Friday, May 31, 2013

The Gun Vote

I'm trying to figure this out.

So people want guns because they feel mortally threatened by the things out there in the world. They want the guns so they can defend themselves. They have this notion of defending themselves because they believe they are someone worth defending, worth keeping around - of value to the world. They're willing to stand up and fight and, quite possibly, kill in order to maintain their place in the world.

Yet I can't help but think of how these sorts of gun-stroking citizens really do nothing remarkable for the world around them. They're so far up in their ego-worship that they believe they're of such uber-importance that they've gone around the bend and now think that everyone else either wants what they have, or is willing to jealously harm them because of what they have (and these less-thans, presumably, don't have).

Also, I imagine these people's thoughts being comprised of nothing more than a Gregorian chant of fart noises.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Touched in the head

I recently had to edit something that included a Q&A between two very successful French-trained chefs and the denizens of a certain technology company - not naming any names, but you definitely use this tech company's wares.

During the Q&A, a couple of these technorati asked about why can't these two chefs, who had recently published a book, come up with something that would just let people create recipes or dishes based on the ingredients they already have at home. Another went into more detail, asking why the chefs weren't writing a book about teaching people what foods and tastes go together.

The second person to ask a question even whined about why there wasn't a technology where you can just use a tablet, because "using a cookbook is hard."

He actually said that.

My initial contempt for the two questions was simple: these two questions basically illustrate the importance of something like a culinary school, of learning a craft and really understanding it, not just something you can fetch from the internet, use, dump, and then repeat the next time you need the knowledge. While I do think that there are some things that you can learn from using only books and the internet, there is also something to be said, at times, for the value in experiential learning and in-person instruction. Culinary school, for one, is an example of that.

One of the chefs, though, in his response to this techie, was that while this tech company might be on the high tech side, he considered his side of the pairing - the cooking side - to be "high touch."

High touch. While the oomph of that phrase may be lacking, the sentiment is spot-on: an evolved explosion of sensory information. The importance of touching, and not just touching, but for getting a feel for something - both literally and cerebrally. To feel is to start to get to know something, and allow that something more deeply embedded to who you are. We crave to be close to things we like, that intrigue us. Sexually, geographically, historically - it doesn't matter. To touch is to truly know.

Meanwhile, to hear these tech cranks opine, you get the sense that they hope our primary somatic sensory cortex will hopefully go the way of the vestigial tail and the appendix.

These tech dweebs desire to repudiate any need for touch because, really, why touch something? What do you think the point of Google Glass is? It's directly engineered so that people will never have to touch anything every again. You literally get to wear a Google search engine on your face so you never have to ask another question of someone else, never get lost, never do anything, really, except exist in a wholly sterile world. I hope that at next year's big gala, they'll announce Google Bubble: the nano-animated personal now-time EXPERIENCE ORB that lets you roll your blobby life around without ever having to experience anything tangible ever again. Just roll around in your front yard! We'll make it just like you were spear-fishing in the Amazon!

If it's not going to become a part of you in some way, you can just keep your distance as much as you like. And by not touching something, by not really dwelling on a thought or subject for any prolonged amount of time, you free yourself up to go do the next Google search or click on the next link, and find something else.

I don't want my brain to simply become a card catalog of websites to defer to when I don't know something. Fuck that. What an embarrassing, wasteful use of not just a brain, but of humanity.

Listening to these future Bubble early adapters talk about why cookbooks are so hard, it occurs to me that maybe the entire generation that seems to be diagnosed with ADHD isn't actually to do with attention, and instead, everything to do with retention and experience. We just never move any information out of our active, nee short-term, memory to our long-term, persistent memory. Why should we? We can just Google it if we forget it.

We just don't learn anymore. We read, but we don't absorb. We might search, and we might discover things, but less and less, people don't feel as obligated to grasp what it is they've found. We don't even write, we just type and - actually, I was going to say push a pen, but I doubt that's going to be around much longer (it was good knowing you, cursive script).

I might be able to Street View most of the world, the pits of the ocean, and even the surface of the moon, and that's all amazing, because I wouldn't get a chance to see any of that kind of stuff so up-close without that technology. But it's as meaningful to touch and learning for me as cotton candy is vital to my body as a source of iron and vitamins.

This goofy technology is fun. But at the same time, though, it doesn't supplant the need for experience and memory and learning. It doesn't efface the need for still touching something.

I'm lucky that I was born at such a time that permitted me to now stand in the division between old world learning (I don't know what else to call it) and this new world surface-learning. I like that I at least got to grow up with an appreciation for touch, for actually retaining the things I learn, and not rendering myself as an intellectual halfwit crutched up by the ever-dependable Google.

However, I also feel lucky that I will die before nobody touches anything anymore. I don't live in a world I'm not touching beyond what my stupid fucking wearable technology tells me it feels like outside.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Eau de Truck Nutz

I almost got t-boned today by a huge F150 truck with Truck Nutz. The ingrate bastard had the gall to honk and then scowl at me because, I don't know, he was mad that he was the one that ran a stop sign?

The incident took up all of 3 seconds of my day, but I fixated on the near-hit for nearly 15 minutes. I was murderous.

It wasn't until I had to actively wrested my attention away from the Truck Nutz almost-incident that I was finally able to let it go. For some reason, always remembering that even the most offensive, brutish, hate-deserving, mean, dickless idiot is still, impossibly, somebody's son. Some woman, some man, or maybe some couple raised this person - regardless, this cretin was a child to somebody, and no matter how much I want to forcefully lodge his own Truck Nutz down his throat, somebody in this world would miss him.

It sucks, but it's true.

That asshole is important to somebody out there. And that somebody, or somebodies, would miss him.

I wasn't ever in any danger of going full-on berserk and actually hurting this guy - hell, I didn't even so much as yell back at him. But upon remembering that he's adored by some parent or wife or child in this world, it was a real bummer.

This must be why victims always say they have a family at home when pleading with their captors, to appeal to an understanding that life and the world and everything goes way beyond whatever gory outcome might be about to happen.

It seems like the biggest cinematic cliche, but that sort of shit would totally work on me. It'd work on me in a heartbeat. As angry as I may get, and as much as impassioned and justified I might feel to beat Truck Nutz to death with his own Truck Nutz, one reminder that this person is somebody's mother/daughter/father/son/husband/wife/etc, and I totally lose any resolve for wickedness.

And then I'm stuck in a moment of wonderment, trying to understand how anybody really follows through with violence without being crushed by the awareness of what they've just taken away from the friends/family of their target.

Monday, May 6, 2013

What a bad Filter song that was

I got to thinking earlier about some of the goofy photoshop abominations I'd create when I wrote for this blog a while back. The writing was middling at best, but making some of these dumb pictures to run with my articles was easily my favorite part of the job. I wouldn't be surprised if the amount of time I wasted making those images was one of the reasons I eventually ended up the butcher's block. Oh well. My posts were at least the most eye-catching.

I've gone back and culled some of my greatest hits. It was odd, though. Going back and seeing all of the posts that I wrote for this blog - it was a tech/internet blog - immediately made me swallow back some vomit.

But the pictures, they were fun.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tolstoy's Undergarments

I suck at languages.

More specifically, I suck at learning new languages. Maybe I'm stuck in what I've always heard spoken as truth, that it's much harder to learn a second (or third, or whatever) language when you're older. I can only speculate that there is some truth to that, as I seem to never have any trouble recalling the first ten numbers in Spanish, which I learned in kindergarten. But the Spanish I learned in college? Eh, that's less reliable.

For all I know, maybe it's a greater difficulty with memory and age. I certainly can fairly easily rattle off some old nursery rhymes I read or a lullaby my mother would sing me from my early childhood, but I have more difficulty reciting Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" monologue - and I've seen the latter more times and more recently. It's hard to make sense of any of that, especially considering that I've spent lots of focused time on remembering what Hamlet says.

The problem might be less general and more specific to my own memory, and how my brain keeps shoddy storage of memory. I don't know.

The lack of deftness when it comes to learning non-English languages is not just vexing for the practical reason (that being to talk to people in that language). It's more bothersome to me as a reader, and what that limits to me in terms of literature. I like reading. It's less an activity for me at this point and more a way of life. I cannot imagine a meaningful life without reading. There are times in my life where I am positive that my capability to escape inside of a book has saved me from hurting or killing myself.

Aside from the buoy that reading has provided me in my life, I also do it because I like learning. I like changing, and I like being more aware of the world, whether it's fictional or real (or as objectively real as a book can present this reality). Being only proficient in one language, I'm immediately disadvantaged in terms of what material I can read in this world. Sure, there are translations, but I have difficulty in trusting the translator's authenticity to the original text.

When talking about the translations of various books from the 19th century Russian literary canon, Nabokov said that the only way to truly grasp the majesty of something like War & Peace was to read it in Russian.

Uh. No shit. Not all of us have the luxury of being natural polyglots. But thanks.

That he said that about 19th century Russian texts is more personal to me, though, because as an epoch of literature, it is my favorite literary enclave. Well, I suppose it is my favorite - I enjoy all that I've read, but how can I be so sure that what I'm reading is truly how Dostoyevsky, for example, intended to convey his story? I don't. So I have to rely on the translator's caprice.

As prickly as he may be on the subject, I do wish that Nabokov were still alive to assess the quality of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations. Apparently the duo have recently wrapped up translating all of Tolstoy's major works, which was cause for me to revisit why I don't like their translations. Their two-step process of making a literal translation, and then brushing that up with a more ornate eloquence is suspect to me.

Translation methodology aside, the Pevear and Volokohnsky translations have always bothered me for a less linguistic reason. While most of the criticism of their translations has been directed at their alleged failure to preserve the authorial voice of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, or even have neglected to retain the dark wit of the authors, my concern with their translations has always been about the preservation of cultural markers within the texts.

I was first alarmed of this when I was reading Anna Karenina for a Russian Lit class in college. I unintentionally read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, while the rest of my class read the Constance Garnett translation. There was a passage I remember being discussed, something going on with Anna and her children in St. Petersburg. My classmates were going back and forth about a part of the text. Someone happened to mention the detail of that Anna's children were eating pudding while something more important was going on. The mention of them eating pudding was only relevant in the classroom discussion because it was a marker for which part of the book we were talking about, like "But when they were eating the pudding, Anna was doing xyz..." That was it.

Everybody seemed to be on the same page, so to speak, except for me. I couldn't find where in the book the event was happening while the kids gobbled up their pudding. Then it occurred to me: my text didn't say "pudding." It said "cake."

This has always bothered me about the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations, because it seems like a strange license to take with their translation, and one that may be disingenuous to the culture of 19th century Russian aristocracy. Who knows, maybe "cake" is the more accurate translation of Tolsty's original text. But in a class of people where several of the students were reading or had read Anna Karenina in Russian, I would expect that at least my instructor would have pointed out that it was indeed cake they children were eating, and not pudding.

Although I'm hung up on the very real difference between cake and pudding here, in the greater scope of Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation, such a detail might be trivia. Yet, it still feels worrisome to me in that it's altering the societal or class habits of certain people - details that are important for accurately constructing what life was like for certain types of people (such as rich kids in Saint Petersburg, for example). Let's suppose I write a book, and in my book someone is eating a hamburger. My book gets translated into Russian, and then the translator comes to my hamburger-eating passage and decides to translate "hamburger" as "hot dog." Not a terrible different, really, but my decision to say "hamburger" may very well have had intentional purposes meant to comport certain between-the-line details about my character. Hot dogs are associated with specific things in America, and they're not always evenly interchangeable with hamburgers. Hot dogs are cheaper, often eaten at specific places (ball parks, carnivals) or at certain times of year (like summer, when people are more likely to grill out).

It might not even be so embedded with meaning. Maybe that's simply how I saw the character: a hamburger man, not a hot dog man.

At best, the decision of Pevear and Volokhonsky to use "cake" instead of "pudding" may have been a topical error. At worst, though, I worry that the decision was more deliberate, possibly in an attempt to make the setting something that it wasn't. To the middle and upper middle classes of America, cake is thought of as more opulent than pudding. I mean, that's why we have such a gastro-fetish with all these reality shows about ultra-ornate cakes and bakers, and not so many shows on "America's Pudding Boss."

With this in mind, I worry that Pevear and Volokhonsky may have intentionally swapped certain words in order to make the text more Americanized. Doing so would make it easier for American readers to appreciate the wealth of Anna's family, but it fails to preserve the cultural difference between what it is to be rich in America and what it is to be rich in Russia (in the 19th century, no less).

It's ironic, too, that some of the criticism of the Garnett translations is that her translation not only makes every Russian author sound the same, but that they sound Edwardian. That's probably a fair criticism, but at the same time, it's odd that I haven't seen similar critiques of the culture represented in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations.

The thing is, though, is I have no idea what's more accurate. Short of taking up the onus of studying the habits of 19th century Russian and become fluent in Russian - with a focus on the verbage of that specific era - I'm left to the whims of those who have the resources to translate things like Anna Karenina. It's frustrating to read discussion forums of people debating the quality of the translation, but only after adding the caveat that they don't speak Russian. Useless.

As much as I want to blame Oprah, I don't think it's her fault. However, she did call Anna Karenina the "harlequin romance of their time." So maybe it is her fault.

I wish I could resolve this problem on my own. I wish I could become fluent enough in Russian that I could read something like Anna Karenina in its native tongue, and then simply make my own conclusions. Really, I don't want to read Pevear/Volokhonsky, and I don't want to read Garnet. I want to read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Gogol, and not be troubled with the potential inaccuracies of their scripts as retold by an intermediary.

But I suck at languages, and short of undergoing a lengthy language immersion program in Moscow, I'm likely just going to be at the mercy of translators.

Accepting that this is simply how it's going to be makes me uncomfortable because I become very uncomfortable by any situation that makes me feel helpless. And the limit and inaccessibility to other languages makes me very helpless.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Financial Times, late edition

I've spent the better part of the afternoon working on a budget. While I have most of the amenities in order to pass as someone who appears to be making ends meet, it's hardly that simple. I'm terrible with money. Rather, when I had a reasonable income, I was terrible with money. Now, I just don't have any. I hardly make any, relatively speaking. Chalk it up to lack of discipline or forgetfulness or malice or capitalism or whatever - in the end, the result is still going to be the same, and I'm still going to be broke. Combined - the lack of reliable income and my persistent habit to "waste" money - I'm essentially stuck in the shit. Always.

In previous periods of my life, I'd most likely say my undisciplined spending ways were why I was always living paycheck to paycheck. Fun came first; at least, it came ahead of financial planning.

Christ, that phrase. "Financial planning." As two words, they're fine, but it's that phrase that conceals an institutional construct that exists to index people's failure or success as, well, people based on how well they plan their finances. By this regard, I suck at being somebody. My credit score is so low it can be found stuck to the bottom of Satan's spittoon. I barely scrape by (I always run out of money at the end of the month). I have a whopping $0.05 in my savings account. Even plotting out my expenses per month against my monthly income is a ghastly contrast to how mired in semi-poverty I currently am.

The whole idea for comparing income and costs, and for making the budget in the first place, is because I'm going to begin saving money toward a pricey purchase this year. It's not even for any tangible product that would make me a better owner and, therefore, a better American. It's simply to go on a trip, to reunite with my love, and do and see some things I'd like to do and see.

Based on my cost of living, however meager, and how much I'll need to save before September, I'd essentially have to be surviving on a Gulag diet. I'd probably have to reel back and rely on Gulag-quality sources of entertainment, too, for what it's worth.

But if that's going to be the quality of my life for the next four months (sometimes that sounds like forever, sometimes it seems like no time at all), what toll will those living conditions take on my mental health, which is already sensitive and prone to life-ending depression? Again with the cost-benefit analysis.

To undertake this kind of budget and actually have it work, I now will have to actively cope with my depression and keep myself from sinking too far down that hole. I've never demonstrated the will power required for that, but I suppose there's no time like the present to try and muster it. Additionally, the incentive of my trip may prove to be a potent motivator to summon the will power required to maintain a moderately healthy affect.

Knowing this and enacting on this are hardly the same, though. They're not comparable. Knowing earth has a moon doesn't necessarily mean that I'll go visit it one day if I really want to. The consideration and coping applied to my mental health during this time will likely be the more difficult item in my life to budget. So I guess there's that.

I'm tired, though, of the financial dilemmas. And while I don't desire to have some kind economic comfort that would buttress a care-free spending spree throughout my life, it would be nice to have a little more flexibility when it comes to the options I'd like to have. It's maddening that I may not have enough money to go to Peru simply because I neglected once or twice to buy the store-brand meat that was on sale (and it was only on sale because it would be rancid in another day or two).

Sitting down today to plot out a budget for the next four months also produced a troubling realization: making a budget is only possible if you have enough money to redistribute and, in some cases, save. "Budgeting," in my case, is a careful allocation of what little income I have just so I don't starve. There is little room for rearranging my money, and even less for saving. I also can't "cut out" things from my spending. I spend my money on rent and food, and on the occasional bit of alcohol - the latter expense I justify as necessary to help me sometimes escape the misery over how broke I am. I can only roll back the amounts I'm already spending on those items. Since I predict - and reliably at that - my landlord won't be so agreeable to me spending less on my rent per month, that leaves food and entertainment on the chopping block. That's it. Goddamn dreary.

I do realize that, above all of this, I do have the option of picking up a second job in order to add to my income, even if it is a job that I plan to drop in September like a burner mob phone. And I probably will do that, but still. That doesn't make it any less frustrating. I'm always aware that my situation could be much, much worse.

I have no problem making sacrifices, or even forgoing one thing in order to work towards a more desired goal. I just wish the options weren't so goddamn extreme.


Walking home today, I saw a dead squirrel in the middle of the road, presumably killed by a passing car. It's brains had spurted out of the top of its head, near its ear.

A block further down, I saw some starch-collared religious youths going door to door. I crossed the street and kept my head down to avoid them, but I did manage to hear how they knocked upon the door of the house across the street. The boy knocked the way a pediatrician would knock on the patient's door before entering the room in order to administer a child's first suppository.

Somehow, both of these are held as proof of god's work.