Thursday, July 14, 2016

" And what's he then that says I play the villain?"

I have spent a lot of time on trying to understand Shylock. He isn't perfect, but the insight into the mind of Shylock which Shakespeare provides allows me to see a depth of character which represents something more than just a two-dimensional villain. This adds texture to the play and I always assumed that it reflected an "anti-anti-semitism" in Shakespeare's worldview (though possibly it was just part of an "anti-all religion so Judaism isn't any more bad than anything else). The more I think about it, the more I realize that this might have been only one part of Shakespeare's intention.

I have been running through the admittedly small sample of Shakespeare's plays which I have read and it seems to me that Will S. is working hard to create characters and relationships which are realistic -- not necessarily in how they talk, but in how they think. His genius lies in the fact that in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, he refused to present good guys and bad guys. His villains were relatable and even justifiable and his heroes were deeply flawed and sometimes not so heroic.

I don't know if there have been books written on this. Probably. If I were to go to good ol' Google and ask about "Shakespeare's villains" I would probably see a list of scholarly books dating back 350 years saying all the things I am about to say. So I will take the safer course and just not look. I can say with all honesty and sincerity that what you are reading is the child of my brain, speaking as one who intentionally did not read anything about this subject (not so I can flout my ignorance, only so I can boast of my independent genius). And if you ever thought of this stuff before me, I'm suing.

If I look into the various plays, I see a series of villains who make sense to me. Granted, this entire piece of writing could be a scathing indictment of my own sociopathy but I'd like to ignore that the way I usually ignore the emotions of other people. So here is a quick review:

Merchant of Venice -- as stated elsewhere, Shylock is not wrong. There is a history of abuse at the hands of the "heroes," his daughter is seduced away fro him and his family (and spends his money which she has stolen), and the legal system is manipulated by an impostor to victimize him. He is given stage time during which he represents the righteousness of his position and his arguments are never refuted.

Othello -- Iago is not wrong. Cassio is inexperienced and does not have the practical skill and sharp mind to see through Iago's plans, let alone to lead an army. Iago, this paradigm of unredemptive evil, is also right about Othello. The Moor is weak and manipulatable. Iago SHOULD be in charge of the army. And the possibility that Othello slept with Iago's wife is a reasonable motive and is easy to believe.

Macbeth -- I'm not even sure who the villain is here! Macbeth, himself, is a puppet -- a tool who has aspirations tempered by cowardice. He doesn't want to be bad and is spurred on by a prophecy he doesn't ask for. His wife, promised things by her husband before the play begins, is just doing her part to get what she deserves, and what the witches have predicted. She loved her father, loves her husband and has a guilty conscience -- not exactly the attributes of an unmitigated villain. Hans Gruber never regrets anything and is never troubled by what has to be done.

Hamlet -- a play without a villain. Sure, if you believe a spirit, Claudius killed Old King Hamlet, but Claudius feels bad about it, and only lashes out at young Hamlet once he feels threatened. And Hamlet? As heroes go, he tries not to (and he also recognizes that there is some confusion about being the bad guy when he asks "Who calls me villain?" He doesn't say "a villain calls me villain." He doesn't know what to consider his uncle). He is mean, narcissistic (eventually rash) and insane.

King Lear -- does anybody really feel sorry for Lear? He is a fool and his kids (whom HE raised, so whose fault is that?) don't want to put up with his garbage. So Goneril and Regan act reasonably when they boot him out. Cordelia is not much of a hero -- but she is, and in the innocent portrayal, Shakespeare shows that a naive hero is unrealistic and can't survive.

Julius Caesar -- OK, I haven't read it since 1982, and even then I didn't read it, but if I recall correctly, the murderers have reasons. Shakespeare doesn't just present bad guys who are bad for the sake of being bad. He gives them back stories and rationales.

I haven't read the histories -- if you have, feel free to comment about the baddies therein and let me know if their portrayal supports my thesis. As for the other comedies, I have read a couple (though my passing familiarity with Twelfth Night, Love's Labors Lost and A Comedy of Errors doesn't trigger any sense that there is clear and unmitigated villainy afoot in them). In Midsummer's Night, I barely see a plot, let alone a bad guy, but if I had to hang out with one character, it would be Puck. As for Measure for Measure, I see a whole lot of nasty people in a nasty society. I see lying, cheating and other deadly sins but no villains. And the punishment is marriage. Romeo and Juliet? [I know, not a comedy] Who is bad in this play? Both houses deserve a pox. Both young lovers are foolish. Both sets of parents should have been reported to DYFS a long time ago. No villains.

I'm not saying that I like the villains. I just see them as something more than antagonists or foils for the supposed good guy. Literature has examples of clear cut nasties. Look at the Emperor in the Star Wars series. Or watch Enter the Dragon. Until we read about Elphaba in Wicked, the Wicked Witch was pretty obviously evil. Fairy tales have heroic princes and horrible bad guys. Shakespeare doesn't do this and if we want to appreciate the complexity of his stories, we should do that by recognizing that he populates his stories with people, not characters.

Maybe now I will go look around and see how many websites and books make this same argument, but better. Probably not though.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

In which I fix everything

Let’s try to work this through because, honestly, I’m confused. Our current gun control laws are intricate, complex and not always effective. I see why you can't eliminate everything wrong with them, but I want to add in another layer to the application process which might streamline things.

First question is "Question 0."

0. If you want something that someone else has, what do you do?

A. demand it and/or take it (go to Decision A)
B. ask for it or to pay for it, and if not, walk away (go to Question 0')
C. ask for it or offer to pay for it and if not, demand and/or take it (go to Decision A)
D. walk away (go to question 0')

0'. If you have something and someone else wants it, what do you do?

A. respond with force (go to Decision A)
B. anything else (go to Question 1)

1. Do we want a world in which everyone is alike? If your answer is “yes” then I have to ask “why?” With no differences, there is nothing to talk about – nothing to discover. Sure, in a religious sense, everyone being united in a single creed is attractive but even then, we would all see colors in our unique ways, have different academic skills etc. Do you really want a world of identical clones and robots? Then I can’t help you. Go to “Decision A.” If you answer is “no” then move to question 2.

2. Do you see that there are different kinds of differences? If your answer is “no” then how do you survive? A person who likes chocolate to your vanilla preference is as different from you as someone who has a different religious preference? I can’t help you. Go to "Decision A." If your answer is “yes” then move to question 3.

3. Are there differences that threaten your ability to be the person you want to be? If your answer is “no” then we are done here. You live a happy life. Check in with question 4 just to be sure. If you answer is “yes” then we have the potential for a problem, so you had better check with question 4.

4. Do you feel that your side of an issue should be imposed on others? If you answered “no” and answered “no” to question 3 then enjoy your happiness. Go to “Decision B.” If you answered “yes” but answered “no” to question 3 then think about that – you want your ideas to threaten others even though they do not threaten you. Is that right and/or fair? Go to question 5. If you answered “yes” to both questions 3 and 4, then you live in fear of the world and want others to live in that same fear. Is that the kind of world you think is optimal? Go to question 5.

5. Should differences be resolved by discussion and understanding or force? If you got this far, then you think that all differences have to be resolved and not left alone because people are different. But if you said “discussion and understanding” at least you are willing to sit at a table and listen at least as much as you talk. Go to “Decision C.” If you said “force” then go to “Decision A.”

Decision A: No. You don’t get a gun. I don’t care if your psych profile is clean and you have no criminal record. I don’t like your attitude.
Decision B: Sure, you can get a gun. You just don’t want one unless it is a water gun or possibly, one for skeet shooting but you would probably just want to talk to the skeets.
Decision C: Gun, but no bullets. Party on, Garth.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

On civic responsibility

I feel that as members of a society, we all rely on one another. One person's actions invariably affect others and therefore, when we do anything, we must consider the implications: how will what I do impact on other people. When someone drives, his inattentiveness, his use of a cell phone or his decision not to worry himself with a little thing called "blinkers" will cause ripple in the space-drive continuum and I will be drawn into his pit of stupidity. No man is a traffic island, you might say. I wouldn't, but knowing you, you might.

So anyway, I feel very strongly that we need to be held responsible for our actions. If this constrains us and demands that we pay more attention to the details which govern our behavior (even if simply out of fear of punishment or public censure), so be it. Personal accountability cannot be overlooked and we should not be countenancing excusing sloppiness or a disregard for the demands of the social contract. This is the impetus behind such versions of the Golden Rule as "What is hateful to you, don't do to your brother, "Love your neighbor as thyself" or "Hey, cut that out! You want I should sneeze on YOUR neck?" With all this in mind, I must call out someone for his falling short of this expectation.

Dr. Starbucks Guy,

Yes, that was a Venti. Yes, it was iced. Yes, you added no milk or sugar. But no, that was certainly NOT decaf. Jerk.

It's not that I don't like caffeine. I do. I reallyreallyreally do. It just doesn't like me. I mean, maybe it does. I'm not sure if a racing pulse, sweating and the shakes are signs of flirting so maybe he really likes me and maybe not. Alls I know is that there is a reasonable chance that I won't be doing much in the way of relaxing for the next 26-30 hours.

Your job dear sir, is not an easy one, but it is fairly straightforward. When someone asks for "Venti Decaf, Iced." You write on the cup "IC" in the "decaf" box and hand it to the other guy who pours the coffee into the cup, secures the top and looks right past me and shouts to the accumulated crowd of ZERO other people in the store, "ICED VENTI?"

Could this all be my fault? Did I not check the side of the cup? Truth be told, I tried. But black marker on a clear plastic cup, filled with black coffee doesn't show up that well, especially when the boxes are drawn and labeled in black. I made the mistake of trusting that you two, professionals in the field of pouring coffee into a cup, would be able to assimilate my complex order and focus for the full 23 seconds in order to present me with what I asked for.

Maybe it was the hubbub of the easy listening music floating gently around the store. Maybe it was the intense pressure imposed by the line of one person (me) waiting to be served. Who knows. The only undeniable truth here is that I will now be a wreck for the next few days -- sure, fun to watch, but that's not the point. I will also be annoyed, short tempered, easily distracted and possibly violent. Much like I am usually, but also wired.

Do you suggest I balance out with a combination of vodka and carbs? Bad idea. I'll get a 5 minute coma-nap and then be wired and dizzy. Maybe I should water down the caffeine with water. Never works. Last time, I drove to Walgreens at 11:30 and bought half a gallon of milk and a box of cereal, came home, sat on the floor and ate it all. That did NOT end well for the lactose intolerant in me. Maybe I should go take a walk around the state, or harness the energy I feel and paint, well, everything.

So in conclusion, Mr. Starbucks Guy, we all have a role to play and we all have to own up to our mistakes and acknowledge when we perform an action which adversely affects others. I await your apology. If you need to find me, I'll be the one doing jumping jacks while eating a dozen doughnuts.


Now I'm sure that some out there feel like I am finding quarrel in a straw. And it could be that I climbing Mount Molehill while there are other, more important causes to celebre, but take me as I am: a hyperactive, angry decaf drinker who had 24 ounces of the wrong thing at 7:45 PM. No one asked you to come here and read this, at least, besides me. Unless someone did, in which case, cool. Someone asked to come here and read this. I really need to get some doughnuts.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Impolitic Convocation of Words, words, words

I was speaking with the wife yesterday, bemoaning my ability to maintain a weight of which I can be proud. She said I looked fine. She might be right, but I don't see it. I'm constantly 5 pounds over what I want to be.

"The thing is," I said, "I am trying to have a girlish figure and ANY figure you have is, by definition, a girlish figure. It's just not fair!"

She gave me the kind of laugh that spouses of so many years give when the actual message is "I'll laugh if you promise to stop talking, NOW."

But the thing is, if we want to talk about privileges inherent in language, we have to start acknowledging that some groups have an automatic advantage. Women don't just have a lock on their figure. They also have girlish laughter and their own mystique. I can never have that mystique. And definitions? There are Broad definitions, but no male ones! And Flicks? Chick flicks. No male movies. Lady fingers, Dame Fortune, Lass-o's and (imported from England), Bird feed.

And they aren't the only ones -- different professions have co-opted certain things and we are forced to pay homage to them. Fireman's carry! Do I get a carry? No. Secretary hand (that's an old fashioned term for proper handwriting). Principal investor! Why should we have this inherent bias which gives principals the advantage linguistically? Where are the teacher investors? And golfer Gary Player gets his own piano!

Languages are complex and dynamic. They don't always mean what they say or say what they mean. Slangs, figures of speech and conventions drift in and out and it might serve us better to work on speaking and writing clearly, and working to understand ideas instead of grasping at straws to be offended by the words. Don't confuse the medium with the message or you will be offended by baby oil.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A boot to the Education

Today, I celebrate my ignorance. Yes, I work in education, and yes, I think that I think that education is important, but there is so much stuff that I don't know and yet I get along just fine. Before you say anything (anything at all), I know that Paul Reiser discussed the issue of not knowing things in 1986. But he seemed troubled by it. I refuse to be.

A student asked me today, "What's the difference between a primary and a caucus?" I told him I had no idea but that in the real world, it isn't really an issue. Most of politics is the same with me. Unless Marvel is planning on making a movie about them, I intend to ignore Super Delegates. And math? Yes, it is nice to know basic algebra because I often have to solve for X, or some other letter, but pre-calc? For that, if it ever comes up, I'll use a pre-calculator. I'm joking of course -- it will never come up.

Does anyone not currently in the field of not having any friends really consider it important to balance redox equations? Spoiler alert: redox has nothing to do with the color red or oxen (or cookies!) so who cares? If I drop a brick, does it not fall? When do people worry about how fast it will fall? Are my mitochondria any less mighty if I have no idea what they do? (This one, though, I remember...they are the powerhouse of the cell. I never understood what that meant, but that's the phrase.)

Surely someone could say the same for English -- does anyone really need to know what motivated Holden Caufield? Does anybody really care? No. The truth is that English teachers think it is nice if you recall the plot and such of a book you read 10 years ago but the goal is in the skill at being able to approach any OTHER text. But does learning about co-secants (who apparently share top billing with other co-secants) equip me with the skills to confront any whatever it is that co-secants do or are? I really have no idea.

This is not to say that I don't know stuff. I know a ridiculous amount of stuff. More properly, I know an amount of ridiculous stuff. I know trivia and a collection of random facts and bits about many different fields of learning. I can contribute fascinating (and sometimes true) minutiae about disciplines ranging from Astronomy to Zoology with special stops at Theology and Cynology, and the occasional Nephology. These are what have gotten me through the social situations that confront me. These are what have shaped my success, not knowing who participated in the Hundred Years War [hint, not the Hundred-yearsians. I know, right?]

We should replace our entire curriculum with Trivial Pursuit competitions, almanacs and reference books. We have to push the kinds of things people need to know, like why some pencils are number 2 and others aren't. Because that comes up all the time. Celebrate the ignorance by realizing that knowing how to drive does not require understanding how the engine works.

So the next time you are kicking yourself because you suddenly need to compute a factorial before you put that quarter in the meter realize that that never happened. Factorials are stupid.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy just day

I don't like "days" -- special days set aside to codify what should be a constant mantra, "Be nice to people and overtly recognize how great everyone is, consistently." I don't like birthdays, Fathers' Day, Mothers' Day, Siblings' Day, Grandparents' Day, and the loads of other days made to fill the coffers of card makers and assuage the guilt of people who forgot to be nice the other approximately 364 days of the year.

This rankles people (sometimes, people gotta get rankled, I always say). People say, "Sure we love ______ every day, but isn't it great to set a day aside to celebrate?" I don't celebrate oxygen on one particular day -- I work hard to be conscious of my addiction to it every day. I think isolating one day implicitly gives us permission not to pay attention the rest of the time. Yes, we still love and respect and all that, but we don't remember because it isn't the "right" Day to say we remember. I don't like that. I want to remember every day. I want to say "thank you" as frequently as I can. I want to shout out that I am in awe of what people do all the time. I don't want to define a 24 hour period when one person or group gets respect and then take him, her or them for granted when midnight rolls around again.

So, yes, my mom is awesome. She did a great job with me which allows me to ignore her performance when it comes to my siblings. My wife is the greatest. She birthed children and still had time (and inclination) to put up with me. My sister and sisters-in-law are models of motherly skill and compassion, and my other mom-type relatives, and friends and such are moms without compare. But a day? What about tomorrow? Would it be wrong to make breakfast in bed for someone next Sunday? Shouldn't I buy a card, or take someone out for a meal in November also?

People who are incredible everyday need to be acknowledged, thanked and put on a pedestal every day. If I am not already doing that then no cutesy post or card or quick phone call should make a difference. Here's to moms. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week and throughout the year.

So on Sunday, May 8, I want to do what I should do every day -- celebrate everyone. And I intend to do the same tomorrow. Maybe if we all got into the habit of seeing and celebrating the best that is all around us, all the time, the world might be a happier place.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Man Helping Men

A list of things a man can say to defuse his wife’s anger and therefore avoid an imminent fight or end one:

It’s fine.
You have nothing to worry about.
Just do it my way.
It really isn’t fair to expect me to guess that.
Well, if you say nothing's wrong, I guess nothing's wrong.
I’d really, really prefer Italian.
Here, take this pill. You really do need a glass of wine.
I believe I paid for this by working.
Well, maybe YOU should sleep on the couch.
Yeah, with that dress on, you look huge.
They are just a couple of old girlfriends.
Why don’t you just let the man fix this?
I can’t see the TV.
In fact I DO think it is a good idea.
You are making too big a deal out of this.
Before you say your side, I need a drink.
I totally get that you think that.
It’s nice, I guess.
But I DO have a preference.
It can wait.
But in my defense.
I’d rather spend time with my friends.
Say that again – I was looking up the score.
Are you still talking?
That’s a cute opinion to have.
And if I said that same thing as an excuse, would you be ok with it?
“Blah blah blah” that’s what you sound like, “Blah blah blah”
Why don’t you just make me a sandwich and we will move on.
Hold that thought – this is important.

You're welcome.