Futures and Options

Just another town along the road.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible

Read this book.  It is pure and distilled libertarianism and does an excellent job of pointing out the obvious absurdities of how many governments are structured.  If I ever have children, this book will form a crucial part of their bed-time stories.

There is a PDF download of the book with commentary that is offered for free.  The download link can be found in the middle of the About the Book page on the author’s site.  I strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of that link and to download and read this book; I have never before seen a clearer or more concise defense of libertarian principles than in Mr. Schoolland’s book.  If that’s not enough for you, Milton Friedman himself endorses the book, saying, “It certainly presents basic economic principles in a very simple and intelligible form. It is an imaginative and very useful piece of work.”

posted by Zenmervolt at 14:03  

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sometimes it’s darkest during Twilight.

Recently I passed out of my “mid-20’s” and officially entered my “late-20’s”.  Since marking arbitrary transitions in age is something that our society does well, I actually spent a decent amount of time deciding what I wanted to do.  In the end, it was a simple evening at home with some friends, a calzone (cleverly skirting the fact that I had given up pizza for Lent), and a movie.  Specifically, Twilight.  Yes, I admit that I willingly watched a movie aimed at teen girls.  Call it a train wreck response.  I simply couldn’t resist the chance to see if Flash Gordon might finally have a legitimate competitor.

I was not disappointed.  In the realm of flat dialogue, stunted characterizations, and forced symbolism, Twilight has few peers.

I know what you’re thinking.  Yet another anti-Twilight blogger.  You probably think I’m going to make fun of the fifth-grade attempt at symbolism when Bella arrives in Forks, clutching her little cactus as though the blunt declaration in earlier dialogue that she “always hated Forks” wasn’t already as subtle as a sledgehammer.  Or maybe you think I’ll take pot-shots at lines like, “This is the skin of a killer!” or, “your scent, it’s like a drug to me”.  Or perhaps you think I’ll lament the fact that the best acting in the film (Billy Burke) is wasted by deliberate editing choices that consistently thwart Burke’s attempts at clawing his way out of the one-dimensional “emotionally-absent and overprotective father” stereotype.  Those are all legitimate criticisms, but they aren’t really what I want to talk about.  I won’t even get into the debate about Bella’s frankly dangerous inability to function without Edward.

No, I’m not interested in those criticisms.  I’m interested in the response that the criticisms have received.  The more cogent responses point out (rightly) that these books (and, by extension, the movie) are “junk food”.  And, these responses continue, because the books (and movie) are junk food, and the fans know they are junk food, the criticisms above don’t matter.  Fair enough.  Concerns that these books promote abusive/controlling relationships are certainly overblown.  Women have fantasized over far more controlling characters after all (I know very few women who have not, at some point, at least wondered what it would have been like to be with Heathcliff).  The defenders also point out that these books at least get teens to read when they may otherwise not be inclined to do so, under the theory being that any reading at all is a good thing.  This too is reasonable.

But to these responses, I offer further criticism.  The issue is not so much that the Twilight series is junk food, but rather that it is bad junk food.  There’s a difference between a circus peanut and a bar of Lindt chocolate.  Both are technically junk food, but anyone who has tried both can tell you that there’s a world of difference between the two.  The Harry Potter series are junk food too, but they are reasonably well-written junk food, with characters who have actual flaws and who manage to struggle through relationships without excessive melodrama.  Yes, in Rowling’s books the whole Harry/Ginny relationship is a side plot, but it’s still handled with more depth and believeability than Meyer’s portrayal of Edward and Bella.

It’s all well and good to say that Twilight is at least encouraging teens to read, but suggesting that as a merit seems to me akin to feeding a starving man nothing but those aforementioned circus peanuts and then saying, “well, at least he’s eating”.  “But,” the defenders say, “teens won’t stop with just Twilight, they’ll hunger for more literature; we can use Twilight as a gateway book.”  This is wishful thinking; an example of hope overcoming experience where otherwise intelligent people prefer to delude themselves into believing that non-readers will “graduate” from Twilight to more substantial food rather than to face the reality that non-readers will instead cling to books that embrace Twilight‘s purple prose and simplistic constructions.  (Somewhere, someone is saying that you can’t have both purple prose and simplistic construction.  I can only reply that simply adding a barrage of multisyllabic thesaurus-nuggets does not a complex sentence make; to be sure, such a style can help to increase the reader’s vocabulary, but it does nothing to enhance his or her ability to form a coherent sentence that properly expresses a complex idea.)

I can see the last response to my criticisms coming:  “If the Twilight series were as bad as you believe it is, then there’s no way it would be as popular as it is.  You’re just another literary elietist who wants to scoff at anything that is modern and popular.”  This is where I drop the bomb.  I like Twilight.  I think that the idea behind it could make for a most exceptional series.  I think that the characters have the potential to show great depth and humanity.  In the hands of a competent author, it could be an incredible fantasy series.  Instead, we get Stephanie Meyer and the whole thing falls flat.  That’s the problem.

posted by Zenmervolt at 11:18  

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What if…

“What is the mind like if it’s not occupied with plans and schemes, and fears that the plans and schemes will fail? What if your unexamined beliefs were to fall away and you were to live without them, and also to live without the thought that you had given anything up?”
– John Tarrant

posted by Zenmervolt at 21:23  

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Man List

I came across a simple question today on one of the forums I frequent: Do you own a suit?  I couldn’t help but think, “Of course I do, every man has at least one suit,” but it seems that about 25% of the people who responded didn’t own a suit and didn’t see any need for one.  This kind of rattled around in the back of my head for the rest of the morning until I was making lunch, when it came up in the form of my own musing over how many men my age cook for themselves.  The two questions got me thinking about what other sorts of things I thought that a man ought to know how to do, and from that, grew this list.  Much of it could apply equally well to women; I certainly don’t mean to imply that everything on this list is exclusively for men.  Still, I’m a man myself, and this list is rooted in that fact.

  • Own at least one wool suit, specifically one that fits well.  If a nice suit can make me look good, it can make anyone look good.  And when you look good, and know it, there’s a confidence in your actions that can really help you impress your boss, close that sale, or catch the eye of that cute bridesmaid at your buddy’s wedding.
  • Own a couple pairs of tailored wool slacks.  There really are few things more comfortable than a well-tailored pair of slacks.  Wool wears well, hangs nicely, breathes in the summer and is warm in the winter.
  • Know how to cook at least a couple of meals that don’t involve grilling or previously-prepared foods.  Anyone can grill a steak, make mashed potatoes from a box, or make spaghetti sauce from a jar.  I’m not saying that you have to know how to make fine French cuisine, but every man should know how to make some basic meals from scratch.  Instead of grabbing that jar of Prego, learn how to make your own spaghetti sauce; instead of that can of Dinty Moore, make it yourself with fresh ingredients.  It’s not rocket science and being able to make even basic foods like these can save you money and impress people.
  • Know how to bake.  If you paid attention to the item above this, you probably know that I’m not talking about being able to make Pilsbury brownies.  Remember those cookies that your mother or grandmother used to make?  Learn how to make those.  And other treats you used to like.  If I can manage to bake half-decent molasses cookies and figure out a passable copy of my grandmother’s fudge, then so can you.  The store-bought versions just aren’t nearly as good.
  • Know how to drive a manual transmission.  This can come in handy at the most unlikely times.  Such as when the truck rental company has overbooked and the van you reserved with an automatic turns out to be a 26 foot truck with an International diesel and a 6-speed Eaton-Fuller manual transmission.
  • Know how to build a fire.  Whether lighting a charcoal grill, a wood-burning fireplace, or camping with friends or family this is one of those skills that tends to come in handy.
  • Know how to handle a firearm safely.  You don’t ever have to go hunting, or even just shooting at a range, but everyone ought to know how to safely un-load and handle a firearm.
  • Know how to put up and take down a basic campsite.  You don’t have to go backpacking in the Andes, but knowing how to build a fire pit (and how to fill it in afterwards), pitch a tent, and construct a makeshift rainfly from a tarp and bungee cords will allow for a lot of adventures that would otherwise just pass you by.
  • Know how to do basic maintenance on a car.  Yes, modern cars are becoming increasingly difficult to work on, but some things will always remain.  At the minimum, everyone should know how to change a tire, check the oil and top it off if necessary, charge or change the battery, replace fuses, and how to change the various light bulbs (this includes paying enough attention to the car to know when one has burnt out).  The last thing you want is for someone to rear-end you because you never noticed that all of your brake lights were burnt out.
  • See an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play.  Worst case scenario: you have a nice nap in a grassy field on a summer day.  Who knows though, you make even like it.
  • Know how to fix basic things around the house.  You should be able to take a door off its hinges, fix a leaky/running toilet, hang pictures using wall anchors, remove the trap from a sink drain and clean it out, and install a dishwasher, refrigerator, clothes washer, and drier.
  • Know how to be friends with a woman without wanting to get her into bed or trying to pidgeon hole her into your perception of how “women” behave.  Seriously, just let her be herself.  I guarantee that she’s a lot more interesting and fun to be around that way.
  • Know how to do your own laundry and ironing.  Yes, wrinkle-free shirts are a godsend, but you’ll still need to refresh the creases every so often and freshly-ironed shirts and slacks really stand out and make one look well-dressed.
  • Know how to replace a failed hard drive or optical drive in a computer.
  • Know the basics of photography.  Even if it’s just some elementary composition it can change the way you look at the world and get you to appreciate the little things.
  • Know how to maintain a lawn in respectable condition.  It doesn’t have to look like the 18th green of St. Andrews, but there’s no real excuse for a lawn with bare patches or that never gets mowed.
  • Fall in love with a woman because she makes you want to be a better man than you are.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it covers a lot of things that most men my age seem not to know or find important.  I haven’t managed everything on this list myself, and I am open to additions that others might suggest.

posted by Zenmervolt at 18:17  

Thursday, January 1, 2009

“And foolish I would climb once more a tree too weak to stand.”

posted by Zenmervolt at 22:22  

Friday, November 21, 2008

Poetry

Fractured thoughts
Fleeting windows into the writer’s mind

Would you care that I saw

Has anyone ever been allowed inside
Are even these tatters designed to conceal

posted by Zenmervolt at 23:55  

In ignorantia confidenter praegredi.