Monday, June 23, 2014

Things Have Happened...And Stuff.

There once was an old house on the side of Harrison Hill--which is not really a hill--and in that house there lived a boy, who was actually more of  a man than a boy. He lived in this house with his two brothers, his mother, and on certain special occasions, like weekends and holidays, with his father. They all lived there happily on the edge of the Thousand Acre Hood.

But our story today, disappointingly, tells us nothing about the doings and such of the Thousand Acre Hood, nor of the many adventures of its inhabitants; it limits itself strictly to the a meager how-do and an update from the House on  Harrison Hill.

You see, the hero of most of our stories recently gradumacated from college and received a really swanky piece of paper telling him that he was awesome. Let's face it; I already had some sneaking suspicions that I was awesome, but now I have the seal of an accredited university to make it official. The final tally had me graduating Summa Cum Laude in German and History.

The ceremony was not unlike what I expected. It was long, consisting of a constant drone of names being read to the accompaniment of marching feet, punctuated every so often by the delivery of a speech, which one may assume was quite dry. The key redeeming factors of this exercise were three. First, that my family got to watch me walk and receive my diploma. Second, that it did afford some measure of closure to me. And last, that I had the pleasant surprise of spending the ceremony sitting with friends, who made the whole agonizing exercise so much more fun.

The immediate upshot of being graduated was that I got a lot more sleep, and felt a noticeable lightening of the weight on my shoulders.

Slightly longer term fallout of this graduation was that there was a party. At this party, there at the House on Harrison Hill on the edges of the Thousand Acre Hood, I got to see a lot of my family members and some friends that I had not seen in a long time indeed. Between school and work I had been rather hard to lay hands on over the last few years. But I saw many people, whom I love. To my shame and embarrassment, their thank-you notes are not going out until later this week. Even with school set aside, I still find ways to procrastinate.

I will not pretend that I have mastered maturity and the art of living well, but now that I have graduated, I find myself intentionally--and sometimes unintentionally--doing adulty things.

For instance, I have recently gone out and procured for myself a real job. You know, the kind that you can turn around into a career. I will be working for Lincoln Financial Group in their annuities division. The work I will be doing initially will be largely processing, data entry, customer service, and problem solving, but it comes with a significant pay increase, regular hours, excellent benefits, and a generous 401k plan. They will also start by putting me through ten weeks of training to pass the FINRA exam, which is a huge plus all by itself. The new job starts July 21st, and I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, I am still at Penney's. It is truly remarkable how much longer each day is when the end is approaching. Now that it is over, I am no longer building toward anything, but going through the motions.

I will miss my coworkers. Many of them are great, and I have spent several days a week with them for quite some time. I will be sad to say goodbye, but I'm still hoping to bring some with me to my new employer. As much as I will miss members of my JCP family, I will not miss that place.

Now that I am finally leaving, I am allowing myself to realize just how much I detest the mall. The mall is not a place where people go to buy things because it is more convenient. Not really.

The mall is a place for people to hang out. To gather. To spend time with friends. To walk around and spend some time. While they do these things, however, they are also discovering new needs for products and services that they never required before. They are inundated with flashy advertising and half a million schemes intended to addict them to shopping. A stunning number of mall shoppers are habitual regulars, who spend money they don't have and waste the valuable time that they do have.

The mall is where you shop for recreation, not for need. Just to fill the vacuum  that should ordinarily be filled by something worthwhile. This is the place where people go to consume for its own sake. It is probably totally irrational of me, but in my mind it has become a symbol of some of our deepest societal issues. People look for identity, happiness, and acceptance in brand names and new images; half price, and an additional 20% off when you open a new credit card.

I tried, while I was there, to do the simple service of treating everyone I dealt with like a human being. Not a customer, not an honored guest, not a mark, but like a real person--with respect, kindness, and personality. I did not always live up to that standard, but I tried, and I like to think that I was successful a fair amount of the time.

Anyway. The important thing is that I have closed that particular chapter. I start a new job soon, and I am sure it will be fraught with its own complications and obstacles, but I am really excited about it, none-the-less.

I have also begun looking at apartments. I--to quote a customer of mine from earlier--am having two minds on this subject. On the one hand, I would love to live downtown and in walking distance of work. And while I have never felt particularly restricted in my present arrangements, there is also a part of me that recognizes that this is our custom. I should also say that there is something to just proving that one is capable of taking care of oneself.

In the other mind that I am having, living at home is much cheaper, and I will be able to afford to save so much more money this way. There is also the question of having constant company, as well as a magical refrigerator.

In addition, even as living downtown would have me close to work--did I mention that I will be working in a big gorgeous building downtown?--being at home also has its own geographical advantages.

Church is one such important local. The other is Emma's house.

I will keep this as brief as humanly possible, but the most exciting thing that happened this spring--at least for me--was that Emma and I started going out. No, I don't know how I swung that. And I am afraid I am still only just beginning to discover how ridiculously lucky I am. What can I say? Life is not fair, but I feel no need to question providence if it has taken my side.

Long story short, I graduated just over a month ago, and I feel like I have spent the intervening time basking in my own good fortune.

Some of the less impressively adulty things I have found myself doing.

Item the first: with school out of the way, I have discovered that bed time is never, and that the snooze button can be pressed an infinite number of times.

Item the second: I have helped design, and set an appointment for, my first tattoo, which is happening July  10th.

Item the third: Emma made me watch television, and having watched it, I have found it to my liking. Pleasant for the eyes and good for consumption.

Item the fourth: I have rediscovered coloring, which I did not realize I missed.

Item the fifth: I have read many things since school, but almost none of them are substantial. Slowly working my way through Sandman, as I find the pieces.

Last: I will be going to a White Denim and Arctic Monkeys concert tomorrow, and it is Gogol Bordello or bust for later this July!

What all of this is meant to say is that things are changing, but life is good. I am relearning to be frivolous, but hopefully still with a certain je ne sais quoi and an underlying layer of substance. But come now, we would not want me to become all serious and dull, now would we?

I'll write something more cohesive and substantial later, but I'm just getting my feet wet for now. It has been so terribly long since I've written anything.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Die Opfernation



         I realize that research is never as interesting to everyone else as it is to the author, but for any who might be interested, this is the presentation I gave today. It represents an ultra truncated version of my original paper, but a fair portion of the most important elements are intact.
I'll post my thoughts on everything else tomorrow.

  In the wake of World War II, each of the Allied Powers envisioned an Austria shaped and governed by their designs and contributing to their interests. If independence were to return to Austria, it would be on a timetable and in a form approved by the Great Powers. For the Americans, the British, and the Soviets, the plan had been to occupy Austria, eliminate all traces of Nazi ideology, and then decide what “to get out of or make out of Austria.” But Austrian politicians and Diplomats were not content to be reduced to a puppet state, and swiftly consolidated behind a plan new to create an independent Austria.
            The cornerstone upon which a new Austria was to be erected was the Opferdoktrin; a stone under which Austrians intended to bury their guilt. The Austrians had been on the losing side of the war, and now, in order to obtain more favourable treatment, it was their task to convince the world that they had never sided with the Germans at all. The victim doctrine held that “the Anschluss was forced. It was Austrians who took part on the German side, but not Austria.” While individuals might be guilty, the collective was pure. The Germans had forced themselves on the Austrians and as one Austrian diplomat argued “one cannot well make the Austrian people responsible for being dragged into war by Adolph Hitler.”
            To make their case the Austrian provisional government published the Rot-Weiss-Rot Buch as the official version of the Austrian role in World War II, and the official case supporting the Opferdoktrin. The tragedy of the Anschluss and Austrian experience of the War, according to Rot-Weiss-Rot, goes back to the Treaty of Versailles, from which point it takes on all the force of fate.  The dismantling of the lands of the Monarchy had destroyed the dynamics of an intricate imperial economy, and no previously Habsburg state had suffered the consequences more than Austria. Austria had been poor and preoccupied with producing the day to day necessities of life, and so had been helpless against an industrialized Germany. Nazi Germany was the clear evil doer, but there was still blame to be apportioned. That blame would be placed on the Allies, for sitting back and watching as Germany armed, for remaining on the sidelines as German designs on Austria became clear, and for refusing to intervene when the Germans occupied Austria. Given the shared blame of the Allies in Austria’s travails, the thought of Austria being judged by them for any actions during the War was portrayed as unreasonable. Austrian participation in World War II was a result of the Anschluss, which the Allies had borne a legal and moral obligation to stop, only failing to do so through cowardice. In addition, while the Allies showed cowardice in failing to confront Germany, Austria claimed that it was the first free state—and during five years the only state which offered practical resistance to Hitler’s policy of aggression.”  Therefore, the Allies blame of Austria for post-Anschluss sins was the height of hypocrisy. Liberation was no longer being conceptualized as a salvific favor bestowed by the Allies upon Austria, but as a right which Austrians had been unjustly deprived.
                        Austria’s victimhood as laid out in Rot-Weiss-Rot was complete. Abandoned by the rest of the world, they had suffered German invasion and the destruction of their republic. They had struggled against Nazi oppression unaided for years, and at the end of their long suffering, the same nations who had abandoned them to the Germans now made them the villains. The effect of Austria’s documented history of victimhood was the externalization of blame. Austrian participation in the war was rejected as categorically impossible. Certainly, it might be allowed that there had been a small Nazi cache which facilitated the Hitlerite invasion of Austria, but it was an overwhelming minority, and typified by men like Seyss-Inquart, who had already left Austria for Holland—men who abandoned their Austrian heritage to serve the Nazis. But the people of Austria, as a collective and whole, had suffered the ill consequences of pre-war allied policy, the loss of sovereignty, and a long occupation. But not only had they born the occupation, they had also fought like heroes; a swift return to liberty would be the only just outcome.
            The externalization of all blame for Nazi actions complicated the already sticky task of denazification. Prior to the occupation, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union had planned upon embarking on a rigorous campaign to root out Nazism. Under the first Denazification Law passed by the allies, it was illegal for those with previous ties to the Nazi party to vote, hold a public position, teach, or own weapons. Those caught actively participating in National socialist activities would be “subjected to the same force” which they had brought against those who supported anti-Nazi political parties during the War. The first year of the unified Allied program passed without complication. But 1947 saw a split.
            The American Foreign Minister advocated allowing Austria to deal with the Nazis as they saw fit. In laying out his strategy for Austria, he wrote that “the reintegration into the body politic of former nominal [Nazi] party members was an essential condition for the restoration of normalcy in Austria,” and further that “having been wronged, the less implicated Nazis are now entitled to leniency.” All high ranking Nazis having long since been removed from power, these statements signified the end of American pursuit of Austrian denazification.
            And those 487,000 less implicated Nazis were not going to find themselves actively pursued by the government under new Austrian president Karl Renner, or at least not as foes. The number of disenfranchised ex Nazis represented around 12.5% of the eligible Austrian electorate, and it was not lost on the Renner government, that previous members of the NSP would be more likely to side with Renner’s more conservative ÖVP. “The Austrian government wasted no time and issued a general amnesty, “and with that general amnesty “began the unsavory process of competing for Nazi Votes.” In pandering to Nazi votes, candidates of all parties would include the “little Nazis” in the Austrian tale of collective suffering.
            Until the amnesty, the SPÖ had formed a left coalition with the KPÖ, and both parties had generally supported a more rigorous denazification, but with the prospect of ex-Nazis reentering the electorate in large numbers, the SPÖ elected to throw their communist compatriots overboard.  In their 1947 platform, they claimed that “the Socialist Party is a true Austrian National party. The Communist Party is an agent group of the USSR.” The Communist Party is for a bloody way, we for a peaceful one.” The re-inclusion of Nazis into the electorate and the abdication of the Socialists from the leftist coalition also caused a new split in the communist position on the treatment of Nazis. Unable to ignore the large new pool of voters, a segment of the KPÖ tried to reconcile the party to at least a portion of Nazi voters, allowing that they might have been duped into Nazism. This position allowed for a reunification between Austrian communists and their Nazi neighbors.
With the increasing assumption of the Nazis into the victim myth, the victim collective was complete, and no segment of Austrian society remained outside its protection. For one million surviving veterans of the Wehrmacht and their families, for half a million little Nazis, belonging to the Austrian nation now came with immeasurable benefits. To identify oneself as an Austrian, rather than an Austro-German, was to identify oneself as a victim, rather than an aggressor, and as a victim, to receive the full protection which came with that designation. Such a myth, however, came with the disadvantage of subordinating real individual tragedies to what was, in essence, a pragmatic lie. The suffering of Communist resistors, the isolation of principled exiles, and the martyrdom of Austrian Jewry were being assimilated into the same collective victimization with the supposed misery of ex-Nazi party members and SS commandoes.
            The story went largely without internal challenge, because Austrians found themselves closing ranks against the very real danger posed by the Soviet Union. As Austrians were busy chasing Nazi Votes, the Soviet Union was busy classifying the majority of the Austrian population as reactionary anti-Marxists. To Soviet officials, the 1,2 million who had served in the Wehrmacht were a Nazi cadre, the elected government—majority ÖVP—was fascist, and the Amnesty only proved the lingering strength of Austrian Nazism. Soviet officials watched the gross injustice of Nazis allowed to carry on as if nothing had happened. Moreover, in the 1949 yearly report from the Propaganda Department of the Soviet Component of the Allied Commission for Austria, it was repoted that “the Austrian Government not only ignores its duty to the Denazification of the land, but creates conditions favorable to the resurgence of Nazism in Austria.” And Soviet officials still remembered that “no other land occupied by Hitler had been so fast to take up Nazi ideologies,” and they estimated, conservatively, that as many as 600,000 Austrians remained “true believers” in the National Socialist ideal. The Soviets would employ every measure to hinder the emergence of a fascistically inclined Austria.
            And so Austria saw one of the first great battles of the Cold War: a battle without guns, but not without weapons. The battle was fought in the hearts and minds of the Austrian people, and it was fought in print, in radio waves, and in film. Thirty percent of all personnel committed by the Soviet Union to Austria during the ten year occupation were assigned for propaganda and political propagation duties. Despite their enormous commitment of resources, however, communist propaganda failed to make any real impact on the Austrian people. This was often attributed to the large portion of Austrian citizens who might face consequences with the installation of a Soviet backed regime. When Soviets examined their losing position in the propaganda war, they found that “Enemy propaganda was spread daily in approximately 200 newspapers and magazines with circulation greater than two million copies,” as well as the three largest Austrian radio stations, and Western films being shown 10:1 in proportion to soviet films.
            The failure of Soviet propaganda left the Soviets and their KPÖ allies shut out of the political future of Austria. Consequently, they would also be shut out from any decisions regarding how Austrians would remember their past.  Those left in power had opposed stringent denazification. When textbooks were written to teach young Austrians, the version given of the Austrian role in WWII was well sanitized, making no mention of any wrong doing or war crimes perpetrated by Austrians, but propounding a version of history very similar to the one found in Rot-Weiss-Rot. The war memorials built by Austrians to venerate soldiers who fell while fighting in the Wehrmacht would speak of the Helden der Heimat (Heroes of the Fatherland) and of Pflicht, the devotion to duty they had shown. The uncritical portrayal of Austrian soldiers in WWII, and their total divorce from a greater Hitlerite campaign, served to reinforce the myth of a collective Austrian Victimhood.
            The Soviet Union did, however, have a final role to play in the formation of the Austrian Nation. After the rearmament of the West German military in 1953, a new danger loomed in the mind of Soviet politicians. With the large number of ex-Nazis in Austria, the Soviet Union worried about the possibilities of a second German unification. In addition, three fourths of the country was firmly ensconced in the political camp of the Western Allies. Understanding that a political victory was impossible, the Soviets developed a strategy to ensure that Austria would not reunite with Germany, nor end as another Satellite of Western interests. After long negotiations, The Moscow Memorandum of April 15th 1955, laid out the terms for a full Soviet withdrawal and assent to a unfettered Austrian sovereignty. No mention was made of Nazis, the rights of the Austrian communists, or reparations. The only stipulation made by the Soviet delegation, was that Austria must maintain total and permanent neutrality.
            The Austrian Constitution was enacted on May 1st, 1955, and the Parliament passed a constitutional amendment requiring permanent neutrality on the 26th of October—the day the last occupying soldier left Austria. In permanent neutrality, the Austrian people secured to themselves and their posterity something which they had sought since the fall of the Habsburg Empire—it provided them stability.  Newfound independence and security, coupled with autonomy from the spheres of Western or Soviet influence, became a point of pride with Austrians, who exalted in being a small country which could stand on its own authority. But arriving at that point had not been without cost.  The story of Austrian neutrality was “the tale not only of how a tiny country was able to defend its interests successfully on the bargaining table of international politics, but also of the high price it paid for that success: a loss of intellectual consistency and moral rectitude.” With the capstone of Neutrality in place, Austrians felt neither the need, nor the desire to turn once again to the dangerous topic of the Austrian role in WWII. The topic was settled and in the past.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Told by an Idiot, Signifying Nothing....

This will be the last spring I see at IPFW.

The above will seem like an unimportant and insignificant phrase to many of you, but the reality is that I have spent a fair portion more of my life there than many of you could imagine.

In less than a week, or so I imagine, I will watch all the trees burst into blossom for the last time. I will watch as the student body discovers that the air outside is indeed good for breathing, and I will watch the vast, unyielding, landscape of yoga pants bloom into booty-shorts with no intermediate stage.

I  will watch the trees burst into blossom, and they will as gorgeous as they ever have been; even as they have grown more perfect each year since I first arrived.

Campus has changed since my first year. New buildings have risen where there were none, new clubs and groups have formed to meet the social needs of the campus, the student populations has increased in number, and the trees have grown in a way that campus administrators only wish they could grow the profits from the school..

Most of the people I knew the best are gone; through graduation or the simple rigors and difficulty of life, including all of those I liked the best. It is not lonely that I feel, so much as a constant, chafing, impatience. Certainly some of them preceded me only as I completed my first year, but I feel the need to follow them none the less. Every time I work on a seemingly purposeless exercise for one of my less interesting classes,I remind myself that it is for the last time.

And even so, I wait with mixed apprehension and anticipation, as I wait for the blossoms on campus to greet me for the last time. The buds are full, and  I do not imagine I have long to wait before it flowers once more.

And yet, as a person I am basically unchanged. College is supposed to be this grand tansformational process, yet it has taught me that I was a person fully formed, more or less. The new and divers political and moral creeds; I have heard them, but I am unimpressed. should peer pressure and appeals to authority persuade me? I have heard nothing to sway me from the positions I once held. Is liberty and a measure if injustice not better than over-reaching authority and the same? What can one expect from governments of men?

And yet, whether polity or oligarchy wins the fight around me, I wait and watch as the trees of IPFW burst into bloom one more time.

What are grades? I graduate Summa Cum Laude this Spring, and what a lovely piece of paper that will be, but I know cleverer and more ambitious people who have graduated with less, and who will end life with more; at least in wealth, cash prizes, and the like. But am I supposed to be jealous? Do I deserve more, just because I write a nice essay and find the right answers.

Odd though it may seem, even more than graduation and my awards, I look forward to watching the trees bloom on campus.

Is that not boring? I have no transformational story, no 'aha!' moment; that is part of my secret to success; I know of no isolated facts, but only additions into the whole as I see the world. There are not many narratives, but one narrative with many elements.And here is the awful truth of the strange permanence of my world as I come to the end of my college career:

Even as the world springs into blossom, and even as it shall wither away once more, I know that my redeemer lives, and that he will raise up me and all flesh at the last day, and even as we wither, so will he bring us forth in blossom once more.

Is it not appalling that my perception should be discolored by such unreason? But there it is. I am forced to see the hand of God in creation, so that all that I learn merely enters within the scope of a world into which God has died and risen for fallen and sinful men. It is a world in which God forgives my numerous sins shortcomings, as well as all of the shortcomings of those who have come before me.

And yet, in spite of my weaknesses and failures, and the same of all those around me, the trees will burst into blossom on campus before my eyes, one more time, and in beauty that I could never hope to recreate.

I leave campus as the same person as I arrived; Patrick Michael Casey, marked with the highest and only distinction that matters--marked in baptism, marked in the absolution, and marked in the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here is an odd thought; in almost every discipline I have approached, there is an idea that we understand the individual according to something larger. In politics, one understands precept in relation to first principles, one understands history in relation to history within a greater scope, and language may only be understood within a system of structures of language--a langue and parole--which gives meaning to every utterance. So also, all of our little stories are joined into a greater story.

My story, then, is just one more minor chorus in the ceaseless anthem to the God who lives, Who died, and Who will raise all men on the last day, and bring us all amongst the blossoms of a garden which shall know no end.

So as the world breaks forth into Spring once more, and as I leave campus, I leave as a holy fool; a servant at the table of Jesus Christ, an Acolyte, a dog. But it is enough. I rejoice as God reminds us that he still brings life to our world, and that he will bring us to everlasting life thereafter.

And so I run my course, not in the nihilistic, depressive, mindset that the trees bloom as termination of a biological process that ends in death, but in the hope that it will end as it was always meant to end; in life, and seen through resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I am, perhaps, a little older--I perhaps even fancy myself to be little wiser. Nonetheless, nothing has changed. Jesus lives, and it is enough.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smoking.

America is not a nation fueled on Christian thought; it is a nation fueled on suppositions of moral superiority.

You think my words too harsh?

Think about it for just a moment. Gandhi, who was himself not the most innocent of parties, put forth the idea of Satyagraha, or the force of moral strength over physical strength in the world of politics. It is not necessary to be the greatest in numbers, nor to be stronger in either the ways of violence of intellect, but merely in the ways of perceived moral superiority; from there, mastery follows, because none dare act in the face of perceived morality.

In Gandhi's case, he challenged British control, on the grounds that they were abusing the Indian peoples--plural, not singular--and were refusing the Indians self-determination, of which they were fully capable. At the same time, when Jinnah went to Gandhi and Nehru to ask for protection of the Indian Muslims in the face of Hindu majority, Gandhi rebuked him and told him to get his priorities straight; not that Jinnah's request would have derailed Gandhi's agenda, but Gandhi did not care overmuch about the concerns of Indian Muslims, and would prefer to have control with his own party.

I do not say this to challenge the greatness of Gandhi: he is still amongst the wisest of men. However, like all men, Gandhi falls short of the mark, because all men are imperfect, even according to their own standards.

Nonetheless, Gandhi was a hypocrite in his call for Indian self-determination, because he intended to afford no protections to the Muslims. The moral high ground that he seized was created, not real, and so it is--or so I believe--with all of the moral high ground created by men.

There are any number of modern topics to which my critique could be applied; there are perhaps some of you that have gay marriage dancing before your eyes, perhaps others dwell on the death penalty.

No matter what, there is not one party within our society that bases its claims upon superior numbers or might or wisdom or pragmatic realism; all parties lay the foundations of their arguments in  perceived superiority.

To challenge certain societal norms--or emergent societal norms--makes you a bad person. To act against these norms puts you at a level that is practically sub-human. There are some behaviors we are no longer allowed to question, and still other things in which we are no longer allowed to engage.

I am about to go where you did not expect.

Would you care to know why I began smoking a pipe? (occasionally, of course)

I can think of three moments that most strongly influenced me. The first was my great grandfathers that used tobacco, and apparently derived some pleasure from it, both of whom were intelligent, healthy, long-lived men, who understood the importance of moderation, but also enjoyed their simple pleasures.

The second instance was a pastor at the Higher Things, In His Face concert in Texas. I left the absolute bedlam of the hotel for a moment of fresh--98 degree with equal Houston humidity--air and found myself alone with a pastor, who was taking a mental health moment. He was reading and smoking his pipe; it smelled marvelous, and of all the people of the conference, he seemed to me like the one who was making the best use of his time.Being a thoughtless teenager, with as yet uncontrolled social impulses, I began talking at him, and he seemed perfectly content and at ease. I will carry the image of his bearded person for quite awhile I imagine; I wonder who he was.

The last influence, with which I would never have picked up the pipe, will come as less of a surprise to those who know how contrary I am.

Connie Willis wrote a book. Her book was named Bellweather. If you have not read Bellweather, then you are wasting your time reading this. H'anyway, in this most amusing and best of books, Willis parodies the visceral reaction of societies against smokers, and the ridiculous reviling of a single vice.

I laughed at it in Willis, but the reality is that smokers really do get the shaft from the rest of us. Habitual smokers are looked at like they have a disease or a mental defect, and the rest of society seems to stand together in agreement that they and their second hand smoke may--and you will pardon my profanity--fuck off.

Smoking is dirty, can be quite uncouth, and like all behavior, should be abstained from around those who do not care for it, as good manners and basic courtesy dictate.

However.

When I have someone in line at work who gives someone else a dirty look for smelling like smoke; when I have someone act as if smoking were a mental disease; when I hear smokers as not caring for those around them...I draw the line.

I have no time for the perceived moral superiority.

Those same people who get angry with the smokers drink too much alcohol, drive too fast, do not exercise enough, and are all going to die one way or another. Smoking is a dirty habit. So are lying, gossiping, and masturbation, but the latter three are generally excepted by society as inevitable.

Furthermore, I say that smoking is the only one of those three that is not an absolute moral wrong. It is a small pleasure that is bad for your health, like large quantities of red meat and insufficient exercise. Obesity related conditions--especially heart issues in males--are still more deadly than lung cancer to date, so where is the outrage over gluttony? Or is it that you only care about the 'dangers of second hand smoke.'' You know, from that one time you walked past a smoker on the side walk.

Smoking is not wise, but chew on this.

In some forms, it is indeed pleasant. I smoke, usually, no more than once a week, and only when I am at my most restless. I can get to the point where I find it hard to do anything but pace like a caged animal, especially when I have a headache. Smoking tends to relieve this in the space of fifteen odd minutes. I tend to spend a much better night after this.

The other great attraction is social.

I went to Riegels today. Riegels is our local tobacconist, and they have a simply splendid selection. On this occasion, like every other, I was not alone in the store. In the store were three old men, all of whom seemed to know each other, and all of whom were having a good time smoking their cigars.

Smoking, like drinking, is a social vice. It gives these men an excuse to come together and enjoy themselves, just as it does with the young people in the smoke huts on campus. They have a good time, and they have community. The people in the smoke hut are huddled against the wind, and the old men in that tobacconist are huddled against the disapproval of society.

In the one case, the young folks in the smoke hut are rebels; they do not care that society has decided that their little pleasure is unacceptable. The reality that their habit alienates them from the rest of the body only makes their sense of community that much stronger: everyone knows the other people who meet in the smoke huts.

So also, those fine old men of Riegels know each other, and though society does not approve of their particular little vice, they know their way around life and have learned something that most of us are yet to learn. Everyone dies.

Is this a reason to go out and chain-smoke? Good heavens, no. I do not, and nor will I ever.

But it is a lesson in moderation. Just as we should be moderate in how we take things into ourselves, so also, we should be more moderate in the judgements we hand down.

Accept that your body is already moldering. Birth is the beginning of the slow road to death, if you will allow me to be macabre. It is also, however, blessed with the ability to perceive numerous--innumerable--kinds of pleasure, all of which should be enjoyed in moderation and in the proper time and place. Alcohol, tobacco, food, sex, music, poetry, and coffee are all for our enjoyment, but are all destructive if they become obesessions.

If you abstain from alcohol and smoking entirely in the interest of preserving your body, go ahead. But please have the consistency to abstain from gluttony and laziness; do not fall to the darkness of a delicate pastry, neither the leisure of fake buttered popcorn, nor allow yourself to fall into contact sports; such as are contrary to your God, Goodhealth.

Addiction is not a good thing, so far as anything that takes a man's will from him is a bad thing; in the same way, peer pressure, and caving to perceived moral force in the absence of principle may be said to be a bad thing, as it strips a man of his will and makes him dependent on something outward. A slave is a slave, regardless of who the master is.

My problem is that we are all slaves of public opinion; the greatest evil in our society--whether we will admit it or not--is to be unpopular, and this is exactly what we should expect from a democratic society, where the will of the people is the alpha and the omega.

I started smoking, je so oft, as a protest against all of those who looked down on smoking and smokers. Had I not been so angry at the outrage against smoking, I never would have picked up my pipe.

Get rid of all of your bad habits. Obey all laws fully and completely. Stop being a glutton. Stop undressing women in your head as they walk past. Stop sitting there and reading stupid blogs when you should be doing something useful.

Then, we can talk.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lazy Sunday

Sunday morning began rather later than it normally would have for me. In one way, you could say that the reason was that I hit the snooze button eight times, after--of course--listening to the opening cadences of M.I.A. 8 times, but cutting it off before the acoustic guitar gives way to the electric. In another way, you could say that it was because I was--am?--a lazy bum, and just did not want to drag my carcass out of bed. To some extent, both of the above would be true.

The real reason, however, is that I--and several unnamed accomplices--had just finished watching the last season of breaking bad at 2:30 the night before, and one does not simply slip off into gentle sleep after that. I will not say anything about the show here, because everyone should watch it and spoilers would be a bad thing. Without spoiling anything, I can say, it was really good.

How good? I might just buy into TV as a potential art form; that kind of good.

Anyway, my Sunday started late, and I took no pains to make my morning rituals any faster. I moseyed down the street to the Gottesdienst, not thinking about how my leather soled shoes would fair on the polished ice. Concentrating my full energies on not spilling my coffee, I skittered my way down the sidewalk like a Great Dane puppy; unfortunately rather less cute and coordinated.

After a couple close calls I had made it across Rudisill. There was church, complete with Confirmation and Baptism, with an excellent little reception to follow; the morning was satisfying, life was good, and the rest of the day promised interest as well.

Now, before I continue to chronicle my boring day, and so you do not feel like I have tricked you awfully when I reach the end, I should tell you that the only reason that this day seems worth chronicling to me, is because I never get Sundays off of work. Ever. As such, while everyone else is used to Sunday being a day to chill, mine is usually pretty well occupied from 9:15 until 8:00 in the evening, which makes for a fairly long day to be out and about; nothing to complain about, but I usually never feel settled on a Sunday until I stop to unwind at night.

A free Sunday is something of a novelty for me, and having the time to assimilate it makes everything so much more pleasant and clear, both at the time, and even now as I reflect on it. Even church and seeing my church family are more pleasant when I know I do not have to rush off to work right afterward.

This could be a place where I might launch into much breast beating about my desire to have a normal, fixed, work schedule, but that is rather done to death at this point, so we press on.

After taking my sweet time at the reception, I got home and realized I needed to book if I wanted to change and get to Cinema Center on time. And I was not showing up in a suit.

Cinema Center was having an event to support the Three Rivers Language Center, and particularly their excellent--and quite fascinating--work reanimating the Myaamia language. The Myaamia are working on relearning how to speak their language, which went dormant in the Sixties; the center is helping them decode all of the linguist speak to recover the syntax and pronunciation. Interesting work. A worthy cause.

I was there because I had been bribed with extra credit. Sad, but true. In my senior year, there are now many things I won't do for extra credit or bad free pizza, but this seemed like it had the potential to be interesting. Plus, this was all being done at Cinema Center; how better to build my cover with the hipsters, the secret to whose origins I am still seeking.

I changed and got downtown much faster than I anticipated, so I decided to park by the library and walk to the theater. It was windy, and downtown Fort Wayne lends itself quite well to turning ordinary wind into bone-chilling, biting, howling winds. While I was not entirely comfortable, I was consoled by how remarkably bad-ass my coat looked in the wind (so the nice hooligans said).

I finally made it to the theater, considerably warmer for the walking. The first thing I saw when I got into the theater was Dr. Bischoff, who was pleasantly surprised that a few of his students were taking the bait. It appeared that I was the only student that had made it from my class, but there was a fairly decent group there, including people I've had classes with before.

I slipped into the auditorium, and two minutes later I was joined by someone I did not expect to see. I was sitting there, counting a larger number of people than I had expected, when Joe Strange slid into the seat next to me. I have had several classes with Joe before, in both History and German, and it was not until we started talking that I realized that I missed him. He is probably in his late thirties or early forties; he has a wife and kids, a wry sense of humor, and a je ne sais quoi that makes him really easy to be around. Oh, and his name is awesome.

He and I spent the last little bit before the show catching up, and then, just before the show began, Curt sat in the seat on my other side, and it was really good to see that Curt wasn't dead.

An announcement was made, we applauded about something, the lights went down, and our feature began. The Linguists turned out to be a documentary about the documentation of dying languages. As the film reminded the viewer--over and over--there are seven thousand languages, and languages go dormant--or lose their final speakers--at the present rate of 2 a week. The viewer is whisked along on an often amusing but thoroughly alarmist exposition of how an intrepid pair of linguists spend their professional life tracking down and recording these languages.

My final review of the movie is that it was worth my time. It belabored a few points, presented the linguists in a light that was less than flattering to them as skilled academics, and tried to make a cheap drama out of an otherwise fascinating topic. Nonetheless, the crap editing and attempts to make it sexier did not spoil the interest of the people and languages.

In the movie talk afterwards, I got to hear Myaamia spoken, which was rather cool, and I got to listen to the panel try to toe the line between supporting the cause and acknowledging the flaws of the movie, which was especially funny, since all  threee panelists had worked with the linguists in the documentary.

I didn't hang around after the screening, mostly because I had consumed a fair amount of coffee before the film, a bottle of water during the film, and by the end of the somewhat protracted talk, and in the face of a long line, I decided I would be a happier man if I just hoofed it back to the library. I got there, saw some more of my classmates, stopped, chatted, then went looking for research materials before the library closed. New materials on hand, I left them in my trunk, and decided it should be a marvelous thing if I went to Starbucks. To Starbucks I went, I got a cappuccino, and it was good. Even in the snow, Downtown is a great little place to walk.

After that, I really had to get back and do homework, but the afternoon of unexpected freedom was nice. And yes, it might seem like a somewhat boring afternoon, but I genuinely enjoyed it.

And that was my lazy Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Final Semester: First Impressions.

I realize this exercise is not as exciting for everyone else as it is for me, but I feel the need to go through and do my beginning of semester overview, mostly to reflect on what I am into this semester; to organize my thoughts, don't you know.

In the first part, on the surface, it comes to me that this will be an easy semester. Granted, I am taking 15 credits while I am taking on a full-time, or near full-time, load at work. Nonetheless, I am still not anticipating any issues.

I suppose I should begin by confessing that I am taking two of the easiest gen eds on the planet. I am taking Physical Systems of the Earth and Weather and Climate. I am nearly blinded by the sheer ease of these selections; it almost does not seem moral, and I find myself questioning the choice, purely because it does not challenge me, at all. Although, I must also note that these were the ones that I could fit into my schedule, without having to add Monday classes: the lesser of two evils.

The first is physical systems, which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1:15. It is probably the single easiest possible science with lab available in the catalog; thank God, that I have already taken my science lab, because I imagine it probably would tie with geology for most stupefyingly boring. The students in this class are something of a mix, but a great many of them  are sophomores and freshmen. There is no spirit of volunteerism, and you can smell the attitude on certain students, even from where I sit in the upper decks.

The Prof is trying very hard, and he seems like the kind of guy who it would not be bad to have a beer with, but, unfortunately, the class is not exactly game, and his questions go unanswered and his dad-jokes fall flat, even though some of them are actually fairly decent. He wants to spend a period doing some geocaching type work, if he can ever find enough volunteers to go into the cold. I feel sorry for him when people leave after attendance has been taken.

 The guy sitting next to me is in a similar boat to mine. He is an upperclassman, both bored and fairly intelligent. We sit in the back, largely because we can watch everyone else.

Weather and Climate is comprised, almost entirely, of bored Juniors and Seniors, all of whom--it is my assumption--are fairly pissed off, because they were surprised when they discovered that they would have to take this class instead of Soviet Revolution and Regime. Still, they labor on gamely, in a class which their professor insists, was designed to get them an easy A, just so long as they take lecture notes and do the homework. I weep.

I am so toast by the time this class arrives in the evening, that I have not much to say about the others in the class, except that I have met many of them before, and they represent a cross-section of various majors at IPFW, and that many of them are actually fairly serious students...just not pushing themselves in this instant.

The professor is a man, beginning to go gray, with a quiet and calm demeanor, a soft voice, but a certain air of authority, which probably comes in part from his other job, which is nothing to sneeze at. He strikes me as being extremely nice, but we saw a little bit of iron when the person who came in 40 minutes late was asking question after question about things we had already covered.

Intro to linguistics will be very interesting. If you walked into the class, you would notice 20 odd heads of varying age, all sporting somewhat longer hair, and belonging to females. Then you might spot the one the one closely cropped--balding--head of what appears to be a man; that would be me. I am waiting to see if I have any lost brothers who have not made it, but we will see. *Edit, lost brother showed up mere hours after I wrote this. There is another dude. One more.

Another thing I have noticed, is that I am probably the second oldest student in the room. In fact, I have noticed, with something like annoyance, that most classes, and the campus itself, houses an unnatural profusion of whipper-snappers, who listen to their music too loud and need to get off my lawns.

H'anyway.

The professor is a tall man with an angular face, dark hair, and a voice that is sharpish and bossy, somewhat nasal, and almost always set to sardonic. His jeans were a little short over the tops of his white trainers the first day he walked into class, but that just enhanced the general elan of I don't care that was radiating off of him. Not that he did not care about his work or his students, which I believe he does, but that he cleverer than anyone else in the building, knows it, and his wit could probably raise welts on you if you cared to mock him for his faux pas.

The material is all familiar ground, and I only wish I had taken it much earlier.

World in the Twentieth Century is also so much familiar ground. It is, again, absolutely full of people I have had class with before, including a couple fellow club presidents, the other Withers Scholar. I sit next to a forty year old man, who shares my appreciation of irony, and a set of twins, who might just have an attitude.

The professor is tall, ginger, and has a voice which is set to project to the far corners of the bulding. She lays her emphases in the oddest places, and tells us to write things down, which I rebel against, but she has a sense of humor, and some of it is directed at herself, so I am on her side. She is, naturally, outspokenly of a different political-ideological mindframe than that which I espouse, and her demeanor makes me believe she would probably have me burned alive if she found me out. No worries though, she has heard only good things about me, and would never suspect the dark affiliations I have made.

The class is structured for those who have not thought about the topics of nationalism or identity before, so for a political historian like me, the first couple classes have been a touch boring. I hope for better things when we get to socialism; a topic which seems to bring the light to her eyes.

The last class on my slate--best for last--is History of the Early American Republic. Which will cover the time period from the ratification of the constitution to the glorious reign of William Henry Harrison. The content is familiar, but is presented so well, and with such a fresh perspective, that it all seems new.

The professor is about my height, beginning to round just slightly, has dark hair, dark eyes, and looks young enough to be one of the students. His voice is a little higher, somewhat nasal, and yet it is not entirely unpleasant; when he gets really excited, he sounds like Radar. He has a grin which could only be described as impish, and his sense of humor matches his grin. He is genuinely funny. He is a moderate democrat--a difficult animal to find in the wild--and does his best not to let politics bleed into history. I should say: his best is pretty damn good.

The students are actually a mix. I am one of the only ones who has had Malanson before; his fan club has since graduated, so this class holds a greater proportion of people who need to take an upper level analytical writing class, and who think American history will be the most interesting choice. This group includes a couple pre-med peops, business majors, a couple crazy older guys who venerate the founders, a few hard line history students with other world interests, and a crop of newer history students, who are about to learn how to work.

I admit; I am slightly disappointed with this as a last semester, mostly because it is largely without a challenge. I would have liked it to include Soviet History and a couple other topics which I find more interesting, but basic sciences are what I get. I will go through the motions, get the easy A, and wonder who a joke is being played on; the bureaucrats, who seem to believe that these classes are imparting something better to me than more intensive upper division courses in my major, or me, who pays for these inferior group-nap sessions. Who knows.

I will get something out of all of these classes--I always do--but I feel like I might get more out of it than I am. I also wonder, since we have individual advising with the faculties of our departments, who have the greatest interest in turning out savvy students, why not let them determine what is appropriate to each student? Why does a paper pusher, probably without any knowledge in my field, and certainly without knowledge of my capabilities, decide what would make me a well rounded student; was it not an indicator that I passed my first science and lb practical with A+ grades? Is a pair of easier classes really necessary?

Maybe. Maybe I am just being spoiled. It is just that, here at the end of my time on campus, there are great professors, with whom I would be privileged and honored to study further, and with whom I will not get to study again. I will miss these professors; I will miss their lectures and I will miss our talks. It will not be easy for me to find people I can talk to about my areas on equal ground, much less who have a wealth of knowledge to share.

I suppose I should tell them how grateful I am.

Now wouldn't that make for a nice awkward little exchange.

Their poor little selves having to sit their and take it while I tell them who ardently I admire and love them. No. I'm afraid not. Ours is a staid branch of knowledge and learning. We do not blow things up. We do not make pretty light. We do not cut people open (normally). We write. We research. We geek out with each other over discovered minutiae that would cause others to yawn. A fun, kind of quirky, group.

That is my tribe. We are not there for the money. There is no glory in it. We are in it for the love of history, and I just feel like I would have liked spending my last semester surrounded by this group. I get to spend some time in that environment, but not enough.

Granted, I have romanticized all of this wildly, but I am a historian, and I think we are all romantics at some level.

Monday, January 6, 2014

No Report.

Dear publicly-visible internet diary ego-sink,

Usually I write something for new years; these posts tend to follow a particular pattern, and they often end about the same way as well. I did not write one this year, in part because our domicile was positively lousy with guests--all of whom I was more than thrilled to see--but also because I do not want to become too predictable. Probably a vain goal, but you must allow me my idiosyncrasies.

I have no new years resolutions. I have goals, certainly, but nothing that I was unaware of or uncommitted to before drinking heavily on new years eve. I will continue to be more budget conscious, as I have been since this last autumn. I will continue working on attaining a point where I may consider myself a self sufficient adult and independently functional societal unit--lofty goal though that may be. I am going to try and stay in shape, convincing myself that I hate all junk food, one item at a time, and I am staying on top of my regimen. I get my own place when I graduate.

I am getting that tattoo. Don't think for one second that I have forgotten...

All much the same, none of it revolutionary.

Ordinarily, this is where I would go on at great length detailing my personal angst and psychoses for the enjoyment of the reader, but really more for my own enjoyment.

I don't think I will this time.

Suffice to say, I am modestly frustrated with myself on several points, none of which anyone will get to hear, and I am excessively well pleased with myself on so many points that it is disgusting.

Growing up has taken me rather longer than it should, but I am getting there bit by bit; it is funny how you can feel the priorities shift.

Tattoos get higher priority when you are a grown-up, right?

Seriously though, the number of felt needs has kind of plummeted, and even Starbucks intake has dropped by over fifty-percent. I also bought almost no new clothes, which is unheard of for me. I also learned how to use the library in lieu of my debit card to procure books, which I feel is also a very valuable life skill. Over the course of my summer break, not only did I rediscover our lovely downtown, but I remembered how much more pleasure I get out of the little things.

Ok, so I also get greater joy out of evenings at the bar, which is kind of expensive, but we can balance this. We got this.

Bottom line though, I have rediscovered the importance of places, people, and my own mindset over stuff as far as contentment goes. Do not get me wrong, nice stuff is, well, nice, but it is a garnish, not a main dish.

Isn't that just special? It sounds like it could have come off a Pinterest board full of yoga positions you will never use and nominally uplifting sayings. But not really. Those things bug the snot out of me. They all proffer the reader the secret to happiness, which in the world they are written in, is to be strong, independent, and not  give a shit about what anyone else thinks. Be at peace with yourself and who you are. Don't go changing yourself for anyone else. You do you, and don't worry about the haters. Blah. Blah. Blah.


How empty. How sad.

Congratulations. You have held everyone who could possibly hurt you at bay. You are your own person. Are you happy with yourself in your own inaccessibility?

I admit, I go through my phases in which I place different amounts of value on different things, but my experience, which I will allow is limited, is that, when I go through a stuff phase, the more stuff I get, the more I hone my image and persona, the more I look for my patterns of consumption to bring me satisfaction, the farther from sated, the farther from satisfied, the farther from happy, I am. Each new novelty just means that I want more novelty.

More than that; what memories do you have of the great times you and your stuff have had? When was the last time your stuff made you laugh? Not likely.

Fine, say the pinteresters: you need to be enough on your own. Don't be materialistic. Get into nature.

Better, I say. I love nature; I spend as much time in the open air as I can, and I find that I can easily spend a few hours lying out in the grass under the sun, or several whole days hiking through woods and over bluffs. But while I enjoy these things, I enjoy them even more when I have other people to do them with.

Now, I am not a confirmed extrovert by any means, but I have long since become accustomed to the idea that people are not an optional thing for my sanity; I need people. And, guess what? If I need people, you probably need people, too.

I am happiest when I get to spend time with the people I love; friends and family. Granted, there are times when I love being with them more than others, but life is undeniably fuller and richer with them there.

To push those people away. To keep them at arms length. To let no one in but yourself. That is not strength; it is cowardice. And, again, underneath all of that armor that you have built up for yourself, how does it feel to be alone?

There is no yoga pose, greek yogurt, or 90 day glute routine that can make you happy. In fact, I hate to break it to y'all, but there is no guarantee of happiness or any secret to get you there. You will probably spend a good portion of your life dissatisfied with both your yogurt and your glutes. But it does not end there, because we are all getting old, dying, and not only does our yogurt suck, but our clothes will be out of mode in mere months, if they still fit. Yeah, your shades are pretty awesome; I'm sure that will be a great comfort to you as you face your lengthening years alone. You are safely cocooned in your self-sufficiency, where no one can hurt you.

Uh-huh.

We are so proud, that we would rather deny ourselves and cut ourselves off from what we want, rather than risk rejection. If we pretend not to care, then, at least, our dignity is preserved. We can sit comfortably aloof, and pretend that we don't want to play soccer. But the said reality is, that we have forgone the possibility of greater pleasure, for fear of getting picked last.

Is failure really so frightening?

I nearly quoted a Leann Womack song. You know the one. Close call. But the dancing metaphor really is fantastic; nowhere more room for fun...or for judgement.

In lieu of Womack, consider soccer. For those of you who have not played the game, I pity you. For those of you who have, which is more fulfilling; drilling by yourself, or playing with others? These others you bring in may ruin your perfectly choreographed maneuvers, and you will almost certainly score fewer goals in a match than in shooting practice, but it means more, because you are doing it along with others. Along the way you develop rhythms, funky rituals, animosities, and even injuries, but you will come out as a far more complete player on the other side, and even with the bad, you will have a fuller experience of the game

Yes, a wildly inadequate metaphor, and rather like comparing apples to wombats, but you get my general point. There are very few things in life that are better alone than shared. Granted, one prefers to share the things with someone else who can appreciate, but just because you occasionally find yourself surrounded by philistines, don't pretend that you would not like to share them.

Here, perhaps, is a better resolution: be honest.

Yes, by all means, this also means to be honest with yourself. Quit holding out hope for those 'fake' people who do not actually care about you: drive them from your life like money-changers from the temple. Bar the door against them, and purge all that nasty negative karma from your life.

But, c'mon now, be honest with yourself. If they are fake, then what are you? What was the last time you were totally open with someone? There is no one you trust that much. Hell, that is no one that I trust that much. So here we are, a bunch of lonely divas, ready to hear that all we need to be happy, is to love ourselves. The unspoken thought being that loving anyone else is just too dangerous.

Be bold and be brave. The danger is nothing next to the reward.

This is a new year, and while I find it to be much like the last year that we just left, though perhaps somewhat colder, I will assume that this year, like last year, and like every year which came before and follows after, is a perfect year to love. Admit to yourself that others matter, and then force yourself to realize that they might matter every bit as much as you do. Stop looking at them like accessories. Stop using them.


And then, when you pull it off, tell me how to do it, too.