Archive for the 'literature' Category

Why I don’t like Rilke.

June 21, 2006

I can't remember what year it was that I helped my dad deliver oxygen tanks to his patients. I think I may have been in college and on some sort of break, like Christmas or Spring break. I do remember it vividly, though, because there were many people who were elderly and suffering from emphysema who needed the oxygen. My dad is patient and nice to people (much more so than I am). He did this work without it getting to him at all. But then perhaps as in any job, you get used to what you see after a while.

I don't remember any specific examples of the elderly emphysema patients, but I do remember one young guy. He had some sort of disability, not emphysema, and he seemed fine to me. We went into his cabbage smelling apartment and he had a great number of books and papers spread out on the floor in an otherwise nice space. He had black curly hair and a beard and a mustache. I don't think at the time that he was even 30.

We chatted about what he was reading. It was Rilke. Now I was an English major, so I was acquainted with it and the genre. The man read some of the poetry to me while my dad fixed his oxygen tanks. It turned out that this guy passionately studied Rilke all day long. He had nothing else to do as he had qualified for government disability payments which obviated the need for a job to pay for his apartment and lifestyle. He read Rilke all day instead of working.

This left a very negative impression on me. It appeared to me that he was working. He was working the system. Sure I wasn't a doctor, but the guy moved around just fine and wasn't using the oxygen while we were there. Moreover, he didn't care whether he worked or not. He seemed quite adapted to the lifestyle of being a ward of the state. It suited him. It didn't suit me. So now, years later, I always associate Rilke with someone who doesn't want to work.

Rilke's personal life doesn't help my view of him. This is from Wikipedia: "Rilke was called up at the beginning of 1916, and he had to undertake basic training in Vienna. Influential friends interceded on his behalf, and he was transferred to the War Records Office and discharged from the military on June 9, 1916. He spent the subsequent time once again in Munich, interrupted by a stay on Hertha Koenig's Gut Bockel in Westphalia. The traumatic experience of military service, a reminder of the horrors of the military academy, almost completely silenced him as a poet." The article goes on to describe how Rilke flitted about the world, leaving his family for various poetic study.

With all due respect, Rilke seems rather insubstantial. Maybe it's these characteristics that appeal to those who run from responsibility instead of facing life's labors, at least in my observation. Oh, I'm sure there are exceptional people who love Rilke. This is just an anecdote, a memory from my past that colors and jades my viewpoint, right or wrong. But to this day, I still don't like Rilke.

Topics for Friday Night Party Line for June 2, 2006.

May 31, 2006

Here are the topics for Friday Night Party Line, June 2, 2006.  Some of these are from last week because we didn’t get to them.

Imagine yourself being 10 years old again.  Would your 10 year old self find you to be cool today?

I wonder if what one really enjoys in life can be distilled to one day. Can you describe your ultimate day? Can you think of how you would take the things you enjoy in life and put them all into one day, assuming you could do anything you want?

People are putting up videos of their children being born on YouTube.  I'm all for childbirth and all that, but do we really need to see the live event??   Would you do that?  Have people send such video links to you?  Have you seen these things?

There is a new friend making service called  It's not a dating site.  It gives you a new friend every 4 days without regard to gender, age, etc.  You communicate with this person back and forth and decide if you want to keep them as a friend.  Would you try such a site?

There is another website that just came out called  From the website:  “You type in the name of a friend and it will run searches on MySpace, Friendster, Facebook and more. Create profiles on your friends and save them to your "buddy list", then you can just click their name and see all their profiles later on! The buddy list also shows you who's online by checking their IM statuses.”

Have you ever written a complaint to a company about something?  Do you do it often?  Have you ever gone further and filed a complaint with the company’s regulator?  How did it work out for you?

At the University of Florida, the police there have become a fan of the fiction of a certain graduate student.  After reading his horror fiction on Live Journal, they've asked him to submit fingerprints and DNA.  What are your thoughts on this?

In the life imitates art category of the day, there are a group of computer geeks in Silicon Valley that have started their own fight club, like the movie “Fight Club.”  There are videos on the web that show these guys beating the crap out of each other.  Would you ever do such a thing?  Do you know anyone who has done this?

There was a big blow to the Space Elevator this week when it was discovered that carbon nanotubes might not be able to handle the job.  What do you think about the Space Elevator concept?  Will it ever get off the ground?

Henrik Ibsen is getting popular again and a number of items have been in the news about him recently.  Have you ever read or seen one of his plays?  Do you think he's worthy of all this new attention?

The Man (or Woman) Higher Up.

April 7, 2006

Has this ever happened to you? With apologies, to O. Henry, for the title of this post, I have never found a truer nugget of wisdom from fiction than this. Among my friends, I am the nerdiest of nerds, a member of the highest order of techno-geeks. However, these people don’t do it for a living. I’m no programmer and I certainly could not design a circuit board. Yet, when it comes to knowing what’s happening in the Internet world, I entertained the self-aggrandizing conceit that I pretty much knew it all.

I mean, I listen to tons of tech podcasts, I read numerous tech magazines and I’m on my computer every waking hour. Heck, I could be a regular on This Week in Tech, right? No one is more plugged in than I am, right?

Wrong. My friend Bobbi is. I was talking with her about the latest on tagging and other stuff that’s happening right now and she came up with at least three types of software, websites and internet tools of which I had never heard. I felt fully as ignorant as my friends who wouldn’t know a podcast from a blog. I surrendered my geek card and hung my head in shame.

I should know better. Reading Popurls all day is going to keep you up to speed, but it’s isn’t the be all end all. Where do the people who write the stories we read get their information? Those are the people who find out all that is new first. People like Bobbi.

So I accept my lesson in humility and I’m the better for it.

Final Word on “Snow Crash.”

February 15, 2006

I finished reading Snow Crash and I am still amazed by it. It’s the mark of a great book that it makes good reading years past its release date. It really started reminding me of Infinite Jest with the plot line of the bit map that makes people crazy. I am more than a little happy that I can now say Infinite Jest is a little bit derivative as it was written five years after Snow Crash. It’s central theme concerns a video tape that is so amusing that it makes people crazy. Stephenson gets a bad rap because people say that he wraps his books up too quickly. Those critics should read more David Foster Wallace. 1088 pages and NO ENDING. Not that he cares, but I still have not forgiven him for that.

I enjoyed the theme of religion-as-virus and as something that has evolved over time. It reminded me of my Western Culture classes in college when we learned that Jesus wasn’t the first religious figure to die for his people. There truly is nothing new under the sun. Modern religions borrow heavily from ancient ones.

Sometimes, I wonder, too, if there aren’t people who can hack into other people’s minds. Or, at least have some capacity that gives them an immense advantage over others. Take Warren Buffet for example. Has there ever been an investor in the history of humanity who had his knack? Doesn’t he seem to have a superhuman ability to figure out what to invest in? Is he a mind-hacker?  All of this heavy thought is wrapped up in a slam-bang action cyberpunk thriller. What could be better than that?     



Snow Crash

February 8, 2006

“… a scattering of schizophrenic first worlders who have long ago burned their brains to ash in the radiant heat of their own imaginings.” Neal Stephenson, “Snow CrashI told my friend that I had my choice tonight of losing myself on the Internet or reading about people who lose themselves on the Internet. “Snow Crash” is a great book and I’m committing a cardinal sin by talking about it before I’m done reading it. The story of how I came upon this book is mildly interesting though. J Allard was interviewed in the January 2006 issue of CPU magazine. When asked why his Xbox Live gamertag is “Hiro Protagonist,” he responded, that it was “more about identifying with Neal’s dream. Neal’s vision for the metaverse—how people would communicate, compete, collaborate, and use technology—was excruciatingly similar to the dream I had held and wanted to build… ‘Snow Crash’ has been ‘required reading’ for many of the teams I’ve built, and it felt fitting to honor Neal by making Hiro my gamertag.”

This is pretty damn good for a book that was written in 1992. It inspired the man who created the Xbox. How can you read that and not let out a Keanu inspired “Whoa.”

Great quodilibet this evening.

February 1, 2006

I’m almost finished reading A.J. Jacobs “The Know It All.” It’s been an amusing romp and makes me want to read the Encyclopedia Britannica myself, except now that would be derivative. I suppose I could read the entire Wikipedia, but I don’t think that would be the same.  Jacobs has given me some new words to play with, such as Quodlibet. Jacobs says this is “free ranging conversation on any topic that pleases us.” says its “a theological or philosophical issue presented for formal argument or disputation.” So which is it? Perhaps Jacobs took a little bit of license for the sake of literary license. I went to look it up in Wikipedia and to my surprise, there was no page on it! Now you know what I think about Wikipedia and I’m not much of a buddist even though I admire their thinking. But I am incapable of resisting a blank Wikipedia page, so I created an entry. We’ll see if it lasts.Another word Jacobs uses is Sabbatarian. That’s a Christian who believes the sabbath should be on a Saturday. Now I can relate to that. After a hard week at work, I am spent on Saturday. I just can’t work. So I rest on Saturday and work on Sunday. I just can’t bring myself to look if Sabbatarian is on Wikipedia…




I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine.

January 27, 2006

Why I have this lyric from the song “One night in Bangkok,” I have no idea. It’s a meme that entered my head a month or so ago. Maybe it’s trying to tell me something. Maybe it’s saying that as I hit the flaccid benchmark of middle age this year, I should take up new pursuits. To really follow the song, I should start studying chess and hanging out in coffee bars and playing the game with a timer. Chess isn’t really my bag, though. That’s not to mean that I can’t do Iris Murdoch. I can be a severed head with the best of them!

There are plenty of middle age pursuits to study. Reading, movie watching, computers. Hmmm, funny, but I’ve done those my whole life. Maybe I need to do more of them. Getting ones kicks mentally to me is just becoming lost in the universe of thought. It is embracing hours of contemplation. It is logically working through life and making peace with how you live your days. Mental kicks have their draw. It is less a siren song than a rocking lullaby. But it can be intense too. When I am seized by an idea, when I am so in the mental zone of resolving a metaphysical challenge in life, there is an enduring sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that is superior to all else. I suppose if I could cultivate that experience, I wouldn’t have any need for any lesser, physical expression. I would achieve the ideal.

Funny, though, when I’m playing computer games but lack the partner of a real life problem to solve, I get a similar feeling. It’s more solo focus, though. Contrasted with the mutuality and demands of actual existence, the computer game experience is merely cerebral self-gratification. Not that one should dismiss mental onanism out of hand, so to speak. That can be fun too.

I didn’t know that about Horatio Alger.

January 24, 2006
I’m reading The Know it All by A. J. Jacobs. He reads the Encyclopedia Britannica and comments about it in his book. It’s very witty and generally an enjoyable read. One of the themes he discusses is that he finds out things in the Britannica that he doesn’t really want to know. This was the case for me when he mentioned Horatio Alger. I had always known of Alger for his “Poor Boy Makes Good” themes. 

Well, apparently, making good wasn’t all that the poor boys were doing for Mr. Alger! It adds entirely knew meaning to the titles of some of his works such as “Tattered Tom” and “Ragged Dick.” He is still very popular despite his activities; there is even a society named after him and unfortunately other things. I’m sorry. It totally destroys my view of this guy. I want to unknow it. I want some extra strength, high grade mental floss.

The Big Lebowski versus Howard Roark.

January 22, 2006

How much motivation does one receive in one’s life.  Do we all have in us supreme motivation right out of Ann Rand with the power to stop (or start) “the motor of the world?”  Does that same person have the capacity to spend his time unemployed and at a bowling alley every day?  Certainly all of us know someone who is chronically unemployed.  The intense, world-beater type is just as rare, if not moreso.  Then there are the rest of us.  But is it genetic to slack?  Can we help it if we overachieve?  Does it really come from within?  People can change.  It is possible for a guy who normally wears a white shirt to work every day to suddenly start wearing color.  Just add the right woman.  So it goes for the slacker too.  What’s the old song lyric from “Guys and Dolls?”

When the lazy slob gets a good steady job
And he smells from Vitalis and Barbasol
Call it dumb, call it clever, ah but you keep on forever,
That’s a guy that’s only doing it for some doll, some doll, some doll,
That’s a guy that’s only doing it for some doll.

The real rocket fuel in human activity is sexual attraction.  This is the strongest motivation of all.  So arguably you can turn The Dude into an objectivist super-hero with the right girl.  She’d have to be an awfully special girl though.  Now this flies in the face of all Rand’s stuff because her heroes did what they did because they were gifted and they were internally compelled to express their gifts.  Yes, they found equally heroic loves, but the love wasn’t the motivation.  I say bollocks.  In real life, motivation is just sex called something else.