november 2005

This year's trick or treaters continued their downward trend for our neighborhood with only 87, down 10 from last year's 97. Before last year, we always passed the century mark, with a high of around 120. I'm not saying that 87 kids isn't a lot—most people think anything over 50 is a pretty big number—it's just less than we've ever had before here. Part of it, I think, is that a lot of the kids around here are getting too old to trick or treat—last year we had a good number of borderline kids, and only five or so this year. But that just means more candy for us.

A traditional male barber shop has a few defining characteristics: the owner of the shop is invariably obsessed with old cars and music from the 1950s; you will never pay more than $12 for a haircut; they are never open on Sunday; and you cannot make an appointment. It's not always convenient—it's pretty hard for someone with a normal 9-5 job to get a haicut anytime except Saturday morning, because most barber shops also close early on Saturday. But because it's fast (even without being able to make an appointment) and it's cheap, and they generally don't put any funny stuff in your hair, this makes it ideal for the utilitarian mind of a typical guy. Plus, no matter how enlightened they might be, it's still hard for your average male to pay $25 to get their hair cut at something called a salon.

Another typical feature of barber shops is the good barber/bad barber split. There is always at least one of each, and the owner of the shop is generally the alpha good barber (and sometimes the only one). The good barber cuts your hair so that you look good walking out the door that day—your hair is shorter, but you don't look like you've just had a haircut. This is the guy you want cutting your hair the day before your wedding, for example, because his work is going to make you look sharp for about a week afterwards. And he will cut it this way no matter what kind of instructions you give him—if you tell him the exact blade you want, or you tell him that you want it ridiculously short, he's going to smile and nod and then cut it the way he was planning on cutting it anyway.

The problem with this is that after about a week, your hair starts feeling too long and you find yourself already mentally preparing to go back to the barber. In other words, the good barber haircuts seem designed to make you come in for a haircut every two weeks.

The bad barbers aren't really bad in that they don't know what they're doing, they're just the kind of guys that cut your hair in a way that lets everyone who sees you for the next week know for sure that you just had a haircut. And it doesn't matter what you tell them, either - they're going to cut your hair as short as they possibly can, no matter how much you might tell them you just want a slight trim. When you get your hair cut by one of the bad barbers, you won't even think about another haircut for at least a month, and will likely be able to stretch your actual time between haircuts to six weeks or more.

For the record: I like the bad barbers. I like having my head actually feel lighter after a haircut because they took off so much hair. I like knowing when I leave the barber shop that I'm not going to be back for weeks. The good barbers leave me immediately disappointed—I'm happy to have my hair short again, but I know that it won't be more than a week or two before my hair starts to feel long again and I'll have the looming spectre of a trip to the barber shop on a precious Saturday morning carving out an anxious space in the back of my mind.

The class I'm taking this semester is on the meaning and interpretation of myth. It's a good topic, we seem to have some good, smart people in the class, and the professor came highly recommended by virtually ever other person I know who has taken a class with him.

But so far the class hasn't really seemed to come together, and halfway through the semester, I think I've finally figured out why. See, what we're doing is a two-fold effort: first we're reading critical essays that explore how the study of myth has evolved in the last 150 years, and then we're reading various myths from different cultures as companion pieces. The problem is, there's too much to digest at once, because when you're reading a new myth, you're trying to interpret according to all of the methods of analysis we've covered so far, and by the same token when you're reading about a new type of analysis, you're trying to remember all the myths you've already read and think about how it would apply to that particular myth.

I think a much smarter approach would have been to either take a single type of analysis (say, Jungian, or structural, or functional) and use it to read a wide variety of myths so that you could see how that method of analysis applied to myths from various peoples and time periods, or (and this is what I think I'd prefer) you could take three or four myths and explore them in the context of each type of analysis, so each week you'd be looking at the same myths, but you'd be re-examining them in light of the theories of a different school of thought each week.

It's too late in the semester for us to change our syllabus, and I'm really struggling to come up with a paper topic, but I think I'm going to suggest this to the professor after the semester is over. I just don't see how we're supposed to make any sense out of any of our readings when there is no consistent thread we can follow from week to week.

My office, meaning my physical office space, sucks. It is a tiny windowless box with only fluorescent lights and it is shared by three people. Granted, we have 6 foot partitions separating us so we have a little bit of privacy, but that's about the only good thing you can say about our space. I may have been a little spoiled in my last two jobs, where I had easy access to windows and natural light even when I was sharing my space with others, but even my first entry-level job at a publishing company was better than this—yes, we worked in a cubicle farm, but there were windows in the room that at least brought in some natural light even if you didn't have a cubicle with a window next to it.

Things should get better in the next couple of years, since we're building a new building where almost everyone will have a window in their office or workspace, and I'm even slated to have my own windowed office (if you've been near the south end of campus recently, you've likely noticed the enormous hole in the ground where our parking lots used to be—that's going to become the underground multi-level garage that will be connected to our new building).

But that's still a long, long way off. In the meantime, every time I walk past the scale model of the new quad that sits in the lobby of our building just outside my office, I look at the cutout in the cardboard model that represents my future window and dream of seeing sunlight during the workday again.

Some enterprising young cable executive should just go ahead and make the network that we all know is coming someday: 24 hours a day of Law & Order.

So, you bored at work today? Really? Okay, go have a look at this. And you might want to turn the sound down on your speakers unless your coworkers are accustomed to a repeating loop of the Pee Wee's Big Adventure music emanating from your cubicle.

One of the reasons that I like the Episcopal church is because we never stray too far from the source material of our faith, the bible. We always have three readings from the bible (one from the old testament, and two from the new, including one gospel reading) which are appropriate for that week in the liturgical calendar and which used to set the tone for that week's sermon. Here is the old testament reading from a couple of weeks ago:

Micah 3:5-12
This is what the LORD says: "As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim 'peace'; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him. Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them. The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced. They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God." But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness. Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us." Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

And the gospel reading that accompanied it:

Matthew 23:1-7
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

"Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'"

Now my church isn't prone to bringing politics into the pulpit, so the sermon that day was on the more general topic of inner faith versus outward signs of religiosity, but I swear, if there are better passages in the bible to describe the Bush administration, I sure haven't heard them. I just kept reading them over and over, wondering at how we humans have been subjected to rule by these asshats for thousands of years. The difference today, of course, is that we're supposed to have a choice about it, and yet we still seem bound and determined to let these self-serving idiots decide our fates for us.

And just in case you're still with me after all the biblical passages, here's a bonus reading from Joseph Campbell's book "The Hero With a Thousand Faces", which was one of the readings for my myth class this week:

The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics everywhere are essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of "my and mine." The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain. This may be no more than his household, his own tortured psyche, or the lives that he blights with the touch of his friendship and assistance; or it may amount to the extent of his civilization. The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world—no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper. Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-acheived independence is the world's messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions.

Now who does that remind you of? After reading these passages, I don't think it's hyperbole to say that our current president is an evil man whose wickedness is literally of biblical and mythological proportions.

Happy birthday, Dodd. Don't know what I'm getting for you yet, but I'm sure you'll have some ideas at dinner tonight.

I'm leaving tomorrow for a week in Chicago (business conference with a couple days of sightseeing tacked on), so there won't be any posts for a while. I've gone ahead and posted my pictures for the next week, so if you really need a fix, you can space those out while I'm gone. See you in 10 days or so.

Man, November is already gone, and I'm sure as hell not ready for December. After my week in Chicago away from the office, I'm spending today at a retreat for the admissions counselors (I'm hoping to help with the read process for our regular decision applicants this year), then I have one more full day in the office before a half day on Wednesday preceding the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving. I've got a lot to talk about from our Chicago trip, but it might be halfway through next month before I get to it all.

Flipping through the channels a couple of nights ago, I found myself watching 10 minutes of the second Charlie's Angels movie, and let me tell you, vapid doesn't begin to do justice to the depths of pointlessness sunk to in this particular cinematic travesty.

Normally I'm not a fan of photo series—even though I usually take several pictures of a particular object or subject, I like to mix them into a larger array of images over the course of a month or so—but I'm also usually not as obsessed with objects as I am with the giant metal bean that sits in Millenium Park in Chicago (the artist titled it Cloud Gateway or something like that but everyone—everyone—else on the planet calls it the metal bean). So for the rest of the month, I'll be posting nothing but bean pictures, and believe me, this is only a small sampling of the photos I took of the bean during our trip to Chicago last week. I present to you, then, a few of the many moods of the bean. Enjoy.

Another posting break after today while we play host to our families over the next few days. A quick note on my raiding group's Molten Core progress, however: the week I was in Chicago, we had our first successful Ragnaros kill, making us the seventh group on our server to acheive this goal. I wasn't able to participate, of course, but I was able to join in the next attempt the day after I got back from Chicago where we again took down Rag. It's nice to finally have that monkey off our backs; we still took him pretty quick compared to other groups—four months from when we started going to the instance reguarly—but we had been stuck on Rag for a few weeks, and I was afraid that if we didn't get him down before Thanksgiving, we wouldn't get him down until after the new year. Now we can finally start to set our sights on Blackwing Lair.

We had a pretty successful Thanksgiving again this year. People started arriving on Tuesday afternoon, and everyone but my sister was gone by Sunday morning (she's leaving this morning because the unusual schedule of her current job gives her Sundays and Mondays off). In between we polished off most of the Thanksgiving food (about half on Thanksgiving day itself, and most of the rest the next night for dinner), saw the new Harry Potter movie, visited the American Visionary Art Museum, and watched all of this season's episodes of The Office in one evening.

I used Alton Brown's brined turkey recipe again, and as usual it turned out very well; I was especially happy with the color this year, a perfect golden brown. In addition, we had green bean casserole, crescent rolls, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, squash casserole, green bean salad, and cranberry sauce, with chocolate pumpkin cheesecake and a chocolate pound cake for dessert.

I always get a little stressed out when we have a lot of people over—I'm a person who really needs his space and quiet time—but since I wasn't as worried about the dishes turning out well this year, I tried to be a little better about letting people into the kitchen when I was cooking and I even let people help a bit with the food preparation—in addition to Julie fixing her sweet potato casserole, Tori and Rachel made the mashed potatoes and helped with the prep on a couple other dishes. Still, as much as it's nice to have most of my immediate family together in one place (it's so rare these days), I'm ready to have the house back and settle back into my normal routine for a few weeks before the end-of-year holidays take us away from home.

So the first few days in Chicago were pretty boring for me, because I had to mostly do conference stuff, including two half-day tutorial sessions and two additional full days of conference seminars and presentations. Since there were two of my colleagues attending the conference as well, we spent two out of the first three nights going to dinner with them. But that third night (actually the second night of the conference) was really cool, because we had dinner with some of Julie's relatives who live in Chicago, most of whom we hadn't seen in at least ten years and a couple of whom I had never met at all.

Her father's brother Bobby lives in a really nice place outside of town, and we were driven there by her cousin Ethan who just got out of the Navy recently and who she hasn't seen in probably 15 years or so. He picked us up with his wife Rebecca, who works in a law office doing IT stuff, and we were joined at the house by Ethan's two sisters, Melissa and Amanda, his half-sister Emily, and his stepbrother John.

I'm not really that good at social gatherings with people I don't know that well (or at all), but I really enjoyed myself that evening. Bobby's wife Charlene made some Polish dishes for dinner, including stuffed cabbage rolls, which were a real treat for me as I usually only get to have those at most once a year when my grandfather (whose parents emigrated from Poland) makes them as his contribution to our family's Christmas day dinner. I felt very comfortable around everyone, and I was all the more pleased when the talk turned to politics and I discovered that republicans/conservatives are a minority in that part of the family—all of the kids were liberals/democrats, and most were also pretty involved in activism for their chosen causes. Julie and I don't have many people of that political persuasion in either of our immediate families, and it was very cool to find another little pocket of resistance.

Regardless of political affiliation, it was good to meet/see all of them; being in their company made me feel even more affection for the city of Chicago, which is fast becoming my favorite metropolitan area in the US.

Due to the return of unseasonably warm weather, the stupid Hopkins policy that says that facilities will never turn on anything but the heat after October 1 no matter what the temperature outside is, and my tiny enclosed office that gets no airflow, my office was 80-82 degrees all day yesterday. I know this because one of my officemates, who is as miserable as I am when the temperature gets that high in our space, has a little electronic thermometer so we can show the facilities guys just how screwed up the thermostat and temperature regulation is in our suite (which could really only charitably called a "suite" if it was an office for one person instead of three). I swear, it better get cold soon, because I'm going to kill myself or someone else if I have to try to do work in this miserable environment for much longer.
december 2005
november 2005
october 2005
september 2005
august 2005
july 2005
june 2005
may 2005
april 2005
march 2005
february 2005
january 2005

daily links
cd collection