Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kenya II

Well, folks, it looks like the Kenyan political situation is a lot more stable this year than it was last year, which means that my trip is actually going to happen (or so it seems). Assuming it does, I'll be out of all forms of contact until about 1/20/09, although I'll post a brief "I'm safe" to this blog during the evening of 1/18, just to let everyone know I'm back stateside.

If you're someone with whom I am trying to make plans in NY or CA, PLEASE email me so that I can begin the plans as soon as possible upon my return.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Peace Corps Madagascar February 2009

There. That post title should be easy to find.

The purpose of this post is to grab attention, a little bit, because it's a generally-launched "HELLO!" to all the members of my stage (and all the other PCT/Vs who are floating around out there in Internetland...

Hello!

Too, I looked at how many hits the blog is getting, and how many of them are from people presumably interested in Peace Corps stuff...and decided I'd better post something related to PC, even if it's just a filler entry.

Please, anyone in my stage or PCMad, leave comments!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, Carol

Happy Birthday to my lovely, admirable, brave, wonderful, funny, sweet, far-away Carol. Hang in there, because if you die of being surrounded by the stupid out there in Hawai'i, I'll never see you again!

Love you!

Friday, November 7, 2008

My < noun > is Problematic

We love River, of course.

I have problems in my life--for all of you smart-alecs out there, that is sizeably different than "issues," fullstop. Problems like "I have a social life and my grades are taking a big hit," or "My cook-group meets at an awkward time and nobody will switch with me, despite several people being *able* to...".

But there are also more confusing ones, which, just to be meta-discursive, I'm going to post. The first problem is the universiality of the Interblaggernettort00bz. Anyone who knows my name can find me here, because if you google me (we have no proper verbs in this language), I am the first hit. Much to the chagrin, I imagine, of Katherine H. Crocker, the Novato Lawyer, who weighs in second. It's just her findlaw site, so I don't imagine it's causing her too much grief. But anyway, anyone can find me. Therefore, anyone can read me. Which means that as a venting tool, this blog has lost its efficacy.

I'm in favor of freedom of information, always. And I fully acknowledge that my decision to pour my thoughts and things into the Internet is pretty much putting them up for grabs to the entire technological multiverse. Where this becomes problematic is in, say, posting my Madagascar mailing address on here. A concern I've heard the Peace Corps has is that then terrorists could find me. A concern I have is that I don't want everyone and their brother sending me stuff. I want letters. I want letters and letters and letters, but I don't want stuff, and for two main reasons.

The first:

Many people I've known in the past give gifts with lots of emotional strings attached. Sometimes, even though they're not even intended that way, because of my past with the person, they can't be taken as otherwise. Sometimes any interaction at all is just not possible, no matter the level of respect or well-wishing on either side.

Secondly:

I just can't afford to receive packages, as they charge you a sizable tax on anything you receive. Which means I only want the stuff I need.

I was going somewhere with this, but I've forgotten where and why.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Dirty Jokes I Can't Make

Being a Chemistry student can be hazardous to maintaining normal levels of immaturity. Consider that I (and everyone else in my class) have been able to say the following words with a completely straight face for over two years. Bear in mind that we can have spirited discussions about this without even realizing why the English majors over in the corner are laughing at us:

Penetration (and similar parentage words--penetrative, penetratory--sometimes a word--penetrator, etc)

Degenerate (also, degeneracy, degeneration, etc)

Excited State (also, excitation, "gets it excited", etc)

And the one that is shared among-ologies, -ics, and -istries:

Cleavage

Next time I don't giggle when hearing these words, that's why. I've been too busy determining the degeneracy of the penetrated orbitals, and figuring out whether getting a molecule into its excited state will lead to any cleavage

[EDIT next day: More words I can say without giggling: vibration coupling, vibronic, coupling...etc)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pet Peeves I

Generally, the abuse of language hurts my feelings. Not in a small way, but in a holistic, exhausting, and utterly frustrating way. There are plenty of ways to break the rules and be innovative, and though I'm a stickler for things like "At least use 'sketchy' instead of 'sketch' as an adjective--'sketch' is a noun or a verb," I'm generally not against innovation. But for things like argument and writing, there are rules of engagement--not even rules, just...laws.

The ways that argument works, for example, are how it works. If you break them into bits, or ignore them, you might get to think of yourself as dashingly intelligent and avant-garde, but really what happens is that your communication is broken. I've run into that a lot lately, and from people who consider themselves to be consummate discussers, gifted arguers, and proficient thinkers and debaters. These people in general tend to consider themselves capable of engaging in meaningful interactions, instead of the soapbox-stamping. streetcorner lunatic without any finesse (or often sense) whatsoever. I am not saying these people I've run into lately are stupid. Not inherently. It's just, when you don't use the language to make arguments, and you don't engage in a meaningful argument (i.e. make your argument according to basic and obvious rules of engagement), you look like you can't. Which means, basically, that you look dumb. Because you're strutting around talking about how great of a talker you are, but you're not making any headway--you're just shouting at the wind. And it's the stupidity that hurts my feelings.

So, please, everyone, start making sense. And thus begins part one of my list:

1. People who use messy rhetoric and fallacious strategies when arguing.
(a) When people take an analogy out of context on purpose, recontextualize it, and hijack the metaphor to create a rebuttal that doesn't actually rebut the original argument but makes them, for some reason, feel smart.
(b) When people read the least sensical interpretation into an analogy, and then start to argue with it on their own terms--at least half the time, this is someone finding one of their favorite straw men inside something someone else has said and then riding to town on their favorite hobby horse.
(i) When people look so damn hard for said favorite straw men that they miss the other, clearer things said/communicated.
(ii) If there aren't any other, clearer things, then these people don't really listen to a rephrase, but just steamroll along their righteous path.
(c) When people use analogies relating to their areas of expertise, and then when other non-experts try to meet them on their own terms of argument (by using an analogy), they retreat into the technical experience and jargon that wasn't relevant in the first place, and use it to create false authority on whatever analogous subject the discussion was *really* about.

2. When people are so wrapped up in their own opinions, perceptions, and speeches (rather than their arguments) that they refuse to really engage, but merely play verbal tennis about the issues.
(a) When people don't listen to what one another are saying, but instead spend all their time looking for cues and openings to trot out one or another of a previously-constructed sound chunk, rather than actually doing their partner the respect of listening and responding to what is really being articulated--on either side.
(b) When people don't make an honest effort to understand the opposing argument, but instead write it off as somehow inherently fallacious, by definition of it being in disagreement with them.
(c) When people do these things and then claim to be debating or discussing--or claim that their interactions are debates or discussion. That's like fencing with someone with both of your backs turned, each facing a different mirror--everyone gets to be very proud of his own image, but what is done is nothing short of posturing to impress, because the other person is wholly irrelevant, and utterly engrossed with her own mirror.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The wild blue yonder (this time, it is about politics)

The important things, the valuable and unassailable truths...those things are immortal.

That's what we subscribe to, when we pledge to liberty and justice--equality under the law and individual liberties for each person, no matter the sex, color, gender, orientation, race, religion, ethnicity, or any other "othering" quality. The freedom of choice is what our constitution espouses, the idea that each person is equally valid, though not the same, under the law. Law, which we hope to be (but never really is) the distillation of the true, the pure, and the right.

Something has clearly gone wrong. We've got a lesser-of-two-evils election philosophy, a binary system, a functional either-or. "Which do you hate less? Which frightens you less? Who is less likely to plunge us into a state of nuclear war, to revoke all individual rights, to ignore the Geneva Convention, to slaughter and vilify thousands upon thousands of people halfway across the world for the sake of a few extremist terrorists? Who is less likely to fly in the face of all humanitarian efforts, to knuckle under LESS to Corporate America, to exterminate FEWER species and increase CO2 emissions more slowly? Who is going to ignore the poor less, and kill fewer people through gross negligence and clear class discrimination? Who is less of a hypocrite about the way we get our produce, and who is going to ignore scientists less? Who will lie less--and how the hell can we know that, anyway?"

Maybe we're in a state of proto-revolution. Probably, Obama is not the messiah so many of us would like him to be. Who knows? Maybe Mark Morford and company are wrong, and he's actually the Antichrist. But even if the entire country crashes and burns, that does not mean we have lost our principles. What we love about those principles, what has motivated people (and still does, whether or not it's the actual reason is beside the point) to die proudly for this country, is that the things that really matter--freedom, justice, honesty, truth, respect...those things are immortal.

Just because we've royally screwed it up (or, William Goldman, screwed down) means nothing more than, simply, that. We have not killed our ideals, although we've drastically failed to live up to them. Does that mean they're not still our ideals? Does that mean we're beyond the pale? I hope not.

There are those--people I deeply respect, in fact, and more than one of them--who believe that by playing into the election at all we're just dupes. Voting for anyone, Amondson and Pletten, is buying in. And as long as we're buying in, we're failing. Maybe I'm not enough of an activist, or maybe I'm lazy, or maybe I'm just still too naive, but I believe that change may be possible. Yes, Barack Obama has chosen to use that word as his own, but that doesn't mean he'll do it. And that doesn't mean that that's what I mean when I say it.

The election is not really an election. It may be even less than it is--my personal belief is that I'll be incredibly surprised if Diebold allows Obama to win. Yes, you read that right (I do not endorse this blog but offer it merely for your judgment, or you can just google "CEO Diebold" for yourself...). It's about choosing who is less likely to be harmful in more alarming way. Yes, Obama is identical to McCain on a lot of issues. Where he differs is within the realm of individual liberties and civil rights. He's not much better, but he is better--his education plan (yes, education should be a right, if you ask me, and you did, since it's my blog you're reading) is better, and his stance on abortion is much, much better. Given two otherwise identical candidates, one of whom supports a woman's right to choose and has a superior plan for educating whatever children she may have, I'd choose the second one. Even if he doesn't *completely* support her right to choose. Even if his education plan *isn't* perfect.

What's that? It's a cop-out to give ourselves up to the inevitability of a continuing war overseas? Yes, I truly agree with you. It's a disgusting cop-out. It's heinous, and it is, as I learned for my French test today Inadmissable! Why is it a cop-out? Because it's not upholding the important value of the case, which is most easily generalized as "Justice". You can't quantify justice, and you can't have partial justice, any more than you can be sort of pregnant or a little bit in love. That, I give you. It's as unjust as hell--less just, actually, if you really want to go there (euh, so to speak). But how on earth are you ever going to achieve justice if you've got someone perpetuating injustice domestically? Isn't this why we're so down on infidelity and personal corruption in our political candidates?

So, is choosing the less unjust candidate the best way of freedom fighting? Maybe not. But I think that minimizing, to the extent realistically possible, the apparent injustice propagation potential (stay with me, we're almost there) in the POTUS domestically must bring us slightly closer, in the end, to ending our unjust international acts. Okay, you made it through that sentence.

This post has kind of run away with me.

Discuss, if you like, but civilly.

P.S. Courtesy of Simon, and quite interesting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Winter Travel Plans

Graduate: December 20
Leave Ithaca: December 21
Arrive Grand Junction: December 23 at 4pm

December 30:
Fly Grand Junction to JFK, NYC:
leave 9:49am, arrive 9:01pm

(Aaaaandrewwwww....or Kaaaaaaate)

December 31:
Fly NYC to LHR:
leave 10:25pm, arrive 1/1/09 10:25am

January 1:
Fly LHR to NBO:
leave 7:00pm, arrive 1/2 6:30am

January 17:
Fly NBO to LHR:
leave 11:59pm, arrive 1/18 6:45am

January 18:
Fly LHR to NYC:
leave 2:00pm, arrive 5:05pm

People to see: Evan, Kate, Andrew, Brian...if I forgot you, say so, quickly!

January 20:
Fly NYC to SFO
leave 2:55pm, arrive 6:25pm

People to see: Ari, family, Adam, Heidi &Co, Kiler Canyon contingent, THS contingent, Linnaea, Chelsea

By January 28:
Return to Grand Junction, there to take the General GRE

February 10:
Fly to Philly for Staging.

February 12:
Fly to Madagascar for 2 years.

Sometimes I think I may not be able to deal with this...I think it will improve when I finally have the last ticket for Kenya.

* PS Kenya Airways, why will you not accept any credit card known to man?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flash drive

If anyone has seen my purple flashdrive in the last month, will you please tell me?

I know it's probably not out there in Internetland, but I really, really need something that I left on it.

Thanks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

M'car; In-jokes, slang, relaxation, and the impossible

One thing I learned today is that you can still get embarrassed and called out by someone even when you're pretty dang sure it's not going to happen. But isn't that always the case? Well, I wasn't expecting a pop quiz on my assignment responsibilities from the Peace Corps person who picked up the phone when I called to accept my invitation. So I stumbled around and said "uh" and "sustainability" too many times. Still, they let me in. Whew.

I found out that a fairly common abbreviation for Madagascar is M'car. What I want to know, is how socially acceptable it is to pronounce it that way. Is it like saying "Ell-oh-ell!" or "oh-em-gee"? If not, how d'you say it? "Mm-car," "Micar," "Muh-kar," or "Meh-cr"? Given that you're dropping the accented syllables, where do the accents go? What's my linguistic ticket to the (second buzzword from the title) in crowd, here? Which slang (other than the Peace Corps' huge fleet of acronyms) can I use to be cool?

That's mostly an idle, intentionally silly question. But I know that I am incredibly susceptible to being part of an informed group--I like the shirts that say "Staff," for example. Makes you wonder who I'd be in The Wave (you should be able to find the second half in "related links"). I know who I hope I'd be. But doesn't everyone hope that for him or herself?

Honestly, I kind of like to say "Madagascar." It sounds so exotic and unreal. Wait 'til I get there--I bet it'll get real in a big damn hurry. I was reading the "A few Minor Adjustments" handbook that the PC sends us to read, and had my first moment of terror about this thing I'm about to go do. I read through the first, oh, 20 pages, which mostly constitute a laundry list in prose form of how hard it will be in so many different ways. Linguistically (new), culturally (new), weatherwise (new), climate (different), personal space (none), so many new people (too many), no support network, different food, different customs, being on your toes every moment of every day, being scheduled for stuff to do every moment of every day...all of these things. And more. All the sicknesses you'll get, and the changes your body will go through, the emotional stressors and the bickering and infighting that can happen when everyone's under all of these conditions. Then it talks about at site, which is a whole new can of problems and difficulties and just generally so many things that require energy to deal with that it sometimes seems like getting up in the morning is just too much to ask.

And then it gets to a section entitled something like, "Where are the Hardships?"

I was thinking, "I can deal with all of that stuff. I can do it. It'll be hard, but that's the whole point, is to go somewhere that it's so difficult that you have to grow yourself in brand new ways just to exist," but when all of that everything (much of which I hadn't even thought of) is just a precursor....I nearly choked. In my head, there was the first small voice that said, "But...there's more??? I might not be able to do that!" I think I've gotten some perspective on it now, and it helped that the section wasn't actually about more hardships but more about how to deal with them. But it didn't change that I've officially had--not a moment of doubt--but a moment of mouth-cottoning terror. Which brings it into reality, brings it all into focus in a good way. A real way. A very, very real way. And Peace Corps, for me, is (in a way) all about finding the reality.

I'm sick of the cushions around me--I'm sure I'm pretty unsuited to survive without them--I'll get awfully bruised when they first vanish. Things like heat, electricity, Internet, grocery stores. Things like "careers" rather than jobs, recorded music, lots of spare pens if I lose one. Things like cars, and travel, and out-of-season food. Most of these I feel are not intrinsically important to how I live my life, but I think some of them are, and more importantly that all together they constitute a bloc that I will be very...interested to see how I cope without.

I'm looking to relax without being propped up. Maybe this is college idealism. Maybe it's non-college idealism. Either way, I'm looking forward to trying. Except, you know, when I'm terror-stricken. Although I think I look forward to it, then, too.

The impossible has been demonstrating itself to be beautifully petaled in my life, lately. It's impossible, it is, to get what you want as chancelessly and honestly, as whimsically as I wanted to go to Madagascar. The desire was like my decision to go to Cornell--made without much information and suddenly. "I'll go there!" It would be easy to take that and make it hugely significant, except that if I didn't go here, I'm sure I would've met influential and important people, as well. That I'm happy I came here is a good thing. It promotes more on-the-fly decisions, of course. Is it intuition that guides decisions like that? Is it Pure Luck? Would I really have been as pleased, deep-down satisfied with the environment around me (I have learned so much here), if I'd gone to, say, Warren Wilson College? Things would be different. I would be different. The fact that I like how I am now (and like the ways I am still growing and changing) doesn't mean I wouldn't have become someone I like otherwise.

That's kind of a digression.

Any case, The Impossible is not impossible--people you thought were gone forever come back into your life, a country you had no chance of being sent to (but desperately wanted to go to with all the logic of a decision of the type described above) ends up having a space open in its program exactly when your Placement Officer (PO) finally gets to your file. A flower you thought was dead will quietly bloom, and though it was a slow process, your surprise when you realize is no less sudden. An artist you wanted to see perform before you left the country comes to a town an hour away from you, and plays your four favorite songs. Friends you thought were lost were merely misplaced, people you thought spurned your opinion actively approach you for advice. People demonstrate themselves fallible but not unadmirable. This semester feels culminatory. It's a good feeling to have, during your last semester at Cornell.

"Sometimes," as a friend of mine says, "the impossible happens. And when it does, it's sweet." And he is right.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Calling all interested teachers...

I just filled out a "press release" for the Peace Corps. So, for those of you in Mesa County and SLO County, keep an eye out in the Sentinel, the Free Press, and the Telegram-Tribune. I myself will watch the Cornell newspapers, and we'll see if I actually get my 15 minutes.

In other news, there's this cool thing the Peace Corps does, called the "Correspondence Match Program" through the Coverdell World Wise Schools program. What it is, is a PCV being in touch with a classroom teacher whose class(es) correspond with you--so, penpals. I'm kind of interested in corresponding with people who've been my teachers, so if any of you are reading this (very slim chance), please get in touch with me. Anyone else reading this who teaches anything at all, although it might need to be official somehow...I'd love to correspond with you.

Ideally, you could keep my letters and let me have copies when I get back, in case I write a book or something neat like that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

INVITATION!!!!

Got it today, and it's Madagascar.

Exactly as I'd been hoping for. I think I'm still numb.

That and very sleep-deprived. But somewhere deep inside me there's a growing jubilant shout.

WOOHOO!!!!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Case for Madagascar, and my Fall Break

I got my "Your Application Status has been Updated" e-mail from the Peace Corps today. Checked the site, and it told me "Congratulations! You've been invited!"

Woohoo!!!! I've managed to avoid the budget-cut-induced hypercomptetive everyone-gets-deferred-for-twelve-lifetimes scenario. Knowing that I'm *that* competitive is kind of a nice feeling, as all of my "file strengthening" hasn't actually hit the office yet. Booyah. Also, though, eek, because people must really have no ag experience if I'm the best they've got. But that's okay. I can do it...yes, a little whistling in the dark, but brazen commitment and determination are kind of what it takes. Or so I hear.

So. I'm Agroforestry, Africa, Francophone, leaving the second week of February. Peace Corps wiki (where many invitees for the year so far post their invitation programs, countries, and leave dates) tells us that the only two Agroforestry (Agf) programs leaving in February to Francophone African Countries (FACs) are Morocco and Madagascar. It also tells us that Madagascar is the one that leaves early in the month. In fact, Madagascar is the only anything for FAC leaving the second week of February.

But, because it would break my heart to be set on it and then not get it, I'm trying hard to be skeptical. Things that are too good to be true are usually just that. But, we can all hope.

Hear me? I said we can all hope. Right, guys? Hem. That's what I thought.

Okay, moving on.

Fall Break is going to be a busy one. I must:
* Build a top-bar beehive (this includes buying the lumber)
* Write an outline of a big paper
* Rewrite 2 weeks of Inorganic Chemistry notes
* Study for prelim in same
* Learn the subjunctive tense in French
* Buy tickets to Kenya
* Spend time with friends from out of town
* Do my bootcamp homework
* Work a day at the library
* Spend time with other friends
* Sort through my stuff in Ithaca and start getting rid of a bunch of it in preparation for moving...
* Find out REI's Return Policy on very used stuff.
* Research packing lists and start compiling them for PC
* Research and write the intro for one of the summer papers (yes, I was supposed to have done this already, but anyone who is connected with my life at all will understand why I haven't done it yet...and it doesn't have to do with being a Bad Scientist, either, so hush.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tenner Tenner (but it just doesn't have the same ring, so to speak)

I got in touch (not by phone, but by e-mail) with my PO, who told me that the reason she was contacting me was in order to ask me if I'd be interested in changing my nomination to an Agroforestry program in a Francophone country (pretty sure it's in Africa, but it may not be). So, no science teaching. Not much French, either, given that I'd be using a local language for most of my work. Especially given that my work will be in community development, not official-language state-institution teaching.

Part of that is great, because it would mean that the cultural imperialist dilemma retreats about 3/4 of the way. Part of it is not great because it's much more intimidated to go with absolutely no idea what I'll be doing, vs. "I'll be...teaching science...".

I used to have a dilemma also about "But I have a degree in science, and no degree in Agroforestry whatsoever". But, I think generally people who apply for the Peace Corps are more likely to have an academic background than an agrarian one. So it becomes less of an "I'm betraying my obligation and just switching for fun!" than an "I have two skillsets. Now I'll be using the other one".

Plus, the more I hear about Uganda, the more it seems to be sorta dangerous. Everyone over 30 who I tell flinches and says "ooh...well, but...okay, but you're going to have to be really careful."

I think I am going to switch, but I don't have to say for sure until tomorrow. The added perk--the only two francophone African countries that I know of leaving in February (because this Agroforestry program also leaves in February) are to Morocco and Madagascar.

Well, I can dream, can't I? I'll post more when I've got more information.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Too many posts in the last few days!

But what if I didn't come back and go to graduate school?

What if I did something that I've always wanted to do--apprenticed to someone, learned to hangglide, build wooden boats, *really* handle a sword, make solar-efficient houses--something real, something useful.

What if?

What if I up and ran a lighthouse?

At what point is it a copout not only for, say my (or my family's) expectations for myself, but my responsibility to the society that's given me such an excellent education? I'll be one of the top 10% of the world's most educated people, and I'm contemplating leaving it all behind. I guess it comes down to what you believe is the valuable part of an education--the using your bit of paper to further your status in an area, using it to get a relevant job, or using the experiences for either one of those. Or is it just the experience that you then take and use for whatever you want?

Stupid futuristic, status- and what's-in-it-for-me-obsessed culture...Comments?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Niner niner

Niner niner this is Peace Corps Placement Officer 9 requesting contact with Kay-See-Squared over.

Roger PCPO 9, KC^2 not accessible, please leave a message after the beep over.

Answering Machine 228, Request KC^2 contact HQ ASAP regarding our questions over.

PCPO9, request specifics as to questions over.

Negative AM228, PCPO over and out.

AM228 over and out.

......

Niner niner this is Answering Machine 228 for Kay-See-Squared over.

Roger AM228 KC^2 here over.

KC^2 PCPO9 requested contact Thursday 1400 hours over.

AM228 why we were not informed before Saturday morning query bang over.

KC^2 PCPO9 requested contact ASAP over.

Roger AM228 why query over.

No idea KC^2 could be nomination change, invitation, rejection, second interview et cetera over.

Copy that AM228 it could also be checking if this phone number still works over.

Duly noted AM228 over and out.

KC^2 over and out.

(Waiting for Monday morning....harder to be patient in short scale, though I've been waiting for over a year already)

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm not going to write about politics

Because I spend too much of my time following the current affairs of the state (and vice versa), and I really don't want to spend all my time embroiled in it all.

This last week has been a good one, if a bit of a roller-coaster.

On Monday, I found out that I beat the mean on the scary Inorganic Chemistry prelim.

I went to see the Indigo Girls on Tuesday evening with Jan, Simon, and Sophia. That was a lot of fun--my friends weren't really Indigo Girls fans, but they had a good time. I had an amazing time, and am in the middle of an Indigo Girls crush, of course. They played all four of my favorite songs: (opened with) Pendulum Swinger, Shame on You, Closer to Fine, and the final encore, of course, was Galileo. "Closer to Fine" in particular resonated with me because of the third verse's relevance to what I'm doing now, and the chorus' relevance to what I'm doing after Cornell.

I went to see the Doctor of Philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knees
And he never did marry, or see a B-grade movie
But he graded my performance, and he said he could see through me.
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free.

So I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

On Wednesday, I got a really surprising e-mail, which has thrown me for something of a loop. And, later that day, the Paper Hats had a triumph: I was cashiering at Temple of Zeus. There was a New York Times. So, of course, I made a paper hat, and then another one for my fellow cashier. He didn't want his, though, so I started to offer them as "free" with a purchase of ... anything. For a while, nobody was very interested, but then things picked up, and I managed to give away an entire New York Times. Then I went to an appointment at the Deans' office, and gave away three hats there!

On Thursday (that was yesterday), there was a fun field trip to a bee yard. I had eaten bananas earlier, but did not get stung.

On Friday, I got a teaching evaluation and apparently "Have a lot of talent".

I've been thinking a lot about the dynamics of relationships. Not romantic-ones, friendship-ones. It seems to me like any time you trust anyone a lot, that person will let you down or hurt you in some way. So, there are then three main options: do nothing, cut them out of your life, or work on forgiveness/acceptance/moving on. Doing nothing is not something that works, because pressure builds up then until one of the other two actions are necessary. Cutting someone out of your life is something that I thought, two or three years ago, would be a good idea. But, if being hurt or betrayed in some major way is inevitable, then that option implies that one will never have any long-term friends. It'll just be a series of replacements.

Which thought wearies me beyond belief.

So, the third option, trying to fix things mutually, is the only real viable one. But along with this comes the obligation of total honesty, and a lot of emotional growing and work. This is not easy. It is worth it, but it's very far from easy. I was going to write more, but that's kind of tipping my hand, since (a) I'm paranoid and (b) this blog's google-able.

Over and out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Underneath it all

The current Wall St. state of affairs is pretty heinous. People saw it coming, saw it coming since the deregulation. Then the government said "Y'all are too important to fail," and while that may or may not be true, I personally resent those billions of dollars not only on behalf of human rights efforts being underfunded all over the world, but on behalf of solar research, on behalf of victims of disease, natural disaster and war, and most personally on behalf of someone who is trying to get invited to the Peace Corps in the face of increasingly frightening budget cuts. I mean, couldn't we be spending that money somewhere else? Somewhere better? Somewhere, oh, I don't know, like maybe reducing our national debt, or on the falling-apart public schools across the nation. Or maybe double the Teach For America corps.

We have a vice-presidential candidate who seems to have actively tried to miscarry her Down's Syndrome child (chose to go on a two-day airplane trip after her water broke, heading away from top hospitals--which Down's babies very often require--towards her sticksville hospital to give birth...and also, she's pro-life, but she had amnio done, so she knew it was a Down's baby...you tell me, is that suspicious?) and who believes that the Endangered Species Act is a conspiracy to keep the oil barons poor and their children hungry. She thinks it's appropriate to spend 2M of taxpayer dollars to mount a campaign to legalize something Alaskans had voted down twice--the aerial bounty hunting of wolves and bears. It's not necessarily relevant, but she got her passport less than two years ago, and has been out of the country twice. But, you know, you can see Russia from her state.

We have a presidential candidate who has lost what honor and upstanding-ness he had left when he chose a VP in a clear bid for minority (female) votes. (Why he didn't pick a more competent woman--like, oh, I don't know, someone who knows the head of her party's foreign policy doctrine from a dead horse--from a battleground state with more electoral votes is beyond me, but Obama's good luck, honestly.) Smear campaigns galore, and Drill, baby Drill. Distancing himself from Bush, but with enough of the same policies that he's pretty much More of the Same.

And we have a close race between these two terrifying clowns and Obama/Biden. I'm strongly prObama, but I do wonder what is wrong with the Democrats. This election was locked. It was LOCKED until they decided to try to go for an historic election and run only minorities. It's like they can't bear to flat-out try to take office. I mean, last time, they nominated Kerry, for crying out loud. Mr. I-have-no-facial-expressions. I'm enough positive-Obama, though, that I'll be sad when he demonstrates himself publically to be Just Another Politician. If he becomes president and starts being one of those, I will take it personally. But honestly, Democrats, even if you'd run Kerry this time...having a close race (especially with McPalin) is indicative not of their prowess, but of your lack of it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sneakiness and the Peace Corps

Internetworking is one amazing thing, that's for sure. And I know where I'm going for the Peace Corps, if in fact I leave with the nomination for which I'm scheduled to leave.

But you have to read the story of it first, because I'm rather proud of weaseling it out the way I did.

It didn't start out as weaseling. I originally had called the PC office in Washington, D.C., to try to find out when they'll be inviting me. IF, as they so strongly reminded me. If they invite me, when would it be? The rule says "six weeks before your departure date". Being as half of February is six weeks from early January (which is when I'll have just barely arrived in Kenya for the Field Biology course), and being as I'll only have 10 days after receiving the invitation to accept or refuse it, and being as that will *only* be able to happen if I am allowed to do so via phone or email and parental power-of-attorney-type-stuff. So, basically, I wanted to know if my parents could accept or refuse something for me.

The PC told me that I should be getting invited in early January or very late November (maybe they meant December?), because the program for which I am nominated leaves on--and I should understand that this is highly tentative, without any guarantee of me going with them or of that exact day, so don't make any plans or form any expectations whatsoever--is February 8, 2009.

Then, I was in a yahoo group for PC- stuff (-applicants, -Vs, -Ts, R--Vs, parents of any or all of the above, etc), and the chat was empty except one other person. She told me that for various reasons, she'd learned that the program for teachers leaving February 8 was going to Uganda.

"Don't get all excited yet," I tell you now and told myself then, "You still have no confirmation whatsoever."

I went to the PC recruiter here at Cornell, and tried to beg him to tell me where I was going, but he couldn't tell me, because he didn't know.

So, I called the PC again, but a different desk this time. I said that I wanted to let them know that I'd be abroad from December 28 to January 21 (margins for travel, but I will be functionally nonextant, for purposes of communication, between those dates, for any of you planning ahead...). They said "Great, we'll put that in your file," and pulled up said file. "You're going to sub-Saharan Africa as a Secondary Science teacher..." I interrupted, and said "Yes, I know that if I'm invited to the program I'm nominated in, I'll be going to Uganda," as though it were just another fact. "Who told you that?! Did your recruiter tell you that?!" I said no, that my recruiter hadn't told me anything (I didn't want him to get in trouble, and it's also true), but that I'd been talking to a lot of other applicants and we'd found out the leave date, and put it together from there. But after that, it was confirmed.

And she made a big point of telling me how I'm probably never going to get invited, etc, etc, etc. But, so it goes. They tell you that you have no chance of invitation up until you're invited, and if you express any preference, they'll call you inflexible and a bad match for the PC. It's all in order to keep expectations at a level that they can be dealt with (or not) in an efficient way--I understand this--but it gets a little aggravating.

So, Uganda. My recruiter is sure I'll get invited, and with the number of "file-strengthening" I'm doing, I'll be surprised if I don't.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Funny

You really should go read this. I am a strong Obama supporter, but if you have a sense of humor, I'm pretty sure you'll think this is delightful.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Safe

For everyone who is reading the developments of today's shooting attack outside the US Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, know that although I am in the same country, I am safe and fine. And so is everyone I am with. No need to worry, except about the injured who are in critical condition, and the loved ones of those who were killed.

Edit (July 11): I also do not have Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, which has had recent instances in Bursa.

Science, Pans, and Grammar

We interrupt this bulletin to bring you a special announcement.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SOPHIA! WE (me, myself, and I, among others) LOVE YOU! Even though you look like an assassin in your swanky green sunglasses. What a wonderful friend you are--I'm glad you're in my life, and thank you for everything. Happy Birthday, not-a-wife, and hang on.

******************************
Whitby habits die hard. This makes me very, very sad, as you can see from the note. Someone messed up my Teflon pan. With only two weeks to go, I don't really want to buy another one. The roommate is, as usual, very cavalier about it not mattering and being convinced that I'm way too paranoid about cancer, but that's, well, usual.




I tried to make it in simple and obvious enough English and implication that our Turkish roommate will get the gist of it, since it could easily have been her who ruined it.
******************************
The science we're doing is pretty darn cool. Bees and fake flowers and why do they choose flowers the way they do, and how do they allot resources to foraging for maximum efficiency?

Today has been a bad day for data, though. We lost one trial to bad luck, and another trial to a couple of us not communicating well with one another and the Beekiller (our PI, Dr. Wells). So, for a three-run morning (which is slower than our best, but faster than our most recent few mornings), we got one run of data. Depressing. This is what the bees look like during trials:




That is all, for now. More context to follow. For now, disillusionment and general frustration. That pan is why you never share.

As for grammar...my roommate doesn't have any. She ain't got none. Where's it at? Obsessed about. Had went to the store and should of got less apples. I feel bad for saying this, but two weeks and one day until the USA... not because I want to be back in America as much as I want to be back where I have people to talk with about things that matter in ways that don't make me feel like I am babysitting or make me want to cringe...

Me out.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

We'll all go together

I realize this will come with absolutely no context, and I promise I'll provide some in the next entry (which will be soon).

Today was a lovely day off (the second of two!), although we started early with research, we worked for only a couple of hours before coming back, getting townclothed, and finally departing. Townclothing means various degrees of updressing among the 8 of us. Dr. Wells wore the same clothes; Daliris went all-out with makeup, nice sandals, and straightened hair. I wore a clean t-shirt, a red bandana, jeans, and tevas. That's your fashion update.

We all hopped on the minibus to Küçük Sanayi, and from there got on the subway train going to the bazaar stop, which I can't spell or pronounce, but starts with an "S". (This is a self portrait on the subway.)


We walked up past the Mosque and the Koza Han (Silk Bazaar) to the busy street and caught a couple taxis, which took us up, up, up:

At the Teleferik, we paid 6 YTL apiece, and got into gondolas for a two-leg journey up the side of the Uludag mountain range.



This is a vertical map of the first half of the gondola ride.



Every time we went past a pylon (is that the word?), the car would sag a little bit, and 29 people (not me) would all say "Oh!" in a half-amazed, half-frightened way. Especially the parents of small children.

At the top, I first had a nap on some tall, round granite chunks:


Then I went on a walk and found a beautiful rock face:



at the foot of which was growing wild thyme (thus the title of the post). It was really delightful to be off by myself; the last month has had virtually no alone-time, and my batteries dearly needed recharging.

I climbed the face, and ate lunch on the top of it, looking at the cloud shadows run up the valley towards the big mountain. And after lunch, I had another nap (well, it is a day off), and fell asleep anchored to the rock face by the friction coefficient of the seat of my jeans (I tied my backpack off to a tree, just in case it wanted to roll down without me).


As I was in that delicious place between sleeping and wakefulness, I heard the drifting call of the muezzin from the small mosque near the gondola station. It edged the experience into the sublime.

After my nap, I went exploring. I can't record the smell of the pine forest or the feel of loam under my bare feet (it's not really socially acceptable here to be barefoot, so it's been over a month since my soles have felt anything other than tile and carpet)...but I found many plants that made it to California and are now common as weeds (literal, and both parsings of that sentence).



I found a rock, split, near the remains of an old camp fire. The rock was yellowed and old on the outside (granite) but the crack was nearly pure white in comparison. Using spit, then water, and the powdered charred wood, I made the outside of the rock black, to contrast more with the inside.



It's not an Andy Goldsworthy. But it was fun, and I haven't played outside in a really long time. Unfortunately, I did wear a really painful hole in my finger, and didn't notice until I washed off my hand:



But it was worth it. On the way back, we took a group picture:



And pictures of the mountain on the way back down. Back to the dorm, I stopped in the bazaar to buy gifts, but of course I can't tell you on here what they are. All I'll say is that Chaponica, Quill, Kaleen, Dan, Dad, and Sophia lucked out. The rest of you either have gifts already bought, or have rolled a loss on the gift toss. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some Pictures

Self portrait at Troy:



Troy's North Gate (I think it's North), and Izzet, our guide:



The Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli (ANZAC):



The open-air Mosque for the 57th Turkish Regiment (Bombasirti):


Some kids who were really excited to see people from the USA on their local ferry:



More stories and pictures as time and Internet access allows...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

OBAMA GOT THE NOMINATION!

Hooray!

Waiting with great curiosity to see what Clinton is going to do. Especially as she strongly stated earlier in the election season that she would definitely never consider running on a dream ticket with Obama.

Part of me thinks that's the best way to win the election, but mostly, I really don't want her in office.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Public Support

The artist of this comic would like to express her support not for CornellWATCH’s bad taste in jokes, but for its author’s general level-headedness and ability to be reasonable, which are clearly not omnipresent. Which is okay, because nobody can be perfect. She would have liked to point this out on that blog’s comments reel, but it has been taken down due to the flame-war that has ensued. She, as a member of the Cornell community (and as one of the population on this planet), accepts Evan Mulvihill’s apology, and thanks him for it.

She is tired of any minority (even one of which she is a part) taking the opportunity to bash someone who makes a poorly-thought-out comment that can even tangentially be related to race or ethnicity. If everyone is so race-obsessed that they can’t discuss an inappropriate (even inappropriate AND race-related) joke without devolving into namecalling and assertions of racism on the offensive person’s part, then they are at least as racist as they’re accusing the offensive person of being.

The artist of this comic (is not white, straight, or Christian–and she’s also majoring in a hard science and) would like to express her frustration that anyone who is not a member of a minority is generally hamstrung from voicing any opinion about it by militant members of that minority who will not abide anything but positive, supportive comments from anyone. It seems that what people want is fawning over differences. “I am more entitled than you to be a horrible person, because I am ___(insert your favorite minority here)___” is a ridiculous mindset, and one that is altogether too present.

Yes, white people and their institutions have been and still are horrible to minorities. Yes, men and their institutions have been and still are horrible to women. Yes, straight people and their institutions have been and still are horrible to non-straight people. But if you’re against oppression, you’ve got to be against it in both directions, otherwise, you’re a racist/homophobe/heterophobe/misogynist/misandrist.

Working towards an honest, open public forum in which differences are discussed, but not definitive is the only way to surmount oppression. And ripping someone to shreds because he made a mistake is not the way to do that. Even if it was a very poor-taste joke. And especially after he's made it clear that his intent was not to offend.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Something Nice

I'd just like to say that I find myself incredibly thankful that I've got the roommate that I've got.

That is all.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peace Corps Application Advice

I'm not all the way through the process yet, but on the off-chance that someone does manage to search something related to Peace Corps and find this blog (although it's fairly low-profile as far as I can find--unless you Google me or the blog title), here are the things I've learned so far. Also, if any current PCT, PCV, RPCV, or other applicants are reading this and have more advice, please add comments!

1. Don't be afraid of sounding super-idealistic in your application essays. Also, though, don't be afraid of sounding a little selfish; "I want to go to Africa to broaden my horizons and have amazing cross-cultural experiences" is not something that will get you kicked out, or even looked-down-on by the person who'll be interviewing you.

2. The same goes for the interview. But just as importantly as being honest, don't feel like you have to give sound-bites. Be ready to talk slowly--your interviewer has to transcribe your answers verbatim (probably typing, but still). This is nice because it makes the interview something enough slower than real-time that you have time to think about what you're really saying, but not so slow that you feel like you go on pause or have to fight to keep from zoning out. Thinking about the kinds of probable questions and your general answers ahead-of-time is fun, if you're a planning freak like me, but not necessary.

2. a. Some questions I got were
~"How do you deal with feeling stressed or emotionally worn-down?"
~"What would you do if none of those methods and outlets were available to you?"
~"Why do you want to volunteer with the Peace Corps?"
~"Describe a time or a situation in which you interacted with someone who you did not like constructively."
~"What would you do if confronted by a situation that overtly conflicted with your reasons for being in the Peace Corps?" (e.g. You're in Girls Empowerment and Education, and your host father treats at least one of his wives as a subordinate. Or your education allows you to make corrections to some mistakes that your co-worker is making, but your co-worker is related to the boss, and the boss tells you not to correct things anymore, because it makes said relation look bad. What do you do in those situations?)
~"How much of your lifestyle, and what aspects, would you be willing to change or alter if you were in a place that made it culturally necessary?"
~"How open are you to going to such a place?"
~"Are you aware that you may have next-to-no contact with family and loved ones during your period of service? How do you feel about this, and how willing would you be to accept an assignment that entailed that sort of isolation?"

3. Don't be afraid of applying even if you're not 100% sure that you actually want to go. You can always change your mind, [EDIT, November 30, 2008] or you can de- and then re-activate your application. Even if you're not sure you can make it through the entire service period (e.g."What if something really bad happens at home while I'm gone?" and/or "What if I discover 13 months in that I really can't do it mentally/emotionally/physically?"), but really want to try, go ahead and apply--there is such thing as coming home early, and though it doesn't make the Peace Corps admin very happy (and I don't think you get the same benefits--or maybe any benefits--that RPCVs get), they will not keep you in-country against your will. You are, after all, a volunteer.

4. Everyone says "be patient!" There are a lot of being-patient stages.
i. Between the submission of my application and my interview, but it was only a few weeks.
ii. After my interview, I had to wait to get nominated, and although originally that was supposed to happen within a month, the Peace Corps Bureaucracy (something that as a PCV, one apparently comes to regard as inevitable) didn't actually nominate me in late October or early November, but in early February.
iii. It takes a while to get doctors' and dentist's appointments. Also, be patient with your doctor and dentist, and make sure they fill out every little part of the forms, because Peace Corps will send them back to you (and you'll have to get another appointment) if they're not completely...completed.
iv. After you've sent your medical stuff, you have to wait for clearance. [EDIT, November 30, 2008] For me, that was half the summer for both medical and dental.
v. After your medical clearance, you have to wait for contact by your Assitant Placement Officer, which for me took over a month.
vi. After that, you wait to be contacted by your Placement Officer, which for me took two months, although after contact, I got my invitation within two weeks.

5. For medical appointments, I'm not sure of the cheapest place to go, but for dental appointments, you can get them for free: USA section of the International College of Dentists. Also, this.

6. After getting your invitation, they start to really get on your case about getting paperwork in. For me, having waited over 13 months to be invited from the time I applied (although admittedly I've gotten an extremely long lead-time from invitation to leave-date), and then to be chivvied along so insistently was kind of annoying. But, it's important to remember that it's their show, and just because applicants have to wait doesn't mean we get the same privilege.

Med Clearance and Dentists

I found out a couple of good things yesterday; the first is that I didn't have to pay for dental x-rays, because the International College of Dentists provides free x-rays and exams for Peace Corps Volunteers. Make sure you check with the dentist's office, though, as the dentist I went to (I didn't stay for the entire appointment, because it was taking forever and I was not impressed by some other things) didn't know that he was providing free thus-and-sos. But anyway, I got a full refund, and they were very helpful.

The other thing is that it is possible to get provisional medical clearance without sending in the dental forms. What does that mean? Well, after you've gotten medical (and legal, and "place"--whatever that means) clearance, which is the most lengthy part of the application process, you go onto some sort of list. The list is available to countries that invite Peace Corps Volunteers to serve, and the person in charge of choosing people can then pick me off the list and send me an invitation. That is when I will find out where I will be going in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is also when I will find out a little bit more about what I'll be teaching, and in what language. It will also have an actual date for a projected leave-date, instead of just a month and year.

I'm not sure what "place" clearance is. But legal clearance has to do with that you're not a fugitive or an otherwise Wanted person (in the illegal-activities kind of way). I'm not very worried about that, because my only semi-non-approved actions include things like voting Left and jaywalking. Let's take a poll--which one is worse, from the perspective of our government?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Surrealist Antigone

Mac Wellman's Antigone is quite a worthwhile read, and is my current favorite play and piece of writing. I wrote what may be my most interesting pa per on it yesterday, although it's not yet in its polished state. I'm posting it below, but recommend reading the play (it's 15 pages) before you read this post (no plagiarizing!).

Superpositioning Antigone:
Subverting Fate with Science and Surrealism


In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, fate is demonstrated as inevitable and, more importantly, omnipotent: even, or perhaps especially, if every precaution is taken to avoid the prescribed result, those precautions will end up combining in such a way as to work against the one attempting to thwart fate. In this way, Oedipus, in seeming to always be a few steps ahead of an awful fate, is in reality running full-tilt into its jaws. As Oedipus’ half-sister and daughter, Antigone, is heir to a similar relationship with fate, and has given herself up to it without protest or attempt to escape. Using both surrealism’s ethereality and science’s concrete principles, Mac Wellman’s Antigone proposes and executes an experiment testing the idea of fate as an inexorable force. This experiment also implicitly questions whether Antigone’s inheritance must require every Antigone (her namesake, therefore herself), to also be subject to that particular kind of inexorability. It posits that it may be possible to find some unique situation in which she can “[make herself] very small and [slip] out the back way” and escape (12).

To execute its careful experiment, Wellman’s Antigone makes use of the rhetoric of hard science, introducing it within the first few lines of the play via !∃, who is narrator and commentator, “an unknown god with an unknown origin,” represented by a piece of notation used in predicate logic (1). !∃is, as it explains to us, mathematical shorthand for “there exists a unique situation” (3). Such a meaning is particularly appropriate for Wellman’s Antigone, as the play’s main function is as an experiment to find a specific and possibly unique situation in which Antigone will not need to die. Appropriately, and perhaps in an attempt to conduct the experiment in an inert environment, the play takes place when “the three Fates [are] unpleasant young girls,” a time before time, and by implication, before place (2). This introduction of the quantifiable and its rhetorical implication of the presence of the logic, specificity, and measurability of hard science occur within the first two hundred words of the play, bringing to mind the abstract of a scientific paper.

Abstract is a useful word for much of Wellman’s Antigone, partly because the idea of a thought experiment done in a place and time that require the absence of both, and partly because woven through the scientific paradigm of the play’s first small section is the ethereal language of surrealism, which is abstract even before it melds with the scientific. The idea of “a time before time,” for example is an abstract and surreal idea, but even more so is the notion of “Heaps of dead clothing,” as if clothing could be dead, instead of just “strewn all over” (2). This surrealism continues throughout the play, and in spite of its rejection of scientifically predicated cause-and-effect logic and insistence upon the indefinite, it makes a mad kind of sense.

To test his unstated but implicit hypothesis, Wellman uses an hybrid test, using elements of both science and surrealism. Science surfaces in the very idea of an experiment to test an hypothesis, and also later in requiring repetition of the test to verify the results. This presence of the incontrovertible and concrete seems to repeatedly contradict surrealism’s celebration of the indefinite, and at times there seems even to be a back-and-forth argument between the two. Creon’s argument for why he has outlawed Polyneices’ burial hinges upon logical language, “The rule is…if one, then not the other…Truth is true,” but is followed by !∃’s commentary “A rupture. Time backs up and shakes itself like a wet dog” (3-4). Similarly, a sentence beginning, “Vast, electromagnetic…” could be out of any physics textbook, and we expect it to make logical sense, or at least stay within the paradigm of electromagnetism, is followed up with a few phrases that sends logic and fact into a tailspin“…carpets of stars and eggs and all possible hats” (4). This repeating contradiction does not always progress from science to surrealism; the paragraph about electromagnetic hats culminates in an outright rhetorical contradiction, which flies in the face of both science and surrealism, applying the concrete and factual to the indefinite and weird to the benefit of neither, “Most eggs are electrical in some way. Most aren’t” (4). Later in the play, the exchange becomes faster, notably in a string of commonplace truisms that bear no logical relation to one another, and eventually trip up and devolve into a “Dance of Charm and Distance,” and “the Dance no one has ever,” the ultimate surreal expression being a dance that cannot be scientifically described by any amount of language (6).

The idea of science interacting with surrealism contradicts the basic idea of accurate measurement inherent to the general conception of scientific thought; if we allow science to represent the accurate and define the surreal as the imprecise or immeasurable, there is a fundamental problem to arguing that the play contains a scientific element. If an imprecise element is combined with a precise one, precision is annihilated, and recognizing this incompatibility immediately renders suspect the validity of using a scientific lens to examine Wellman’s Antigone. In order to validate the scientific lens, it is necessary to recognize that although science in comparison to surrealism represents the quantifiable, concrete, and logical, not all science must be quantitative; qualitative logic often is equally useful, and so it is in this sense that science can be used in what is most easily described as a surrealist play.

In fact, scientific rhetoric serves a vital function for Wellman’s play; aside from enabling an experimental paradigm for the play to work within, it is a very effective way of explicating what Wellman’s play tries to do. The play’s primary work is to search for a unique and specific situation in which Antigone will not have to die; without setting forth parameters for the test, the results would not be helpful. Indeed, without a scientific lens, “results” would be a foreign concept, and we would not know whether any situation existed. Scientific rhetoric (and thought) lets us define what it is that we are looking for, and allows us to know if we have found it; these two attributes are vital to any search, and thus to Wellman’s play.

Scientific rhetoric can define its own use, and once that use is acknowledged, surrealism’s function in the play becomes strangely out-of-focus. The role of science, if taken to an extreme and left unchecked, would dictate the variance of each minute aspect of every carefully-defined parameter—a calculation better done by a computer, and of so many iterations that performing it onstage would require lifetimes. In the end, we would be aware of every possible situation, and would know if a unique one existed such that Antigone does not die. However, the inexorable process of scientific conclusion is very close to the inexorable progress of fate’s conclusion; it is possible that within the boundaries of the power of the inexorable, no unique situation would exist, and this is where surrealism becomes of utmost importance to Wellman’s experiment. In decoupling the play from the inexorable through limiting the use of deductive logic, the hope is that the play will also be decoupled from fate, or at least that fate’s power will be somehow limited. In this light, surrealism becomes not “the fallacy of many questions, or the / fallacy of accident; or the fallacy of bad faith,” but an integral part of a sophisticated experiment (8).

Unsurprisingly, however, science and surrealism interact to subvert one another, surrealism acts by filtering through science’s logical rhetoric, and science acts by creating a kind of sense out of that surrealism. “You can’t carry an egg in two baskets. You can’t be in the same place at the same time. You simply can’t,” observes one of the guards who brings her to Creon (4). Clearly logical observations, the need for them are cloudy: the egg statement relates to the electromagnetism statement a few sentences earlier, but has no obvious cause or effect, though it is structurally and thematically related to the next sentence. It is an incomplete and strangely structured accusation, and that is important: surrealism has subverted legalistic language and instead of a clear statement that Antigone lacks an alibi, the guards make a muddled statement that sounds more like a commentary on the nature of Classical Mechanics than a strong accusation. The repetition of “You simply can’t,” pushes reality further from sense, as it is more of a protest than an assertion (4). This is followed up by the guards’ childlike language; they use incomplete sentences that intimate a kind of sleeve-tugging which, given their social power, edges them into the surreal. “She did it. Creon, she…You know. The bad thing, at the bad place,” although the words make logical sense, the juvenile register (shying away from important nouns) and the broken, near-hysterical tone sounds odd coming from the guards (4).

Science and surrealism are both subverted in more obvious ways as well. The Three Fates, representative perhaps of the malleability of fate necessary for the existence of our sought unique situation, or simply representative of the extra-temporal setting of the play, become the three FACTS over the course of the play, and subsequently become the three Graces. Fate’s conversion to FACT is a subversion of Fate; FACTS are investigated and equivocated via scientific language, in much the same way as !∃, a symbol of mathematical precision, at times devolves entirely into surreality (13). FACTS then change to Graces. Embodied Graces, aside from being outside the realm of fact, also defy causes and their effects: to embody the concept of any Grace, one must be devoid of everything ungraceful, and thus cannot interact in a normative cause-effect paradigm. Grace, then, is surreal, and this surreality seems to free Antigone from the constraints of her Fate: “The Fates turn into Graces just at the precise moment, [dead] Antigone, in their enactment, turns into a flame” (14). Antigone is dead, but rather than being cremated (as heroes were), she becomes a flame, perhaps to cremate herself. Whether or not that is the case, because she is not entombed in the crypt of Sophocles’ play, because she is not confined to Haemon’s arms, she in some way escapes the eternity of fate; as a flame, she surmounts the concrete and immutable. Why would a body spontaneously combust? The cause-and-effect paradigm implied by fate’s apparent supremacy decomposes at this moment into the mad-sense flickering of surrealism.

This overthrow of the traditional conclusion, while it does not express a complete subversion of fate or the Fates, does represent a partially successful experiment. Although fate still defines all the major plot-points (Antigone buries Polyneices knowing that she will be first imprisoned and then die for it; her lover dies of grief, and Creon is left in a post-apocalyptic depression), it does noticeably change after her death, and it stretches slightly before. Before dying, she is imprisoned, just as in Sophocles’ play. However, instead of in a crypt there is “High above us…a brilliant geode, violet and luminous. Antigone is enshrined within,” and Antigone is no longer a “nasty girl,” one of the “symparanekromenoi, one of the living dead,” but a goddess (11, 12, 5). Surrealism (a geode floating in the air) allows for such a space to be hollowed out in the general progression of fate, and instead of her last words being mocked, as in Sophocles’ play, she is able to articulate her death herself. She does so with a list of ‘last words’ quotations that run from the heartily melodramatic (a reference to Dumas fils’ Camille) to the laconic (a military commander’s last words to his men), giving her an oddly multifaceted, but unoriginal, deathbed speech (12).

The partial subversion of fate (and Fates), although not successful in uncovering a unique situation, nevertheless enables the interpretation of Wellman’s Antigone as an Hutcheonian parody—that is, as a repetition of an original, but with a critical difference that marks the difference, rather than the similarity . That Wellman’s play differs greatly from Sophocles’ is apparent from the beginning; the presence of surrealism is a difference that must be recognized as critical in the sense that it demonstrates a very important difference in our perception of the play, and also particularly because it is surreal in the service of criticism and subversion. However, the ultimate subversion of fate, although minor and after-the-fact, is still important. Wellman’s play congratulates itself on this minor triumph by immediately following Antigone’s transformation into a flame by discovering “a puppet SOPHOCLES in a wooden box…(Actually, there is no puppet, just a girl’s hand enacting the puppet),” in emphasizing Sophocles’ (and therefore, presumably, his Antigone’s) inadequacy even as a puppet, the play celebrates its critical difference (14).

This very celebration cements the critical difference by immediate and staged comparison to Sophocles’ Antigone in the recitation of a stanza from that play to the non-puppet SOPHOCLES (14). This, and presumably the difference between the two, brings amazement and wonder into the non-puppet’s eyes, implying that the critical difference is an improvement (14). Given this implication, and also the established before-time and before-place of Wellman’s play, it is important to note that in a sense, Wellman’s play came before that of Sophocles, and suddenly the word “parody” also works the other direction. If Sophocles’ play is an Hutcheonian parody of Wellman’s, then the word also takes on one of its other meanings, that of a 'feeble imitation'.

As if those two parodic elements were not sufficient, Wellman’s Antigone requires self-parody by defining either five or nine iterations, each one significantly different than the rest, before the play is over. The stage directions (or possibly a dialogue) specify concretely to “Repeat the whole X 3 so that each may play ANTIGONE, each CREON,” and that is the first set of three (14). Then, the specific degrades slightly, as the directions next require “Repeat X 3 exactly the same (only different),” specifying decreasing time increments to be spent on each repetition (14-15). It isn’t clear if the first three replicates of the experiment are each to be repeated three times (rendering nine iterations in all), or if only two additional replicates are called for after the initial three. In each repetition, the casting or the timing will be different, and thus may constitute a critical difference; driven by the scientific requirement of verification, each parameter must be varied. Driven by the requisite imprecision of the experiment, it is patently unclear how many replicates are necessary, or indeed, will be performed. Driven by both the scientific and the surreal aspects of the experiment is the total disregard of the question that would surface in the audience after the second or third replicate as to why it is being performed again.

After the play’s final iteration, which “takes no time at all,” it reports its own results, including its propagated error: “Now the play is truly finished (some may not think so)” (15). The significance of “some might not think so” is twofold: it is a scientific acknowledgment of the possibility of other valid experiments in the future; and it also represents the uncertainty allowed in science, which is a half-bow to surrealism, the epitome of uncertainty. Combining these two meanings yields an acknowledgement that although no unique situation has been found that allows Antigone to escape from her fate entirely, it has not proven that such a situation does not exist.

Similarly, the phrase “Now the play is truly finished,” drips with multiple meanings (15). If Antigone is equated with Antigone the play, and thus with all possible renditions of that play, it is possible that the phrase is an assertion of the annihilation of the archetype: once fate has been circumvented in one way, it may not hold in others. This reading is not supported by the reported result of the many repetitions of Wellman’s Antigone engendered by a single performance of Wellman’s Antigone, but the idea of ambiguity in results leaves it as a possibility. Alternately, whether or not Antigone is Antigone herself, Wellman’s transcription is in a sense an infinite recursion (each performance requires at least four additional performances; each of those may also engender at least four more, and so on), and so Antigone can’t ever fully die. However, if some of those recursions take no time at all, then she must be both alive and dead—or, since the two terms definitively exclude one another, she is neither.

The first reading involves taking the phrase “Now the play is truly finished” at face value, and not according it any depth, while the second requires that the second half of the sentence (the part in parentheses) be applied to our understanding of the first part, rendering it more of a joke. The overweening presence of surrealism and subverted definite statements support the second reading, because it does not seem likely that the play would end with a completely straight face. An Antigone neither alive nor dead, or somehow in a superposition between those two mutually exclusive states, is exactly what the play itself tells us is required for her to escape her fate, albeit partially: “You can’t be at the same place at the same time. You simply can’t,” the guard tells her, right before handing her over to Creon (4). The implication is that if she could have been superpositioned between two places at once, then she could have escaped Creon, and thereby escaped the subsequent fateful cascade of accusation, imprisonment, and death. “You can’t carry an egg in two baskets,” the guard says; Wellman’s play discovers that only when Antigone puts herself in two mutually exclusive baskets and enters the realm of Quantum Mechanics—a surreal realm defined by pure mathematics—will she escape her fate (4).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Binker, by A. A. Milne

Binker (what I call him) is a secret of my own,
And Binker is the reason why I never feel alone.
Playing in the nursery, sitting on the stair,
Whatever I am busy at, Binker will be there.

Oh, Daddy is clever, he's a clever sort of man,
And Mummy is the best since the world began,
And Nanny is Nanny, and I call her Nan...

But they can't See Binker.

Binker's always talking, 'cos I'm teaching him to speak
He sometimes likes to do it in a funny sort of squeak,
And he sometimes likes to do it in a hoodling sort of roar...
And I have to do it for him 'cos his throat is rather sore.

Oh, Daddy is clever, he's a clever sort of man,
And Mummy knows all that anybody can,
And Nanny is Nanny, and I call her Nan...

But they don't Know Binker.

Binker's brave as lions when we're running in the park;
Binker's brave as tigers when we're lying in the dark;
Binker's brave as elephants. He never, never cries...
Except (like other people) when the soap gets in his eyes.

Oh, Daddy is Daddy, he's a Daddy sort of man,
And Mummy is as Mummy as anybody can,
And Nanny is Nanny, and I call her Nan...

But they're not Like Binker.

Binker isn't greedy, but he does like things to eat,
So I have to say to people when they're giving me a sweet,
"Oh, Binker wants a chocolate, so could you give me two?"
And then I eat it for him, 'cos his teeth are rather new.

Well, I'm very fond of Daddy, but he hasn't time to play,
And I'm very fond of Mummy, but she sometimes goes away,
And I'm often cross with Nanny when she wants to brush my hair...

But Binker's always Binker, and is certain to be there.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Cornell Concealed Carry

In response to The Cornell Daily Sun’s Tony Manfred 3/3/08 column and the concealed carry issue

Thus far in the gun debate I’ve heard a lot of crackpot opinions go flying—that most of them center on name-callling doesn’t help much. That the more cracked seem to be pro-concealed carry is telling. Tony Manfred’s column, however, was neither cracked nor idiotic. I am, however, surprised that such a passable column would’ve missed what is really the most important aspect of concealed carry.

What is the situation that everyone leaps to consider in this issue? The one in which we’re in the lobby of Goldwin Smith between classes, and some nutcase pulls a gun and starts mowing down English majors and Temple of Zeus enthusiasts. Each camp then posits a scenario. Anti-concealed carry folks expect most people to run, some to fall injured, and some to die. Pro-concealed carry folks think that everyone else will pull a gun and shoot down the nutcase, saving the day and averting tragedy. What nobody is arguing is that in every scenario, people would die. Manfred says in his column that fewer people will probably die if there are fewer fired bullets (i.e. fewer guns). This is an admirable piece of logic—friendly fire, the fire of gun-toting non-nutcases firing to try to protect themselves and their peers, would almost certainly injure more people than the nutcase.

That’s really why we’re so upset, isn’t it? That’s why the Cornell Republicans are calling for armed students, and that’s why people like Manfred are speaking out strongly against it, isn’t it? We’re all scared. We don’t want to die, and we don’t want any of our friends or classmates to die. We’re scared. And the pro-gun, pro-concealed carry people are convinced that carrying a hidden gun will help keep them alive.

So far, I’ve recapped the issue. But what I haven’t seen yet is someone who takes the issue to its obvious next step. Let’s go back to that nightmare scene—someone has pulled a gun while you’re on your way to get coffee or a scone. It won’t necessarily be a single student, and it won’t even be someone who even seems like “the type”. It will be as bewildering as it will be terrifying. Imagine another student carrying a concealed gun pulling his gun and shooting the kid with the gun. Someone else didn’t notice the first gunman, and thinks the second gun-toting-guy is the nutcase, or maybe his pal, so she opens fire on him. He shoots back, thinking she’s one of the nutcases (what else would he think)…this will continue…until, what?

In a school shooting, there won’t be uniforms, and there won’t be any way to tell who is what. Hysteria and panic mixed with guns and more hysteria does not make anyone safer—it makes a shootout, something that won’t stop until everyone is badly hurt or dead. The way to protect ourselves is not to bring more of the thing we fear to campus. There is no sure way to protect ourselves, and that is why we’re all so scared, because if we’re unarmed, it will be hell, and if we are armed, it will be much, much worse.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Update

Definitely, these last three weeks have been pretty abysmal. Mosey, and all drama pertaining thereto, happened, and oh-boy-howdy did it *ever*.

I'm still pretty annoyed at how most of the shtuff what went down, as they say, and I had written about a page-and-a-half about it, but I'm so sick of it at this point that I deleted it all.

I have a ton-point-six of doctor's appointments next week; really just one, but it's a 2.5 hour appointment. 2.5 hour / 1.6 ton = 1.5625 hours per ton. Paper due later in the week.

I got a nice picture of the recent lunar eclipse, too:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mr. Rogers meets David Attenborough


Today, I saw this juvenile hawk eating a squirrel right in our front yard! Well, on the median between a parking lot and our house. It was a perfect excuse to use my awesome camera, but if you don't like seeing gross things, you should not look.


His crop is kind of bulgy.


Messy eater. But awesome eye.


Schlurpy schlurpy (also, the squirrel is smiling at you)...


Bye-bye!

Friday, January 25, 2008

LGBTQ party

Sometimes I feel like life is just one big joke. Example? Well, the LGBTQ welcome-back semester bash was at the "Straight" (Willard Straight Hall). Haha. Although, because nobody else seemed to notice, it was a bit paler than it could've been. Ma'alesh.

School has started up again, and I may just be able to hang on this semester. I've been being productive--I've done all the readings so far, and gotten an HPV shot into the bargain. Actually, it was into my arm, but the nurse pulled the needle out a little bit sideways and yowch. I felt like my arm was being unraveled from the inside. Ick.

The idea for the evening is the concept of "queer"ness. A lot of buttons at the LGBTQ party (they had buttons for whoever wanted them) said things like "we're here and we're queer--get used to it". I understand that reclaiming the word "queer" is an empowering thing to do--if you take it for your own and embrace it and give it a new meaning, then it is no longer useful to those who would hurt you. I understand this, and I support the reclaiming of words. I also support the reclaiming of religion (specifically Protestantism) by people who are somewhat left of Boondocks Alabama politics. So if people are empowered by being "queer" I support that.

But I don't identify as "queer'. I don't feel odd, or out-of-the-ordinary, or particularly strange; I feel like a person. Just a person. I'm glad there are activists, and I support the idea of activism, but I'm not an activist, because I think in order to be an activist, you have to be to the far side of reasonable: you have to be an extremist, and then you fight with the opposite extreme and come to a reasonable middle-ground. I don't feel extreme, just because I, as a friend so eloquently put it "like boys AND girls". Politically, I guess I'm a little extreme. But the point is that the word "queer" to me hasn't got the societal undertones that it seems to have for everyone else. Maybe because I read a lot of British Detective Fiction when I was really forming my vocabulary and mode of communication (roughly, age 9-14). To me, "queer" means "odd", "strange", "peculiar", "weird" with an undertone of the unexpected. There are certainly aspects of myself that I would use those words to describe.

My orientation isn't one of them. Maybe it's because I think that pretty much everyone is bisexual to some degree or other. In any case, I do not feel strange, and I do not feel as if I need to rub the fact that I am bisexual in people's faces to feel legitimized. If they know it, and they interact with me in a normal way, then that's great. The argument for legalizing gay marriage is, for me, a simple matter of "Why does sexual orientation have to MATTER?" As in, at all? Two people wanna commit to share their lives with each other--I say go for it. Black, green, blue, purple, male, female, neither, both....I don't care. Whoever you are, and whoever you're in love with--those things are not relevant. It embarrasses me that we classify people based on something as personal (and, honestly, as legally trivial) as their sexual orientation. It embarrasses me that there are people who will fight against equal rights for anyone. It embarrasses me equally to see the effects of this kind of lack of acceptance, which is a greater than or equal tendency on the part of the marginalized people to identify themselves as that, first.

I understand, I think, why it happens. I support being proud of something rather than ashamed of it. I just don't think it has to be such a Big Deal. Gay marriage--that is a big deal. If being proud of your orientation, being proud to be who you are, if those things are the alternative to feeling marginalized, not taken seriously, and totally rejected, then by all means, be proud. I'm proud. But not because I'm bisexual--I have nothing to do with my orientation; it's just how I am. Can't do anything about it. It'd be like being proud of the fact that I have brown eyes, or brown skin. I'm proud because I'm not afraid of being that way.

In some ways, it seems like just as much as the Scaryotypical Christian Right perpetuates a heteronormative binary, a lot of self-righteous non-straight people work to perpetuate a homosuperior-normative binary. I believe that the correct response to "Straight is Good. Straight is Normal. Straight is the Only Way To Be," is indeed "Nope." But I don't think that it makes sense to go so far as to say "Nope, because actually non-straight is Good, Being Normal is BAD, and therefore anyone who is not straight is better than anyone who is". And in some ways, that seems to be happening.

Anyway. I'm bisexual, but I don't feel at all queer.