Archive for September, 2007

Eerily Prescient

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

I just finished the aforementioned Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, and I’ve been meaning to pass along this bit of sad truth:

Textbooks’ failure to put Watergate into this perspective is part of their authors’ apparent program to whitewash the federal government so that schoolchildren will respect it. Since the structural problem in the government has not gone away, it is likely that students will again, in their adult lives, face an out-of-control federal executive pursuing criminal foreign and domestic policies. To the extent that their understanding of the government comes from their American history courses, students will be shocked by these events and unprepared to think about them.”

That was published in 1995.

Renewing Your Passport

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

I’d heard horror stories of people trying to fast-track their passport renewals, only to be held up by things like subtle differences in signature, etc. Given the price difference of $100+ between the fast-track and slow-boat methods, I opted for slow-boat since I’m not in any hurry to leave the country. They said I should have my passport by December.

I got it in the mail yesterday.

Sometimes, not often but sometimes…the federal bureaucracy surprises you with its efficiency.

Movie Gallery on the Ropes?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Movie Gallery called me yesterday offering a free rental. Apparently they’re working hard to keep up with the advent of the Netflix and Blockbuster DVD-by-mail business models. I hope it’s working for them; I went there last night and while I was there, every other person who came in was there for their free rental, too. I have to wonder if the video store isn’t going the way of the music store. I don’t generally rent movies as a habit, mainly because I tend not to enjoy watching movies by myself. If I’m alone with nothing to do I’m usually playing guitar, keyboard or reading a book.

By the way, all of Movie Gallery’s pre-viewed DVDs are on sale at 50% off. I bought Pan’s Labrynth, Good Night and Good Luck, Children of Men, and Talladega Nights all for less than $7.50 each. I also rented The Painted Veil, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

More Strange Dreams

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

If this keeps up I’ll have to add a new category.

Last night’s scary dream took place high above the backyard of my mom’s house. I was clinging to the top of a very tall, very flimsy tree. The location changed to a full forest, and I transferred precariously to various other thin, unsupportive trees. I don’t remember how I got down, but I was under a very thick canopy with lots of leaves on the ground. I needed directions on how to get somewhere, and Brad Brown told me which way to go. I went deeper into the forest and found a barbecue shack. So, happy ending I guess.

The other dream consisted of me being stuck in an elevator with Stephen King. I told him I’ve never read any of his books, but that I really enjoyed Stand By Me and Shawshank Redemption. We then proceeded to talk about guitars. He was a cool guy.

Strange Intersection

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

I’m reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, and one of the latter chapters is called “Down the Memory Hole” (a reference to Orwell’s 1984), which was an interesting coincidence for me because I’ve been listening to Kevin Moore’s Memory Hole, a very, very interesting pastiche of found-audio that I highly recommend. It hovers somewhere between music and sample collage. It’s a meditation on politics, religion, and humanity. You can listen to it for free at ChromaKey.com (click on “Audio” and then on “Memory Hole.”

The first paragraph of that chapter in the book is the same paragraph that starts Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. So I was twice struck. Here’s the passage in question, which sparked Brockmeier’s novel:

“Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered. Many…can be recalled by name. But they are not living dead. There is a difference.”

-James Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me

In other news, I just got back from seeing Resident Evil 3, and while I lament the relegation of Milla Jovovich to the land of post-apocalyptic zombie movies, I have to say I completely understand the appeal of her status as an icon of bad-assery. I may even go see the inevitable part 4. But I won’t rush to see parts 1 or 2. Once upon a time she was a really good singer and musician. I also came to realize the appeal of zombie movies: they are the best excuse to see excessive violence without remorse. After all, they’re just zombies. They are the last frontier of justifiable slaughter.

Paging Dr. Freud

Friday, September 21st, 2007

I didn’t sleep well last night. I had a series of turbulent dreams. The first and longest of which consisted of me and my friend Torrey living in some secluded house on a high ridge with a view of the Buffalo River. But we were the only people left; zombies had taken over the world.

The next batch took place at my house. I had committed a murder. I forget who it was that I killed, but it was an accident (this undoubtedly came from having watched Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player before bedtime). That storyline faded into me finding all my mail opened and scattered across my front yard, ants crawling all over my legs, and the driver’s side doors of my car being unable to lock.

Apparently I’m stressed out. My last day of work is a week from today. I’m about to experience the single biggest shift in my life since maybe moving to college. Or moving to Little Rock after college. Either way it’s something I haven’t had to do in over eight years. I don’t feel outwardly antsy; but apparently there’s a lot going on underneath my hood.

Anyone care to offer me some dime-store psychoanalysis?

Rodrigo Y Gabriela

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

These kids must have the best marketing team ever. I keep seeing them mentioned in all the magazines and blogs, and I am completely impressed by the fact that people enjoy them. They are fantastic, but musically they are doing nothing that Megadeth and Pantera haven’t done. They just do it in a different format. Indie rockers are apparently allowed to enjoy virtuosity when it comes in an unfamiliar context. And the added novelty of the female guitarist cranks up the appeal a few notches.

And by the same token, we’ll sadly never see Al DiMeola. John Mclaughlin or Paco DeLucia in Spin or Blender. Rodrigo Y Gabriela are the Gypsy Kings for a new generation. Here’s hoping more kids start playing guitar as a result. This may be the only way to get kids excited about playing the ever loving crap out of their guitars again.

Meds, Part 2

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Note to readers of the earlier post on this topic: I caused some confusion by referring to “depression” not as clinical depression but more as general unhappiness. The clinical definition of depression is better suited to a discussion of antidepressants, and I’m more interested in unhappiness caused by societal factors.

Nevertheless I asked Heath what odds he’d give on clinical depression being caused primarily by external societal forces rather than purely internal ones, and he had this to say:

This question is both good and bad. First, allow me to address part of your question using a hypothetical situation.

Andrew, an American of middling intelligence, purchases a home that is objectively beyond his financial means. He also drives a fine car (he’s leasing) and collects wines. Andrew relishes the envy of his friends and relatives, that is until restructuring in the loan industry causes him to declare bankruptcy and lose his house[1]. Subsequent to the loss of his home, Andrew becomes depressed.

What is the cause of Andrew’s depression? There isn’t any one cause. Andrew’s materialism caused him to make decisions that ultimately led to the loss of his house, but Andrew will probably be more likely to blame his bankruptcy, the proximate cause of his suffering. We can apportion blame many different ways. I’m inclined to agree with Andrew, since it’s his head, and the drawbacks of materialism are probably the last things on his mind. Still, I can see Colter’s point that the ultimate source of trouble is society[2]. It seems plausible that a lack of fit between an individual and the larger society could lead to depression. I believe that more immediate and salient factors are more likely to have an effect on an individual’s mood.

This ends the good part.

Here begins the bad part: the distinctions “purely internal” and “purely external” are bogus. Depression is a maladaptive response to events (internal and external) characterized by pervasive negative emotions. It will always have internal and external factors.

1) Dear homeowners, please pretend it actually works this way. Whether this is factually accurate isn’t important to the proof.

2) Right — who here is part of society? You? Right then, you’re under arrest.

Tiny Triumphs

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Today I was hanging out on Heather’s porch in the lovely weather eating jambalaya, and later, Girl Scout cookies[1]. In a flash of inspiration (no doubt fueled by Dos Equis and PBR) I was compelled to attempt a minor feat: from where I was sitting, could I throw a cookie into the open driver’s side window of my car?

To give you some idea of just how tricky this particular proposition was, the distance was about 30 yards, and the depth between my location and the car window was about 10 feet. The window, about 2×3 feet.

I made it in 1 out of 5 attempts. I can only assume my success was attributable to my Zen-like state of indifference[2] and my incredible tossing skills. I’m not saying it’s like landing an F15 on an aircraft carrier, but on the list of Highly Unlikely Tasks its place is probably in the thousands or hundreds of thousands, somewhere between herding cats and starting a fire with a stick on the first try.

My other recent triumph is far less impressive[3]. Last Wednesday I was watching old Star Trek: the Next Generation episodes with not one but two attractive women on my couch. The ramifications of this event were, of course, impressive only to my 8th grade self. Nevertheless, Tara and Katherine are card-carrying Trek nerds, and we hope to get together again soon. Tara’s birthday was Saturday. She had a Star Trek party with uniforms. Wow.

1.) The shortbread ones. Trefoils. From the Latin trifolium, “three-leaved plant”, French trèfle, German Dreiblatt and Dreiblattbogen, indicating a graphic form composed of the outline of three overlapping rings. Like the biohazard insignia. Or the runes for Led Zeppelin’s rhythm section.

2.) I didn’t really care. I mainly wanted to throw cookies at my car. Because that’s what jambalaya and PBR do to you.

3.) I know. “How can that be!?” I hear you say.

Meds

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Brian and I were discussing yesterday the high number of people we know currently on antidepressants. Much has been written about the rise in prescriptions for these meds, but I have to admit I haven’t really paid much attention. Obviously there are more and better meds available today than ever before, but are people more clinically depressed today than in the past? If there are, then here are some of the things that Brian and I speculated to be the most likely causes:

  1. Increasingly empty societal values (unhealthy body images, materialism, MTV)
  2. The erosion of religious fervor leading to a rise in existential crises
  3. Increased leisure time to contemplate 1 and 2
  4. Food additives, preservatives, pesticides, growth hormones, etc.

I’m leaving out purely neurochemical causes because I can’t believe that America in 2007 simply has greater numbers of purely neurochemically imbalanced individuals (people who, simply as a physiological or genetic fluke, have bad chemicals on the brain) than in, say, 1950. If we truly do, then #4 is the most likely culprit.

Whatever the cause, I’m still made very uneasy by the prescription of antidepressants to treat any of the four above causes.