Mar 20, 2009

Haiku Friday: Outta Here!

Ominous clouds hang
Overhead like a warning...
Later Santa Cruz!

Mar 16, 2009

A Tangent Addendum

So I had a lot of absences in one of my classes this quarter (about 5 unexcused). I probably could've gotten them excused, but I never feel really compelled to seek such excusals for some reason. Low and behold at the end of the quarter the Professor asked me to address why I shouldn't fail the class in my final essay. I probably could've made a pretty persuasive argument on an analytical basis, but the truth was I didn't feel the need. I wrote the final paper without addressing my absences in any direct way. Below is the short essay I wrote to him, entitled "A Tangent Addendum" and attached to my actual final. He was a pretty laid back guy, so I hope he takes it well. I genuinely didn't mean any offense, and every word of it is true. Here's lookin' at the world. – DC

A Tangent Addendum

I fancy myself a decent student, although perhaps I am not the iconic example of the ‘good student’, as my attendance during this quarter would seem to agree. Yet I’ve never seen my academic accomplishments as a simple and accurate representation of myself. As a child, my parents could never force me to do homework, and, as a an impertinent youngster, punishment only ever made me angry and never compliant. Humorously, participation was never an issue, and I never seemed to be troubled to do the work that was given to me while I was physically in class. This is how for most of elementary school I earned a hodgepodge of grades, one that reflected full effort within the classroom and hardly any outside of it.

To this day I’ll never be able to describe why upon entering fifth grade I suddenly decided to try. It sounds especially odd remembering that I had “tried” once before: During one week in fourth grade, I actually did all my work which resulted in the first time I was awarded the illustrious ‘Student of the Week’ award at Monday assembly. I immediately returned to old habits the following week.

For some reason the first day of fifth grade was different. Perhaps it was the fact that, at the time, fifth grade was the last year of elementary school, complete with a special overnight camping trip into the backwoods of our campus set between Cobb and Boggs mountains. Whatever the cause, on that first day of fifth grade in the course of that slow, winding drive through mountain roads on the way to school, the thought simply would not leave me alone; ‘What if I tried?’. What if I tried... would life be different? I did not know the answer, but it was precisely the not knowing that troubled me. As young as I was, perhaps it was my first real epiphany.

And ultimately it did feel different. Every night when I sat down at my parents desk with the greying old Apple Macintosh to do my Weekly Spelling, I liked the fact that no one had asked me to do it. From that point on my grades have more or less been a reflection of my own interest, desire, and application. I suppose I took and still take pride in high marks like any student, but there’s always been a distinct and yet difficult to describe sensation accompanying me in my academics: The sensation that it was not done for anyone besides myself. It may be because of this quality that I rarely bother to seek an excused absence. If it were not for this sensation, perhaps I would feel more compelled in reporting the reasons for my absences, and I would not be at this juncture in your class.

I never scoff at an A, the same way it is bad form to look a gift horse in the mouth. And yet at the same time I do not rely upon them. The truth is I took this class for me; I am not ethics or teaching major, and I do not require the credits towards graduation. The same mentality is probably what allowed me to declare as an anthropology major despite the knowledge that it may result in my living in a cardboard box. When I consider the ramifications of failing this class, more than anything my distaste for it stems mostly from the thought of having to go talk about it with some administrative official who barely knows me.

This is not because I am apathetic. Rather, it is precisely because I’ve enjoyed the class so much that I am unconcerned with the grade that I receive. Be it an A, or an F, or any of the other many letters available in the alphabet, it won’t really change how the actual process has affected my thinking, which for me has come to be its real value. At the end of the day, the mark I am given is a just shape that someone else will look at and attach meaning to. For me, the meaning of my time spent in this class stands apart from such a mark, and unlike a class I’d have enjoyed less, I do not need any particular mark to make it feel worthwhile.

Despite these feelings, I readily acknowledge that there may be a vested interest for students to attend class so that they may partake in discussion and mutually enrich one another. Under such a reasoning, it may be that my absences have somehow detrimentally impacted the class. I understand this, but I leave such judgments to educators such as yourself. I could only think of it as a kind of hubris were I to assume it myself.

Either way I feel no sadness in regards to my engagement with or performance in the class. Besides, I have always put my faith in people before edicts or statutes, and always will. My grade is in your hands, and I am comfortable with that.

I would certainly enjoy taking another course from you.
Damon O'Hanlon

UPDATE: Final Grade for the class? B+ (and an A on the final)

Mar 10, 2009

Convo Beat: Rachel Fish & Robie the Pimp Twofer

5:14:03 PM Rachel: im going to get some mochi. i hope you are well. i havent heard about you in a while. we always end up talking about something interesting, but random. lol. let me know how u are sometime
5:14:27 PM Damon: I'll let you know someday when there's something interesting to report
5:14:36 PM Damon: otherwise random stuff is more fun
5:14:42 PM Rachel: oh please. you lead an interesting life
5:14:54 PM Rachel: alright sir, ill see you around :]
5:15:04 PM Damon: l8ater
5:15:50 PM Rachel: you cant put an 8 in the word, unless you take out the "ate"
5:16:00 PM Damon: wh8at?
5:16:08 PM Rachel: lol your a neanderthal
5:16:18 PM Damon: I think you mean 'you're'

^ Heh—like shootin' fish in a barrel.

7:38:49 PM Robie: yo
7:38:53 PM Robie: ive been sleeping all day
7:42:22 PM Damon: cool enough
7:42:48 PM Robie: had some crazy dreams
7:48:38 PM Damon: ?
7:49:23 PM Robie: whenever I sleep during the day, I have the most detailed and far out dreams
7:53:34 PM Damon: a good alias for you would be Day-Tripper
7:53:53 PM Robie: or vampire
7:53:56 PM Damon: haha
7:54:16 PM Damon: how about "Vamptastic Pimp"
7:54:38 PM Robie: well, im no pimp
7:55:14 PM Damon: don't shatter my dreams, Robie

Mar 7, 2009

Haiku Saturday: Scruffy as all get

Scruffy as all get,
And cheeks like rough sandpaper?
I need a good shave...

Mar 5, 2009

Convo Beat: Interwebs Pictures

Rachel: p.s. i dont have your number anymore. and if i feel the need to talk with you via phone, i wouldnt be able to get ahold of you
Me: my number?—it's on my facebook silly
Rachel: really? oh
Rachel: obviously i dont stalk you
Me: too bad...
Me: I have some saucy pictures on the interwebs
Rachel: ewwwww
Rachel: lol

(That's right, she loled. She's such a loler.)

Mar 4, 2009

Free and Righteous: Ethnocentrism In a Modern Historical Theater Piece

Dialogue, plot, and form all play their part in building meaningful narratives. Frequently the goal of such a narrative, whether or not it succeeds, is to explore some perceived deeper facet of the human experience that is deeply understood to bind us deeply together... deeper. Or in the case of 300 the narrative serves as a simplified ideological commentary on the clash of Eastern Islamism with Westernism and the West’s ultimate superiority.

In this case the West is symbolized specifically by 300’s noble protagonists, the Spartans. The Spartans are a noble people, just minding their own freedom, when the insatiable appetite of the Persian Empire befalls them. The Spartan King Leonidas is forced by archaic law to take nothing but a small detachment of three-hundred men to hold off the overwhelming Persian invasion force which lies snarling at the gates of all Greece. Despite this, Leonidas and his soldiers fight valiantly (and successfully) against overwhelming odds until they are betrayed by Ephialtes, a fellow Greek who betrays them in favor of Emperor Xerxes’ of Persia.

300 utilizes several narratives to demonstrate the relief between the protagonist Greeks and its opposing Eastern medley. The most striking element is probably a dichotomy, repeatedly exhibited but never explained, between Slavery and Freedom. In one of the first scenes King Leonidas tells a Persian messenger asking for the symbolic capitulation of Sparta that, “You threaten my people with slavery and death!” Later the same narrative is propelled to stature of concrete metaphor when, at the defense of Thermopylae, we see an emissary of Xerxes driving slaves onward with a literal whip. He shouts them onward, “Keep moving you dogs!” In the ensuing conflict the Spartan Stelios cuts off the emissary’s arm and tells him to, “Run along... and tell your Xerxes he faces free men here. Not slaves.” The Persian emissary is shown to revel in the practice of enslavement, as he is all too eager to respond; “No, not slaves. Your women will be slaves. Your sons, your daughters, your elders will be slaves. But... you will be dead men.” Such unapologetic hostility towards freedom by the Persians is probably the most consistent narrative weaved throughout 300.

This narrative characterization breeds a form of organic contrast. The Greeks, being the opposite of the Persians, love freedom with inverse proportion to the Persian disdain for it. Besides Stelios’ comment, the Spartan queen herself when asked about her political conviction states that, “Freedom isn’t free at all”, which is eerily close to if not an exact restatement of the American conservative rhetorical idiom, ‘Freedom isn’t free.’ This love of freedom, which in modern a context can be seen as a stand-in for ‘democracy’.

The Persian enmity for virtue knows no limitations, and besides these more heavily narrated themes, the Persians are also offhandedly shown to covet virtually everything modern Westernness could possibly deplore: Misogyny, “What makes this woman think she can speak among men?” demands Xerxes’ messenger of Leonidas when the Spartan queen addresses him. Sexual deviance; as shown in the harem of Xerxes court, in this case wretched and disfigured to express the East’s perversion even of beauty itself.

But the film addresses sexuality in another way as well. Throughout weakness and doubt are equated with defeatism and homosexuality. The narrator speaks, “Goodbye my love. He doesn’t say it. There’s no room for softness, not in Sparta. No place for weakness. Only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans.” As for what we might interpret as weak, luckily the Sparta’s nearby neighbors provide an example when Leonidas, our hero and the epitome of a good man, derides them; “[Submission.] Now that’s a bit of a problem. See rumor has it the Athenians have already turned you [Persia] down, and if those philosophers and boy-lovers have found that kind of nerve... [surely we can]”.1 In this sense higher thinking is frowned upon, and linked to homosexuality as a set of dual vices that contrast with the noble life of a Spartan warrior.

Later, Xerxes would attempt to woo Leonidas with the same vices in a clearly gay overtone. For one thing, the Persians are shown to be on the verge of unseemliness when it comes to their preference for body piercing and jewelry. In modern-dominant Western culture, piercings and jewelry are by and large still considered a mostly feminine marker, and thus ‘un-masculine’ or ‘gay’. Being the Persian emperor, Xerxes represents this to the fullest degree, with at least five piercings mostly in positions considered very queer in America (pun intended to some extent).2 In a bit of unbelievably transparent staging between Leonidas and the homosexualized Xerxes, Leonidas turns his back to Xerxes who stands behind him and gently places his hands on Leonidas’ shoulders while uttering, “Your Athenian rivals will kneel at your feet... if you will but kneel at mine.” In this case the metaphor of submission, loss of freedom and masculinity is expressed by its coupling to the image of Xerxes penetrating Leonidas from the rear in stereotypically gay fashion, while simultaneously receiving the verbal description (no-less sexual) of ‘one man kneeling in submission at another’s feet’.

Leonidas however, being the strong masculine figure of freedom, naturally refuses Xerxes offer of perverse submission. The same cannot be said of Ephialtes, the hunchback who is unfit to stand alongside Spartan warriors. In his crippling inadequacy, Ephialtes betrays Greece by revealing a goat path to Xerxes which can be used to flank Leonidas. This aspect of the narrative is an articulation being traitors and those who would sympathize with the enemy; Ephialtes does not have a powerful moral critique of the Spartan class system. Rather, he is seduced by the riches and sensuous depravity that Persia offers him, and blinded from the long-term consequence of his actions forsakes his own noble heritage. Being the hunchback again represents a disfiguration of the strong, male Sparta, and it also represents the only way such a strong, noble nation as America—er, Sparta—could be defeated by such an inferior one: By doubting itself, by allowing insider dissent, by in any way casting aside its righteous history.

Except if it’s interfering with the defense of Sparta, in which case it is corrupt and isn’t righteous at all and therefore can be ignored, as we might surmise from Leonidas who continually parses his words and actions to circumvent Spartan law. He says to his queen the night before setting off against the Persians, “Then what must a king do to save his world when the very laws he is sworn to protect force him to do nothing?” His queen comforts him in the statement that, “It is not a question of what [a king] should do... instead ask yourself, ‘What should a free man do?’” Here we see the narrative validate the circumvention of law, the “remnants of a senseless tradition”, if it comes to the safeguard of ‘freedom’.

Interwoven with all of these themes is one of the East’s irrationality. Xerxes is continually referred to as a God-king,3 and states that, “You Greeks take pride in your logic”, implying that Persians consider themselves fine to do without it. In the film’s climax, Leonidas stands against Xerxes, strong and defiant even in the face of certain death, and hurls a spear that cuts Xerxes along the cheek, showing that he is not a god at all. And if Xerxes the Emperor of all Persia is not a god, then every belief and practice of the Persian Empire is built upon a foundation of sand, nothing more than an enormous artifice of insurmountable fallacies built one on top of the other.

But if the East is so fallacy-ridden and inferior, how can the noble Spartans be defeated by them? And Leonidas does in fact he die in a hail of arrows, one that leaves him in a position on his back, arms outstretched, suspiciously reminiscent of the crucifixion. Like the resurrection, Leonidas’ ultimate vindication comes only later, at the Battle of Plataea, shown at the end of the movie. Having heard of the sacrifice of Leonidas and his three hundred solders, all of Greece rises against the evil Persian empire in what we are expected to assume is a valorous victory.4

With every added offense embodied by the Persian threat, the West’s commitment to holding their ground becomes more heroic. Thermopylae is the perfect metaphor for a conservative perspective on the ideological clash, as it portrays the the Spartans solely as noble victims. After all it was Leonidas who initially showed polite restraint for Xerxes’ messenger, and not not the other way around. It is the Spartans who are defending their homes from the Persian onslaught, and not not the other way around. And it is the Persians who sanctify nothing except for everything that is unworthy of noble Sparta. Even tactically speaking there is no intention of striking back at Thermopylae. It is devoid of provocation, not even exhibiting a counter-offensive, and exists wholly free of guilt.