The Standardized Brain

What are the most important things for our children to learn? Most parents will say things like “Life skills,” “Math and science,” “How to succeed in the world,” and other such mighty philosophical goals.

Then, I have a question for these parents: “If you want your children to think, then why are you programming them to become complete drones???

This heated rant was triggered by a segment on the standardized-test-producing No Child Left Behind Act, that I heard on NPR. But, it’s been bubbling in my mind since some time in third grade.

You see, in third grade, for the first time in my life, I took a standardized test. I had no idea what the whole thing was about. Before me, I saw a whole grid of little bubbles. I had been taught extensively the proper technique for filling in these bubbles, and I complied to it. After I answered the questions for a while according to the correct answers. Then, I got bored. I stopped caring whether or not my answers were correct. So what did I do? I filled in the bubbles so that they formed an aesthetically-pleasing zigzag pattern. That may well have been the last twitch of my high-level creative muscles before the horror that followed caused them to atrophy almost out of existence.

What followed was a Ministry-of Love-style inquisition, never-ending, never-relenting, and intellectually paralyzing. No longer did my classes challenge or entertain me. No longer was I expected to think up my own solutions to problems. From that moment forward, I was instructed, directly or indirectly, to do my best to come up with the answers the test-maker was looking for. How, exactly, is this good for developing minds? Well, it’s not. But it’s very good for the newly-minted American Totalitarian State, which has finally cracked the age-old secret of how to create the perfect race of conformist drones who do not question government and don’t dare think outside the box: test them into submission.

As the grades went by, I didn’t notice the subtle change in my own psyche. I didn’t feel my sense of wonder at the world slipping away; I didn’t notice it when my drive to succeed academically began to falter; I didn’t take note when I began to become more and more resentful of school and everything it symbolized. But these things happened, and they brought me to where I am today. And that is not necessarily such a good place. I have, no matter how hard I tried to fight, part drone myself. Every now and then, I’ll catch myself watching television, even when the program in question is a wretched, sex-obsessed, moronic wad of drivel, with which I wouldn’t wipe my own rectum. I find myself surfing the internet without reason, even when I don’t have any information in particular to look for.

Why did this happen? Why did a kid who adored science more than anything else in the world, who loved his teachers, who enjoyed going to school (most of the time), become a struggling, flailing student in an undistinguished university, living the American nightmare? School. It’s always been school that got me down, school that broke me, school that got me to stand up on the podium, in front of millions of followers loyal to the system, and, in an Orwellian fashion, denounce myself for my crimes against the Party. Were this 1984, I might have said something like this: “I am a traitor. An enemy of the party. I have failed tests. I have attempted to think differently. I have resisted the beneficient forces of monotonization and conformization. I have attempted to break the mold. I deserve no mercy. I deserve death.” My true crimes, though, go in the opposite direction: I have allowed tests to depress me. I have obsessed about their results. I have allowed myself to partake in the continuous review so that we can get better and better grades on them. I deserve no mercy. I deserve death.

This only got worse with the enactment of No Child Left Behind. This horrendous act, which created a set of benchmarks, to which all schools must comply or face death, is solely responsible for killing the American soul. No Child Left Behind is, by itself, a good reason to despise the current Administration. Even if you ignore American errors, mistakes, horrors, and deceptions, No Child Left Behind stands as a beacon of insanity, a ray of darkness in a sea of light.

I’m sure some of my readers will not be clear on what this Act actually does, especially those fortunate enough to be in Europe, Asia, or one of the other Americas. The meat of the act is simple: it requires a near-constant battery of tests with which it judges the performance of schools. On paper, like Marxism, it may seem like a good idea: it’s (supposedly) a way to see which schools are doing so dismally that they might be hurting the children. (Of course, this assumes that NCLB has no dark ulterior motives, which I doubt) In practice, it does no such thing. Having experienced its effects throughout high school, here’s what it does:

  • Provides accountability. Translation: requires students to take test after test, so many, in fact, that teachers begin teaching mostly material that will be covered on the test, to the exclusion of all other facts. The focus of education shifts from understanding to rote memorization, and curiosity is ultimately stifled.
  • Judges schools based on their performance. Translation: attacks poor and minority students, despite pretending to help them, by closing down their neighborhood schools and filling them with self-doubt about their own academic prowess.
  • Helps academically-troubled students catch up. Translation: Pulls academically gifted students down to the “normal” level. Gone are the special programs for children who think differently. In their places, the gifted ones get the same crap as the non-gifted ones. It’s like taking the people who are fortunate enough to eat full, healthy meals, and then feeding them the same things as the poor, starving indigents lurking on the street.
  • Prepares students to become competitive in the global arena. Translation: seeks out and destroys creativity, turns unorthodoxy into “deviance,” and warps the minds of its victims, making sure that not a single one of their thoughts strays out of the assigned box, making certain that they live according to rules, schedules, and prescribed plans.

Having finally written all of this down, and finally given it some thought, I’m beginning to feel quite robbed. I don’t have the same analytical mind as a mathematician would have had years ago. I don’t have the curiosity I used to have. I feel as though my soul has been hollowed out with some sort of spiritual melon-baller. The most I can do now is hope to save as many of the younger generation as I can.

So here’s a message for all you young people who are reading this: never, never, NEVER, NEVER let the system get to you. Disobey. Argue with your teachers when you know they’re wrong. Bend the rules. Think differently. Act differently. The moment you start thinking it’s a good idea to be more like everybody else, smack yourself in the face and do something outrageously individual. Don’t learn to the test: seek out more information about things that interest you. Think about your future, because life has no multiple-choice questions. Stop thinking about studying and memorizing and facts. Start working with ideas, and start understanding. Don’t try to save me; I’m pretty sure I’m too far gone. But save yourself while there’s still time! Hurry!

Spring Break, at Last

Now, before you pass judgment, you should know that I don’t do the typical young-person thing and, as Bill Amend once said “buy into the media fantasy sold to me by MTV.” I don’t go to the beach. I don’t run around naked, drinking until my liver cries out for mercy. The only real reason I’m looking forward to spring break is that I need a rest. If I even go where, I’m just going to go to central North Carolina, and hang around in the rural countryside for a while.

I can already sense the reader’s questions: why do I need a break? Well, I’ve been on a crappy emotional rollercoaster for the past two or three weeks. First, I crashed my car. Then, I got hit with the problems in Linear Algebra and my Computer course. Then I started feeling much better. And now, I find myself, once again, rollercoasting (?) down the hill. There seems to be a problem with the submission of my laborious Group Lab, which has been tormenting me for two weeks now. Hopefully, it’s only temporary.

And, to answer the question “Why the hell are you driving to the middle of nowhere?”: I just want to see a place that has some horizons. Where I live, there are trees, trees as far as the eye can see. You see no hills. You see no mountains in the blue distance. All you see is a never-ending carpet of trees, surrounded by a wasteland of strip-malls and subdivisions. I think it would do me good to see some real trees and some real hills again.

**LOUD SIGH**

Toyota Eats GM

Now, normally when I begin a blog post with {something} eats {something else}, the reader can expect something of a serious rant ahead. Not this time. For once, I’m glad {something} is eating {something else}.

The issue is this: I hate GM. I absolutely despise them. I think they may very well be the second most evil automaker on the planet (the first is Ford, number one purveyor of climate-demolishing SUVs and heavy trucks). I’m sure most environmentally-conscious people who have seen the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, as I have, will agree with me.

Back in the late 1990s, California decided that it wanted to have a quota of at least a certain number of vehicles that produced zero emissions. None. Not one gram of carbon and nitrogen pollutants. And such vehicles existed, most noticeably in the guise of the EV-1.

The EV-1 is the only automobile that I will admit ever drooling over (after its demise, since I didn’t learn about it until I saw the movie in 2006). It was stylish, it was fast, it was modern, and most importantly, it was electric. Plug it into the wall at night, unplug it when you wanted to drive. Three hundred miles on a single charge-up. It was fast, too, easily outpacing the gas-guzzling monsters we’re now used to.

Well, to all those who were fond of them, GM said: “Too bad.” Under pressure from oil companies, auto-manufacturers (who depend on replacement parts for revenue, which they would have lost on the EV-1, since its drivetrain was so simple), the bastards folded. Since they had only provided EV-1s for lease, they could recall them any time they wanted. And they did. They towed them away, crushed them, and ground them into little shreds in an industrial Cuisinart. They did the same with some other electric cars, and even with a few gasoline-powered economy cars.

Which brings us to the main point of my story, namely, the reason I’m happy Toyota is now moving to overtake GM in sales. The reason is simple: I loathe and despise GM for taking the car of my dreams off the market before I got my chance at one. Well, thank goodness they’ve got some competition. And their competition is one of the few automakers on this planet that can legitimately claim to be moderately less destructive than most.

Of course, it’s not all good. Even if Toyota eats all the other automakers in America, we’ll still have the problem of gasoline dependence. Hybrids are not enough. Ethanol is certainly not enough. Hydrogen? Decades down the road, probably. Even if it isn’t, there are still the safety concerns. Until we can perfect super-clean fuels, electric was probably the best substitute for gasoline. But Big Oil would never allow that…

Well, it looks like it turned into a rant anyway. Oh well. Here, have a link: more information about the EV-1. It is Wikipedia, but at least the pictures have some chance of being accurate…

Pass or Fail

While I was reading the University newspaper a few days ago, I came across an interesting idea: the pass/fail grading system. This system is used in several nations, and seems to me that it would be quite a good idea to implement in the United States.

Here’s how it works: if your score on an assignment is greater than a certain value (usually fifty or sixty percent), then you get a mark of “pass.” Otherwise, you get a “fail.” Under this system, all the pressure of and concern about numerical grades is lifted.

Now, perhaps twenty-five or fifty years ago, this system would not have differed much in its social impact from the numerical grading system already in place. But we are living in the age of obsessiveness, and I’ve watched many of my personal friends go through torturous times thinking and obsessing about these numbers that “determined their futures.” I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea to pre-burn-out America’s students, and cause them to fear and despise grading periods. All that does is make our education issues even worse.

And people wonder why Americans are lagging academically. (More on this later).

Global Warming: It’s Not A Lie if an Eight-Year-Old Can Feel It

Over the past few months, with the government grudgingly admitting that something probably ought to be done about the ecosystem-demolishing effects of human-initiated global warming, I have heard hands-over-the-ears rhetoric that actually tops some of the rhetoric of the current administration.

The problem is this: some politicians insist that global warming is a hoax, and that there is little or no evidence to support it. I’ll put aside the enormously sinister political ties between many of these politicians and the actual sources of global warming, and go straight to the ridiculousness of their claim.

Since I was a little boy, I’ve noticed that something is the matter with the world. When I was young, in the early nineties, winters got very cold, and summers got quite warm. It usually snowed every winter, and usually rained fairly often during the summer. But somewhere in the intervening decade, something’s gone peculiar. Now, the winters are warm, and the summers are deathly hot. The presence of snow in any given winter is something of a crapshoot. Rain is so rare in the summers that I’m surprised I don’t see more people jumping up and down in the streets, arms turned skyward, when it finally does rain. The part of the country in which I live has been under drought conditions for several years.

So I ask you, politicians, how on Earth can global warming possibly be denied? You can only blame El Niño for so long. Now, before I’m written of as some sort of partisan extremist, I do understand where the less prickly among them are coming from. For some time, it did indeed seem that some sort of unusual weather system, or a natural variation in the Earth’s climate, may have been to blame for the peculiar warming. And, there was a time when the scientific evidence wasn’t extraordinarily clear. Unfortunately, we are living in neither of those times. It has now become evident that we and we alone are to blame for the gradual death of our world.

And, as promised, allow me to address some of the issues which are causing this death:

  • SUV’s: I have never, ever seen the use of such vehicles. The only stories I have ever heard of them are of their rolling over, catching fire, and costing exorbitant amounts of money at the fuel pump. Who the hell needs so many cubic feet of cargo space? Soccer moms and soccer dads should stick to minivans, and the young people should stick to junkers that don’t hold up long enough for their fuel economy to be a problem.
  • Big Oil: I have the same problem with Big Oil that I have with Big Pharma: They are both corrupt, money-grubbing, evil, and sinister organizations. Big Oil encourages tax breaks for those who purchase Hummers. They close refineries to drive up their prices. They use their congressional sock puppets to keep fuel-economy standards the lowest in the gasoline-consuming world. They suppress efficient electric vehicles. They promote the use of ethanol and hydrogen fuels, the former of which they could take over when gasoline is no longer viable, and the latter of which promises decreased environmental impact without ever actually becoming practical. They encourage auto-makers to continue pushing fuel-wasting trucks and SUVs that are an embarrassment to the rest of the world. This hardly seems practical in a country that is sponsoring a contest to design a 100-mile-per-gallon vehicle.
  • Sock Puppets: I’m not talking about the children’s variety (which are quite fun, and good company if you’re lonely). I’m talking about the aforementioned congressional puppets, who have the hands of industry driven firmly into their posteriors (which is probably the invisible hand that Adam Smith was talking about; no wonder some of our congresspeople have such funny expressions on their faces all the time). They block environmentally-sound legislation, and practically scream “Na na na na na!!! I can’t hear you!!!” at all of those who oppose them.
  • The Citizens: That’s right, I’m not letting the people off the hook either. People buy SUVs and pickup trucks and Hummers. People buy outdated incandescent light bulbs which could be easily replaced by the more attractive and energy-efficient natural spectrum fluorescents. People believe that hydrogen cars are just another couple of years down the road, and that ethanol will somehow solve the carbon-emissions problem, despite being a carbon-based fuel itself. People listen to car advertisements, and believe that Mister Government and Big Oil have their best interests in mind. People buy into the rhetoric that eliminating polluting fuels will be bad for the economy. Well, you know what’s even worse for the economy? GLOBAL CROP DEATH, FAMINE, AND DISASTERS BROUGHT ON BY CHANGES IN THE CLIMATE.
  • The Term “Climate Change”: If ever there were a soft way for talking about a hard issue, this is it. Most people seem quite unsure what the climate actually is, and “change” could be beneficial. In fact, in our culture, change is often seen as a good thing. Let’s not deceive ourselves.

That about sums up my worldview. But I leave you with this: when a vile and disgusting germ invades the human body and begins emitting a slew of toxic byproducts, the body’s response is to increase the temperature until it becomes inhospitable for the invaders. Think about it.

From Ganja to Adderal

It seems that every period of American history has had its own particular drug of choice. From the late eighteenth century to the mid-forties, it was nicotine. From the mid-forties to somewhere in the sixties, it was a disturbingly wide slew of depressants and psychotropics like cannabis and LSD. Cocaine and crack became popular from the seventies to the early nineties. And that brings us to the present, and to the really frightening new drug movement. We have now entered the age of ‘scrips.

Since I was in high school, I’ve noticed the enormous rise in the “off-label” use of pharmaceuticals. Xanax sold for over ten dollars a pill at times, and Adderal was the drug of choice when an exam drew near. Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Wellbutrin, Viagra, Xanax, Adderal, Ritalin, Benzedrine, all of them have become normal members of the drug scene. And the new “high-class” (emphasis on the quotation marks) drug, replacing cocaine, is the new-age morphine, the ridiculously powerful and ridiculously addictive Vicodin.

This may very well make me seem quite paranoid, but here goes: Big Pharma is behind this. Pfizer has been denying for months that they promote the recreational use of Viagra. I haven’t heard any such ruckus over Adderal and Xanax, but I’m sure that’s coming soon. But in all the media flourish, everybody seems to have missed the point: we have pharmaceutical companies essentially promoting dangerous addictions to their products. In no other nation will you see television advertisements for potentially addictive prescription drugs. Sleeping pills, erectile dysfunction treatments, antidepressants. I sense a very sinister pattern here. I leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Farewell, Youtube…

When the news first broke that Google was purchasing Youtube, I prophesized the downfall of Youtube’s free-content system. Of course, even I didn’t take me entirely seriously at the time. The unfortunate thing is that it appears I was right. Google’s gotten its corporate claws into Youtube, which has now degenerated into a morass of messages like this one:

Message from Viacom

It is what I alwyas feared: any little swath of e-democracy out there will eventually be sought out by a massive multibillion-dollar corporation and pounded into submission until it is perfectly corporation-friendly. That is, until it’s devoid of any mildly interesting content.

Now, I know this is going to sound exactly like a great deal of contemporary Internet rhetoric, but in this case, I think it happens to be true. Now, let me be precise here: I’m not saying that Google is crushing e-democracy intentionally, but merely as a horrifying, twisted side-effect of their quest for dollars. Here’s how it works:

Google: Gee, Youtube is getting a lot of hits. We could make a great deal of money from that. Hey, Youtube, would you like to be bought?

Youtube: Wow, money! Sure thing, Mister Google!

Google: Look at all the money we’re making off our new purchase! We’re happy.

The ALMIGHTY ©: Wait just a minute! Some of these videos belong to ME! Lawsuit! Lawsuit!

Google: Oh no, not a lawsuit! Quick, strip Youtube of its content!

Youtube: **Pitiful coughing and sputtering, prior to death**

The same thing happened to Napster. And just wait, before long, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Compaq, Apple, and other computer manufacturers will be sneaking phrases like this into their End-User License Agreements:

The person who purchases and uses this machine (henceforth referred to as “the user”), by consenting to this license agreement, hereby grants all intellectual property rights for works created with or in conjunction with this machine to <COMPANY NAME> corporation.

And in that same vein, I’ve always been terrified of those EULAs that pop up when you’re installing software. After all, what is at the bottom of that boilerplate bullet list?

The user agrees to grant the provider his or her immortal soul.

As usual, just food for thought.

E-Vengeance

Well, it seems that every time I watch the news, I find yet another contemporary subject to rant about. The only difference is, this time, the rant has some justification.

I was watching one of the primetime news channels (can’t remember which one), when a story came on about the coming rise of “E-justice,” or what I prefer to call WikiJustice. WikiJustice is simple: if the police can’t or won’t take on a case (they see it as “too minor”, or something of that nature), then you spread information about the case all over the Internet, until you build up a loyal network of supporters, who go after the people in question.

Well, this would certainly seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, it’s like Communism: looks really good on paper, but in practice, it puts too much power in the hands of the wrong people. Because, as outgrowths of this WikiJustice, you have WikiVengeance. There are now entire sites devoted to publicly slandering your ex-partner. These bits of gossip are, as far as I can tell, not screened for truth in any fashion. There have been cases recently where people have been falsely accused of having STDs, and have been ruthlessly attacked and hacked away at by an unmerciful public.

As I sat and watched this report, I was reminded about something that we discussed in my Global Connections class a week or two ago. We were talking about just how much of Orwell’s 1984 came true later on. Now, it seems, yet another of the book’s dire prophecies has been realized: you can trust no one, because anybody could potentially accuse you of disloyalty to The Party, and what will follow is months or years of brutal torture in our own modern-day Ministry of Love — the Internet.

The report went on to yet further abuses of information: webcams to catch lousy tippers or cheating lovers. We are construcing the seeds of our own society’s doom: a vast network of nervous snitches who hurry to denounce someone else, lest they be denounced themselves.

Isn’t anybody else concerned about this?

And one final note in relation to 1984. I noticed a further parallel earlier, concerning the true mutability of information on the Internet. It brought to mind these words:

The past was erased, the erasure forgotten; the lie became truth.

George Orwell (1984)

The Return to Valium Housewives

Now, I don’t know how often housewives really took valium in the ’50s and ’60s, but that is of little consequence now, because it seems that we are about to see the return of that fad. Serves me right for watching the news, I suppose.

Here’s what happened: After I finished watching House, I was lounging around, and I saw an advertisement for the upcoming news broadcast (who the hell advertises news?) Something caught my eye: a seeming endorsement by the pharmaceutical community of the use of antidepressants in people not suffering from clinical depression. This brings to mind Pfizer’s claim that they don’t encourage Viagra’s recreational use: yet another ploy for Big Pharma to line their bursting pockets. Actually, they’re just lining the insides of their wads of cash, now.

Here’s how it goes: in their monetary brilliance, Big Pharma has produced two drugs, exactly identical, but with different labeling. One of them is indicated for clinical depression. The “other” one is indicated for the treatment of nicotine addiction. Insurance companies will usually pay for the one that treats depression, but not the other one (I’ll leave the justification of that to the reader; it seems like Big Insurance would want to help as many nicotine-addicted people quit as possible…wait a minute…they make money off of their…) The result? Paging Dr. Con: doctors are now prescribing the depression-indicated drug, listing the patient as being treated for depression, and sending them on their way. Anybody else see a problem here?

Don’t even get me started on Big Pharma’s ethics issues; I’m sure the one that insurance will pay for is the more expensive one (ka-ching!). Moving on to the human side of things: where does this end? Are we going to start prescribing Ritalin and Adderal for college kids who want to pull an all-nighter (actually, they might already do that; several of my classmates have come in wired on anti-ADD medications). What about viagra for bored teenagers (oops…already did that, too). Okay…maybe heart medications to improve athletes’ performance (hey, I think they already do that, too). Well…I don’t really have anything left…so I suppose the moral of this story is: swallow a fistful of pills. Everybody else is doing it.

OW!!!

A bit of advice to any fellow math majors: do your homework immediately. Do your homework the moment you get back to the dorm. In fact, do your homework while you’re walking to your dorm. Actually, learn clairvoyance and do your homework the day before it’s assigned. Don’t do what I did and learn that the hard way. I somehow managed to bungle my time so badly that I left myself something like two hours to get through 86 questions of Calculus homework, and I am hardly confident about the grade. I have just this to say: Ugh!!!

My linear algebra class appears to be kicking my ass as well. Another class where you have to do your homework quite in advance. The actual arithmetic is quite simple, but apparently, I’m making a mistake somewhere along the way. It would seem from this and from my middle-school math experience, that I’m violently allergic to anything with “algebra” in the title.

Words I’d Like to See Expelled from the English Language

Yes, I know, another rant, but I think I’ll have the backing of a fairly sizeable segment of the populaton here.

And thus, my list of words that should be purged from informal English:

  • LOL (when actually pronounced, and to a lesser extent when spelled)
  • pwn, or any variation or extension there of
  • n00b, and all variants
  • Wow, Ooh, and all other common exclamations used in an overly sarcastic manner
  • pr0n (what a sad, sad means of denial)
  • Any, and I repeat ANY word that has an X in it when it should not.
  • Any word that has the first phoneme replaced with another for alliterative purposes
  • Headshot (Those of you who have experienced the same revulsion as I have with the Counter-Strike culture will know exactly what I mean)
  • WoW (In reference to World of Warcraft, which is not hard enough to pronounce to require an acronym)
  • fag (just what we need: friend-to-friend condescension and homophobia all rolled into one…)
  • hax0r (the glory days of the hackers ended as soon as hacking began to be taught in universities, and on the Internet)
  • w00t, and variations (the English language does not, and I repeat does not need any more exclamatory words)

I don’t know how these words managed to remain popular for as long as they have. It boggles the mind.

Ranting About The Superbowl

Warning: To all you hardcore football fans, the following is a bit of an anti-football rant. I’m sorry, I’ve just never liked the sport.

Well, Superbowl XLI is upon us (XLI…that sounds like soemthing from a car advertisement…). And also upon us are the hordes of people who compensate for their junk-food hedonism by saying “I just watch it for the ads.” Give me a break. That’s like saying “I went to war just to get shot in the leg.” This comic pretty much sums up my opinion on that particular subject.

I’ve also discovered that, apparently, many churches have been, for some time, using the superbowl as a means to recruit new members. That strikes me as rather odd, and perhaps a bit too shady a tactic for religious people. Well, apparently the NFL is similar-minded (that’s a frightening thought; me thinking like the NFL), and have invoked the power of the ALMIGHTY ©, and decided that it was a violation of their copyright for anybody to publicly show the superbowl on a screen larger than 55 inches (how the hell do they pick a figure like that?). Okay…that might be logical in some way…except, they’ve furnished an exception to bars and other venues that “Regularly show NFL games to large audiences.” Wow, that’s awfully specific…kinda get the feeling they’re intentionally modifying their market just a bit?

Okay, for all you NFL fans, I’m finished with my yearly rant. You can uncover your childrens’ eyes now.

“If It Gets in the Way, Go Around It”

Normally, when I’m reading about international politics or hearing about it on the radio, I can’t help but giggle a little. It’s often just so damned funny: countires acting like squabbling kids on some playground. But when I was listening to NPR this morning, I heard a report about some international policies that fairly well blew me away.

You see, we Americans have a bit of a problem: our government doesn’t listen to us. In fact, sometimes, the current administration seems to be deliberately toying with us. When the voters say we don’t want to spend any more resources in our endless war on Iraq, the good old executive branch decides to send more resources. By now, fans of Orwell’s 1984 will be noticing a striking pattern. But recently, there arose a rare condition: somebody actually did something about the apparent deafness of our current administration.

The issue at hand is this: human beings have developed a surprising knack for destroying the planet. The American variety of human beings are especially good at it, with their ten-thousand-watt security lights hung on their houses like Christmas tree ornaments, and with their eight-ton Hummers that get about thirty miles to the tank. There are, of course some American-type human beings who are not particularly satisfied with this state of affairs, and wanted the government to perhaps consider doing something about it. But the dialogue went something like this:

Eco-Minded Americans: Mister Government, please do something about the people who are destroying all the good bits of the planet.

Mister Government: I am the decider, and I decide no!

Non-Eco-Minded Americans: Yeah! Continue tax breaks on expensive, lousy, polluting vehicles!

But, thank goodness, somebody realized that there was a problem here, and merry old England (or is it supposed to be called Britain? I never did figure that out) stepped in to help out its former colony. The result: British (English?) officials actually went around the government, and went directly to a handful of American states, in order to try to help get some reasonable “decider”-free environmental policies enacted. And I have just one thing to say about that: Finally!

Is This Thing On?

I know it’s been an extremely long time since last I wrote here, but things have gone all peculiar. My life has been swinging back and forth between boring morass and very-close-to-fascinating morass. I successfully completed my 50,000-word novel for National Novel-Writing month, and I’m now in the process of applying for a copyright for it, only because I’m hoping, within the next few months, to have it polished well enough to send to a publisher. Strangely, the biggest crisis that’s arisen on that front thus far is trying to decide whether or not to use a pseudonym. I don’t think I will. After all, nobody’s likely to bother me on my first book.

Another issue that’s been digging its claws into my life is the persistent need to move out. I’m starting to feel more and more like a dork for remaining at home for the first two semesters of college, and it seems increasingly important that I start making my own way in life.

Speaking of that, I’ve managed to get my midlife crisis out of the way. Better to have it at eighteen than forty, I say. I’ve realized — finally — that I have a finite amount of time on Earth, and I damned well better do something useful with it. Thus the sudden re-emergence of interest in working on my book.

And I’m sure I promised some updates on Charlie’s senior exit project. The thing is, I haven’t heard from him since early January. I hope he’s doing well, wherever the hell he is.

On a completely unrelated note, my quest to play the theremin has momentarily stalled; though I could have bought an amplifier at any time between now and Christmas, I haven’t gotten around to it. My schedule is very hectic and scattered, leaving my day chopped up into little useless islands that seem to work best as doorstops.

Why, oh why do I gravitate so much towards morass-ness (and why doesn’t English have a suitable word for morass-ness?)?

Give Me More!!!

Well, Charlie got his grades for his Senior Exit thingy already. I really thought it would have taken longer than that. I seem to remember that it took quite a while when I did mine. I guess times change.

The long and the short of it is…he got a one! A one! I can’t fucking believe it! That’s the worst possible grade, other than an “NS” (which you get if you turn in, say, a piece of paper with scribbled letters on it). A one? After we both worked for basically the entire afternoon for two days to get it right? A one? After all our careful work with substandard equipment and horrendous time pressure? Damn you, Senior Exit judges, damn you!

I don’t understand how this happened, and actaully I’m kind of ashamed. I spent two days making a crappy trifold board with a poorly-made drawing of a potential Mars spacecraft, and I at least got a two. He had a video and a posterboard!

I’m not going to dance around the issue any longer. I think that some teacher recognized his voice in the video, some teacher who had a vendetta against him, or who assumed he was the type who wasn’t going anywhere in life, and decided that he didn’t deserve to succeed. Sure, he’s not the world’s greatest student, but he did try on this. The judges made some sort of comment like “Your sound quality was bad, your ending sucked, the camerawork was third-rate, and your characters were one-dimensional.” Damn it!

He’s planning to appeal it to see if he can get a more reasonable score. I hope it works out. He’s a good kid, and I don’t want to see his graduation jeopardized by the stupidest project ever conceived. I think the only project more idiotic than the Senior Exit was maybe the NASA mission where the spacecraft was lost because they had a metric-U.S. unit mismatch.

**Heavy Sigh of Relief**

Where to begin…?

What I prophesized to be a day of horror turned out much better than I expected. Sure, I was busy from 1:30 PM all the way to 8:something PM, but I actually have the feeling I got something tangible done.

Since Charlie needed some more interviewees for his Senior Exit video, we returned to the park to get some footage. Of course, we had our share of bizarre mishaps and mistakes, but it came out well in the end.

We wanted to get at least twenty people interviewed. We ended up with eight, and had to settle. Then there were the mysterious few who were willing to answer the questions but not appear on camera. And then there was the entertaining minority of people who gave us rambling or totally nonsensical answers.

After our marathon of human-filming, I struck upon the “brilliant” idea of filming a piteous dirty stream to add some pathos and dramatic effect to the video. What we ended up with looked like a video of someone doing a documentary on a floating leaf. We tried to get some more video of streams, most of which was mediocre. We used it anyway.

Then, after we had eaten a second lunch at Wendy’s, I was struck by another of those “brilliant” ideas—which I try to avoid, but sometimes they still sneak up on me—“Hey! Why don’t we film the parking lot and count the unnecessary vehicles.” That didn’t pan out. I didn’t want someone screaming “Turn off the camera, motehrfucker,” then drop-kicking me.

Post-idea, I managed to get blugeoned in the cerebrum by another “streak of brilliance”. “Hey, Charlie, why don’t we film the gas station to show some inefficiency or something like that.” We ended up looking like a cross between Geraldo Rivera, the show “Cheaters”, and the paparazzi.

Brace yourselves! “Inspiration” came my way again, and we ended up filming traffic. Oy.

In the end, we found ourselves at home with about fifteen minutes of video. Almost all of it was mediocre. The rest was truly awful. While we were in the park, something possessed me to film a lonely blue Heron to show the decimation of wildlife, in keeping with Charlie’s pro-environment theme. Didn’t work out.

The editing, actually, was the worst part of the whole affair. We had a go “VHS-splicing” our tape, and only at the end did we realize that I’d added in some awkward pauses and subtracted some important bits. So we tried again. I managed to completely omit one of the introductory scenes. We decided to switch to the second VHS to avoid getting lots of crap from the previous splicings. This time, we “got it right”.

The end result: an awkward, choppy, poorly-shot, unscripted, badly edited, shoddily-spliced, amateurish VHS video with paper title cards, no musical score, no digital effects, and no future in Hollywood.

On the plus side, I’m now seriously rethinking making the Kung-Fu movie I was planning to make about three years ago. We wouldn’t need skillful editing for that…

Of course, if I’d actually fixed my digital camera like I meant to, we could have had poorly composed video…with text!

Today was like being beaten by a lemon-scented hammer…

**BOOM**

I’ve often heard and contemplated the expression “The day exploded in my face.” Well, today, I actually got to see an example of the phenomenon.

I got home, and for once, I was feeling highly productive. I took off my shoes and deposited my satchel in a more orderly manner than usual, and then checked the messages on the answering machine. My friend Charlie had called, and wanted me to call him back straight away. So I did, and that’s about the point at which the day detonated.

Charlie needed some help with his Senior Exit project, and he was foolish enough to do what I did when I was working on mine: Leave two days to work on the product. So I have to find the camcorder, get out the equipment, and get everything ready, all the while having lunch and contemplating which homework I’m going to do when I get finished helping him.

But it turns out that he didn’t just want help setting up the camcorder; he wanted help with the actual filming. So I ended up the park for about an hour and a half trying to get interviews with total strangers, most of whom were either strange or uncooperative. We did meet an old man with a cool hat, though.

After I got home and had been fooling around on the computer for a while, I decided to do my calculus homework. My productivity was by now pretty much drained. I went upstairs to find a pen, and I opened my mail. What do I find but an overdraft notice from the bank. Apparently purchasing my domain name drained my debit account completely. On top of that, I now have to pay a $34 fee. On top of THAT, my father had to lend me the money to pay all that off, and now I just know that he’s going to expect me to do some work up at the office (where I work sometimes) to pay him back.

But wait, there’s more! Now I have to spend the majority of my afternoon tomorrow trying to find seventeen more people in the park to interview, along with writing some of the reply letters to papers from other students in my English class, as well as finishing as much of my calculus as I can, and leave enough time to watch House.

And I’ve got an exam on Wednesday.

And I’m not actually totally sure about the whole mechanics of my English paper, which is probably a sizeable chunk of my final grade.

If karma truly exists, then I must have done something truly awful and not noticed it. My whole week sucks.

…And I need to get gas for my car, with nothing on my debit card, with more lent money.

This exasperated rant brought to you by Life, from the creators of The Universe. More reports as events warrant.

The Worst Story Ever Told…

Now that I think about it, writing a blog about my life is like making a documentary about dryer lint: You know somebody’s going to do it, but you make a point of not watching it…

I say this because the only big event today was that I finally tried the Chik-Fil-A food at UNCC (my college). It wasn’t bad, but I managed to make myself look like a complete and utter dumbass in the middle of a crowd. First, I didn’t know what type of account was on my “49er card” (these great little ID cards that you can put money on, etc.), then I managed to nearly drop my food on the floor (Mr. Smooth makes a fantastic recovery!)…then, I left my wallet on the floor by mistake, and fumbled my way outside.

The high point of my day was to discover that there’s a whole little ecosystem of tiny, fearless brown birds whose very existence depend on the manifold food debris that the students leave scattered around the terrace. I half expected one of them to try to steal my food, but none ever did.

“The Life”…good title for a very ordinary blog…

Procrastination

Maybe I’m actually one of those people who works well under pressure. I wasn’t aware that such people existed, but maybe I’m one of them.

The reason I bring this up is that I have about five hours to complete a draft of my paper for English, and then read and respond to Chapter 4 in one of our books. The chapter is mercifully short, though, so perhaps I’ll actually read it (I just skimmed the last one). On top of all that, the five-hour estimate assumes that I don’t work on anything else… and still I feel no motivation to actually get to work.

College is easier than I thought it would be…perhaps a little too easy…

The Inspiration Well Remains Dry

I know I forecast better days ahead, but I started feeling like crap all of a sudden, and I just read several hundred quotes on bash.com, so it’s not likely that I’m going to produce anything of any real substance. And my throat hurts from laughing.

I know, I know: I’m a whiner…

Saturday

I know, crappy title…give me a break, I’m sick.

I have been so unproductive today that I’m beginning to feel less like 1.0 people and more like 0.89, or something to that effect. I lounged about basically all day, watched cooking shows for a few hours, and re-read some of the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease stories. I don’t know why, but I find stories of CJD morbidly fascinating. Perhaps it’s just a deep human sympathy…something I didn’t think I had at all.

My ear is so incredibly congested that I’m starting to worry. Of course, I can’t read too much into that, seeing as I’m still recovering from my bout with hypochondria in the summer of 2005…

Wow! I’ve discovered a new talent: the ability to write blogs without any motivation at all. Hopefully I’ll kick this damned virus soon and finally have something interesting to say.

Until then: enjoy my nonsensical ranting and rambling, two or three times a day! Same time, same channel!

Viruses Suck

I don’t know which virus it was that’s invaded my sinuses, but I’d really like to get rid of it somehow.

My nose was so clogged last night that I could barely breathe, and by the time I woke up, my right ear had become so congested that now I can barely hear on that side. And it’s now ringing constantly. I really hope this congestion goes away pretty soon. It’s going to make my English homework more annoying than it already was.

When I began this post, I was really hoping against hope that I would be able to pull from my mundane weekend some sort of interesting fact or useful tidbit, but now I realize that that is incredibly unlikely.

“That that” is a phrase that has always bothered me. It just doesn’t seem right somehow. The same with “had had”. I know these are gramatically correct, but it really seems like there ought to be some better way to say these things…

Mucus

This is the worst cold that I’ve had in a few years.

Before this is dismissed as an entirely irrelevant tangent, I thought I should give some explanation for why this particular post is so meandery and incoherent: I am currently quite distracted by the massive amount of mucus swimminga round in my sinuses.

Anyway, now to the fun stuff (if I can think of any):

Well, this is my first real attempt at blogging. Back when I used to participate in the Myspace franchise, I had a boring little blog that listed no more than the various profile-view milestones, and that was it. This time, though, I’m going to do it right. I’m hoping my posts will be interesting, if not entertaining.

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