Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The terrifying specter of death by car wash

Not many things on this planet, material or otherwise, scare me. I am not afraid or terrified easily. Valor is practically my middle name and courage my favorite drink. In fact I am regularly known to indulge in acts of bravery and daredevilry (I once jaywalked in Washington, DC! A mere two blocks from the White House!). One might safely say that I live and thrive right on the edge. 

But that's not what I am here to talk about today. Today it is time to discuss my fears. Fears with a capital F. FEARS.

Now you may wonder - why is this guy blabbering about his fears? 
And I will counter right back - what is braver than discussing our deepest fears, our strongest foibles, our starkest shortcomings? Take the case of the philosopher/vigilante billionaire Bruce Wayne. He embraced his fears and look where that got him. 

On that note, let's move on. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The five most badass quotes of all recorded time

Quotes. Everyone has them, everybody loves them. In this day and age of internet memes, corny motivational posters, and shitty self-help books with untenable nonsense, quotes are a dime a dozen. They have flooded our cultural psyche, polluted our minds.

Let us then harken back to simpler times (when the life expectancy was south of 35 and the food scarce and bland) when quotes actually mattered. Nah I am just kidding. These quotes are taken from all eras - fictional and not. Enjoy.

Coming at a comfortable #5...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The magnificent beard of Andrew Luck

As many people around these parts know, I am a fanatic of the NFL. And no, before you ask, I don't root for or support or cheer for one particular team. I am a fan (hey here's something I just noticed - 'fanatic' has 'fan' built right into it! Coincidence? I THINK NOT) of this beautiful, intricate game as a whole. The parity in the league, the superstars who entertain us consistently, the intensely contested games week in and week out - this all makes for an enthralling experience.

Three years ago I would blog a lot about the NFL. Every week I published an update. I stopped doing that eventually because the internet doesn't need yet another NFL blog. But I have to make an exception here. As you may (or may not) know it's playoffs time [insert obligatory Jim Mora playoffs?! rant here]. Some crazy shit went down last week in the wild-card round. In comparison yesterday's games were a tad tame. One thing stood out to me, however: the magnificent beard of Andrew Luck. Now I can grow and successfully rock a mean beard myself, but Luck's beard makes me feel inadequate. I can stare at that thing for hours, mesmerized and in utter awe of its magnificence.

This season Andrew Luck played like a beast. Despite throwing three potentially game breaking picks last week against the Chiefs, he engineered an epic comeback (the stuff that transforms men into legends), making for a scintillating viewing experience (probably not for Chiefs fans). Yes he got bulldozed by the Patriots run game (!) yesterday, but his beard made everything alright.

Take a look for yourself:


Monday, January 6, 2014

PSA: This winter protect yourself with a ski-mask

Note: This post is about winter. If you are a Californian, you need to read any further. But I know you will read anyway because, let's face it, you will clamor to read any drivel I write. 

A massive winter storm (fancifully named "Ion" - while we are at it, can we stop naming these storms please?) has hit large swathes of the country leading to havoc, chaos and destruction everywhere. Ok I might be employing a slight exaggeration but that's mostly because I am bored sitting in my half-empty lab staring out at the sun glinting off mounds of snow. Most of St. Louis is shut down. Even my medical school classmates who are on rotations (you know, saving lives, helping people etc.) got the day off.

But I made a valiant effort to get out of bed, clean up and come to lab. All for the noble cause of SCIENCE. No sacrifice too big at this giant altar, as I often proclaim. With me, on this journey, was one crucial item (of clothing, I guess you could say) without which I would be floundering on the icy streets bracketed by ominous piles of fluffy snow.

In fact for the last 2+ years that I have been in St. Louis, this humble item (of clothing, I guess you could say) has protected me unfailingly from biting cold and many a chilly nights. I present to you the all-vital, all-sustaining ski mask :

Also goes by the name of a balaclava, snow mask, snowmobile balaclava etc. For only $11.27 this majestic item could be yours! (gosh I sound like a QVC schmuck). This bad boy has let me roam the streets of St. Louis at all sorts of odd-hours on my bicycle in the months of winter. IN YOUR FACE COLD WEATHER! Put on a beanie, fit this mask snugly over your face and zip-up - you are ready to go. Gloves and two layers of upper outerwear recommended.

Sure weak-willed skeptics will shy away from wearing this thing. They will say things like: "OMG you look so creepy" or "You like you could rob a bank". Pay them no mind. This thing is magical. Sure you will get the occasional weird look from pedestrians when you go walking out at 9 in the morning with this on, or the occasional hastening of steps of people around you at 11 at night when they see you, but who cares? While they are huddling in their scarves or whatever, you are walking tall and strong with the zip all the way up!

So heed my golden advice, go over to Amazon and order it right away. You will not be disappointed. Hands down THE best thing since sliced bread. And YouTube.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dim Sum and Social Consciousness (A Fragment)

 . . . struggling with game effort to participate in a conversation laden with a subtext born of a particular standard of living and the accommodations which (only naturally, you see) follow from it, which could be called 'privilege' if only that word weren't so vague, and to be honest, diluted by its place in modern semantics - connections leading to jobs, easy networking, career decisions bound up in self-gratification, with the base underlying assumption being that life is meant to result in perfect happiness and satisfaction, for everyone, that is, everyone we know, and that one could switch careers and priorities until you arrived there. Which is all well and good, since we all want happiness for ourselves and those we care about, but my classist (god, what an awful-sounding word) mind couldn't but envision it as entitlement - entitled to ultimate happiness, which you could find, ultimately, by mobilizing your plentiful resources and falling gracefully back onto them when and if plans took unexpected or unpleasant turns. And it became a reminder of my own lack of resources, the lack of resources in my mother's life, in the lives of the people I became an adult alongside, and how scraping and clawing and living in the cheapest apartment I could find and eating little but the cheapest food and always making do had for me only resulted in one opportunity, which I didn't have the luxury of abandoning.
     But that was not a viewpoint I could voice, giving that it was a polite luncheon, after all, and it was in general pleasurable, beyond the annoyance of my friend inviting another friend uninvited, and the quills of my seat, psychosomatic manifestations of being the third wheel in the conversations of others, who would most likely stare with disdain and mild surprise when the measured rage inside me came to light . . .

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress

If that a Pearl may in a Toad's head dwell, 
And may be found too in an Oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain 
What better is than Gold; who will disdain,
That have an inking of it, there to look,
That they may find it? 
-John Bunyan, Apology of Pilgrim's Progress 

I'm not sure what the American Dream is (as with many dreams, it hazes over in the memory), but in my profession, the method of achieving the image of success, as reflected in the funhouse mirror which is the CV, is to participate in a multitude of advisory institutions, editorial boards, reading and research groups, department councils, and above all, conferences. All of which boils down to an unceasing procession of glorified meetings.

In the conference presentation, one of which I traveled across the country to deliver not-too-long-ago, you speak for fifteen minutes about a facet of your research and your conclusions. The value of the exercise comes in refining your work, your speaking style, receiving feedback from other scholars, networking - all good things, none of which shows up on the CV. Your talk might have stunk worse than a decomposing warthog after six days in a marshy root cellar, but you get to keep those two lines on the one-page encapsulation of your life. And good for those other scholars, because if you could Yelp colleagues for their speaking and organizational ability, quite a few of my compatriots would be sitting on three stars or less.

After suffering through some travel delays that proved quite improvident (as a friend put it, there is no more grim or tacky place than the Newark airport), I arrived in Rhode Island and awaited the hotel shuttle. One fitting the general description arrived almost immediately, and I asked the driver (then in the process of pulling away) if it was for the Hampton Inn Providence. He said no and sped off, giving me a good view of the logo for the Hampton Inn Providence emblazoned on the vehicle's side. So, puzzled, I called the hotel, and they said they were sending the correct shuttle. Cue me waiting another half-hour, having watched myriad shuttles go by, before the original van reappeared. Driver again denied being for the hotel I wanted, telling the other departees that he hoped the right one came soon, since I'd been there a long time. Cue me comparing contact info with another traveler and finding that the van was indeed the van for my hotel. Apparently it lay in a place called Warwick, which led to the driver denying my attempts to arrive at the Hampton Inn Providence, since I actually wanted what was technically titled the Hampton Inn Providence/Warwick.

                                                           You son of a b*****

After that shameful display, I boarded the shuttle and was driven roughly 200 yards to the hotel, which stood in clear visual range of the airport itself.

Despite the five hours of sleep I somehow managed, the conference itself went rather well: while I combated jitters at the podium and won convincingly, most of the effort had been expended in reading my paper over and over on the plane, smoothing over rough edges and becoming increasingly and intimately aware of its flaws. However, since it was a diachronic (read: we'll take anybody) conference, the only people aware of the flaws were my co-panelist, who surely had her own foibles to worry about, and the faculty respondent, whose critique comprised mostly 'industry lingo' and was thus incomprehensible to most of the audience.

So fresh off what I must only slightly tongue-in-cheekly call an escape, I experienced the best part of the conference junket. Once you're done, and the conference continues, all you find is catered food, free dinner, and more or less intriguing conversation with exhausted, intelligent people. Which all culminated in me using a spare day at the tail end of the conference (an extra day in the hotel being cheaper than the cost difference between flying out Sunday and flying out Monday) walking around the charming, pint-sized city of Providence.

                                                 Each of these buildings are 3" tall.

So at the end of it all I sat in the hotel jacuzzi, reading a copy of Bunyan I'd bought for three dollars at a rummage sale to benefit the Brown MFA students, avoiding the siren song of cable television in my room, readying myself for the travel snafus to come (and come they did) on the way home, waiting until the last minute to pack my shabby clothes in the nice luggage my grandparents had bought me a decade prior, and wondering what to make of it all.

Sound words I know Timothy is to use,
And old Wives' Fables he is to refuse;
But yet grave Paul him nowhere doth forbid
The use of Parables; in which lay hid
That Gold, those Pearls, and precious stones that were
Worth digging for, and that with greatest care.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kanye West is a visionary and other critical musings

Take a good deep look at that chiseled face. I'll wait.

That, my friends, is what visionary looks like. Now I'll admit, I am not a huge rap/hip hop person. Sure I do love me some old school Snoop 'doggy doggy' Dogg Lion but I am not what one would call a fanatic. Occasionally I listen to some Jay-Z as well.  

But Kanye? Man he blows me away. His songs are symphonic. Perfect blend of melodies, rhythm, lyrics creates a pretty powerful experience. I understand he probably has a whole army of sound engineers, sound technicians, sound advisers, sound managers, sound quarterbacks whatever tweaking every little note but the finished product still carries his stamp of authority and approval.

Here's 'Homecoming', a great example of what I mean by symphonic:

The dude from 'Coldplay' is on the piano and the song begins with a beautiful piano riff that forms the backbone of the whole piece. It was everything, the clever puns, a catchy refrain, good meaningful lyrics. Pretty powerful song, really, that stays with you long enough and succeeds at evoking strong nostalgia and a tinge of wistfulness.

John Coltrane, the legendary Jazz innovator and renowned saxophonist, pioneered a technique called http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheets_of_sound"> 'sheets of sound'
with his improvisation and creative arrangements. I think Kanye does something similar with his songs. He puts in a lot of thought, a lot of effort into creating the right blend of sound. Pick up his new album 'Yeezus' and listen to any of the songs on there ('Black skinhead' is my favorite) and you'll see what I mean.
Kanye may be a jackass, as President Obama so memorably called him in an off-the-record remark during a routine interview, but damn he is a visionary.

And since I promised other critical musings in my title to the post, you will be rewarded aptly: