First, start off with an introduction. The introduction doesn't contain any useful information, but it should give your reader a taste of what's to come. It's like a preview at a movie, or that first whiff of shit in an outhouse. A good introduction, though, will pass itself off with greatness without actually conveying any knowledge. Consider:
People have always debated the great questions of 'why' and 'how', and have supported their ideas with the 'what' and the 'where'. Overlooked, however, is the 'who' and the 'when', integral to such diverse studies as anthropology, engineering, jumping rope and gold-digging (in the Greek sense of the word). Never in human history have such questions been debated more intensely or with such interest than in the modern context, though this might change in the future.
Start out broad. If you specify too soon, you'll lose your audience. They don't care about the specifics, because they know they'll come later. Also, speak in broad generalizations. Use the rule of thumb that, if what you're saying can't be applied to at least a billion people, or one of the seven continents, then it doesn't bear mentioning. An introduction should also set up what is and what isn't, but the difference should be ambiguous enough that you could pilot an oil tanker through the gap without any difficulty. Your reader will think its airtight though, with the right wording. It's important also to bring context into it. Most things going on right now have either never happened before, or have never happened before in such a big or small way. The words 'globalization', 'modernity', 'imperative', 'paradigm' and/or 'deconstruct' are choice words to add substanceless gilt. If whatever the hell you're talking about has happened before, or you can't think of a covert way of saying nothing, quote Foucault . It'll serve the same purpose.
Next comes a summation of everything you're going to talk about in the paper - a kind of roadmap, so if your reader will know what's coming. This way, he or she can skip to the good parts, or, if there are no good parts, not waste their time and find a different paper to read. A good roadmap goes like this:
This paper will first discuss what people are doing. Next, this paper will analyze who these people are, and where they are doing these things. Following this will be a comparison of when people do things and how they do things. Finally, this paper will conclude with an overview of why people do things.
Standard fluff, but you know what's coming. It's like a table of contents, or that same bitchy rant your landlord gives you about how if you don't pay him he'll evict you. In other words, it's predictable. If you're not discussing specifics ever, consider 'a survey of the literature', which just means you're gonna summarize what other people have said. Another strategy is 'a critical analysis according to so-and-so's perspective', which is you taking what you've studying, putting it in your own crack-addled words and attributing the ideas behind it to someone much smarter and hopefully much more dead than yourself. This all should take about a page, maybe a page and a half. Next comes statistics.
Everyone loves statistics, because they signify things that only you can understand. No one looks at statistics, and if they do, they will hate themselves for having made the effort when THEY KNOW you will analyze the data for them. Make sure your statistics are especially convoluted in their display, and make the font really small so nobody can be sure of what they're reading. Summarize the statistics in broad sweeps, like '20% of people eat a stick of butter every hour' or '74% of Iowans are gay'. The actual statistics won't matter, but the analysis will, so the reader will gloss over your recapitulation. Your analysis will have to involve some thought, but don't put too much effort into it, or you might go blind. This is the appropriate moment to include a pie chart as well. For your analysis, be brief but profound, like 'and those people eating butter will all be on Oprah next year' or 'those gay Iowans correlate to a drop in oil futures in Dubai'. Be sure to mention that you'll discuss more later. It'll hook your reader better. In total, especially with graphs and figures, you've taken up another two to three pages.
Following your statistics should come something based off of a quote. The best kind of quotes are ones in foreign languages that have been translated into English. Include both the original and the translation - it's double the space, and double the fun! Remember, Japanese and Mandarin are written vertically, so they take up more room on the page. Include a photo of the person being quoted as well. If you can't find a photo of the person, attribute it to JFK. No one can resist JFK. Once you have your quote, you should mention how profound it is, like 'and we, as a society, can learn a lot from this message of hope and inspiration' or 'and the tragedies of the past ring true today in the suffering of unheard millions'. Include both if you really want to screw with your reader, but it might be a good idea to put one before the picture of JFK and one after. That way, your reader will have forgotten the first bit by the time they get to the second.
You should be on page six or eight by now. Now comes the 'so what' statement. Whatever you're talking about can usually be applied to poor people, women, unborn children, the future, or the environment. Bear in mind, all of these groups have strong positive associations tied to them, so don't say anything bad. If you say something like, 'and it should be kept in mind that because the environment is irrevocably ruined, poor people will all starve to death tomorrow', your reader will burst into tears and kill themselves. This is a light reaction compared to if you were to say, 'and because women murder unborn children by not submitting to baby quotas, the future has been irrevocably ruined'. This will likely get you dumped, castrated and lynched if you're a man, and dumped, castrated and lynched if you're a woman. So, be positive. Say something like, 'and because the environment is going to rebound, poor people will all become billionaires!' or 'all women were unborn children once, and now they are the future!'. You must be sure to include an exclamation point, or your statement will be misinterpreted, and you will be dumped, castrated and lynched.
If you're not at page 10-15 by now, it's time to employ creative methods in formatting that the human eye can't identify. These include making line spacing 2.1 instead of 2, or increasing all punctuation to size 13 instead of 12. Double-space your title as well, and reduce your margins by 1/8 of an inch on both sides. Leave gratuitous spaces between sections, and if you can, use those really fancy giant capital letters they have in Newsweek at the beginning of paragraphs.
Finally, your conclusion. Remember, it's always safe to blame political gridlock, white supremacists, the legacy of colonialism and carbon dioxide emissions. Some professors will give bonus points if you can blame all of the above in one swoop. Regardless, you should either blame - or congratulate - someone or something. Bear in mind, the aforementioned topics are safe to blame, but rarely congratulate. Certainly, if you find yourself in a position where you can honestly congratulate all four, you are going to Hell. Delete your paper and swallow some Draino. If you're not in that position, blame blame blame away! And remember, at this point, your reader wants to be done so he or she can eat, go home, have sex or go to sleep. 99% of the time, you want them to get done with your paper, disregard it, and give you a B-. For that 1% of the time though, you need something spectacular to catch their attention one last time. A diagram of a horse and a dolphin copulating, for instance, will work, or a proclamation that you have found Incan gold in Antarctica. The more absurd, the better, but be careful because since your reader is now interested once again, they will also be attentive to the plausibility of your final argument. You had better make sure that horse/dolphin porn is graphic enough to arouse them, or indicate that some of that Incan gold will find its way into your reader's wallet.
Finally, finish with a bibliography copied from any work in critical theory or the humanities. The papers in these fields are wealthy graveyards of citations that no one in their right mind would check up on, but will take for granted that the authors words are profound acts of intellectual masturbation. Your index, if needed, can similarly be copied from a telephone directory, or from the back of a mid-priced cookbook.
Once you're all done, return to the top, and craft yourself a title. Feel free to steal a headline from last week's British tabloids. They are usually provocative, and your reader will likely not have read them. Something like 'Sussex man drowns in lorry full of dog urine' or 'Local council declared corrupt beyond redemption; sentenced to deportation'. If you want to try your hand at originality, just think of something your racist great-grandparent would say if you told them you were marrying interethnically. Something like 'Jesus H. Christ on a Whale, the hell you are you bastard retard' or 'Say one more word and I'll belt you worse than I did your nana when she tried to vote'. For additional effect, remove every third word.
Your paper is now complete, and ready to be handed in to your professor. Be sure to wait until the last minute. You should be sweating when you hand it to them (in person), and be bleeding freely from some visible part of your body. If you can arrange for a destroyed bike to be placed in view nearby, all the better. Even more to your advantage is if you can get a friend to pretend to mug you moments before your professor leaves their office for their car. Hand it to them directly, then excuse yourself to get your wounds treated at the ER. See if they won't pity you and spring for cab fare as well.
N = the number of civilizations capable of surviving long enough to transmit intelligible radio signals into space that our civilization would detect (radio waves being among the widest length'd signals in the universe, and therefore the easiest - in terms of clarity - to transmit across stellar distances)
R* = the rate of star creation in our galaxy.
Fp = Fraction of stars with planets
Ne = Number of planets (and planets w/large enough satellites, like Titan) that can support life (i.e. are within the so-called "Goldilocks" zone of stellar heating/stellar windiness - because if the surface is always too hot/cold or the atmosphere is blown off by stellar wind, there is little chance of life)
Fe = Fraction of those planets that go on to develop life
Fi = Fraction of those planets that go on to develop intelligent life
Fc = Fraction of those planets that go on to develop intelligent life who develop civilizations like our own
L = Fraction of those civilizations that survive long enough to transmit the signals of their civilization into space
Carl Sagan postulated that the first six variables are relatively high. We have almost 400 billion stars in our galaxy, of which 1/4 will have planets. Based upon the estimates of the Solar system, of a stellar system with 10 planets (counting the major satellites, like Titan again), at least 2 will be able to support life. That leaves us with 200 billion life-capable planets. Because life developed 3.8 billion years ago (or 0.4 billion years after the formation of the Earth (4.2 billion years ago, because the impact of a proto-planet that created the moon occurred at that time, reliquefying the core and the crust)) the possible percentage of life-bearing planets becomes 1/2 (i.e., just the Earth - though life may have arisen on Mars, Titan, Venus or even the Moon, at some point in time). This gives us 100 billion planets. However, intelligence occurs in only a handful of species - metazoa, or animals. We (and our closest relatives) would account for only 1% of life. Still, that leaves 1 billion planets. Of those species, only Homo sapiens have developed communicable intelligence (as far as we know), but suppose we say that that translates into 1% again. We are left with 10 million planets on which intelligent life occurs which can communicate their intelligence into space. However, we then arrive at the great factor of time. Human civilization has only existed for ~12,000 years. In that time, we've only been able to project signs of our existence into the greater galaxy for at most, a century, and more likely, just for the past 50-40 years. Of all of Earth's history, this is a blip. Factoring that into the 10 million planets possibly able to communicate intelligence into space, that number reduces to anywhere from 50,000 to 10. 10 civilizations in a galaxy full of possibility.
Carl Sagan, who optimistically proposed our galaxy experienced the latter extrapolation of the formula, said that other civilizations would likely have overcome the challenges that we now face. Environmental collapse, poverty, disease, war; these are problems that kill not just countries but species. Should we not be shocked into action that we have not found life elsewhere? Our species is not made of Italians, Thais, Mexicans, Argentines or Cameroonians. We are all humans, and we share a single, fragile space. Sagan supposed that any civilization, whether it was one of 50,000 or one of 10 (the optimistic and pessimistic ranges), would have to be thousands and thousands of years old, and would have had to had endured the hardships of existing that long. Our civilization must learn to become a 10,000 year civilization.
The problems we face today are often thought of in human terms. We have a hard time understanding that the Earth is 138 billion human generations old. Humans have existed as Homo sapiens for only about 3,300 of those generations, or .0000024% of the history of the Earth. And that is still 100,000 years. If, in my lifetime, humanity destroys the ecosystem beyond repair, it will have occurred in a geological blink of an eye. Less than a blink even.
The current dominant mode of existence in human culture is capitalism. It is based on the principal of creative destruction, as theorized by Joseph Schumpeter. That means that in order for new innovations to arise, the old system must be removed, in a multitude of ways. Does this destruction damage our chances or survival, or increase it? I don't know. Capitalism has only existed for between 3,000 and 250 years, depending on who you talk to. Again, just a blink. Regardless, we've already seen our natural world begin to fundamentally change in just the last century. What challenges will we face next, and can we overcome them? I would like to think that something comes after capitalism, just as it succeeded mercantalism, and mercantalism succeeded tributary systems of economics. Maybe it will be something less destructive than our current way of life.
Robert Heinlein so eloquently summarized that "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch". TANSTAAFL might well be applied to the risk we take in continuing our current way of life. Every day we live - and by extension everything we do - takes its toll on the planet. Human science has been good at fixing the problems we create for ourselves - the Green Revolution is a good example of this, solving issues of hunger in the developing world in the 1960s. However, it is risky to bank on technological fixes. What if Norman Borlaug had never hybridized dwarf wheat, and ensured its distribution throughout the developing world? Maybe the task would have been taken up by someone else, but maybe it would never have occurred.
In order to avoid betting on the risk of a technological fix, our entire civilization has to undertake drastic measures of reduction. How do we balance the desire to develop with the need to protect our common ecosystem? If we cannot achieve a technological fix, or if we cannot expend the necessary time to enact a technological fix, then I think what we need is not scare tactics but a popularization of the hard choice. In World War II, in Great Britain, much of the arable land was converted into "victory gardens" (this is hearsay, as I have not studied the issue to any extent, so I might well be wrong) which were gardens for food so Britain would not have to rely so heavily on dangerous-to-acquire foreign imports. I do not know what mentality possessed the British to set aside what had been done for what needed to be done, but perhaps a similar mentality is needed today.
I would like to travel to the stars before I die. I'd also like to live multiple centuries, so the feasibility of that desire might increase. In any case, I am curious to know how we might become a 10,000 year civilization. What, if anything, shall come after capitalism? What shall be the technological fixes to sustain our civilization until then? If no technological fix can be achieved in time, how shall we mitigate the collapse of our environment? Who shall popularize the necessary steps? I would rather think about these things, than the possibility of our failure. Between the optimistic and pessimistic ranges of galactic civilizations are 49,990 civilizations that won't survive, or 99.98%. I'd rather we not be among them.
This was the first of five times I saw Star Trek in theaters. Each time was interesting in different ways. The first time though, my mind was just blown. When I got home from the movie and went to sleep, I honestly couldn't. I stayed awake until 4AM processing what I had just seen. Unfortunately, this meant that I slept until fifteen minutes into my exam, and had to rush to class where the professor gave me a pitying laugh and said "you'll do fine." I am reminded of this incident now because I am, by pure chance, listening to the soundtrack of that movie on youtube for the first time since having seen it.
I'm sorry, but I'm going to spoil the plot of the movie in this entry. If you haven't seen the movie yet, I suggest you stop reading. It is well-worth seeing without knowing what will happen in the end, so if you have any interest at all in seeing it, stop reading. STOP READING! Hopefully, you've gotten the message by now, and I advise you to read on at your own risk.
While now I have seen the movie five times and have sufficiently deconstructed the plot and themes, when I first saw it I was simply amazed. J.J. Abrams, the movie's producer (director? I don't know - I'm too lazy to look at IMDB) who also came up with Lost and Alias, took the novel approach of revamping the series with the time-honored Trek theme of time-travel. To appeal to a wider audience, he brought in a fresh cast of good-looking and appealing actors to play the parts of the now-aged (and in the case of DeForest Kelly and James Doohan, deceased - may they rest in peace) original cast. I can understand the need to appeal to more than just Trekkies - the whole franchise has been on shakey ground forever, basically, because it appeals to a specific sort of person. This is not to say unmarried white men over 30 who are more likely to read Wired than Sports Illustrated. Rather, I think the average Trekkie is someone who reasonably expects that we - as humans - will outlast the doom-and-gloom of our modern era to enter a time when we can not only travel to the stars but flourish there, despite our species' hangups. I think it speaks volumes that there are so few of those wonderfully optimistic people in the world. Anyways, let me get to my first point, which is related to this topic. That is, that good movies don't necessarily translate into good sales, and good sales do not make for good movies necessarily. Let me compare movies to literature in this sense. Not many people read Shakespeare - and yes, I know anyone with a background in English literature will accost me for this, but I think it's true. Sure, we're all familiar with Shakespeare, but how many of us have actually read Romeo and Julius or Hamlet, much less Twelfth Night, Titus Andronicus or Henry V? Among the general public, not that many. Now consider how many have read a book by Dan Brown, or the Harry Potter series? Both are examples of well-crafted books, but books that are not exactly high literature. I would lay odds on that Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wilde, Tolstoy, and Orwell would all have gladly taken Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling to task for making so much money on what is essentially literary pulp. Similarly, anyone who has ever been to an arthouse film (and while I admit I've only been to a few, I have found them to be generally boring) will recognize the differences between that genre and the typical Hollywood blockbuster. Capitalism doesn't leave a whole lot of room for the arts, after all, since what is good might not be popular, and what is popular might not be good, but what matters is what people will pay for, and that's what we get in bulk. I'm not saying there is a better system of promoting the arts, but that's just what I've noticed. So when J.J. Abrams decided to recast everyone in Star Trek (with the notable and well-played return of Leonard Nimoy as an older version of Spock, I think he was thinking of everyone who reads Sports Illustrated rather than anyone who reads Wired.
A good movie needs good actors, true, and I will admit that the cast of Star Trek was above par on the whole. Certainly, no one pissed me off (except possibly Chekov, who luckily only had a dozen or so lines and was put in largely so that they could say 'Hey, Chekov's here too!'). However, this is not what I want from a movie. That the actors will not piss me off should be a rule, and the exception should be that I should watch an actor (or actress, excuse me for being gendered) and say wow, that was a good performance. This didn't happen with Star Trek. This however, I chalk up to plot more than anything. Were the greatest actors and actresses of all time to have performed, there would only be so much that could be done to save the movie. This is a common problem in Hollywood, where big-name actors and actresses devote their name to a movie that really honestly truly sucks. Whose fault is it? Well, the screenwriter for one, the director two, and the actor three for not having enough sense to say 'send this to a B-lister'. Now, let me begin to analyze just what was wrong with Star Trek's plot.
First, time-travel. Time-travel is A-okay, so long as everything winds up fine in the end. Part way through Star Trek though, we witness the planet Vulcan being destroyed (the method in which it is destroyed I won't even begin to analyze - needless to say I suspect J.J. Abrams of badly copying George Lucas via the Death Star, but with less imagination and even less plausibility. The mechanical inaccuracies I shall leave to physicists). At the end of the movie, Vulcan stays destroyed. True, in an alternate universe, Vulcan still exists, but there, Romulus has been destroyed. Great! J.J. Abrams has just fucked up the entire stellar-political sphere of both the regular Star Trek universe and his own alternate one. Did he not realize that, without Vulcan, Star Fleet would surely collapse? It'd be like, if during the 19th century Europe had sunk into the ocean, and Western civilization had been represented only by the United States, Canada, Australia and the African and Asian colonies of Europe. We would be in a whole different boat. And of course, since Star Trek takes place before the events of any other canonical source (except Star Trek Enterprise), we are left without all of that to come in the future as well. How will Spock be reborn on Vulcan at the end of Star Trek III, or Lt. Valeris conspire against the Federation and Klingons in Star Trek VI? Without the Vulcans, the Federation is like a chair with only three legs - the Humans, the Andorians and the Tellerites, and since I bet none of you have ever heard of the last two, it goes to show that without the Vulcans, the Federation is pretty much up shit creek without a paddle. J.J. Abrams, you've killed the genre.
Of course, we can look to the regular universe, where Vulcan still exists, but here, Romulus doesn't exist (and by extension, Remus, since Romulus and Remus are twin planets and as their stellar system was destroyed in a cosmic event, both would have perished). Without the Romulan Star Empire (which, thanks to the events of Star Trek X, was just beginning to enter into detente with the Federation), the entire balance of stellar-political power shifts in the galaxy. Boo! It is disturbing. I am sure J.J. Abrams, though, can invent some novel, new universe where the Vulcan doesn't need to exist (or maybe he'll just say 'yes, Vulcan was destroyed, but enough Vulcans survived that it doesn't really matter), but that requires reinventing the wheel. It would've been easier just to pit James Kirk against an irascible and maniacal foe without the need to bring genocide into the equation. Which, by the way, was not particularly skillfully done. Nero, the baddy in Star Trek decides to destroy Vulcan because Spock didn't do enough to save Romulus in the original universe. However, is Nero the Emperor of the Romulan Star Empire, or the Praetor? Or even a powerful senator, an admiral or a commander of the Tal Shiar? No, he's the captain of a mining ship. And because Romulus gets blown to bits, he goes a bit gaga, falls through a black hole, and goes on a 25-year quest for vengeance against the entire Vulcan people. I can't even think of a good parallel for this situation. It just isn't plausible. It's like James Kirk fighting John Q. Postal Worker. Worse, John Q. Assistant to the Secretary of the Cousin of the Sister of the Postal Worker's Next Door Neighbor. Maybe J.J. Abrams was trying to tug at our heartstrings by having us 'relate' to Nero, but c'mon! No one can relate to genocide on that scale, and even if one could, the shock of it would be maddening. It'd be like if the Earth were destroyed, and the only people to survive were the four guys up in the International Space Station. They would envy the dead.
So, I've already confronted J.J. Abrams for his cast and his major plot hole. However, overall, the dialog must be addressed next. Good dialog can carry even the shittiest of plots. Look at Monty Python. Not to say they had shitty plots, but the plot was barely there. That's because it barely needed to be there. They were funny because the dialog was good (and because John Cleese is a master of funny walks). J.J. Abrams made the classic mistake of trying to integrate humor, action and emotion into a movie. Like Israel being a democratic, unified, Jewish state, you can only have two of the three. You can have emotion and action - Children of Men, for instance. You can have emotion and humor - Four Weddings and a Funeral. You can have action and humor - Hot Fuzz. You can't have all three, and when you put them all together, the movie collapses under the weight of it all. This is what happened in Star Trek. Arguably, Peter Jackson tried the same thing with the Lord of the Rings movies, but he had the advantage of having three movies over which to disperse these three elements, and he also used humor sparingly, and never in direct combination with action or emotion. J.J. Abrams didn't take this advice to heart. For instance, right after the destruction of Vulcan - which would probably have put everyone on the Enterprise into a state of shock ranging from upsetting to debilitating - Abrams has Spock making witty retorts to Kirk, and Kirk playing around like that the loveable class clown in high school. Not believable, and quite frankly sophomoric. Spock would probably have gone insane, killed Kirk in a single blow, forcing McCoy to euthanize him out of sympathy, and then Sulu would be running the ship, who himself would be traumatized at the events that had just transpired. That doesn't make for good theater, which again relates to the fact that J.J. Abrams shouldn't have blown up Vulcan. If you can't scale up the drama with the scaling up of the plot, DON'T DO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!
It's late, and I have to sleep, so I'll just casually mention my disapproval in the way older Spock was introduced, my disapproval of a romance between Uhura and Spock, and my disapproval that Scotty, Chekov and Sulu were even in this movie (they were treated like supernumeraries when they should've been principals). To end, I too could dump several million dollars into a blender and get you a movie like Star Trek, but I could also have taken a bit of thought, a bit more appreciation for the past and future, and maybe wound up with something else. I certainly expected J.J. Abrams, a man whose choice of work centers around such creations, to have done so. Maybe next time. Until then, live long, prosper, and keep on hanging and banging.
Why do we seem to repeat the mistakes of European empires, some decades later? Cuba repeated Spain, Vietnam repeated France, Iraq and Afghanistan repeat the British. Do we have a historic copy-cat tendency for destructively bad ideas? The idea of stabilizing Central Asia & the Middle East is just that, an idea. Iraq is not Germany and Afghanistan is not Japan. We haven't "beaten" anyone, who is now sulking in the corner, and after a good cry, they and we will dance around the maypole of economic resuscitation. No, that just ain't gonna happen. It's getting old reading how XYZ Iraqis or Afghans were killed in A bombing, and B number of our (or NATO's) troops were killed in turn, and tomorrow we'll bomb group C in retaliation. C'mon guys. Let's all go home.
The world is plenty f'ed up in other places. They still have slaves in Mauritania, the Zimbabweans are plain starving, the Russians are becoming like the Nazis in the 1930s, and the North Koreans are a bad Orwellian farce. Shall we be dealing with them next? I don't relish the thought. We haven't the guns, we haven't the troops, we haven't the money, and quite frankly the shopping list of domestic problems is long enough without our "foreign interests". Isolationism is one thing - unproductive and outright ignorant - but there is something to be said about gathering our rosebuds while we may. Think about how easy universal healthcare would be to fund if we were literally blowing up that money half a world away. Think about how we could modernize our infrastructure if we were pouring billions on billions into the sieves that are the failed states we quagmire ourselves in. Think about the renovations to our domestic industrial sector we could work if we diverted comparative pocket change from the military/industrial complex. It boggles the mind.
I'd like our country to take a bit of proaction, rather than wait for more fireworks to go off. Do we really need bombs and bullets to wake us up? And even if, haven't we gotten the message already? Oy vey!
College is going. Today is November 7th. It is 61F outside, and sunny. The only thing letting me know that it is, in fact, November and not August, is that the sun doesn't quite rise over the buildings, so there are long shadows everywhere. It's a bit neat. Everyone is outside. Wow, ok, this is starting to sound insipid.
What's new? Midterms are done. I won't tell you my grades, other than that I am doing well enough not to be overly concerned. Midterms are like yellow lights at intersections - you either gun it and go, or you slow down and stop, but there's a chance you'll get screwed either way. Wait, how does that relate to midterms? I'm not sure anymore. But, it's a good analogy. Is that an analogy? What's a word for a pointless story?
Right now, my most interesting class is creative writing. We've composed three pieces so far - a work of fiction, a memoir, and a piece of literary journalism. My class has twelve people and Professor Dawes, who has told us to call him 'Jim'. Of those twelve, six (including myself) are seniors. There are no juniors (unless I'm being fooled), three sophomores, and three freshmen. Okay, now that I think of it, there are only eleven people, and only two freshmen - both girls, so I can't call them freshmen. First-years. Firsties. The point of this note is that, for whatever reason, the underclassmen just plain suck at writing. I don't mean to say this in a condescending way (although by nature, it is condescending), but they lack the depth of experience in collegiate writing to be able to pen a good read.
For me, even a work of fiction should still be set up like an academic paper. You have a theme, which should be strong throughout, unless you want to change your theme midway through (which, since we only write 10 page stories, is hard to do). There should be a thesis statement at the beginning, which can either be recapitulated at the end, or just established once and referenced in a loose way throughout. A piece should have supporting details which are congruent and easy to understand, and by the end you should walk away thinking, 'That was interesting'. Or, at the very least, 'That was not a waste of my time'. Not infrequently, when reading my peers' pieces, find myself walking away saying, 'That was a waste of my time', but with the caveat that hopefully they'll come to be better writers later on. Jim has told all of us that he doesn't like happy stories - where emotion is necessary - and he doesn't like pieces that sort of just go and go and go and never get anywhere - where emotion is not a big concern, such as in literary journalism. Specifically, there is one girl in my class who always seems to write about childish things. For her fiction piece, she wrote about a child's dream; for her memoir, she wrote about... I can't remember. Was that the one about growing up? Right, it was about her fascination with the fantastical as a child. And for her ding dong what did I call it, literary journalism, she wrote about... what was it. Um. Hmmmm... [Snapping fingers, trying to remember] Damnit. Uh... [Looks up paper on internet, remembers] Ah! Yes. The problem of anemia in vegetarians. It was in the vein of science writing, and I passed it off to Chelsea, my biology-major housemate, who got angry reading it. It was not accurate, to say the least. Why am I picking on this one girl in particular? Well, I think I, like Jim, don't like happy stories. They're boring.
The other day, I read a novel - it was pulp fantasy, 400 pages of predictability (wow I sound pretentious), but it was written in an epic style (like the Silmarillion, for example - which is one of my favorite books) and I figured it would be a good read. It was a good read, but the hero won, the bad guy was defeated (through deus ex machina, which honestly sucks as a plot device. It's a total cop-out) and there was some minor internal conflict on the part of the heroine who didn't want to lose the hero, but had to let him go for the greater good. It wasn't even Dan Brown good. But for some reason, I was compelled to read, in part because the premise was interesting (the book - God's Demon by Wayne Barlowe - was about the fallen angels in Hell trying to regain some of their former divinity, and the no no this causes the more disgruntled, truly demonic demons of Hell) but I was mostly compelled to read it because I kept hoping it would get better. It didn't. Sigh.
I mention this because this girl's writing is similar. It's too predictable, it is too flowery, and the only real pull to the reading is that you hope, at the end, it will be better than throughout the start. Jim has told us that if we need to spice our story up, sex is a foolproof method of getting people's interest. I've talked to my friend Harley, who was an English major (she graduated, thus the use of the past tense), about the mundaneness of my class. She says its normal for an intro class. This mundaneness is juxtaposed by the fairly interesting pieces that the seniors write. I have two hypotheses: 1) that the seniors write more interesting pieces because they the last vestige of the dying Macalester breed of 'neat people'. The student body has been diluted of their far-left radicalism that seeps into everything they do, and slowly our college is becoming another J. Crew U. It's unfortunate, because there are still a handful of students who still come here in the hopes of finding those glimmering, interesting and smart people whom society has no place for save at Macalester.
For my literary journalism piece, I wrote about the Trads. In our peer critique (where the author shuts up and the class critiques the work), it was well-liked, but one of the seniors, Andrew, said (paraphrasing) it was interesting because the Trads are this outlet of excitement and ludicrousness who really aren't exciting or ludicrous, but in the context of Macalester, they are. I was struck by this because, well, we've all gotten boring. Smoking pot is no longer the taboo, counter-cultural stick-it-to-the-man activity it was in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Being vegan isn't weird. Riding a bicycle and 'being green' is mainstream. Wearing second-hand clothes is practically haute-couture. I'm not sure if Mac got more mainstream or if mainstream got more like Mac, but in the end we've wound up like everybody else. Tired and bored, we've lost our spirit, ground down by a heightened sense of academic need that, after four years, leaves us burnt out, jobless and with vocabularies that can only be understood with the aid of a dictionary and a decent knowledge of postmodernist theory. We're Harvard, taking a nap.
My second hypothesis is: 2) that the firsties just haven't come into their own. Maybe Macalester is still alive and kicking somewhere, in the developing hearts and minds of six-hundred closet liberals. Maybe after these younger students have experienced what college can really do to your mind, they'll start to pen and think in a more elegant and eloquent way. Maybe somewhere in their time here they'll get hit by the truck of abnormality that characterized the college for much of its mid- to late-20th-century history. Maybe. I hope. But, on the whole, Macalester is losing some of its essence. Too many students think that the world is all written down, and that bold plans and big thoughts were things that happened fifty and a hundred and two hundred years ago. We have frantic discussions about 'what our image should be' and 'how the spaces around campus should fit the needs of students' rather than just making an image for ourselves and making the campus fit for us. We read the New York Times instead of the Worker's Daily. We drink Dunn Bros. instead of moonshine from a boot. We think 'diversity' means having Mexican food. Ugh.
I think the desire of the administration to make Macalester more presentable, more worldly, has left us fearing any deviation from the norm. Residential Life (the secret police of Macalester) is where life goes to die. I listen to the tours of prospective students that pass, and how the tour guides drone on and on about this construct that is Macalester. They tout our diversity, our multiculturalism, our internationalism, our civic engagement, when in fact these are shams. We're a withered daisy passing ourselves off as a rose, and the sad part is is that people believe the rouse. But, enough of this dreary diatribe.
I'm happy. If Macalester is truly rotting on the vine, I'm out of here shortly. I've had a fantastic run that gets better with each passing day. I worry sometimes about what comes next, but that is still many many weeks away. For now, I'm off to Goodwill to see if there's anything that catches my fancy.
Below is my piece on the Trads. There are a small number of grammatical and spelling mistakes, but I will edit those in the final draft. Feel free to point them out if you see them, or say what you think at the end. Love.
Plaid Madness: The Macalester Traditions
There is a list of 100 Things To Do Before You Graduate on the Macalester Admission website. The first thing to do is to listen to a world class speaker like Kofi Annan or Angela Davis. The second thing to do is to embrace the Plaid at a Trads Concert. This suggest that the Macalester Traditions, Macalester’s premier (and only) all-male a capella ensemble, ranks higher in the college experience than painting the Rock (9th), Springfest (26th), learning a second language (50th) or joining any other student organization on campus (75th). For a college that values at its core such lofty ideals as internationalism, multiculturalism and global citizenship, it might seem odd that this rowdy, musically-average and frequently drunk bunch of men is so highly valued by the college. Why then is the closest thing to a fraternity that exists at Mac considered such a draw for prospective students? What is it about the Plaid that students can’t leave Mac without embracing?
On the evening of October 24th an enormous crowd is gathered in the Campus Center. They are there to listen to Acapellooza, the annual gathering of different a capella groups hosted every fall at Macalester. Like a rock concert, there is the warm-up act - Off Kilter from Macalester and Basses Wild from the U of M - both new groups who are there to have their mettle tested. Following them are more established groups – the Knights and Knightengales from Carleton, Seven Days from the U of M, the Sirens from Macalester – all crowd pleasers and well-respected singers. However, the closing group, the unofficial headliner, is the Traditions. The moment the crowd has been waiting for finally arrives. At eleven o’clock, three hours after the start of the concert, the plaid-clad Trads are ready to rock.
The first part of the appeal surrounding the Trads is their entertainment value. Before every performance and usually with no more than a half-hour of preparation, the group gathers to prepare an introductory skit. Tonight, the theme is Super Mario Brothers. As the MCs thank the penultimate group off the stage and announce the Trads, a yellow star descends from the upper level, à la Super Mario Brothers. On to the stage runs Rob Desjarlais, the most convincing Mario impostor in the Trads. With a flourish, Desjarlais pulls down the star and the Trads stream on stage. All eleven of them are wearing plaid suitcoats straight out of the 1970s, chanting the theme of the game to the repeated word, ‘Trads!’ As Desjarlais comically knocks each member down in turn with the star, the crowd breaks out into laughter.
The humor is just an appetizer though – as one member of the Trads put it in the usual style of phallic references, "Slurping on the head before the real fellatio.” With the crowd eagerly aroused, the Trads burst into song. Musically, the Trads are not high quality. Vocal performance experience is not a requirement for admission to the group, although command of pitch and knowledge of music theory are advantageous. The popularity of the Trads in concert comes from the fact that when they perform, they just have a good time. If they sound good, that is an added bonus. This is the second part of the appeal of the Trads – their energy brings everyone into the music. It is akin to sitting in on a garage band jam session, only the experience is happening to an audience of two hundred people. There is an intimacy, even in public, to their performance; a way of drawing in every individual into the secret enjoyment that these men experience regularly.
The final song of the set is ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, by Kelly Clarkson. Christian Behrends, a freshman and the current Bitch steps up to the mic and the audience quiets themselves. As the song is recognized, the audience surges into a sudden cheer. Swelling through the notes, the Trads begin jumping up and down, stomping on the stage as sweat trickles off their faces. The cascading music rises to a final frenetic moment with Trads bouncing around the stage while Behrends wails high on the mic. Many in the audience are bobbing their heads and moving their bodies in a private dance while a few on the side are actively rocking out along with the Trads. The song comes to an abrupt end and it takes a moment for the crowd to recover. Finally sated and still reeling from the thrill of it all, the whole crowd rises in a standing ovation.
The reasons why people come to the Trads concerts are numerous. One alum who returned for the concert said, “I was friends with a lot of Trads when I was in school, and just the memory of my experiences with them is enough to get me back here.” Another student, a senior who admitted never having been to a concert before, said, “That was so much fun. I’m sorry I stayed away so long. I’m gonna come to all the rest of the concerts!” For the Trads, the accolades are a sign that they not only enjoyed themselves, but were enjoyed by the crowd in turn. Carl Skarbek, the Dildo of the Trads, said to the group afterwards,
“I just want to say that that was one of the most fun Trads concerts in recent memory. We completely owned. I had so many people come up to me and tell me that we were the best a capella act they had ever seen.” This performance, like every other, is the manifestation of the hard work and dedication of the group’s efforts to please an eager crowd. This latest concert is just another iteration of a legacy stretching back a quarter of a century.
The Traditions were founded in 1984 by six men who wanted an opportunity to sing music they liked for their own enjoyment. What began as an experiment in a capella fun continues today, though none of the original members ever thought that they would start a legacy. At the 2008 Alumni Reunion, a special dinner was held for former members of the Trads, stretching back all the way to the founding members. From among the fifty-odd participants, many shared memories of how, through the Trads, they found wives, jobs, and life-long friends. One of the founders of the Trads is even godfather to the son of the original leader. Today, while the music has changed, all the traditions of the Traditions stay alive.
One of the first traditions was the titling of the leadership of the group. Informally known as a 'dicktocracy', the Trads are lead by a chief officer, the Rod, named such with the usual phallic humor of the group. The second-in-command is called the Dildo, who as the Trads related to me, “takes the Rods place when the Rod is not there.” The secretarial position is called the Bitch, whose duties include the straight-forward (preparing sheet music copies and lyrics) and the ridiculous (when there are eleven chairs in a room and twelve Trads, the Bitch always sits on the floor). Laura Bartolomei-Hill, the Chair of the Financial Affair Committee for the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) commented on these unusual titles when reviewing the charter for the Trads: “We spent about an hour just discussing what exactly the Bitch did, and quite frankly we were all still confused at the end.”
The Bitch might be confusing to some, but to the actual Bitch, it can be anything from a harrowing experience to a source of pride. Behrends described to me his initial impressions of being the Bitch. “I was really scared at first. I thought I was gonna be treated like shit, and I was also worried about having to be on the spot about the Bitch song. But then Charles [McClung – former Bitch] told me it was a position of honor, so I just relaxed about it and I was like ‘cool’!” As Behrends mentions, one of the roles of the Bitch is to sing the Bitch song, which is ‘I Want To Be Your Dominated Love Slave’, by Greenday. When it is sung, the Bitch selects a person out of the audience to serenade. In turn, that person gets the chance to whip the Bitch on the butt with a belt, generously donated by one or multiple other members of the Trads. This is the single most awkward event at a Trads concert, and most selected end up sitting humbly in embarrassment or shock. There are, however, a few notable exceptions. As Eric Anderson, a former Rod, recalled:
“One time, Josh Porte was singing the Bitch song and he brought Anne Sweet [of the Sirens]’s grandma on stage. So, here I am thinking ‘Oh my god, this woman is going to die of embarrassment and we are all going to be arrested’ and half of us are just turning away – we can’t bear the sight of it. But then when it comes time for her to whip Josh, she just gets this look in her eyes, this primal look like, ‘Yeah! Gimme! I want a piece of that meat!’ and she starts wailing on Josh. So now half of us are turning away because we can’t stop laughing at what’s happening. She came up to us afterwards and said that was the most fun she’d had in years – this little eighty-year-old woman. It was great!”
The other members, far from being unimportant, all contribute to the functioning of the group. Regardless of the role of any individual member, they are all selected in a highly competitive audition process. The auditions, held at the beginning of each semester, follow a night of ‘guerrilaing’, where the Trads storm into the freshmen dorms, banging on doors and singing songs for unsuspecting residents to spread awareness of the group. For incoming freshmen, the experience can either be riveting or frightening, but for the Trads it is another example of their chaotic, fun-filled nature. The day of auditions, the candidate pool (all male, unless a woman capable of singing in the male vocal range agrees to dress and act as a man for a year) gathers to see if they are up to par for the Trads.
The auditions consist of two sections, musical aptitude and potential group cohesion. The musical portion consists of singing notes on a scale to determine range, followed by prospective candidates repeating a song they learn during the audition – always the Trads standard, ‘You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’, by Smokey Robinson. Once this is done and the candidate pool is narrowed down, the prospects are brought back in to the audition space. Next comes the examination of personality – the real test of a potential Trad.
“We basically try to see if they’ll fit with the group, so we ask them questions to try and see what sort of person they are. Are they funny, are they dorky, are they going to get all the dick jokes we tell? That’s the second half of auditions,” notes one Trad. The Trads always ask the same three questions: “Which do you fear most – a ten foot tall penis or a ten foot tall vagina, and why?”; “What would you do in your last moments of life if you were attacked by a million housecats?”; and “In the event of a nuclear holocaust where you and one Trad have to felate one another for food in the last safe bunker on Earth, which Trad would you choose?” Applicants are judged not on correctness of their answers (although fearing a vagina over a penis is a plus), but rather are considered for their creativity of answer and comfort with being questioned in this manner. Needless to say, it is not an experience for the unoriginal or prudish. New Trads are then selected in a secret election, and informed of their acceptance into the group with a Mountain Dew-filled condom, SPO’d to them with a letter saying ‘Urine!’ (You’re in). Thus begins the tenure of a Trad in the group.
The bulk of the Trads’ time is spent in rehearsal, three times a week in the evenings, and occasionally extra before important concerts. The Rod leads the rehearsal, or in his absence, the Dildo – as per stipulation of the rules. At rehearsals, songs that have been arranged previously are performed and worked upon, and business is discussed, but inevitably the rehearsal includes some period of time devoted to absurdity or drinking, and often both. The instigator of this ridiculousness is the G-spot, a senior whose position is named for their ability to find the elusive pleasure that the group needs to get through the hardship of rehearsals.
“Usually I get into fake shouting matches with Joe [Ptacek] or Will [Gordon], or I tell a long-winded story about my life to the group. Sure it sounds boring, but it’s how a million different inside stories get formed. That, and I have to bring the booze when and if we decide to drink. It’s a surprisingly demanding job, especially on my bank account and liver,” notes the current G-spot. “Oh, and not all the guys drink. Drinking is just one of many methods to our madness. My job is mostly to stir up madness and fun. If you’re not crazy when you join the group, you sure as hell will be when you leave it.”
All of this preparation comes to fruition during concerts, but even concerts are not how most people know the Trads. The event with the most exposure for the group is Valentine’s Day. The week before Valentine’s Day, the Trads take over a table in the basement of the Campus Center and harangue people into buying serenades. For a mere five dollars, you get a song. For ten dollars, you get a song delivered by members shirtless. To quote the G-Spot, “What says love more than a group of half-naked men singing together?” The group begins with wake-up serenades, where the Trads sing to and on occasion crawl into bed with unsuspecting dorm residents around eight in the morning. It is a sensuous experience, to say the least. For the Trads, Valentine's Day represents a time for showcasing not only the musical prowess of the group, but also every piece of ridiculousness that can be mustered. After the wake-up serenades comes the morning drinking break. One or two of the seniors will break off from the group, drive to Park Liquors and pick up an assortment of beverages, key among them being the alcoholic energy drink Sparks. It was disheartening to the group when this beverage of choice was discontinued last year.
"I really miss getting slightly drunk and very energized at 10AM from a couple of Sparks," commented former Trad Tim Campbell. While it might be easy to dismiss the Trads’ frequent drinking as fraternity-style boorishness, it has long been gospel truth among musical groups of all varieties that performing slightly drunk makes them sound better. For the Trads, it is no different. Beyond the ridiculousness and the music, Valentine's Day is a singular opportunity for the Trads to bond. Singing upwards of fifty songs over twelve hours is immensely tiring, and good humor is a requirement. Last year, one diversion was to answer the question: How many Trads can fit in a Carnegie bathroom stall at once? The answer was nine. I spoke to Desjarlais about the nature of this inquiry.
"It's important to know these things, man. How many Trads can fit in a Carnegie bathroom stall? What is the etymology of the word ‘blumpkin’? Which Trad would you most want to sleep with? The list is endless."
The Trads spend the rest of the day interrupting classes and lunch, to the varied enjoyment or shame of students. Receiving a serenade is a special occasion, sent from loved ones, prankish friends and secret admirers alike. Although most of the songs offered vary from year to year, one standard remains a popular favorite, not only for its musical quality but also for its embarrassment factor. This is the Trads original, ‘Masturbating Over You’. Former Rod Kyle W. recounts one particular performance of the song:
"It’s been sung for about fifteen years now. It's so popular, we actually have a Spanish version. One time, we sang it for a Spanish class, and at the end the professor stopped us and said 'No no no, you have conjugated 'masturbate' wrong. You want to say 'masturbatandos'. That is the correct conjugation.' The whole class cracked up."
The style of the Trads on Valentine's borders on the irreverent, much to the chagrin of some professors. For classes that have multiple Valentine's, or especially professors who are visited multiple times a day, the Trads tend to wane in interest. Professors lose valuable time to lecture and they will not hesitate to berate the Trads and send them out in a hurry. For the Trads though, they are mostly understanding.
"We know it's an interruption, but we always try and get a second or even third possible location for a person. As far as the professors go, we're understand we can be disruptive, and if they say to leave, we leave,” said Joe Ptacek, current Rod. Despite good intentions, the Trads have always risked offense. During the Family Fest concert earlier in October, an unintentional slip of the tongue led to drastic repercussions for the Trads. As a result of unexplained actions taken by the Trads during their performance, a slew of complaints from parents was received by Dean of Students Jim Hoppe. Upon consultation with Mark Mazullo, Chair of the Music Department, Hoppe decided that the long-running inappropriateness of the Trads – years in the making - could be tolerated no further. I spoke to Ptacek about the events in question.
"Well, we've been banned from the Music Building for the rest of the year. Essentially, we don't know exactly what we did wrong, but it is the straw that broke the camel's back more than anything."
"It's a little like being on double-secret probation without ever being on regular probation, then getting slapped in the dark. I mean, honestly, we weren't even drinking on stage. And we've done that lots of times before. Or so I've heard. From past Trads. No one currently in the group did that," commented another Trad. Continuing, I asked Ptacek if he felt the punishment matched the crime.
"Yes and no. I think what parents got most upset about was us saying 'dildo' and 'bitch', which are in our charter, and it's like 'Okay, are we not allowed to mention the specifics of our charter? Our charter that MCSG and Jim Hoppe approved?' But at the same time, I realize that the school is trying to keep its image up, and as representatives of the school, we have to be sensitive to that. Especially around parents of first-year students who aren't fully accustomed to the college yet."
At the present, uncertainty surrounds the future of the Trads. Without a permanent concert space, the group is now forced to look for other venues at which to perform. The impact of a seemingly innocuous event will now force the leadership of the group to seek alternative arrangements, possibly at the cost of sound quality or audience size or both. All the same, the Trads remain upbeat. It is in their nature to skirt controversy and to persevere through hardships. To be a part of the Trads is to be a part of a community of friends who will support you throughout college and beyond.
"We have a saying in the group: once a Trad, always a Trad," notes Ptacek. "Except if you get kicked out, but that's only happened once in our entire history. Fifteen years ago or so, there was one member who kept missing rehearsals, and the group voted him out in absentia and sent him a letter to that effect to his SPO. He never got it though, so one day a month later, he finally comes back and everyone just looks at him and says 'Wait, you didn’t know we kicked you out? You should check your SPO.' So now that's become the buzz word for any time we're angry at someone, pretend angry or serious. We just saying 'Check your fucking SPO' and then maybe throw something at them. But other than that, I love everyone here."
It is this sense of love and community that pervades the Trads, even more than the outward perception of churlishness, intoxication and a prepubescent obsession with penises. When I spoke to the Trads about how they felt about one another, there was nothing but good feeling.
“Sure, we lead different lives, but being part of the Trads is like being in a family. We’re all brothers. A bunch of misfit bastards, true, but we’re still brothers. Every year without fail, at least two of the Trads will be living together. Right now it’s me - I live with Joe and Ian [Noble – former Rod]. I’ve done all sorts of crazy shit with these guys. I can honestly say my life would be unimaginably different without the Trads,” adds the G-spot.
In the end, it makes sense that Mac students should experience the Plaid in some way. The group is emblematic of the kind of community fostered all over at Mac – lifelong friendship throughout troubles and celebrations. While the Trads may not always please everyone, it is hard to deny that they have added to the college experience through their antics and their quirkiness. Macalester would be an altogether different place without their Traditions.
My classes are going swimmingly. True, I have yet to break my mind of its firm hold on the idea that summer has yet to end, but luckily, I don't have a single paper due before October, and let's be fair, I've suffered a lot through the last three years. I am at my apogee, mentally, socially, and... I dunno what else. But what ever it is, it's apogeeing as well. Yes, I just invented that word. I rock like that. Being 21 is a delightful time. I've discovered that it is a transitory moment (a liminal moment, for the anthropologically-inclined) that encompasses the best of both worlds. I'm legally able to go to bars and hang out with a much "older crew" of people, but at the same time am socially accepted among my freshman and sophomore friends. It's wonderful. Plus, being a senior, I am gifted with the responsibility of age-induced madness. What would life be like if we were all staid and stoic? Boring, is the answer.
I am not doing an honors project, in part because my two years of frittering over ideas of what to research have never come to fruition, but that is alright. The workload would have been stressful, and even though I would have completely it with admirable kwality, I realize that if I'm not passionate about something (like the subject of my honors thesis) I should not be engaging in work related to that thing. That's fine. I will, however, endeavour to graduate at least cum laude if not magna cum laude (but don't hold your breath. That would require me to get straight A's for the next two semesters. And while I am capable of that, to quote the President of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek VI - The Undiscovered Country, "Just because we can do a thing does not mean we must do that thing." Okay, so not exactly Cicero or Kennedy, but the point comes across.)
Speaking of which, I was deeply saddened by the death of Ted Kennedy. Since my high-school days, I have let go of politics as a fervent passion of mine. I am still interested in politics, but I'm not going to become the next Lee Atwater or *spit* Karl Rove. Good administration and good governance are skills not incumbent in good campaigning and good electioneering. Unfortunately, I might add. The Chinese, in their infinite discretion against the democratic model of governance, have in some ways stumbled across how to administer and govern oh, 1.3 billion people. Of course, I am certain that the 2010's will provide them adequate challenge in how to accommodate ethnic minorities within a Han-dominated state. These puzzles of how multi-ethnic (or multi-national) states exist in spite of internal differences is a pressing question for the future. All I'll say on subject is, let's hope Canada doesn't go bat-shit crazy. They seem to be the model of how to integrate diverse elements of society into a state-wide framework (and I use state in terms of the dominant and legitimate political authority of a particular geographic area.)
Anyways, my classes. Let's see. I'm taking The Post-Soviet Sphere, Biodiversity and Evolution, Population Geography and Medical Geography. The Post-Soviet Sphere, taught by a visiting professor of Georgian (Asian Georgia) and Armenian background, is an interesting class, but like all classes in the International Studies department, is intense and full of dense readings. I hope it will go well. I have a presentation on Monday about theories of nationalism. This weekend will be full of that stuff. Oy vey. My biggest fear is that the class will encompass the usual IS randos who are only in there because they weren't qualified enough to be Poli Sci or Econ majors (sorry, but it's true. I'm a geographer, so I've got that to back me up. No worries there.)
My next class is Biodiversity and Evolution, which is instructed by Kristi Curry Rogers, married to the chair of the geology department, and an expert on dinosaurs. Also, she is one of the most highly regarded professors at Macalester, and all of my friends are envious that I am taking this class. I am sad that I am only now getting around to taking a biology class, as I have always had a passion and fascination for biology. It is the only hard science which lacks scientific laws. This is, mostly, because in biology the scope of inquiry is isolated only to the planet Earth, and our means of comparison are slim. One day, with luck and no doubt tribulation, we will venture among the stars and discover whether or not we are unique or whether we are merely a portion of the plethora of forms of life in this wide, wide universe. After all, we haven't even scratched the surface in terms of our examination of life on this one little planet. I am looking forward to the class immensely. I will, however, probably take it pass/fail, just because I can, not because I am worried about poor grades. I've never taken a class pass/fail, but I believe it will be a relief more than a burden.
My third and fourth classes, both in the geography department, are population geography and medical geography. Thus far, I've only had one class - population geography - which met on Wednesday. The professor, Holly Barcus, was out of town Friday to go to a conference of Rural Geographers in Tuscon. She is an excellent professor, who instructed me for my Introduction to GIS course. That was a wonderful experience, and I am eagerly anticipating this course. Holly is very interested in population-related issues in geography, and it should be good fun. My other class, a Monday night class, is medical geography, taught by the perpetually-visiting professor Helen Hazen. Helen is also extremely well regarded by students, and medical geography is always full. I am not entirely sure what the class will entail, as we have yet to meet. I will go to it this Monday, and inform you all of what will lie ahead.
On the whole, I am anticipating an excellent semester. Long gone are the days when I had to worry about who I'd have dinner with or whether or not so and so would be my friend. Not having to deal with social vagaries is a tremendous burden lifted, and I feel that this whole year will only be rewarding. My biggest challenge will be in the next few days as I begin to transition out of my summer sloth into doing the whole college thing. Best of luck to me.
I would also like to give a shout out to Grandma Anne and Judy, the latter having recently undergone laproscopic surgery to remove her gallbladder. She is on the mend, and I spoke to her this afternoon and she and I laughed twice. I recall reading an article on the BBC website that as people age (mentally, at least) their faculties to comprehend humor diminish first. I am especially grateful that Grandma Anne has not lost her wonderful humor, and that she and I (and Judy and all my relatives) have had enjoyed many fruitful years of companionship with her. I think of how many of my friends did not have the opportunity to know their grandparents into their more mature years, and I consider myself quite lucky. Even if the worst were to come to pass, I am safe in knowing that every moment I have spent with my grandmothers will never be lost. It is a wonderful and comforting fact, for which I cannot possibly thank them enough.
Alright, I must be off to sleep. Goodnight all, and best wishes.