28 April 2007

Rant(s) of the week

Truly naïve I must truly be, because only in the past couple of days have I been introduced to a major chunk of pseudo-intellectual imbecilic jetsam that has been floating and jetting around for quite some time: the crackpot notion that the 1969 moon landing was a hoax, an elaborate ruse to intimidate the Soviets or boost American prestige. How utterly. . .stupid can people be? McCarthy was only a beginner.

Good grief. With every passing day, I fear that I am turning into one of those hard-core cranks who hates everything. The world doth weird me out--I feel increasingly estranged from everything. Another recent "Steckenpferd" (hobby-horse) is the disgusting whiteboard we're all forced to use when teaching or delivering presentations and briefings. Utterly repulsive; the pens, without fail, give me a headache. Lots of colors, big whup. What the hell was wrong with chalk? It was cheap and came 12 to a box or so. If you broke a piece, it could still be used for a while, and if you lost one, there was usually extra to spare. Whiteboard markers are much more expensive, all the more so because they end up getting lost. They run out pretty quickly, too. And don't forget how easy it is to use the wrong type of marker accidentally, thereby defacing the writing surface permanently. And note how the priggish types who have run out and installed whiteboards (namely, educators and other PC-types) are the same self-righteous clowns who claim to care for the environment. None of them has bothered to stand up and notice that whiteboards and markers use far more oil-based materials and smelly chemicals. A perfect example of how something supposedly "new and improved" is neither, principally because it is a fly-and-sledgehammer use of technology.

By that I mean the compulsion to make something unnecessarily more complicated, when so doing offers only marginal improvement or gains in productivity. There is nothing a chalkboard can't do that a whiteboard can; the latter's sole attraction remains its novelty, while at the same time it has numerous downsides, as enumerated. I confess, for a number of reasons I do harbor something of an anti-technology bias, but when novelty does offer some concrete benefits I can adapt, at least grudingly, and move on.

A good case in point is the computer's superseding the typewriter. I loved typewriters--their heavy metallic solidity, their quirky, irregular and unique typefaces, their margin releases replete with dinging bells, green keys (or, even better, the chrome-ringed ones), non-toxic ribbons. I loved the crinkly, durable onionskin writing paper, and later the IBM "golfball" (no more jamming! multiple fonts!). In eighth grade, I learned typing very well, using a Royal 440, a veritable tank of a machine, and thereafter my handwriting went from bad to worse, as I typed whenever possible. Nevertheless, I concede that computers are an improvement: besides the obvious advantages, the single most important one, in my view , is the quiet. Banging away on a typewriter could get quite strenuous, but the noise was the worst. Half an hour was about all I could take at any stretch, and the noise could also be a real cross for anyone living with a serious typist.

But whiteboard apologists can't make similar claims. While chalk dust might have caused some people difficulty (the extent of which has been grossly exaggerated), for most it was a simple, convenient tool. A significant percentage of people, on the other hand, suffer from bad reactions to dry ink pens--headaches from the chemicals being the main concern. I wonder how much cancerous stuff lurks within. And the clothing stains are no trifle, either; the old professor might have gotten chalk on his coat, but chalk, unlike dry ink, readily washes out. Has anyone actually compared the costs? Just another example of hypocrisy, as all the robots in our major institutions sanctimoniously prattle on about the environment but rush out to equip themselves with inferior and environmentally unsound junk, simply because some corporate shill found a way to peddle it as vital.

Makes me want to puke, literally and figuratively.

23 April 2007

Literary Murderousness

Although poor Mr. Cho was obviously quite crackers, utterly unable to form anything resembling a normal human relationship with members of either sex, and immature to boot, his writing skills--both existing and latent--cannot be as easily gainsaid as all of these simpering, ass-covering professors have been trying to do. True, the latest darling of the mass-murderer circuit (quick, revise those sets of playing cards) had few real ideas to offer aside from gargantuan dollops of aimless hatred and self-pity, he actually expressed them far better than most of my students over the years have been able to express anything at all. Take an already well-known excerpt from the rant:

You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.

Do you know what it feels to be spit on your face and to have trash shoved down your throat? Do you know what it feels like to dig your own grave?

Do you know what it feels like to have throat slashed from ear to ear? Do you know what it feels like to be torched alive?

Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be impaled upon on a cross? And left to bleed to death for your amusement? You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life. Did you want to inject as much misery in our lives as you can just because you can?

Demented though these ramblings are, they leap from the page (or screen) with a degree of vividness that undergraduates rarely achieve. Note the plenitude of strong, active verbs--vandalize, rape, torch, extinguish, die, inspire, spit, shove, dig, slash, humiliate, impale, bleed, feel, inject--in lieu of the weak, vague noun phrases to which most people, in both written and spoken expression, nowadays resort. If called upon to voice similar sentiments, Mr. Cho's fellow students would have probably written some excruciating garbage along these lines:

"My heart is sad, my soul and my conscience are in a miserable type condition. For you it was the death of one guy that was being ended. My death is like Jesus', because he was also the inspiring factor for many people everywhere."

To paraphrase Orwell, this is a parody, but not a very gross one (in the traditional sense of the term, that is). Weak, imprecise phrasing, undue dependence on the passive voice and the overworked verb to be, a lack of concreteness, trepidation at the thought of stating anything affirmatively without endless, mealy-mouthed PC-laden hemming, hawing and equivocating--all of these barbarisms characterize the codswollop that passes for writing nowadays.

I suspect that Mr. Cho had faced a certain amount of pressure from his family, and it wouldn't surprise me if they had frequently compared him invidiously to his undeniably brilliant and accomplished older sister. So he started off at VT majoring in something supposedly hard-headed, practical and useful, i.e., business, couldn't stand it and switched to English. Emotionally incapable of expressing himself directly to other people, he found an outlet in writing. It's easy to deride his plays and rants as sophomoric trifles, but underneath the crudeness and the technical errors there lay a certain creative spark. If Cho's enormous psychological problems could have been properly treated, or at least alleviated, perhaps he might have (equivocating there, aren't I!) become a productive writer of some sort. Instead, he fell through myriad cracks in the system at myriad junctures in his short, wretched life, resulting in a murder-suicide spree followed immediately by all of the predictable clucking and finger-pointing. Erst wenn wir uns von der Rechthaberei befreien, und dabei zuweilen zugeben, dass wir uns irren können, werden wir weitere ähnliche Vorkommnisse verhindern.

Ye-s-s. . .explains a great deal

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.”

--Benjamin Disraeli