Rote Learning [Common Meter]

Words memorized rote are a meal
wholly undigested,
That's why memorization is
utterly detested.

Rote learning is, somehow, bloating
and yet never filling.
One takes it all in by way of 
monotonous drilling,
but while you're still filling your cup
you're already spilling.
You pass your test and purge it all.
It's so unfulfilling. 

If I may, please let me suggest
that here's what you should do:
get the gist, play with it, and find
out what it means to you.

The Internet [Verse in Tetrameter]

We've reached the place where screams aren't heard.
You'd think they'd build into a din,
but one can't grasp a single word.
It has become silent as sin.

The angry words are shot to black -
that inky void that's unpatrolled,
It's silent, yet all're struck by flak.
Still, no one admits being sold.

But each life 's a product consumed.
They wail away the night and day,
pretending they're not rightly doomed.
Some will say that it's here to stay...

True, but are we?

That Last Lost Generation [Free Verse]

Only too eager to have the machine
installed in their brains,
they did what they could, 
and, instead, installed
their brains into the machine.

Data sparkled in the mind void,
bouncing about and careening 
into other bytes and clusters.

But the crash cascades always came,
a cannibalistic consumption 
of fact,
transmogrifying it into
a shabby soup of 
quasi-reality.

Brain-pans paining,
densely packed with
alternate realities
that could never 
be rectified.

By the time they realized
the virtue of going out 
to play,
they were no longer sure what
"outside" 
meant --
Outside of what?
Where's the exit?
Where is there something else?
-something simple?
How's one get off this speeding bus? 

It became the pain
that ruled that
last lost generation.

BOOK REVIEW: The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected NonfictionThe View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

Not every writer—not even many literary greats—could pull off a book like this. It’s a collection of random speeches, front matter from books (not his own), liner notes, and the occasional eulogy for individuals living and dead. While the book is organized into sections on topics like other authors, comic books, films, and music, it seems that organization derives organically from the topics on which Neil Gaiman is asked to comment–rather than a desire to tighten the book’s theme.

If you’re a Neil Gaiman fanboy/girl, you’ll need no excuse to read anything that he puts out (even though–if that is the case–you’ll probably have read much of this before in separate outings.) So the question is why the rest of us—who may enjoy Gaiman’s writing tremendously but who don’t qualify as fanboys / fangirls—should read this. The reason that it’s worth reading is that Neil Gaiman is funny, has a way of framing ideas that makes them thought-provoking and interesting, and frequently writes quotable bits of text that are essentially brain candy.

The book’s title comes from an essay on Gaiman’s experience attending the Oscars from the upper balcony. As mentioned, the book is divided into thematic sections–ten of them to be precise. The book starts with “Some Things I Believe,” which presents speeches on the virtue of reading, libraries, books, and bookstores. The next section discusses people he has known and worked with—largely writers and graphic artists. Then Gaiman offers thoughts on the nature of science fiction, again mostly through book forwards on seminal works from the genre. There is a section on films and Gaiman’s experience with them—several of his works have been made into films and many others have been considered. The next part is on comic books and the works and artists that influenced Gaiman. The next section bears the title “Introductions and Contradictions” and it offers introductions for various books (not Gaiman’s but those written for other writers.) There’s a musical section about a few recording artists including They Might be Giants, Lou Reed, and—of course—Gaiman’s wife Amanda Palmer. Next, Gaiman presents some introductions and forwards for works of fantasy. One section includes only a solitary entry–a commencement speech entitled “Make Good Art.” The final section is sort of a catchall of essays that includes the title piece and one on events in Syria.

I’d recommend this book for those who enjoy reading (or writing) in the genres for which Gaiman is known. His comments offer interesting insight, and you may learn about some books and authors that you’d never heard of before.

View all my reviews

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Be the Change

IMG_1501Gandhi is credited with saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That’s powerful phrasing. It’s much more effective than, say: “Nag your friends until they’re the change you desire.” It’s also far more potent than: “Write your legislator to draft a new bill so that we all have to be the change you wish to see.”

It’s powerful because it acknowledges that–whatever else you do–you have to set a good example by doing what you think is right. Even if that”s painful and lonely. It’s powerful because it’s bold.

That’s why it sticks in the mind. I once read an entire book by a well-known billionaire who made his fortune in foreign currency arbitrage. I was underwhelmed by the book and the character of the author, and don’t even remember the title because I remember thinking the title should have been: “Why It Should Be Illegal to do What I Did.” This individual came to believe it was morally repugnant to upset the economies of entire nations to make a quick buck, but the lure of making that buck was too great for him to stop without the threat that someone would put him in jail for it. In other words, instead of living by the motto of “be the change,” he lived  by the motto of “If I don’t do it, someone else will.”

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: How Sad for You

success-failA man once said to me, with evident pride, that he’d never failed a test of any kind in his life.

I guess he was expecting admiration, and must have been disappointed when I blurted, “how sad for you.”

But here is a person who has never stepped outside his comfort zone, who has no idea what he is capable of, and–moreover–he’s pleased as punch with that state of affairs.

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Smart TV Still Leads to Stupid

smartTVI learned the terms “hot media” and “cool media” during my weekend reading. These terms were coined by Marshall McLuhan, and don’t seem to have caught on outside of academia.

 

Hot media are information sources that are packed with data (often simultaneously transmitted to multiple sensory organs at once), and that require little or no interpretation or analysis on the part of the recipient. Television and movies are prime examples.

 

Cool media are those information sources that offer relatively little data, but which require the receiver to interpret, interpolate, analyse, and draw conclusions about the information they receive.  Books are the prime example of cool media.

 

There are people who proudly say, “I don’t have the time to read, but I only watch the Discovery Channel and Public Broadcasting.” If you think you’re getting smarter just like readers, you’re not. You’re still mainlining information, and the parts of your brain that have to exercise when you read (or otherwise take in information in an abstract form) are shut down.

 

 

I’m not suggesting one shouldn’t watch television, or that you can’t learn something from it. I’m just saying that if you don’t read, but try to educate yourself via TV, you are the intellectual version of this guy…

 

exercise

 

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Bear or Squirrel?

Taken in the summer of 2011 in Hungary.

Taken in the summer of 2011 in Hungary.

There are two ways to survive a harsh winter: you can squirrel away your pile of acorns or you can bear it by just not needing much.

TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Hitler’s Final Victory

Source: German Federal Archives

Source: German Federal Archives

Hitler killed the short-stache (a.k.a. the “toothbrush mustache.”) Imagine that, almost 70 years after his death, he still holds power over people’s decisions about facial hair.

This is a misplaced take-away lesson. It’s the unbridled narcissism, the icy hatred, and the irrational exuberance in the power of evil of Hitler that should be abandoned (yet, somehow, those intangibles still quietly exist.) It’s not the superficial aspects of Hitler that should be shunned, but the ones at the bastard’s core.

I’m not saying the toothbrush-stache was a good look. On the contrary–as one who has had a mustache his entire adult life and has worn a beard now for several years–I’m a little offended by the lack of commitment to one’s choice of facial hair that the toothbrush-stache represents. (Incidentally, I feel the same about the sole patch and mutton chops.) In my mind, one should go full-stache or go home to shave.

Still, there being no accounting for taste, I think those individuals who would otherwise find the short-stache appealing (i.e. you know, indecisive types who wear culottes and eat with sporks) should revive the toothbrush mustache as a big fuck-you to Hitler–don’t let tyrants boss you around from the grave.

Toothbrush mustache admirers of world, unite!  (No, I won’t be joining you.)

First World Problems Are So Adorable

 

How deep is it? No one knows.

How deep is it? No one knows.

In the interest of enhancing global understanding and camaraderie, I’ve built a translator of common first world (FW) problems–putting them in terms of their Rest of the World (RoW) equivalents.

FW: This food needs salt.
RoW: This food needs food.

FW: My health insurance premiums went up $20 per month.
RoW: My right foot, which recently turned from purple to black, just fell off.

FW: My car is in the shop again.
RoW: My right foot, which recently turned from purple to black, just fell off.

FW: It’s raining again today.
RoW: My house was washed off its foundations and is currently floating down the Brahmaputra River.

FW: Looks like those devils from the other party got a majority in the legislature.
RoW: This coup was particularly bloody.

FW: Squirrels are getting into my bird feeder.
RoW: A tiger ate my family.

FW: A traffic jam made me late for Pilates class.
RoW: While limping through the Kyber Pass to get antibiotics for my right stump, I was socked in by an unanticipated blizzard.

FW: My GPS says this road cuts under the interstate, but now I’ve got to go around.
RoW: What’s GPS?