Saturday, February 28, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

City Slicker

A mournful Amazing Grace in
Harvard Square Station,
And high heel clicks on cobble stone
Is what it means
To call this city home.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

that gift from your sister

A few years back, I got a book from my sister Kristen for Christmas. The book is called "The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written: The History of Thought from Ancient Times to Today" and it is by Martin Seymour-Smith (MSS from now on); copyright 1998. While pretending to love the gift for the sake of decorum, I silently dismissed the book, at the time, as a banal supermarket volume that would have valueless and cute summaries of things I'd already been force-fed in high school. I didn't touch it for several years. Now, about 3 years after the initial gift-giving, I am realizing that I could not have been further from the mark (sorry Kristen). MSS provides 2 - 4 page descriptions of varying important texts, focusing on the contexts of the works as well as the lives and thoughts of the writers themselves. It reads like a kind of print Wikipedia. MSS ingulges in frequent tangents wherein he lambastes modern-day beurocracy, lazy academics and basically all orthodox religions as they are now practiced - as his points here seem sound, this is more amusing than distracting. He never shies away from passing strong judgment on the authors he describes or on certain of their contemporaries. Despite this extra, perhaps unnecessary flair, the meat and potatoes of the book is well in place and I am very grateful for the wide-ranging scope of information that MSS has put together for this volume. Here are some snippets of the text for those of you interested:

*on the I Ching (c. 1500 B.C.E.)
it's pronounced "Yee Jing" and it's usually translated as "Book of Changes". The book contains number combinations which are read and said to "contain the answers for everything". It's a kind of divination tool which has held influence in China from the time of its writing to the present day.
- "The importance - and influence - of the I Ching, whose true origins remain shrouded in mystery, stems from its being one of the earlist efforts of the human mind to find its place in the universe ... it was preceded - and generated - in China by the very early theory of "yang" and "yin". Yang originally meant sunshine, whereas yin implied the absence of heat and light. The two antithetical principles came to be regarded as cosmic forces: masculinity/femininity, heat/cold, brightness/darkness, dryness/wetness, hardness/softness, and so forth. The Chinese saw the tension set up by two phenomena as having brought forth the universe itself. The legendary Fu Hsi, emperor of China, is supposed to have invented the eight basic trigrams - sets of three lines, broken and unbroken-which form the basis of the I Ching. Any two of these trigrams will combine into sixty-four hexagrams. The original text of the I Ching consisted of accounts of the symbolic meanings of each of these hexagrams. Even as we know them they are still cryptic and laconic."

*on The Old Testament (c. 1500 B.C.E.)
"Jesus Christ was ... in all probability a gnostic ..." [The early Christian Church set itself up against gnosticism and] "drew, ruthlessly, upon the monotheism of the Jewish religion as expressed in The Old Testament, and ....on astralist tendencies in the very Greek world which it sought to convert"
(i.e. the Christian Church quickly became very scary, and very unlike Christ, from about 200 C.E. onwards!)

here's an example of an enjoyable tangent appearing in an entry on Homer and his Illiad / Odyssey: "Politics (wonderfully ingenuous and, like most human enterprises at their inception, such as money, a good idea - but now at their last gasp, and practiced only by polite psychopaths and their too willing victims) ..."

* on The Avesta (c. 500 B.C.E.)
The Avesta is the volume which lays out the thinking of the religion Zarathustrianism which would turn into Zoroastrianism, "the oldest of the monotheistic religions". Zoroaster, "legendarily the only infant ever to have laughted at birth," was a "priest, poet, seer and prophet of the steppes of eastern Iran [and a] reformer of the polytheistic religion into which he was brought up." His thought is the basis of The Avesta.
- "Zoroaster's theology is ... thus: The god Ahura Mazda ("Lord Wisdom") is an eternal uncreated (i.e. has always been in existence) ... being of the utmost good, who created the universe, which is also good. Opposing him, and also uncreated and original - in other words, until then and indeed now in human time, co-eternal - is the unequivocally evil Angra Mainyu ...The duty of humanity, but a duty which each person must choose in heart - not by rote - is to aid Ahura Mazda against Angra Mainyu."
- "Zoroaster ... claimed to have received his teaching directly from Ahura Mazda, his personal friend ... and optimistically preached that time would end with the victory of good. He thus first contributed the notion of eschatology - last things, the end of the world - to religious thought."
- Free will is stressed in Zarathustrianism and the thinking in this religion - ideas of Heaven and Hell, death and resurrection and doctrines on the nature of evil especially - heavily influenced the Jews, Christians and Muslims

* on Desiderius Erasmus and his In Praise of Folly (1509)
Erasmus was a contemporary of Martin Luther and is said to have paved the way for the Reformation. He was a priest, though he had little interest in organized religion. He turned to writing satires on ignorance and against war and, though he never left the church, was highly critical of it. "He was essentially an imaginative writer...a writer who wanted, by his works, to make the world into a kinder and gentler place."
- "Erasmus was popular in his own time. He wrote, essentially, for enlightened men like himself who felt themselves powerless to prevent the folly perpetrated by those with more direct influence upon events ...[he has been called] "overintellectual when a form of intellectuality, superior learning, was his only weapon in a world which not only banned (all Erasmus's works were several times banned by the Church he refused to leave) but burned his work. The spirit of the age was that of Luther and Calvin rather than of humane letters, and he wrote to bring into focus what resistance there was to their violent dogmatism. There was much of this resistance, but it had little effect at the time."
- Erasmus's In Praise of Folly focuses on "human diversity and vitality". "It is a tribute to vitality, to honest and natural feeling, to instinct, to energy, to simplicity, to - above all - Christ as Fool. It is even a tribute to irresponsibility ... As Erasmus writes in it, 'This much is certain: without a little folly, no party is any fun.'"

* on Miguel Cervantes and his Don Quixote (part I, 1605; part II, 1615)
Cervantes "joined the Spanish legion in Italy; in 1571 he found himself at the Battle of Lepanto ... [where he] was twice wounded in the chest - and permanently lost the use of his left hand." In 1575 he was returning back to Spain from Naples, having completed his service, when he was captured by pirates. He was imprisoned until 1580, though he tried to escape several times in the interim. "He started to write during those dreary five years of imprisonment, mainly plays to entertain his fellow captives. A couple of these, out of many he wrote, have survived and were published long after his death. They are quite unremarkable - as unremarkable as the poetry he tried but always failed to write throughout his life. Perhaps it was his lack of capacity to write great poetry, his frustrated yearning to discover the magical language in which to do so ... that contributed to the astonishing universality - indeed, to the undeniable poetry - of Don Quixote. Most of those who feel rejected by poetry but do not try to manufacture it, become the most invaluable readers of it; Cervantes took a different course."

* on Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and his Works (1663-1716)
- "He was the first writer to introduce the notion of the unconscious"
- "The ordinary educated man or woman is perhaps less likely to be able to say anything much about him ... than about any other figure of a similar degree of eminence"
- "Leibniz was perhaps the last "universal man" of the Renaissance type. A supreme polymath, he was a mathematician, scientist, lawyer, diplomat, engineer, historian, courtier, librarian, and inventor (of the first calculation machine that could extract roots, a great improvement on that of Pascal) He was also a poet, but a bad and exceptionally conventional one ... He was a very public figure, described by George I of England as a 'walking encyclopedia'. He was a prodigy who attended college at fourteen. In 1669 he entered into the service of the elector of Mainz, then, in 1672, always devoted ... to the notion of international peace, he traveled to Paris to try to persuade Lous XIV to expel the Turks from Egypt in order to distract his attention from marching on Holland (this ploy did not work) ..."
- "Leibniz's definition of reality - that it consists of a number of nonmaterial monads (this meant to him: the smallest possible entity that is a unity, the simplest possible unit of energy), absolutely independent of one another - is one of the three important accounts of reality of the seventeenth century; that it is by far the oddest should not deter us from acknowledging this ..."
- "When Leibniz died, feeling miserable and unfulfilled, plagued with gout, and under secret surveillance, not a single person from the court of Hanover was present at his funeral. He had been avaricious, multifariously active, accessible, power-loving and the greatest intellect of his time with the exception of Newton. He never married ... and it is said that after he proposed at the age of fifty he withdrew his proposal 'before it was too late'. He was not 'smooth,' charming, or 'nice,' but relied on his eminence and indeed on his 'greatness' to get by socially. Had it not been for his irresistible influence he would hardly have atttrracted the attention of posterity ... He died lonely, and he is neglected as a person even today. Biographies of him are grim affairs."

Monday, February 16, 2009

a life philosophy

"The world is so full of a number of things,
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings"
- quote embroidered on a wall hanging in my grandmother’s bed room

Hegel, shmeghel. Heidegger, blah-de-bore. I choose Hallmark!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Night at the Supermarket

Dear Lady, 

I very much admire your courageous choice to eschew traditional groceries in favor of a box of wine, a birthday cake, and a carton of menthol cigarettes. 

Missing you already,


Let's Talk Indian Cuisine!

Here is what I have learned of Indian cuisine. First off, India is a mecca for vegetarians. Most restaurants have primarily vegetarian offerings. You can easily find places with both veg and non-veg fare but I have yet to find a place with the scales tipped wildly in the favor of chicken, beef or seafood. The staple in the south is rice. The staple in the north is roti, chapati or any other word you want to pick which translates roughly to "bread". These staples are dipped in curries and "pickles" (which are wildly hot and spicy). The base in a curry can be chickpeas, assorted dry fruits, mixed vegetables, large balls of fermented cheese, etc. In Kerela (way south), the rice is puffy and oversized. In Andhra Pradesh (south central, where I am), the choice is basmati rice or daal (any one of a variety of bean offerings which can take the place of rice). A traditional meal is served on a big round plate with dividers (like you get in a cafeteria). In the dividers, you will find a large place for the rice or bread. In the side areas are the pickles, curries and vegetables. Water, a fruit juice, or one of many soft drink knockoffs act as the beverage. Pictured below is what my host offered me for lunch one day in Varanasi.The sweets are raw and blunt - no messing around. Most taste like they are in some part of the batter stage. This is in no way saying they are bad. Just require some intrepid tastebuds. The first picture below is of some sweets I purchased in Darjeeling. I staged them nicely on my bed before consumption. The picture below that is of the sweets on offer at a Varanasi sweet shop (Varanasi is hailed as the sweets capital of India - based on a minimal amount of research, I will for now concur) A word on the spice. Obviously, a lot of the food is spicy. This has not bothered me much. I prefer a runny nose and a fiery tongue to the other option - curd or yogurt, which is served in it's own little bowl and offered as a "neutralizer" to the spicy parts of the meal. Some people see-saw back and forth between the curry and the curd. Others throw the curd right on the curry. To me, this is wrong. Go big or go home. The famous dish for where I have been living in central / south India is "biryani," a rice dish with mint and many other competing flavors which work together to delight the palate. McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Baskin Robbins and Pizza Hut are all here though they have revised menus to appeal to the Indian crowd - for example, the Pizza Hut offers "paneer," or fermented cheese in the stead of the melted cheeses we are used to. There are also many more chilis present on the pizza pies here. And a pepper is called a "capsicum," a rare case where the Indian languages fails to provide more melodius sounds than the English.

Street food / beverages are delightful and always within reach (at least where I have mostly been, in the city). There are a plethora of carts selling "chaat" or "tiffins," essentially a word meaning "snacks". Pani poori are these little wafer thin bread bowls that you break open and pour in this flavored liquid. There is "bhel poori" which is a very tasty kind of wholesome chex mix, without the chex cereal. There are ice cream vedors near the more heavily visited hang-out areas. You get the same things here that you'd get from your ice cream man in the states, though there are some extra flavors - dates make an appearance, fruits are in general more apparent, and almonds show up in a big way. Fruit juice vendors line the streets. You can get fresh orange juice (the oranges here are usually green and yellow on the outside), sugar cane juice, pineapple juice, apple juice and grape juice. A lot of the vendors will throw in some pepper unless you tell them otherwise. I tried this once, to get the experience, you know? God, what a mistake. Get that pepper out of my fruit juice! A cup of one of these juices costs about 20 - 25 cents. You can also drink out of cocunuts which is quite fun if not very refreshing - the liquid is pretty lukewarm. And after you drink the juices inside, the vendor will hack away with his hatchet at the cocunt until you have a chunk of the shell with which to scrape away the insides for your eating pleasure - this is an enjoyable and truly involved culinary experience. Pictured below is a branch of coconuts sitting on the banks of the Alleppey backwaters in Kerela. I consumed one of those guys' siblings - DeliciousEating with hands is fun, though not pleasant to look at some of the time. And cooking vegetables you bought from a guy on the street is also enjoyable as it hacks away several degrees of seperation you have to deal with when you pick out produce from your local super market. I honestly never thought of the food here as unhealthy until about two months in, when I encountered an Australian couple tossing invective left and right at the copious grease content of many of the dishes here. Fair enough. You want some curry, you're gonna get a lot of grease. But this is fine for most people and usually not overbearing.

Pictured below is what I had for dinner tonight. I have been attempting to cook Indian meals since arriving here. I started with rice as the staple and would cook various vegetables and throw it together with some spices. Then I moved on to daal as the staple. This here is green daal cooked with vegetables. Here, I used Coriander, Turmeric (which is why the potatoes are yellow), Dhania Powder and Garam Masala. I half understand how to use these spices so many of my dishes are, I'm sure, an abomination of Indian cooking. Hey, whatever it is, it fills you up just the same.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I know there are a lot of Muppet fans who contribute to this blog, so I thought I'd share. Here are the back stories of some of your favorite Muppets!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What do you get...

...when one washed-up singer invites another washed-up singer to add some vocals to a track?


I'm gonna say it flat out: I like this song, against all better judgment. In fact, the entire "Sweet Insanity" sessions are pretty fucking fabulous!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Netflix User Reviews Rock

Thank you 'Tycerium' for your insightful commentary on Women's Prison Massacre: Uncut.

"Womens Prison Massacre: Uncut" is not a good women in prison film. "Fugitive Girls" and "Reform School Girls" are much better, for example. "Womens Prison Massacre" has some nudity and a little soft core sex, but not very much, and it's not very erotic. The story, acting, and dialogue are bad, and not in an amusing way. The soundtrack is extremely annoying, playing loudly, repetitively, and needlessly. There's more violence than sex, and it's grosser and bloodier than it needs to be. For an amusingly campy women in prison B-movie, I recommend "Fugitive Girls". For a more sexy one, I recommend "Reform School Girls".

My only complaint is that Tycerium fails to comment on whether the bonus second feature, Caged Women, is a worthwhile addition to the women in prison canon.

In Threes

good things:
the color yellow
faye dunaway
old cars