terrified. But Hogwarts drew me into its spell and for the first time since I'd left home I felt safe, knowing Dumbledore would appear and save the day in the end. 
Rowling did a neat job of bringing us back into her world with each book. Each book begins with Harry back where he began, at the home of his aunt and uncle, unloved and oppressed. And in every book but the last, the fact he'll go back to being an ugly duckling by the end hangs in the air like the stench of polyjuice potion. All so she can rescue us again in the next installment.




"To tell stories about ourselves to each other is a basic human need." Alan Rickman - Snape


"[Rowling has created a] whole new world, which excites children because they love magic, they love anarchy... and they're much closer to their dreams than we are. They dream about flying all the time and sometimes think they can if my children are anything to go by." Robbie Coltrane - Hagrid


"There's no subtext in Harry Potter really; it's all magic, anything can happen. There's a real freedom to this." Michael Gambon - who kind of appears to think the role of Dumbledore is a bit beneath him. Or movies in general, really

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A is for...

One of two indefinite articles in the English language, the other being an. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it used to be that an was the sole indefinite article, but folks had mostly switched to only using an in front of words beginning with vowel sounds by the 14th century. Sometimes you'll hear snooty intellectual types use an before words that begin with h, as in an historic event. This usage comes from the fact that proper folk used to drop the h sound at the beginning of some words (an 'istoric event). This rule, then, would only apply to Cockneys and such.
An, as an article, comes from the Old English word an (pronounced ane, I think), which means one. Old English, however, didn't use indefinite articles; they only used an to specify one. Why, do you suppose, we have indefinite articles at all? You don't need them, really. Is the sentence I want apple less clear than I want an apple? If you wanted more than one apple, you would say apples, and if you wanted a specific apple, you'd say the apple or that apple. According to Wikipedia, linguists believe that the Proto Indo-European language (great grandparent of languages as varied as English, Greek, and Sanskrit, Hindi, and many others) did NOT use articles - definite or otherwise, nor did many of its immediate descendants (Latin, Persian, and Sanskrit, for example). Yet this quirk of language isn't just one of the many inane qualities of the English language - many languages use articles, and many languages' indefinite articles descend from some word that once meant one.
I've talked about Indo-European before, because years and years after learning about it, it still fries my noodle. Finding out English and Hindi are related felt like me finding out that I was related to Samuel L. Jackson. 
...and a spigot. Because I think myself deep and artistic.
Know what else blows my mind? We don't have a single surviving example of the language known as Proto Indo-European (far as I know), we only know it existed because of its offspring, and we can guess what its vocabulary was like by looking at the similarities between its offspring. Doesn't that just make your head explode? Or is that just a word nerd thing?

Monday, July 11, 2011

A few of my favorite facts so far...

... from the book Everything You Know about English is Wrong, by Bill Brohaugh:
  • Bull, meaning the same thing as horse feathers (nonsensehoohabull hockeycodswallopclaptrap, etc.) is not a shortening of bullshitBull descends from the Old French word, bouler, which means to deceive. Mom points out that people like to change expressions to make them include swears that don't belong. As in laughing my head off makes sense as an expression, where laughing my ass off does not. I'm not sure if that's the case here, though.
  • Bonfire descends from the Middle English banefire, a fire in which they burned the bones of witches. Which, much like gorilla, is a pretty grisly origin for a thing we now sit around and watch for fun. 
  • Grisly, by the way, to wander away from Brohaugh for a second, descends from the Old English grislic, meaning dreadfulGrizzly means grey. The grizzly bear, however, was so named, not because it was grey but because it was grisly. Seriously, English, you're a silly, silly language.
  • Quick, as it is used in expressions like quick witquicksand, and quicksilver doesn't refer to speed; it means "alive." Quicksilver is silver that seems to move of its own volition. Quicksand is sand that eats you, and a quick wit is a lively wit. Also, quicksand, according to howstuffworks.com, doesn't really eat you. It's not usually deep enough, for one thing, usually only a couple feet or so. Also, quicksand is even more dense than water, so if you just lay back, you'll float. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thoughts on Borders

Okay, so I know I've mentioned the segregated literature section before, right? The little island of "African American" literature in the middle of the regular literature section. I get that it's more of a spotlighting thing than a segregating thing, but writers like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Alice Walker aren't a subset of American literature. They are American literature. 
I learned in a literature class that Ralph Ellison hated being considered an "African American" novelist. And there he is, front and center in the colored section. I think of the opening scenes Invisible Man: the unnamed main character fights in a "battle  royal," in which he and a bunch of other young, black men fight blindfolded in the center of a boxing ring for the amusement of white people.
Took this in downtown Canton with the fancy new DSLR and
I'm pretty darn proud of it.
Another English major once pointed out that it's not so much the fact that the writers are African American, but that the books considered African American literature are African American themed. I don't know about that. Tons of great American novels have centered a great deal around the state of California, but I've never seen a special section in the bookstore inhabited by Amy Tan, John Steinbeck, and Dashiell Hammett. You know? 
I can be a little militant about this stuff. About women and minorities and gay people not getting a fair shake, and I can't say I'm sure why. What's it to me, really? And more importantly, why do I continue to shop at Borders? The second question is easy: I live in Canton. And Jeremy and I are so nerdy that a trip to Borders is date night.
The first question? I don't know. I guess I've always been a bit of an outsider, for better or worse. I've been the white one, the liberal one, the one with the mental illness. Not that that's a bad thing, not that people have always treated me badly because of it. Just, I know what it feels like to feel like an Other, when all I am is me. That sounds maudlin. I guess I'm saying I can be hyper-conscious of wanting everyone to have a seat at the table. And that's better than the opposite extreme, I think.
Also, Borders should probably reconsider having the Gender Studies books directly above the bondage erotica. Not that I think bondage is anti-feminist, just that for a minute I thought that Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution was some kind of prison fetish novel, and I was rather shocked to find Wally Lamb writing prison fetish novels.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Things I shouldn't address this long past bed time

Yeah, so bed time is 11 and this warrants far more discussion than I'm going to be able to give it just now, but it's been on my mind. So first, there's the Canadian couple who aren't telling anybody their baby's gender article that everyone I know has forwarded to me. On the whole, I think that gender is a really fluid concept and it's really good for parents to encourage their kids not to buy into the gender binary. I know a whole lot of people, trans and otherwise, who would have had far less trauma in their teens and adult years had they not had parents who were trying to force them to be more masculine or feminine.
However, turning your child into an international freak show is not okay. To make this huge socio-political statement through your infant is no damn fair. To make it through your twelve year old is no damn fair. If the parents want to start dressing themselves in gender-neutral clothing and refusing to reveal their own gender to people, that's fine and that's their business. If Baby Storm reaches the age of 18 and decides ghe wants to tell the entire planet that ghe doesn't want to reveal gher gender, that is absolutely great. Your kid is not a science fair project. Your kid is not a political statement. Your kid is a life, and a fragile life at that, and does not deserve to have gher parents using gher to get attention for themselves.
Then there's this story, about a preschool in Sweden that avoids using gender adjectives and gender-specific toys, stories, and play. Folks have accused the school, among other things, of "mind control" because of the way they manipulate the environment to be gender free. Actually, the school reminds me a lot of the way I was raised. Mom wanted my sister and me not to feel limited by our physical gender, so our toys were very gender-neutral until we were old enough to select our own toys. I had dolls because I wanted them. I had toy tools because I wanted them. My sister wore the same baseball cap night and day for an entire summer, yet nowadays she wears makeup and does her hair and stuff every day. On the other hand, I liked to dress like a little princess as a kid, and now I rarely wear makeup or jewelry. We had those books that were popular in the 70s with genderless characters, and my mom used to sing little songs about how boys and girls could grow up to be whatever they wanted. As a teen and a young adult, I was confused by a great many things, but gender wasn't one of them. I love the color pink, and I love super heroes. I like to climb, build, and roughhouse, but I also like to cuddle and nurture. I wear men's and women's clothes pretty much interchangeably. I'm not a freak.
I mean, yes, I'm a freak, and on so many levels, but the fact that I'm comfortable in my own skin and my own gender, ambiguous as that may be, doesn't make me more of a freak. Bottom line: I'm deeply grateful that my folks tried to raise me in a world without rigid gender rules. It opened doors in terms of the classes I took and the jobs I chose. Were I raised to believe that girls should be princesses and play with Barbies and such, I'd have experienced a lot of confusion later on. BUT, my folks didn't alert the international media to their parenting decisions. 
So I'll close with these neat little things from the Web site The Achilles Effect. This site talks about gender stereotypes that young boys face, and I absolutely love it. This entry talks about the word clouds below: the author looked at the words used in commercials for typical "boy" toys and typical "girl" toys, and while she points out that her methods aren't scientific, I think you'll find they hit pretty close to the mark:
Words used in advertising for "boy" toys:

And "girl" toys

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gratitude

My cousin Jack's last Facebook post came the morning he died: "My life is wonderful." Jack was sick with cancer, struggling through each day, and he'd had the hardest life of just about anyone I know. But he meant what he said, and if he can say it and mean it...
I don't think, in general, we take the time to talk about what is wonderful. We talk about whom we are mad at and who screwed us over and how much our heads hurt and how tired we are, but we don't talk about the feel of cool grass under our feet on a hot day. We don't say how grateful we are for Technicolor sunsets or porch swings or our families or the baby who grinned at us the whole time we were in line at the grocery store. 
I want to be like Jack, always mindful of what I'm grateful for. And if I do it, and you all do it too, we'll all be putting a lot more happy and gratitude out into the cosmos, and maybe if we all do it in memory of him, we'll be sending Jack out into the cosmos too, helping his love and gratitude live on. 

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