June 19, 2011

The Longest Day in Haiku-story

I miss writing This Day in History for the Graphic. (Check out the new website: http://www.pepperdine-graphic.com/.) So I picked the summer solstice as my excuse to once more summarise Wikipedia for other people. Overwhelmed by the number of 21 June’s noteworthy events — it is the longest day of the year after all — I elected to write about them all.

‘Good for you, Nathan, but I’m not going to read about them all.’ Neither would I, so here follows This Day in Haiku-story. You get to read less. I get to write less. You get to (pretend to) learn and laugh. I get to combine my loves for history, Japan and pedestrian prosody.

Also, I refuse to change my Microsoft Word language from ‘English (United Kingdom)’. You could think that pretentious, but I’m not trying to impress you. Don’t flatter yourself. I write in British English because I want to. I guess that’s just self-absorbed, but I’ll choose self-absorbed over pretentious any day of the year — especially on the twenty-first of June.

Edward the Third died
having started a long war
to rule France. Wait, why?

Moscow burned, killing
thousands but empowering
Ivan, terrible.

John Smith was Disney’s
favourite colour of the wind:
white. He died alone.

Charles the Second
revoked the Mass. Bay charter:
‘Now they’ll heed their king!’

N.H. approval
made the Constitution law,
but it’s just paper.

Brits crushed Irish who
yearned for liberty like U.S.
Beaten, they drank more.

McCormick got his
reaper patented. Seasons
don’t fear it — cowbell.

Victoria’s reign
turned fifty. Britain cheered her;
the Empire grumbled.

Chicago’s Expo
premiered the first Ferris wheel—

Kiel Canal opened,
linking North and Baltic Seas.
Hooray for Denmark!

The U.S. got Guam
from Spain, and Americans
totally know that.

Jean-Paul Sartre was born.
He declined the Nobel prize,
unlike Obama.

After long fighting,
U.S. troops took Okinawa.
There’s no joke to make.

Columbia played
the first LP. Vinyl’s still
loved. Why not 8-tracks?

Benazir Bhutto,
Pakistan’s female PM,
was born. Dull husband.

Chief Justice Warren
left the Supreme Court, alive.
That’s called quitting, kids.

Spielberg’s Jaws opened,
the first summer blockbuster.
Sharks loathed the bad press.

Hinckley found insane,
not guilty. Reagan moved on
to promote gun rights.

1982 (Again)
Chuck and Diana’s
first son, William, was born. He—
Will and Kate! Marriage!

‘I am a Yankee!’
said Mandela. The Red Sox,
pissed, cheered Apartheid.

SpaceShipOne achieved
private spaceflight. You can too
if the price is right.

Bob Evans, restaurateur,
gave us much before he died:
lots of pork sausage.

Go Skateboarding Day
Time to shred it up
like Tony Hawk then ask your
mom for Capri-Sun.

World Humanist Day
Christian, Marxist or
Existential, humanists
love people — TOO MUCH?!

As you can see, my haiku are really hit or miss.

June 14, 2011

Fly the Flag Modestly

This is a short one.

The fourteenth of June is Flag Day in the United States. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted Betsy Ross's homespun stars and stripes. Many other countries celebrate flag days, but America's is today. (Denmark's is tomorrow.)

Eddie Izzard has a good bit about flags. Here it is set to a Lego animation.

Symbols attract attention either to themselves or to what they represent. In one sense this is good. The invisible is difficult to understand without visible symbols. But the problem arises when the symbols start to take on a life of their own and outshine what they symbolize.

Numerals are just symbols for numbers, and language is comprised of symbols for thought. But sudoku is not high level mathematics, and sesquipedalianism is not intelligence. Ideally, we'd all follow the words of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein when we communicated: "Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly." In this way, symbols (read: words) would point directly to their parent thoughts. We discover this truth every time we get wrapped up in a book. The words on the page fall away, and we become part of the author's internal world.

But we love conspicuous symbols. Platinum credit cards, sports cars, big homes, and high fashion make us seem wealthy and powerful. Our own insecurities, shortcomings, and mounting debt are brushed under the rug.

This occurs on a larger scale, too. Skyscrapers make our cities seem more important, and they’re often built at great expense. But both the Empire State Building and the Burj Khalifa struggled to find tenants once completed. Magnificent as both buildings are, they overreached.

Dubai: the objectively greatest city in the world. Does your city have a taller building?

"Wealthy people and architects are stupid. I don't let my symbols run wild. In fact, I don't think I have any symbols." Facebook profiles are our own boastful PR. Emblazoned with the personal symbols of our own names, our Facebook profiles say only the best things about us. (Emos are still stuck on Myspace and LiveJournal.) There is no "dislike" button on Facebook for a reason. Activity must be overwhelmingly, if artificially, positive for the site to remain healthy. People don't become addicted to websites that insult them.
Modest symbols, ones that don't attract undue attention to themselves, tend to stand for the most powerful forces. Nazis don't get that. At the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, one Nazi mistakenly assumed the Holy Grail would look like the cup of a king. Here's what happened to him:

In fact, the grail was a simple, carpenter's cup.

Many people wear symbols all the time in the form of wedding rings. What kind of ring would a blue-collar laborer be able to buy his wife? Now, what kind of ring would an aging millionaire be able to buy his new, young wife? Which ring better represents love?

Ultimately, the best symbols are impossibly simple. Communion is just food and drink, but it's everything more. And any child can draw a cross, but the wisest sage can never fully understand what it means.
So, as far as symbols go, the American flag is all right. It has some meaning and isn't unduly flashy. It can make people think about the United States if it isn't completely overused. But, whether the flag attracts attention to itself or to the nation it represents, it's not about the symbol. What matters is what's behind the symbol.

Futurama is a source of great social commentary.

June 05, 2011

A Single's Guide to a Lazy Sunday

Sunday boredom reminds the single of his true loneliness. Whether you’re a student or you have a real job, Monday through Friday force you to be around a bunch of other people you probably don’t like. But hey, at least you have company. On Saturday, you may find yourself spending time with all those friends you pretend to like. Again, at least you’re not alone. But on Sunday, you are.

“I go to church on Sunday!” Great, but unless you plan to make it a twelve-hour affair, you’re still going to have to face Sunday boredom.

“I sleep in on Sunday!” Congratulations: you’ve already anticipated suggestion No. 1. But, again, unless you plan to hibernate, you’re still going to have to face Sunday boredom.

“I work on Sundays!” Then you have more money than time or not enough of either. Don’t waste a second reading this.

I’ve found a few ways to endure lazy Sundays without the company of a significant other. In the absence of a loved one, there’s no better way to warm your heart than in the microwave of distraction.

1.      Power nap to depressing music. Simply losing consciousness is actually somewhat of a copout as an activity, but that never stopped a bored single from sleeping away his troubles. If you’ve gone to church, you can actually justify taking a nap. If you’ve slept in, you can believe the lazy man’s maxim — “The more sleep you get, the more sleep you need.” — and go back to bed. Trip-hop and post-rock make for great lullabies. Both are just mellow enough to slow your mind and just dark enough to cast a shadow over your dreams. (I’ve known some who preferred Pink Floyd; but, with Dark Side of the Moon at least, you risk getting startled awake by the screaming woman from “The Great Gig in the Sky.”) Whether you choose Portishead or Sigur Rós, you can guarantee you’ll wake up wishing you had never gone to sleep.

2.      Write a Shakespearean love sonnet — to yourself. Imagine getting all the benefits of writing a real love sonnet without feeling the heartache of your special someone realizing how much time you spent honing your iambic pentameter and getting really creeped out. “This is so thoughtful… so… very… thoughtful.” Writing for yourself, you get to practice your verse, pretend you’ve accomplished something, and self-aggrandize. What could be better? (See No. 3.)

3.      Redact a newspaper for a sweet old widow. There’s a lot of terrible stuff in the news, and rightly so. The truth hurts. That’s why so many people like to watch cable news networks that merely reinforce their beliefs. (MSNBC is as guilty as Fox.) So, why not take a Sharpie to a Sunday edition and elide your way into the good graces of a little old lady? Air strikes over Libya kill 10? No, no, no. Air strikes over Libya kill 10! Every old woman loves clean air, and if you can convince one to go to Libya in search of it you stand to inherit both life insurance money and an extra vote in the next election.

4.      See how much water you can consume in a day. You must be near a bathroom to attempt this one. Seriously, hyper-hydration is deadly. But exercising your kidneys is healthy! It has exercise in the name, so you know it’s good for you! See if you can beat my record of six liters without wetting your pants, because going to the bathroom that often does tend to get old fast. Wearing Depends is cheating.

5.      Disagree with the premises of commercials. No better way to trick yourself into contentment than by channel flipping for commercials and convincing yourself you don’t need the products or services advertised. Online dating services? Those are only for people who need people, and you don’t need people….

6.      Facebook stalk prospects. Let off some steam the healthy way; creep on your secret crushes and frustratingly attractive exes. You can even spend some time Photoshopping yourself into photos with your would-be partner. Just remember not to upload said photos to your own profile and tag the target of your obsession, adding the caption: “HAPPILY. EVER. AFTER.” I know you don’t care about the social backlash, but the person will probably unfriend you. Then whom will you stalk?!

7.      Tell no one what you're actually doing. Never, under any circumstances, let anyone know how lonely your Sunday afternoons are. As a single you must fool everyone into believing you’re perfectly content in your singlehood. In fact, you’re better off alone. I think Sun Tzu’s words about making your enemies believe you’re stronger than you are apply here. (Yes, I am pitting other people as the enemy here. What have they ever done for you, anyway?) Cheer up, though. You’ll soon be back in the Monday through Friday routine of feigning niceties to your peers, dishonestly answering “How are you doing?” with “Fine” so you can go back to brooding silently as quickly as possible.